The Hebrides Revival of 1949 – 1952 An Evaluation

Note: This is part three of a four part series on the Hebridean Revival of 1949 – 1952. You can read the Overview, and the Assessment.

The evaluation of The Hebrides Revival is largely contingent on the theological presuppositions of the one seeking to critique it. Iain D. Campbell states that the Isle of Lewis has been “identified with conservative, evangelical, Reformed preaching and has also known a history of revivals.”[1] He further notes that though the Hebrides Revival of 1949-1952 has been well documented and criticized, the majority of the revivals in Scotland were poorly documented if they were known about at all outside the region in which they occurred.[2] Here in the United States, however, there is very little information readily available for the Hebrides revival.

Key Leaders

As with any revival, prayer was instrumental. Perhaps no two people prayed more than Peggy and Christine Smith. “They were eighty-four and eighty-two years old respectively, and spoke only Gaelic. Peggy was bling and her sister almost bent double with arthritis.”[3] Because they were unable to attend worship services they began to pray in their cottage. These two women faithfully prayed until moved by the Spirit to send for the local minister. His name was Reverend James Murray MacKay who began praying with the ladies. After a few months, he set into motion the events that would ultimately bring Duncan Campbell to Lewis.

The primary instrument of the revival on the Isle of Lewis was Duncan Campbell. Campbell was a minister in the United Free Church of Scotland and also a missionary with Faith Mission. A short book entitled The Price and Power of Revival offers a sampling of Campbell’s sermons. He makes clear in a message on Psalm 24:3-5 that “revival did not begin by [his] going there. God was moving and moving mightily before ever [he] thought of going to Lewis.”[4] This shows the humility of the man who would lead arguable the last great revival in Scotland.

His willingness to answer the call of the Lord on his life even when he did not necessarily see it at first is also essential to the historical understanding of the surprising nature of the Hebrides Revival. It has been noted already that Campbell did not want to come to the Isle initially due to scheduling conflicts. Nonetheless, as he witnessed the providential hand of God moving in his life, he changed both his mind and his preaching itinerary and came right away. Immediately, he realized this was where the Lord wanted him.

Personal and Interpersonal Dynamics of Leaders

Upon his arrival, Campbell found a number of lay leaders, both men and women, who had been praying for revival to come the island. Immediately, the locals and the missionary were united in one common bond: to witness the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Isle. Everywhere Campbell went, he found godly men and women who had been praying for revival for months and years still gathering. Instead of taking over the prayer meetings with his own prayers and preaching he simply joined the group and prayed as the Lord moved.

It is safe to say that the unity the men and women experienced immediately was of the hand of God. In the beginning, there was no competition between ministers and lay leaders or locals and outsiders. Rather, they all prayed for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in light of where the local culture was headed apart from God. Their concern was primarily for the young people of the Hebrides.

The problem with the popular material available today regarding the Hebrides Revival of 1949-1952, especially here in the United States, is the hagiographical nature of the resources. Very few seek to criticize Duncan Campbell’s theology or methodology. Granted, it is undeniable that revival took hold of the island in these four years and Duncan Campbell was the primary conduit of that outpouring of the Holy Spirit, but there remains concern as to why there has not been a noteworthy in the region since 1952.

Iain H. Murray relates Kenneth MacRae’s assertion against Campbell:

No person who knows anything of the history of religion would for a moment contend that because a man is Arminian in his theology he cannot have the grace of God in his hear, or cannot be acknowledged in his labours to the conversion of souls.

