W. T. Stead (1849-1912) was a well-known journalist and editor who supported several major social causes, including education for all, women’s right’s, the curse of child prostitution, the repeal of oppressive government legislation together with organisations like the Salvation Army.
“I am a child of the Revival of 1859-60. I have witnessed the Revival in South Wales, and it is borne in upon me that I must testify as to what I have seen and know. . . . . I cannot keep silent.
Woe is me if I bear not my testimony, and bear it now! For never is it so true as in times of Revival that Now is the accepted time. Now is the day of salvation. “
W. T. Stead was obviously moved by his personal knowledge of the Revival and he used his name and his position as editor of the Pall Mall Gazette to propagate the movement. This is his most definitive work on the revival, which includes a chapter on Evan Roberts.
THIS is the reason why this little book is written:
I am a child of the Revival of 1859 - 60. I have witnessed the Revival in South Wales, and it is borne in upon me that I must testify as to what I have seen and know.
I have been urged and entreated to speak in public on the subject. I have refused, although sorely tempted to comply. But though I am not physically strong enough to face the immense strain which public speaking always makes upon my nervous system, I cannot keep silent. Woe is me if I bear not my testimony, and bear it now! For never is it so true as in times of Revival that Now is the accepted time. Now is the day of salvation.
That is not a mere hackneyed text; it is a somewhat awe-inspiring fact. A fact, not a theory. The importance of the psychological moment so much insisted upon by Bismarck is as true in religion as in politics. It is the familiar truth, which all admit in other departments of life.
“There is a tide in the affairs of men
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows, and in miseries.”
Let me preface my narrative, as is the custom in all meetings when the awakened soul cries for facts from the experience of living men rather than for things at second-hand, by stating briefly how I came to be able to speak with knowledge of the mysterious force operating upon the heart of men which is in action at times of Revival.
I first woke up to a sense of my own sinfulness when I was a child of eleven. I was a child of the Manse. My father was an Independent minister, and both my parents were earnest, devoted Evangelical Christians. Independents sixty years ago were more Calvinistic than are their present-day representatives, and a sense of the exceeding sinfulness of sin and of the grim reality of the wrath of God permeated the atmosphere of our home. The higher the ideal of life and conduct to which we were taught to aspire, the more bitterly and constantly we were compelled to realize by every childish fault of selfishness or of temper how true it was that we had all sinned and come short of the glory of God. We were condemned by our own consciences. Even when we would do good, evil was present with us. How could we, with all our imperfections, our sins, and our short-comings, think without a shudder of the day when all secrets were revealed, and the soul, stripped bare of all wrappings and pretence, had to render account to its Maker for all the deeds that had been done in the body? It is the fashion of our day to regard such striving after the ideal as morbid; but although the phraseology may need revision, the essential truth remains the same.
It is not surprising, then, that one night, at eleven years of age, when I went to bed, I was seized with an appalling sense of my own unworthiness, my own exceeding sinfulness. God was so good, and I was so bad — I deserved to be damned. I accepted as a postulate the infinite goodness of God, and I knew only too well how often I had done the things I ought not to have done, and left undone the things I ought to have done, and that there was no strength in me. I sobbed and cried in the darkness with a vague sense of my own sin and of the terrible doom which awaited me. I had a passionate longing to escape from condemnation and be forgiven. At last my mother overheard me, took me into her arms, and told me comforting things about the love of God, and how it was made manifest by Jesus Christ, who had suffered in our stead, to save us from condemnation, and make us heirs of heaven. I have no remembrance of anything beyond the soothing caress of my mother’s words. When she left me the terror had gone; and although I had not in any way experienced the change which is called conversion, I felt sufficiently tranquil to go to sleep. When I woke the memory of the previous nights alarm was but as the remembrance of a thunderstorm when it has passed.
This was in the year 1860, when the Revival which had begun in the United States of America in 1857 or 1858 crossed the Atlantic, traversed the north of Ireland in 1858, covered Wales in 1859, and then moved into England, where its influence was felt all through 1860 and 1861.
In July, 1861, I was sent to a boarding school for Congregational ministers’ sons, to which some sons of laymen were also admitted, at Silcoates Hall, near Wakefield. There were about fifty of us boys, from ten years old to sixteen or seventeen. The tradition of the school in the fifties and in 1860 had not been distinctly religious. All of us came from Christian homes, but as a school it was very much like other schools. About a month after I entered Silcoates some of the lads started a prayer meeting of their own in a summerhouse in the garden. They asked me to join, and I went more out of curiosity, and to oblige my chum, than for any other motive. There were about half-a-dozen of us, perhaps more, none of us over fourteen. We read a chapter in the Bible, and we prayed. No master was present, nor was there any attempt made on the part of the masters to encourage the prayer meeting. One master, indeed, was frankly contemptuous. The majority of the boys had nothing to do with the prayer-meeting fellows. One or two of us were under deep conviction of sin, and we talked among ourselves, and read the Bible, and prayed. Suddenly one day, after the prayer meeting had been going on for a week or two, there seemed to be a sudden change in the atmosphere. How it came about no one ever knew. All that we did know was that there seemed to have descended from the sky, with the suddenness of a drenching thunder shower, a spirit of intense earnest seeking after God for the forgiveness of sins and consecration to His service. The summerhouse was crowded with boys. A deputation waited upon the principal, and told him what was happening. He was very sympathetic and helpful. Preparation class was dispensed with that night; all the evening the prayer meeting was kept going, There was no singing, only Bible reading, a few brief words of exhortation, a confession of sin, and asking for prayers, and ever and anon a joyful acknowledgement of an assurance of forgiveness. Those of us who could not find peace were taken out into the playground by one or two of their happier comrades, who laboured with them to accept Christ. How well to this very day do I remember the solemn hush of that memorable day and night, in the course of which forty out of the fifty lads publicly professed conversion. Only half-a-dozen out of the whole school, and these exclusively of the oldest boys, held aloof from the movement, and were prayed for jointly and severally by name by their converted comrades.
I remember the way in which it came to me that my sins were forgiven, and that from being a rebel against God I was admitted into the family of the redeemed. I had no ecstasy. Alas! my temperament is not subject to ecstasies. My friend, a lad of my own age, was walking by my side plying me diligently with texts, and appealing to me to believe only in Christ. As we walked and talked together it slowly seemed to dawn upon my mind that I had been saved all the time, and had never known it till just then. Saved not by any merit of my own, but because in some mysterious way, positively asserted in the New Testament, and verified by the experience of all the best human beings whom I knew or had heard of, the death of Christ had reconciled the world to God. He had borne my sins, therefore they were no longer on record against me. There was no condemnation for those who were in Christ Jesus. And who were “in Christ Jesus”? The whole human race, excepting those who thrust themselves out of His fold, and would none of Him. In short, it seemed to me that I had always inverted the position. Instead of thinking I had to do some strange spiritual act described as coming to Jesus, when my sins would be forgiven and I should be adopted as a Son of God, I came to see that Christ had already reconciled me to God, had forgiven my sins, thousands of years before they had been committed, and that I had just to accept the position in which He had graciously placed me. Of my own self I could have done nothing. I was a sinner, not only in the sight of God, but in my own inner consciousness. I had been made in the image of God, and had unmade myself into the image of a very ordinary, bad-tempered, selfish lad, not perhaps more bad-tempered or more selfish than other twelve-year old lads, but a very ordinary sinner, not by any means the saint and the hero which I ought to have been. I was a poor wretch, but God in His unspeakable love and mercy had blotted out my sins, and taken me into junior — very junior — partnership with Himself. The terms were, on my side, that I had to do what He told, me, and, on His side, that He would tell me quite clearly what He wanted me to do. And although I had no ecstasy, and was gladdened by no heavenly vision, a sense of great peace and deliverance settled upon me.
