The Hebrides Revival of 1949 – 1952 An Overview

Note: This is part one of a four part series on the Hebridean Revival of 1949 – 1952.

The Hebrides are a chain of over 100 islands isolated by the Minch Sea North of Scotland. They are divided into two major chains: the Inner and the Outer Hebrides. The Inner Hebrides are nearest to the mainland and comprised of thirty-six inhabited islands. The Outer Hebrides, where the events of 1949 – 1952 occurred, are out further into the Atlantic Ocean. They are comprised of fifty unpopulated islands and fifteen populated islands.[1]

The island of Lewis and Harris, the third largest island in the British Isles, is roughly 841 square miles and has fluctuated in population between 20,000 and 25,000 with Gaelic being the primary language of the people. Lewis is located in the northern two-thirds of this island while Harris is the southern one-third.[2]

The largest town on the island is Stornoway and according to Mary Peckham, a resident of Lewis during the revival, declared that it was “the only town on Lewis”[3] because “most of the folk live in more or less compact villages, mainly in the coastal areas.”[4] Furthermore, due to the choppiness of the Minch Sea, it would take upwards of seven hours and was to be “endured not enjoyed”[5] thus making the island even less of a tourist destination and therefore more isolated from Scotland and the rest of the world. The Peckham’s relate that at one point Duncan Campbell (1898-1972) wrote in a report of his crossing the Minch that it “was an experience which I would not like to describe.”[6]

Circumstances

Though his work focuses primarily on the conversion of children in revivals, revival historian Harry Sprange has traced the rich history of spiritual awakenings and revivals in Scotland during the 18th through 20th centuries in his work Children in Revival.[7] Revivals were not abnormal in Scotland and were expected to occur regularly. The most recent revival in Lewis took place in 1939 but was cut short by World War II. Tom Lennie offers a more concise history in his seminal work, Glory in the Glen.[8] Conspicuously, Sprange’s research ends with the Hebrides Revival while Lennie ends his work notably in 1940.

The circumstances leading up to the Hebrides Revival, by which I refer to the revival that occurred between the years 1949 and 1952,  was the two World Wars had taken a toll on the population of the island, in particular, the young men. All the death and destruction from the wars was a constant reminder of the mortality of man and the fragility of life. In light of these two realities, men, women, and children were primed for a spiritual awakening.

Key Events

More pertinent, however, was the expectation and recognition of the need for a God-sent awakening and revival in the community. Reverend Owen Murphy relates that there was a deep concern “about the desperate spiritual condition of the churches” amongst the adults of which “a little group of men who lived at Barvas . . . met in a little wooden barn . . . and began to pray”[9] for revival.

When they began their intentional time of praying for revival, the Holy Spirit brought to their collective minds the truth that God is a “covenant-keeping God who had made covenant promises.”[10] With 2 Chronicles 7:14 as their foundation, they “entered into a solemn covenant with God, to take upon themselves the ‘burden’ for revival for the community”[11] and committed to praying until revival came once again to the island. They would gather “three nights a week and [wait] upon God until four and five o’clock in the morning.”[12]

The effects of the revival were lasting on the island.

Murphy continues, “Then, one night, a young man, a deacon from the Free Church, arose from his knees and began to read Psalm 24”[13] which led to his asking if their hearts were clean and pure. “In response to this searching challenge they fell upon their knees in confession, and rededication”[14] in more earnest prayer. It was that particular time of prayer that the Glory of God was felt and revival began in force on the island.

That same morning, two sisters in their 80’s who had also prayed for revival on Lewis for years were told by the Spirit of God to contact Reverend Duncan Campbell to be the means by which the revival would spread. When he received the wire to come to Lewis, he responded that it was “impossible for me to come at this time, but keep on praying and I will come next year.”[15] Undaunted, the women responded to the courier that regardless of what Campbell said, he would be on the island in two weeks. When all his conferences unexpectedly canceled at the last minute, he found himself in Barvas on Lewis Island on Wednesday, 7 December 1949, “to begin a short mission at Barvas.”[16] It was indeed two weeks from the time he was first contacted by the sisters.

Campbell notes in his account of the Lewis Awakening, as he calls it, that “my first contact with this congregation fully convinced me that revival had already come.”[17] As he began to lead in prayer and proclamation of the gospel, the Holy Spirit began to move. After one of the first services had ended, the congregation was reluctant to leave the church grounds with most of the congregation gathering outside the church building. From within the four walls, a sudden cry was heard. It was “a young man, burdened for the souls of his fellow men, pouring out his soul in intercession.”[18] It was at that time that “a wave of conviction of sin swept over the gathering, moving strong men to cry to God for mercy.”[19] That service reconvened until the next morning  because everyone refused to go home. “Within a matter of days the whole parish[20] was in the grip of a spiritual awakening.”[21] Work ceased on the island as men, women, and children flocked to the church to hear about the things of God.

