You're here: oChristian.com » Articles Home » Edwin Hallock Byington » Open-Air Preaching » 4 - In the Normal Life of the Church

Open-Air Preaching: 4 - In the Normal Life of the Church

By Edwin Hallock Byington


      To Christians generally the most interesting and practical question is concerning the place of open-air preaching in the normal life of the Church in Protestant lands. Its effectiveness during the critical periods of the past, and in heathen lands today, may compel respect without convincing us that it possesses any value for us.

      The past supplies many instances where open-air preaching has played a prominent part in the normal life of individual local churches. Careful consideration might well be given to the work done during the present century in different countries ; in Australia, in Canada, in the United States, where have labored Peter Cartwright, "the backwoods preacher," and Bishop Taylor, street preacher for forty years, and other such men; and where camp-meetings have entered so largely into the life of the Methodist denomination; and in Holland, where this strong testimony was given by a burgomaster of the Hague: "One good street preacher is worth ten policemen." But a close study of the work in one land at one period will throw more light on the subject than any number of miscellaneous selections. I therefore shall omit all mention of the open-air preaching which is being done elsewhere, and devote this chapter entirely to a description of the extent, form, and results of open-air preaching in Great Britain at the present time.

      My investigations have been as complete as I could make them. I visited the leading cities throughout the kingdom, attended sixty to seventy open-air meetings, each in a different locality, and each conducted after his own fashion by a different leader. I sought the opinion of prominent men, of those in the rank and file of Christian workers, and of outsiders ; questioning them concerning their estimate of its value, and their methods if they practiced it themselves. Through the kindness of Mr. Kirkham of the Open-Air Mission, I secured much literature, running back thirty-five years, and including incidents, methods, and results from every part of Great Britain.

      I found that preaching in the open air was practised constantly by the Salvation Army, whose members seldom hold an evangelistic service without an out-door service first. Their efforts force themselves upon the casual observer, as they march through the streets, singing and playing vigorously on musical instruments. Closer observation reveals, however, that the larger part of open-air preaching is not done by them. The army has simply adapted to its system practices already widely prevalent. Various denominations, organizations of laymen, and many independent workers approve and use it.

      The Church of England, for example, sustains many openair preaching stations, concerning one of which the London Daily Telegraph of July 8, 1890, says: "Lord Radstock delivered an address in the churchyard of St. Botolph, Aldersgate street, between one and two o'clock yesterday, to upwards of 4,000 business men. Open-air services have been carried on daily during the last two summers by the Rev. T. Selby Henrey. Among the speakers for this month will be the Bishop of Bedford, the Archdeacon of London, General Sir R. Phayre, Sir William Charley (Common Serjeant) and Lord Radstock (second time)."

      St. Mary's Church, Whitechapel, London, has an outdoor pulpit built in the wall, into which the clergyman enters from within and addresses those who gather in the churchyard or listen from the sidewalk. It was from a colored man, standing in this pulpit and facing almost the very place where those horrible murders were committed, that I heard the most powerful discourse on the immortality of the soul to which I ever listened. I was told that the rector of another church in that same district was accustomed, in conducting open-air services, to take with him on the street his choir-boys, the entire company dressed in their robes.

      In a conversation on this subject Canon Ryeroft of Liverpool said tome: "To show you how I stand, I need only say that a week ago, after my evening service in the church, I preached on the street to an audience of over 1,000, most of them men." A few years ago various bishops expressed their opinions, the Bishop of Durham saying: "The movement for open-air preaching has my approval"; the Bishop of Manchester: "We do what we can in this diocese as opportunity offers in that way, and I myself am frequently addressing bodies of men in the open air, or at least in sheds or workshops"; the Bishop of Litchfield: "I have always encouraged and always practiced open-air preaching;" the Bishop of Rochester, referring to the "Sermon Day": "I heartily approve of the work of the OpenAir Mission, and wish God-speed to its useful operations. On the day you name I hope to be preaching in the open air myself to some navvies in the neighborhood." The "Sermon Day" mentioned was a Sabbath on which the clergymen of London and its suburbs were requested to present to their congregations the subject of open-air preaching. Many acceded to the request, among them being fifty-two Baptist, forty-nine Congregational, thirty-five Methodist, and sixty-five Church of England clergymen.