I was seized with the longing to tell others of the discovery I had made — that we were saved all the time if we only knew it, and that God was a great deal more anxious to take us into partnership than we were to accept so gracious an offer. Writing was a sore cross to me, at 12, but I wrote to my parents and told them the good news. I wrote to my elder sister, urging her to be converted. We had prayer circles for the conversion of our unconverted comrades. In the fervour of my boyish zeal I decided to be a missionary, and applied myself all the more diligently to my lessons. About twenty of us joined the Church as communicants. Every night during the two years I was at Silcoates the prayer meeting was kept up by the lads. Half an hour after tea, before preparation, was given to the prayer meeting. But — and this brings me to the point of all this confession of personal experience — although the tone of the school was kept up at a high level, and although the prayer meeting was kept going, and the solid fruits of the Revival lasted all the time I was there, we never had another conversion after that strange outpouring of the Spirit which overwhelmed us all, unexpectant, at the beginning of the term. Those who were brought in during the Revival week stood for the most part firm, those who stood out against the Revival never came in afterwards. Neither, so far as I remember, with perhaps one or two exceptions, did the new lads who entered school later on seek or find conversion.
I am not setting forth the conception of the relation between man and his Maker embodied in the foregoing narrative as if it were the truth of God to any other soul excepting my own. And for those who deny both God and the soul, I am willing, for the sake of argument, to admit that the whole episode in my life was nothing more or less than the delusion of something that imagined itself to be a soul as to the reality of its relations with a nullity which it imagined was its Creator. The truth or the falsehood of my notions is, in this immediate connection, quite immaterial. For what I am wanting to insist upon is, first, that these seasons of spiritual exaltation which we call Revivals are realities to those who come under their influence, permanently affecting their whole future lives; and, secondly, that they come like the wind and vanish as mysteriously, and that those who resist them may never again feel so potent a call to a higher life.
It is this sense of the fact that the Revival, when it comes, does not stop but passes on, which fills me with such a sense of the infinite importance of this present time, that I feel I must do what I can to bring to the knowledge of as many persons as I can reach, the glad tidings of great joy that a Revival of Religion is once more in our midst.
The old story of the man who was gathering eggs from the face of a precipitous cliff always recurs to me at such seasons of opportunity. The man, clinging to a rope, had lowered himself from the overhanging edge of a beetling cliff, till he was opposite the ledge where the seabirds laid their eggs. Owing to the extent to which the brow of the cliff overhung the sea, whose waves were dashing 203 feet below, the egg-gatherer found himself some ten feet distant from the ledge of the nests. By swaying to and fro, he was able to make himself swing as a pendulum outward and inward, until at last the extreme inward swing of the rope brought him to the ledge, on to which he sprang. As he did so he lost hold of the rope. There he stood for one awful moment midway between sea and sky. The rope swinging outward after he had quitted his hold was returning like a pendulum. It came, but not so far as to enable him to clutch it from where he stood. Outward it swung again, and he realized with agony that as each time it swayed to and fro it would be further and further off, until at last it would hang stationary far out of his reach. When the rope began slowly to swing inwards, he saw that the next time it would be out of his reach. Breathless, he waited until the rope was just about to pause before swinging back, then, knowing that it was now or never, he leapt into space, caught the rope, and was saved. Another second and he would have lost his chance. It is just so, it seems to me, with Revivals. They come and they go, and if they are not utilized the opportunity goes by — in some cases forever.
For the Churches the Revival is like spring. The good seed sown then springs up and bears fruit, whereas ten times the quantity of seed sown in winter’s frost or summers heat would simply perish. But in these prefatory observations I am not thinking of the Churches so much as of the individual reader who does not believe, who is not converted, and who is only idly curious as to whether there is anything in this Revival business, or whether there is not. It is for them that I have told, for the first time in my life, the story of how a Revival affected me, and what I know of it at first hand. And there is one other point upon which I think I may fairly claim to speak at first hand, and that is as to the effect of that experience at Silcoates in 186l upon my own life. Whatever may be the objective reality of the altered relations which I then recognized as existing between my soul and its Maker, there is absolutely no question as to the abiding nature of the change it effected in my life. It is forty-three years since that Revival at school. The whole of my life during all these forty-three years has been influenced by the change which men call conversion which occurred with me when I was twelve. My views as to many things have naturally broadened much in these forty-three years. But that was the conscious starting point of everything that there has been in my life of good or of service for my fellow-creatures. It was my first conversion. Other spiritual experiences, involving a wider conception of the reality of God in man, a deeper sense of the need for self-surrender, I have had, and hope yet to have. But the fundamental change, the conscious recognition of the fact that I had been most graciously allotted a junior partnership with God Almighty in the great task of making this world a little bit more like heaven than it is today, came to me then. My life has been flawed with many failures, darkened with many sins, but the thing in it which was good, which has enabled me to resist temptations to which I would otherwise have succumbed, to bear burdens which would otherwise have crushed me with their weight, and which has kept the soul within me ever joyfully conscious that, despite all appearances to the contrary, this is God’s world, and that He and I are fellow-workers in the work of its renovation — that potent thing, whatever you may call it, and however you may explain it, came into my life there, and abides with me to this hour; — my one incentive and inspiration in this life; my sole hope for that which is to come.
Therefore I hope my reader will understand how it is that I, being a child of the Revival of 1858 to 1861, should hail with exceeding great joy the reappearance of the Revival in 1904. For as the mysterious out-powering of the blessing forty-three years ago has been of permanent belp and strength and comfort to my own life ever since that time, so will this Revival in the West change, transform, inspire, and glorify the lives of multitudes who at present know nothing and care nothing for the things that make for their own peace and the welfare of their fellowmen.
And the thought that haunts me and will not let me rest until I send out this little book is that if I do not write it, and write it now, yon, my reader, may not hear the bugle call which is sounding in the West; the Revival may pass by, and, too late, you may awake to discover that you have missed the gift of God which it bore for your soul.
Slowly the Bible of the race is writ,
And not on paper leaves nor leaves of stone,
Each age, each kindred adds a verse to it,
Texts of despair or hope, of joy or moan;
While swings the sea, while mists the mountains shroud,
While thunders surges burst on cliffs of cloud,
Still at the prophets feet the nations sit. — Lowell.
ONE of these newly written verses is spelling itself out before our very eyes in Wales. In order to understand its significance we need to look backward across some centuries to realize what vast issues may be in this upheaval among the Welsh country folk.
The word Revival is not to be found in the index to the latest edition of the ‘Encyclopaedia Britannica’. Neither does it figure in the comprehensive index to Baring-Goulds ‘Lives of the Saints’. Yet the Saints were great Revivalists, and the history of the progress of the world is largely made up of the record of successive Revivals. The Revival of Religion has been the invariable precursor of social and political reform. This was very admirably put by the Rev. F. B. Meyer in his Presidential Address to the Ninth National Council of the Evangelical Free Churches at Newcastle-on-Tyne in 1904.
