The Town Hall, Birmingham (1875)



There is every outward indication that the wave of spiritual awakening and quickening, now passing over our land, is about to make itself felt in this very large and important centre of the world's industry also. Messrs. Moody and Sankey began their labours here Sunday last, and they are to remain in the town for two weeks. Birmingham has been called "the toy shop of the world," and its immense population - which amounts to nearly 400,000 - is largely made up of the artisan class. Experience has shown that wherever the American evangelists have gone - though their services have been attended in some towns by numbers of those in the higher ranks of society, socially considered, and also by a sprinkling of the very poor and degraded the bulk of those coming under their influence have belonged to what we are accustomed to call the middle classes. There is, therefore, a wide field in Birmingham for the efforts of our American brethren and the meetings on Sunday were such as to encourage the hope of much success.

Their first meeting was held at the somewhat early hour of eight, but long before, just as the grey dawn was breaking up, streams of people were moving with hurried feet from all directions to the place of meeting the Town Hall. By the time that Messrs. Moody and Sankey, appeared on the platform, the fine hall was crowded, passages and all, with some 3,000 people. The meeting was advertised for " Christian workers," but there did not appear to be any restrictions as to admission; and if the vast assembly was composed entirely of Christian workers, in the true sense of that term, I should imagine Messrs. Moody and Sankey's visit would be unnecessary.

But I suppose real Christian workers are not too plentiful in Birmingham, more than in other towns, and I would fain cherish the hope that those present on Sunday morning who have hitherto done any work for Christ, went away with a deeper determination to devote themselves to it, inspired by the stirring words of Mr Moody, and constrained by the heart-melting tones of Mr Sankey's sacred songs.

The whole audience joined heartily at the commencement, in singing, "Hold the fort," an evident proof that the hymns used at these services have now become almost household possessions. Then Mr Sankey sang amid the utmost silence, the rousing hymn, " Here am I, send me."

Mr Moody's address was directed specially to workers and was well fitted to awaken the slumbering energies of the Church, Mr Moody is very careful in his addresses to lose his personality in his theme, but the characteristics of Christian workers, on which he insisted, are all remarkably apparent in his own character. They were "courage," "love" and "enthusiasm," and one could not fail to be impressed with the notion that he was speaking the things that in his inmost soul he knew and acted out. His wonderful magnetic power was shown when he related some of his oft-told illustrations, which seemed to lose none of their wonted effect by repetition.

Numbers of the local clergy and ministers were on the platform and the Rev. H G Twaites of St Mark's took part in the proceedings. The Rev. R. W. Dale, the well-known Independent minister of Birmingham, at whose chapel I attended in the forenoon, prayed fervently in the course of his service for unity among all shades of Christians in the town, and for God's blessing on the special efforts of the next two weeks.

Half-past two was the specified hour for the afternoon service in the Town Hall, but I believe the building was surrounded by crowds waiting admission about midday, and when I reached the hall, sometime before the hour, ingress was almost impossible. At the church which stands opposite, the ordinary service was going on and it too was speedily filled with disappointed crowds, while hundreds went away. I succeeded in getting into the hall with much difficulty, just as Mr Sankey was about to sing for a closing hymn, "The Ninety-and-nine." His few touching words before he commenced to sing, and the pleading tones of his rich, full voice, as he sang of the lost one brought back at such a terrible cost, evidently moved and thrilled many hearts, and after the benediction was pronounced, everybody seemed unwilling to depart.

Mr Moody's theme, I learned, was "the old, old story" of the cross--the "good news;" and its effect may be judged from a remark made to me at the close of the meeting - by a Methodist local preacher and class leader, who, he said, had been converted thirty-five years,--that he had never seen such a service in Birmingham before.

After the audience had slowly filtered out, a large number of people who had been unable to gain admittance, rushed in, but as there was nobody apparently appointed to speak in such an emergency and Messrs Moody and Sankey had gone, they were obliged to retire. A precious opportunity was thus lost. It is to be hoped the committee will take care to prevent the repetition of such a circumstance.

One roughly-clad man, to all appearance a common labourer, who had come in after the meeting was over, seemed much disappointed. He had walked, in the rain, nearly six miles, in order to hear Messrs. Moody and Sankey, and arrived too late to gain an entrance. He said he had to walk back again and preach the same evening. He was somewhat relieved when he succeeded in obtaining a ticket for the workers' meeting next Sunday morning, but I suspect he will have to start from home before Birmingham is awake if he is to make sure of getting inside the Town Hall.