      The Presbyterians also are aggressive along this line. Last year's report of the Evangelization Committee of the North and South Presbyteries of London contains the following: "The special feature of the year was the organizing of the open-air work, the result being that fully thirty places in London, besides several in connection with our country congregations, were regularly every Lord's Day during the summer months, occupied by ministers and members of our churches. In addition to these separate open-air services, there were four of a united character, namely, three at the beginning of summer in Regent's Park, Victoria Park, fall Blackheath, and one at the close of summer in Regent's Park. Several ministers took part in each of these united services, and it is perhaps not too much to say that there never has been so large an open-air service in Regent's Park as that held on May i), when the number attending was variously estimated at from 3,000 to 4,000."

      Much might be said concerning the open-air work of the Salvation Army, "instant in season, out of season"; of the Baptists, so aggressive in city evangelization; of the Congregationalists, quick to adopt new methods for advancing th& Master's kingdom; of the Methodists, who perhaps lead all other denominations in out-door work; and of the Quakers, whom the Spirit, sometimes commanding silence within their halls of worship, drives forth to proclaim to the passing multitude the unsearchable riches of Christ.

      Most profitable and inspiring would it be to consider the example of the leaders : of John McNeill, Scotland's sturdy son and London's famous preacher, to whose influence largely is due the increase of open-air preaching among the Presbyterians of the metropolis; of Newman Hall, whose church sustains during the summer daily open-air services (he himself often participating), and who by the special and most appropriate request of the Open-Air Mission has lectured on "My Personal Recollections as an Open-Air Preacher," and "Successful Open-Air Preaching" ; of Theodore Parker, who began his preaching in the open air; and of Spurgeon, who probably has more often addressed vast open-air audiences than any living man, and who, however much the subject may be neglected in other theological seminaries, has for his students two rousing lectures on this topic. But limits of time and space forbid. Suffice it to say that the denominations of Great Britain, as represented by their clergymen, have placed upon this way of preaching "the gospel to every creature" their seal of approval.

      But ministers, however favorably inclined, can do comparatively little in this direction, for their time and strength are absorbed largely by their regular duties. The extent and efficiency of this movement, as of the Sunday-school, depends on the support it receives from laymen. Therefore their attitude, especially as shown in the undenominational organizations into which they have banded themselves, is of much importance. Take the Young Men's Christian Associations, for example. Almost all, if not all of them hold some of their meetings in the open air. At first this seemed to me outside their domain of "work for young men," but observation revealed that their audiences consisted mainly of men, and no branch of their work receives more justification in the opportunities offered of winning to Christ the young men of the great cities.

      The London City Mission, employing 500 lay missionaries, says, in the report of 1890: "The committee are happy to report also that most of the society's missionaries hold open-air meetings in their respective districts, both on Sundays and week-days, and that these are the means of reaching many who' cannot be pursuaded to attend even a mission-room. . . . By these services the Gospel has been carried during the past year into many a secluded court and alley, as well as proclaimed to dense multitudes in open spaces, and many instances of conversion to God are related by the missionaries."