Every great Revival of religion has issued in social and political reconstruction. In no history has the effect of the one upon the other been more carefully traced than in Green’s ‘History of the English People’. Take, for instance, his account of the Revival of the twelfth century. “At the close of Henry’s reign,” he says, “and throughout that of Stephen, England was stirred by the first of those great religious movements which it was afterwards to experience in the preaching of the Friars, the Lollardism of Wyclif, the Reformation, the Puritan enthusiasm, and the mission work of the Wesleys. Everywhere, in town and country, men banded themselves together for prayer; hermits flocked to the woods; noble and churl welcomed the austere Cistereians as they spread over the moors and forests of the North. A new spirit of devotion woke the slumbers of the religious houses, and penetrated alike to the homes of the noble and the trader. The power of this Revival eventually became strong enough to wrest England from the chaos of feudal misrule after a long period of feudal anarchy, and laid the foundations of the Great Charta. ” We may go further, and assert that the movements which led to the abolition of the Slave Trade and the Com Laws originated in the evangelistic efforts of Wesley and Whitefield. Even Mr. Benjamin Kidd, in his “Social Evolution,” lays great stress on the religious foundations upon which civilization rests. He tells us that the intellect has always mistaken the nature of religious forces, and regarded them as beneath its notice, though they had within them power to control the course of human development for hundreds and even thousands of years. Discussing the opposition of the educated classes in England to progress, he says: “The motive force behind the long list of progressive measures has not, to any appreciable extent, come from the educated classes — it has come almost exclusively from the middle and lower classes, who have in turn acted, not under the stimulus of intellectual motives, but under the influence of their religious feelings. It is, therefore, on the authority of history and economics that we base our contention that society can only be saved through a great Revival of Religion.
There are certain phenomena which precede and which follow Revivals of Religion. The symptoms premonitory of a Revival are the phenomena of death, corruption, and decay. It is ever the darkest hour before the dawn. The nation always seems to be given over to the Evil One before the coming of the Son of Man. The decay of religious faith, the deadness of the Churches, the atheism of the well-to-do, the brutality of the masses, all these, when at their worst, herald the approach of the Revival. Things seem to get too bad to last. The reign of evil becomes intolerable. Then the soul of the nation awakes.
That the familiar phenomena of the reign of sin are with us and abound, no serious observer will dispute. As a nation we have once more stooped to those depths of bloody mire in which from time to time Britain has wallowed. Drunkenness, gambling, and gluttony, with others of the seven deadly sins, abound. Worldliness is universal. High ideals are eclipsed. Plain living and high thinking are at a discount. To see as in a mirror the vacuous mind of a generation which eschews serious thought you have only to read the popular newspapers and periodicals of the day.
Life has become for the comfortable classes little better than a musical comedy. You look in vain for the strenuous, high-spirited youth who scorn delights and live laborious days in order to achieve some thing of good for their fellowmen. To have a good time is the end-all and be-all of millions. Indolence, indifference, and selfishness so dominate that even the healthy game of football has become little better than a modem substitute for the gladiatorial sports of ancient Rome — the winter gambling bell that replaces the summer racecourse. Our young men do not play themselves, they look on while professionals play.
In politics degradation shows itself chiefly in the indifference to blood-shed and the waste of the resources of our own people in making believe to be ready to slaughter our neighbours. As a condemnation alike of the morality and intellect of the nation, the Army and Navy expenditure of Britain for the last twelve years stands without a parallel. Here we have the very note of the decadence of our time. That way madness lies, and the supreme and crowning demonstration of the criminal lunacy which has overtaken us is afforded by the proposal to tax the bread and sugar of the poor in order to meet the demands of insatiate Mars.
If, therefore, a Revival never comes until the nation has sunk into the slough of luxury and vice, and wallows in brutality and crime, then this precursory symptom is assuredly not wanting in the present situation. It is interesting to turn over the pages of Green’s History of the English People and to note how invariably the Revival is preceded by a penod of corruption and followed by a great advance in the direction of national progress.
Take, for instance, what he tells us about the state of England on the eve of the second Revival. The effect of the first Revival had passed away by the middle of the thirteenth century. The second was brought about by the Franciscans and the Dominicans.
Speaking of the coming of the Friars, Mr. Green says:
The religious hold of the priesthood on the people was loosening day by day . . . . . The disuse of preaching, the decline of the monastic orders into rich landowners, the non-residence and ignorance of the parish priests, robbed the clergy of their spiritual influence. The abuses of the times foiled even the energy of such men as Bishop Grosseteste, of Lincoln. To bring the world back again within the pale of the Church was the aim of two religious orders which sprang suddenly into life in the opening of the thirteenth century.
He then describes how the Revival due to the Black Friars of St. Dominic and the Grey Friars of St. Francis swept in a great tide of popular enthusiasm over the land. They carried the Gospel to the poor by the entire reversal of the Older Monasticism by seeking personal salvation in effort for the salvation of their fellowmen. Their fervid appeal, coarse wit, and familiar story brought religion into the fair and the market place. They captured the University of Oxford, and made it stand in the front line in its resistance to Papal ex-actions and its claim of English liberty.
The classes in the towns on whom the influence of the Friars told most directly were the steady supporters of freedom throughout the Barons War. Adam Marsh was the closest friend and confidant both of Grosseteste and Earl Simon of Montfort.
Thus, if the first Revival preceded the signing of the Magna Charta, the second paved the way for the assembly of the first English Parliament.
The third Revival mentioned by Green was that of Wycliffe. The second Revival had spent its force in a hundred years. The Church of the Middle Ages had, at the middle of the fourteenth century, sunk to its lowest point of spiritual decay. The clergy were worldly and corrupt, and paralysed by their own dissensions. The early enthusiasm of the Friars had died away, leaving a crowd of impudent mendicants behind. Then Wycliffe arose. He recalled the ideal of the Kingdom of God before the eyes of mankind, and established his order of Simple Priests or Poor Preachers, who, with coarse speech and russet dress, preached the Gospel throughout the land with such success that the enemy declared in alarm that “every second man one meets is a Lollard”. Wycliffe died, but the seed he had sowed sprang up and bore terrible fruit in the Peasant Revolt, which, although ultimately trampled out in bloodshed, was the first great warning given to the landlords of England that the serf not only had the rights of man, but was capable on occasion of asserting them, even by such extreme measures as the decapitation of an Archbishop.
The fourth Revival was that which preceded the Reformation. Tyndale, with his translation of the Bible, blew upon the smouldering embers of Lollardry and they burst into flame. The new Scriptures were disputed, rimed, sung, and jangled in every tavern and ale-house. From that revival of popular religion among the masses came by tortuous roads the triumph of Protestantism.
After the Reformation and the Renaissance had achieved their culminating glory in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, a period of decadence and of corruption set in under the Stuarts. Under James I, Whitehall became an Augæan stable of all uncleanness, and a vicious Court assailed the liberties of England. Against this corruption in high places a fierce religious rebellion broke out amongst the serious English folk. The Puritan Revival of the first half of the seventeenth century had two notable offshoots. The first was the founding of New England by the men of the Mayflower; the other was the founding of the English Commonwealth by the Ironsides of Cromwell. The great struggle of the seventeenth century was primarily religious, only secondarily political. As Green remarks, “There was one thing dearer in England than free speech in Parliament, than security for property, or even personal liberty, and that one thing was, in the phrase of the day, the Gospel.” It was the religious Revival that summoned Milton from literature to politics. So long as the question between King and Parliament was purely political, he shut himself up with his books and ‘calmly awaited the issue of the contest, which I trusted to the wise conduct of Providence and to the courage of the people.’ But when men began to demand the reforming of the Church in accordance with the Word of God, Milton tells us in his Second Defence of the People of England:
This awakened all my attention and my zeal. I saw that a way was opening for the establishment of real liberty, that the foundation was laying for the deliverance of man from the yoke of slavery and superstition, that the principles of religion, which were the first objects of our care, would exert a salutary influence on the manners and constitution of the republic: and as I had from my youth studied the distinction between religious and civil rights, I perceived that if I ever wished to be of use I ought at least not to be wanting to my country, to the Church, and to so many of my fellow-Christians in a crisis of so much danger. I therefore determined to relinquish the other pursuits in which I was engaged, and to transfer the whole force of my talents and industry to this one important subject.
