My Days and My Ways
CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT: “A Town Hall Effort.”
In accordance with the intimation contained in Dr. Thomas’s letter, from which extracts have been given, a box containing 250 copies of Eureka II and some copies of Eureka I was delivered at my office, 35, Cannon Street. The books were to have gone to another distribution to subscribers; but it so happened that I had sojourning with me at the time, and helping me in the office, an unfortunate brother in the faith, who had been a bookseller. He suggested that he might be of use in packing up and despatching the volumes. The suggestion was communicated to the originally intended agent in Scotland, and he at once concurred in the books coming from New York to us instead of going to him. This was the providential commencement of my book connection with Dr. Thomas, which ended in his placing his whole affairs in my hand.
The beginning was certainly very small; the office itself was a single dark back room, sub-let at L10 per annum. There was nothing in it except a table in the centre, and some chairs round the empty walls, and in the window corner a solitary clothes cupboard, sent us on the death of Sister Roberts’s mother. This cupboard was the beginning of book accommodation, now requiring several large rooms from floor to ceiling. Over the bare mantelpiece was a framed picture of Christ weeping over Jerusalem. Mr. Lovell, the press acquaintance previously referred to, cheerily remarked that “Rome was not built in a day.”
Having despatched the books, I inserted the following notification in The Ambassador: -- “Since our last appearance, Eureka vol. II has been placed in the hands of those who subscribed for the work in this country, and in the hands of some who did not subscribe at the time the prospectuses were issued, but that have been tempted to buy now the work is actually within reach. So far as we have learnt, the appearance of the book has been hailed with genuine satisfaction and even delight on the part of those who have got possession of it, and well it might, for such a book has never been published on the subject of the Apocalypse, involving as it does not only the elucidation of Apocalyptic mysteries, but the collateral exposition of nearly all Scriptural truth and the harmonization of the Holy Oracles ‘from Genesis to Revelation.’
“The readers were prepared for a treat. They would not have paid 14s. 6d. in these days of cheap literature, if they had not been sure that in the volume they were subscribing for they would have the worth of their money, and they have not been disappointed. They knew their author. They had read Eureka, vol. I, and Elpis Israel, and many of them had perused The Herald of the Kingdom and Age to Come, in which the same intellect outpoured itself from month to month, for eleven years, in luminous and convincing exposition. They knew from valuable experience that the sparkling life water of uncorrupted truth up-bubbled from the fountain which had played unremittingly for so long a period in this dry and deadly wilderness, and they preferred to be guided by facts rather than listen either to the cynical suggestions of envious shallow-brains and scandal-hunters, or to the mild and insinuating desparagements of spiritual superficiality and incompetence. They knew that Eureka would be worth having, and subscribed for it, and have accordingly been rewarded with the possession of the most instructive and readable book ever written on the much argued and much misunderstood book of ‘The Revelation.’
“We will not attempt a review, or even pretend to write what is technically understood as a notice. Such a book is beyond the province of either. It is not the production of an author scraping for popularity, or canvassing the verdict of his readers. It is not a piece of suggestive theoretical writing composed to beguile leisure or agitate speculation. It is a testimony, a manifest, in some sense an ultimatum, from a sternly faithful man, who, mastering by slow degrees the Verities of the Holy Oracles, has spent a lifetime in protesting against the universal foolishness by which the word of God is made of none effect. As such, we commend it to all and sundry, but more particularly to those professing to have been delivered from the vain traditions in which they were held. It is a book that will enlighten their eyes to deeper perception and strengthen their hearts to a more courageous testimony for the truth which is now trodden under foot on the right hand and on the left.”
About this time, there was a great stir in Birmingham, caused by an Irvingite propagandist effort in the Town Hall, a large building capable of containing several thousands of people. The placard convening the meeting “warned the Christian men of Birmingham” to prepare for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, which caused an alarmist sort of Interest and brought together an immense assembly, half of which could not obtain entrance into the hall. Among those excluded were the brethren and sisters who had wished to hear how a stranger would attempt to demonstrate a proposition in which they were so deeply interested. The night was fine, and the crowd hanging about outside was large, and it was suggested the opportunity might be turned to account by holding an out-of-door meeting.
