The twenty-year fire of revival that swept
By Tom Lennie
Christian Focus. 630 pages. £14.99
ISBN 978 1 527 102 675
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This book covers the historical period between Tom Lennie’s previous works, Land of Many Revivals and Glory in the Glen, and gives a fascinating insight into the events of 1858-79 when revival was widespread across Scotland.
Showing it really happened
However, despite the vast geographical spread of this revival, it is perhaps not the most well-known or celebrated of Scottish awakenings. Indeed, Lennie’s first chapter notes that several academic studies have attempted to cast doubt on the extent of the revival in this period. His aim is to show that such doubts are unfounded.
What follows is a far-reaching recounting of revival events across every region of Scotland. The book is divided into four parts: the first two focus in detail on 1859-60; Part 3 surveys 1862-72; and Part 4 recounts 1873-75, a period which includes D.L. Moody’s first visit to Scotland.
The majority of the book is descriptive. Each section is subdivided according to geographical location, as Lennie recounts details of the preachers, conversions and revival phenomena. The scope of the book is vast; we embark on a journey right around Scotland that leaves the reader in no doubt that the revival extended to the whole nation. Indeed, such is the volume of information that for some it may be more rewarding to simply dip into the sections which deal with areas of particular interest. At the end of Parts 2 and 4 there are brief but very interesting appraisals of the revival events. These sections provide helpful analysis of the contributing factors to the movement.
The great strength of the work lies in the enormous breadth of information provided. If doubts have been held about the extent of the revival, then Lennie’s work is an important corrective. Furthermore, the style is popular and the language accessible, so it is not simply a book for the historian. Moreover, Lennie presents a very balanced record and he is to be commended for the way in which his analysis includes various denominations and groups without bias.
Ironically for a book containing so much information, one slight disappointment is that Lennie gives little biographical information about influential figures, such as Brownlow North, Hay Macdowall Grant and James Turner. This would have enhanced the work, particularly for a reader unfamiliar with the period. There are also one or two conclusions that may be a little hasty. For example, in regard to the union negotiations between the Free Church and the United Presbyterian Church in the 1860s, Lennie writes that ‘no primary or secondary source identifies the revival as influential’ (p.388) and yet P. Carnegie Simpson’s Life of Principal Rainy describes the revival of 1859-60 as ‘a real factor in the promotion of the subsequent union proposals’ (Vol. 1, p.151). The book also ends a little abruptly.
However, none of these observations should deter the reader, nor do they ultimately detract from an immensely valuable book. Scotland Ablaze serves to prevent us from forgetting what God did during a remarkable period in the history of the Scottish church and nation. Even more importantly, may this book also prevent us from forgetting that God can do it again.