Ebenezer Welsh Congregational Chapel - Trecynon (1904)

A man's account of his first experience of the revival - 15th November 1905. Wednesday night came before I contacted “the revival” for the first time. It happened this way: A young man possessing a fine voice was preparing for one of the great contests which have been extremely popular among the Welsh people for generations. For some time I had been coaching him and correcting his deficiencies in voice production. I did not dream that I would meet him that evening under very different circumstances. After his departure, a friend of mine, a professor of music, called at my room very unexpectedly. Usually, the evenings were his busiest times; business people crowded his studio for music tuition. Strangely enough, some of his pupils failed to turn up on this particular date, and he came to see if I would accompany him to the theatre, or enjoy a quiet stroll. After a little consideration, my thoughts turned to the revival meetings which were occupying so many serious minds in the neighbourhood. I quietly suggested that we go to the scene of the mysterious services. Immediately, to my surprise, he acquiesced, and we both began to walk and to discuss the reports appearing in the Daily Press concerning Mr Roberts. Usually, when we met, which was often, we talked of the great composers of bygone days, debating their qualifications or disqualifications. Cantatas, operas, oratorios, sonatas came under survey and delightful hours passed. But tonight it was “the revival.” This was very unusual for, although we were both members of the same large church, neither of us was by any means spiritual. However, we walked and talked of the revival, and our conversation was perhaps unwise, because neither of us had ever witnessed a revival. Our opinions were, therefore, worthless. Like many others who lived before us, we freely ventilated our vain thoughts. Then something happened. My friend decided that he would proceed no further. My persuasive powers availed nothing. After lengthy debate, he decided that he would return to his studio. Equally obstinate, I determined that nothing would hold me back. Although “the revival” brought blessing to thousands of his compatriots, the Spirit of God, as far as one could impartially discern, left my friend severely alone. There was no evidence that “the powers of the world to come” had affected him in the least. Had I turned back with him, would I be writing these reminiscences? When I reached the precincts of Ebenezer Congregational Chapel where Evan Roberts was that evening, I discovered that every avenue of approach to every chapel in the neighbourhood was filled with eager people; hundreds were clamouring vainly for admittance to one of the places of worship. Here was an unprecedented sight! Into this swirling mass I found myself projected. Patience ultimately caused me to reach the vestibule of the chapel where Mr Roberts was and where at the far end of the room sat a deacon who knew me well. Seeing my dilemma, he beckoned to me, proffering me his chair. Knowing that this was my only hope of gaining admittance, and especially of securing a seat, I pushed through the throng in the aisles, until I reached his chair. That generous deacon, so I learned afterwards, had been there for fourteen hours without a break! With my back to the pulpit, I witnessed a sight that made me feel faint. Confronting and surrounding me was a mass of people, with faces aglow with a divine radiance, certainly not of this earth. For one brief moment my faith staggered, and criticism arose in my mind. But it soon vanished. Critical analysis could not survive such a dynamic atmosphere. One section of the congregation was singing, “O! the Lamb, the Bleeding Lamb.” In another part of the building scores were engaged simultaneously in prayer, some were wringing their hands as if in mortal agony, while others who had received “the blessing” were joyous in their newfound experience. Welsh and English were extravagantly intermingled in this service. Language clashes are non-existent where the Holy Ghost is we-eminent. With awe and fear I gazed upon this scene. Some of the things that reached my ears will never be forgotten. On the gallery confronting me was the young man who that evening had been coached for the great singing competition for which he had been preparing for months. Could I believe my eyes? Were my ears also deceiving me? With extended arms, his beautiful voice ringing clear and reaching the utmost extremity of the enormous building, he was praying and crying aloud, “Mercy! Mercy! Mercy!“ Just that one word! How had he managed to get into the building? What power was constraining him to cry aloud? There was no denying the reality of that yearning, passionate exclamation. Another soul in another part of the church exclaimed in stentorian tones that vibrated, “Lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; the flowers appear on the earth: the time of the singing of birds is come and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land” (Song of Sol. 2:11, 12). Who could deny it? A young woman with beautiful countenance and an exquisite voice challenged, “‘What have I to do any more with idols? I have heard Him, and observed Him.” She clapped her hands for joy. An elderly deacon announced with rapture, “With joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation.” A Presbyterian minister, his countenance pale as death, stood on his feet and recited: “Who is this that cometh from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah? Who is this that is glorious in his apparel, travelling in the greatness of his strength? I that speak in righteousness, mighty to save” (Isa. 63:1). Underneath the gallery a young man, stammering, drew tears from all eyes as he cried, “W-w-what m-must I d-do t-to be s-s-s-aved?