Pontypridd Old Town Hall (1905)

On Sunday morning, when I reached Pontypridd, the frost was keen and the snow lay in the streets. It is not usual to hold morning services at a Mission. But this being the last day, there were to be three services. The Town Hall in the morning was fairly filled, not crowded. The service was chiefly one of song and of testimony. The converts stood up here and there and everywhere, testifying to the joy and peace they had in believing. Most of them were new converts. But one man, a leader among the Rechabites, gave thanks for his conversion twenty-two years since. A billiard player, who had been brought in the previous night said that it was the first time be had ever been in a place of worship on a Sunday morning. He had been engaged in a billiard match when he was induced to come into the hall and hear Gipsy Smith. When there; he had been convinced of sin, and although he had the game well in hand, and was a sure winner, nothing would induce him to finish the match. Another man gave thanks who had handed in his drinking club ticket on his conversion the previous night. An old cripple on crutches prayed with much feeling for his unsaved relatives. Prayers for fathers, husbands, children, were very common and very fervent One man prayed with simple eloquence for the town.'O Lord!' he said, 'Thou knowest that Pontypridd has got a black name in the country. Oh, help us to make Pontypridd into a Paradise were it may be easier for us to live and serve Thee. At present it comes somewhat short of that ideal.' The prayer struck me as being one of the few, the very few, of the general petitions offered up at these meetings. Even before the Throne of Grace we are passionate and personal, crying aloud for the salvation of the individual to whom our heart goes out in love; ignoring the wider issues, the general laws, neglect of which in Pontypridd, as elsewhere, makes it not easy, but very difficult to serve the Lord. Thy will be done in Pontypridd as it is done in heaven — to inspire such a prayer in every heart is a work worthy of a Revival. In the afternoon the Town Hall was crowded to the doors with men only. There was no reason for excluding women beyond the fact that there was not room for both, and so, in accordance with the almost invariable precedent, the women were shut out. They were consoled with a women’s meeting in a neighbouring church, but therewith they were by no means content. The Town Hall packed to the walls with men presented a very striking appearance. From first to last Gipsy Smith held them in perfect control. Once or twice, when a young man here and there attempted to break in upon the order, the Gipsy would say, Wait a bit; it is my turn now. And every one acquiesced in what one of the reporters described as the Gipsy’s iron hand. If the hand was iron, the glove was velvet, and I have never seen discipline maintained with so slight an exercise of authority. The meeting followed the usual course. There were requests for prayer, declarations of gratitude, unknown units of the myriad-headed congregation momentarily revealing their inner longing for friend or relative and then relapsing into the vague, vast, indistinguishable crowd. Then they sang — and how splendidly these Welsh folk sing! Gipsy Smith had taught them an old Yorkshire Revival hymn, and it was awe-inspiring to listen to the chant of the two thousand men singing, With confidence I now draw nigh, And Father, Abba Father cry! As one hears again the solemn refrain rise from the crowded hall, prayer, brief and largely personal, was interspersed with song. The Mission hymnal as occasionally used, but for the most part the audience sang a familiar refrain over and over again. One of the hymns much to the fore was that beginning, I will sing the wondrous story Of the Christ who died for me. How He left His home in glory For the cross on Calvary. They sang it in English, and then they sang it in Welsh, and then the Gipsy began his address. It was an earnest, direct, personal appeal to his hearers to recognize the manliness of Christian service, the meanness and selfishness and cowardice of shirking their duty. The Gipsy has a way with him which places him at once in sympathy with his audience. His strong personal magnetism, backed by his sweet but much overstrained voice, enabled him to hold his audience from first to last. When he concluded and appealed to all those who had heard the call of Christ, the scene was very solemn and affecting. One after another got up and slowly made their way to the inquiry room; others seated in the audience, with eyes filled with tears, hesitated; some sobbed outright. Among the weeping, solemn, praying crowd the workers stole in and out, every now and then bringing out a penitent for the inquiry room. Keep praying! cried the Gipsy. Close your eyes and pray for these dear fellows that they may have the courage to declare themselves for Christ. So it went on until it seemed as if there were to be no more out that afternoon, and the meeting closed. The evening meeting was announced for seven. When we reached the hall at a quarter to six people were being turned away — ‘Hall full’. When at last we made our way to the platform we found the hall crowded by a singing congregation. Gipsy Smith at once started the service, more than an hour before the advertised time. It was the last service of his Mission. Next day he would give a farewell lecture on the story of his own life, but this was the last occasion on which he would be able to appeal for converts. So, contrary to usual custom, after the petitions had been handed in or asked for, he began by appealing to those who wished to serve Christ but who had not yet done so to stand up in their places, or if they were already standing, to hold up their hands where they stood. Many responded to his appeal, and then slowly struggled through the densely packed crowd to the inquiry room. While this was going on the congregation, for the most part bowed in prayer, were singing: I need Thee, oh, I need Thee. The Gipsy then read the second chapter of Ephesians, and after The Wondrous Story had been sung once more, he announced his text, the last two words of Jeremiah VIII. 20 — ‘Not saved. ’ The nature of his discourse can be imagined. It was the last night of the Mission, and there were some who were still not right with God. They had