      Naturally, the most prominent in this direction is the OpenAir Mission, whose efficient Secretary is Mr.Gawin Kirkham, with headquarters in London. The object of this Mission, established in 1853, is to encourage, by means of publications and addresses, the judicious practice of open-air preaching, to bring together the workers for mutual instruction and encouragement, and to undertake the visitation of fairs, races, and other gatherings of the people. According to their last annual report, the members of the Mission (laymen connected with it, pledged to practice and encourage open-air preaching, receiving from the Mission no compensation,) numbered 1,089; special agents (paid for special work), 20; conferences of preachers, 33 S races, fairs, etc., visited, 620; towns and villages to which speakers were sent, 521 ; books, tracts, and cards sent from the central office, 1,255,057 ; addresses by the secretary, 325. This organization has had a vast influence, not only through what its members have accomplished in winning wanderers to Christ, but also indirectly in stimulating others to similar efforts, in discouraging unwise methods, and in giving character to the whole movement. , The Manchester City Mission, the Liverpool Town Mission, the Christian Evidence Society, the Christian Community, and many other organizations like them, would form interesting and profitable studies in this connection because of their constant use of this agency.

      Besides denominations and societies of laymen, almost all independent missions and many individuals, alone or in company with others, push out along this line such as George Holland of the George Yard Mission, Whitechapel, Charles Cook of Hyde Park Hall, Miss MePherson of the Bethnal Green Home of Industry, Captain Hamilton, active at Great Assembly Hall, F. N. Charrington, the founder of that institution, and H. Grattan Guiness, often accompanied by his students.

      These organizations and individuals in London are presented not as an exhaustive list of the favorably inclined, but simply as examples which might be duplicated many times, not only in that city, but also in many others.

      As there is honest disagreement among Christians concerning certain expressions of belief, forms of worship, and methods of work, so undoubtedly there is concerning this. Many disapprove of it, and only a small minority actually practice it. The leaders still view the movement as in its incipient stages, and look forward to greater developments. But, on the other hand, I observed that almost all who are actively engaged in city evangelization use it extensively.

      Moreover, it is noteworthy that these efforts have found favor with certain men of affairs. Among those who have presided at the annual meetings of the Open-Air Mission, thereby indicating their sympathy with the cause, have been members of Parliament, and among them several of the nobility. The Lord Mayor of London, while presiding in 1881, said : "It gives me very great pleasure to be here to-day, and it seems both fitting and appropriate that the chief magistrate of the city of London should give the sanction of his high office to such an effort as this. . . . I have thorough sympathy with the work. . . . I am very glad that prejudice against open-air preaching is gradually diminishing," etc. In 1884, the annual meeting being in the saloon of the Mansion House, the Lord Mayor presiding, one speaker said: "I think it is singularly worthy of remark that we meet in the palace of the chief magistrate of London for the purpose of furthering the work of an institution which a few years ago was discredited to the highest possible extent." At another annual meeting the Earl of Shaftesbury, the presiding officer for that year, said: "Amidst all the movements in which I have been engaged, and all I have known through a somewhat long career, I do not think there is one which has ever commended itself so much to my heart as this effort in which you are engaged for the promotion of open-air preaching. . . . I assure you I know of no one movement so characteristic of the times in which we live as that in which you are engaged; none on which the blessing of God seems so signally to rest ; and none which is so eminently calculated to conduce to the propagation of God's truth among the large neglected masses of this vast metropolis. Depend upon it, my friends, you will find that, throughout the whole range of human history and Christian effort, no nobler sermons have been delivered, and no more acceptable prayers have been offered up, than those sermons delivered, and those supplications presented to the throne of grace, under the broad canopy of God's heaven." The municipal authorities, either because public opinion is so favorable, or because their own judgment approves, give it their sanction and protection. Though in a few places open-air preachers are harnpered, as a rule they are given ample liberties, and enjoy the protection of the police. In London, "within the old city walls, open-air preaching is not allowed in or near any prominent thoroughfare." Elsewhere in the city the police are bound to protect it, and can stop the meeting only when the street is blocked or a householder complains. One report says : "The police have treated the open-air preachers with consideration and kindness, and the thanks of the committee are due to the distinguished officer who commands the metropolitan police, Major-General Sir Charles Warren."

