Revival Sermon: Preaching as Lived Religion.

Nineteenth century sermons are rather hard to come by in terms of listener reaction/reception. Here is one I came across. While pursuing some diaries for sermon accounts I found this from a non-believing observer of a Methodist service: (spelling, etc. as in the original)

As I came up Market Street this evening I noticed a large crowde on the other side of the street gathered around some young people who were holding a street meeting. I crossed over and joined the multitude just in time to hear the principal speaker. He was a young man and a veheminent Revivalist of the sort that make a hassty division of the human race, sending part to the eternal flames, and the part to the heaven of harpstrings. and halleluliahs.

His sermon was a fable interpolated with woeful warnings to the wicked and extravagant promises of blessings to those who lie, by saying they are saved when they only have a bad attack of biliousness. The story was about a young husband and his wife who went to a Revival meeting and failed to get Religion or anything else that was worth taking away. They were obstinate. The preacher pleaded, pursuaded begged and prayed fro them to come to Jesus, but they would not. Driven almost to desperation the Revivalist as a last resort exacted from them a promise. They were to take a piece of paper when they got home and write on it these words:- “If I should die to-night I would spend eternity in hell,” and tack it on the head of their bed. On reaching home the young man at once made preparation to Retire, apparently having forgoten the promise he made the preacher. His wife asked him if he did not remember what the preacher had requested home to-do. “Indeed I do,” said the husband, somewhat excited, “but I am a lettle troubled about it.” He got a pice of paper and a pencil and commenced to write. He wrote the first three words, “If I should “die”, and his hand trembled so that he could not write another word. He was convicted. They nilt down and commenced to praying and did not cease troubling the Lord until two oclock in the morning. By this time they had gotten religion in large quantities, and let the Lord have peace the rest of the night.

After the preacher had told this story the young people went to their hall for the main show. I followed them. The performance had commenced when I reached the place. The congregation was singing lustily some Revival hymn, while the preacher walk up and down the floor clapping his hands and shouting “hallaluliah” and praise God.” After a number of hymns had been sung some good brother with bellows lungs, sitting in the “Amen corner” was called on to invoke the devine blessing. It was a Revival prayer. Whether the good deacon was inspired or not I do not know, but he certainly did perspire. And he prayed as only a sanctified Methodist can pray. He didn’t stop for commas or periods. WHen he would run out of words he would fill in with a few Halleluliahs, punctuated with holy grunts(?).

Then there was more singing after which the preacher announced his text and started out on a “come to Jesus” sermon.

An exciting morner’s bench stunt was the next performance. A number of young people went forward to be prayed for in the hope that they might get religion. All knelt by roughly constructed bench, and while some sactified brethren were whispering in the ears of the unconverted, telling them that they had Jesus, the preacher prayed long and loud. Women were groaning and crying. Men were shouting, praise God! Hallaluliah.” The climax was Rached when a young man confessed that he had “got religion.” The good pious brother near him commenced to shouting, “A birth” a birth”. while all the saved people crowded around the one who had “come through.” and shock him by the hand. Then there more singing. clapping of hands, and Hallaluliahs.”

Admittedly, we don’t get much of the main sermon here, except of course the usual “text” basis. Aside from the somewhat cynical recitation of the proceedings, I think it is pretty interesting report on several counts. The techniques here were cannibalized by theater people in the 1920s to herd people into shows of various types. Terms like “Amen corner” and “mourner’s bench” (see “anxious seats”) were authentic at least.

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2 Responses to Revival Sermon: Preaching as Lived Religion.

  1. J. Stapley says:

    Fascinating. When was this?

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