For years missionaries have been longing for an outpouring of the Spirit on the Chinese churches, and during the past two years the story of what God has wrought in Korea has filled many hearts with hope. There have been more meetings for special prayer and more definite expectation, and here and there gracious answers have been given. In S. Fukien, in S. E. Chihli, in Shantung and in the other provinces, groups of churches have been deeply moved and quickened into new life, whilst individual Christians have had an altogether fresh experience of the Holy Spirit's presence and power.
"On Sabbath, 16th, Mr. Goforth held two services, each preceded by an hour of prayer. There was a large congregation on Sabbath morning; from eight to nine hundred people being present. He told us all about the revival in Korea. repeating some of the striking things we have already heard from others. He closed with an appeal for earnest prayer that a like blessing might come to the Moukden people."
Unhappily there has been no general or even a widespread revival, and it is therefore a great joy to know that in Manchuria a gracious work, begun in Liaoyang, is spreading from church to church, and that the experiences of the Korean churches are being repeated.
In a series of letters written day by day to the mother church in Scotland, the Rev. James Webster, of the United Free Church Mission, has told in graphic words the story of the revival in the Moukden church and out-stations; and we venture to say that Mr. Webster has conferred a benefit on the whole missionary body in China by allowing these letters to be published in pamphlet form [Times of Blessing in Manchuria, Shanghai : Methodist Publishing House and Presbyterian Mission Press]. It is devoutly to be hoped that every missionary will read these letters and that fresh prayer will ascend and fresh consecration be sought until in every mission centre the secret has been learnt and a mighty wave of blessing sweeps through all the churches.
The charm of the letters is that they come direct from the meetings and straight from the heart; and therefore in indicating the main feature of the movement Mr. Webster's own words will be used as far as possible.
The meetings in Moukden began about the middle of February, Jonathan Goforth, of the Canadian Presbyterian Mission in Honan, being the missioner.
“On Sabbath, 16th, Mr. Goforth held two services, each preceded by an hour of prayer. There was a large congregation on Sabbath morning; from eight to nine hundred people being present. He told us all about the revival in Korea. repeating some of the striking things we have already heard from others. He closed with an appeal for earnest prayer that a like blessing might come to the Moukden people. An opportunity was given to anyone who felt led by the Spirit to pray, but no one responded. Mr. Goforth was disappointed. At night the congregation was very large. I took this as a token for good. Mr. Goforth's address was from the book of Ezekiel, the vision of the valley of dry bones. Another opportunity was given during a period of silent prayer for voluntary prayer of confession. Again there was no response.”
On the following morning ex-elder D. came to see Mr. Webster and Mr. Goforth. He had been unable to sleep; a great sin—the wrongful withholding of money belonging to the church—was upon his conscience.
“I took the poor man into Mr. Goforth's room and got him to repeat his story. Then we knelt together, and the strong man was all broken, as on bended knees with head bowed to the dust he pleaded for pardon. Soon afterwards, with a new look in his face, he left, having assured us that he would pay the money as soon as he had realised some property. Our hope had begun to be fulfilled. Mr. Goforth was greatly cheered.”
At the morning service that day there was a spirit of expectation in the meeting, but no such manifestation of the Holy Spirit's presence as had been hoped for.
“The usual opportunity for prayer or confession followed the address. One after another rose and gave utterance to confession and earnest petition, sometimes mingled with sobs hard to suppress. From the women's side of the house a voice arose. Presently her feelings got the better of her, and she sobbed aloud. Just as she was in the midst of this sobbing prayer, someone gave a terrific yell, that sounded as if part of the roof had fallen in, and in a moment the whole congregation seemed to be weeping together. This went on for the space of five minutes or so. Scores of people were praying in the most entangled fashion. It is marvellous how the women are coming out. Twice a day through the mire and the keen cold they come; some of them from great distances. A fine spirit prevails. Whole families are coming together and getting blessing. There is a minimum of the hysterical and a maximum of quiet spiritual work going on.”
The meetings, both morning and evening on the 18th, were marked by the same “natural movement of human souls touched by the Spirit.” From all parts of the building the sound of prayer was heard, but again the greatest fervour came from the women's side. The tide was rising.
