The American Revivalists.

Whatever else may be thought of the religious meetings now being held daily by the American Revivalists, Mr. Moody and Mr. Sankey , there can be no doubt of the great number of people who are present at every service. In this respect the Revivalists are certainly successful. It may be said that the attraction is a love for religious excitement, apt at times to run riot in ordinarily sober races, and then to become more than ordinarily riotous; but this does not explain the phenomenon. Nor will the theory that people attend these meetings as they would attend places of amusement hold good, for though there may be much in Mr. Moody’s addresses and Mr. Sankey’s singing sufficiently attractive for persons who disapprove ordinary amusements, the audiences in these cases are undoubtedly made up in a large measure of persons who could find infinitely more attractive amusement any day of the year in London. Take, for instance, one of the mid-day prayer meetings in Exeter-hall. The hall is always well filled; there is what may be likened to a vast sea of heads, old and young, the gray and bald, perhaps, preponderating. The faces are, for the most part, grave, and in many cases eager, but there is far less excitement than might be found any Sunday in almost any Primitive Methodist meeting. The two men who have come all the way from America to set us right in matters of religion have little of what is usually thought to commend public speakers to attention. Mr. Moody certainly is not more eloquent or forcible than many a poor preacher whose name is never heard outside his “circuit” for the time being. He speaks without any of the graces of culture to men of education, and they listen to him and apparently forget the Yankee twang and the speaker’s undoubted assumption of superiority over ordinary people in the one broad fact that he professes to have the key to mysteries which have attracted attention since time began, and which must, in the very nature of things, attract attention while time endures. No amount of satire will efface the undoubted fact that many of the elderly men and women who listen to Mr. Moody are anxious—perhaps curious—to know if he has found among the strange upheavings of American thought some clear clue to any phase of the dark hereafter, in which the peer and the cottager have the same interest; and Mr. Moody adds one more to many proofs that a man may speak with any conceivable intonation, and still if he only have the power and the earnest will to throw light into that darkness which no one can look upon with thorough complacency he will find both listeners and friends. Mr. Moody’s bold metaphors and almost irreverent familiarity with the Deity were far more than matched by those of the once-famed “ Billy Dawson ,” who in the early days of Methodism appeared to take Heaven by storm, and to whom, nevertheless, “the common people,” and many educated people too, listened gladly. The man had somehow found the secret of speaking from the heart, and that he found the way to other hearts there is no doubt. He made men better by convincing them of the reality of a higher life—higher, in any case, than merely eating to live. But these men, it may be said, do not reach the poor—their “mission” seems to be to people who frequent such places as Exeter-hall. This, however, is not borne out by the fact. The meetings in the Agricultural-hall are very “mixed” indeed; but, even if they were not so, the Revivalists might justly reply to any charge resting on the classes of people constituting their audiences that they must be allowed to work in their own way, and that in forming a pivot around which the religious thought or life of great masses of people revolve they are using their time and gifts profitably. How far they are supplying such a pivot is, of course, a matter of opinion, but taken on their own ground the plea would be unanswerable. Of the character of the addresses little can be said that is not mere generalization. They are short and pointed, are largely made up of anecdote, and they abound with phrases which are at least unusual among educated people in England. A vigorous attack on mere church-going or on the mere saying of prayers instead of praying may be looked for at any moment, he the subject of the Address what it may. Mr. Moody has a large collection of cases, all within his own experience, in which prayers made in faith have been answered; and his way to this faith is so simple that the only wonder to him appears to be that any one should, miss it. “Only wait,” he says, “and the Lord will do all that is needed. You may vex an earthly friend by importunity, but the readiest way to vex the Almighty is by not importuning Him enough.” The idea is common, but the setting and the manner are peculiar, and the latter is so grave that there is rarely much laughter even at remarks which would read as jokes. Some of the old Methodists greatly enjoyed a laugh, even when they followed it up with their heartiest “Amen.” Mr. Spurgeon’s people are misrepresented if they do not like a little humour. Mr. Moody’s own face, too, when seen in a photograph, presents something in the eye and about the mouth the reverse of grave, but his tone and manner do not, as a rule, encourage people to laugh. Then there is nothing in the least approaching cant in the tone of his voice; he speaks of deep and mysterious problems as he would of buying so many pieces of cotton, or of cultivating so many acres of land. The “new birth,” which puzzled Nicodemus, and which still puzzles many people so greatly, is to Mr. Moody, even in its sublimity, one of the commonplaces of every-day life. “Mystery!” he would say, “why, it is going on at your right hand and at your left—it is the Lord’s every-day work. I care nothing for baptism—nothing for mere church-going. These are all right as far as they go, but you must go beyond them for the new birth.” So says every clergyman and minister throughout the kingdom, but it is here said in such a way that it seems to some extent new. To say that Mr. Moody is not a man of genius would not offend him. He professes to be merely a plain man with a truth to tell and plain words in which to tell it. There is no appearance of anything he says exciting enthusiasm, and for his own part he appears anything but enthusiastic, though he is fervid enough to satisfy the most fervid. Perhaps to this may be ascribed the fact that the meetings are as a rule quiet. Even the singing, often very general, is not hearty in the sense in which heartiness would be understood in a Scotch kirk or a Methodist chapel, though Mr. Sankey leads the harmony with a skill at times pleasing and effective, and seldom wanting in artistic taste. It is questionable whether he and his friend could long continue to win the attention of English audiences, but that they win that attention now and retain it to the end of every service no one can doubt. Unquestionably, they believe that they are doing London real and great good. They cannot well have any pecuniary end in view, and if nothing better comes of it, they are, at least, supplying a kind of moral telegraphy, by means of which the religious sentiment of the two great parts of the Anglo-Saxon race has to some extent found a common aim and a united expression.