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The Interceders Encourager No. 29

The Sialkot Conventions

As we approach the time of the Revival conference in Greenock, Scotland, I feel it is appropriate for us to remember the Conventions held at Sialkot in the Punjab, India in 1904 and the following years

1. The Sialkot Convention 1904

According to Francis McGaw, in 1904, the lives of Christians in the Punjab and throughout India were far below the Biblical standard. The Holy Spirit was so little honoured that few were being converted. Due to the influence of two missionaries, R. McCheyne Paterson and John Hyde, the Presbyterian Mission decided to hold a convention for the deepening of the spiritual life, and Sialkot was the place chosen for it.

The two missionaries, Paterson and Hyde, prayed for thirty days before the convention started, and another missionary, George Turner, joined them nine days after they had started, so that for twenty one days these three men prayed night and day for a mighty outpouring of the power of God. They pleaded, they cried, they agonized over the Church in India and the myriads of lost souls. "They linked themselves, as with hooks of steel, to the will of God, and shouted out ‘It shall be done.’"

In answer to their prayers, the Holy Spirit came down, convicted of sin and many lives were changed. The missionaries came to a new consecration to the will of God, and the work took on a new dimension, resulting in a rapid extension of the kingdom of God.

Francis McGaw, commenting on this, wrote, "Do you who read these words, look at the long continued vigils, those days of fasting and prayer, those nights of wakeful watching and intercessions, and say, "What a price to pay!" then I point you to scores and hundreds of workers quickened and fitted for the service of Christ. I point you to literally thousands prayed into the kingdom, and I say, ‘Look at what has been purchased by such a price.’"

"In the same way, Calvary represents a fearful price, but when we see all the souls that have been redeemed and all those still to be redeemed and the kingdoms of this world wrested from the grasp of the usurper and delivered over to the reign of their rightful King, will we not gladly say, ’Look at what has been purchased by such a price.’"

2. The Sialkot Convention 1905

In August 1905, the second annual convention for the deepening of the spiritual life was held in Sialkot. The attendance was nearly 300. Most of these were Indian workers, but there were also a large number of missionaries from Scotland and the U.S.A. The meetings continued for ten days, from August 25th to September 3rd. Many had been praying for some time that this might be a time of special blessing.

"A program had been carefully prepared for the convention but it was changed after the first day," wrote W.B. Anderson and C.R. Watson. "A series of morning addresses were to have been given about the Holy Spirit.  Only one was delivered.  After that, the Holy Spirit came Himself in great power, and all learned from Him.  When the appointed speaker, John Hyde, came in on the second morning and quietly said, "I thank God, He has given me no message for you today," surprise was written on some faces.  The chairman moved aside and said, "The Holy Ghost is leader of this meting." 

The following morning, Hyde again said that he had had no fresh message from God. He pointed out that God would not be mocked, and no fresh messages would be given till all those present had learned the lesson of putting the Holy Spirit first at all times. Each morning the meeting was left in this way and the liberty was not abused.  People spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.  After the meeting in the chapel, which usually continued two and three hours, groups would gather here and there for more prayer and praise.

John was troubled by the fact that he had obeyed the Lord unwillingly. He confessed this to the Lord and to the others in the prayer room, and was given another chance, which he took gladly. He then went into the hall in great joy, and spoke just three words in Urdu and in English: "O heavenly Father," repeating them three times. "It was," said McGaw, "as if a great ocean wave came sweeping into that assembly. Hearts were bowed before the divine presence as the trees of the wood before a mighty tempest. It was the ocean of God’s love being outpoured through one man’s obedience. Hearts were broken before it. There were confessions of sins with tears, as conviction of sin came over the audience." "It was a time of intense mental agony," wrote  Anderson and Watson. "The nearness of God was very real.  This led to a great desire for purity of heart and life.  Men and women seemed to forget each other's presence as they stood under the searchlight of God, and grace was given them to confess sins of the past. 