Others besides Milton felt the imperious call of the religious movement of his time. Nor did its impulse fail until the death of Oliver Cromwell opened the door to the rabble rout of the Restoration.
Once more England plunged heavily towards the nethermost abyss, and once again a great Revival of Religion took place to save the soul of the nation from perdition. It was partly due to the relentless persecution of the Nonconformists, but it owed much also to the flaming zeal of the Quakers, who were the great Revivalists of the second half of the seventeenth century. The Government had at one time in horrible dungeons as many as four thousand of these excellent men. Professor William James truly says of the Quaker religion that it is something which it is impossible to over praise.
In a day of shams, it was a religion of veracity rooted in spiritual inwardness and a return to something more like the original Gospel truth than men had ever known in England. So far as our Christian sects today are evolving into liberality, they are simply reverting in essence to the position which Fox and the early Quakers so long ago assumed.
The Quaker Revival had as its immediate political result the founding of Pennsylvania, and among its more remote and indirect effects the final expulsion of the Stuarts.
Quakerism, tolerated, lost much of the savoury salt that it possessed when it was kept up to the standard of the apostles by the sufferings of the martyrs. The reversion of the English people, especially of the highest and the lowest, to sheer paganism is one of the most constant phenomena of our history. After the Stuarts had vanished and the Protestant succession secured, the land relapsed into brutality and infidelity in the eighteenth century, as it had done in every century since the Conquest.
Then came the seventh and best known Revival of all under Wesley and Whitefield. Once again England had gone rotten at the head. In the higher circles of society every one laughs, said Montesquien on his visit to England, if one talks of religion. Of the prominent statesmen of the time, the greater part were unbelievers in any form of Christianity, and distinguished for the grossness and immorality of their lives. As at the top, so at the bottom. The masses were brutalized beyond belief. In London, at one time, gin-shops invited every passer-by to get drunk for a penny, and dead drunk for two-pence. But in the midst of this moral wilderness a religious Revival sprang up which carried to the hearts of the people a fresh spirit of moral zeal, while it purified our literature and our manners. “A new philanthropy reformed our prisons, infused clemency and wisdom into our penal laws, abolished the slave trade, and gave the first impulse to popular education.” The Revival then was not without many features which caused the sinner to blaspheme. ‘Women fell down in convulsions; strong men were smitten suddenly to the earth; the preacher was interrupted by bursts of hysteric laughter or hysteric sobbing.’ Very foolish and absurd, no doubt, sniggered the superior persons of that day. But if Mr. Lecky and other observers may be believed, it was that foolishness of the Methodist Revival that saved the children of these superior persons from having their heads sheared off by an outburst of revolutionary frenzy similar to that of the Reign of Terror.
About the same time that Wesley was preaching in England a great Revival broke out in Wales, of which one of the outward and visible signs most plainly perceptible amongst us today is the fact of the Welsh revolt against the Education Act. That the Liberal party commands today a solid majority among the Welsh members is the direct result of the Revival of 1759, which is associated with the name of Howell Harris, a layman of the Church of England, who, while taking part in the Litany in his parish church, became suddenly filled with a fervent zeal, and went forth to preach the Gospel to his fellowmen. At first the movement was within the pale of the Church. Ten beneficed clergymen were among the Revivalists of that day. What would have happened if the Anglican authorities had possessed the wisdom of the serpent and had followed the example of the Church of Rome in utilizing the zeal of her enthusiasts to extend her own borders, who can say? But the problem never arose. The Anglican Church, true to its evil traditions, cast out the Revivalists, and Welsh Nonconformity was born. Modem Wales is the direct product of the Revival of the eighteenth century.
As a leading Baptist minister said, writing on this subject on November 19th:
The Nonconformist bodies of Wales owe their origin to Religious Revivals, two to that of the seventeenth century and two to that of the eighteenth century. Wales has to thank her past Revivals for the greater part of the energy exhibited in her national, political, and social life. In the Revivals with which the people of Wales have been blessed of God, His Spirit engraved upon the conscience of the nation the terribly solemn truths of existence and the things which belong unto her peace. This gave to her men of Conviction and of courage, and taught her to aspire to all that is good and noble, and whatever her achievements are religiously and socially, they are due mainly to the stimulus received during periods of outpouring of the Spirit of God.
In the nineteenth century the Tractarian Movement may be regarded by some as a Revival. But it was neither preceded by great apathy nor followed by vigorous political progress. The most notable Revival of the century was that which broke out in the United States in the latter end of the fifties, and which spread in a few years over Ulster and Wales, and from thence made its way into England and Scotland. The Revival seems to travel in the opposite direction to the sun. The great Revival of 1740, under Jonathan Edwards in New England, preceded by many years the Welsh Revival under Howell Harris and the English Revival under Wesley and Whitefield. In like manner the Revival that touched Wales in 1859 and England in the early sixties had its birth in 1857 or 1858 across the Atlantic, where it was the direct precursor of the great civil war and the emancipation of the slaves. The Revival of 1859 to 1861 coincided with the closing years of Whig domination, and was followed very speedily by a great movement of popular reform. There was no direct connection between the establishment of household suffrage and the penitent forms and prayer meetings of 1859 and 1861. ‘Post hoc’ is not ‘propter hoc’. But when Reform follows Revival, the plain man may be pardoned if he sees some connection between the two other than mere coincidence. The coincidence, if it be such, is surely very remarkable The record of Revivals in English history runs thus: —
12th century The Cistercian . . . . Magna Charta.
13th ,, The Friars . . . . . . . Parliamentary Government.
14th ,, Wycliffe . . . . . . The Peasant Revolt.
16th ,, Tyndale . . . . . . The Reformation.
17th ,, Puritanism . . . The Fall of Despotism and the
Founding of New England. . . . . . 17½th century
Quakerism . . . . . . . . . . . . The Revolution of 1688 an Founding of Pennsylvania.
18th ,, Methodist. . . . . . The Era of Reform.
19th ,, American . . . . . . The Era of Democracy.
20th ,, Welsh. . . . . Who can say?
To the observer of the phenomena of national growth and the evolution of society these periodical Revivals of Religion are as marked a phenomenon in the history of England, possibly of other lands, as the processions of the seasons. To appreciate the prophetic significance of a religious Revival does not necessarily involve any acceptance of the truth of the religion. All that we have to recognize is that the history of human progress in this country has always followed a certain course, which in its main features is as invariable as the great changes which make up our year. Always there is the winter of corruption, of luxury, of indolence, of vice, during which the nation seems to have forgotten God, and to have given itself up to drunkenness, gambling, avarice, and impurity. Men’s hearts fail them for fear, and the love of many grows cold. It is the season when, through most of the day, the sun withholds his beams, and a bitter frost chills all the nobler aspirations of the soul. Through such a period of eclipse we have been passing during the last few years. But as the rainbow in the ancient story stands eternal in the heavens as a proof that summer and winter, seed time and harvest, shall fail not, so after such periods of black and bitter wintry reaction always comes the gracious spring-tide with healing in its wings.
