THE STORY OF A REVIVAL
Walter C. Brehaut
The Island of Guernsey, the second largest of the Channel Islands, is roughly in the form of a triangle. At its north-western angle is the parish of Saint Pierre-du-Bois (St. Peter-in-the-Wood). At the extreme northwest tip of the parish is a locality called L’Eree, or Les Sablons (the sands). Although the name of the parish suggests plenty of trees, this particular district is flat, marshy, and composed mainly of sand dunes. In winter the fields are often flooded and when the westerly gales, to which it is subjected, sweep up the Channel, the sand from the dunes bites into the faces of passers-by. It is a bleak place in the winter, but very pleasant in the summer months. The coastal scenery is very beautiful and the sight of the Atlantic breakers rolling in on the rocky coast is a sight not easily forgotten. A good coastal road circles this tip. and is lined with groups of quaint low cottages mostly inhabited by fishermen. At the time of our story this part of the Island was still greatly unspoiled by the erection of modern bungalows.
It was in this north-west tip of our Island that it pleased the Lord to move by His Spirit, and to awaken men and women to a sense of their lost estate. How did the Good News of Salvation come to be preached in this unlikely spot’?
It happened in this wise. During the winter of 1923-4, a Christian young lady, with the help of friends, undertook to visit the cottages along the coast for the purpose of distributing Christian literature. These monthly visits were greatly appreciated by many and the tracts, both in English and in French, were read eagerly. In very rare cases were the tracts ever refused.
One Sunday afternoon, some children to whom tracts were given, pointed out to the distributors a greenhouse attached to a smithy, where they said some men were spending the afternoon together. Tracts in hand the friends made their way to the greenhouse and found themselves amidst a number of men who were gambling with cards. Only one or two resented the intrusion, but the others stopped their play
and expressed their desire to accept the tracts which were offered.
From that time the visits of these workers were eagerly expected; in fact a demand that the visits should be made more frequently was made. As our Christian friends became more acquainted with the individuals who frequented the gambling den, the claims of the Lord Jesus Christ were placed before them and great interest was shown.
When the warmer weather came, the gamblers, many of whom were regular frequenters of a low public house which had become the curse of the neighbourhood, moved their quarters from the greenhouse to the open-air. They did not, however, escape the eyes of the distributors who visited them in their haunts continually, spoke to them, sang to them, and provided them with the Word of Life.
As the summer came on, open-air meetings were held on the dunes every Sunday evening, and little by little, one by one, the gamblers, many of them fine young fellows, were drawn to hear the Gospel, and were, as they admitted themselves, much moved. The effect of the Gospel, faithfully preached, was such that the gambling stopped and many of the gamblers vowed that never would they gamble again.
But soon the weather grew too cold for the holding of the open-air meetings, and these had to be abandoned, much to the regret of many in the neighbourhood and especially of the young men. It must be stated that no sign of true conversion had yet been seen. Cards in many cases had been given up; but the public house was still regularly frequented and some of these young men were in the grip of the drink fiend, and it was seen that nothing but the grace of God through conversion could change these hearts and lives. Oh! the folly of those who think that a drunkard can be reformed just by making him sign a pledge card! Nothing short of a divine miracle can do it!
When the open-air services were discontinued a disused fisherman’s cottage was fitted up by some of these young men, in order that the meetings might be held during the winter. The one room, which had served as kitchen and bedroom, was cleaned up, the walls whitewashed and wooden forms were placed. There was no room for a pulpit, but a small bedside table about the size of an ordinary dinner plate and a chair were placed for the preacher, whoever he may be.
It is sad to say that many Christians belonging to the neighbouring churches looked on in dismay, and rather than help in giving these needy people the Word of Life, set out to hamper the holding of meetings in this cottage. The housing authorities were approached and an attempt was made to stop the preaching of the Gospel in this house. The opposition was welcomed by the workers and showed that since the Devil was opposing through these people, it must be God’s work in which they were engaged and so they took courage. How the opposition fired the few Christians to earnest prayer! How the promises were pleaded! And how the Lord answered prayer!