“Next day Mr. Goforth spoke for quite an hour on prayer, very tender and impressive. The time came for voluntary prayer. One after another prayed in quick succession. I was struck with the movements of Elder S. He seemed overpowered with emotion. Twice he sprang to his feet, made an attempt to speak, and twice sat down again, burying his face in his hands in great distress. At last he rose, sprang to the platform, and said in effect: 'Mr. Goforth, I can bear this burden no longer Before the Lord and this congregation I must confess my iniquities. Years ago, as all of you people know, I was an earnest and sincere Christian. But alas! I fell.’ (He then gave the particulars of his fall.) ‘My wife spoke to me often about my great sin, and at last I could stand her no longer, and made up my mind to get rid of her. I mixed poison with food on three separate occasions; each time ineffectually. All this time I was a member in the church, and often preached from that pulpit there. I got hundreds of cards printed with my name and designation as elder in this church, but I am no longer worthy of such designation.' I have been all the time like a fierce dog frightening souls away from the fold of Christ. May God have mercy upon me! May God have mercy upon me! And he threw himself down on the ground in a very agony of weeping. Immediately the whole congregation broke into loud lamentation. Scores of men and women rushed forward to the platform, fell on their knees and made abject confession of sin. . . . An earnest prayer, simple and tender, arose on the women's side. It was a cry for forgiveness. I enquired who it was who thus prayed. The reply was, Mrs. S., the wife of the elder, who had just confessed.”
“I cannot remember what happened after that on Wednesday forenoon. We were as those who had dreamed. There is not a doubt in the minds of any of us now but that we are in the midst of a great work of grace. The Spirit of the Lord is with us as we have not seen heretofore.”
"A continuous stream of confession and petition flowed the whole time, the whole congregation frequently bursting into united prayer. It was something wonderful.”
“At the Thursday's meetings the church was filled. The spiritual movement is spreading and deepening. The desire to get good has spread over the whole congregation. They seem to be afraid that the time will pass away and leave then unblessed, and so we have had crowds of people confessing—elders, deacons, evangelists, members (young and old), enquirers, backsliders. The whole congregation has been of one mind to-day. And it was this: we must get the Spirit and the power He can bring, and we must take every step, however painful it may be, in order not to miss the great blessing. The spirit of prayer has been wonderfully manifest. Sometimes half a dozen would start at once, and on one occasion the entire congregation of seven or eight hundred people were all praying together. But there was not the slightest feeling of discord. One felt they were all of one heart and one mind.”
Of the last two days of Mr. Goforth's mission Mr. Webster writes as follows:–
“The meetings were larger than ever. A continuous stream of confession and petition flowed the whole time, the whole congregation frequently bursting into united prayer. It was something wonderful.”
“The desire to make confession has brought a great number to their feet. Mr. Goforth never in any way encourages; indeed he rather represses. But this is the beauty of it. Men and women seem overwhelmed with the sense of guilt, and cannot find rest until they get rid of it in this way. The feature of the movement seems to be a deep sense of sin. To-night Elder L. came forward and said that he too felt impelled to confess his sin. H., the elder, also made a clean breast of shady things belonging to his past, and many others, some of them painful to listen to, all of them showing signs of the deepest contrition.”
The meetings were continued, and at the first meeting after Mr. Goforth's departure there was again a continuous stream of confession and petition for the space of two hours.
