Shaftesbury Hall - London (1861)


A deeply interesting midnight meeting of the poor women frequenting the streets of the city was held in Shaftesbury Hall, Aldersgate Street, on Friday night the 8th of March.

During the singing of the first hymn one poor girl reminded of a better and happier days burst into loud and bitter cries. The beloved sisters present tried their utmost to soothe and quiet her to no avail, the wound was too open to be quickly staunchest and she was removed to an adjoining room. Scarcely was quiet restored when another fainted and had to be carried out. And then another, an interesting young creature, of whom one who knew her said that she had only lately left her home, became frantic with grief and for half an hour or more uttered the most piercing cries, often repeating, "the wretch who has brought me to this! The wretch who has brought me to this!" She was inconsolable and had at length to be removed to her lodgings in a cab. Scarcely could the meeting be proceeded with, so loud in general was the sobbing. A dear Christian friend who accompanied us thus gives his own impressions of the scene; 

I had the offer of being present at the meeting last night at Shaftesbury Hall, Aldersgate and I'm not likely soon to forget the occasion. Just think of a band of sober, and godly men, assembling at 9 o'clock for a little supper together and prayer; then sallying forth with cards of invitation for these poor daughters of sin and of shame; each card inviting its receiver to accept refreshment and listen to God's own word of love at Shaftesbury Hall at 11 o'clock. The most frequented pavements are scoured from Fenchurch Street to Temple Bar, until I found all to whom I was able to speak on those pavements had, by 11 o'clock been invited to the place of assembling.

At that hour all was active, loving preparation at the hall and by 11:30 the covered tables were spread with a midnight meal and about 200 guests, filling apparently every seat, sat ready.

"Paradise!" said I, as I poured out tea and coffee to the quiet, modest guests at my table; "it was the dying thief snatched fresh from his thievery who was told paradise was then to be his; and Jesus makes us happy in waiting on you tonight and tells you by that that his own bosom is now open for sinners just fresh come from their sins."

But the deeds that night work gave warmer breath than any major words could give. Words and precious words too, were not wanting at any of the many tables, nor from the platform. But the presence of those 20 godly men, besides Christian women, also helping, all preferring to work the work of seeking the lost to the ease of their beds, told more than any words could. Their outdoor work in assemblIng the guests; their indoor service to them, efficient, courteous, patient to the last; all had a louder voice in my heart than any words could. The guests felt it too: as a hungry and hardened one next to me said, while partaking of plates and cups more liberally and carefully filled than had been handed to her no doubt for many a day, "well, there are real Christian people in the world." The guests around her assented, for they were as well supplied as she and showed by face and voice that one had spoken for all. And so at every table. Hunger was supplied till fragments were everywhere left and the inclination of each appetite had variety to choose from to the last. Surely Christ was seen in those willing saved ones of his, whose hands that night prepared such tables and dealt out such liberal and suited refreshment.

The "great supper" seemed to pass before one's mind; the forethought that had provided and spread this midnight meal; the streets and lanes from which the guests had been brought in; their inability to repay their entertainers; all made it a sweet gospel drama. Oh, how different from the opera and theatre, where selfish man had ere now led them!

And thus a country stranger comes in and joins with you, dear London labourers: and finds himself happy and being used in your midnight service of love, since that service is in order "to seek and to save the lost." I say nothing of the hymns, addresses, and eanest prayers. This I am sure of, they drew not a little of their affect from the deeds of love which had gone before them and were gracefully renewed in a plate of fruit on each table before the guests left.

The clock told of two in the morning, but the lingering steps and loving faces and good nights of fellow labourers, who had many last words to say to each other and to degraded one's whose hearts had softened under the practical and verbal kindness of the evening, told plainly enough that it was divine philanthropy that moved them; and that since Jesus' dying love was in their hearts they were no way weary of their work. May many a country gospel labourer come up to such a London midnight meeting and return to try some kindred effort in his own locality.

'The Revival', volume iv, 16/3/1861

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