A chair was fetched and placed in the square behind the hall, and one or two brethren went round among the crowd to tell them an overflow meeting would be held out there. The people accordingly repaired thither, and I mounted the chair and harangued them for the best part of an hour on the subject that was being spoken of inside. I received a fairly attentive hearing till I came to speak of the Pope, when the Roman Catholic element of the crowd became uncontrollably turbulent, and made a rush towards the speaker which was resisted for a time by the peaceably disposed of the people, but at last carried all before it and compelled me to dismount. There might have been serious work but for two policemen who marched me off between them to the protection of a neighbouring hotel, followed by a large crowd. The crowd stayed in front of the hotel and I escaped behind, and got quickly home. The hotel has since been pulled down to make way for the new Birmingham General Post Office which now stands on its site.
The incident did not quite close for a week or two. The promoters of the Irvingite meeting, in view of the number unable to obtain admission, announced another meeting to which admission would be by ticket. To this second meeting, the brethren went. The over-crowding of the previous occasion was absent. An orderly and comfortable audience, filling the hall in all its parts, was ready at the hour of lecture to receive the lecturer, who appeared on the platform at the hour appointed, attanded by the dignitaries of the church in whose interest he appeared, which blends the meretricious pomp of Rimish ceremonial with the fanatical fire of the little sectary.
The lecture was the reverse of a treat. The speaker had a good voice, but pounded away in a mechanical manner at themes which, while of boundless interest when rationally treated, are only productive of disgust to intelligence and scorn on the part of the blasphemer when dogmatised on in the lifeless indiscriminate and yet extravagant style of the lecturer. He went into the most absurd rhapsodies. There was no backbone to his discourse. He floundered in an ocean of what primitive people call “stuff” and rubbish. He asserted things without proving them; and what he asserted was a mere jingle of New Testament words without a proper association of meaning. Apart from the simple idea of Christ’s personal return, the lecture was a tissue of fallacy from beginning to end, and calculated to bring the whole subject into utter contempt, especially as the words spoken were claimed by the chairman as the utterance of the Spirit of God. It was exceedingly painful to hear the true doctrine of Christ’s approaching advent publicly disgraced by association with such blatant rhodomontade and unmitigated rubbish. The pain of it generated a strong impulse to wipe out the disgrace by a right exposition of the matter as public as the nonsense had been.
It was a capital opportunity of getting the public ear on a subject for which usually there is no relish. But how to use it was the difficulty. The cost of a Town Hall lecture would be at least L20, which was too heavy a burden for our slender community at the time. Revolving the matter in my own mind, I felt so strongly exercised, that I resolved at my own risk to take the Town Hall, give a reply lecture, and rely on a small admission ticket charge for providing the means. The brethren endoursed the project, and heartily co-operated. The affair was not an entire success, but was saved from utter failure by individual enterprise at the last moment. A visit to the ticket depots two days before the meeting, showed there was no likelihood of an audience. It was, therefore, resolved to distribute the tickets gratuitously, and let the expenses take care of themselves. Brethren and friends each undertook the disposal of as many as they thought they could distribute. One sister whose name it is scarcely for a husband to mention, particularly distinguished herself in the matter. In this way, 1,600 tickets were given away, and audience of from 1,500 to 1,800 people got together. All felt their arduous efforts rewarded in the dimensions of the house. As for the expenses, they were finally met by the contributions of various friends. The whole episode afforded such an opportunity of giving a testimony for the truth in Birmingham as had never before been possible, and of advertising our routine operations in Ann Street Schoolroom, by mean of printed notices scattered on the seats before the people assembled at the reply lecture.
The result was seen in crammed meetings in Ann Street Schoolroom for some time afterwards. A special course of a dozen lectures or so had been in progress for some time. Many of those in attendance had attended the meetings for about two years. At this time, it was considered wise to address to them a circular, which was accordingly issued to this effect, that the faith originally delivered by the apostles having been steadily expounded in Ann Street Schoolroom for the last two years, it was proposed to hold an open tea meeting on Sunday, April 1st, 1866, at 2:30 p.m., for the purpose of giving an opportunity to all who believed the things that had been set forth, of declaring whether or not they were prepared to make that open confession of their faith which God required at their hands in baptism as the basis of the remission of their sins. Those who lacked the confidence to express themselves publicly could communicate their mind through others. The meeting duly came off and was largely attended. The addresses came first; tea followed about 4:30, after which I gave a lecture on “The Spiritual Dangers of the Nineteenth Century.” As the result of the meeting, 23 persons signified their desire for immersion. They were all interviewed and baptised during the ensuing fortnight. On the occasion of their reception on Sunday, April 15th, the meeting was protracted an hour beyond the usual time, and addresses of encouragement were delivered by several of the brethren, new and old. Our numbers were now brought to 68.
Berean Home Page