The following is an account written by Mr Fred Hitchcock, who was called home on February 16th 1986, of the revival that happened at Hele Lane in 1931. We pray that God might visit us again in this way.
The Hele Lane Revival
After some persuasion it is with great joy that I relate the experience of a special revelation of God’s visitation at Hele Lane Methodist Church in 1931. This little Bethel stood between the remote villages of Black Dog and Thelbridge Cross. It was in the valley that separates these two places, where the river Dalch flows gracefully on to meet the river Yeo and then on to link up, I believe, with the river Taw, which finally empties itself into Barnstaple Bay.
There, at that little Bethel, one of the greatest demonstrations of God’s power ever was witnessed in that area. The Chapel has since been demolished because of its unsafe structure. So the School which closed in the village was purchased and renovated into a lovely Chapel where the work of God is still progressing.
I have kept no written memoirs whatsoever of these happenings. God has given me a wonderful memory, and have lived over these great blessings hundreds of times, it was rightly called Hele Lane Revival.
Revival, the answer to prayer.
I have witnessed during these forty years some wonderful Missions, but Hele Lane stands out as unique. Each time I pass through Hele Lane I cannot but thank God for the manifestation of His mighty power (to God be the Glory). Like all true Revivals, Hele Lane was born out of Prayer and fed by the Word of God. No gimmicks were in operation.
Both of the Welsh revivals in 1859 and 1904 were born of Prayer when people were saved as they walked the streets.
When Moody and Sankey returned to England it was found that a dear Christian lady lying on her back had been praying for years for this event. And what a visitation from God this was.
David Brainerd, so ill and weak with tuberculosis, would ride his horse into the woods in India and pray for the Indians until he could wring his clothes with sweat, which resulted in thousands finding Christ.
The Hebrides Revival was traced to two dear old ladies who lay for hours before a peat fire interceding for souls. When Billy Graham came to Haringey the people in a nearby Mission Hall had been praying for twenty-four years.
Hele Lane Revival
Alone in the Chapel Cottage lived John Hayes, a man of God rather blunt in approach, but underneath as it were a heart of old for God. It was he who prayed unceasingly for eighteen months that God would send Revival to Hele Lane.
God spared this uneducated man like Peter and John as recorded in Acts 4 to see his prayers answered. There was no organisation whatsoever. How good we are at this kind of thing. We plan perhaps a fortnights Mission weeks ahead, and, in effect, tell God that ‘everything is ready, you had better start’, with no sacrificial prayer. God is so gracious that He oftentimes works under these circumstances.
There was no long drawn out preparation, no huge posters announcing a big crusade, not even a counsellor arranged, although they were always there when God needed them. No one was in the forefront whatsoever: no, this Revival was a Heavenly intervention. Did not Isaiah pray ‘Oh that Thou wouldest rend the heavens: that Thou wouldest come down?’ God did just that when about 80 people of all classes and ages received Christ into their lives and, like Philip in Acts 8, went on their way rejoicing. The Lord told Moses when He was about to deliver Israel from Pharaohs bondage ‘I am come down to deliver’. This is just what happened at Hele Lane.
Now may I unfold a little of my life and experience. I was born in a place called Lower Somer, which lies off the beaten track between Thelbridge and Witheridge. From there I went to Witheridge Lower School as it was known in those days. This school was, under its Headmaster considered to be the best school in the West of England. My parents were poor, but very honest and strict. Being one of a family of eight there was a period when there were six of us at home together. My father’s wage was 11/6d a week. I don’t know what the strikers would do with this, but we never went hungry.
When I was about 10 years old my parents moved to a place called Canns Mill, on the southern side of the parish. Of course, from both of these places where we lived we were sent to the Sunday School and Church at Thelbridge. From here I went to Black Dog school, where Mr David Tipper was the Headmaster. I believe it was twice a week we were given texts to learn and repeat, and many of these I can still quote. God was sowing the seed of His Word.