And, as we have seen, the outward and visible sign of the coming of spring in the history of the nation is a great revival of religious earnestness — a sudden and widespread outburst of evangelistic fervour. We may dislike many of its manifestations, as we dislike the winds of March or the showers of April, but they occur in almost identical fashion century after century. The form changes. The preaching of the Friars was not exactly the same as the preaching of the Methodists. Wycliffe’s Poor Preachers and the Early Friends differed both in dialect and in doctrine. But at bottom all the English Revivals have been identical. One and all represent the spring-time of faith in the heart of man, a sudden rediscovery that life is given him not to please his senses, but to serve his Maker, and that time is but the vestibule of Eternity. The sense of the reality of an ever-living God within, around, above, beneath, in whom we live and move and have our being, and the related sense of a never-dying soul, whose destiny throughout numberless æons of the future years will be influenced by the way in which each day of our mortal probation is spent — these two great truths are rediscovered afresh by the English people every century. The truths blossom in the national heart at these times of spiritual spring-tide as the hawthorn blossoms on the hedge in the merry month of May.
That the Revival time passes is true. So passes spring-tide with its flowers. But as spring is followed by summer, so the Revival of Religion in this country has ever been followed by the summer of reform and the harvest of garnered fruit. It is this which ought to make every thoughtful person of all creeds, or of no creed, watch with the keenest interest the symptoms which indicate the coming of a National Revival. Untill this nation goes to the penitent form, it never really pulls itself together for any serious work.
THE first notice of the existence of the Revival that appeared in the press was published on Nov. 7th, 1904. It was not until Dec. 10th that I went down to Cardiff, and was joined there by the Rev. Thomas Law, the Organizing Secretary of the National Council, and Gipsy Smith, the Evangelist, whom I had not seen since I bade him farewell at Cape Town. On Sunday we went over to the mining village of Mardy and attended three services at which Mr. Evan Roberts was present. I returned to Cardiff that evening and came on to London next morning.
As I wrote out before leaving Cardiff my report for the Daily Chronicle, where it appeared on December 13th, was interviewed early on Tuesday morning for the Methodist Times of December 15th, and wrote on Tuesday afternoon a report for the Christian World of December 15th, I cannot do better than reprint here these first clear impressions of what I found going on in South Wales. I will quote the interview first because it brings out more abruptly and vividly what seems to me the supernatural side of the Revival.
INTERVIEW IN THE METHODIST TIMES,
“Well, Mr. Stead, you’ve been to the Revival. What do you think of it? ”
“Sir,” said Mr. Stead, “the question is not what I think of it, but what it thinks of me, of yon, and all the rest of us. For it is a very real thing, this Revival: a live thing which seems to have a power and a grip which may get hold of a good many of us who at present are mere spectators.”
“Do you think it is on the march, then? ”
“A Revival is something like a revolution. It is apt to be wonderfully catching. But you can never say. Look at the way the revolutionary tempest swept over Europe in 1848. But since then revolutions have not spread much beyond the border of the state in which they break out. We may have become immune to Revivals, gospel-hardened or totally indifferent. I don’t think so. But I would not like to prophesy.”
“But in South Wales the Revival is moving? ”
“It reminded me, said Mr. Stead, of the effect which travellers say is produced on the desert by the winds which propel the sand storms, beneath which whole caravans have been engulfed. The wind springs up, no one knows from whence. Its eddying gusts lick up the sands, and soon the whole desert is filled with moving columns of sand, swaying and dancing and whirling as if they were instinct with life. Woe be to the unprotected traveller whose path the sand storm traverses.”
“Then do you feel that we are in the track of the storm? ”
“Can our people sing? that is the question to be answered before you can decide that. Hitherto the Revival has not strayed beyond the track of the singing people. It has followed the line of song, not of preaching. It has sung its way from one end of South Wales to the other. But, then, the Welsh are a nation of singing birds.”
“You speak as if you dreaded the Revival coming your way? ”
“No, that is not so. Dread is not the right word. Awe expresses my sentiment better. For you are in the presence of the unknown. I tell you it is a live thing this Revival, and if it gets hold of the people in London, for instance, it will make a pretty considerable shaking up.”
“But surely it will be all to the good? ”
“Yes, for the good or for those who are all good.”
“But what about those who are not good, or who, like the most of us, are a pretty mixed lot? Henry Ward Beecher used to say that if God were to answer the Lord’s Prayer and cause His will to be done in earth as it is in heaven, there were streets in New York which would be wrecked as if they had been struck by a tornado. Of course, it may be all to the good that we should be all shaken up; and tornadoes clear the air, and earthquakes are wholesome, but they are not particularly welcome to those who are at ease in Zion.”
“Sandstorms in the desert, tornadoes, earthquakes! Really Mr. Stead, your metaphors would imply that your experiences in South Wales have been pretty bad? ”
“No,” said Mr. Stead. “Not bad at all. Do you remember what the little Quaker child said, when the Scottish express rushed at full speed through the station on the platform on which he was standing? “Were you not frightened, my boy? ” said his father. “Oh, no,” said the little chap, “a feeling of sweet peace stole into my mind.” I felt like that rather. But the thing is awesome. You don’t believe in ghosts? ”
“Not much. I’ll believe them when I see one.”
“Well, you have read ghost stories, and can imagine what you would feel if you were alone at midnight in the haunted chamber of some old castle, and you heard slow and stealthy steps stealing along the corridor where the visitant from the other world was said to walk. If you go to South Wales and watch the Revival you will feel pretty much like that. There is something there from the Other World. You cannot say whence it came or whither it was going, but it moves and lives and reaches for you all the time. You see men and women go down in sobbing agony before your eyes as the invisible Hand clutches at their heart. And you shudder. It’s pretty grim, I tell yon. If you are afraid of strong emotions you’d better give the Revival a wide berth.”
“But is it all emotion? Is there no teaching? ”
“Precious little. Do you think that teaching is what people want in a Revival? These people, all the people in a land like ours, are taught to death, preached to insensibility. They all know the essential truths. They know that they are not living as they ought to live, and no amount of teaching will add anything to that conviction. To hear some people talk you would imagine that the best way to get a sluggard out of bed is to send a tract on astronomy showing him that according to the fixed and eternal law the sun will rise at a certain hour in the morning. The sluggard does not deny it. He is entirely convinced of it. But what he knows is that it is precious cold at sunrise on a winter’s morning, and it is very snug and warm between the blankets. What the sluggard needs is to be well shaken, and in case of need to be pulled out of bed. Roused, the Revival calls it. And the Revival is a rouser rather than a teacher. And that is why I think those Churches which want to go on dozing in the ancient ways had better hold a special series of prayer meetings that the Revival may be prevented coming their way.”
“Then I take it that your net impressions were favourable? ”
“How could they be otherwise? Did I not feel the pull of that unseen Hand? ” And have I not heard the glad outburst of melody that hailed the confession of some who in very truth had found salvation? There is a wonderful spontaneity about it all, and so far its fruits have been good, and only good.”
“Will it last? ”
“Nothing lasts for ever in this mutable world, and the Revival will no more last than the blossom lasted in the field in springtime. But if the blossom had not come and gone there would be no bread in the world today. And as it is with the bread which Mr. Chamberlain would tax, so it is with that other bread which is the harvest that will be gathered in long after this Revival has taken its place in history. But if the analogy of all previous Revivals holds good, this religious awakening will be influencing for good the lives of numberless men and women who will be living and toiling and carrying on the work of this God’s world of ours long after you and I have been gathered to our fathers.”
