Secret Service Theologian
GOSPEL COMMANDO OPERATIONS IN IRELAND
Oh, send me forth, my Saviour;
Oh, send me for Thy glory, Thy glory.
Let not myself; my carnal self; self-seeking self,
Come twixt me and Thy glory.
Oh, mortify it, mortify it; put it down, my Saviour;
Exalt Thyself alone.
Lift high the banner of the Cross, and in its folds
Conceal Thy standard-bearer.
(A letter from Robert Anderson to his home in 1863 ends with this verse.)
If you give up your personality to Him, He will not conform it to your neighbours. He prefers that it should be your own, for He has a niche for you which nobody else can fill.
IN the aftermath of the revival which spread through many
parts of Ireland in the years 1859 and 1860 lay-preaching became a regular
practice. No one had heard of commando raids eighty years ago, but the term
seems a not inapt one for the sudden incursions of teams of two or three laymen
into towns and country districts with the one object of preaching the Gospel,
attacking strongholds of evil or of apathy and indifference, and leading men
and women into new life, light and liberty.
This sometimes entailed going where they were quite unknown and unheralded. They might receive the blessing and cooperation of the local clergy and ministers; but not infrequently open or veiled hostility had to be faced. When the use of Church buildings was not granted, meetings were held in schoolrooms, court-houses or jury-rooms, in private houses, cottages or barns, once at least in a ballroom, at times in the open air.
In 1862, the year in which he took his degree at Trinity, my father first went on one of these preaching tours in the south of Ireland. George F. Trench, the friend who led him into the work, was a cousin of Townsend Trench, estate agent to the Marquess of Lansdowne. Towny, himself one of the best-known men in the south, had recently been converted and was preaching with all the energy and originality of a striking personality. Incidentally, the Trenches were related to my mother, whom in those days my father did not yet know. George Trench was her cousin; in after years he married as his second wife, Edith Lee Anderson, my fathers niece, a fresh link between the families being thus formed.
An unusual feature of the revival movement in County Kerry was that amongst the first to be influenced were some of the landed gentry. Trench and Anderson were welcomed by them, and life-long friendships were formed by my father with Richard Mahony of Dromore Castle, Lindsay Talbot-Crosbie of Ardfert Abbey, and F. C. Bland of Derryquin Castle. Later on, through the preaching of Thomas Weldon Trench, the revival spread to Sligo, and George Trench went there to carry on the work, again asking my father to join him. The clergy and ministers were unsympathetic. Not only so, but the evangelists were treated to a crusade of abuse and ridicule in a local newspaper which accused them of being impostors preaching for filthy lucres sake and getting their salaries from a committee in London. One issue published a letter, said to have been picked up on the road, in which they were taken to task for embezzling the contents of their money-boxes ! Worse still, there appeared a seemingly genuine account of their getting drunk at a picnic
When Trench had to return home owing to ill-health, some doggerel verses described the quarrel which led "the Trencher" to desert his pal "Handy Andy." This is all mentioned to show how unbefriended they were. However, when my father returned to Sligo later in a professional capacity to conduct an election, that editor made an abject apology. But at the time no notice was taken of the attacks. They only served to advertise the meetings, so that not a few attended out of curiosity or looking for amusement. But no interruption or annoyance came from the people, and spiritual power was continually manifested in conversions.
