The Lewis revival
60 years ago saw the end of a move of God on the Isle of Lewis
The Hebrides is a group of islands around 40 miles west of the north of Scotland. Lewis is the most northerly island and Harris is its southern peninsula.
The Western Isles had experienced a number of short periods of revival at the end of the 19th and during the first half of the 20th centuries, but especially between 1949 and 1952.
The main preacher God used in this revival was Duncan Campbell. He was born in 1898 and was converted to Christ at the age of 15. He spent some time working for the Faith Mission, but resigned from that organisation in 1925 to go into other ministry. But some 20 years later he went through a spiritual crisis which challenged him to retrace his steps and rejoin the Faith Mission. It was at a conference in Edinburgh that things came to a head.
He said: ‘As I sat listening to Dr. Fitch, I suddenly became conscious of my unfitness to be on the platform. I saw the barrenness of my life and ministry. I saw the pride of my own heart. How very humiliating it was to discover that I was proud of the fact that I was booked to speak at five conventions that year! That night, in desperation on the floor of my study, I cast myself afresh on the mercy of God. He heard my cry for pardon and cleansing, and, as I lay prostrate before him, wave after wave of divine consciousness came over me and the love of the Saviour flooded my being; and in that hour I knew that my life and ministry could never be the same again… If in any small measure God has been pleased to use me, it is all because of what he did for me that night’.
Nights of prayer
Here, in edited form, is how Duncan Campbell described the beginning of the revival.
‘In November 1949, this gracious movement began on the island of Lewis. Two old women, one of them 84 years of age and the other 82 — one of them stone blind, were greatly burdened because of the appalling state of their own parish. It was true that not a single young person attended public worship. A verse gripped them: “I will pour water on him that is thirsty and floods upon the dry ground”. They were so burdened that both of them decided to spend so much time in prayer twice a week. On Tuesday they got on their knees at 10 o’clock in the evening and remained on their knees until 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning, two old women in a very humble cottage.
‘One night, one of the sisters had a vision. Now remember, in revival, God works in wonderful ways. In the vision she saw the church of her fathers crowded with young people, packed to the doors, and a strange minister standing in the pulpit. And she was so impressed by the vision that she sent for the parish minister.
‘Are my hands clean?’
‘In response the minister called his church office bearers together and seven of them met in a barn to pray on Tuesday and on Friday. And the two old women got on their knees and prayed with them. Well, that continued for some weeks until one night one young man, a deacon in the church, got up and read Psalm 24. “Who shall ascend the hill of God? Who shall stand in his holy place? He that has clean hands and a pure heart.” And then that young man closed his Bible. And looking down at the minister and the other office bearers, he said: “It seems to me to be so much humbug to be praying as we are praying, to be waiting as we are waiting, if we ourselves are not rightly related to God”. And then he lifted his two hands and prayed, “God, are my hands clean? Is my heart pure?” But he got no further. That young man fell to his knees and then fell into a trance. Now don’t ask me to explain this because I can’t. When that happened in the barn, the power of God swept into the parish. And an awareness of God gripped the community such as hadn’t been known for over 100 years. An awareness of God — that’s revival, that’s revival. And on the following day, the looms were silent, little work was done on the farms as men and women gave themselves to thinking on eternal things gripped by eternal realities.’
Coming to Lewis
Without going into detail, a number of things happened resulting in Duncan Campbell being called to the island to preach. Again he takes up the story.
‘We got to the church about quarter to nine to find about 300 people gathered and I gave an address. Nothing really happened during the service. It was a good meeting. A sense of God, a consciousness of his Spirit moving, but nothing beyond that. So I pronounced the benediction and we were leaving the church I would say about a quarter to 11.
‘Just as I am walking down the aisle, along with this young deacon who read the psalm in the barn, he suddenly stood in the aisle and, looking up to the heavens, he said: “God, you can’t fail us. God, you promised to pour water on the thirsty and floods upon the dry ground — God, you can’t fail us!” Just then the door opened — it is now 11 o’clock. The door of the church opens and the local blacksmith comes back into the church and says: “Mr. Campbell, something wonderful has happened. Oh, we were praying that God would pour water on the thirsty and floods upon the dry ground and listen, he’s done it, he’s done it!” When I went to the door of the church I saw a congregation of approximately 600 people. 600 people — where had they come from? What had happened? I believe that that very night God swept in Pentecostal power — the power of the Holy Ghost. What happened in the early days of the apostles was happening now in the parish of Barvas.
The dance hall
‘Over 100 young people were at the dance in the parish hall and they weren’t thinking of God or eternity. God was not in all of their thoughts. They were there to have a good night when suddenly the power of God fell upon the dance. The music ceased and in a matter of minutes, the hall was empty. They fled from the hall as a man fleeing from a plague. And they made for the church. They are now standing outside. They saw lights in the church. That was a house of God and they were going to it and they went. Men and women who had gone to bed rose, dressed, and made for the church. Nothing in the way of publicity. But God took the situation in hand. A hunger and a thirst gripped the people. 600 of them now are at the church standing outside.
‘This dear man, the blacksmith, turned to me and said: “I think that we should sing a psalm”. And they sang and they sang and they sang verse after verse. Oh, what singing! What singing! And then the doors were opened and the congregation flocked back into the church. Now the church is crowded — a church to seat over 800 is now packed to capacity. It is now going on towards midnight. I managed to make my way through the crowd along the aisle toward the pulpit. I found a young woman, a teacher in the grammar school, lying prostrate on the floor of the pulpit praying: “Oh, God, is there mercy for me? Oh, God, is there mercy for me?” She was one of those at the dance. But she is now lying on the floor of the pulpit crying to God for mercy.
‘That meeting continued until 4 o’clock in the morning. I couldn’t tell you how many were saved that night, but of this I am sure and certain that at least five young men who were saved in that church that night are today ministers in the church of Scotland having gone through university and college.’
This article is based on the book Sounds from Heaven, the Revival on the Island of Lewis, 1949-1952 by Colin & Mary Peckham (published by Christian Focus) and on an address given by Duncan Campbell in 1968 which can be found on the Shilohouse Ministries website, http://www.shilohouse.org/Hebrides_Revival.htm