John MacNeil the Father of Australian Revival

A shot of Webster & Co's establishment from South Brisbane circa 1902
A shot of Webster & Co’s establishment from South Brisbane circa 1902 (to the right of the photo, mid shot)  Bonzle Collections


I have been reading the book “The Spirit-Filled Life” by John MacNeil. It is an amazing book, written in 1894, by a Scots Presbyterian preacher and evangelist who was born and educated in Scotland but lived and worked in Australia. He was instrumental in the Melbourne revival of 1909, and was deeply interested in the deeper life Keswick movement. His book is interesting in many ways, mainly because for a Presbyterian minister he was an anomaly. He was seeking the blessing of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit and taught and preached on the infilling of the Spirit in a way which seemed to separate him from the many who were influenced by the Welsh Revival of 1904 and the American Revivals which followed it. He is not interested in manifestations of strange incoherent ramblings or odd behaviour at meetings. His preaching is sound and biblically based and his teaching is filled with discussions of original languages and the meaning of the words used to describe the experience of being filled with the Spirit.

One of the reasons I wanted to honour John McNeil was that he began a preaching and evangelism tour in Queensland and died en route. He was at the end of his tour and died suddenly while in the shop of a Mr. Webster , a portmanteau maker, in George street, Thursday, August 27th 1896, almost 120 years ago. It is sad that he died so suddenly and away from his family, but his life was devoted to God and the furtherance of God’s Kingdom and People. I feel strangely honoured that he died in my home town even though it seems a morbid thought. It was his love of his brethren and the lost that brought him here and reading his works and seeing the heart of love he had for us here in this city causes me to rejoice that we can continue the work God began in him.

I was deeply impressed with his sensible and easy to read discussion of a subject which for many reformed or other conservative denominations is a very touchy subject. Yet you could hardly fault Macneil for his very thorough yet passionate entreaty for believers everywhere to avail themselves of this most important imparting of power from God.

I include a transcript of his death notice in the Brisbane Courier of August 28 1896.




The Rev. John MacNeil, the well known evangelist, who has been conducting a series of services at the City Tabernacle, died with terrible suddenness yesterday. Shortly before noon Mr. MacNeil went to the shop of Mr. Webster, portmanteau manufacturer, George-street, in connection with some work, and had only been there a few minutes, speaking to Mr. Webster, when he dropped on to the floor, apparently dead. The Ambulance Brigade and Dr. Dixon were both summoned immediately, but on their arrival the body was found to be quite lifeless. The Ambulance Brigade handed the re- mains over to the police, who, pending other arrangements, had them removed to the morgue.

Mr. MacNeil was a vigorous, active man, in the prime of mature manhood, being between 45 and 50 years of age. He leaves a wife and five children at Sandringham, near Melbourne, and had a brother In West Australia. Mr. McNeil was in West Australia last year, and was all through the Coolgardie district on his bicycle. Of the life history of the evangelist we have been able to gather but few particulars, and they have been kindly furnished by the Rev. W. Whale, of the City Tabernacle, and Mr. D. M’Nab, with the latter of whom Mr. MacNeil was a guest during his stay in this city. Mr. MacNeil first held a charge at Waverley, near Sydney, and afterwards at Melbourne, and was very well known at Ballarat. He went out as an evangelist in connection with the Presbyterian Church in Victoria, and in that capacity visited Queensland last year, conducting mission services in the Enoggera-terrace, Fortitude Valley, and other churches in and about Brisbane.

Since his last year’s visit Mr. MacNeil had resigned his connection with the Presbyterian Church of Victoria and deoted himself to special mission work. Recently he has been through the Northern districts of Queensland carrying his message, and conducted mission services at the City Tabernacle on Sunday morning, afternoon, and evening. Even yesterday and today were set apart for his work at the Tabernacle. Sunday next he was booked to preach at Bundaberg, on Monday at Childers, and on Tuesday he was to have left Queensland by the mail train for his home.

Mr.MacNeil’s death has naturally come as a great shock to his friends here, and the deepest sympathy is felt with his bereaved family.

You can read more about John MacNeil at these links:

Revive Us Again O Lord; Lessons from the Melbourne 1902 Revival

Marvelous melbourne and Spiritual Power





Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s