Friday, October 02, 2020

1625: The King is Dead, Four Spiritual Revivals Begin in Ulster & Scotland – "ministers who had suffered for their faith under James VI"

King James VI & I is held in (probably too) much esteem in traditional smaller evangelical circles in Northern Ireland. There are many 'King James Only' congregations, that is congregations who have a policy of only ever using the 1611 Authorised Version of the Bible which James commissioned. It is of course majestic language from a defining moment in time. Alongside the works of Shakespeare, the KJV or AV pretty much standardised the English language.

James' translation team drew very heavily upon earlier Reformed versions, most notably by the English translator William Tyndale (1535), and the Geneva Bible (1560) which James wanted to swamp out of circulation. There have of course been many newer translations, in particular over the past 100 years. But the KJV / AV is the one which is easiest to memorise. Maybe that's just through repetition.

However conservative-minded people from within the Reformed community have not always held King James in such high esteem. Rev Dr James Aitken Wylie (1808–90; Wikipedia here) was a Scottish theologian and historian, the son of a Seceder minister, and eventually joined the Free Church of Scotland. His lavish four volume The History of Protestantism (1878) is a Europe-wide epic. He also wrote a three volume The History Of The Scottish Nation (1886). Wylie, towards the end of his life, was shaping the narratives of both faith and nation.

In Wylie's view, it was the death of King James VI & I (on 27 March 1625) that was the spark which ignited the chain of interconnected spiritual revivals which broke out in Ulster and Scotland. Wylie has this to say –

“...the year of the king’s death was rendered memorable by the rise of a remarkable influence of a spiritual kind in Scotland, which continued for years... preachers had found no new Gospel, nor had they become suddenly clothed with a new eloquence; yet their words had a power they had formerly lacked; they went deeper into the hearts of their hearers, who were impressed by them in a way they had never been before... the moral character of whole towns, villages and parishes was being suddenly changed...”

For Wylie, the key to the revivals was this: “ was distinctly traceable to those ministers who had suffered for their faith under James VI...” Unsurprisingly, the ministers involved in the revivals, and the regions where revival was so strongly experienced, were all closely linked to Ayrshiremen James Hamilton and Hugh Montgomery who had settled west of Scotland farming families across into Antrim and Down. This was one community with a group of ministers who travelled back and forth, softly separated by the waves of North Channel.

The four revivals were –

1. Stewarton, Ayrshire 1623–1630

2. Sixmilewater, County Antrim 1625–1634

3. Kirk O’ Shotts, north Lanarkshire, 1630

4. Holywood, County Down 1632/1633