The Coming Revival – William. T. Stead

 

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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. 

It was as a journalist, and then editor, of the Pall Mall Gazette that he exerted most influence and challenged the social conscience of the nation.

His sentiments usually reflected his non-conformist background and it is no surprise that he was a great supporter of the Welsh Revival, in his pamphlets and through the Gazette.

Chapter I. “Glad Tidings of Great Joy

THE Revival is coming!  In some places in South Wales it has already come.  From Wales it is spreading over the land.  How far it will spread, how soon it will reach you, no one can say with certainty.  But it seems probable that this year the Revival will make itself felt in your neighbourhood, in your home, and in your heart. 

And that is glad tidings of great joy. 

For the coming of a Revival is like the advent of spring.  It proclaims the passing of the darkness and rigour of winter, it heralds the radiance of the summer, and prepares for the harvest of autumn.  There is no phase of our life, personal, domestic, social, political, intellectual, which will not be affected, and affected for good, by the Revival.  Every Revival in the past has produced great and lasting changes in the national life.  And as it has been, so it will be. 

Who is there, whatever may be his belief or unbelief, but must admit that a Revival is due — nay, overdue? 

To rejoice at the corning of the Revival, and to prepare to profit by its tidal flood of quickened religious life, it is not necessary that we should believe any of the dogmatic statements in which the Revivalists embody their conception of truth.  Even thorough-paced agnostics admit that these seasons of spiritual exaltation which we call Revivals are realities to many of those who come under their influence, permanently affecting their whole future lives.  Revivals come like the wind and vanish as mysteriously, and those who resist them may never again feel so potent a call to a higher life. 

Hence the infinite importance of this present time.  For the Revival that is coming like the spring, will pass like the seasons, and if we do not seize it as it passes, the opportunity may go by for most of us never to return. 

It is what I have seen in South Wales and in Liverpool that convinces me the Revival is at our doors.  In this little pamphlet you will find reprinted from my larger book the story of what I saw, and how it impressed me.  It is because I believe this Revival will 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 that I send out this little book, so that you, my reader, may also hear the bugle call which I have heard sounding through the land: Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make His paths straight!  Woe unto us if we neglect to spread the glad tidings abroad through the land, for then the Revival may pass by, and, too late, we may awake to discover that we have missed the gift of God which it bore for our soul. 

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Chapter II. What I saw in Wales

THE first notice of the existence of the Welsh Revival that appeared in the press was published on November 7th, 1904.  It was not until December 10th that I went down to Cardiff.  On the follow­ing Sunday I went over to the mining village of Mardy, in the Rhondda Valley, 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 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, December 15th. 

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 you 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 sandstorm 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 wretched as if they had been struck by a tornado.  Of course, it may be all to the good that we should be 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 whether 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 you.  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 to-day. 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 ifthe 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 Ihave 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 experience 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 unwisdom 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 fertilise the soil never springs up at all.  Little as the cavillers about the evanescent nature of Revival s 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 period, 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 excerption 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 paper  — 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 the 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 is written on the hearts of the Welsh.  Jesus of Nazareth passes by is another favourite solo.  Ten songs have been taken over from the Torrey and Alexander Mission, but the only one I heard there 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 sing 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 vindication 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 hymnbook; 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 am I: 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-two 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 Troitska 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 hymnbook.  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 proceedings 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, 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, 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 n 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, Wherever 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.

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Contents

I. “Glad Tidings of Great Joy. ”

II. What I saw in Wales.

All remaining on the Welsh CD ROM or on the instant download at the shop

III. What I saw in Liverpool.

IV. What I saw of Gipsy Smith.

V. A Personal Question.

* - * - *

W. T. Stead unfortunately died when travelling on the Titanic in 1912.

This particular pamphlet introduces his thoughts on the Welsh Revival which he personally observed, and includes thoughts on the Torrey and Alexander mission to Liverpool in November 1904. He also includes a chapter on Gypsy Smith, the evangelist.

We have included 2 of the 5 chapters.

 

 

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