"I confess, however," wrote my father long afterwards, "that I had some misgivings when my friend left me; for he had a charming presence, a gift of song and a gift of prayer, whereas I had none of these advantages." The meetings, indeed, were then almost entirely lacking in the attractions now deemed essential in an evangelistic mission. But the Gospel proved indeed " the power of God unto salvation." Everywhere in Sligo and later in Mayo the meetings were crowded, conversions and changed lives resulting. "It is grand the matter-of-fact way the people take it all," he wrote at the time ; " there is no excitement, but when asked, do they know the Lord, they say: No, Im afraid not, but I want to. They take the truth on the authority of the Word; and the next thing is: Would you speak to this person? Some of them are working for the Lord before they have known Him an hour." He wrote later from the north of Ireland,
"I think nowhere is there so much to rejoice over as in Sligo and Mayo. It is astonishing when I think of the people who have been saved, among them some of the most influential men in the county. Sir Richard ODonnell told me this about Colonel X, who is well known as one of the hardest, cleverest men of the world that could be found. At the last Assizes in Castlebar he said to my friend in the Grand Jury Room: ODonnell, what a happy thing it is to know Christ! Sir Richard was amazed and asked him how he knew anything about that, and Colonel X told him it was from the preaching of those gentlemen as they call us. I have just got a letter from one of that circle in which he says : Do you remember the 9th October, 1864? It was the evening you first preached in Ballina; what a time of blessing it was! You were the first to bring us the message of a full and free salvation, and the way you preached that glorious truth we can never forget.
A notable feature of the work is shown by a letter from one who, after telling of his own conversion, goes on to say:
"My four sisters and brother, four cousins, and a number of my acquaintances are now rejoicing in the Lord. It does not seem so strange that persons who have made themselves infamous by a life of immorality should awaken to a consciousness of their lost state. But it is passing strange that those who are looked upon by their friends and perhaps by themselves as religious should be brought to thorough conviction that, with all their amiability, morality and religion, they were sinners in the sight of God, being without Christ."
A sidelight on the experiences met with at times is given in this Sligo story told by my father:
"Though we had good lodgings our comfort was neglected, for the landlady, who was English and the widow of a Frenchman had no Irish heartiness in her composition; and she objected to serving meals at irregular hours. On the Saturday evening after my friend had left I had a meeting in a village 2 miles out; and on my return after a cold drive on an outside car I found an empty grate, and no supper save some bread and butter and a jug of cold water. I went to bed hungry and shivering, feeling that in a humble way I was entitled to be reckoned among the martyrs ! " (Now for the sequel.) "The following Saturday night, when I got back from that same drive, great was my surprise and delight at finding a cheerful fire and a hot supper. And the stern landlady face was softened by blushes and a pleasing smile! Madame Leger had been at my meeting the previous evening and had heard and received the Gospel."
The account thus far given relates to work which continued at intervals during the years 1862 to 1865, when my father was between twenty-one and twenty-four years of age. A few extracts from his diaries are of interest. In 1862 one finds
"Went to Athy with George Trench. Dinner at 3.30. Croquet, tea and meeting in Corn Exchange. Spoke on i John iv. 17 as to position of a Christian. Caused great row among the Methodists! A lot of the young fellows came in for a grind on the Risen Life."
It appears, however, from his diary for that year that a few days later he "preached in Methodist House at Portarlington," and that during nine and a half weeks of the summer he held fifty-one meetings alone or with other speakers. Irish readers may like to know some of the places visited. These include Athy, Portarlington, Tullamore, Frankfort, Carlow, Mallow, Tralee, Tarbert, Kilkee, Kilrush, Mountmellick, Carbery, Edenderry, and a dozen others. The diary for 1863 has this note:
(June 20.) "At Court 11 to 3. About 40 of us dined at the Bewleys, Willow Park. Conference in the evening on the Lords Supper."
He was called to the Irish Bar in 1863 on his twenty-second birthday, and went on the North-West Circuit. The diary has such notes as: "Dined with Judges . . . Dined with Bar . . . Judges dined with us." But there are also reports of meetings at some of the places already mentioned as well as at Moate, Ferbane, Ballinagore, Mullingar, Maryboro, Clonaslee, Clara and Mount Lucas. At Cookstown he addressed a large meeting on the lawn - about 500 present - and there was one in the Chapel at Stuart Hall at which the Earl of Castlestuart was present.
