The First Torrey/Alexander Crusade
When Dr R A Torrey and Mr Charles Alexander first came to Britain to conduct revival missions, their visit created comparatively small comment, for they were little known in this country at that time. Three years later, however, they were household names throughout the length and breadth of Britain, and universally recognised as the successors of Moody and Sankey. Torrey and his associates had been praying for revival for three years, until one night he was led to pray that he himself might go round the world preaching the gospel. Shortly afterwards this came about and he commenced on a world-wide tour that would eventually bring over 100,000 people into the kingdom.
Torrey and Alexander first arrived in this country in January 1903 to take a mission in London, and were met by a number of well-known people including Lord Radstock, Dr Barnardo, Dr Harry Guinness, F B Meyer, and Henry Varley, and it was a hugely successful mission. After taking other missions they returned to America in June of that year. Three months later, in September 1903 they again came to Britain and commenced their labours first of all in Birkenhead, where they conducted a four-day mission (see next chapter) and then crossed the river to Liverpool where they remained for three weeks. A little over a year later Liverpool enjoyed the unique distinction of a second visit from them for a much larger crusade, in fact the largest the country had ever experienced up until that time.
The Philharmonic Hall
The 1903 crusade was held in the original Liverpool Philharmonic Hall (which was burned down in 1933) and it appears that it held a lot more people than the present one. Nevertheless it soon became apparent that it was far too small for the interest that was being shown, and there were many disappointed people every night of the mission, as thousands were unable to gain admission. One of the conditions that Torrey/Alexander made to the Liverpool Committee (led by Charles McArthur MP) for a return visit was that a much larger hall would be required, which we will come to later. Writing to a friend Mr Alexander said that the Philharmonic Hall was the most beautiful hall in which they had ever held meetings and one in which around 3,500 people could be packed in. There was a choir of 1,300 members, although it was not possible to get all these on the platform, but only about 400 at a time. He said, though, that they were beautifully arranged and that the hall was so adapted to singing that the effects were marvellous.
The Mission commences
The mission commenced on Sunday 6th September 1903, and the first meeting, which was for Christian workers, was held in the YMCA Gymnasium that was opposite the hall in Myrtle Street. This hall was to be used on a number of occasions subsequently for overflow meetings. At the first meeting of the crusade people were beginning to pack around the building and the police had to line them up four deep all around the building in order to protect the people in the event of a rush when the doors were opened. The hall was filled in 5/6 minutes. This became the pattern for all subsequent gospel meetings. Mr Alexander promptly commenced his musical "education" of the audience, aided by the large choir of cultured and refined singers. One Liverpool paper remarked that music was an essential part of their evangelistic missions, and described Mr Alexander as the "Sankey" of the partnership. They said that he had a wonderful way of drawing an audience to sing, and the vigour with which the hymns and choruses were taken up was remarkable. Alert, keen, full of enthusiasm, he had a tremendous influence upon his hearers, and his fine baritone voice, clear as a bell, and distinct in utterance, reached every corner of the large building. He was not, however, just a fine professional singer, but one with a great anointing as well, as we will see later. At this first meeting he had some difficulty in getting the audience to respond, and after trying with little success to warm up the coldness of the different galleries, he stated that there were a number of young girls present about 15 years of age, and he invited them to come to the platform to sing. This they did, and then Alexander said, "will everybody sing?" The audience responded after this, and began to sing heartily. At one of these early meetings Dr Torrey said that the inception of their mission around the world had been in answer to prayer. Everywhere prayer circles had been established, and the great successes which had attended all their labours had, he believed, been solely as a result of earnest prayers.
Every meeting packed
From the very first day every evening meeting was crowded in the Philharmonic Hall and large overflow meetings were conducted in the Gymnasium in Myrtle Street. In the afternoons Dr Torrey gave a Bible lecture, and at midday prayer meetings were held in the City Hall in Eberle Street. A number of other meetings were also arranged for the businessmen of the city at the City Hall. The Tuesday evening of the first week was a memorable time. Dr Torrey said at this meeting that he had a strong feeling that the Holy Spirit himself had taken over the conduct of the meeting. He himself was directing the speaker, the singer, the workers, and that they could not but rejoice to think of what the outcome would be. There were many inquirers and the reporter from the Christian Herald said that it was a holy, touching spectacle to see the inquiry benches after the meeting. Row after row of the front benches had to be cleared until no fewer than nine rows were occupied with inquirers. At this meeting Dr Torrey spoke of a lady who had come all the way from Calcutta to England in order to bring her daughter to be saved. One man who had come to Melbourne to get saved, reached it just too late for the meetings, so he took a steamer to this country in order to find Christ, and returned to Melbourne the very next day. Another man had travelled 200 miles in order to find peace.