      The attitude of the common people, however, is of far more importance, for, though approved by ecclesiastical and secular dignitaries, open-air preaching will accomplish little unless regarded with favor by the mass of the people. In my investigations I gave especial consideration to this point. Sometimes, standing at a distance, I watched to see which passers-by took no notice of the meeting, which tarried a moment, and which stayed during the entire service. At other times I mingled freely with the audience, observing their personal appearance and manner, their interest and comments. Often I forced my way into the groups nearer the speaker, trying to catch their spirit and feelings, to listen and receive impressions as they did \ or I stood where, the light falling upon them, I could see the expression on their faces, where was pictured their approval or disapproval of the speaker's words. In it all I was brought very positively to the conclusion that the people regard the open-air preacher with favor in fact, with far more favor than they dothe Christians who stay at home. This was shown by the size of the audiences, the only limit sometimes being the speaker's. ability to make himself heard. The people, however, were discriminating, prompt to gather about an earnest, thoughtful man, and very quick to leave a prattler. The attention was good, and though the speakers not infrequently were interrupted, they had the sympathy of the audience, which invariably bestowed upon the disturber angry glances and sharp words, and in one case hustled him off the grounds. It was rather an anomaly to hear one man swear at another for disturbing a religious gathering. Undoubtedly sometimes meetings are disturbed and broken up, occasionally the preacher is insulted and assailed, for infidels, Jews, and Roman Catholics are opposed to this work, and would stop it if they could. Drunken men also often demoralize matters greatly. But the people generally, by their presence, attentiveness, and loyalty, manifested a hearty approval of the movement. Such favor from classes of men so different has been won only by the employment of judicious methods, which deserve careful consideration, but which in this paper can be presented only in outline.

      There are two kinds of open-air preaching, the first including services preliminary to an indoor meeting, the second including those complete in themselves.

      All preliminary Services are very similar in kind, the only difference being that some are more elaborate than others. In the simplest form a company gather about the entrance of a building, singing hymns until a crowd has assembled. All are then invited to enter and attend the main service. When the building is on a prominent thoroughfare this is effective. Ordinarily, however, the singers take their stand at a point some distance away) and endeavor to draw the people back with them. The Salvation Army uses this form almost exclusively, seldom holding the entire service in the open air, and certain evangelistic and rescue agencies depend altogether upon it for securing their audiences.

      The Carrubber's Close Mission of Edinburgh, a remarkable organization of 500 volunteer workers, which has succeeded in reaching many of the degraded and criminal classes, makes an effort of this sort every night in the year. The evening I was there about thirty workers went to the corner of a prominent street. After the singing had drawn a crowd, prayer was offered, and a simple, earnest presentation of Christ was made. After heartily inviting all to accompany them to their hall, they started down the street singing a spirited hymn. On reaching the mission I was about to enter, when the leader touched me on the arm, and asked me if I would go again. Then I perceived that only a part had entered, and while these corn. menced and sustained the meeting, the rest returned to the corner to cast again-the net. The second time all entered and rejoined their forces.

      The Rev. Z. B. Woffendale of the Somers Town Presbyterian church, London, made a still more elaborate use of the preliminary service the night I was with him. With a company of his young people, he went about half a mile from a theatre where he was holding special evangelistic services. Instead of returning directly to the theatre, his company halted every two or three blocks, at each place different hymns being sung, and a different person presenting the invitation. The number following increased steadily, and after their last stop, which was in front of the theatre, many followed them into the building. Mr. Woffendale also uses this agency on Sunday evening in another way. After preaching to his people he holds a protracted after-meeting. At its commencement several bands of his young men go out on the street, secure a following in the usual manner, bring as many as possible into the church and then start for more, while the pastor and his other helpers strive to win them for Christ. Thus there is a constant ingathering as one band after another brings the fruit of its labors.

      The inclemency of the weather is no hindrance to work of this sort, which can be, and often is, sustained during the entire year, in winter as well as summer. In fact, many regard the stormy seasons as the most favorable, for then the people on the street are more likely to accept the invitation to a brighter and warmer place.

