The Hebrides Revival of 1949 – 1952 An Assessment

Note: This is part two of a four part series on the Hebridean Revival of 1949 – 1952. You can read part one, an overview.

Defining Revival

In order to properly assess any revival, there must be a solid definition of what actually constitutes a revival. This is no easy task as the term revival is not found in the Scriptures. The terms ‘revive’ and ‘revived,’ however, are found, but not very often. What is found in the Scriptures with the use of the various synonyms for revive is what one would typically expect: someone who was weary only to be reenergized as in the case of the person who is revived when they seek God (Ps 69:32) or a dead man coming back to life as in the case of the corpse being thrown falling onto Elisha’s bones in the grave and he was “revived and stood on his feet” (2 Kgs 13:21[1]).

Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981) offers one of the most concise definitions for revival when he explains that revival is

A period of unusual blessing and activity in the life of the Christian Church. Primarily, of course, and by definition, a revival is something that happens first in the Church amongst Christian people; amongst believers. That, I repeat, is true by definition. It is revival; something is revived and when you say that, you mean that there is something present that has got life … [Revival] happens primarily in the Church of God and amongst believing people and it is only secondly something that affects those that are outside the church.[2]

This understanding of what revival is and is not forms the basis by which this paper seeks to interact with the Hebrides Revival. Thus, it will be argued that not only was there a revival (“in the church”) in the Hebrides, but there was also a spiritual awakening (“outside the church”) that took hold of the residents on the island.

Biblical Texts

As mentioned previously, there were indeed a few texts of Scripture that the Holy Spirit used to anchor the revival that took place on the Lewis and Harris island. There appears to be agreement by all that 2 Chronicles 7:14 was the first verse to anchor the prayers that prepared the island for the work of the Lord. It was in this text that a group of men found their “covenant promise for revival”[3] from God. With their prayer life revived, they continued to pour out their hearts to the Lord for some time when finally Psalm 24 was read aloud at the prayer meeting further leading them to seek the Lord.

When Duncan Campbell arrived on the island in December 1949, he began preaching the Scriptures whenever and where ever he was afforded the opportunity. The Price and Power of Revival offers four sermons of Duncan Campbell that serves as examples of the kind of preaching that helped to stir the embers of the flame of revival. Passages included Gal 1:20, 24; 2 Kgs 4:2; Acts 4:29-37; and Ps 24:3-5.

One of Campbell’s favorite passages of Scripture appeared to have been John 10:27. Afrin underscores the importance of this single verse in Campbell’s ministry when he relates his surprise during his research for his theses that “another interesting point raised whilst conducting the interviews were the references made to John 10:27 in Campbell’s preaching … This seems to have been a go-to verse for Campbell.”[4]  

At every instance, the revival was stoked by preaching from the Word of God or praying the Word of God. But, more importantly, was the presuppositions behind the use of God’s Word in praying for and preaching during the revival.

Theological Presuppositions

Though prayer and preaching can often become formulaic or even viewed as a means to an end, the reality is all Christians have some theological presuppositions. The saints in the Hebrides were no different. Tom Lennie traces a history of revival in Scotland from 1880-1940. He argues the methodology of the revivalists like Finney and Moody as well as the “general conditions of urban life” and the “extra leisure time that increased prosperity brought” ultimately led to “increasing apathy towards the Church.”[5] But, he continues with the reassurance that

the old style ‘outpourings of the Spirit’ … had by no means altogether disappeared. On the contrary, evangelical awakenings of a more spontaneous and orthodox nature continued to arise in on part of Scotland or another almost without intermission right up to the mid 1920’s. From that time onwards they appeared on a much more irregular basis, except in Lewis, where they continued through the 1930s and 1940s, and indeed, right up to the 1980s.[6]

Duncan Campbell’s biographer, Andrew A. Woolsey explains simply, “The people of Lewis were no strangers to revivals.”[7] Thus, the first presupposition is that revival is to be expected.

Related to the expectation of revival is an awareness of the covenant keeping God who is holy and faithful. This awareness leads to the believer burdened for revival to call out to the Lord in prayer. Prayer then becomes the vehicle by which the Lord begins to mobilize his own army of choice saints to gather in the area where he intends to pour out his Spirit on the people. But, in order to even consider praying for revival and spiritual awakening, there must be an understanding that God is holy and faithful to keep his covenants. Without this assumption of who God is, no believer would tarry much in prayer if the Lord did not answer immediately.