The license to hold meetings was obtained at the eleventh hour, and the Lord was honoured and glorified in the fact that the house was opened for the Gospel on the very day which the workers had fixed.
The first meeting held was not very encouraging as far as numbers went, there being only seven or eight including the speaker. But it was an earnest of greater blessing, considering the fact that those present were gamblers and drunkards, one of whom had declared that they would never get him to go in.
The work of evangelization fell to one man in particular. After much prayer and meditation, a party of Christians felt that it was the will of the Lord to use the parish schoolmaster as an instrument for conveying the message to this part of the Island. It is only fair to say that he, the writer of this record, had looked upon the activities which preceded with little interest and much dubiousness. He took no part in any of the preparations either material or spiritual; in fact he had never felt free to have Christian fellowship with those concerned, who were of Brethren persuasion. His sympathies were more particularly with the Evangelical party in the Church of England. When approached, he at first refused, but upon being pressed, he with much diffidence and some forebodings assented. He received no particular call from the Lord, and was not visited by any special mark of power, in fact he felt rather cold about the whole matter. The fact that he was going to preach to a notorious gang of young men, many of whom had been pupils of his school in his unregenerate days, and who might now take advantage of him, did not lend attraction to the task.
Leaning upon the Lord, however, and trusting in His power, he sallied forth to preach Christ and Christ crucified, not only as a Saviour from the guilt of sin, but also as a Saviour from the power of sin.
It might interest the reader to know that only half of the long cottage was occupied. A wooden partition separated it from the other half which was tenanted by a young couple. The speaker had often to cope with the cries of a baby or the loud conversation on the other side. Later on this part was vacated, the partition demolished and a much needed addition to the room was made.
The reader may appreciate the position of the preacher who launched out into this work. The parish schoolmaster, one of the most respected individuals of the community by virtue of his office, looked up to by everyone, to descend to preaching to down-and-outs, not in a fashionable church or chapel, but in a tumble-down cottage by the sea. How could such a man of education descend to such depths? One day he was actually accosted by a colleague in the profession and was asked:
`Have you not lowered your dignity as a schoolmaster in acting in this way?’
A ready answer was not forthcoming but later on he thought that a suitable rejoinder might have been: ‘Did not my Lord lower His dignity,
when He left glory to come to such a sinful world as this to save sinners!’ Added to the drawbacks was the fact that the schoolmaster was `A prophet in his own country’. He was known to all those to whom he was to minister, having been born and bred in the parish, and was withal of lowly birth. He was already suffering from prejudice with regard to his position as headmaster of the school of which he had been a pupil, and this new venture could not but increase the feeling. The writer gives these details to prove to the reader that the task imposed upon him was not self-sought; in fact he was forced into it against his will. Had he followed his natural inclination he might have moved in the higher religious and social circles of the parish and by doing so have overridden much of the prejudice which attached to him because of his lowly birth and the fact that he had attained the position he now held.
From the moment that the schoolmaster evangelist began to preach he saw that the gospel was gripping the audience. The depravity of the human heart, the blackness of sin, the wrath of God were dwelt upon in unvarnished terms. Sinners literally trembled under the Word as they were convicted of their sin; but hearts melted when the love of Christ was set forth.
The preaching was not orthodox and would certainly not have been countenanced in respectable recognized places of worship. There was no excitement as obtains in modern evangelistic campaigns. There was no organization and certainly nothing whatever to attract the senses Â— a disused cottage, bare whitewashed walls, uncomfortably hard forms, fitful lighting, no musical instrument to lead the singing, a hard cold cement floor, a draughty doorway, poor ventilation. The congregation turned up in their working clothes often, or if not, in clean jerseys. Collars and ties were conspicuous by their absence. The singing of well-known hymns would certainly have shocked the respectably religious, used to well-trained choirs; but there was melody in the heart. The speaker spoke as a man to men, as one of themselves, and the attention paid to his words was often pathetic to behold. He spoke as a sinner to sinners, as a dying man to dying men.