      Open-air services complete in themselves may be found in an endless variety of forms. Still, they naturally divide themselves into four groups those near the homes, those on the public thoroughfares, those at popular resorts, and those in the fields.Those held near the homes are quiet and unostentatious, and are more numerous than a superficial examination would indicate. A company of Christians leave the crowded streets and enter some court or alley. Necessarily the number gathered about them is small, but in the comparative quiet of the place their voices reach many others. Under such circumstances in Manchester, I noticed as part of the audience people sitting on the front steps of their houses, standing in the doorways, and even peering from the windows. Many interesting cases are recorded of the conversion of persons on their sick-beds, who received the invitation from the invisible messengers in the street below.

      A rector in London uses this form in an ideal way. Feeling himself responsible for all the souls in the territory apportioned to him as his parish, each Sunday evening he sends out four companies of young men, who occupy as many stations. The next week they hold their meetings at four different places, and so on, week after week, until every part of his parish has been occupied, and the Gospel has been carried by their voices to every soul, whether on the street, at the saloon, or in the house.

      Services on the public thoroughfares also ordinarily gather small audiences ; for either the noise of the traffic drowns the voices so that only a few can get within hearing distance, or the current of the passing multitudes keeps the people from staying more than a moment, or the police object to the blocking of the way. Sometimes, however, excellent situations are found a little to one side, away from the crowd, and yet near enough to attract their attention. At such places large and satisfactory meetings are held.

      In Liverpool the steps of George's Hall offer a popular and most desirable location; but the most interesting large street gathering I ever attended was in Nottingham. The streets were filled with the customary Sunday night throng, many of whom turned their steps to the market, a large open paved square. Here and there in this place were burning torches, under each of which stood a speaker, and about him a band of singers, sustaining a gospel meeting. The people who gathered about them in large numbers, though in the main attentive and respectful, were evidently the ordinary city street crowd. The whole formed a striking scene--the murmurs of the restlessly moving multitude, the crowd surging about the singers, the torches sending their light into the gloomy night, the strains of sacred music, and the earnest tones of the speakers. I shall not soon forget that evening, nor another spent in the .salt market of Glasgow at the end of a Saturday. The public houses (saloons) were doing a thriving trade, with men, women, and children flocking to the bars. The police were busy marching off the offenders. The streets were filled with men swearing, staggering, fighting, with brawling women horrible in their drunkenness, and with the children of these men and these women. Everywhere profanity and vulgarity, harsh laughter and bitter sobs every thing depressing nothing to uplift or sustain. A stranger in a strange land, alone in the midst of this multitude, despair seized upon me. Verily it was a place forsaken of God: here the devil seemed to hold undisputed sway. Stifled, choked with the moral atmosphere, I was about to rush away, when suddenly, above the harsh clamors, above the maudlin laughter, there rose strong, clear, sweet, the voice of one singing "Jesus died for all mankind, and Jesus died for me," and a few minutes later, "This is my story, this is my song, praising my Saviour all the day long." I have heard trained choirs, large choruses, vast audiences sing, but never did the good news seem half so sweet and inspiring as that night, when the young men and maidens of Glasgow came to dispute the reign of Satan in this his own domain.

      The night is regarded as the very best time for open-air work, and not a few pastors, after preaching to their flocks in the church on Sunday evening, go out on the streets and in the darkness, preach to those who love darkness rather than light. Mr. Cockrem of the Open-Air Mission said in explanation: "The Nicodemuses are not all dead yet." Many who would not be seen entering a place of worship or attending any religious service, under cover of darkness will creep up within hearing distance. This is especially true of Jews, Roman Catholics, and infidels; and many are the interesting cases recorded of those who, coming thus in the darkness and finding the Saviour, have openly and fearlessly proclaimed him before men.

