It is hardly surprising that an event as momentous as that experienced in the Liverpool crusades would fail to stir up at least some opposition, certainly in view of the widespread coverage given by the local press. This is something of course that we see time and again in the New Testament, and in particular in the ministry of the apostle Paul. Initially there was some opposition from other evangelical churches in the vicinity, but as Mr T Belcher of Bankhall Mission said "the Christian Community did not welcome the announcement that pastor Edward Jeffreys was to conduct a campaign in the district. He had personally tried to keep on the fence over this but this independent attitude soon became impossible, for the district had been stirred as never before in living memory."
In the Bootle Times of 29th June 1934, however, a large article appeared in the paper by a Unitarian Minister, Rev H Fisher Short headed "Are miracles being performed in Bootle? A plea for careful thinking by Rev H Fisher Short." This was a very critical article about the crusade and was very much in contrast to the vast amount of positive reporting by the paper until then. Perhaps they felt that it was right to somehow redress the balance after giving so much space to the crusade, and give an opportunity for someone to offer an opposing view, and try to keep its independence in the matter. The article ironically appeared directly above a large photograph of many of the people who had been healed during the crusade, shown elsewhere in this booklet. The letter serves to show I feel the lengths that some people will go to discredit Godís work and even in the face of such incredible miracles refuse to accept that it is the work of God. Was this not the case in Jesusí time and did not Abraham say to the rich man in Hades that even if someone should rise from the dead some people will still not believe (Luke 16:31). I have extracted some of the main points of the letter and then followed this up with some of the replies that were received, including one from Pastor Hulbert.
Rev Fisher Short felt it was his duty as a responsible person to help his fellow citizens out of the intellectual fog in which they were groping. His concern was that a large number of serious people were disturbed and really desired a frank and reasonable explanation of the startling phenomena in their midst. His explanation of the so called "miracles" was that the cases fall into two classes, namely, functional and organic, or mental and physical. If the trouble is purely organic, that is some bodily disorder, the "apparent cure" can be but temporary. The "cure" is effected by the patient making an unusual effort to behave like a normal healthy person, but unless the physical ailment is treated, the patient will relapse, and may be worse than before. This, he said, refers to really serious cases, but in cases that are not really serious, but appear to be so, the adoption of a new, confident and hopeful spirit may result in permanent betterment. Such cases, however, are really borderline cases, in which both mind and body achieve a necessary re-adjustment. The majority of the "cures" are probably functional and mental. Owing to the mind working wrongly some parts of the body work wrongly or not at all. In these cases, all that is necessary is to get the mind acting normally, and the body will function or work properly, and the whole process is perfectly natural. Whether the operator knows what he is doing or not, whatever the external trappings of the treatment may be, if he secures the normal functioning of the mind in relation to the body, the "cure" must result. The trouble may be blindness, deafness, dumbness, or paralysis. If it is purely functional arising from mental maladjustment, it may yield to lucky or scientifically psychotherapeutic treatment, and it is no more miraculous that curing a headache with a couple of aspirins or lowering a temperature with an aperient.
Pastor Hulbert replied by suggesting that he open the doors of his church and invite the blind, deaf and lame in and put his theory into practice and making sure that he had a good supply of aspirins handy! In a more serious vein, however, he went on to refer to the many lives that had been totally changed and transformed through accepting Christ in the meetings and that these were in fact the greater miracles. He would rather see one person come to Christ than twenty bodies healed. On the subject of the lesser miracles of healing he said that it was not mind over matter, nor auto-suggestion, or indeed aspirins, but the mighty risen Christ touching blind eyes and opening them. It took more than excitement or intellectual fog to accomplish that, he said, and referred to the large number of crutches and sticks, spiral jackets, trusses and other things too numerous to mention which had been left by those who had no further use for them.