“The climax was reached when Mr. Liu, rising in the pulpit, asked earnest prayer on behalf of himself, his office bearers, the staff of evangelists, the dispensers in the men's and women's hospitals, the school teachers, all those in the employment of missionaries, and then he stopped. ‘And please include the missionaries themselves in your supplication,’ broke in a foreign voice,—‘that a rich blessing may come upon them all.’ And immediately such a burst of prayer broke out from the whole congregation as surely was never heard before. There was no confusion or discord as might have been expected. Seven hundred different people were each praying their own prayer aloud, and yet withal there was the most perfect harmony. Again and again that day this wave of prayer swept over the assembly, carrying everyone along with it by an irresistible impulse. It was the same thing on Sabbath. The church was crowded morning and evening. Had we not thought it wise to break up, the meeting might have easily gone on all day and all night for that matter. The stream flowed on, deepening and widening every hour. Confessions, petitions, thanksgivings, consecration. Requests for prayer poured in. For fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, sons, and daughters. A school girl sends in a request for ten members of her family. A merchant requests prayer for a score of men in his employment. A father asks prayer for a son, a prodigal in the far unknown. Prayers for the backsliding members of the church were innumerable. The excommunicated weighed heavily on the minister's heart. He said that there were rules of the church which were necessary, and which had to be carried out, and in consequence not a few whose names had once been on the communicants' roll had been cut off. But he longed for these men to come again, and he asked prayer that the Lord would open a door for them and incline them to return. It was the signal for another of those simultaneous and spontaneous outbursts of united prayer which has been one of the characteristics of the meetings during these past four days. Never in the history of the city has there been such a day as this Sabbath day has been in Moukden.”
The interest showed no signs of declining, and Mr. Webster thus writes of the tenth day and of the general effect of the meeting as a whole:
“From ten a.m. till one thirty there was never a break in the stream of prayer. Towards the close the feeling became intense. One after another confessed with broken voices and made offerings. One man offered the salary of a native preacher as a thank-offering. A formal resignation of eldership on the part of Elder S. was read. He said that although he had made confession, and humbly believed the Lord had pardoned him, yet his sin was so heinous that he could no longer remain in office. Thereupon Elders L. and H. in succession rose and declared that they too were no longer worthy to hold office. They all implored prayer on their behalf. It was another signal. The whole congregation burst into loud and united prayer. Afterwards they all rose in their places and begged the elders to remain with them. And the minister standing in the pulpit added with great, passionate earnestness, ‘Yes! Yes! and together we will drive the devil out!’ Every hand was shot up when the mind of the people was called forth. . . The blessing has gone out to all branches of the mission, and we look forward to a great work during the coming months— in the chapels, in the hospital, and in all the schools. The Divine Spirit is working His own gracious work in His own way among this people. There is a great danger of marring it. It must be with very gentle hand we touch it. And for the rest, ‘Stand still and see the salvation of God.'”
“We have been receiving earnest appeals from our country members and almost daily requests for prayer on behalf of this and that outpost, so that we have had to face a mission to all the out-stations connected with Moukden. It was no easy undertaking, as there are, roughly speaking, from twenty to twenty-five towns and villages where there are groups of Christians formed into embryo churches, drawing members and adherents from four times that number of places. A call for volunteers was given, and seventeen men responded. The session met for the purpose of dealing with these offers of service. The various out-stations were grouped into seven districts, and it was decided to send two or three men together to each district. It turned out that the number of volunteers exactly corresponds to the number of men required for the various districts.”
Nothing in these delightful letters is more striking or more instructive than Mr. Webster's description of the mission of the seventeen volunteers referred to in the above paragraph. One would like to quote page after page, but an extract or two must suffice:
