For some months our attention has been drawn towards this great centre of Indo-European comrnerce, and on a recent visit to Portsmouth opportunity was taken to make enquiry as to the possibility of holding services in a large circus, which was lying entirely unoccupied. The presence of Gypsies in Portsmouth seemed to present an opportunity for making an effort in the town which could not be allowed to pass unheeded by.
Accordingly, arrangements were made for the gipsies to go on from Portsmouth to Southampton for a week. Brother Corbridge went down to conduct the meetings, the success of which will, we feel sure, awaken thankfulness in the hearts of all who read the following report:-
On reaching Southampton we found the town all alive with interest in the expected arrival of the " Malwa," bearing the remains of Dr Livingstone. This event had brought many strangers into the place, and the Good Templars were holding special services at the same time thirteen services and meetings being held on our first Sunday and during the following week.
Nevertheless, confident that God was with us and would give us the ear of the people, we commenced our work on the Saturday night, taking our stand on the "South Front," a first-class position, where a very large and attentive crowd gathered.
On the Sunday we had three services in the Circus, and two in the open air, with congregations which surprised and gratified those who were favourable to the work, though they fell short of our sanguine expectations.
As the Circus had been previously engaged for the Monday evening, we borrowed a mission chapel, which was crowded, many having to go away unable to get in. On the remaining evenings of the week, our services were held in the Circus, where we also had a noonday prayer meeting.
This was attended by some thirty or forty persons daily, most of them being working men, who came in for a little while on their way to or from work, and the short lively prayers put up there were not only answered in showers of blessing on the evening services but, in the case of one person, at least, they had a more immediate result.
A butcher came into the meeting one day, and said to us, "Last night I followed you part of the way home from the Circus, to talk to you, but I could not muster sufficient courage to speak to you." We soon led him to Calvary and he went back to his work rejoicing in God.
Though we had rejoiced in the evident blessing bestowed on the services on the Sunday and Monday, it was not until Tuesday that the fruit of our labours began to appear. While inviting penitents to come out on this occasion. A rough navvy came forward, sobbing aloud on account of his sins. He soon found salvation. Each successive evening was marked by similar cases of deep conviction, and the work of the week prepared the way for a glorious Sabbath.
About a thousand persons were present in the morning, and one thousand five hundred in the afternoon. At the close of the afternoon service, we invited the congregation to follow us to an open-air demonstration. Several hundreds of them did so and we marched in silence for nearly half an hour, through the principal streets of the town, to a place of public resort, near the Ordnance House. Here we found a great number of people from all parts of the town, and a large crowd listened very attentively. A clergyman, and several gentlemen, assisted us in this meeting.
W,hen we arrived at the Circus, about a quarter of an hour before the time of evening service, we found it nearly full; and before we commenced, it was crammed in every part with a congregation of some three thousand people,belonging to every section of society from the richest to the poorest.
We delivered short addresses, singing hymns between each address. Every word seemed to tell with the mighty power of God, and not less than two thousand five hundred of the congregation remained to the prayer meeting.
The spirit of prayer seemed to be poured out so abundantly, that it was, at first, a matter of some difficulty to conduct the mooting with anything like order, without giving offence to many; but we prevailed upon those who wished to engage publicly, to come near the platform, and so kept the whole feeling of the meeting concentrated in the soul-saving work.
At our first invitation to the penitents to come forward, half a dozen responded to the call; but as soon as these were able to rejoice in God as their Saviour, they stood up, and another company came forward. As group after gr·oup of anxious souls thus gathered around us, we called again and again for prayer on their behalf; and all present bowed in solemn silence, broken only by the sobbing of the penitents, which could be heard all over the place.
Again and again we closed the meeting, but the people would not part, and more and more seekers of salvation came forward until we could announce that 97 had professed to find peace through believing. No sooner had we closed the meeting with this announcement, however, than three more came forward, saying--"Oh, do stop and pray with us! " We could not resist their importunities, and ere long the total number of souls rejoicing in new-found peace was made up to one hundred. A clergyman and several gentlemen, belonging to different denominations, were assisting us in pointing sinners to Christ, and these all concurred in saying that they had never kno\vn such a time in their lives.
No sooner was the joy of salvation received into the hearts of the mourners, than they hastened to seek after others. One young man, about twenty years of age, was overheard praying, immediately after he felt relieved of his guilty load, "Please, Lord, let me tell somebody or I shall die! " and, upon receiving our permission, he gladly stood up and told what God had done for his soul.
In many instances, it was indeed deliverance out of darkness into marvellous light. While we sang:
"I the chief of sinners am, But Jesus died for me."
a poor woman asked me- " Please, sir, did He die for me?" ''Oh, yes, that he did," I replied, and she was soon able, not only to sing it, but to believe it.
A sailor said to me- "Oh, sir, I came up here with a heavy heart. I am out at sea generally for eleven and twelve months together, and never have any religious services or anything. But now, praise the Lord! I can go back much lighter. I can go to sea now fearing no storm, for my soul is safe."
The grace of God, which bringeth salvation, appeared to rich as well as poor. One gentleman almost ran forward, sobbing. He had only landed the night before, after travelling for months in South America. He said- "I used to spend my Sabbaths in fishing and shooting, but I praise God for what he has done for my soul now!" He gave me his addr·ess, and said- "If you can come there I will take some large hall for your serrices."
Relatives and friends were rejoicing over each other at the conclusion of the meeting. One woman said- "My husband and brother have been converted tonight." Another said- "Three of my cousins have been saved tonight."
I am thankful to know that the good work thus begun will not be allowed to end here. A gentleman continues the services in the Circus on the Sabbath days, and a working man has opened his house for the noon-day prayer·-meetings. Many in the town are anxious that even more should be done, and I trust the way will speedily be opened for a mission to the masses of the Town.
A woman hurried to my lodgings before breakfast on the Monday morning and said- "Oh sir, l am sorry my husband is at sea, for I should so much have liked him to hear you. I feel sure you would be made the means of his salvation. I will pay your expenses if you will only come back when he is at home."
We returned to London praising God for his wonderful goodness, and praying for many similar opportunities. W CORBRIDGE
From, 'The Christian Mission Magazine', May 1874, page 138-141
I do not know where the meetings were. The Circus seems to be in Portsmouth