During and after the Hebrides Revival, however, the prayer lives of the community remained central to the spiritual vitality. In fact, in 1949, the first year of the revival, all the members of the church attended the weekly prayer meeting. You were not accepted as a member of the church unless … [you] were in the prayer meeting every week.”[8] So much so that one local paper wrote, “more are attending the weekly prayer meeting than attended publice (sic) worship on the Sabbath, before the revival.”[9]

Revival is a period of unusual blessing and activity in the life of the Christian Church.

– D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

One of the more gifted prayer warriors on the island during this time was seventeen-year-old Donald Smith. It was said of him that “God had imparted the amazing ministry of prayer.”[10] Campbell recalls leaning over the pulpit while preaching and asked young Donald, “who was visibly moved and appeared to be deeply burdened,”[11] to lead the congregation in prayer. He goes on, “there was an immediate response, and in that moment the floodgates of heaven opened, the congregation was struck as by a hurricane, and many cried out for mercy.”[12]

A third theological presupposition held by the leaders of the revival is the sufficiency of Scripture. The prayers of the lay leaders were shaped by the Bible. The sermons that were preached were rooted in the Bible. Though there is not a catalog of sermons preached in the Hebrides during the years 1949-1952, there is enough anecdotal evidences that very few sermons were preached multiple times. It has already been mentioned that John 10:27 was Campbell’s favorite passage of Scripture, but it must be noted that it framed his entire ministry. All of his Calvinistic theology can be found in seed form in this passage when Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” 

Arguably the most essential presupposition found in the Hebrides Revival is that man must repent. They must humble themselves before God and seek forgiveness for their sins. What good is praying to a sovereign God and proclaiming his promises to the men and women in need of salvation if God is not going to move on their hearts and draw them to himself?

From the outset of the revival, men and women were doing whatever it took “to get peace from a guilty conscience, and refuge from the storm in their bosom, in the shelter of the Rock of Ages.”[13] Agnes Morrison, a young girl at the beginning of the revival relates, “I was in the kitchen and the prayer meeting was in progress. I was crying and I was swept into the kingdom.”[14]

Though many today strive to manipulate God through their prayers and sermons and actions, the people of Lewis and Harris island genuinely sought the face of God and were found by him when he poured out his Spirit on the people. Their understanding of who God is and how prayer works and the necessity of the gospel and repentance were the foundation on which the entire movement was built.

Critique

One of the most glaring critiques was the ubiquitous nature in which men and women were saved. Murphy claims that when the Spirit swept throughout the village,

People could not sleep; houses were lit all night; people walked the streets in great conviction; others knelt by their bedsides crying for God to pardon them! . . . The preacher walked into a house for a glass of milk and found the lady of the house, with seven others, down upon their knees, crying for pardon. . . . Fourteen young men, who had been drinking [in the drinking house], were gloriously converted. . . . It was in this village [Arnol] that within 48 hours nearly every young person between the ages of 12 and 20 had surrendered to Christ, and it was reckoned that every young man between the ages of 18 and 35 could be found in the prayer meetings.[15]

A problematic statement from the Peckham’s regarding the movement of the Spirit without the proclamation of the gospel is in reference to the young men converted in the drinking hall. Though it was clearly evident that these young men were converted, they state, “There was no preacher to enlighten them, no special gospel event, no charged atmosphere; just the power of God working by the Spirit in their hearts. Led by the Spirit they trusted Jesus Christ as their Saviour.”[16]

Accounts like these are found throughout the retelling of the events in both book and video. The reader today is left to assume how the unsaved had heard the gospel in order to genuinely repent of their sins. Given the history of the island, it is easy to falsely accept that everyone had heard the clear gospel numerous times, but if the accounts of the spiritual vitality of the community before the revival is any indication, then that must not be assumed.

Although there was plenty of evidence for the renewed and ongoing spiritual vitality after the revival, this is one of those concerning doctrinal aspects of this revival that screams out a warning to all: be sure to proclaim the gospel whenever the opportunity presents itself. For you never know when the Lord might bring it to someone’s mind in the future.