“At dusk on Tuesday, March 10th, we arrived at the village of Tuer-to. Dr. Liu at once suggested sending messengers to all the villages where there were Christians, telling them of the meetings and inviting then to come. This was done, and on Wednesday morning sixty people had gathered. We told them the story of the past three weeks in Moukden; nothing more. They listened with an air of wonderment and thoughtfulness. At the evening meeting one noticed a troubled look on many faces; when we called for prayer only one responded, formal, stereotyped. Next morning Doctor, Liu and I walked out together. He was greatly troubled, thought he had made a mistake in coming, that he was not the man for this sort of thing. We came to a wooded copse, and the Doctor suggested prayer. We knelt by an old willow and he poured out his heart to God. “Guide us,” he prayed, “as to who shall speak, what we shall say, or whether we should speak at all.” He seemed like one inspired. We returned to the meeting... We sang a hymn. Dr. Liu said we might have a time of silent prayer, and if any one felt disposed he might pray aloud. Presently a sob from a man in the front seat and a broken-hearted prayer for mercy. Another followed in the same way. Several men and women were weeping. Then a man came up from the back seat saying: ‘I wish to speak.' He was the principal deacon of the place. His first few words were spoken with difficulty. But presently he gained control of himself and said: ‘You all know me. I have been passing as a good sincere Christian man among you. I am nothing of the sort. Formerly I was delighted when a missionary or an evangelist came here, but when I heard they were coming on this occasion I was not pleased. I felt this was no ordinary visit. Yesterday when hearing of the Moukden meetings I was greatly troubled. Last night I could not sleep, thinking of my sins. I cannot bear the burden any longer.’ He then fell on his knees in an agony of weeping and poured out his confession in prayer, beseeching us also to pray for him. Immediately the whole meeting broke down, and for a considerable time everyone continued to pray aloud. Afterwards one after another rose and besought prayer. For three hours this went on. Once in a while Dr. Liu or I would repeat a text, or point a distracted soul to the Saviour, or sing a verse of a simple hymn. But there was no formal address, only prayer. One dare not write what those broken and contrite hearts poured out before the Lord.…”
“I reached Sze-fang-tai—eight miles further—towards evening. A meeting had been held in the morning by Dr. Liu. A number of the folk had been at Tuer-to and had got blessing. The house was packed when I arrived. We lit our candles at the darkening, and the meeting began. What a meeting that was. It needed no conducting, or very little. Occasionally it seemed well to sing a verse of a hymn, or repeat a divine promise; that was all. Yet there was no excitement, nothing calling for repression. There was plenty of weeping. The house was full of men and women with broken and contrite hearts, and the floor was simply watered with their tears. . . .”
“When Dr. Liu went to Pan-chia-pu I travelled eight miles in the opposite direction to meet other two deputies who had been conducting a series of meetings at Chang-tan. I met them on the Monday morning. They had the bearing of men who had been at the wars and had returned victorious. It was the joy of ‘the Seventy” over again. They told me that on the evening of the third day of the mission the whole congregation began to cry aloud for mercy. The village magnates came to find out if any one had died suddenly. They could not understand such sorrow on any other ground. Men had voluntarily confessed to crimes that not even torture could have made them reveal. They had a book with them in which the names of those who had confessed were entered and the nature of the confession. It was a terrible list. Some of the men were in the room when it was submitted to me. I said to the leading elder: ‘If the Lord has blotted out these awful things from the book of His Remembrance, why should we keep a record of them? Better burn the whole handwriting.’ He looked at me for a moment reproachfully. He meant to take it back to Moukden as a spoil of war. It was only for a moment. The next the leaves were torn out and the damning record committed to the flames. And the men whose names were there fell down on their knees and wept.”
“After a three days' mission at Tu-tai-tze, where a similar awakening took place, we arranged a thanksgiving service for Thursday forenoon. Representatives from six stations came together to render praise to Almighty God for His gracious blessing. There was a gathering of over two hundred Christians. The short reports we heard from the various stations all told the same tale of blessing. Not one of them had been passed by.”
How the blessing came to Liao-yang, Kwang-ning, Chinchow, and how it invaded and continues in the Kirin province cannot be described. The experiences at Moukden were repeated in place after place; the only striking variation being at Liao-yang, where the mighty working of the Spirit was felt even by non-Christians.
“Even outsiders have been drawn into the tempest of confession and prayer, and in some cases great fear has fallen on the neighbourhood. ‘What has come over the Christians?’ they say, ‘Yamen torture could not draw confessions such as these from human lips, and they are respectable people enough.’ ‘Don’t go near them’—say others— ‘their Spirit has come down, and he is irresistible! You will be drawn in before you know it!’”
We are much mistaken if any missionary can read the extracts we have quoted and not be moved to say, ‘Why may there not be here, in our churches, similar times of blessing?'
Is there any reason why every church throughout the provinces should not experience the same gracious outpouring of the Spirit? Let every missionary get these living ‘Letters from Moukden,' read them with his elders, deacons, and preachers till the ‘fire burns.’ No machinery is required, no new hymnbooks, no special preacher even. The keynote of the movement, as Mr. Webster reminds us again and again, is—“NOT By MIGHT NOR BY Power, BUT BY MY SPIRIT, SAITH THE LORD."—The Chinese Recorder, June, 1908, pp. 330-336.