Siloah Welsh Independent Chapel - Aberdare (1904)

An account of a Revival service by an unsaved churchgoer.

One Sunday evening in our church, as November was drawing to a close, an announcement was made that Siloah Congregational Chapel was open daily for such meetings as the miners on the night shift cared to attend. A meeting for the miners at such a chapel was certainly a novelty, but all were warmly invited. I thought it would be a novelty to attend, especially if these illiterate miners—as many of them were reputed to be—would make known their experiences in the revival. At that time the town was only partially influenced by the revival—the floodtide came later. The twenty-third of November proved to be my day of destiny. It was a Wednesday morning, I believe, when I thought of the services in Siloah Chapel again. Little did I dream that there lay buried in that unobtrusive reminder a veritable revolution. 

As I recall, I had no urgent business engagements that morning. There was no presentiment of an approaching crisis in my life. It was like any other morning except that I felt listless and aimless. About nine-thirty, I left my room and walked toward the centre of the town, puffing nonchalantly at my fragrant cigar. My thoughts were heavy; an inexplicable sadness was in my heart. When I reached the square, involuntarily I turned in the direction of the main street. On this street there lived a dear friend of mine, an accomplished pianist, oboe player and organist. His home was our rendezvous when practicing some of the oratorio solos for our great competitive meetings. Scarcely ever did I pass that door without entering. As I was passing, my friend came out, hailed me joyfully, and urged me to come in for a song. But there was no song in my heart, so I declined, and sauntered aimlessly onward.

Reaching the end of the street I hesitated, not knowing which direction to take. There was not the faintest thought in my mind regarding divine guidance, neither had I asked for any.  Where should I go? If I took the left turn, it would lead through the poorer streets back to my home. Surely I did not intend to return home. If I went to the right, the road would lead to Trecynon—the place where I had first contacted the revival and where its fires were still burning. No ! that did not seem to be my direction. Should I turn back again and visit my friend in the music store? Yes, that seemed to be the way.

When I was in the act of following that impulse, someone seemed to whisper, No, you must go straight forward. Without more ado, I crossed the road, took the street that lay before me, and went on to my Bethel, the church where the revival services were.

Those who were familiar with the neighbourhood know how poor were the houses surrounding this fine Congregational church. Undoubtedly when the church was erected, the locality was different. To reach this church, where Silyn Evans ministered to a large congregation, it was necessary to pass through this neighbourhood contrast. I went quietly and unconcernedly, wondering what power was leading me in this strange direction. I was to make the greatest discovery of my life, the greatest in time and for eternity!

Familiar revival melodies reached my ears. It seemed as if an angelic choir had come from heaven to drown earth’s sorrows in a sea of song. It was marvellous! Could the singers be miners? The sweetness of the air, “O! say, will you take up your cross? O! say will you take up your cross ?“ captured me. Yes, I was actually turning the little refrain over in my mind

when I met a young woman, greatly agitated. She was well known to me. But what power had stirred her to the extent that she seemed beside herself? This was so unusual for her that I felt startled. Had someone molested, insulted, or frightened her? That could hardly be on such a bright, snowy morning, with the sun bathing the old earth with majestic glory. With an appealing tremble in her voice she exclaimed, “You must come—you must come at once—you must come at once to the revival !“She pointed excitedly to Siloah Chapel, the source of the glorious music. “It is wonderful—wonderful—in there! Come quick !“ Amazement took hold of me. For once in my life the power of speech deserted me-I simply looked on. I must have looked at her incredulously for she persisted in exclaiming, “It is wonderful—wonderful—wonderful !“ Like one in a dream, I accompanied her to the chapel—or rather, the vestry door. Again the rapture of the singing thrilled me. Lustily they sang,

"The law has now been crowned

Stern justice stands exalted

The Father calls us blessed through the blood

And Zion has been ransomed through the blood"

(Such is a rough translation of the words by these inspired miners.) Such marvellous singing, quite extempore, could only be created by a supernatural power, and that power the divine Holy Spirit. No choir, no conductor, no organ—just spontaneous, unctionized soul-singing! 

