A Revival in Cornwall Begins

Cornwall (ca 1850) by J Arthur
Cornwall (ca 1850) by J Arthur

They left. William and Catherine Booth had endured enough shenanigans at the hands of jealous and controlling leaders. They felt they had to get out.

So in 1861 they stepped into the unknown. William was sure of one thing – that he must preach the gospel in England.

He didn’t wait long. A friend within the Methodist New Connexion invited him to conduct a series of evangelistic meetings in the South West. So William and Catherine left their temporary digs in Brixton and travelled, at their own expense, to Cornwall.

Booth’s preaching – fiery, passionate, compelling – soon got a response.

The ‘Penitent Form’
There was controversy surrounding his decision to call those who were responding to the gospel to the front of the meeting hall.

Those in need were identifying themselves publicly. This appeared to be the only response option he offered and didn’t seem to respect peoples’ privacy.

Booth called for a ‘right now’ kind of response, which to some seemed rough and sudden. Surely people needed time to think over these things.

But he was adamant that his method was useful in both identifying those whom his message had impacted and helping the respondent understand their both their need and ability to respond.

This whole process he called the ‘penitent form’. That’s an almost incomprehensible term now, but basically it followed a school-room idea of forms (classes/years) sitting on certain benches in rows. The ‘penitent form’, then, was a vacant bench at the front of the meeting where those who wanted to repent of their sins and turn to Christ could identify themselves and receive prayer.

This method of publicly calling for a response to the evangelistic message was already popular amongst Methodists in both England and America, and was adopted by the American preacher Charles Finney.

‘The people crowded around’
The key issue for us, however, is not really the method but the gospel that produced such an amazing response. Booth writes of one meeting,

‘We had the greatest difficulty to clear sufficient space for a penitent-form, and when we had, the people crowded up and around, and the prayers of those in distress, the shouts of those who had obtained deliverance, and the sympathetic exhortations and exultations and congratulations of those who stood round, all united made the most confounding medley I ever listened to. Again and again I endeavoured to secure order, but it was of no avail, and at length I concluded to let it go for the evening, doing as well as we could.’[i]

The invitations for Booth to preach began to come in quickly and soon more and more chapels were hosting evangelistic meetings where similar scenes were taking place.

In fact, Booth soon found himself in the midst of a hugely successful work. Why then, did he suddenly, in the midst of success, find himself depressed and in difficulties, and hungry for more?

We’ll look at his struggle next time…

© 2015 Lex Loizides – Church History Review

[i] Harold Begbie, Life of William Booth: The Founder of the Salvation Army (2 vols. London: MacMillan, 1920) 1:256

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Noisy Meetings!

The Problem of Praiseless Praise and Joyless Joy!
Most Christians are used to passion in their gathered church meetings. It would be strange, in a perfectly logical sense, to encounter strict formality, dull routine and lacklustre praise (how can you praise someone blandly, with praiseless praise, joyless joy?)

The Bible repeatedly exhorts us to praise God with joy filled hearts and even with shouts of joy!

The Sound Psalmists
David says, ‘I will praise you, O Lord, with all my heart’ (Ps 9:1) and the sons of Korah cry repeatedly, ‘Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises.’ (Ps 47:6)

You have to admit, you don’t need to go far in the Book of Psalms to realise these guys are exhorting the gathered community of God’s people to exuberant expressions of joy!

Again, Psalm 66:17 says ‘I cried out to him with my mouth; his praise was on my tongue.’ And there’s even a Biblical exhortation to clap our hands and shout – during a time of worship!! (see Psalm 47:1)

Anyhow, for the great Evangelistic preachers of the 18th Century, the noise didn’t usually come from meetings of believers.

Noise, sometimes overriding everything else, came from the mobs and crowds that were hired to disrupt their meetings, and who blew trumpets, banged on drums and threw copious amounts of dirt and stones.

The meetings were also disturbed by the loud cries and shrieks of those who were suddenly aware of their desperate need of God’s forgiveness, or who were being delivered from some form of bondage.

Non-Christians behaving, Christians raving!
However, when Wesley visited Gwennap in Cornwall (England) in 1747 he was surprised by a welcome reversal.

A very large crowd gathered to listen attentively to his preaching. Wesley writes, ‘About half an hour after five I began at Gwennap. I was afraid my voice would not suffice for such an immense multitude.

‘But my fear was groundless; as the evening was quite calm, and the people all attention.

‘It was more difficult to be heard in meeting the society, amidst the cries of those, on the one hand, who were pierced through as with a sword, and of those, on the other, who were filled with joy unspeakable.’
(from John Wesley’s Journal, Vol 2, p.62, Baker Edition)

May God give us such ‘revival’ scenes once more, with multitudes gathering to hear the good news of the grace of God in Christ, and church meetings filled with foretastes of heavenly glory.

More next time…

© 2010 Lex Loizides