As the revival continued, opposition meetings were held “just 200 yards away from where they were seeing revival!”[22] Undeterred, a prayer meeting was held in the home of Donald and Bella Smith with five ministers in attendance along with others concerned for the continuation of the revival. One of the elders, John Smith by name and the local blacksmith “rose to his feet and prayed for around thirty minutes, paused for a little while, lifted his right hand towards Heaven and prayed, ‘God, do you know that Your honour is at stake?”[23] He continued in his audacious prayer, “God your honour is at stake! And I now challenge You to fulfil Your covenant engagement, t pour water on the thirsty and floods upon the dry ground.”[24] He was praying from Isaiah 44:3. It was “at that moment the granite built house shook like a leaf!”[25] After a benediction was pronounced they went outside the house “to find the people of this village ablaze with conviction of sin.”[26] It was two in the morning! The revival continued until 1952 and encompassed the entirety of Lewis and Harris Island though not the entirety of the Hebrides Islands.

The Effects of the Revival

The effects of the revival were lasting on the island. Rev. Murphy quotes the Keswick Journal from 1952 which recorded the effects of the revival:

More people are attending prayer meetings in Lewis today, than attended public worship on the Sabbath day before the outbreak of revival. Social evils were swept away as by a flood, and in the communities touched by this gracious movement you have men and women living for God. Family worship in nearly every home, five or six prayer meetings a week in the parish; and ministers and elders building up the young men and women in the faith. Of all the hundreds who have turned to Christ in that first gracious wave of the Holy Spirit, only four young women have ceased to attend the prayer meetings.[27]

Furthermore, “over 80 hymns have been composed by the converts.”[28] The central doctrine of most of those hymns was the love of God. In an unpublished thesis, Norman Afrin, concludes his research, “The evidence for a true movement is also seen by the major impact the revival had far beyond Lewis.”[29] This included countless ministers and missionaries serving around the globe spreading the impact of the revival from the isolated islands of the Hebrides.


[1] Campbell, Duncan, The Lewis Awakening 1949-1953 (USA: Kraus House, 2015), i.

[2] Peckham, Colin and Mary, Sounds from Heaven – The Revival on the Isle of Lewis, 1949-1952 (Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 2020), 17-19.

[3] Peckham, Sounds from Heaven, 17.

[4] Peckham, Sounds from Heaven, 17.

[5] Peckham, Sounds from Heaven, 17.

[6] Peckham, Sounds from Heaven, 49.

[7] Sprange, Harry, Children in Revival – 300 Years of God’s Work in Scotland (Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 2002).

[8] Lennie, Tom, Glory in the Glen – A history of Evangelical Revivals in Scotland 1880-1940 (Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 2009).

[9] Murphy, Owen, When God Stepped Down from Heaven: Revival in the Hebrides (Columbia, SC: Independent Publisher, 2017), 15.

[10] Murphy, When God Stepped Down, 15.

[11] Murphy, When God Stepped Down, 16.

[12] Murphy, W/hen God Stepped Down, 16.

[13] Murphy, When God Stepped Down, 16.

[14] Murphy, When God Stepped Down, 17.

[15] Murphy, When God Stepped Down, 17.

[16] Peckham, Sounds from Heaven, 47.

[17] Campbell, The Lewis Awakening, 9.

[18] Campbell, The Lewis Awakening, 9.

[19] Campbell, The Lewis Awakening, 10.

[20] The parish in this case would be similar to a county in most states in the United States and not a reference to a church’s membership.

[21] Campbell, The Lewis Awakening, 11.

[22] Backholer, Matthew, Reformation to Revival: 500 Years of God’s Glory – Sixty Revivals, Awakenings & Heaven-Sent Visitations of the Holy Spirit (England: ByFaith Media, 2017), 199.

[23] Backholer, Reformation to Revival, 200.

[24] Backholer, Reformation to Revival, 200.

[25] Backholer, Reformation to Revival, 200.

[26] Backholer, Reformation to Revival, 200.

[27] Murphy, When God Stepped Down 31.

[28] Murphy, When God Stepped Down, 32.

[29] Afrin, Norman Alistair, “A Critical Analysis of the 1949-1953 Lewis Revival” (Master’s Thesis, University of Glasgow, 2017), 70. 

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