An irresistible attraction, resembling a tremendous magnetic force, drew us inside the vestry. All the seats were occupied, except a few right in the front. Directed by this woman, I tiptoed up the aisle to a seat. It must have been about ten o’clock and lo! the vestry was a mass of worshipers absorbed in the adoration of God. Almost as soon as we were seated, the woman slipped to her knees, breaking forth in such passionate prayer as I had scarcely ever heard, certainly not outside of the revival meetings. No one would have credited her with such eloquence. Indeed, no one had ever heard her engage in public prayer. Words poured from her lips. She was like Gad of old, of whom it was prophesied that “a troop shall overcome him; but he shall overcome at last.” The power of God had overwhelmed her, and she was now overcoming. All shyness, timidity, frailty, and human weakness had vanished.

Petrified with fear, I wondered what was going to happen next. I became conscious of one thing, that I was sitting perilously near the “fire”— nearer than ever before in my life. What could I do? Escape? Even if contemplated, that would have been an ungracious act, if not cowardly. Besides, had I not been somewhat familiar with these unearthly proceedings during my visit to the revival in Trecynon? This was only another edition—a second edition of the services which had so intrigued me in Ebenezer. This woman’s prayer continued in fervency and passion. Seriously reflecting upon the situation which was momentarily developing into a spiritual crisis before my eyes, I could only indulge in a quiet, inward, mental observation: What a place is this! Everybody seemed to have been affected by this prayer, for all were engaging in intercession, without let or hindrance. One person, with a yearning for communion with God, had mightily moved this congregation heavenward. It would need more bravado than bravery for any man to have dared to interfere with this inrush of divine power.

Singing, sobbing, praying intermingled and proceeded without intermission. When this glorious commotion seemed to have reached a peak, there came through the air a small melodious voice softly singing, “Come to Jesus; come to Jesus; come to Jesus now.” It persisted until the people joined in the sweet refrain, inviting sinners to take the irrevocable step that meant salvation. It must have commenced in one of the back seats. But all hearts were soon completely captivated. People joined heartily in the invitation which echoed and re-echoed through the building… 

My poor mind was tossed about with every extraordinary manifestation of the Holy Spirit’s working upon the hearts and minds of these people. Sometimes I felt like shouting; again I felt like doubting. At all times I was puzzled. There was no gainsaying the fact that the prayers of these comparatively illiterate people must have been divinely inspired; one feltconvinced that simple, ordinary worshipers of themselves could never have composed such sublime sentences as were expressed. The  petitions were divinely indited. [sic] Some of them fell upon my spirit like red-hot coals, and I was troubled.

My heart became heavy. Almost unaware of what I was doing, I sighed continually. The burden increased with the progress of this service until I felt myself crushed. From some part of the building came the words: “Seek ye the Lord while he may be found; call ye upon him while he is near.” Surely He was “near” enough just then, never so near as at that moment. But the voice continued with emotion, “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord.”

I could not but feel that this call to “return” was meant for me, although I had not the faintest idea how to “return.” Morally there was no need for me to do so; but spiritually—ah! that was where I felt pinched and humiliated. Inwardly I was convinced that I had “come short of the glory of God” in spite of my boasted morality. “And he will have mercy upon him,” went on the voice; then, as if in a mighty crescendo: “And to our God, for HE WILL ABUNDANTLY PARDON!“ These words produced a great effect upon my disturbed mind; I hesitated—Jacob-like, I halted on my “shrunken thigh.

In every prayer there seemed to be Scripture for me— I was literally “mobbed” with the words of God. Beyond a doubt it was the ministry of the Holy Spirit "Comfort ye my people, saith the Lord," said another. And was I not in desperate need of some comforting word at that moment. Heavier and still heavier became the burden. Lower and still lower drooped my proud head. Sometimes I felt like falling in a heap on the floor, bewailing my state. Two were praying, a man and a woman. The first was evidently making his great surrender, for he was quoting Scripture: “Ephraim is joined to idols: let him alone.” He went on, “What have I to do any more with idols? Idols of different kinds were troubling him and he was busy disposing of them. His words struck me in my tenderest spot, although the worshiper was utterly ignorant of the stabs. The woman was pouring out her very soul before God. She also had evidently been wandering from her Lord. Was, she returning? Listen to her, as I did, with awe: “I was brought low, and he helped me. Return unto thy rest, 0 my soul; for the Lord hath dealt bountifully with thee. "For thou hast delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling". She was jubilant at last. Oh, to enter into such boundless liberty.