“ repeating the solemn question until he must have nearly fainted with fatigue. A most pathetic sight! One realizes the limitations of his human vocabulary when attempting to describe these scenes. When this glorious spiritual tumult was at its height, there came a sudden calm. Hearing a movement behind me in the pulpit, I looked up. Evan Roberts was on his feet. He looked straight down at me. Our eyes met for a few seconds. I solemnly avow that those eyes searched me through and through. They burned like coals of fire. In a split second, my innermost soul seemed to be laid bare. I feared and I shook. The lustre on his countenance eloquently proclaimed the abundance of grace overflowing his heart. Best of all, he seemed utterly oblivious of it. Had there been a cover nearby, I most assuredly would have sought it. Then a wonderful thing happened—at least, so it seemed to me. Measuring the huge pulpit Bible with both thumbs, he opened it exactly at I Corinthians 13. Not another page was turned. Then, in. measured tones he read—not preached, please remember—Paul’s magnificent love poem, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity [love], I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity [love], I am nothing — nothing — nothing.” Emphasizing that word “nothing” and repeating it with deliberation and awful Solemnity made us all cringe It was a painful experience for the flesh. There was no attempt at rhetoric. It was just a plain, simple, unadorned reading. But will anyone forget it? I think not. That fadeless scene has only deepened with the passage of the years. Before Mr Roberts had finished reading, a clear voice in petulant mood, rang out like the booming of a heavy gun. “I want to ask a question.” Confusion would have ensued but for the unruffled calm of Mr Roberts. He did not look in the direction of the speaker. “I want to ask a question,” again challenged the querulous voice. The rude interruption produced no visible effect upon the manner or mood of the evangelist. Evan Roberts appeared immovable. His eyes were closed and his lips were moving. Evidently, he was in touch with his Lord, probably committing the situation into the hands of his Master. To my inexperienced mind, the situation was perilous. Just then, someone started one of the popular melodies that was much in vogue during the revival, “O! ‘tis lovely! O! ‘tis lovely! All my sins are washed away.” Somehow one expected the building to collapse with the pressure of glory within its walls. Again and again the sweet words were repeated. Spiritual ecstasy lifted the people heavenward. Above the sweet melody came another exasperating challenge: “If you do not answer me, I will come to the pulpit to ask my question.” The speaker, a local man, was well known to the majority present. For years he had been associated with a small but conceited coterie of men who arrogated to themselves resounding titles. Ordinary folk called them agnostics. They were, in many respects, very fine individuals who, by familiarizing themselves with questionable literature, had been led into unbelief. All of them were once members of the Sunday school. Later experience proved that the young man figuring in this interruption was one of the excellent among men. Because no one heeded his interruption, he proceeded to carry out his threat. All evening he had been sitting remorsefully in the gallery. He moved toward the stairs, the crowd hindering rapid progress; his intention was to reach the deacon’s pew, if not to occupy the pulpit. It was a defiant action. God has His own way of dealing with defiance and arrogance. As the man came slowly down the crowded stairway, the unexpected happened. As in the case of Saul of Tarsus, on the Damascus road, the Holy Spirit overpowered this man—he would have collapsed on the stairs had not the people upheld him—constraining him to cry out for mercy and pardon. What a scene followed! When the people realized the full import of what had happened, the shout went up, “He has been saved! He has been saved!“ Riotous enthusiasm broke loose. People surrendered to what appeared to be a delirium of religious excitement. Restraint was gone. Tears and laughter were intermingled. Songs and sobs filled the air. Scenes from the Book of Acts were re-enacted. Saul’s prostration was viewed anew in the light of the things happening. “Haleliwia! Praise the Lord! . . . Diolch Iddo! . . . A’r Ri hen bo’r goron! ... Crown Him Lord of All!“ excitedly cried the delighted people. In another part of the church they were singing, “Come to Jesus, come to Jesus, come to Jesus just now.” All over the church sinners were asking, “What must I do to be saved?