THE REVIVAL AT BULFORD 1860-61*
The following account is taken from the Church Book of the Independent Chapel at Bulford, Wiltshire, when a John Protheroe was pastor. The present Pastor, Rev. Peter Beale, provides an introductory note:
A remarkable episode in the history of the work at Bulford commenced in 1840 with the calling of Pastor John Protheroe who had been studying at the Newport Pagnell College. He set out the aims of his ministry in his letter of acceptance to the Church:
“Brethren! need I remind you that a man and not an angel is coming amongst you, – a man who needs your prayers and your sympathies? ‘We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God and not of us.’
Should Providence bring us together, it shall be my study affectionately, faithfully, and fearlessly, to preach the everlasting Gospel, – to give to saint and sinner his portion of meat in due season,
– to promote the peace and prosperity of the Church and Congregation, – and to lead you in the way that leads to Heaven.”
Seven years later Mr. Protheroe resigned, partly due to ill health and partly due to what he considered to be “want of success” in his ministry:
“For the last few years, my ministry at Bulford has apparently been attended with little or no real effects, and the enquiry has often forced itself on me – am I in the right place? To this enquiry facts seem to say, No. It is true that the attendance on my ministry has been good, that the chapel has been well attended; but, in the generality of cases I have been to you, as Ezekiel was to Israel, only as ‘a very lovely song’ of me that used to have a pleasant voice or could play well on an Instrument: you have heard my words, but ye have done them not.”
He went to the Independent Church at Stonehouse, Plymouth; and in 1853, five years later, was again called to Bulford. The year was crowned with happiness for him in his marriage to a widow, Mrs. Joseph Olding of Amesbury (her own first name is not mentioned in the Church Book). The recommencemen to this ministry was marked on 8th May 1853 by services both at Bulford and Durrington (the first reference to a work in that village).
Bulford, 1861. Times of refreshing have come from the presence of the Lord. For some time past, a few of our pious friends had been previously impressed with the conviction that God was about to visit us in mercy, and they have not been disappointed. The first indications of the great work became visible about the end of
November last (1860) and were observed in the quiet stillness which pervaded the congregation, in the earnest desire and deep anxiety of the members to see among them a general awakening, in the extraordinary spirit of prayer which was poured out upon the people and their faith in the efficacy of prayer, and in some mysterious influence, almost irresistible, which I felt on my own mind, by which, for some time before the Revival ‘broke out’, I was all but impelled to preach to my people from certain subjects preparatory to the coming blessing,and by which I was more than ordinarily led to depend upon the promised aid of the Spirit in the discharge of public engagements. Duty became a pleasure, and the preaching of the cross – always a favourite work – now became doubly so to me.
This happy state of things had been preceded by an extensive distribution of striking tracts among my people, by a great amount of self-denying labour on the part of the Sabbath school teachers, with the addition of a prayer meeting immediately at the close of the school in the afternoon, by the establishment of a meeting for members exclusively for Christian fellowship and prayer, and by an increase of other religious means, at the commencement of last year when, in the second week of that year, the Church universal spent even days on its knees in prayer to God.
Prayer and Preaching
For some few months after that event we had meetings for prayer almost every night in the week. These meetings were never forgotten, nor some subjects from which, as I have already intimated, I was, about that time, all but impelled to preach:
‘Come thou with us, and we will do thee good’; ‘Whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he shall come in his own glory, and in his Father’s, and of the holy angels’; ‘Yield yourselves unto the Lord’; ‘We preach Christ crucified’; ‘When I see the blood, I will pass over you’; ‘I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture’; ‘Boast not thyself of tomorrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth’; ‘Awake thou that sleepest’; ‘Wilt thou not revive us again?’; ‘Prepare ye the way of the Lord’; ‘When he is come, he will reprove the world of sin’; ‘One thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see’; ‘Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him’; ‘Lovest thou me?’; ‘We will go with you, for we have heard that God is with you’; ‘It (the cup) containeth much’; ‘The second death’; ‘But I obtained mercy’.
