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Salvation Army Revival account from North East England:


If ever I go to an all night prayer meeting again, I shall take something to steady the nerves. Such a terrifying gathering as that which was held last night has, I should think, never been seen before - not in the wildest excesses of Primitive Methodism. I am lost for things with which to compare such an exhibition. Pandemonium on a fete day; Bedlam let loose - well perhaps these are feeble types of what I feel it impossible to describe. I speak calmly, without prejudice one way or the other - on the whole, perhaps, with a disposition to think kindly of the extraordinary movement which is the Salvation Army as something more nearly approaching the hell which these people are struggling to avoid than the heaven which they are striving to secure.

The people present, taken as a whole, were the roughest lot I have seen at any of these meetings. The crowd on the river banks at a boat race is comparatively good-looking and respectable. Here the close-cropped bullet- headed youth in the muffler was the rule and not the exception. Taking a policeman into my confidence, I asked him if he knew any of these young men. "Know any of them?" he said. "Why, I know them all. This one is from Newcastle; the other sitting near him is one of the worst roughs we have"; and so he went on. There was a fair sprinkling of women amongst the audience, too; and most of these were young ones, who did not appear to have been much troubled, previously, with thoughts about religion. I went to the meeting at about two o'clock. It had then been going on for some two or three hours; but so far it was very orderly and cool. There was a long, low platform in the middle of the room, round which the "Hallelujah Lasses," the "Converted Sweep," the "Hallelujah Giant," and other notabilities concerned with the movement were seated. The General was giving out a hymn, accompanying his delivery of it with all those grotesque movements which seem quite natural to him and are so extraordinary in anyone else.

Singing was followed by what is called "Witnessing," various officers of the Salvation Army narrating their experience of "what the Lord had done for them." About half an hour was occupied in this wise; and, but for the ordinary interjections of enthusiasm, the time passed quietly enough. It would have been impossible to guess at what followed.

I am not quite certain that some more stringent measures ought to be adopted with regard to the victims of religious hysteria. Some things which may be for the soul's benefit are certainly not for the

body's health. On Monday night - rather, I should say, on Tuesday morning - the General requested his audience to sit still and sing when the "witnessing" was concluded. He gave out these lines:-

"I need Thee every hour, Most gracious Lord! No tender voice like Thine can peace afford. I need Thee, oh I need Thee: Every hour I need Thee, Oh, bless me now, my Saviour! I come to Thee.

The words were taken up by the whole audience; the chorus was rolled out to a rattling tune, and was no sooner finished than it was commenced again with additional vigour. This chorus might have been sung perhaps a dozen times when there was a shrill scream, a bustle round the platform, and a general rise of the audience. Seats were mounted; hands were raised in the air; the singing was mingled with loud "Hallelujahs," burst of vociferous prayer, shouting, and hysterical laughter.

To add to the confusion four of the forms fell backwards, and threw their occupants into a common heap on the floor. So great was the commotion in the centre of the room, so terrifying was the din, that this incidence, which would have thrown an ordinary congregation into uproar, passed almost unnoticed.

Sinners were creeping to the penitent form; the Salvation Army was rejoicing; fully one third of those present acted as if they were more or less insane. It is written that the angels rejoice when one sinner turns to repentance. Surely, this was no type and example of their rejoicing. Several figures are bent double near the platform, groaning and wringing their hands. The "Hallelujah Lasses" have surrounded them; the tall figure of the proprietor of the "Hallelujah Fiddle" gyrates around them; the sweep is dancing and shouting "Glory be to God;" and the "General" is smiling placidly and twiddling his thumbs.

It is an extraordinary scene; more extraordinary still is the Babel of sounds which seems to shake the walls even. At a distance, confused shouts blend into something like harmony. But shut in between four walls, such noises as are here made sound horrible. Penitents! Are these penitents who kneel on the form and wring their hands? Or are they persons struck with the contagion of over- wrought enthusiasm?

As may be seen from what I have written, until penitents "throw themselves at the feet of Jesus," as it is called, a meeting of the Salvation Army is a tolerably sane affair. The fat is at once in the fire, however, when penitents come forward. Let me endeavour to recall some details of the fearfully confused scene which was to be witnessed at half-past three o'clock on Tuesday morning.

By dint of climbing as high as the forms will allow, I can see over the heads of a large part of the audience, which has also taken to standing on the seats, a little of what is going on round the platform.

One can only take it in piecemeal. Half a-dozen crop-headed youths - boys they are, indeed - are praying vociferously, with their faces towards me. Did I say praying? I only suppose they were. It was vociferous shouting, with closed eyes. Their bodies sway to and fro; their hands are lifted, and brought down again with a thump on the form; they contort themselves as if they were in acute agony.

The hymn resounds high above their prayers. Meanwhile the "lasses" are busy with the work of conversion. It proceeds by stages, with a separate hymn for each.

The final stage is reached with the singing of "I do believe, I will believe, that Jesus died for me." The process being thus rendered complete, the converts retire to their seats with red faces. Let us follow one of them. He is a broad- faced, shock-headed youth, of about twenty. A few minutes since, he was foaming out of a well-developed mouth.

Now he is dancing about the floor, shouting "hallelujah" and wringing the hands of all those who will yield their arm to him. Anon he will mount one of the forms, and shout his experience into the middle of a hubbub which condemns him to remain unheard. Then he will waltz round again, alternately laugh and cry, and go through a new course of hand-shaking.

He has in fact been converted.

Honest Isaak Walton has left us a beautiful description of the effect of Dr. Donne's preaching. He tells how it confirmed the halting, encouraged the faint, and convinced the unbelieving. It was gentle in its effects. Those who felt its power most betrayed it least, except in the after tenor of their lives. Here, however, was an extraordinary effect produced without anything that can be called preaching. It was the singing that appeared to be most powerful.

Will it be believed that the scene which I have endeavoured to describe was repeated, with still more startling results? Such was the fact.

After more singing, there was another rush to the penitent form, another repetition of the same hymns, of the same gesticulations, of the same frantic prayers. But a quite new interest was added. I watched the proceedings for some time from my point of vantage on a back form; and then struggled through the crowd to get a look at the penitents. They had fainted away.

Here lay a woman in a dead swoon, with six "Hallelujah lasses" singing round her, and not one of them trying to bring her round even by so much as sprinkling water on her face. On the other side of the platform was a man lying at full length, his limbs twitching, his lips foaming, totally unregarded, whilst the "General" was leading the singing, whilst the people were praying or shouting as the whim took them, the penitents whose repentance had been the cause of so much rejoicing were lying unconscious.

I appealed to the General "Really, cannot you do something to bring these people round?" "My good man," he replied, "won't you sit down? They will come round all right." They may have done so - both their recovery and their conversion may have been complete - but it was hard to stay there and witness so much of what looked like gross inhumanity.

When I came away people were swooning all over the place. I had to step over a man in a fit in order to get to the door.

When I reached the street and the pure air it was a fresh, grey morning. The sun had written its crimson streaks in the sky; but they had been blotted out by a soft mist. All would have been quiet had not the stillness been broken by the sounds of Bedlam upstairs. It was too early for the most "wealthy and wise" people to rise yet; but here, in a large room, were two or three hundred people - none of whom had been to bed, many of whom had gone through all the tremendous labours of the "Council of War" - all in a state of nervous exultation which defies ordinary comprehension. "Is this a common sort of thing here?" I asked of the policeman outside. "Very," he said, "but it has reduced our charge-sheet, and I haven't had a case for two months." I didn't ask him if it was as good for the persons who took part in such "services" as it was for the charge-sheet. Neither he nor I could properly answer that question.

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