Campbell relates yet another aspect of the Hebrides Revival as that of “physical manifestations and prostrations.”[17] He does go on to argue against these unexplainable manifestations of the Spirit as being demonic and that anyone who does associate the physical manifestations “with satanic influence is coming perilously near committing the unpardonable sin.”[18]

Then there was the story of the house that shook in Arnol after a prayer meeting. The prayer was from John Smith, the town blacksmith. He was bold enough to call on God to keep his word. It was after that prayer, “the house shook [and s]omeone next to Mr. Campbell said to him, ‘Mr. Campbell, an earthquake.’ The next day they were to discover that no other house shook.”[19] This story has been testified to and verified by almost every single account of the revival and has never been refuted.

Furthermore, the Peckham’s relate what happened while the house was shaking. They state at length

It was a mighty moment that Donald MacPhail remembers, for he was sitting on the crowded stairs beside two unsaved neighbours, Christina Campbell (no. 33) and Donald MacLeod (no. 31). They had been dozing, but in a moment they were wide awake under deep conviction of sin. They began to cry for mercy. In fact Christina wept and cried aloud for help. Both were saved that very night.

Campbell pronounced the benediction, and they left the house to discover that at that hour the people were moving to the meeting hall. Some were carrying chairs wondering if there would be enough room for them.[20]

Again, stories like these abound throughout the many accounts of the Hebrides Revival. Afrin devotes pages 41-47 of his theses relating the many different manifestations throughout the island. He is careful to note that not everyone experienced radical and unexplainable manifestations during the revival. He concludes that “Manifestations that took different forms, but manifestations, as far as the Isle of Lewis is concerned, that were not new.”[21]

Though it is difficult to critique a subjective experience that was objectively witnessed by many, there is always good reason to be cautious. Fortunately, the Peckham’s, eyewitnesses to the revival, made it abundantly clear in their work that not everyone experienced these manifestations and those that did were not haughty or arrogant. Rather, they all continued living in the Spirit of God unified by the blood of Jesus.

What to make of these strange accounts? On the one hand, the evidence is there that did in fact occur and they were seemingly not abused as though there were levels of the Spirit’s movement among the men and women and children of the island. On the other hand, they sound so far-fetched to the sane mind that one must wonder as to the truthfulness of the claims. Regardless, today’s reader would do well to be charitable in their assessment of these manifestations as well as their own assumptions as they seek to understand how the Spirit moved throughout the island as he did.

When all is finally evaluated, the Hebrides Revival was a genuine movement of the Lord wherein the watching world is now able to see how God’s sovereignty played a role in his sending a revival. The men and women, through their own volition, began praying to God to send his Spirit. When the two wills merge, the strangest events will occur. Many, if not most, of those events cannot be understand by the human mind apart from the supernatural. Sometimes it is best to settle for the tension that is largely unexplainable but is consistent with the workings of God as seen in Scripture. Perhaps Jesus summed this up the best when he said, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).


[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations from English Standard Version, 2011 text edition.

[2] Lloyd-Jones, Martyn, Revival (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1987), 99.

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

[4] Afrin, “A Critical Analysis of the 1949-1953 Lewis Revival,” 40.

[5] Lennie, Tom, Glory in the Glen: A History of Evangelical Revivals in Scotland 1880—1940 2nd ed. (Scotland: Christian Focus Publications Ltd., 2009), 33.

[6] Lennie, Glory in the Glen, 34. Emphasis added.

[7] Woolsey, Andrew A., Channel of Revival: A Biography of Duncan Campbell (Edinburgh: The Faith Mission, 1982), 112.

[8] Peckham, Sounds from Heaven, 24.

[9] Campbell, The Lewis Awakening, 23.

[10] Murphy, When God Stepped Down, 24.

[11] Campbell, The Lewis Awakening, 22.

[12] Campbell, The Lewis Awakening, 23.

[13] Campbell, The Lewis Awakening, 25.

[14] Peckham, Sounds from Heaven, 171.

[15] Murphy, When God Stepped Down, 23.

[16] Peckham, Sounds from Heaven, 115.

[17] Campbell, The Lewis Awakening, 28.

[18] Campbell, The Lewis Awakening, 28.

[19] Peckham, Sounds from Heaven, 113.

[20] Peckham, Sounds from Heaven, 113.

[21] Afrin, “A Critical Analysis of the 1949-1953 Lewis Revival,” 47.

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