Day of Pentecost

[This is taken from Russell H. Conwell's Praying for Money.]

That great day at the Baptist Temple stands out in the history of the local church there even as the greater Pentecost must have been first in the memory of the disciples at Jerusalem. No one who entered personally, body and soul, into the services of that Easter in Philadelphia can possibly forget the overpowering impressions of the Divine Spirit. "Tongues of fire" seemed to the spectator no longer an extravagant metaphor to use. For the sake of a careful examination of the question whether the baptism of the spirit is of God or men, the plain facts are here stated.

It was Easter morning, 1893, when the sun began to gild the City Hall tower. People flocked to the lower hall of the Temple from all directions. Each greeted the other with the words, "He is risen," and faces glowed as they assembled. There was no prearranged program and no announcements. The people began to sing with enthusiasm before the leader ascended the platform. Then came the moment of silent prayer. It seemed as if "the place was shaken." The whole company trembled as if they realized they were in the visible presence of the Almighty. The most conservative shed tears. There were many brief expressions from the audience, and often three were speaking at the same time. There was no shouting, no riotous disorder, no wild movements of uncontrolled emotion. Excited crowds at political gatherings, angry mobs, and panic-stricken crowds seem to have a form of that emotional common pressure. But that Easter gathering was a surrender of soul to the telepathic influence of a common spirit. One elderly Quaker shouted at the close of the meeting, "I would like to stay here forever," reminding all of Peter's call for three tabernacles on the Mount of Transfiguration. There was an intermission of an hour before the morning preaching service in the auditorium. But the people would not go out for breakfast. Some fasted all day. They talked about Christ and of their home in Glory and exchanged promises to pray for friends, for missions, and for churches. Before the hour of the established morning service the large upper Temple had overflowed. There had been no advertisement of the services. There were no unusual decorations of the auditorium and no special music provided. The preacher had not prepared a sermon, nor had he read over that morning a selected chapter. He had been too much crowded with visitors and pressing calls of the needy and dying to devote even a half an hour to mental preparation. But no feeling of doubt or of weakness entered his heart. He felt a strange support and uplift of soul which kept away all fears. He had not decided to preach at all, and hesitated whether he had not best venture on an "experience meeting" in the time usually allowed for the Easter sermon. But the choir was inspired; they, too, felt the impression of a solemn convocation. They never sang like that before, and the old tunes were vibrant with a resurrection life. The people sang and wept. City officials, principals of the schools, court judges, and merchants, let the tears fall. There seemed to be an absolute surrender of all classes to a common pressure toward God. The preacher arose with a most powerful impulse to kneel and weep. He forgot to announce a text, but he began to talk brokenly on the appearance of Christ to Mary Magdalene in the Garden near the tomb. His vision of the scene was so real to him that he has never through the years lost that clear view of it. The preacher seemed to be there in the Garden. He saw the Lord; he heard that divine voice; he saw that lovely face, the smile which greeted Mary. The preacher heard the conversation, saw the excited woman fall at her Saviour's feet, and heard him say, "I am not yet ascended unto my Father!"

Oh, where is there a language to describe to mortal men the all-pervading glory and the thrills of angelic joy which the preacher experienced under those circumstances? To himself he seemed to be taken out of his physical limitations. He was not himself. He was a higher personality. He saw visions of beauty and heard the harps of Glory. He lacks no words nor thoughts. He speaks the ideas which are given him. There is no other joy on earth with which to compare that. It is so unlike the richest or sweetest emotions which other forms of happiness awaken. It is supreme! Unaccountable things occurred that morning which no prolonged or hard study has explained. The preacher cannot feel sure that he was inspired, and hesitates to mention the facts lest men should doubt their truth or ascribe to him an egotistical claim to sanctity. But the experience with that sermon, and sometimes with other addresses, presents a psychological study which none of the authorities on mental law have yet explained. The stenographic report of the sermon showed that the speaker quoted from Homer, Justinian, Macaulay, Shakespeare, Longfellow, and Molière accurately, without hesitation, in the onrush of his excited speech. But when he read them in the shorthand report he could not remember that he ever had read those quotations and was absolutely unable to recall that he used such words. The interpretation which he unhesitatingly gave of the scene in the Garden and of the words of Jesus were also new to him and caused him anxious hours of research afterward to learn whether his views could have been correct. But no sermon in his forty years of work in the pulpit has proven so reasonable or so generally acceptable to the devout critics of Scriptural exegesis. He has tried to account for the quotations by accrediting them to the telepathic influence of stronger minds in the audience who were familiar with them. But that, too, can be only a guess. The mystery is not cleared up by such speculation. Perhaps the preacher should have called in some one else to write this chapter; but that "some one else" is not on call. Hence, these incidents are set down without a claim to uncommon inspiration.

Probably thousands of priests and preachers have felt a like exaltation. But the closing hymn which began with general participation by all the people was so broken before its close that the last verse was carried only by a few. The people wept for joy. The preacher knelt at his chair and prayed for aid to lead in the prayer and benediction. But the benediction was not heard, and the audience was slowly convinced that the benediction had been pronounced by the observation that the minister dropped his hands and walked away.

The Bible-school service in the afternoon was as solemn and impressive as the morning. Many of the hundreds baptized that day expressed themselves as having felt the dovelike Spirit of Peace descending on them, too. Nearly, if not all, the scholars and visitors turned sincerely and permanently to the Lord.

The evening services were given up wholly to praise. The rejoicing was deep and strong. The crowd standing in the aisles and on the steps did not move until after the benediction. The number of those in the sittings was three thousand one hundred and thirty-four, and of those standing who got inside the doors was seven hundred and eighty-three. Out of that number over three hundred decided openly to confess their belief in the Christ. These numbers are not especially great when compared with those of the great revivals, and are only mentioned here for the purpose of study. Over seven thousand converts have been taken into the membership of the Temple in thirty-nine years, but they have not been the direct results of seasons of special revival.

Great were the expectations of the church at that Easter as they prepared for a great immediate harvest. But it was not gathered then. The personal, individual gathering of converts continued as usual. The great Pentecostal visitation seemed to have had another purpose. Each candidate for baptism as usual required individual instruction and often continued prayer before he or she could be thoroughly convinced of the necessity of a public confession of our Lord.

But the members of the church had in the Pentecost received a new baptism of spiritual fire, and the interest in missions and in the Bible was greatly increased. Five missions were established which soon became strong churches. Young men arose by the score to study for the ministry, and large gifts were made to the Temple University. Many kinds of local enterprises for the poor, the drunken, the foreigners, and the aged were opened by them in the city and suburbs.





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