The report which I wrote for the Christian World was written for people inside the Churches, who might naturally be supposed to be interested in the reality of the spiritual side of the Revival.
FROM THE CHRISTIAN WORLD, December 15th.
Will the Revival in South Wales be like a bonfire on ice? Or will it set the heather afire, kindling a blaze which no man can extinguish? The answer is that no one can prophesy confidently as to what the future may bring to us, excepting that it will always both disappoint and exceed our expectations. The Revival in Wales will, in some places, be like a bonfire on ice, which speedily expires for lack of fuel, and yet in other places it may set the heather on fire and produce quite incalculable results.
I cannot profess to have made any exhaustive study of the Revival. Until last Saturday I had only followed it in the newspapers. But from Saturday night till Monday morning I employed every available moment in observing it and in interviewing those who had been in it from the first. I was accompanied throughout the whole of my brief tour by two men who have had as much experience of mission work of a Revivalist nature as anyone outside the Salvation Army. One of them, Gipsy Smith, had come over the same day as I did on the same errand. The other, the Rev. Thomas Law, Organizing Secretary of the Free Church Federation, has been in Wales for some time, and had excellent opportunities of studying the question in various districts in South Wales. I think I am justified in saying that both Mr. Law and Gipsy Smith are absolutely at one with me in the conclusions which I embodied in my report to the Daily Chronicle of Tuesday. During my stay in Wales I had the advantage of hearing the opinions of Principal Edwards and of Commissioner Nicol, of the Salvation Army, and of several other ministers who have been actively engaged in Christian service in the districts where the Revival has taken place. After my return I had a long consultation with Mr. Bramwell Booth, who knows the district well, and who had visited Cardiff on Saturday, where he met members of his staff from all parts of South Wales, for the express purpose of ascertaining on the spot what was the exact significance of the Revival. I also saw the special emissary despatched by the Rev. F. B. Meyer for the purpose of spying out the land, and heard from him the impression produced on his mind by what he had seen and heard. The reports in the two local newspapers, which occasionally fill five columns and always fill two or three, also supplied additional confirmatory evidence as to the grip which the movement has taken on the Welsh. I attended three protracted meetings on the Sunday, and I had an hour with Mr. Evan Roberts. I am careful to particularise all my sources of information in order that my readers may know exactly what data I have to go upon in drawing up this report for the readers of the Christian World. My own expenence may be of the slightest, and my visit was wonderfully brief. But I think that I may claim that there are few Free Churchmen in the United Kingdom who would not admit that I could not possibly have had more expert advisers or dispassionate witnesses than the persons whom I have named. Nor do I think that any one of them would demur in the least to any statement of fact or broad deduction from the facts which will be found in this article. Had time permitted I would have gladly submitted my report to each and all of them in proofs, nor do I think that they would have made any material alteration.
This being so, I take it that the Christian Churches in England may accept it as now being absolutely beyond all serious dispute that the Revival in South Wales is a very real and a very genuine thing. That there may have been here and there instances of un-wisdom and of extravagance is possible. They have been very few and unimportant. The Welsh are an emotional race, and they are apt to demonstrate their feelings more effusively than phlegmatic Saxons. But I certainly saw nothing of that kind that might not be paralleled in mission services in England. The fact is, there has been so little handle given to the enemy who ever is hungering for occasion to blaspheme, that the Revival, so far, lacks that one great testimony in its favour which all good causes have in the furious abuse of those who may compendiously and picturesquely be described as the staff officers of the devil. Woe be unto you when all men speak well of you was true of Revivals as of anything else. The Revival has, so far, had little of that cause for rejoicing that is supplied by persecution and abuse. The testimony in its favour is almost wearisomely monotonous. Magistrates and policemen, journalists and employers of labour, Salvationists and ordained ministers, all say the same thing, to wit, that the Revival is working mightily for good wherever it has broken out.
Of course, the Doubting Thomases of the land will shake their sceptical heads, and, when convinced against their will that the Revival is bearing good fruit, will ask whether it will last. To which I do not hesitate to reply that some of its fruits will last as long as the human soul endures. That a good deal of the seed which, having fallen on stony ground, has sprung up speedily will presently wither away is a matter of course. It was so when the Parable of the Sower was spoken, it is so today. But the cavillers forget that it is a better thing for seed to spring up, even if it does wither, than for it never to spring up at all. Even if the farmer does not get the full corn in the ear, the green stalk with its succulent leaves will make capital fodder for his stock. Most of the seed sown at times when we hear of no showers of blessings to fertilize the soil never springs up at all. Little as the cavillers about the evanescent nature of Revivals realize it, they are appealing to one of the most antiquated notions of a narrow orthodoxy. Those who imagine that the only object of the Christian Gospel is to save a man’s soul from the everlasting burnings may reasonably object that a Revival is of no good if, after having roused the sinner, it does not keep him soundly saved until the hour and article of death. It is in that case very much like taking out an insurance policy and letting it lapse by forgetting to pay the premiums regularly till death. But there are very few who regard conversion as an insurance policy against hell fire. Hence every single day or week or month or year is all to the good. It is, of course, best of all when a consecrated life is crowned by a triumphant death. But it is not a bad thing — on the contrary, it is a very good thing — to raise human lives to a higher moral level for a comparatively short penod, even if after that time they all slide back. It is better to have lived well for a year than never to have been above the mire at all. As a matter of fact, most of the best men of the older generation in Wales today were brought in when quite youths in the great Revival of 1859.
So far as I could discover, the movement is in very good hands — so far as it is in any hands at all save those of the invisible Spirit to which all the Revivalists constantly appeal. Never was there a religious movement so little indebted to the guiding brain of its leaders. It seems to be going on its own. There is no commanding human genius inspiring the advance. Ministers, each in their own churches, open the meetings. But when once they are started they obey the Spirit. It reminds one of the Quakers in more ways than one. In the seventeenth century the Friends were the Revivalists of the time. With the exception of the singing, they would feel themselves thoroughly at home in South Wales today. In most missions tune is everything. In South Wales the leading rôle is taken by the third Person of the Trinity. So jealous are they of quenching the Spirit that the Tory daily payer — just think of it — the organ of the Established Church and ease and order and all the rest of the conventions — actually fumed and fretted because at one meeting some persons who were giving unbridled rein to their spiritual impulses, to the annoyance of the whole congregation, were asked to restrain their exuberance of their demonstrations! If this thing goes on we shall see the Times and the Guardian reproving General Booth for endeavouring to repress the excesses of excitement at all-night meetings.
I have said that the early Friends would be at home in the Welsh valleys with the exception of the singing. It is a great exception. For the special note of the Revival is that the gospel message is being sung rather than preached. And such singing! The whole congregation sing — as if they were making melody in their hearts to the Lord. The sermon is a poor thing compared with the Psalm and hymn and spiritual song. The Welsh have hymns of their own, which were strange to me. I have no musical ear, but the rhythm and the cadence of some of these Welsh tunes linger in my memory as the murmur of the wave in the convolutions of the shell. There is one beginning with the Welsh equivalent for Holy breezes, which was a great favourite; and so is another which gives thanks to the all merciful God for remembering us poor creatures who are as the dust of the earth. But most of the hymns were the old familiar hymns of every mission service. Occasionally they sang ‘Lead, kindly Light’, but much more frequently ‘Jesus, Lover of my soul’, ‘I need Thee every hour’, ‘Lord, I hear of showers of blessings’, all in Welsh, of course, although very often, after singing the chorus over and over again in Welsh, they would sing it once or twice in English. Among the solos there was Mr. Sankey’s ‘Ninety and nine’, which, although turned out of the revised Methodist Hymn Book, is written on the hearts of the Welsh. ‘Jesus of Nazareth passes by’ is another favourite solo. The only new song taken over from the Torrey and Alexander Mission was sung over and over again:
“Tell mother I’ll be there
In answer to her prayer,
This message, blessed Saviour, to her bear.
