A Newsletter of Opinion on Current Australian Christianity


Robert Harkness – 2

Charles Alexander, the song leader for the Torrey-Alexander mission in Australia and the compiler of the well-known Alexander Hymn Book, encountered young Robert Harkness’ innovative piano accompaniment during the series of meetings at Bendigo, Australia in 1902.  When he realised what Harkness was doing in the first song, instead of being annoyed, he turned and encouraged the young would-be rebel to continue with his accompaniment.  Harkness wrote later that he was surprised by Alexander’s reaction, but he continued in his colourful style anyway.

harkness 2

The young man was still not a Christian. In fact, he thought that here was an opportunity to teach these evangelicals a thing or two! To show off a bit. When he played for the singing at that first meeting, his fingers raced up and down the piano keys, throwing in incredible harmonies and modern rhythms. Charlie Alexander just grinned at him and nodded, as if to say, “Great stuff! Keep it up!”

As a result Alexander asked him to play for the five nights – somewhat surprisingly Robert agreed.

During the short stay at Bendigo, the master evangelist Torrey called to Robert, “Young man, are you saved?”  Robert got a shock and replied, “No, I’m just here to play the piano.” 

At the end of the five-night mission, Alexander asked Robert to come and see him the next day.  That day was Saturday and Robert vainly tried to make excuses that Saturday was a busy day and so on, but Alexander refused to take no for an answer.  “Come and see me in the morning,” he smiled.

Robert wasn’t very pleased with this arrangement but agreed to come along.  In the morning

they had a serious talk about spiritual matters, which Harkness somewhat resented, refusing to come to an immediate decision.

But Alexander’s kindly manner, as they descended the stairs together, touched him. They parted at the door, and Robert took his bicycle to start for home. 

Suddenly Alexander called out from the cab he was entering, “Come down to the train at three o’clock this afternoon, and go up to Maryborough with me for a week.” 

Robert Harkness rode off slowly on his bicycle, and says that, as he rode along, he came to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. He became a permanent member of the Torrey-Alexander team, and toured the world with them several times. Harkness also wrote an instruction book on how to play hymns, and penned more than 2,000 hymns and gospel songs.

It is not easy to determine the thoughts going through the young man’s head that day.  Was he excited by the thought of possibly travelling the world with two of the most successful evangelists the world had ever seen?  Or was he convinced by Alexander’s magnetic personality?  Or maybe … just possibly … the Hand of God had been placed on Robert Harkness’ head to do a great work in revivals in Australia and the world over for the rest of his life.

NEXT ISSUE – More about Robert’s conversion.


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