The 1864 diary, referring to the College Historical Society, notes
"C.H.S. Swell debate; emigration question. FitzGibbon, Plunket, Snagge and Chadwick; Lawson in Chair. . . . Went to C.H.S. Was elected Auditor. Walked home with W.; preached to him." A few weeks earlier: "Spoke timidly and unfaithfully of the Lord to . . ." However, shortly afterwards, he "went round the big shops leaving handbills for Thursdays meeting."
Soon after this he went on Circuit again, visiting Cavan, Longford, Enniskillen and Derry; and there were more meetings in the north at Armagh, Newry, Rostrevor, Banbridge, Rathfryland, Castleblaney and Crossmaglen. Back in Dublin, the daily record is : "Court, 11 to 4" ; with notes of meetings at places like Wicklow, Dalkey and Bray. In the summer he was away again with George Trench to Sligo for another series of meetings lasting about three months. Brief records in the diary are
"To Boyle. Meeting in Court House. About 100; no singing and not much power. A success, but not a triumph. . . . The Devil was at me all day, but the Lord gave me grace and strength. . . . Not much power; feared that I went beyond my message. . . . Meeting crammed. Great power of God and wonderful blessing. About 40 stayed; could not speak to them all, but many received the truth."
Back to Dublin again in October; at court every day. Then in December he was off to Boyle, Skreen, Ballina and other old haunts preaching and encouraging converts. Having to go to Sligo professionally the following year, he found opportunity for further meetings there, and afterwards in the north. One entry is: "Much power; people clung to me; sad at leaving them." More than sixty meetings are recorded during three months of that year.
A few more of my fathers letters to his home now take up the story. This from Sligo:
"I never saw such continued uninterrupted blessing. Last evening at Ballymote I gave the people an opportunity of going, but all sat down for an after-meeting. Nothing outwardly remarkable, but a calm power with the truth that I never saw in Dublin meetings."
Again, at Collooney:
"Last night we had about 250 people, nearly the entire Protestant population, and many R.C.s. Many come from five miles around. This in a place where the Sunday evening congregation at Church is from 6 to 20. . . . A gentleman said that a week ago he was the vilest wretch in the county, but now saved. . . . Rochfort considers this the most remarkable work in Ireland. If the Lord-Lieutenant got converted and preached in Merrion Hall it would be nothing to Captain 0. being converted and preaching in this county."
Another letter tells of a meeting at Cork held at a few hours notice with 500 people who seemed unwilling to leave although they were "dismissed" several times. A week-end at Ballina in 1864 is described thus
"Saturday, we started after breakfast for a country meeting at 11 a.m.; drove on to another at 2 back to dinner at 6 and a meeting in the Glen at 7. Sunday, I preached in the Glen at 11; then drove to Mullafany for a meeting at 3; back to dinner at 7, late for the evening meeting. Monday, we had two meetings in the Glen."
It is not surprising that the entry "very tired" occurs now and then in the diaries. There was, too, the inevitable reaction at times
"I have recently been rather inclined to become weary and faint in my mind, and the Lord has reproved me by letting me hear of hitherto unknown blessing. Really one gets used to this and forgets what it is to be in a dry, cold place." The way in which converts were watched and shepherded is shown in a letter to George Trench from Sligo:
"BELOVED GEORGE . . . I met Dr. M. and spoke to him, not knowing who he was; he has been attending the meetings and found peace the other evening. W. is steady; J. is doing well, reading his Bible, I think. N. I do believe is converted; On Sunday last he dined at A.s and refused to touch the whisky though on the table; he has not tasted any for some days and has been very steady. Will you make it a matter of special prayer that I may be guided, that I may not let anything induce me to leave till the Lord says, Go; and that I may hear Him at once and obey when he does say 'Go'"
There had been much to encourage. Mr. Alfred Trench, another fellow-worker, in a kind and gracious letter to the mother in Dublin, told her of the way her son was being used and owned of God. He added: "Perhaps it will be a relief to you to know that he does not think of giving up the tent-making," this, of course, a reference to Acts xviii. 3, and xx. 34.
