It may interest the readers of the Christian to accompany us on a three days tour to some of our preaching stations in Wiltshire. This district in Wiltshire, with the neighbouring parts of Hampshire, is one of our most interesting and encouraging fields of labour. It is almost exclusively an agricultural neighbourhood; The population is scattered and many of those who attend the evangelistic meetings walk miles to the barn or shed in which they are held.
Five years ago, when visiting this neighbourhood for the first time, the work was quite in its infancy. The first meetings were held in a tent temporarily erected by Mr Stratton in the little village of Manningford Bruce and at the same time meetings were arranged in a large barn in the neighbouring town of
Little idea had we then of the wide extension these gatherings would take. In all parts the simple preaching of the evangelists attracts large numbers of all classes and is especially appreciated by the agricultural labourers, a great proportion of whom never enter a place of worship. In a district so widely ritualistic as Wiltshire, where even those who long for it have little opportunity of hearing the gospel, the faithful message of the evangelists is indeed highly valued.
Four or five years ago, waiting at a gate on the borders of Marlborough forest for friends, a woman came out of her cottage and spoke to us: “If you come from Pewsey sir," she said, “I suppose you have heard of the meetings they are holding in a barn there? Why, Sir, gentlemen go there every Sunday from London and tell about Jesus. We never hear about him in these parts. My neighbour down there drives over every Sunday to hear them and she tells me all about what they say and she has promised to take me someday to hear what these gentlemen tell about Jesus. This was quite 7 miles from Pewsey. Since then a large district in that part of the country has been so thoroughly evangelised that anyone by walking a few miles may have heard in some barn or outhouse what these gentlemen say about Jesus.
The work has spread to many other places in the neighbourhood, and now, as we look at this Pewsey barn and think of the many who through it have heard the glad tidings of salvation and have become new creatures in Christ Jesus - of the many who are working for Christ and glorifying Him by consistent lives - of the many who have gone home to be with Him where He is, we thank God that by His grace, His gospel has been preached in Pewsey and being manifested there as the power of God and salvation to so many hearts.
For five summers the evangelists have held regular Sunday meetings in this little town, besides special services at intervals throughout the winter. Lately, it was thought that the meetings should be surrendered, as evangelistic work is not intended to be a permanent institution in any place. Yet so strong Is the feeling that they cannot be surrendered, that a new series is just now arranged for the coming summer.
We visited some of the many who first learned to know the Lord at the barn. The landlady at the principal inn and the head waitress, both tell with happy faces how the preaching of the evangelist was the means of their conversion. Not far off we find a sick bed made bright by the presence of the Saviour. In another house Christian parents rejoice over a daughter brought the Lord by the same means. We hear of many homes changed by the gospel preached in the barn. We are told, indeed, that the whole tone of the place is different. It is said also that the barn meetings are so well known as suited for the poor and the ignorant, that attendance at them is quite an institution among the tramps passing through Pewsey. How little can we tell whether some of these may not have received into their hearts the words of eternal life to which they have so earnestly listened.
Leaving Pewsey here we go to Manningford Bruce. Here in past summers the evangelists have preached in a barn, not only to the villages but to many coming from a distance. 8 miles from Pewsey, on the Wiltshire downs, is another of our preaching stations,
here the evangelistic meetings are arranged by a gentleman who was himself first deeply impressed at a barn meeting. At Netheravon a large cart shed is used for the meetings. Standing at the door of the shed we may fancy ourselves far away from all human dwellings. A little distance off however there is a tiny hamlet, but so small that it would appear impossible that its inhabitants should even fill the shed. Indeed, the whole population of the parish is only 500. Yet last Sunday evening over 400 persons were counted out from the meeting, many of whom of course had come considerable distances. Peace and joy have been brought to many homes in Netheravon by the word preached in this shed and many hearts that were far from God are now rejoicing in His love. Our friend here told us of the earnestness with which the people listened to the truth. Last Monday he met one of his shepherds and asked him how he had enjoyed the previous day's meetings.” Ah sir, I did enjoy hearing that gentleman. I should have liked to sit and listen to him till now.” The best proof of the delight the people take in the meetings is the regularity with which they attend them. Long ago novelty and curiosity have ceased to bring them, yet still the attendance is undiminished and Sunday after Sunday the group of earnest faces gaze on the preacher and drink in the precious words that he comes to declare.
From Netheravon we go onto
here again a comfortable barn, well seated and ornamented with texts, is the place for the preaching. Here too the meetings originated in one member of the family being converted at one of the neighbouring meetings. Not less is the gospel valued here than at the other stations we have visited. Quite recently one young lady from Shrewton died away from home and one of her last utterances was about the meetings, begging her sister to spare no effort to have them kept on at home and to establish similar ones in the town where she died.
In the little town of Amesbury happy evangelistic meetings have been held in past times and are to be resumed this summer.
We pass on to
and during our visit to this place arrangements are made for a series of meetings, the first we ever held here, to commence the first Sunday in May and to be continued for a fortnight. Market Lavington is a very large village. All the inhabitants are engaged in agriculture and this is scarcely a favourable time for week evening meetings. Yet the gospel cannot be preached without attracting those who are hungering and thirsting for it and we must pray that through the preaching of the evangelists many of the poor people in this place may receive the everlasting riches. Here the meetings will be held in a charming hall, seated to accommodate at least 300 persons.
The time fails us to visit Mr Keevil's barn at Wootton Rivers, very near Pewsey; Nor can we go on to the many other places in this county to which the evangelisation society sends preachers either regularly or at intervals. But we hear how to all these places the King’s decree of peace and forgiveness has brought light and gladness and joy, and how to hundreds the weekly recurrence of the gospel meetings is indeed “a feast and a good day.” We thank God for all those who are helping in this happy and honourable work and we rejoice that we are permitted and privileged of being in any way associated with it. Greatly do we wish that all who in any way aid the society could see and hear what we saw and heard in our three days’ tour. They too would rejoice in being associated in this great work and they too would feel stirred up to make more earnest efforts to spread the gospel “while we have opportunity.”
“The Christian,” May 9th, 1878