How it happened I do not know. Whence it came, God alone knows. It has always remained a mystery as the years have come and gone. Visions were talked of among the young converts. Imagination, in some cases, seemed to be running riot. Some vowed solemnly that they were seeing crosses and stars beckoning them onward. No one cared to condemn, although many were incredulous, as I was. Was it something disturbing my sub-conscious mind, flinging upon the screen of my mind a scene of gospel-days with which I had been familiar since boyhood in Sunday school? The passing of the years has produced no satisfactory answer; “the day will declare.” The reality of it has lasted through forty-three years of the most strenuous labours in the Master's vineyard, on three continents. My soul was utterly overwhelmed with the sense of awful sin. Deliverance tarried long, while unbelief mocked. My eyes were fast closed. A panorama passed before the eyes of my mind, whether a vision or a mental impression. In those moments I saw more with my eyes shut than I had ever seen in my previous life.

There appeared a huge multitude, varied in costume but differing little in features, interested in a central Personality whose presence was the sole cause of their assembling. Moving majestically among the people, He appeared to speak words of encouragement. Suddenly, a blind beggar, staff in hand, pushed his way through the crowd, and knelt in the pathway of the Speaker crying, “Jesus, thou son of David, have mercy on me!“ Some reached to pull him out of the way, but a hand was extended to protect the defenceless man. Standing with royal bearing, the central figure encouraged the people to bring the poor fellow to Him. Again, dropping his staff and extending his hands, the beggar evidently repeated his cry.

Then something within snapped—my bonds were gone. I jumped to my feet, extended my arms, and took up the poor man’s words. Oh! how I cried! Was ever such a cry heard anywhere? Desperately, passionately, fervently, I cried, “Jesus! Jesus! Jesus !“ over and over again, unable to continue with petition. With that one word, I held on like a drowning man clutching a straw—it seemed to be my last chance, absolutely the last.

“Jesus! Have mercy! Have mercy! Have mercy on me !“ I cried. How many times, I do not know. This I do know, that no argument of a psychological nature can ever disturb the serenity of my faith. A sweet voice spoke within my spirit so clearly, unmistakably, audibly, that the voices of all creation could never succeed in drowning its message: “Be of good cheer, thy sins are forgiven thee.”

Heaven came into my heart that very moment… There were sins to be banished, and they were banished. There were burdens to be dropped, never to be picked up on any pretence again… No chain has since been forged that was strong enough to hinder my service for the Master or to retard the advancement of my spiritual progress. Delirious joy possessed my soul instantaneously. Henceforth there was no keeping quiet. Revival had swept shyness away. So possessed was I with the “new wine of the kingdom of God” that I, like many others in the revival, seemed to have lost my mental equilibrium and self-control. This great miracle within me must have taken place in the neighbourhood of eleven-fifteen, as near as an estimate of the time can be made. According to that calculation, I had been in the church about an hour and fifteen minutes. It seemed to me like eternity, since the burden on my spirit had been so heavy.

Now everything was changed! Had anyone prophesied in my hearing that such a thing could have happened to me, I would have unhesitatingly christened him Balaam, the hireling prophet. Everyone in the service that morning knew full well what had happened to me. And at the time of this writing, there are at least some living who know about it. For instance, the lady who sat at my side, my sister-in-law, is a living witness, although advanced in years. Throughout that service my voice was heard. How could one be silent when waves of joy were submerging him.

Hundreds in that building felt exactly as I did. Worship according to the old dignified order was banished unceremoniously. On and on and on went that glorious miners’ meeting, leaving a golden trail behind. Is it not still going on? While my heart beats, that revival service will neither slumber nor sleep. It is fadeless, endless, eternal! Ah! this is something that even the grave cannot stop. “When time shall be no more” this deathless experience will still have the dew of youth upon it.  

From, 'I saw the Welsh Revival', by David Matthews.

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