On the Friday evening Dr Torrey called upon the inquirers who had come forward, to confess Christ. It appeared that almost every one had complied, but Torrey was not satisfied. I think, he said, that a little girl in front of him has not spoken, and asked her if she had accepted Jesus. She replied that she had, so Torrey asked her to turn around and tell the people so, and she bravely did so. A second little girl got up of her own accord and confessed Christ, and then a third followed her example, and stimulated by these, a number of people began to rise, upstairs and down, saying that they too had taken Christ.
There were three meetings on Sunday, the meeting for Christian workers at 8.00am, then in the afternoon a meeting just for women, and then in the evening the men’s meeting. The sermon given to the men on the second Sunday night was most powerful, leaving a very deep impression on the men, and great numbers responded to the appeal. A scene of almost indescribable enthusiasm followed and people didn’t want to leave the building. Again there were nine rows of inquirers, both of men and boys.
As the mission continued the Philharmonic Hall was besieged by vast crowds of people and literally thousands had to be turned away, unable to find admission. Appeals to Christians were made to keep away in order that unbelievers would not be shut out. The number of anxious inquirers grew every night, and on the second Thursday there was nearly double the number of inquirers as there had been on Sunday night. A new arrangement was introduced whereby the whole of the ground floor was allocated for men and boys, and after that there was a noticeable increase in the number of male inquirers.
Distribution of Gospel Cards
At the Christian workers meeting on the third Sunday a total of 200,000 cards were given out for distribution entitled "Get right with God." Mr Alexander said that a number of people had been converted through this card. The effects of the mission were beginning to be felt in Liverpool. A Port Missionary related that when he was at the docks he heard some barge men singing one of the mission’s hymns, so he called out to them, "Is it real to you," to which he received the answer back, "Aye, aye," real, bright, and cheerful. He then heard another whistling it, so he thought to himself "Well the old-time religion has got down here on the Mersey." Dr Torrey said that he heard a family of young people were walking briskly down Mount Pleasant singing one of the choruses, and the following day a group of young women crossing Abercromby Square, cheerily singing as they walked along. Walk along Myrtle Street he said, around 6.00pm and nearly every person would be seen making for the Philharmonic Hall, red hymn book in hand. In the Wednesday afternoon meeting Mr Alexander had the assistance of the famous evangelist Gypsy Smith with his sister Mrs Evans, and the two of them sang at the meeting.
150 conversions before the sermon
As previously stated Mr Alexander was not just a gifted singer, but one also with a great anointing on him. On Sunday evening 27th September at the end of a very pleasant time of singing and story-telling, Mr Alexander felt moved to say "Before the sermon begins tonight is there a man in the house who will rise and say that he has given his heart to God?" Several men at once stood up, and Mr Alexander exclaimed, "Praise the Lord! The meeting is beginning before it has commenced!" Man after man arose, until 19 had stood up, and Mr Alexander called out, "Come along, men!" Let’s make this a harvest for God!" More stood up, and more, until 50 had done so. "One right here, Charley," exclaimed Dr Torrey, smiling. More yet stood up, and Mr Alexander said, "You don’t want sermons now." "Amen," said Dr Torrey. And still the penitents came forward. "Come along, men! This is wonderful. Pray over it, for this is a decision time. " Finally it was announced that the amazing total of 150 men and boys had decided for Christ. All those who had done so were requested to rise, and amidst a scene of enthusiasm, which cannot be described, the whole great assembly rose to their feet and sang "Praise God from whom all blessings flow." But that was not all, when the appeal was given after the sermon, there were a large number of other inquirers. The scene was almost unparalleled. The enormous number of inquirers would have filled a good-sized church, and it was necessary to appeal for more workers. It was stated that 450 men had received Christ that day. The women’s meeting in the afternoon was also astonishing. After the sermon, when the appeal was given there were so many who went out that the first 18 rows were filled with inquirers. Dr Torrey said, "Well, this is sweet music – sweeter even than the choir can make?"
The last week of the mission was especially blessed. During this week it was necessary to have a women’s meeting at 6.00pm, and then at 8.00pm they would be turned out, and the men would rush in and fill the building. Some nights men would be standing lined up hours before time for them to come in, standing in the rain and singing the songs. At the children’s meeting in the afternoon there were about 4,000 children packed in the building. While Alexander was conducting the music someone handed him a little note to say that about thirty blind children were on the platform behind him, and suggested that it would be nice to have them sing alone, and so they did. The song chosen for them was "Never lose sight of Jesus," which was written by their pianist Mr Harkness. The effect on all present was sufficient to melt them to tears.
Altogether some 4,600 people received Christ during the mission.