"On entering the prayer room," said McGaw, "at once you knew you were in the holy presence of God, where there could only be reality with no pretence. Others in the room were forgotten except when the combined prayers and praise made you realize the strength and power and sympathy of such fellowship." "One day will especially be remembered as the day of great confession," said Anderson and Watson. "Until this had been done, a black cloud seemed to hang low over the audience.  While hidden sins were being revealed by the Spirit, people, with trembling in every limb, stood obedient to His voice, confessing openly as the Holy Spirit directed them.  After this, the cloud seemed to lift, the sunshine came and flooded the place, and joy was depicted on many countenances.  Mouths were filled with laughter and song.  Then it was that we began to realize what it is ‘to joy in the Holy Ghost.’

During the convention a room was set aside for prayer, as we have mentioned.  After the first or second day the prayer room was never empty, day or night. One morning, about three o'clock, someone rushed into the room, crying out, "Danger, danger."  He said, "I was lying on my bed out in the courtyard and I heard a voice saying, "You are in great danger."  The watchers in the prayer room now gave themselves anew to prayer and supplication, and did not cease until morning dawned.  The new day showed that danger had been imminent indeed.  Satan seemed to have marshalled all his forces to quench the work of God's Spirit, but prayer prevailed, the enemy was defeated, and from that time on till the close of the meetings there was constant victory.

A few instances must be given to show how God's Spirit worked.  A young man of our Mission had committed sin, and he had felt there was no danger of it ever being discovered.  It now became such a burden to him; he felt the matter must be made right, no matter what the cost.  He left the convention, went back to his home, forty miles away, confessed his sin to the one he had wronged, made restitution, then returned light-hearted to Sialkot and stayed until the close of the convention.

An aged minister of the gospel was bitterly opposed to the confessions that were made, and when one of his own household confessed to a hidden sin, he became so angry that he said he would have nothing more to do with such meetings.  A few who knew the circumstances gave themselves up to much earnest prayer in his behalf, asking that he might be reconciled to God's will.  After one day's absence he returned, but his heart was still hard.  He went to one of the missionaries and asked that a conference might be arranged so that he could show the sinfulness of the open confession.  The missionary refused to do this until shown that it was the Lord's will, but he said, ‘We will pray about it.’ Together they went into the prayer room, and a brother began at once to intercede most earnestly for this minister.  The aged minister immediately fell down on his face, weeping aloud, and called out, ‘Oh, how I have sinned!  Oh God, have mercy on me!’  Shortly afterwards he went into the convention hall where the meeting was in session, and, in broken voice, said, ‘Some here have confessed to one or two awful sins in their lives, but where shall I begin, what shall I say?  My iniquities have taken hold upon me, so that I am not able to look up; they are more than the hairs of my head.’  A great blessing came to him too.

Two young men went into the prayer room one night in a spirit of levity, and with mocking words on their lips.  They were soon under deep conviction and fell on their faces before God. One confessed a terrible sin that had come into his life.  Their lives now testify to the power of the Holy Ghost to cleanse and keep clean the ways of a young man.

The last Sunday morning's service was most impressive.  There was no sermon, there was no leader.  The songs of Zion filled hearts with joy, and they alone could give an outlet to the exuberance of joy felt by so many hearts.  Someone announced the 30th Psalm.  It was sung in full.  The aged minister mentioned above, whose face was now all aglow, said, ‘Let us sing it again.’  This was done.  ‘Oh, it is good, let us have it once more,’ another said, and a third time the Psalm was sung from beginning to end. This time some shouted for joy, and others, like David, danced before the Lord as they sang, ‘And now to joyous dancing, My sorrow thou hast turned.’  The 148th Psalm will long be remembered s the convention song.  It was sung by day and by night.  Nothing else could satisfy the souls that were hungry to praise God for all that was in them, and all that was happening around them.