From the conversation I have had with enquirers after salvation and candidates for church fellowship, it appears that, in the generality of cases, there had been a deep impression produced
under the ministry of the Word some time before any immediate indications of a revival were seen, and I learn that under one sermon preached by me from the words ‘Whosoever shall be ashamed of me’ etc, at least nine months before the awakening actually took place, five or six persons were deeply and savingly impressed, and led to the cross and to the throne. A similar remark may be made with regard to other sermons preached about that time.
The fields at length became white for the harvest and a voice was heard to say: “Thrust in the sickle and reap, for the time is come for thee to reap.’ Souls have been gathered into the garner; the number of members already added to the church since the Revival began has more than doubled the former number of church members – nearly trebled it. Even at one of our church meetings, lately held, I had the unspeakable pleasure and honour to give the right hand of fellowship to 20 on their admission into the church, and to propose at the same time 10 more as candidates for Christian communion. Of the religious awakening which took place in the days of John the Baptist it is said that ‘every man pressed into the kingdom of God’. It suffered violence, and the violent took it by force. It was like a city besieged. It was taken by force – not, however, by foes, but by friends.
Power in Prayer
The awakening at Bulford has been very general, among young and old, among persons of every character, who have displayed a firm determination to become personally interested in the privileges and blessings of the kingdom of heaven, and an ardent desire to become recognized subjects of it. For the last four months, meetings for prayer have been held almost every night in the week, and are not only numerously attended, but generally crowded.
The effects of the present awakening on our young people are remarkable, and of a great part of them it may now be said, ‘Behold, they pray.’ And they pray not only for themselves, but for their relatives and friends and the unconverted in the village and neighbourhood with great earnestness and importunity. It is astonishing to what a wonderful degree they are blessed with the gift of prayer. This is poured upon them in great abundance. There is no loss for words, no hesitation, as generally is the case with young converts when they begin to pray. Their language flows on apparently without any let or hindrance. Some of these young converts are not more than 16 years of age. Praise to God for what He has done for their souls, and supplications to His throne to accomplish for their relatives and neighbours who are still in an unconverted state what He has done for them, form a principal part of their prayer. ‘I thank Thee, O God, for what Thou hast done for me, and what Thou hast done for me Thou canst do for others’, is
one of the petitions frequently presented by these young converts. And then, having dwelt upon other subjects, they usually conclude with fervent and affectionate prayer for their minister, and for those friends whom they designate the ‘supporters’ of the cause at Bulford. Even little children now pray; they are not passed by. Jesus is saying, ‘Suffer the little ones to come unto me’. Indeed, all pray, old and young. They cannot but pray; they are filled with the Spirit of prayer; and consequently they pray with an unction and a readiness and frequency and earnestness which must strike with astonishment all who hear them. And when on the Sabbath or on week evenings the regular service is over – a service perhaps of more than two hours’ duration, and sometimes three – a great number of them linger about, as if unwilling to leave, and then return to pray, and continue till late, supplicating God’s throne for the conversion of ungodly relatives and friends, or that of the whole village. Those of them to whom formerly the language of prayer was a stranger, and who, on religious subjects, appeared as if they were possessed with a dumb spirit, now express their thoughts before the throne with a readiness and fluency which is truly astonishing.
For some years past a prayer meeting has been held in the schoolroom adjoining the chapel on the Sabbath evening immediately before the service. The place is now generally crowded: there is only standing room there. And the early Sabbath prayer meeting held at 7 o’clock in the morning is now well attended. At the week-evening prayer meetings, which are held almost every night in the week, I always speak for about 20 minutes or half an hour, either from a single verse or a larger portion of God’s Word, and, having finished, I express my wish that two or three of the brethren – without specifying their names – would pray successively without singing between, and then another hymn is sung and five or six more pray as before. Nine or ten usually pray at these meetings, though one night as many as 16 engaged in prayer.