That the thought of whole-time Christian service had come into his mind is shown by a letter more than thirty years later when my brother Alan told him he was thinking of entering the ministry of the Presbyterian Church of England. My father then wrote:
"Your news about your life-work thoughts is startling. On such a grave matter I would certainly not intervene save by putting the pros and cons fairly before you. The question is one to be settled with God, and I would not think of vetoing any purpose of the kind. Had I not had scruples about taking ordination in either the Presbyterian or Anglican Church, I myself would now be a Minister instead of a Peeler."
It is hardly to be wondered at that there had been some anxiety about his apparent disregard of both his health and his professional prospects. "You need not fret about me," he wrote to his mother; "I am sure of mutton chops and beef steaks. What I said was contrasting this fare with that at Newport House, where there was fresh salmon daily, puddings, pies, melons, etc." And again: "Alfred and I have just returned from. a walk and a bathe in the sea, and are going to have dinner before we start for Collooney; so you see we are taking care of ourselves." To his sister he said, however : " I am all square, but getting very thin, as if I had been going up gas pipes!" Another letter reported: "We are living in pilgrim fashion. Tom Law brought down a fine ham which was a valuable acquisition. But plenty of open air keeps one all right."
Regarding the future he said to his mother:
"I am not surprised that Papa is disappointed at my going about as I am doing. I suppose he was expecting me to take a position at the Bar. No one knows as well as I do what I am losing for the sake of the Lord; but it is not my will in the matter. I would stop preaching if I could, for it is not pleasing to the flesh. I should be extremely unwilling to have to decide upon giving up the Bar. But if it came to the point of giving up the Lords work or the Bar, I trust I should not hesitate." Again:
"Surely you dont mean that you would have me return home before the Lord has done with me here? My desire would be to have grace to be willing never to return if He should want me elsewhere. It is perfectly idle my thinking of leaving for any consideration or tie of the flesh. Thank the Lord that it is Sligo I am in, five and a half hours from Dublin, and that He does not want me in Spain or Timbuctoo or the backwoods of America!"
My father evidently had the clearest conviction that he must await the moving of the pillar of cloud and fire as did the Israelites of old. "I cant see my movements ahead at all," he wrote; "I dont see that I can leave this just yet. The Lord has kept us hanging upon Him day by day. . . . He knows whether I want rest, and will give it when I need it." And to George Trench he said: "It is all humbug staying at home from natural love and affection when there are so few to preach the Gospel and souls are longing for it."
A contemporary account said that no written statement could make people realise the character of the work who had not actually seen such things as a meeting, remarkable at first only for levity and unconcern, awed and broken down by the manifested power .of the Holy Spirit; the very persons upon whose lips had curled the smile of ridicule or contempt remaining at the close in deep anxiety: "Many have witnessed such scenes in recent years. Many know what it is to enter a parish or town which seems a spiritual sepulchre and in a few short weeks to be surrounded by a little church of saved ones exulting in their new-found joy."
That the evangelists were not concerned with mere numbers is shown by a letter from Sligo in which my father said:
"These places are quite outside the town and cant be taken care of from here. Besides it is new ground, and I would rather have a little schoolhouse full of people in the regions beyond than the Merrion Hall full. It is glorious to bring the Gospel into dark places where it is unknown."
And to his mother he wrote from Lurgan: "Tom Law is here now. We have constant work in visiting among the cottages besides meetings daily." And again: "In visiting among the poor I have heard of much blessing. Many have told me they were converted in '59 but had fallen back greatly, and that these meetings had been the means of restoring them."
In spite of his intense earnestness and sense of responsibility and vocation there are many humorous touches in his letters. That he was not too easily taken in by outward profession is shown in a letter to a sister: "I have come on two old buffers on this Circuit who say theyre saved. They ought to say it on every opportunity, for no one would ever find it out!" One of his favourite Irish stories may not be out of place here. Father Healy, parish priest of Bray and (the Protestant) Archbishop Plunket were on their way together to the railway station. The priest urged that they should hurry, but the prelates appeal to his watch convinced him that they had ample time. They arrived to see the Dublin train disappearing. The Archbishops apologies were lavish; he pleaded that he had always had unbounded faith in his watch. "My.. dear Lord Plunket," was Father Healys rejoinder, "faith wont do without the good works."