      Services at public resorts, such as races, fairs, parks, and at the sea-shore, are held generally in the day-time. The work at the Epsom, Derby, and other races requires both courage and judgment, for the people are absorbed entirely in the contests, and little inclined to give heed to spiritual things. Sometimes large audiences are gathered, but usually the main efforts are tract distribution, and the personal conversation to which often it leads. There are special opportunities among men who, finding themselves utterly ruined and realizing thus their folly and wickedness, are ready to listen to words of warning and encourasrement. This work. which, despite the difficulties, is not fruitless by any means, is sustained largely by the agents of the Open-Air Mission and other missionaries. The following is a description of these men and their work: "Their reception varies from the most profuse gratitude to the fiercest opposition, sometimes including personal violence. Homely in appearance, cheerful in manner, quick at repartee, patient under insult, grateful for kindness, now preaching a sermon, then giving a tract, now reproving sin, then rescuing a sinner, caring for a wandering boy, taking a lost girl home, now cast down by the hardness of the human heart, and anon lifted up by the power of the Word of God--so they pursue the even tenor of their way, waiting the ' Well done! ' of the Master, when toil shall be exchanged for rest, the cross for the crown." A similar work is done at football and cricket matches, at flower and fruit shows, and other such gatherings. Fairs of every description are visited, among which none is more interesting than the Bird's Fair held each Sunday morning near Whitechapel in East London. Here regularly are conducted two open-air services by Miss Anna McPherson and her helpers. At other times these streets are comparatively quiet, but on Sunday morning they swarm with a good-natured, bustling. East End crowd. The walls of the houses are lined with birdcages, curb-stones piled high, wagons loaded, men's arms full of them, some empty and for sale, but most containing birds. Here are birds of all colors, of all sizes, of all prices, from three pence to as many pounds,--birds desired for their beauty, or their song, or the flavor of their flesh. Besides these, the small traders are present in full force, with vegetables, meats, fruit, old clothes or trinkets, taking advantage of the crowd, and driving a brisk trade. The church bells rang, but no one heeded them, and the traffic went on merrily. The influence of the place was almost irresistible. I also turned to make a purchase, and only by a vigorous effort brought myself to realize that it was the Lord's Day of holy rest and worship. But though the invitation of the church bells was not heeded, many heard the gospel, for i't was brought to them, and in the midst of the bargaining was offered without money and without price. With a box for apulpit platform, a small organ on wheels, a band of singers, some hymn-books to spare for the audience, and several speakers, divine services were held in this place. In one place the

      audience was changing constantly, many coming, but most staying only a short time. The other audience was large, consisting almost entirely of men. It was a pleasant audience to address. Of course many were in their shirt sleeves, some evidently had overlooked their morning toilet, and a few were smoking, but they were attentive, responsive, and reverent. A loaded wagon, driven rapidly, and making a terrific din, passed through this assembly, which quietly parted for it, and then resumed its former position. I have seen church audiences distracted far more by the crying of a child or the entrance of an elaborately dressed late-comer. With difficulty can "the saints" be induced to "come up front" near the speaker; but when I said to these burly fellows, "I always have heard that Englishmen were brave, but, unless you accept my invitation to come up nearer, on my return to America I shall tell my friends that I faced three hundred Englishmen, and they were so afraid of me that not one dared to come within reach of my arm" upon my saying this they good-naturedly drew close about me, and seldom have I spoken to an audience so sympathetic and kindly disposed. Every Sunday morning, the year around, whatever the weather, these two services are sustained. Many like them may be found throughout the kingdom, on week days as well.

      During the summer months the parks are the favorite places for open-air workers, especially on Sunday afternoons. Here sometimes the gatherings number thousands.