“ Willing workers moved as fast as the crowded pews would allow them, ministering solace to distraught souls. Moments like those do not often recur during a brief lifetime. We were all in the grip of a spiritual maelstrom. Uppermost in my mind was Jacob’s expression, “The Lord is in this place, and It knew it not.” “Throw out the lifeline, throw out the lifeline,” sang someone, and the crowd joined in. English choruses were taboo in our unilingual congregations. Freely, but shyly, I confess that I had never heard a single English chorus sung in our orthodox assemblies. To make such an attempt would have been rated almost a “sin against the Holy Ghost.” Such a statement may seem strange, but it is, nevertheless, strictly true. The only exception would be the rendering of choruses from the great oratorios of the masters, in our Eisteddfod, our famous competitive meetings. But the singing of gospel choruses in another language was unthinkable. The CeIt found it easier to express his deepest religious emotions in his native Welsh language than in the less-familiar English idiom. But this revival burned all linguistic barriers. And, to our amazement, there was nothing incongruous in it. With what appreciation did they sing, “Throw out the lifeline to danger-fraught men, and “Let the dower lights be burning.” The Moody-Sankey hymns seemed to take on an entirely new meaning. Revival makes a radical change in our prejudices. While this commotion went on, my eyes often rested on the evangelist’s face, which shone with an unearthly lustre, as Moses’ face must have done when he descended from Sinai. It was all so strange to me. Never in all my experience of religious gatherings, extending at that time to over a quarter of a century, had I seen anything comparable. As the Lord Jesus, on the turbulent waters of Gennesaret, gazed calmly at the lashing seas so the evangelist calmly viewed the scene around him. Somehow one expected to hear a voice saying, “Peace, be still.” “Will someone go outside? To the left of the church you will find a woman in spiritual distress. Will you help her to find the Saviour?“ This extraordinary utterance came from the lips of Evan Roberts. Profound silence struck us all. It was found to be just as he had said. There was a “calm” of amazed wonder! What manner of man is this? was the unexpressed thought of those in that church. It made one feel uncomfortable. My own thoughts were anything but calm. What power was it that enabled this young man to make such confident assertion? How could he describe the soul-agony of a single individual when he was surrounded by a multitude, and that soul not even within the building? Bunyan-like, my thoughts were “tumbled up and down.” Before an explanation reached me, another request came: “There is a young man in soul-distress at the far end of the gallery. He is anxious for salvation. Will someone please help him?“ Turning inquisitively around, the people in the immediate neighbourhood saw such a young man, ploughed deep with conviction of sin. He was helped. The crowd once more burst forth in the glad refrain, “Diolch Iddo,” invariably sung when a soul had been known to “receive the blessing’ and to have entered into the glorious freedom of Christ. But the question persisted —how could the evangelist have known? Those persons sitting nearby evidently had been ignorant of anyone in urgent need of spiritual comfort and help... During the service in Ebenezer, another striking incident occurred. Mr Roberts had an experience which I believe was never repeated throughout his career. Prayer was the keynote of his tireless life. Nothing was ever done in a spirit of independence. No action taken or engagement entered into without definitely committing the matter to God. His soul appeared to be saturated through and through with the spirit of prayer. It was the atmosphere in which he moved and lived. He enjoyed uninterrupted intercourse with heaven. Whenever one looked into his face, he seemed to be engaged in intercession. It was an object lesson to all. Prayer was the breath of his soul. When this incident was far in the past he told us that he had asked God to give him a taste of the agonies of Gethsemane. Probably in his later Christian experience such a request would have been unthinkable. He and others who were prominent at this time of visitation were minors or novices in the deep things of God.” However, the fact remains, and I am a living witness of the incident, that the prayer was answered in a terrifying way. Falling on the floor of the pulpit, he moaned like one mortally wounded, while his tears flowed incessantly. His fine physical frame shook under crushing soul anguish. No one was allowed to touch him. Those seated close to him frustrated any attempt at assistance which many willing hands would have gladly rendered. The majority of us were petrified with fear in the presence of such uncontrollable grief. What did it mean? What good could possibly accrue from such manifestations in overcrowded meetings? Thoughts of this nature agitated our minds. No one doubted the transparent sincerity of the man, however mysterious the happenings. When Evan Roberts stood before the congregation again, his face seemed transfigured. It was patent to all that he had passed through an experience that was extremely costly. No one who witnessed that scene would vote for a repetition. One wonders whether such hallowed occurrences should be chronicled.

From, 'I saw the Welsh Revival', by David Matthews.

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