From the diary for 1866, the year before he left Ireland for London, it seems that there was only one visit to the west, with meetings in some of the old spots. There are a few entries on the lighter side, such as: "Riding party . . . drove to Enniscrone with Captain and Miss Jackson and Mrs. Pery. Great fun. . .
Row on Carramore Lake. . . . Picnic to Woodpark. Great romping." Writing to a sister who was paying a visit in the south of Ireland about this time, he said: "Why dont you go home? The - s will be heartily sick of you. Are you aware that people dont wait to be turned out even in Kerry, where the fellow was asked to spend the night and stayed twenty years?"
Opposition to the work on the part of clergy and ministers has already been mentioned. In a letter home in 1864 he tells of this : "Boyle is all in a stir. The Rector put his veto on lay-preaching in general, and my preaching in particular, last Sunday. Captain R. has been at it for forty years and feels very much hurt. It has made him more interested in our work. Most of the people are very fond of him and take his side."
On the other hand a letter from Castlerea records: "The Rector has acted with amazing grace. He is helping us in arranging meetings. He sees we have a way of working of our own, and leaves the meetings entirely to us." Again, from Kilbaha: "The Rev. W. Soresby, Presbyterian, is giving us his church; I believe he is a regular brick." And from Cork: "The independent minister who has been hindering rather than helping hitherto and the second Presbyterian, Mr. Hunter, came and offered me their pulpits."
A curate, the Rev. Sidney Smith, was a warm supporter. Writing from Ballysokeery Vicarage, Ballina, he says:
"My DEAR BOBBEE, - My rector has departed for a tour of five weeks. I am lord of all I survey, with powers to issue letters of marque to any pirate friend to sojourn with me. I can collect a meeting for you of my own people, & I will ask the Presbyterian minister of Ballina to lend his schoolhouse. Also I could ride over & ask the next rector to allow a meeting in Crossmalina."
A few days later Mr. Smith wrote: "I am going in to Ballina to try and arrange about getting the disused Baptist Chapel. As I am a stranger there it will be hard, but if the Lord wills, difficulties vanish." The following letter from my father tells of the result
"I felt very low about the meeting in Ballina on Sunday. But after a time alone with the Lord I was quite calm about it. I was posted through the town to preach in the Baptist Chapel. I didnt know anyone in the place, much less any Christian: and as Sidney couldnt come I was alone absolutely. Besides all this, summons had been issued to all the clergy to attend a convention, the Dean in the chair, to drive me out of the place. Well, I found the chapel crowded, and some could not get seats. I had no singing of course. But when the time came I rose and looked at the people; they had an air that seemed to say, We are not going to be humbugged. I said a few words to any Christians present to say I was one of them, and why I had come, and asked them to join me in prayer for the meeting. I then preached the Gospel. The Lord gave great power and clearness, and I had breathless attention. Not one even of those who were standing left, though I spoke for an hour and a quarter.
After the meeting several came to ask for another. I had asked the Lord that if this were His will it should come from them."
Three days later he wrote: "The Rector is coming back, so I must clear out. Pray earnestly for Ballina. It is far harder to break down a meeting of the better-class than of poor people." That a great change came over the scene is shown by a letter two years later. Writing from Carramore House, Ballina, he said:
"I expected to be home before this, but every day makes me more unwilling to leave. It is not only that kindness could not do more to make my visit a happy one, but the meetings are most important just now. A set of people are beginning to come in who were never reached before, and there is great life in the Ballina meetings. I had a Bible Reading at Belleek Manor on Tuesday, and Col. Knox Gore, his wife and daughter, were in again at the Gospel meeting. . . . Do you remember Captain Jackson, with whom I am staying? I think he dined with us. The General [General Sir James Jackson, Colonel 6th Dragoon Guards] is away, and I have great exercise riding his chargers."