Sometimes scripture text cards were brought and hung from the walls. On one occasion the speaker took his place at the table. He felt absolutely empty not knowing what to say. As he glanced upwards towards the low ceiling, he was faced with one of these texts which had been pinned to the large beam. The words: ‘Fear not, I will help thee’ met his gaze. It was an answer to his ardent prayer for help. This card has been pinned in the pulpit of our present Gospel Hall.
For a week or two, two meetings were held during the week, besides the afternoon and evening services on Sundays.
The preacher, however, still very dubious as to his call to this work, felt that a continuous mission, night after night, should be held. He told the friends who had pressed him into this work, that he would preach
every evening for a week. If at the end of the week there were no conversions, then it would be plain that he was not the Lord’s instrument for this work and he would withdraw. The room was packed every night and the Gospel was listened to most eagerly. There were as many people standing outside as there were inside, consequently the door and the two windows were left open the whole time to enable those who stood in the yard to hear what was said. It was November then, and the nights were cold, but those hardy folk cared nothing for this Â— many of them were used to the rigours of a fisherman’s life or to working in open fields in all weathers. Besides, there was a greater attraction drawing them, the Spirit of God was at work in the locality convicting men of sin.
The most remarkable feature of the mission was the talks which the missioner had with young men and women after the service. There were no appeals for instant ‘decision’, hand raising, coming to the front, or staying behind after the service such as obtains in the evangelistic movements of modern days. The writer had a strong aversion to these tactics then, and has a stronger aversion to them now. The conversion of a soul is the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit. The approaches for conversation were spontaneous. It was a regular thing for young men who were under conviction to walk with the evangelist part of the way to his home in order to seek guidance.
As the week drew to a close, no conversions had been noted, and the missioner felt that he would have to hand over the work to someone else. He must confess that that did not trouble him much. But on the Thursday evening two young men walked with him towards his house. They were under deep conviction of sin. At a certain point, the trio stopped and as they talked on the way of salvation, the light dawned into these darkened souls. On this cold, moonlit night, the bells of heaven rang as these two sheep were ushered into the fold of grace. One of them was delivered at the same time from his love of drink. This was a remarkable work of grace as the young man was on the verge of delirium tremens.
Conversions generally were so rare that the missioner must confess that he went home in a state of doubt as to the reality of these two conversions. He asked the Lord to forgive him for his unbelief and on his way to school the next day he asked the Lord to give him some sign that these conversions were real. The first thing he heard on reaching school was that these two young men had been to tell their friends the good news that very evening. They had already confessed Christ, a sure sign of regeneration.
It may be stated here that the missioner felt great responsibility in undertaking this work. It had been his lot for some years, ever since his conversion in 1916, to preach the Gospel in different places of worship in the Island. Never once had he offered himself for preaching, and yet it had befallen him to preach among Wesleyans, Baptists (French and
English), Presbyterians, Primitive Methodists, Churchmen, and in mission halls. He has now been preaching for forty years, but never once has he offered himself to preach, but has gone, when asked, as far as was in his power and circumstances permitted.
One of his themes, and not a very popular one, had been the deadness of the Churches and the lack of conversions. For his outspokenness on these matters, doors had been shut in his face and he had become a marked man, a disturber of the peace.
To undertake evangelization in this part of the Island placed him under the public eye and the questions were going round as to whether there would be any conversions under his preaching. He was able to lay this matter before the Lord, pointing out that His honour depended, to the public eye, upon conversions. The meetings continued and on the morrow of the first two conversions, two others were saved. So the blessing continued night after night and the mission extended to three weeks.
It should be pointed out that the conversions did not take place directly under the preaching nor yet at the meetings. The Lord met sinners in their beds at night, at their work or along the road. But the joy on the faces of the convert as the missioner arrived each evening told its tale. They were not forced to confess, they did it willingly, joyfully to all their friends.