But a good man can mingle the good that he does with harm should his teaching not be wholly sound. The Arminian who may be used of the Lord for the conversion of sinners is used, not because of his preaching of the peculiar doctrines of Arminianism, but because of his preaching the doctrines of grace with which these Arminian tenets are intermingled. The doctrines of Arminianism, apart from the doctrines of grace, cannot be to the salvation or spiritual profit of any soul, whatever harm they may do, for they are not the doctrines of truth.[5]

Murray continues with his own commentary:

It can be seen form this that MacRae’s belief was that while God may bless the Gospel though preached in an Arminian context, Arminianism in itself is harmful. He knew it had done harm in many parts of Scotland in the preceding eighty years and – remember his own premature ‘conversion – he feared its proneness to treat a man’s ‘decision for Christ’ as proof of the possession of the new birth.[6]

Though Campbell was a fiery preacher who preached the necessity of being born again, his theological foundation was far from sound if one were to hold to a Reformed persuasion. That being said, the Reformed stalwart of the day, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, endorsed Woolsey’s biography on the Duncan Campbell. Interestingly, Woolsey relates Campbell’s story-telling ability and the charge of exaggeration in his biography:

Duncan’s old gift of story-telling was a tremendous asset. Often carried away with an intensity of feeling that frequently broke into present tense narrative, he re-lived never-to-be-forgotten scenes of Divine visitation. Audiences were lifted into fervent interest as he related vivid accounts of the Lord’s work in the lives of individuals and communities.

But the dramatic manner in which he recounted these experiences sometimes left him open to the charge of exaggeration. For example, references to the closing of drinking-houses were interpreted by listeners to mean licensed public houses, and those unfamiliar with Highland geography and local conditions thought of villages in terms equal to the population of villages in the south, rather than the small remote communities they actually are. Also, Duncan’s failure to record accidents on paper, his readiness to accept second-hand reports, plus a failing memory did not help in this respect.

Many seeming inconsistencies were unavoidably caused by the intense manner in which Duncan entered into the awareness of God’s work in times of spiritual quickening, which impinged upon his imagination a more vivid and arresting picture of souls in conflict than the more objective viewer would receive.[7]

None of this material references the Keswick theology for which Campbell was known in addition to his revival preaching. It is his tenacious belief in the “let go and let God” theology that ultimately would have caused Martyn Lloyd-Jones to part company with the fiery preacher of revival.

What Was Done well

One of the most important prerequisites found in the New Testament for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is that of prayer. Particularly, in the book of Acts, prayer was shown as essential to decision making and the salvation of souls. For example, before replacing Judas, and apparently just before Pentecost, Luke explains, “All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer” (Acts 2:14).

Christians throughout the centuries have prayed to the Lord of hosts to save souls and send revival. The saints of the Hebrides were no different. That prayer for revival abounded throughout the region cannot be refuted. The concern for the spirituality of the youth and the community was at the fore of these prayers by those choice saints who had witnessed regular revival before the advent of World War II.

Second, the proclamation of the gospel and a call to repentance throughout the revival is without refutation. Whenever Campbell would preach, the holiness of God would be set forth and the necessity of repentance from sin would be expounded. Men and women and children came in droves wanting to hear the words of hope with whole parishes coming to salvation.

The apostle Paul asks in Romans 10:14-15a, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless are sent?” In keeping with Paul’s logic, Duncan Campbell was indeed sent by the Holy Spirit to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ so that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom 10:13).

Third, though it is not necessarily explicitly stated in Scripture, there was the ongoing expectation of revival. Revival wasn’t something that was packaged and moved around from village to village. Rather, revival was understood to be a working of the Holy Spirit to bring new life into a dying church. There was an expectation that while local church life would continue marching onward, there would be ebbs and flows of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Since the island had not seen a revival since before World War II, there was simply the expectation that revival was indeed coming and with it and explosion of interest in the things of God.

Weaknesses

Unfortunately, weaknesses abound in the recounting of this revival. First, the “easy believe-ism” of the gospel proclamation is noteworthy in many of the fantastic stories related by the Campbell and others recounting the revival. As shared above, there were a number of converts who professed faith on their way to the church without having heard the proclamation of the gospel. There were countless more who came under conviction of sin at odd hours throughout the night and repented when no one was around to hear their repentance.

Of course, this does not mean they were not repentant, though it does bring into question the veracity of their accounts. Campbell was seemingly quick to grant assurance of salvation as soon as those who were repentant would make it known. There was hardly a wrestling with God though when the Spirit moves to bring sinners to repentance it will seem to be a sudden movement even though the hidden processes of drawing to God has been ongoing for some time.

