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meeting, as identified always with the history of revival of religion, to notice the connection of this incident of 1641 with a remarkable revival in Ireland in 1625, and persecutions following, which drove many persecuted Christians to Scotland for shelter from the rage of the storm. These refugees, of warm-hearted piety, carried over with them their custom in regard to the prayer-meeting.
And to bring it the better to bear on our point just here, it may be well to look back a little farther upon some of the historic events preceding this revival, and some of the co-operating causes producing it; as also the effects of the reformations and revivals of those times, together with the surgings of parties and persecutions, and the counter influences of those revolutionary days, affecting for good or for evil the cause of true religion.
The famous “Five Articles of Perth," passed in the General Assembly August 25th, 1618, under the influence and at the dictation of King James, were followed by lengthened and complicated vexations and persecutions in Scotland, which drove multitudes of the people from the ministrations of the dominant party, led by the royal influence, and to their private fellowship meetings, as the means of preserving the suffering cause of truth, and as the only substitute for public ordinances when so grossly corrupted. These “Articles," afterwards, in 1621, received the ratification of Parliament, and were rigidly enforced, and consequently many able and godly ministers were driven from their flocks, and into banishment. Among these were Brice, Glendinning, Ridge, Blair, and others who fled to Ireland. When they arrived there, they found the Province of Ulster--which has so long been the brightest spot on the map of Ireland-in a most deplorable state of ignorance and ungodliness. Their missionary labors--for such they were were crowned with success. Shortly after
they had entered upon their labors, awakenings under the ministrations of Glendinning occurred at “Oldstone,” in the district of “ Six Mile Water," where a Scottish Calvinist, of prayer-meeting affinities, opened his house for that purpose. Many resorted to the prayer-meetings. Many others were organized over the Province, where the other Scottish ministers labored. So one of the most remarkable revivals occurred, whose fame spread to distant countries, and whose effects are yet manifest in the striking contrast between the moral, spiritual, and physical condition of Ulster and other parts of Ireland.
These prayer-meetings among the people were encouraged by the ministers, and were found to be the strength of their right arm in the glorious revival work then in progress under their ministrations. Out of these private fellowship meetings, held in private houses all over the North of Ireland, grew those “ monthly meetings," of such fragrant and extensive fame, first organized and held at Antrim, and known in history by the designation, “Antrim Monthly Meetings,” held on the Saturdays or some other day before communions, when ministers and many others from distant parts of the country assembled together for prayer and Christian conference. These aided in making their communions seasons of revival, and dew-like refreshings from on high.
A very judicious and accurate historian, Dr. Houston, of Ireland, drawing from Fleming on the fulfilment of Scripture, and Reid's History of the Presbyterian Church of Ireland, says:
“The remembrance of these hallowed meetings was cherished long afterwards, and when prelatic oppression and the Popish massacre of 1641 served to expel faithful ministers from the North of Ireland, and their attached flocks were deprived of the pure administration of public ordinances and scattered, the prayer-meetings were resorted to as the grand means of supplying their spiritual destitution, and of light and refreshment in the cloudy and dark day.
" In subsequent times, too, the written or traditionary record of the blessed effects of these solemn assemblies has been of eminent advantage to the cause of true and undefiled religion; so that in times of trial, and wherever evangelical religion has been preserved in its purity, and the power of practical godliness has been displayed, these blessings have been sought and obtained by means of associations for united prayer and Christian fellowship.”
The persecution in Ireland, in 1641, referred to, drove very many back to Scotland, at a time when earnest religion was being put to the test—a time when many ministers of the Church of Scotland were falteringas Henry Guthrie, who afterward accepted a bishopric, and who pushed in the Assembly the action in relation to prayer-meetings. At this time the warm-hearted Ulster emigrants threw their influence and the fire of their revived piety into the cause of the meetings in question, and gave new life to the prayer-meetings in Scotland when these ministers, declining towards the prelatic party, aimed their blow at them, and through them at earnest practical godliness. It is in the light of these historic incidents that the action of the Scottish Assembly of 1641 obtains so much prominence in the history of the prayer-meeting. It demonstrates the importance of this ordinance to the life of experimental and practical religion, and to the cause of its revival. Eminently godly ministers, with many of the intelligent and pious laity, retired from persecution in Scotland, carried over to Ireland their zeal in the cause of revival, and for this precious instrumentality, so dear to them in their native land, and by persevering labors and prayers turned almost all the North of Ireland into a spiritual garden, dotted all over with its organized, lifeinspiring prayer-meetings.
In the ever-changing tide of affairs, active piety was thrown back into Scotland, making its currents felt among the people. This excited the cold formalists of prelatic proclivity to the insidious attack upon the prayer-meeting in the Assembly of 1641. The importance of this historic incident, in this connection, is our apology for extended notice. Its importance will be enhanced by its connection, in the current of historic events, with the sore trials to which the
prayermeeting and its friends were so soon subjected. Elements were then in commotion which ultimated in that terrible storm of persecution which drove praying people to the fields, to the glens, to the mountains, to the caves of Scotland, there to enjoy the sweet privileges of their fellowship meetings, while their pastors breasted its fury in dungeons, in the fields, or on the scaffold. The dark cioud, bearing in its deathly folds Scotland's " killing time,” had now begun to lower. The significance of the stroke of 1641 in the Assembly was but as the distant, low mutterings of fury, pent up and still lying beyond the horizon, soon to develop its power, and direct its arm against a people trained to prayer.
THE SOCIETY PEOPLE.” In 1660 Charles II. ascended the throne, placed himself at the head of the prelatic party, and soon 'inaugurated, by system, one of the most dastardly persecutions, blackened with perjury, ever staining the history of modern times. The sequel of this bloody history, closing with the reign of the second James, identifies with and brings to view the particular history of the “Society People,” justly entitled to a page in our hurried historic sketch of the prayermeeting.
In regard to this people, we, with pleasure, insert a page of history borrowed from a living historian of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Ireland, Rev. Thomas Houston, D. D. We quote from “THE FELLOWSHIP PRAYERMEETING," pp. 80–84:
“When the prelatic persecution, under Charles II., drove three hundred faithful Presbyterian ministers from their pulpits, and hireling curates were intruded upon their reluctant flocks, the value of private social prayer-meetings was again experienced in upholding and comforting the servants of God in evil times. Thus were they fitted for patient endurance of privations and sufferings, and thus they were nerved for the noble conflict in which they engaged against Erastian power. In the latter part of the twenty-eight years' persecution, when under the cruel and arbitrary measures of the Popish and bigoted James, the number of faithful witnesses was greatly reduced ; and by indulgences, and every other means that anti-Christian policy could invent, apostasy and defection were encouraged, the few resolute Covenanters who remained had recourse to united prayer, and cultivated fraternal fellowship, as a precious means of preservation and safety amidst manifold danger and suffering. Hence, they were called * THE SOCIETY PEOPLE;' and the history of this disastrous period, whether as written by persons friendly or unfriendly to their cause, bears unequivocal testimony that it was, in a great measure, owing to their cordial, intimate union, and to their faithful exertions, that the precious truths «f the gospel were preserved, and that the civil and religious liberties of Britain were rescued from the grasp of despotic rulers."
Even the prejudiced Wodrow is forced to confess that