      Of the services held in places of recreation, some of the most attractive are in the churchyards of London. Take, for example, the one mentioned in the opening of this article, St. Botolph's, Aldersgate street, only a few steps from the general post-office. Interments have not been made in this burial ground for many years, most of the grave-stones have been removed, and now stand against the ivied walls. The ground has been laid out with walks, and in the center of the plots of thick velvety grass are beds of geraniums and other brightlyblooming flowers, or richly colored foliage plants or dense shrubbery. The contrast between the outside world and this spot is almost startling. There, din and turmoil; here, the murmuring fountain, the rustling leaves, and the birds. No wonder it is thronged with shop girls and roughly dressed laborers during the dinner hour; and all day long ragged children and wan-faced women come, and, consciously or unconsciously, are soothed, refreshed, uplifted. Here, during the noon hour, is held the service, not loud and boisterous, not harsh and threatening, but tender, thoughtful, worshipful. Rev. Mr. Henrey distributes the leaflets, on which are such hymns as "Rock of Ages," "Hark! hark! my soul." And on these, besides the hymns, Scripture references, and an invitation to the regular church services, are these words : "The place whereon thou standest is holy ground, having served as the churchyard for this ancient parish for many hundreds of years." These words, the proximity of the church, and nature speaking "a various language," give to these services a tender and hallowed impressiveness, and make the moments most restful and inspiring to all present.

      Mention should be made of the work at the sea-shore and other summer resorts, which serves to remind the pleasure seekers of their spiritual privileges and duties, so often left behind at such seasons. Interesting and successful open-air efforts for children have been carried on at some of these places.

      Open-air work in the fields is in the midst of somewhat similar natural surroundings, but is sustained for a very different class of people. This reaches the gipsies and other wandering elements of society, and also those coming to farming localities in harvest time, when large numbers are employed at once. One worker reports: "For five Sunday afternoons, at the request of the Earl of Aberdeen, the auxiliary arranged for services for the haymakers at Dollis Hill. The presence of the Earl at nearly all the services did much to cheer the men, who had suffered materially, owing to the wet weather. From thirty to eighty were present. The Earl read the Scriptures, and the preaching included Archdeacon Atlay, Rev. James Durran, Rev. Jonadab Finch, Ned Wright, and myself. Tea was served to the men at the close of the meeting."

      Mr. Spurgeon, in one of his lectures to his students, relates the following experience: "I once preached a sermon in the open air in haying time during a violent storm of rain. The text was: ' He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass, as showers that water the earth,' and surely we had the blessing as well as the inconvenience. I was sufficiently wet, and my congregation must have been drenched, but they stood it out, and I never heard that anybody was the worse in health, and, thank God, I have heard of souls brought to Christ under that discourse."

      A vigorous work is done among the pickers in the hop gardens of Kent and other counties, among whom are not only country people, but also many from the cities. The method of work is thus described by one: "Our plan was to go from bin to bin, picking and speaking at each. Then we sang and spoke in the center of a number of bins. This, of course, was done most easily at dinner time. In some of the gardens as many as 200 or 300 listened." The following shows the spirit of the workers: "Peter Wallis' report of a month among the hoppickers gives a lively picture of a miscellaneous community of 2,000, with its joys, sorrows, and varied experiences. Here is an ideal missionary's Sunday: 'Had a good day, and a rough day, and a long day, and yet a blessed day. Preached twelve times at twelve encampments, beginning at half-past nine in the morning and ending at ten at night, only coming in to meals.'"

      Most interesting are the monster gatherings in Wales, where the assembled multitude in the fields spends the day in. listening to successive sermons by different ministers ; and perhaps more pleasing and profitable, as well as more common, are the country congregations which assemble for part of the Sabbath on a hillside or in a meadow, and worship beneath the blue sky in a temple not made with hands.

