The Twentieth Century Temperance Crusade

Transcription of an Article in the Primitive Methodist Magazine by H. Owen

No more appropriate name than Crusade could have been chosen to designate the great United Temperance effort with which the Free Churches have inaugurated the new century, whether we regard the title historically or etymologically. The temperance conflict is indeed, a warfare of the Cross; and it is an uprising of the hosts of Emmanuel to rescue from the hands of the spoilers something far more sacred than even the places which have been hallowed to Christian memory by the great events of sacred story. It is contrary to the genius of Christianity to make much of places or of relics. The souls redeemed by Christ are unspeakably more precious than any geographical locality. Our holy fields are not in Palestine, but here in the slums of England, where drink and lust and other foul demons are holding riot.

It is well known that Peter the Hermit thrilled Europe from centre to circumference with his stories of Moslem desecration of the sacred places in the Holy Land. He wondrously aroused the passionate enthusiasm of Christendom as, in burning words, he depicted the outrages which devout pilgrims had to suffer at the hands of Mohammedan blasphemers; and all Europe was in a blaze of indignation, and throbbed with eagerness to hasten to the rescue. The herald of our Temperance Crusade has a much more awful theme to kindle his imagination and to stir his eloquence. Not away in some far-off land, but here in this dear old land of ours, yes, here is an inferno far more terrible than that which Dante conjured up in his imagination. And many of the leaders of this great Crusade have had more than one peep into this inferno of Christian England.

This twentieth century Pledge Signing Crusade is distinctly a Free Church Movement, representing at least eighteen different denominations, and is presided over by the Rev. F. B. Meyer with his usual ability. The greatest harmony has prevailed among all the different denominations.

The movement originated with Alderman Geo. White, M.P., of Norwich, who is President of the Baptist Total Abstinence Society, and the meetings of the executive are held at frequent intervals in the rooms of the Baptist Missionary Society, London.

At the suggestion of Mr. Robert Scott, of the “Christian,” the Rev. Dr. J. Quincy A. Henry, the Superintendent of the New York State Anti-Saloon League, has come over to England to join the Jubilee Singers in holding demonstrations in favour of the Crusade all over the country. Dr. Henry has visited this country on more than one occasion, and it is the recollection of the great pathos and marvellous power of his advocacy which led to his services being secured for our national campaign. His reputation in the States is of the highest order. Without difficulty he thrills audiences of 6,000 to 8,000 people by his eloquence and fervour, and his help in this Crusade work in England has been crowned with them richest of blessing. For his meetings the services of the Fisk University Jubilee Singers were secured. Without exception, these coloured friends are earnest abstainers and devout Christians. Their reputation is world-wide, and their association with the Crusade, without doubt, went a long way to secure crowded audiences. The work of organising their meetings was entrusted to Mr. G.A. Barclay, of Edinburgh, who has had a large experience, not only in connection with the Medical Mission and the Jubilee Singers, but as the leading spirit in the Carrubber’s Close Mission, Edinburgh, which is admittedly the most successful all-the-year-round Temperance work carried on in Scotland.

The first public meetings of this great crusade were held in London, and were a great success, the largest halls and churches being crowded. The movement soon extended to the Provinces, and nearly all the large cities have been worked under the direction of Dr. Henry and the Singers. The greatest enthusiasm was evoked, and tens of thousands of pledges have been taken, in fact up to the time of writing this article considerably over a million pledges have been recorded.

Apart from the central committee, a large number of local missions have been held in favour of the crusade. In Liverpool 10,000 pledges were soon taken, and the Rev. Dr. Aked, speaking at the last meeting of the campaign, said, “I am confident that when all the books are in we shall have fully 30,000 pledges, and thereby accomplish our object.”

Vast demonstrations have been held not only in London and Liverpool, but in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Sheffield, Leeds, Bradford, Nottingham, Leicester, Norwich, &c. Never has so great an effort been organised in the history of the Temperance Movement. Something like a national canvas has been carried through, and the promoters hope that by the beginning of the New Year the Crusade will have touched every locality in the United Kingdom.

In Sheffield the canvassing work has been done a remarkable way – remarkable for its thoroughness. A committee of ladies has written a letter to every woman in the city. This has meant a vast amount of labour, and has kept the ladies busy writing for several months past. In addition to this vast chirographical undertaking the ladies made themselves responsible for the delivering of the letters, and so made at call at every home in the city, and not only saved thereby some £150, but gave an earnest invitation to the women to sign the pledge. The men, not to be left behind, drafted a circular letter to every householder, and all on the burgess list.

In Bradford some splendid work has been done. Wondering how they could get a large afternoon meeting in the Town Hall, it occurred to the Temperance Committee to approach the members of the Bradford School Board and request them to give the teachers and elder scholars a half day’s holiday. This the Board readily conceded, and several thousands of scholars and teachers marched to the St. Georges Hall, and on that day alone 1,300 pledges were taken.

In the West End of London a very remarkable work has been accomplished. The first thing the Temperance workers did was to make a circular appeal to every person on the burgess list, or in the directory. Then great central meetings were conducted by the Revs. Dr. Clifford, C.F. Aked (Liverpool), J. Lawton Forster, H. Owen (of Crewe), J. Briggs, Dr. Gladstone, Mr. G. Blaiklock, &c. Writing of the first of these meetings, conducted by Rev. H. Owen, Pastor Briggs, of Praed Street, says:— “We are pleased with the result. Great number of pledges were taken. It has undoubtedly strengthened the Temperance Cause amongst our own people, welded us into a oneness absent before, and toned up the whole Church to the proper concert pitch for unison with Temperance Reformers.”