Living in the village was a notable Christian, Miss Helen Sturgess by name, who was very zealous for her Lord. She would constantly approach people with such questions as ‘Are you saved?’, ‘Are you born again?’, ‘Do you know Jesus as your Saviour?’. I was one of her targets, but when approached I would turn away and laugh at her. Then one day as I was about 12 years old, she said to me, ‘Fred, I am going to pray for you until you are saved and preach the Gospel’. That sincere, passionate look on her face I shall never forget. God spared her to see her prayers answered, although she had to wait for fourteen years.
When I was well into the teenage years both my parents died, and so I went far away from the things of God. I would put in an appearance at Hele Lane to a Sacred Concert, an Anniversary or Harvest Festival.
In those days Mr and Mrs Crang of Wonham, who were, and still are staunch members of Hele Lane, used to go to Exmouth each June for a holiday. This particular year they went to the Methodist Church there and heard Gipsy Ezekial Smith, a nephew of the famous Gipsy Rodney Smith, preach. They became so moved with the sincerity of his preaching that Mr Crang invited him to preach at the Harvest Festival Services in September. So the day came and I went to the afternoon service. What impressed me so much that afternoon was the solo he sang. Part of it I remember was:
‘Are you undone by the toil of the day
Almost to weary to pray?
Look to the hills, where we’ll gather someday,
In the morning, God’s beautiful morning,
In the morning, God’s beautiful morning,
We shall meet Him that wonderful day.
With earth’s trials all past we shall gather at last,
In the morning, God’s beautiful morning.’
He preached from Galatians 6v.7 ‘Be not deceived, God is not mocked, for whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap’. In the evening he sang the same piece as at the afternoon service. I can’t remember ever hearing him sing it after that. God gave me such a wonderful memory that I learned the words and the tune by hearing it on just those two occasions. He preached from Jeremiah 8v.20 ‘The harvest is passed, the summer is ended and we are not saved’, stressing the words ‘Not saved’. That night two young people were converted. After the service, being a beautiful autumn evening with all the people standing around outside, the Gipsy stood silhouetted in the doorway of the Chapel and thrust his arms in to the air. Then filled with the Holy Spirit he cried aloud, ‘This district is ripe for revival’. Silence reigned. Presently Mr Crang walked across the tarmac to the Gipsy and said ‘The pulpit is yours whenever you feel led to start’. The Gipsy lifted up his heart to God and being so in touch with God he directed Mr Crang there and then that he would start the first Sunday in October. From that very first Sunday people flocked to hear the Gospel in Word and Song, and this lasted for seven weeks.
The week-night services started at 7.30pm, but one had to be there by 6.30 to get in. On many nights there were more people outside than in. Each night the Gipsy would sing a solo which would go to the hearts of the people. He brought God’s message in song like his preaching, with a passion for souls. Some of his solos he sang were, ‘The Old Rugged Cross’, ‘Alone’, ‘O man of Galilee’, ‘For Jesus is willing to be’, ‘I know not the hour of His coming’, along with many others. How well I remember some of the texts he preached, from Isaiah 53v.5 ‘He was wounded for our transgression, Amos 4v.12 ‘Prepare to meet thy God’, Matthew 25v.10 ‘And the door was shut’, Luke 15v.1-2; ‘Then drew near all the publicans and sinners to hear him, and the scribes and Pharisees murmured saying, this man receiveth sinners and eateth with them’ (he is still doing the same today) Matthew 13v.28 ‘An enemy hath done this’, Mark 10v.17 ‘What shall I do to inherit eternal life?’.
One evening that I shall never forget was when he spoke on two words found in Luke 16, ‘Son remember’. That night 12 people were saved. On another occasion four people were kneeling in the doorway of the Chapel, crying to God for mercy. No, this was not fantasy, this was reality. This was God at work. Those dear people, so convicted of their sin and dissatisfied with their past life, found refuge in Christ. I could enlarge and enumerate on these wonderful experiences, but one will suffice.