It is just that a note of praise to the Lord be raised for sustaining the preacher during these three weeks and after. Never during this time did his strength fail him, although he had to do his duties at school in the day and preach every evening, never reaching home till about half past ten or eleven o’clock and sometimes after, spending this time in talking to groups or individuals. The journey, a matter of three miles, was done either walking or cycling. There is no doubt that the Holy Spirit was much at work in those days.
The conversations in the cottages, on the seashore, in the fields, yea even in the public house, and certainly among religionists were centred upon the happenings at ‘La Rocque’, the name of the house. It means `The Rock’, a very apt name indeed! The blessing continued throughout the winter. Conversions continued and interest in the Word was most keen, the new converts being most eager to learn more and more.
It was most uplifting and encouraging to see the people gathered in very good time choosing hymns and singing them before the service began.
Volumes might be written of the conversations which took place during this winter, spiritual conversations both with saved and unsaved being the rule.
This record would not be complete without reference to at least two notable conversions. Of the people most averse to these meetings was the blacksmith near whose smithy the gamblers used to meet. Some of
the new converts invaded his workshop and tried to persuade him to accompany them to the meetings. He flatly refused, and in very forcible languagage declared that we were all a pack of madmen.
One evening as the preacher was speaking, he saw a strange face furtively looking through the window. On making inquiries later he was told that this was the-notorious blacksmith, who had mixed with the crowd outside in order to hear. A few evenings after the missioner saw him inside seated by his wife looking very sheepish and uncomfortable. The preacher presumed that he had probably been pressed by his wife to attend the service. One evening he joined himself to some of the men who were chatting to the speaker and even accompanied him part of the way home. He was deeply concerned about his soul. His smithy became the centre for conversation and little groups were often seen discussing spiritual things. His concern grew until he became near to distraction. One cold stormy November morning he left his house for the smithy. It was not yet day. His mind was so filled with conviction that it was only when he came to the gate that he found that he had forgotten his cap. He returned for it and started to walk to his shop about two miles distant. It was still dark, and as he was praying and looking at the clouds fleeting across the moon, suddenly by faith he saw Christ crucified for him. The light shone into his soul, and instead of proceeding to his work, he was knocking at people’s doors telling them the good news. The preacher knew nothing of this until the evening. He was met by some of the young men who told him of the smith’s conversion. One look at him from the doorway as he entered was enough to prove the reality of the change. He sat there with the joy of salvation radiating from his face.
Another young man, a habitual drunkard was persuaded to attend the meetings. His face bore unmistakeable marks of the effects of strong drink. Every penny he could spare was spent at the public house and he had no respectable clothes to his back. No one would sit near him at the meetings but he sat alone and drank in the Word. One evening the missioner accosted him and walked part of the way with him. He also was concerned about his state as a sinner. One day it was voiced that he was saved. The drinking ceased and it was a joy to see him enter the house one Sunday afternoon a few weeks after in a brand new suit, new shoes, and a new jersey.
Sometimes afterwards he arrived with a parcel under his arm. On unwrapping it he presented us with a framed picture of ‘The Gospel Ship’. Each part of the ship and its rigging had an appropriate text of Scripture printed on it. This was hung in the room. Some years later when we moved from the cottage to our present Gospel Hall, the picture found an honoured place on its walls.
This young man courted and married a very fine Christian girl. He became an ideal, loving husband, and they lived happily together. But the years of dissipation had told on his frame and he succumbed to tuberculosis some time after. It was a joy to visit him on his deathbed and to see the joy and peace with which he anticipated his removal. The wolf had indeed been turned into a lamb, by Divine Grace.
`Did the converts stand?’ may well be asked. They could not be counted by great numbers as today, in fact no record of their numbers was made. Where did they go after this? Some joined themselves to existing Churches, but some remained with us when a few years after it was necessary to vacate the cottage and the work was transferred to the present Gospel Hall at Le Planel.