      What are the results of open-air preaching ? Naturally we expect to find few. The audiences, while containing many reverent listeners, consist largely of those who are morally degraded, or spiritually hardened, or prejudiced, or, at best, indifferent to the claims of the truth. The open-air preacher works in fields where there are many "stony places," and he cannot expect as many fold as from seed sown under more favorable circumstances. Moreover, his hearers being mainly strangers, and sometimes the faces of all being invisible in the darkness, a man cannot ascertain the effect of his words. I presume that only a small percentage of the conversions are or could be recorded on earth. Many will not know, until the records of the deeds done in the body are read, what street preacher gave to them the bread of life. But though they cannot express their gratitude to the messenger, they do not hesitate to honor the means employed to bring the message. The witness of open-air converts bears stronger testimony to this kind of preaching than do the statistics of the workers themselves.

      But nevertheless there is no lack of evidence on this question. About the first man in England I questioned on this subject said his church was the outgrowth of open-air work, and that among the converts were missionaries in Asia and Africa, as well as clergymen in England. Mr. Charles Cook, whose efforts in Hyde Park are so well known, wrote, in answer to an inquiry: "I have gathered an indoor congregation of 2,000 from open-air meetings. Real conversions are seen at the close of every meeting." That the striking results secured by the Salvation Army in Great Britain have come in no small degree from open-air preaching is shown by the following extract from a personal letter to me from General Booth : "I may say that a large proportion of the successes of the Salvation Army has been due, in my estimation, humanly, to our open-air operations. With the submerged tenth, in the ordinary course of things, we should have, you will easily see, no chance without open-air work." I have similar testimony, equally emphatic, from Commissioner Howard, who has charge of the Army work in London. Mr. Robertson, Secretary of that remarkable mission in Edinburgh, the Carrubber's Close, when asked how their work would be affected if open-air preaching were discontinued, answered unhesitatingly and emphatically: "Absolutely crippled! absolutely crippled!" A report of the Open-Air Mission says that at every election of new members, some are found to be open-air converts. The Somers Town Presbyterian church of London has a membership of over 1,000, and "of these no less than two-thirds are the fruit of open-air preaching." On my table lie records of such conversions, which, if but partially given here, would fill an article ten times the length of this. And, moreover, no one has counted the number of weary travelers refreshed, of drooping hearts revived, of evil purposes checked, of men nerved to hurl back temptation, of wandering boys called home by the sound of a mother's favorite hymn, of forsaken girls thus saved from bitterness and a life worse than death. No one can measure the results in removing the prejudice of those who believe the Church cares nothing for them, and whose bitter cry often is: "And no man cared for my soul." And who can sum up the effects on the workers themselves, to whom is imparted a wonderful strength and sturdiness, and into whose character is woven somewhat of the fibre of which martyrs are made ?

      Influences cannot always be compressed into figures; but they can be felt and acknowledged. The conviction of thoughtful, observant men carries much weight. This it was, far more than all the "experiences" and "cases" brought to my attention, that convinced me that there were eminently satisfactory results. These men collected no figures: they wished none. They were in the heat of the battle and knew this was amighty weapon. That was enough for them. Whatever doubt may have remained in my mind concerning the effectiveness and value of open-air preaching, was driven away by Mr. Spurgeon. Second to none in the range of his experience and the extent of his observations, versatile in the employment of diverse methods, a keen and conservative observer of men and things, he said in answer to my question concerning the value of this agency and the desirability of its extension: "It is the very back-bone of the movement to win the non-church-going element. The more of it the better, the more of it the better, the whole world around!"

Back to Edwin Hallock Byington index.

See Also:
   Open-Air Preaching: Introduction
   Open-Air Preaching: 1 - Open-Air Preaching in the Establishment of the Church
   Open-Air Preaching: 2 - Open-Air Preaching in the Extension of the Church
   Open-Air Preaching: 3 - In the Reformation of the Church
   Open-Air Preaching: 4 - In the Normal Life of the Church
   Open-Air Preaching: 5 - The More of It, the Better!
   Open-Air Preaching: 6 - As A Factor in City Evangelization
   Open-Air Preaching: 7 - Who Will Go For Us?
   Open-Air Preaching: 8 - The Best Methods

Loading

Like This Page?


© 1999-2016, oChristian.com. All rights reserved.