Following on from this there was a huge postbag from the paperís readers most of whom were in support of the good work being done in the tent crusades. One reader referred to those who had been blind or on crutches for 20 or 30 years and after years with the best of doctors and in hospitals undergoing operation after operation and then instantly healed after a simple prayer is made to Jesus. Another reader who at first had been sceptical but then out of curiosity attended one of the meetings could only remark that apart from the raising of the dead and turning water into wine he saw the New Testament miracles repeated, i.e. the blind are made to see, the lame are made to walk and the deaf and dumb hear and speak. Rev H Fisher Short responded to these letters with a further very lengthy letter from which I have extracted some of his main points below: -
In this second letter Rev Fisher Short derided the many responses supporting the miracles of the campaign and referred to the fact that Shakespeare had divided his audience into "the judicious" and "the groundlings" whose ears were easily tickled. With regard to the public, he declared, that division still held good. The number of people, he said, owing to educational or inborn aptitude, who are able to think, that is to examine evidence and form sound judgements, appeared to be very small indeed. The majority of people, largely through our faulty educational system, seemed to be incapable of objective and dispassionate thinking. He referred to the support he had received from medical professionals and quoted the following findings of two eminent psychological authorities Ė "In mass movements of healing, the number of people and the atmosphere of expectancy produce exactly the emotional conditions necessary to suggestibility; for in such soil both faith and credulity flourish, and cures are consequently performed. He also quoted a recent article by Dr Beran Wolfe who wrote, "It is a psychological truism that a mentally mature adult is a rarity. Most of the human beings we meet in the street are still emotional infants." This expert view is confirmed by experience said Rev Fisher Short.Not surprisingly Rev Fisher Shortís remarks didnít go down very well with many of the readers who supported the crusade and were incensed at this deriding of their so called inferior intelligence. Pastor Hulbert in his reply informed him that the multitudes who visited his tent were not the ignorant people as he supposed, but many were in fact very well educated, some with several degrees, and came from every walk and station in life. One respondent replied that her sister had been healed at a similar type of meeting 7 years previous of a tubercular knee joint after 14 years of suffering and was still healed. Responding to this point Rev Fisher Short, obviously not impressed by this letter, suggested that what had really happened was that the tensely emotional atmosphere induced the passive condition of suggestibility and auto-suggestion did the rest! He questioned, however, whether there had been an accurate diagnosis in the first place and that the knee joint may not have been tubercular at all!
Numerous other letters followed over a period of several weeks both from Rev Fisher Short and many other readers, some for and some against the mission. In one of these Rev Fisher Short challenged pastor Hulbert to publish the complete list of cures wrought in the tent with names and addresses and for these to be investigated by a panel of six people. In reply Pastor Hulbert said that he could not publish such a list without permission, as this would be a breach of confidence. What he did offer to do though was to take with him to Rev Fisher Shortís private address 8000 witnesses from the tent with 100 healed people who would tell their own story. This challenge was not taken up!
As I have reflected on these remarks I could only think that had this minister lived at the time of Jesus he would have been equally sceptical of the miracles of Jesus, and he would no doubt have sided with the Scribes and Pharisees in judgement at what was happening. When the man blind from birth was healed (John 9) he would doubtless have been there with the Pharisees refusing to accept the hand of God in the miracle, but at least the Pharisees accepted that a miracle had taken place, which is more than the minister would have been able to accept!
Reflecting further on some of the disparaging remarks that Rev Fisher Short made about the inferior intelligence of the people attending the crusade meetings I think that we should note that in the time of Jesus that it was not the authorities or the intellectuals of the day who flocked to hear him, but the common people. The common people heard him gladly (Mark 12:37 AV). Jesus rejoiced after the disciples returned from their healing mission thanking his Father that, "He had hidden these things from the wise and understanding, and revealed them to babes" (Luke 10:21). The apostle Paul also said, "not many of you were wise according to worldly standardsÖ. but God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise (1 Cor. 1:26).
So I donít think that we should be either surprised or upset by such opposition as this, but rather accept that it is going to be inevitable because if it happened at the time of Jesus and in the early church it is certainly going to happen with us today also.