Such a gathering has seldom, if ever, been seen in this town, as was to be witnessed in the Bingley Hall on Sunday evening. Birmingham has the reputation of being a hotbed of political agitation and on one occasion, I am informed, this stupendous building was filled to overflowing to hear John Bright, but it is a new thing for it to be crowded with 10,000 souls to hear the gospel preached and sung. There must have been at least that number inside the doors, and how many were excluded I cannot say, but the service was somewhat disturbed ever and anon by the clamouring multitude outside knocking at the doors for admission. It was a sight truly gladdening to behold, and never to be forgotten.

For an hour or so before Messrs. Moody and Sankey arrived, the time was occupied in singing hymns, and as soon as they reached the platform, Mr Moody asked all to join in singing the doxology, "Praise God from whom all blessings flow." It was repeated at his request, with a more overpowering volume of sound than before.

Mr Sankey sang "Jesus of Nazareth passeth by," and subsequently, "The ninety-and-nine," and his voice rang through the immense building with wonderful effect.

Mr Moody delivered a powerful and affectionate address on "the Gospel" in continuation of his afternoon address on the same subject. He seemed as if he could never tire of the dilating on the absolute freeness and fulness of the offer of salvation and his illustrations, as usual, were very telling and appropriate. 

Altogether it has been a memorable day in Birmingham. At none of the meetings however was any provision apparently made for inquirers, but this will no doubt be seen to as the necessity arises, which I trust and believe it will.

Thus the movement has taken root in Birmingham and great and glorious results may be confidently expected. 

"The Christian," January 21st, 1875. 



Some attention has during the winter months been attracted by a series of meetings for religious exhortation, held in
several large towns in the north of England by two American evangelists, named Moody and Sankey. It appears from the testimony of those who have attended simply as observers of the proceedings, or rather with a disposition to criticise, that their extraordinary success in bringing large congregations together, and the powerful outbursts of devout feeling awakened by their services, are nowise due to any fanatical violence of tone or manner, or to anything in language or in doctrine exceeding the sober and measured utterances of an ordinary Christian pulpit. Mr Moody, who is said to have been brought up as a Unitarian, is about thirty-seven years of age, and Mr Sankey is forty. They were for some time engaged as preachers in the Western States of America and Mr Moody was also attached to the Sanitary Commission of the United States army, ministering spiritual comfort to the sick and wounded during the Civil War. He afterwards had a settled home with a church and schools under his care in the city of Chicago, but his work there was interrupted by the great fire. About a year and a half ago, with his friend Mr Sankey, he came over to England and began his ministry in Yorkshire. But it is more recently at Dublin, Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, and Birmingham that their joint public efforts, made by arrangement with those who invited
them in each instance to visit the town, have occasioned remarkable popular demonstrations of a revived interest in religion.
Their proceedings usually consist of nothing more than a short familiar address by Mr Moody upon the vital truths of the Christian faith, with illustrations from personal and social experience; or the reading of some passage from the New Testament, with an unpretending comment, likewise by Mr Moody, which is preceded and followed by an informal prayer, with the singing of one or more hymns by Mr Sankey, who has both voice and musical skill, accompanying himself on the harmonium. Their performance is said to be free from any grotesque or uncouth features of style or expression; but it is evident that these men are Americans of an average degree of culture and that they have not studied the minute elegancies of conventional aspect and address in the more exclusive circles of society. The purport of their message to the world is just the same that is or should be, delivered every Sunday by 50,000 ministers of different "denominations" in
Christendom and that may be read, without much difficulty understanding what is meant, in the pastoral letters of
St. Paul and St. John; while the difliculty of believing in too many cases is frankly confessed. It is, perhaps, to the epidemic of human sympathy, with a great earnestness of determination, of strenuous will and spiritual aspiration, that the sudden "conversion," as it is called, of hundreds of people at these meetings is to be ascribed, but some entertain a different view of
the matter, as is stated in a report from Birmingham. "The Holy Spirit is in this place," said Mr Moody last Sunday with quiet confidence; and everybody believed him. The two evangelists return to Liverpool this week, and will there open on Sunday morning an immense wooden hall to hold more than 8,000 persons, built on purpose for them.

"Times of Blessing,' Feb 18th, 1875.

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