Sion Baptist Chapel - Maerdy (1904)



AS spring-time precedes summer, and seed-time 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. 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. 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 instrument, 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 to go 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 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.” In Mardy 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 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.” 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-youplease 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 in singing. No one uses a hymnbook. The last person 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 myriadheaded but single-souled personality. You can watch what they call the influence of the power of the Spirit playing over the crowded congregation as an 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 praying and singing are both wonderful, but more impressive than either are the breaks which occur when utterance can say 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 rock-bound 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 allpervading 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. From, the 'Daily Chronicle', December 13th, 1904 by C T Studd.


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