It was during this convention that two young men, both ministers, felt the call of God to go back home and begin the life of self-support pastors.  This they have done and God is blessing them and their people.  One worker from the convention returned to his village, and that same night he held an all night meeting with his people. Revival began there and that whole district has been changed by the power of God's Spirit so graciously given in Sialkot.  Not only in this one district, but also in many others; not only in our own Mission, but throughout the whole Punjab, and praise God, all of India, is being touched with the Pentecostal flame.

The last morning of the convention, long before the dawn of day, the busy workers were up making preparations to leave the place that had become so precious to them.  In the courtyard a group of earnest men gathered around a crimson flag on which shone a cross of gold.  A native minister conducted a short service, and said in closing, ‘We are now soldiers going forth to battle under the banner of the cross.’ Gladly, joyfully, and with shouts of ‘Victory, victory in Jesus,’ each one went as the Spirit led."

3. The Sialkot Convention 1906

In 1906, the meetings were opened to all denominations, not just the Presbyterians, with the result that the influence of the Convention was extended all over northern India.

Behind all this, of course, were the continuous, fervent prayers of the three stalwarts who had prayed for the 1904 Convention, plus many others. In 1906, an unknown missionary wrote, "God wants those who are willing to bear the burden of the souls of these millions without God, to go with Jesus into Gethsemane. It is a blessed experience to feel that in some measure we can enter into the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings. It brings us into a blessed nearness to the Son of God, and not only this, it is God’s appointed way of bringing the lost sheep back to the fold."

As we keep near to Jesus, affirmed Hyde, as our old self is crucified, dead and buried with Christ, our new man will be revived, raised and seated with Christ. As we take the three steps downward, so Christ can take us upward, and as He is lifted up in our lives, He will draw others to Himself.

"Each year since 1905," wrote Anderson and Watson, "the Sialkot Convention has been the occasion for fresh outpourings of the Spirit, resulting in sanctification, prayer, praise, and service.  The influence has been felt in every part of the mission field.  Recent conventions, far from losing their power, have gained in actual power, even where the manifestations were neither so unusual nor so dramatic.  Thus the Great Builder of the Kingdom, having granted numerical successes, poured out His Spirit upon the rapidly growing Church, that its life might be purified and that it might enjoy spiritual power in its expanded activities."

"Are you who read these words willing to put yourselves into God’s hands? asked McGaw. "If so then God is willing to use you. But there are two conditions, obedience and purity, Obedience in everything, even in the least, surrendering up our wills, and accepting the will of God. And the next step in purity. God wants pure vessels for His service, clean channels through which to pour forth his grace. He wants purity in the very centre of the soul, and unless God can have a pure vessel, purified by the fire of the Holy Spirit, He cannot use that vessel."

Such obedience and purity is costly. Those who followed that way, especially John Hyde, were misunderstood by the world and misjudged by other Christians, even fellow missionaries. But the results speak for themselves. Sialkot had wide implications. "Only God and the recording angel can determine how much the whole body of Christ has been moved upon and benefited by the tremendous prayer force generated by the Holy Spirit in that prayer room at Sialkot. I am assured that tens of thousands have been born into the kingdom because of the soul travail at Sialkot." (McGaw)

Pray that the same will be said about Greenock. Just as we prayed for Canton in 2007 and now for Greenock in 2008 , pray that this second conference/convention will be like the second Sialkot Convention in 1905, when the Holy Spirit really broke through in power.

Pray for the Prayer Room at Greenock, that "tremendous prayer force will be generated by the Holy Spirit" there.

As we have seen, everything depends upon our prayers, our obedience, our purity and our willingness to be misunderstood and misjudged. Are we willing to go as the Spirit leads, whatever it costs? Are we willing to let the Cross become a reality in our lives, as it was for John Hyde? If we are, the results will be beyond our expectations, remembering that all this is not for our sake, but for the sake of Britain, for the glory of the Eternal God, and the crown rights of the Redeemer.