I was sitting many nights through all this, until one evening my own decision was made. Strangely enough I cannot remember one thing that was said or done. I know I was sitting in the gallery, and as the service was drawing to a close my past life seemed to soar up and up until it reached something like a pinnacle. Then I heard the voice of God say, ‘This is your last chance’. O, the position was so delicate as my decision for the Lord Jesus hung in the balance. I tell you now I nearly said ‘No’. I firmly believe that if I had I would have been lost forever, but as God’s Holy Spirit revealed Christ and His sufferings to me he gave me the courage and the Victory to say ‘Yes Lord’ and I remember so well repeating the chorus, which was the theme chorus throughout the revival.
‘Into my heart, into my heart,
Come into my Heart Lord Jesus.
Come in today, come in to Stay,
Come into my heart Lord Jesus’
The saviour did just that. I went down the gallery stairs a new man in Christ Jesus. This happened on a Wednesday, 10th November, I believe. I told no one about my experience for ten days. I was only just beginning to read the Bible and pray. As the second Sunday after my conversation came around I said to the Lord in Prayer that morning. ‘Lord help me to testify for thee today somehow’. How wonderfully God works. At the close of the evening service that day, the Gipsy said, ‘Are there any who have received Christ during the Mission and have never confessed?’ I hastily left my seat, followed by two other young men, and we together testified to His saving power in our lives.
Time did not count at Hele Lane, the meetings rarely closed before 9.30pm. Sometimes, when the service was over and all the lights were out, someone would be seeking Christ. So back to the Chapel again with the ordeal of lighting up the oil lights again, as there was no electricity, but no one ever complained. The joy bells of Heaven would ring again over another soul repenting and believing the Gospel.
One night I particularly remember was when it was 11.30 before the final light went out. I can say without hesitation that I believe many people of various ages made a decision for or against letting Christ into their lives, but eternity alone will reveal decisions.
What about you, reader? Have you received the Lord Jesus into your life? Would you be ready to meet Him if He suddenly called you to share eternal bliss with Him in Heaven? Is your name recorded in the Lamb’s book of life? If not, I must be faithful and tell you that the Bible says ‘whosoever was not found written in the Lamb’s book of life was cast into the lake of fire’. Revelations 20v.15 So I beg of you to let Christ come into your life. He is only the answer to your need, and also to the world’s problems.
As my Bible reading progressed I discovered that those who had received Christ were baptised. Now this is not a Brethren or Baptist movement whatsoever. It is a Scriptural request. ‘Then they that gladly received His Word were baptised’, Acts 2v. 41. They didn’t say ‘Do you think we ought to be? Or ‘Is there any need to be?’ No, as it has been said, ‘They took God at His Word and asked no questions’.
Let me remind you that the New Testament knows nothing about infant sprinkling. I understand that the word ‘Baptise’ comes from the Greek word ‘Baptiso’ which means immerse or to bury. It is a great step in the Christian faith, for in doing so you identify yourself with a once dead buried, but now risen and glorified Saviour-Hallelujah! Then going on from this joyful experience we are told to ‘walk in the newness of life’. Romans 6v.3, also Colossians 2v.12.
Let me remind you it will take courage and humility to act in such implicit obedience to the Word of God. God wants every part of us, body, soul and spirit. Indeed, it is the only pathway to real blessing. A sanctified, surrendered life is what he demands from you and me.
God is looking for Spirit filled Christians in these days of lukewarm Christianity. Paul wrote in Ephesians 5v.18 ‘Be filled with the Spirit’. If we are really seeking true revival it can only come through surrendered Christians. Spirit filled Christian, are you ready to say, ‘Search me O God and know my heart. Try me and know my thoughts, and see if there be any wicked way in me. And lead me in the way everlasting’.
God bless you all.
Fred J. Hitchcock