procrastinated until now, would they procrastinate again until it was too late? Procrastination was the incubator, he said, in which was hatched the worm that never died. No one knew how soon the opportunity would pass, never to return. How many of them, if they could but stretch out their hands into the future, would find that they were within a few inches of their coffins? They had entered the hall not saved. Would they dare to leave it in the same condition? Why waste their lives here and face the risk of having to stand before the great White Throne unsaved? It was all very earnestly, lovingly done, without any dwelling upon the details of future retribution. The fact was only alluded to as a fact. The doctrine of the Last Judgement and the accountability of the individual after the putting off his mortal frame for the deeds done in the body were only referred to, to emphasize the appeal. But the most stress was laid upon the sufferings and longings of Christ for the welfare of the sinner. Then came the after meeting prolonged for a full hour, a very solemn meeting indeed. No one went out. Nearly a hundred were gathered into the inquiry room. Towards the close the Gipsy asked all to stand who could from their very hearts say publicly, in the sight of God and man, that they had accepted Christ as their Saviour and as their Lord, in whose service they were determined to live and die. It was a solemn sight to see practically the whole of that crowded audience rise to their feet. But it was even more touching to see here and there sitting, painfully conspicuous, the ones and twos and threes who could not make that profession. It was almost as if they labelled themselves Not saved before the eyes of all their fellowmen. Again and again the Gipsy urged them to come and seek salvation. Keep standing, he commanded, and pray for them, and speak to them, those who are beside them. Now, now, he cried, not tomorrow! And then once more rose the pleading song — I need Thee, oh, I need Thee, Every hour I need Thee, Oh, bless me now, my Saviour, I come to Thee. With a sigh of relief and a fervent ejaculation of praise now one and then another would, after a struggle, get up and slowly make their way to the inquiry rooms behind, which were now filled to overflowing. Still, we all remained standing, singing and praying by turns, or listening to the appeals of the Missioner. You think it looks like Bedlam, said a Chicago man, as he took Ian Maclaren to the Chicago Exchange when the fierce excitement of a wheat corner was at its height; but fortunes are being made and lost there every minute. And here amid this endless sobbing of prayer and song, were not lives being made or marred every minute? Men think it is an awful sight To see a soul just set adrift On that dread voyage, from whose night The ominous shadows never lift. But ’tis more dreadful to behold a fellow-creature at the parting of the ways, doubting, struggling, resisting, his soul the battle-field between the rival forces of good and evil. All see him but no one knows how the conflict will end. For better or for worse his life will take a turn from this moment of crisis. And there were multitudes that night in the valley of decision. Some at least would remain untouched, would return home not saved, and to them perhaps the chance might never return again. And as I looked down upon the people I was profoundly moved. The storm and stress of the prolonged appeal of the wailing music of two thousand voices, the sombre reminder by these sitting figures of the conscious presence of the invisible forces which make and mar the destiny of man, told heavily upon my soul. The tremendous significance of life and its incalculable responsibilities seemed to weigh heavier upon me, and a great sense of my own utter unworthiness overwhelmed me. I thought of all my own children, and my own dearly loved friends, some who had passed hence into another world, and in bitterness of self-accusing remorse, I felt how far short I had come of doing my duty to any of them. What a miserable soul-winner had I been! What an unprofitable servant! I see the newspapers next day said that I was visibly affected. I know that my eyes were streaming as we stood singing that plaintive, pleading hymn: — Almost persuaded, slow to believe. Gipsy Smith sang the last verse as a solo that sounded like a sighing, sobbing prayer. Almost persuaded, harvest is past, Almost persuaded, doom comes at last. Almost cannot avail, Almost is but to fail, Sad, sad that bitter wail, Almost but lost. And then, leading the whole congregation, which sang as if its whole heart was in its voice, he led them in the second verse: — Almost persuaded, come, come, today. Almost persuaded, turn not away. Jesus invites you here, Angels are lingering near, Prayers rise from hearts so dear, O wanderer come. It was the last appeal. Another minute and the meeting was closed. And still some had not responded to the appeal. The meeting profoundly impressed me. Something — they also called it the Spirit — keener than a two-edged sword, pierced the heart and roused the conscience, bringing to light neglected duties, forgotten ideals, spurring one on to fresh resolves and nobler aspirations. What I felt others felt. There is something profoundly affecting in the sacred contagion of a strong emotion, especially when at the back of it stands a deep conviction, logical, unanswerable, as hard as adamant — the knowledge of one’s own exceeding sinfulness, our own miserable failure to be the Christ, the messenger of the love of God to others which we ought to have been. But let no one suppose that in the Revival this tense and terrible strain is never intermitted. When I got down to the railway station that night the platform for Merthyr was packed with a great crowd, and they were singing like a trained choir, with all their hearts and voices, as they waited for the train: — Oh, happy day that fixed my choice On Thee, my Saviour and my God! Well may this glowing heart rejoice, And tell its raptures all abroad. And as they sang over and over again the glad refrain, Happy day, happy day, even the surliest sceptic must have admitted that the singers were, for the time, as happy as the larks which sing their matin song in mid-heaven.

From, 'What I saw of Gypsy Smith', by W T Stead, page 39-49.

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