On one occasion, I was able to watch for a short time how a so-called “boy evangelist,” Mr. _, did his job.In a big western city, the scene was a large, beautiful Gothic church supported by the Methodist Episcopal Church’s wealthiest and most cultured members.Some of Methodism’s most intelligent and persuasive ministers have presided over it from its pulpit.On the occasion referred to, the transepts, nave, galleries, and aisles were all filled. Many people were standing. On the pulpit platform and at the altar, I noticed several distinguished ministers. There was a choir of young people in the orchestra behind the pulpit. There was a cabinet organ on the platform. Mr. came to the pulpit and, in a husky and much-abused voice, announced at least five times the number of the hymn that he wished to have sung. It was one of the semi-historical and semi-descriptive sentimental hymns of the period. There was nothing in the manner of reading to afford any pleasure to the hearer. Mr. is a small, nervous, and earnest man. His nervous twitchings and other movements while giving out a hymn, exhorting, and supervising the affairs of the altar would not be, to sensitive people, wholly agreeable. He followed the singing with prayer. Kneeling for a minute or two, then standing, kneeling again, and standing—rising and falling eight or ten times in a five-minute prayer that is somewhat “informative,” extremely intense, and indicating nothing but fervor.
After another hymn, Mr. began to speak. He opened his address with the statement, six or seven times repeated, that up to this time there had been seventy-eight conversions, “seventy-eight, seventy-eight,” and, but for the “Thank God!” interjected here and there, one could have imagined himself at an auction—”seventy-eight,” the highest figure offered at the moment. The revivalist said that he “had never attended a meeting where the results were so remarkable—seventy-eight in such a few days.” It was the greatest thing he’d ever seen in his life—78.” He then made an announcement for the rest of the week and the coming Sabbath. “A jubilee to celebrate the conversion of one hundred and fifty souls; there are seventy-eight now, and it was certain that there would be enough to make one hundred and fifty before next Sunday afternoon,” for the Sabbath afternoon. He then preached a three- or four-minute sermon, putting one in mind of Abbe Mullois’ rule concerning “seven-minute sermons,” albeit the Abbe commended thought, carefully arranged, with a climax and ardor. Mr. had the ardor. Then came the old-fashioned appeal to “come forward to the altar.” Brethren were urged to “go out into the aisles and plead with the people.” The choir was directed to lead in the singing of a certain modern song, which, not “going” successfully, was replaced with that grand old thunderous “Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,” which, ringing out through the Gothic arches, put one in mind of the old-time revivals, when the congregations of those days would arise and sing this hymn, while “mourners” rushed forward to the altar. The singing of the hymn was broken by that weird outcry of the preacher, “Come! come now! come seek salvation!” It had the effect of that same old call in the camp-meeting days of yore. One standing by the door, as I did, could tell how many souls were at the altar by the quick and fervid numerical reports constantly made by the revivalist himself—”Two more; thank God! Now another, bless the Lord! Three more, thank God! Seventy-eight already, and more coming!
While this was going on, the “Boy Preacher” acted as if every part of him was shaking with nervous excitement. Now he was on the platform, now he was running down the steps, now he was jumping to the platform again, now he was dropping straight from the platform to the altar as if he had forgotten that there were steps, now he turned suddenly and looked into the face of the minister who happened to be in the pulpit, and then he ran to the other side and into the altar again, shouting “Bless the Lord!” Halleluia! Come to Jesus! Salvation! Seventy-eight souls have already been converted, and more are coming.
By J. H. VINCENT
Updated 2023 Nathan Zipfel