Sir Richard ODonnell said that as a result of meetings at Newport there had been ten remarkable conversions; but he added that owing to opposition from all the priests and parsons it was hard to reach the people. In this connection my father wrote in 1863 from Tullamore:
"I suppose Alfred has told you that there is most determined opposition. . . . The meetings have been stopped in the Barony of - and Tom Trench now refuses to speak in the neighbourhood at all. He infers that from the etiquette of grouse shooting he is in honour prohibited. At Portarlington I found Mr. Stewart Trench at work. I spoke first and then he gave a pastoral. He said that he expected he would not again address them, as he wished to leave the work to younger men. But he had come to assert their right to meet in that way, as a large and influential body in the county were endeavouring to put an end to such gatherings. He took up all the objections and demolished them. The meeting was crammed, and the people seemed dying to cheer him, for they were determined to show that they wont stand priestcraft of this kind."
To this attitude of clergy and ministers in many places the most notable exception was the Rev. Edward Nangle, Rector of Skreen. Of the work in his parish my father wrote at the time:
"We had the school-house crammed with people who never went to Church. Mr. Nangle spoke first; told them they were good, kind, everything he could wish, but most of them he feared had not Christ.That his efforts appeared to have failed, and so he had asked me to come. Dear, dear friends, he said, I must see some of you converted. . . . [Later] Mr. Nangle says that some weeks ago he was praying that God would take him out of the place, but now he would not leave for the fattest living in Ireland. . . . [And again] Mr. Nangle writes that last Sunday the communicants were three times the previous average number, and the parish filled with anxious or rejoicing souls. His joy is refreshing to see; he says it is new life to him. Formerly his visiting was drudgery; now it is his greatest pleasure. It is delightful to see how he owns the Lords work and sets himself aside."
Another letter said that Mr. Nangle had been trying to get the evangelist into several other parishes, but in two cases, although the rectors were personal friends, he had met with peremptory refusals. About that time Dr. Horatius Bonar wrote to my father:
"I rejoice to see that some of the clergymen have thrown themselves into the work. I have observed that in such cases there is more of progress and stability. While God is showing that He can work through any instruments He does not set aside the Ministry, but continues to honour it. When the Minister is a faithful one I always exhort converts to gather round and uphold him. We have amongst us faithful and unfaithful Ministers."
There can be little doubt that in our own day one of the chief reasons for what is called failure and lack of results after evangelistic campaigns is the fact that those who have professed conversion may have to go back to churches where the atmosphere is cold and unsympathetic to the Gospel, and where the new-found joy and zeal of converts meet with discouragement.
Looking back on this story now after eighty years, it would seem that,, on the human side, there were certain definite factors making for permanence, and distinguishing the work from much of the evangelistic effort to which we are accustomed.
Amongst them were probably the entirely undenominational nature of it; the fact that the financial element was not merely secondary but non-existent; the absence of hard and fast arrangements as to the length of missions, so that the preachers were free to remain in one town or district as long as they felt led to do so. Then there was the way in which the friends were able to relieve one another when converts seemed in need of further teaching to establish them in the Faith. There were also the return visits time after time to scenes of blessing, just as the Apostles of old "went through Syria and Cilicia confirming the Churches."
Two notes may form an epilogue. The first was sent me by my aunt, Miss F. Lee Anderson, to whom so many of the letters which have been quoted were written: "At the New Alliance Club last week I met a lady whom I had never seen before. On hearing her name I asked if she was related to a man whom I had known long ago in Ireland. She said he was her husbands uncle and knew Sir Robert Anderson well, and that her husbands father and her own father had both been converted through him."
And this is from my fathers diary for 1917 (near the close of his life) "Reading my old letters to Fanny from Sligo; was amazed and greatly humbled by the record of the work there."
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