Tell mother I’ll be there,
Heavens joys with her to share,
Oh, tell my darling mother I’ll be there.”
In the Gospel the Prodigal Son comes back to his father. It is perhaps an indication of the swing of the slow pendulum back to the days of the matriarchate that in Wales today the father takes a back seat. It is the mother who is always to the front.
Nor is that the only welcome indication of the toppling of the hateful and unchristian ascendancy of the male. The old objection of many of the Welsh Churches to the equal ministry of women has gone by the board. The Singing Sisters who surround Mr. Evan Roberts are as indispensable as Mr. Sankey was to Mr. Moody. Women pray, sing, testify, and speak as freely as men — no one daring to make them afraid. The Salvation Army has not laboured in vain.
There is no inquiry room, no penitent form. The wrestle with unbelief, the combat with the evil one for the soul of the convicted sinner, goes on in the midst of the people. It is all intensely dramatic. Sometimes unspeakably tragic. At other times full of exultant triumph. Mr. Evan Roberts, towards the close of the meeting, asks all who from their hearts believe and confess their Saviour to rise. At the meetings at which I was present nearly everybody was standing. Then for the sitting remnant the storm of prayer rises to the mercy seat. When one after another rises to his feet, glad strains of jubilant song burst from the watching multitude. No one has a hymn book; no one gives out a hymn. The congregation seems moved by a simultaneous impulse. It is all very wonderful, sometimes almost eerie in its suggestiveness of the presence of Another Whom no eye can see, but Who moves on the wings of the wind.
Who can say to what this thing may not grow? Who can put bounds to the flood of awakened enthusiasm? One thing is certain — no one could wish to erect a barrier save those who do not love their fellowmen.
The report, which I wrote for the Daily chronicle was written for the general public, who are comparatively indifferent to the spiritual side of the Revival, but who regard its social and psychological aspects with a mild degree of interest.
FROM THE DAILY CHRONICLE, December 13th.
As springtime precedes summer, and seedtime harvest, so every great onward step in the social and political progress of Great Britain has ever been preceded by a national Revival of Religion. The sequence is as unmistakable as it is invariable. It was as constant when England was Catholic as it has been since the Reformation.
Hence it is not necessary to be Evangelical, Christian, or even religious, to regard with keen interest every stirring of popular enthusiasm that takes the familiar form of a Revival. Men may despise it, hate it, or fear it, but there is no mistaking its significance. It is the precursor of progress, the herald of advance. It may be as evanescent as the blossom of the orchard, but without it there would be no fruit.
The question, therefore, which I set out to South Wales to discuss with those who are in the midst of what is called the Welsh Revival was whether this popular stir and widespread awakening might be regarded as the forerunner of a great national — nay, possibly of a still wider — movement, which might bring in its wake social and political changes profoundly improving the condition of the human race. The net conclusion at which I have arrived after twenty-four hours spent in the heart of it is that, while no one can dogmatize and no one can prophesy, it would be advisable for the wide-awake journalists to drop the newspaper headline, ‘The Welsh Revival’, and describe it in future as ‘The Rising Revival in the West’.
Nor would I like to venture to predict how long or how short a time it will be before that heading in its turn will have to give way to the simple title of ‘The Revival’, which will be neither in the west alone, nor in the east, but which will spread over the whole land as the waters cover the face of the mighty deep. Of course, the signs of the times may be misleading, and that which seems most probable may never happen. But writing today in the midst of it all, I would say with all earnestness, Look out!
The British Empire, as Admiral Fisher is never tired of repeating, floats upon the British Navy. But the British Navy steams on Welsh coal. The driving force of all our battleships is hewn from the mines of these Welsh valleys by the men amongst whom this remarkable religious awakening has taken place. On Sunday morning, as the slow train crawled down the gloomy valleys. — for there was the mirk of coming snow in the air, and there was no sun in the sky — I could not avoid the obvious and insistent suggestion of the thought that Welsh religious enthusiasm may be destined to impart as compelling an impulse to the Churches of the world as Welsh coal supplies to its navies.
Nor was the force of the suggestion weakened when, after attending three prolonged services at Mardy, a village of 5,000 inhabitants, lying on the other side of Pontypridd, I found the flame of Welsh religious enthusiasm as smokeless as its coal. There are no advertisements, no brass bands, no posters, no huge tents. All the paraphernalia of the got-up job are conspicuous by their absence.
Neither is there any organization, nor is there a director, at least none that is visible to the human eye. In the crowded chapels they even dispense with instrumental music. On Sunday night no note issued from the organ pipes. There was no need of instruments, for in and around and above and. beneath surged the all-pervading thrill and throb of a multitude praying, and singing as they prayed.
The vast congregations were as soberly sane, as orderly, and at least as reverent as any congregation I ever saw beneath the dome of St. Paul’s, when I used to go to hear Canon Liddon, the Chrysostom of the English pulpit. But it was aflame with a passionate religious enthusiasm, the like of which I have never seen in St. Paul’s. Tier above tier, from the crowded aisles to the loftiest gallery, sat or stood, as necessity dictated, eager hundreds of serious men and thoughtful women, their eyes riveted upon the platform or upon whatever other part of the building was the storm centre of the meeting.
There was absolutely nothing wild, violent, hysterical, unless it be hysterical for the labouring breast to heave with sobbing that cannot be repressed, and the throat to choke with emotion as a sense of the awful horror and shame of a wasted life suddenly bursts upon the soul. On all sides there was the solemn gladness of men and women upon whose eyes has dawned the splendour of a new day, the foretaste of whose glories they are enjoying in the quickened sense of human fellowship and a keen glad zest added to their own lives.
The most thorough-going materialist who resolutely and for ever rejects as inconceivable the existence of the soul in man, and to whom the universe is but the infinite empty eye-socket of a dead God, could not fail to be impressed by the pathetic sincerity of these men nor, if he were just, could he refuse to recognize that out of their faith in the creed which he has rejected they have drawn, and are drawing, a motive power that makes for righteousness, and not only for righteousness, but for the joy of living, that he would be powerless to give them.
Employers tell me that the quality of the work the miners are putting in has improved. Waste is less, men go to their daily toil with a new spirit of gladness in their labour. In the long dim galleries of the mine, where once the hauliers swore at their ponies in Welshified English terms of blasphemy, there is now but to be heard the haunting melody of the Revival music. The pit ponies, like the American mules, having been driven by oaths and curses since they first bore the yoke, are being retrained to do their work without the incentive of profanity.
There is less drinking, less idleness, less gambling. Men record with almost incredulous amazement how one football player after another has foresworn cards and drink and the gladiatorial games, and is living a sober and godly life, putting his energy into the Revival. More wonderful still, and almost incredible to those who know how journalism lives and thrives upon gambling, and how Toryism is broad-based upon the drinking habits of the people, the Tory daily paper of South Wales has devoted its columns day after day to reporting and defending the movement which declares war to the death against both gambling and drink.
How came this strange uplift of the earnestness of a whole community? Who can say? The wind bloweth where it listeth. Some tell you one thing, some another. All agree that it began some few months ago in Cardiganshire, eddied hither and thither, spreading like fire from valley to valley, until, as one observer said to me, Wherever it came from, or however it began, all South Wales today is in a flame.
