Silcoates School (1861)

In July 1861, I was sent to a boarding school for Congregational ministers’ sons, to which some sons of laymen were also admitted, at Silcoates Hall, near Wakefield. There were about fifty of us boys, from ten years old to sixteen or seventeen. The tradition of the school in the fifties and in 1860 had not been distinctly religious. All of us came from Christian homes, but as a school it was very much like other schools. About a month after I entered Silcoates some of the lads started a prayer meeting of their own in a summerhouse in the garden. They asked me to join, and I went more out of curiosity, and to oblige my chum, than for any other motive. There were about half-a-dozen of us, perhaps more, none of us over fourteen. We read a chapter in the Bible, and we prayed. No master was present, nor was there any attempt made on the part of the masters to encourage the prayer meeting. One master, indeed, was frankly contemptuous. The majority of the boys had nothing to do with the prayer-meeting fellows. One or two of us were under deep conviction of sin, and we talked among ourselves, and read the Bible, and prayed. Suddenly one day, after the prayer meeting had been going on for a week or two, there seemed to be a sudden change in the atmosphere. How it came about no one ever knew. All that we did know was that there seemed to have descended from the sky, with the suddenness of a drenching thunder-shower, a spirit of intense earnest seeking after God for the forgiveness of sins and consecration to His service. The summerhouse was crowded with boys. A deputation waited upon the principal and told him what was happening. He was very sympathetic and helpful. Preparation class was dispensed with that night; all the evening the prayer meeting was kept going, There was no singing, only Bible reading, a few brief words of exhortation, a confession of sin, and asking for prayers, and ever and anon a joyful acknowledgement of an assurance of forgiveness. Those of us who could not find peace were taken out into the playground by one or two of their happier comrades, who laboured with them to accept Christ. How well to this very day do I remember the solemn hush of that memorable day and night, in the course of which forty out of the fifty lads publicly professed conversion. Only half-a-dozen out of the whole school, and these exclusively of the oldest boys, held aloof from the movement and were prayed for jointly and severally by name by their converted comrades. I remember the way in which it came to me that my sins were forgiven and that from being a rebel against God I was admitted into the family of the redeemed. I had no ecstasy. Alas! my temperament is not subject to ecstasies. My friend, a lad of my own age, was walking by my side plying me diligently with texts and appealing to me to believe only in Christ. As we walked and talked together it slowly seemed to dawn upon my mind that I had been saved all the time, and had never known it till just then. Saved not by any merit of my own, but because in some mysterious way, positively asserted in the New Testament, and verified by the experience of all the best human beings whom I knew or had heard of, the death of Christ had reconciled the world to God. He had borne my sins, therefore they were no longer on record against me. There was no condemnation for those who were in Christ Jesus. And who were “in Christ Jesus”? The whole human race, excepting those who thrust themselves out of His fold, and would none of Him. In short, it seemed to me that I had always inverted the position. Instead of thinking I had to do some strange spiritual act described as coming to Jesus, when my sins would be forgiven and I should be adopted as a Son of God, I came to see that Christ had already reconciled me to God, had forgiven my sins, thousands of years before they had been committed, and that I had just to accept the position in which He had graciously placed me. Of my own self I could have done nothing. I was a sinner, not only in the sight of God but in my own inner consciousness. I had been made in the image of God, and had unmade myself into the image of a very ordinary, badtempered, selfish lad, not perhaps more bad-tempered or more selfish than other twelve-year old lads, but a very ordinary sinner, not by any means the saint and the hero which I ought to have been. I was a poor wretch, but God in His unspeakable love and mercy had blotted out my sins, and taken me into junior — very junior — partnership with Himself. The terms were, on my side, that I had to do what He told, me, and, on His side, that He would tell me quite clearly what He wanted me to do. And although I had no ecstasy, and was gladdened by no heavenly vision, a sense of great peace and deliverance settled upon me. I was seized with the longing to tell others of the discovery I had made — that we were saved all the time if we only knew it, and that God was a great deal more anxious to take us into partnership than we were to accept so gracious an offer. Writing was a sore cross to me, at 12, but I wrote to my parents and told them the good news. I wrote to my elder sister, urging her to be converted. We had prayer circles for the conversion of our unconverted comrades. In the fervour of my boyish zeal I decided to be a missionary and applied myself all the more diligently to my lessons. About twenty of us joined the Church as communicants. Every night during the two years I was at Silcoates the prayer meeting was kept up by the lads. Half an hour after tea, before preparation, was given to the prayer meeting. But — and this brings me to the point of all this confession of personal experience — although the tone of the school was kept up at a high level, and although the prayer meeting was kept going, and the solid fruits of the Revival lasted all the time I was there, we never had another conversion after that strange outpouring of the Spirit which overwhelmed us all, unexpectant, at the beginning of the term. Those who were brought in during the Revival week stood for the most part firm, those who stood out against the Revival never came in afterwards. Neither, so far as I remember, with perhaps one or two exceptions, did the new lads who entered school later on seek or find conversion.

From, 'Revival in the West', by W T Stead, page 6-8.