Campbell’s penchant for exaggeration due to his excellent storytelling abilities did him no favors when it came to the believability of what he claimed the Lord had accomplished. Though Campbell recounted his perspective of the revival in the Keswick Journal as well as the Faith Mission newsletters, it was not until 2004, some fifty plus years later, that an anthology of the revival was written.[8]

One of the noticeable issues with the various sources used for this research is the lack of citation and references of many of the more outstanding events that were purported to have happened. In many of these instances, there is no way to check the truthfulness of the claims except to assume the assertions are accurate. In some cases, there were no eye-witnesses outside of the handful of people claiming to have experienced the supernatural. The mere fact that the stories are recounted over and over by apologists for the Hebrides Revival leaves the objective reader a bit uneasy and feeling as though the events as retold are believed based simply on the fact that they are said to have transpired.

These weaknesses, though not crippling, are enough to warrant this assessment from Iain D. Campbell: “Given the dearth of revivals in Scotland in the twentieth century, it is perhaps not surprising that people should view the Hebrides revival of the early 1950’s as one of the last significant movements of God in modern Scotland.”[9] The rise of modern-day revivalism, as opposed to genuine revival, can be seen as a death knell to the expectation of future revivals.

What Can Be Learned

Though the weaknesses are glaring, all hope is not lost for today’s pastor. Certainly, when the Lord’s Holy Spirit breaks out upon a community, there will be unexplainable events and phenomena. When dealing with the supernatural, explanations become difficult. Charitably, it is safe to assume that those men and women who repented apart from the preaching of the gospel had more than likely heard the gospel years before when revivals were a common occurrence on the island. It is easy to presume that the Holy Spirit brought to those now tender consciences the need of salvation in Christ alone. Hence, the Word of the Lord does not return empty but accomplishes the purposes of God in his time (Is 55:11). Pastors ought to continue trusting in the Lord to bring about his desired effects of the preaching of his Word.

Though an argument can be made that solid, Biblical theology has waned in the past 200 years, it is important to understand that the Lord is still at work. In his expositional commentary on Jonah, Jan Overduin, a Methodist minister, explains that “God can strike straight blows with crooked sticks.”[10] Christians, especially pastors, must “keep a close watch on . . . the teaching” (1 Tim 4:16a), and should strive for doctrinal purity, but they ought also to understand that the Lord can and does use different secondary and tertiary theological positions to bring souls to repentance. Continue preaching the gospel and calling for sinners to turn in repentance toward Christ.

Finally, the most egregious error of today is the lack of expectation of revival. What was witnessed in the Hebrides was faithful men and women patiently calling on the Lord to send a fresh revival in prayer. Prayer remains the foundation to all genuine revival activity of the Holy Spirit. Pastors must call on the congregations to pray. Specifically, the church should be exhorted to pray patiently for revival and to never give up praying. This cultivates the expectation that revival will come once again because God has promised that he would continue to refresh his children with the presence of the Holy Spirit.


[1] Iain D. Campbell, “Revival: A Scottish Presbyterian Perspective.” In Pentecostal Outpourings: Revival and the Reformed Tradition, ed. Robert Davis Smart, Michael A.G. Haykin, and Ian Hugh Clary (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2016), 113.

[2] Campbell, “Revival,” 113.

[3] Woolsey, Channel of Revival, 113-114.

[4] Campbell, Duncan. The Price and Power of Revival. USA: Solid Christian Books, 2015.

[5] Murray, Iain H. Diary of Kenneth A. MacRae: A Record of Fifty Years in the Christian Ministry. Edited with additional biographical material. Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1980, 444-445.

[6] Murray, Diary of Kenneth A. MacRae, 445.

[7] Woolsey, Channel of Revival, 145.

[8] See, Peckham, Sounds from Heaven.

[9] Campbell, “Revival,” 122.

[10] Overduin, Jan. Adventurers of a Deserter. (Grand Rapids: Eerdman’s Publishing, 1965), 31.

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