One report says that the first outward and visible sign that there was a new power and spirit among the people was witnessed at a meeting in a country chapel in Cardiganshire. The preacher, after an earnest appeal to the unconverted, besought those of his hearers whose hearts were moved within them to testify before the congregation their decision to serve the Lord. A long and painful pause followed. Again came the solemn appeal. Again the embarrassing silence.
But it was broken after a pause by the rising of a girl, a young Welsh woman, who with trembling accents spoke up and said, “If no one else will, then I must say that I do love my Lord Jesus Christ with all my heart”. The ice was broken. One after another stood up and made public confessions with tears and thanksgiving.
So it began. So it is going on. ‘If no one else, then I must.’ It is ‘Here I am: send me! This public self-consecration, this definite and decisive avowal of a determination to put under their feet their dead past of vice and sin and indifference, and to reach out towards a higher ideal of human existence, is going on everywhere in South Wales. Nor, if we think of it sanely and look at it in the right perspective, is there a nobler spectacle appealing more directly to the highest instincts of our nature to be seen in all the world today.
At Mardy, where I spent Sunday, the miners are voluntarily taxing themselves this year three half-pence in the pound of their weekly wages to build an institute, public hall, library, and reading room. By their express request the money is deducted from their wages on pay-day. They have created a library of 2,000 books, capitally selected and well used. They have about half-a-dozen chapels and churches, a co-operative society, and the usual appliances of civilization. They have every outward and visible sign of industrial prosperity. It is a mining village pure and simple, industrial democracy in its nakedest primitive form.
In this village I attended three meetings on Sunday — two and a half hours in the morning, two and a half hours in the afternoon, and two hours at night, when I had to leave to catch the train. At all these meetings the same kind of thing went on — the same kind of congregations assembled, the same strained, intense emotion was manifest. Aisles were crowded. Pulpit stairs were packed, and — mirabile dictu! — two-thirds of the congregation were men, and at least one-half young men.
“There,” said one, “is the hope and the glory of the movement.” Here and there is a grey head. But the majority of the congregation were stalwart young miners, who gave the meeting all the fervour and swing and enthusiasm of youth. The Revival had been going on in Mardy for a fortnight. All the churches had been holding services every night with great results, At the Baptist Church they had to report the addition of nearly fifty members, fifty were waiting for baptism, thirty-five backsliders had been reclaimed.
In Mardy the fortnight’s services had resulted in five hundred conversions. And this, be it noted, when each place of worship was going on its own. Mr. Evan Roberts, the so-called boy preacher of the Revival, and his singing sisterhood did not reach Mardy until the Sunday of my visit.
I have called Evan Roberts the so-called boy preacher, because he is neither a boy nor a preacher. He is a tall, graceful, good-looking young man of twenty-six, with a pleading eye and a most winsome smile. If he is a boy, he is a six-foot boy, and six-footers are usually past their boyhood. As he is not a boy, neither is he a preacher. He talks simply, unaffectedly, earnestly, now and then, but he makes no sermons, and preaching is emphatically not the note of this Revival in the West. If it has been by the foolishness of preaching men have been saved heretofore, that agency seems as if it were destined to take a back seat in the present movement.
The Revival is borne along upon billowing waves of sacred song. It is to other Revivals what the Italian Opera is to the ordinary theatre. It is the singing, not the preaching, that is the instrument which is most efficacious in striking the hearts of men. In this respect these services in the Welsh chapel reminded me strangely of the beautiful liturgical services of the Greek Church, notably in St. Isaac of St. Petersburg on Easter morn, — and in the receptions of the pilgrim at the Troitski Monastery, near Moscow.
The most extraordinary thing about the meetings which I attended was the extent to which they were absolutely without any human direction or leadership. We must obey the Spirit, is the watchword of Evan Roberts, and he is as obedient as the humblest of his followers. The meetings open — after any amount of preliminary singing, while the congregation is assembling — by the reading of a chapter or a psalm. Then it is go as you please for two hours or more.
And the amazing thing is that it does go and does not get entangled in what might seem to be inevitable confusion. Three-fourths of the meeting consist of singing. No one uses a hymn book. No one gives out a hymn. The last person to control the meeting in any way is Mr. Evan Roberts. People pray and sing, give testimony; exhort as the Spirit moves them. As a study of the psychology of crowds, I have seen nothing like it. You feel that the thousand or fifteen hundred persons before you have become merged into one myriad-headed but single-souled personality.
You can watch what they call the influence of the power of the Spirit playing over the crowded congregation as a eddying wind plays over the surface of a pond. If any one carried away by his feelings prays too long, or if any one when speaking fails to touch the right note, some one — it may be anybody — commences to sing. For a moment there is a hesitation as if the meeting were in doubt as to its decision, whether to hear the speaker, or to continue to join in the prayer, or whether to sing. If it decides to hear and to pray, the singing dies away. If, on the other hand, as it usually happens, the people decide to sing, the chorus swells in volume until it drowns all other sound.
A very remarkable instance of this abandonment of the meeting to the spontaneous impulse, not merely of those within the walls, but of those crowded outside, who were unable to get in, occurred on Sunday night. Twice the order of proceeding, if order it can be called, was altered by the crowd outside, who, being moved by some mysterious impulse, started a hymn on their own account, which was at once taken up by the congregation within. On one of these occasions Evan Roberts was addressing the meeting. He at once gave way, and the singing became general.
The prayers are largely autobiographical, and some of them intensely dramatic. On one occasion an impassioned and moving appeal to the Deity was accompanied throughout by an exquisitely rendered hymn, sung by three of the Singing Sisters. It was like the undertone of the orchestra when some leading singer is holding the house.
The Singing Sisters — there are five of them, one, Mme. Morgan, who was a professional singer — are as conspicuous figures in the movement as Evan Roberts himself. Some of their solos are wonders of dramatic and musical appeal. Nor is the effect lessened by the fact that the singers, like the speakers, sometimes break down in sobs and tears. The meeting always breaks out into a passionate and consoling song, until the soloist, having recovered her breath, rises from her knees and resumes her song.
The praying and singing are both wonderful, but more impressive than either are the breaks which occur when utterance can no more, and the sobbing in the silence momentarily heard is drowned in a tempest of melody. No need for an organ. The assembly was its own organ as a thousand sorrowing or rejoicing hearts found expression in the sacred psalmody of their native hills.
Repentance, open confession, intercessory prayer, and, above all else, this marvellous musical liturgy — a liturgy unwritten but heartfelt, a mighty chorus rising like the thunder of the surge on a rockbound shore, ever and anon broken by the flute-like note of the Singing Sisters, whose melody was as sweet and as spontaneous as the music of the throstle in the grove or the lark in the sky. And all this vast quivering, throbbing, singing, praying, exultant multitude intensely conscious of the all pervading influence of some invisible reality — now for the first time moving palpable though not tangible in their midst.
They called it the Spirit of God. Those who have not witnessed it may call it what they will; I am inclined to agree with those on the spot. For man, being, according to the Orthodox, evil, can do no good thing of himself, so, as Cardinal Manning used to say, ‘Where’er you behold a good thing, there you see the working of the Holy Ghost. And the Revival, as I saw it, was emphatically a good thing.
I. From the Author to the Reader
II. The National Significance of Revivals
III. What I saw in Wales
IV. Evan Roberts
V. The Rise and Progress of the Revival
VI. What ought I to do?
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We have included 3 of the 6 chapters.