We believe this great Temperance movement will, as its promoters desire, bring a vast change in the whole sphere of English life which is affected by strong drink. The great object has been not legislative, but personal, reforms — to a sweeping diminution of drinking itself, which is the fountain of the whole evil. No one will say that the Temperance party is indifferent to legislation. None have striven more assiduously to obtain this in times of evil as well as of good report. But as the Crusade Appeal has it, Legislative action has its ebbs and flows, its times and seasons, but the influence of personal abstinence from motives of brotherhood never ceases. It is the bringing in of the higher forces of the Christian life, the “powers of the world to come,” and should therefore always hold “the preeminent place in our thought and action.” A great Free Church movement without this element of brotherhood, which is at the heart of religion, would be almost a misnomer. We must attend in this great struggle to the driving force. We have to face a vast jungle of inextricable difficulties, of vested interest of large capital in hostile hands, of Parliamentary obstruction, and, most of all, of the deep-rooted customs of centuries in our social life. The best way undoubtedly to deal with a jungle is to turn some vast torrent of water into it. That will make its own channel through. And so a channel will be made through the terrible jungle now confronting us if we can but turn on more fully the waters of eternal life, in other words, if we can bring a strong force to bear, the force of Christian faith and of resolute and self-denying effort, not on the part of a few, but of all Christian patriots. The great river of Christian enterprise which changed the face of the world in the past was made up of individual drops, each man putting in his part.

The nation as a whole was never more interested in Temperance reform; the references to the question by Statesman in their public utterances show how largely the subject is bulking before the nation’s mind. There is a growing disposition on the part of our people to favour Total Abstinence. It has been a long dark night for our country. The blight of the drink curse has rested upon our people, and the air has rung with the cry of a nation in agony. But the day of redemption draweth nigh. The sun of Temperance slowly mounts the sky; its healing beams are silently penetrating the mine, the forge, the school, the college, the home and the Church. It ever rises. Vested interests oppose, but still it rises; ignorance and appetite oppose: but still it rises; prejudice and passion oppose, but still it rises — and will until its glorious zenith is attained, and this sea-girt isle, long darkened and cursed by drink’s hellish night, be flooded with its full-orbed splendour. The last drop of drink shall be poured forth, and from the limbs of the last drunkard shall fall the manacles of his accursed serfdom, and from John o’ Groat’s to Land’s End, from Lowestoft to Bristol, Britain will be free, because Britain will be sober. The final triumph of our principles we believe is assured. Patriotism is on our side, science is on our side, the Bible is on our side, God is on our side, and though the victory may tarry long, it will certainly come at last.

Are our readers patriots? then this damnable drink, and its deadly doings should be destroyed by your anathema. Think of a hundred thousand drunkards perishing every year: think of the yearly sacrifice of ten thousand little children, smothered or crushed to death by drunken mothers; think of the thirty thousand waifs and strays gathered in by Dr. Barnardo, all the victims of drink, many of them maimed for life. Listen to the tale of distress from a million paupers; ponder the reports of Lunacy Commissioners; examine our prison records — all tell one tragic story of terrible and awful misery, crime, and death. In the name of humanity, and of God join our great campaign. No medals, stripes, V.C’s., or pension, may you win in this campaign, but the undying gratitude of free men and women, saved from the most terrible bondage; the smile of the drunkard’s child, just waking from its nightmare of horror, dreading the footfall of the cruel wretch called father, but now happy in its changed surroundings. Yes, the children will thank you, cheer you, and high Heaven’s approval, and the smile of God, crown your efforts with unfading glory, and immortal reward.

Dr. Henry tells us that by his meetings over three hundred thousand people were reached, and more than seventeen thousand new pledges taken. The aim of the great gatherings held in all parts of the country was to strike the centres, kindle a fire, and unify temperance forces. One hundred and forty demonstrations were held in thirty of the most important centres, including Edinburgh and Glasgow in Scotland, and Cardiff in Wales. In point of interest, attendance, enthusiasm, popularity and power, probably no such series of reform meetings were ever held, certainly not within this generation. This success has led to an extraordinary demand for the continuance of the meetings. A new campaign under the title “The Twentieth Century Christian Temperance Campaign.” has been opened by Dr. Henry and the Jubilee Singers. The new work began in Nottingham in January. It is earnestly hoped that all interested in temperance work will pray for the success of this endeavour. If we cannot solve this mighty problem as prohibitionists we can solve it as Christians. With a God-kindled love for the people for whom Christ died, and with that Wisdom which cometh down from above, and which God has promised to give liberally to all that ask, let us prosecute our task, making William Carey’s motto ours:—“Expect great things from God: Attempt great things for God.”


Primitive Methodist Magazine 1902/185


Comments about this page

  • I wonder whether there are any records of membership, meetings etc in 1930s – 40s. I think that my mother signed the Pledge during this time in Carlisle. She was a Methodist – went on to marry a Methodist Minister and I believe never touched a drop of alcohol!

    By Liz Ross (27/08/2019)

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