It is regretted that no steps were taken at the time to gather the converts into a Christian Church or assembly. The writer must confess that he had, at that time, but a hazy view of Church formation, and was a bitter opponent of baptism by immersion for believers. He now sees his mistake and although rather late would be pleased to carry on the work which was then only begun. He feels that it is essential for converts to confess their faith at the outset, it is scriptural. They must be united together for worship, fellowship, prayer, and to remember the Lord in the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper. They should be under the care of a God-sent under-shepherd or pastor. In this we failed. Nevertheless these converts when met with still remember with joy those experiences and though the flame may be burning low the fire is not extinguished. Some have died giving a good testimony of the hope that was in them. Some are attached to various Churches.
The missioner feels that he must pay high tribute to the noble way in which a band of Christians supported him by their prayers, their presence, and their loyalty. Never once did they question any step taken by the evangelist; but believing him to be God’s chosen vessel, they looked upon every step of the way as ordained by the Lord.
Praise should also be given to the Lord for the way in which He furnished the message at short notice at times. To speak to the same people always, on at least three evenings a week with two special missions of three weeks and two weeks each is difficult, but the Lord provided the matter as it was needed. It might be a matter of interest that the meetings were always in French; but much use was made of the Guernsey ‘patois’ or dialect when it was deemed expedient to make some point clearer. English was also used.
Much to the surprise of the speaker not a single word of abuse or derision was heard from anyone, although he had feared this. He has to confess that the opposition came from religionists, but like our Lord `The common people heard him gladly’.
It may be asked: ‘Why write about this so many years after?’ Just recently, 1957, my thoughts have gone back to these happy days of which I had kept no record. I had even forgotten the dates. On phoning a Christian brother who helped me much during those blessed days, he discovered amongst some old papers, a delapidated exercise book in
which I had written much of the foregoing, over thirty years ago. I had quite forgotten about this and did I not recognize my own handwriting I could not believe that I had written it.
Added to this, I paid a visit, recently, to a fisherman in that vicinity. In the course of conversation he asked me whether I could furnish him with a hymn book such as we used in the cottage years ago.
`I love to sing those hymns,’ said he. ‘Those were happy days, we seemed to be in heaven. But things have gone very low. Oh, for such days again!’
These words fired me with a desire for a return of such days.
The spiritual situation is indeed sad, even in the most evangelical and orthodox circles. Too long have we lived upon the laurels and memories of such men as Luther, Calvin, the Reformers, the Puritans, the Wesleys, Whitefield, Romaine, Grimshaw, Philpot, Gadsby, Kershaw, Warburton. But we cannot thrive on the experiences of their day. Our generation is in dire need of a God-sent revival. Causes of truth have vanished and those that remain are in a low, sickly, dying condition. Have we not need to confess as the disciples of old: ‘We have toiled all night and caught nothing”? Have we not need to cry with the psalmist: ‘Wilt thou not revive us again: that thy people may rejoice in thee?’ Â— and also ‘Wilt thou not revive us again: that thy people may rejoice in thee?’ (Psalm 85.6)?
May the Lord grant it in our day. Revival, true revival, is not manmade, man-organized. Man cannot produce revival at will. Such a visitation is in the hands of a Sovereign God, who ordains the place, the time, and the instruments, that man may not glory, but say again with the psalmist (Psalm 115.1), ‘Not unto us, 0 LORD, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory, for thy mercy, and for thy truth’s sake’.
It is a rare piece of Christian wisdom to turn those passions of the soul which most predominate into spiritual channels, to turn natural anger into spiritual zeal, natural mirth into holy cheerfulness, and natural fear into a holy dread and awe of God. John Flavel.
He who fears God can never find a place dark enough to offend.
As the embankment keeps out the water, so the fear of the Lord keeps
out uncleanness. Thomas Watson.
The best way never to fall is ever to fear. William Jenkyn.