I have seldom had a meeting without having at its close some enquirers after salvation. Even as many as 15 persons one night remained after the service to converse with me about the concerns of their souls. For these enquirers, for the young converts and for the members generally, I have established a weekly meeting for reading together the Word of God, for mutual conversation and spiritual edification and encouragement – a meeting at which we have felt the presence of the Master, and we have exclaimed, ‘It is good for us to be here.’ Oh, that these meetings were held in connection with every church in England. I believe in the communion of saints, and I also believe that, to prosper as churches, we must have these meetings for Christian fellowship and
improvement more extensively and more frequently held. A large proportion of the candidates for church fellowship are found among the young, some few of whom, before their conversion and while in the Sabbath school, were almost unmanageable by their teachers. Now they are in their right mind and pray, and it is a pleasure to hear these young converts in their prayers refer with gratitude to the early impressions made upon their minds when they were taught in the school, and, with hearts overflowing with joy, not only acknowledging this but praying most fervently and affectionately for their former teachers.
A happy change has come over the village, and everywhere around its influence is felt. The police officer located in our neighbourhood, referring to this happy change, one day remarked that, in his walks through Bulford, instead of trifling conversation he could now hear only the voice of prayer and praise ascending to God from the cottages of the poor which may now be styled ‘Bethels’. And the young people, instead of frequenting as formerly they did the public houses, now abstain altogether from intoxicating drinks and derive their chief delight from the service of God. The fields, too, present a very different aspect from what they ever had before. Here and there during the dinner-hour you may see and hear groups of persons, while resting, speaking of the things touching the King, and perhaps one of their number reading to the rest some religious book. Oh, what hath God wrought!
The present revival at Bulford is distinguished more by deep inward solemnity than by any external manifestations: there is no physical prostration, no outward extravagance, no religious bustle. There has been no approach whatever to anything like it, nor am I aware of anything specially remarkable in this respect, except the case of one young man who made the observation that one Sabbath morning, while he was listening to me preaching from the words, ‘I will hear what God the LORD will speak: for he will speak peace unto His people, and to the saints: but let them not turn again to folly’, he felt as if he must fall off his seat; his sins appearing to him in all their magnitude and malignity and number. A deep sense of their previous guilty and perilous condition as sinners, an impression that they may at any time unexpectedly be called out of the world, together with strong faith in the efficacy of prayer, a calm and happy frame of mind, and a consonant walk, are among some of the principal characteristics by which the converts, whether young or old, are distinguished.
By what I have already stated, I am forcibly reminded of:
1. The necessity of divine influence and the vast importance of depending more and more upon the promised aid of the Spirit in the
discharge of all religious duties.
The Spirit is the great agent in this work, and He it is that convinces of sin, and turns from darkness to light the ignorant and the rebellious. We are instruments in His hands; and I find that since I have been led to depend more than ever upon the promised aid of the Spirit in the discharge of my ministerial duties, I have preached with greater pleasure to myself and more profit to my people, conversions have taken place, souls have been saved, and God has been glorified. ‘Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts’; ‘I will not save them by bow, nor by sword, nor by battle, by horses, nor by horsemen.’
2. The efficacy of prayer, and the connection there is between prayer and the reception of blessings.
We had long been praying for this revival – crying long, but believingly and patiently, ‘from beneath the altar’. It is now come. The Lord hath come into His Temple. He blesses His people with peace.
The voice had long been heard crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare ye the way of the Lord’. And now in the wilderness – in a desert (the desert of the heart) – a highway for our God has been made straight, while many a heart has lifted up its gate for the King of glory to come
* First published in Contemporary Concern, the magazine published by the Evangelical Fellowship of Congregational Churches, and then in The Evangelical Magazine of Wales. Published here by kind permission of Rev. Peter Beale.