Great Yarmouth Theatre (1864)

At the close of the meeting a gentleman came forward and invited me to his house. In the course of conversation he told me that he had been awakened by the story of the steamer, and particularly by what I had said of the gentleman who was absorbed in the newspaper. He did not say much about his conversion, but everyone could see that he was a changed man. He took great interest in the services, and from this time his was the house in which I was received; and he, his wife, and daughter the kind friends who entertained me and other evangelists. He arranged the meetings, took the Corn Hall, the Town Hall, or the Theatre, and made himself responsible for all the expenses.

One evening, in the Corn Hall, I noticed a gentleman standing at the end of the room, who was known to me as the cousin of a happy Christian neighbour living three miles from Buckenham. I observed that he remained for the after-meeting, so I went towards him, but he quickly made for the door, and disappeared.

On my way back to the kind friends with whom I was staying, I found him walking thoughtfully by my side. He said, "You know my cousin William, do you not?"

"Yes, indeed I do," I replied; for every remembrance of him made, and still makes, me glad.

"He has become serious, I hear."

"Oh, dear no, not at all. Serious! why he is as happy as can be; I saw him to-day looking as radiant as ever."

"Yes! yes! you know what I mean; he has become religious."

"No, indeed; you are misinformed again; he used to be something like that: but he is converged; he is a spiritual man now. Anybody can make himself religious; but no one can convert himself. A Jew, a Mahometan, a Roman Catholic, or a Hindoo can be religious."

"Yes, yes, I understand what you mean: I suppose he will die soon?"

"Die!" I screamed; "what for? I hope not; why?"

"Oh," he replied thoughtfully, "I always observe that when men get to be like him, they soon go off."

"God saves us to live," I said, "not to die; to live for Him and His glory and that is what your cousin William is aiming at. He shall not die, but live; and declare the works of the Lord" (Ps. cxviii. 17).

Then I turned upon him, and recommended that whether he died or lived, he should give his heart to God; but I fear my words failed to make any impression.

I could not help pondering over this man's three mistakes, and thinking how common they are in the world. Perhaps they arise from the solemn and dejected looks of some Christians, who are not so happy as they should be. Serious - religious - going to die.

I am happy to say, that the cousin William never encouraged such a dismal and erroneous line of thought. On the contrary, he testifies to this day, with a beaming countenance and a happy heart, in a manner to recommend His Master. He, together with other members of his family, continues to labour with much success and blessing. To give an account of the Lord’s work by them would require a book of itself.

The Corn Hall was continually so crowded, and the air often so oppressive, that we longed for the use of the theatre. On making application for it, we were refused and told that "the regular performers" were coming, as if we were only irregular performers. However, on one occasion we gained our point and obtained admission to this dark, dirty, dingy place. Bills were displayed all over the town to announce the fact, that Rev. W. Haslam would preach at the theatre;

This commodious place was thronged to excess with persons of all classes. It was a novel thing in that far off eastern county to have preaching in a theatre; so it created a great sensation. Some of the people said, that they had heard of " actors becoming clergymen; but never before of a clergyman going on the stage."

I preached to the dense crowd that filled the place above, below, and around, also on the stage where I stood, from the text, "How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?" (Heb. ii. 3). I afterwards published this address in a tract called "The Great Salvation," which remains as a memento of that one occasion on which I was permitted to be "a performer" in the theatre.

I testified that this salvation is freely offered by God, though it is neglected by too many. This very place, I said, will be a witness against multitudes, who prefer it and its empty and often sinful pleasures to the Word of God and the house of God. I went on to explain how this great salvation is full, free, and present.

1. It is full as God s love could make it.

2. It is free as the air we breathe. But we must each one accept it for himself, even as we inhale the air, if we would have the benefit.

3. It is a present salvation, or nothing; for what is it to me, with all its reality and greatness, if I am not now saved?

We had a very glorious time; the Lord Himself vouchsafed His manifested Presence in that place, and many souls were saved. There was much excitement in the town. Some of the people were angry that their theatre was used for such a purpose; some were quite ashamed, and others rejoiced.

From 'Yet Not I' by William Haslam, pages 180-3.