The Woolwich Boys were used by God in a powerful way during the 1859-63 revival.
FIVE WEEKS AMONG THE WOOLWICH BOYS. Let him that heareth say, "Come," is the last injunction the church of Christ has received direct from her Master. Long has she seemed to slumber on heedless of his words, or with only occasional outbursts of obedience. Had she uttered, from the day when the good news of a Saviour was first heard down to the present day, one steady, unceasing, glowing, yearning "COME, the world would not have been in the condition it now is, speaking after the manner of men. Now, however, she is awaking once more to a sense of her responsibility and privilege in this matter ; and it is one of the most marked features of new-born souls at the present time, that no sooner have they heard and obeyed the invitation for themselves than they turn to others, and say, " Come." Thus it was and still is, with the Woolwich Boys. As soon as the first of their number had found Jesus, he said to his companions, "Come," and as the band of disciples has increased, the cry has only waxed louder and louder as voice after voice has mingled in it, until now it goes forth far and near, one united, earnest, powerful "Come" Beginning with some six or seven in a little room, they have grown into quite a considerable body; and now three or four times every week the Temperance Hall is filled with people who go there to hear the boys say " Come." Many a soul there has received the invitation—not from the boys only, but from Jesus—and has actually come, and still the invitation sounds night after night, and still the earnest prayer goes up to God that souls may come. "Come to Jesus, just now,' is the burden of the boys' addresses.
As an instance of the result of this "boy-preaching," I will mention one single case which I witnessed for myself little more than a week ago, in that Hall at Woolwich :—I had been present at the usual meeting, and at the close, according to custom endeavoured to speak to such persons as were near me. I inquired of a woman, who was making her way towards the door, "Do you know the Lord?" "No," she replied. "Would you like to know Him?" "Yes, I should." "Then will you wait a few minutes to speak with me?" She consented and took her seat beside me. As soon as the audience had left, and the place was quiet, we knelt down. A few of the elder boys had remained together with some six or seven persons who stayed for conversation. The silence was soon broken by the voice of a boy who pleaded earnestly and lovingly for the soul of a young man kneeling beside him. As soon as the prayer began, I perceived that the tears were flowing down the woman's face, and before it had ceased she was sobbing aloud. That voice ceased, and then the voice of a woman was lifted up on behalf of two little girls beside her, and still the woman sobbed. At last, all was again quiet, and then the sobs broke out with uncontrollable violence. I whispered to her, "If you want Jesus, had you not better speak to Him for yourself?" There was a moment's pause, and then she broke out into prayer, "Lord, have mercy on me; have mercy on me—forgive my sins." I said, "When would you like God to have mercy upon you?" "Oh, now," she answered. "When God tells you to seek Him," I went on to say," what time does He mention?" "Now," she answered. Well then, if God says now, and you say now, are you not both agreed?" "Yes." "Then do you believe God will save you now?" "I do," she returned. The sobs gradually ceased, and she grew calm. After a pause, I began to sing softly, still kneeling,—
"Bless God for what He's done for me,
Once I was blind but now I see:
O'er ruin's brink I almost fell,
Glory to God, I'm out of hell! "
The boys joined in the chorus,—
"Happy day, happy day,
When Jesus washed my sins away!"
When we ceased, she burst out into a transport of joy. "Oh! this is a happy moment," she exclaimed; " I do believe that Jesus died for me." We rose, and I saw at once the great change which had passed over her countenance, the sad and heavy look was gone, and she was lighted up with happiness. On putting a few questions to her, I found that she had only just come to live at Woolwich; and that, passing the Temperance Hall on the Saturday night previous to our meeting, she had been attracted by seeing people standing outside the door, and, going up the steps, she heard the voice of a boy, saying, " Son, daughter, give me thy heart." Not being able to stay, these were the only words she heard, but they rang in her ears and her heart night and day; she had no rest in her spirit, for she felt that God had asked for her heart, and she had refused Him. Burdened and heavy she had found her way that night to the boys' meeting in that same Temperance Hall, and there Jesus met her.
This is but one case out of many that might be given. There is no worldly wisdom or talent in the addresses of these boys, it is the power of the Spirit accompanying their simple entreaty, "Come to Jesus, just now."
It is not in Woolwich only that the boys "preach the glad tidings of the kingdom;" in London and in many distant parts of England they have been privileged to speak for Jesus. While I was there three of them were absent on a speaking errand at Chester; and those who have read Reginald Radcliffe's circulars will remember that, on a visit paid by himself to the same place immediately after them, he thankfully acknowledges the blessing given to the labours of "the dear Woolwich lads." It was my privilege to accompany some of these dear lads on several occasions when they itinerated by invitation to places in the neighbourhood, and very pleasant are the memories of those seasons. The first visit I paid with them was to Woodford, where a meeting had been arranged in a little Wesleyan chapel. At the close of the meeting, Captain Orr requested that all those who were not anxious to have their souls saved, and saved now, would retire, and give the boys an opportunity of speaking with those who really were anxious. The request was twice repeated, but no one moved, and the boys, therefore, scattered at once among the people. I did my best to help them but finding it difficult to get at them as they sat, I asked the minister to invite any girls who would like to be spoken with, into the adjoining schoolroom.
Instantly the invitation was accepted by a number of young women and girls; and I found myself, in the space of two or three minutes, left alone with about forty persons, many of them in tears. Some fell on their knees at once, and began to say, "Lord, have mercy on me; " and after I had spoken a few words to the others, they did the same, and nothing was heard but ejaculations for mercy, and sobs. I could not deal individually with such a number, therefore endeavoured to say what should be suitable for all, as far as God enabled me. Meanwhile, the voices of the boys were heard in .the chapel, sometimes speaking, then praying or singing. I pointed the weeping girls to Jesus and told them of his willingness to save. Some of them seemed to lay hold of the promise, and we began to sing
"I do believe, I will believe,
That Jesus died for me."
I must have been with them nearly an hour when I was summoned away by the announcement that it was time to start for the train. I said to the girls, " If any of you can say from your hearts,' I do believe,' then come and shake hands with Capt. Orr." They began to come at once, and the girl who had been the first to come out of the chapel was the first there too. She held out her hand, and with streaming eyes said, "Oh, sir, I do believe; indeed, I do believe." They crowded around us in the school-room, while the boys were just as much besieged in the chapel, begging that we would come again, and thanking God for what He had done. At last, we were on our way, and the boys began to sing as we hurried along,
"Only believe, and you shall be saved."
As soon as we were seated in the carriage and had regained our breath, it was proposed that we should return thanks to God for the blessing bestowed, and voice after voice was lifted in prayer and thanksgiving while the train was carrying us along towards our homes. Prayer was no sooner ended than praise began, and hymn after hymn was sung all the way. "All for Woolwich here?" asked the guard as he opened the carriage-doors at one of the intermediate stations. "Yes," was the reply," all bound for Woolwich and for the better land too. We hope we shall meet you there." The man looked very grave but said nothing, and the boys went on singing
"Come ye that fear the Lord, unto me;
I've something good to say
About the narrow way,
For Christ, the other day, Saved my soul."
I might give similar details of other excursions of the same nature, but the repetition might weary and is not necessary. I will only say that as God used these dear boys on that night so He did on other nights and at other places. Within the last few weeks, a special blessing has been communicated through them at Greenwich and at Field-lane Ragged-school, London, of which last place much that is deeply interesting might be told.
"It shall come to pass in the last days," saith God, "that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy." May the Lord pour out his Spirit yet more abundantly on the dear Woolwich boys.
From the 'Revival Newspaper', Volume III, page 139.