Chapter 6 - Sunday School Work

Table of Contents

Preparation for Future Work - Recruiting For the Church and For Sunday Schools - The School on "the Sands" Muscular Christianity - The North Market Mission - President Lincoln's Visit - Incidents of the Work.

WHEN young Moody arrived in Chicago, he presented a letter which his uncle had given him to Mr. Wiswall, a shoe dealer on Lake Street. The boy was not altogether a prepossessing candidate for a position. He was boisterous and uncouth, and it was with many misgivings that Mr. Wiswall took him into his store. His employer's decision, however, was fully justified by the young mans work, It was not long before young Moody had the reputation of being the best salesman in the employ of the firm. He especially delighted to take in hand customers who were unusually difficult to deal with, and, while he never over stepped the line between honesty and deceit in his business dealings when it came to a contest of wits he was almost invariably victorious.


It was not long before the growth of Mr. Wiswall's business led him to open a jobbing department. Mr. Moody was promoted to a situation in the new department, and in this wider opportunity for the exercise of his business faculties, he continued to win approval as a valuable assistant. His work took him to the rail road stations, hotels and other business places in search of customers, and doubtless did much toward widening his acquaintance, and adding to his experience in dealing with men. The acquirement of practical knowledge of the best way to approach men was a wonderful preparation for the great work of his later years.

A number of Mr. Wiswall's clerks slept in rooms in the store building, an arrangement which naturally led to a fraternal intercourse. It is said that in the evenings these young men made it a habit to enter into debates upon the live questions of the day - and sometimes even questions which were not living issues. Politics, theology, business, all supplied topics to these young orators, and frequently discussions became very enthusiastic. The slavery question was often mooted. My Moody was, as might be expected from his vehement nature, an earnest participant in these debates. Unembarrassed by the limitations placed upon him by lack of education, he plunged boldly into whatever subject was under discussion, and generally made his point. In theology the main subject of debate was the old, old question, foreordination versus free will. Mr. Moody had developed strong Calvinistic tendencies, and he found a worthy opponent in one of his fellow clerks who, by bringing up, was a Methodist. The question of amusements was also taken up. Mr. Moody was strongly averse to any frivolous form of amusement, or any amusement which seemed to him frivolous. 'The story is told that he came into the store one night from some religious meeting, and found two of the clerks engaged in a game of checkers. He dashed the checker board to the ground; then, before any one could protest, dropped upon his knees and began to pray. It must not be thought, however, that he was entirely averse to healthful sports. On the contrary, rough games and practical jokes were a keen delight to him.


Shortly after his arrival in Chicago, Mr. Moody united by letter with the Plymouth Congregational Church, of which Dr. J. E. Roy was at that time pastor. It was a hospitable church, and Mr. Moody was not slow to find an opportunity to exercise his desire to do practical Christian work. He rented five pews and kept them filled with young men at every service. He also went out and hunted up boys and girls for the Sunday school. The statement has been made that he asked for a class in the Sunday school but was refused. This is doubtful, for Mr. Moody himself recognized and declared at that time that he could not teach. He, however, took part in the prayer meetings, and in his work as a recruiting officer for the church of Christ, began to ignore denominational lines.


It seemed as if no church could give him enough to do; therefore he began to attend a Sunday morning class in the First Methodist Church, and to work with its Mission Band, which was composed of a number of devoted young men, who every Sunday morning used to visit various public places and invite strangers to attend church services. It will be seen that Mr. Moody's Christian work was purely practical. This was a characteristic determined by his temperament. Theorizing had no place in his energetic mind, but his whole heart was bent to secure the best results from the means at hand and when means were lacking to find them. We are struck with his method of making use of every opportunity, however slight. He never ignored small things; he felt it as incumbent upon him to to help the clerk who worked beside him in the store, and the stranger hw met casually upon the street, as to endeavor to sway large audiences from the rostrum. As a matter of fact, it is doubtful if, in these humble beginnings of his efforts, he had any realization of the great work that lay in store for him. He simply saw men and children sinking in the moral lazaretto of a great city and stretched out his hand to help them.

A scientific study of the principles of education has impressed upon our the necessity of dealing with children, if we desire to effect any permanent change in the mental or moral condition of the world; for the children of to-day are the fathers and the mothers of the next generation. Without theorising, Mr. Moody must have had an understanding of this principle. It was not long after he came to Chicago that he began to work among the children. His success in recruiting for the Sunday schools was wonderful. On one occasion he found a little mission Sunday school on the North side, and offered to take a class. The superintendent pointed out that they already had almost as many teachers as pupils, but added that, if Mr. Moody would get his own pupils, he would be at liberty to conduct a class. The next Sunday Mr. Moody appeared with eighteen ragamuffins. They were dirty, unkempt, many of them barefoot, but as the young teacher said, "each had a soul to save".


Mr. Moody's missionary explorations led him into the most evil parts of the city. His face became familiar in the worst saloon districts, among the sailors' boarding houses, and on the docks. It was on one of these excursions that he fell in with Mr. J. B. Stillson, a business man who was employing his spare time in the same missionary work. The two men cast in their lot together, and, according to one historian, during a single summer helped to recruit twenty mission Sunday schools.

Mr. Moody recognised that the average mission school was not calculated to reach the lowest strata of society. There was too large a requirement of order, too little allowance for the homes from which the pupils had come. Accordingly, he decided to begin a mission school of his own, On the north side of the Chicago River was a district called "The Sands", sometimes also known as "Little Hell". To-day, some of the finest residences of Chicago stand there where, in the early fifties and sixties, crime and debauchery reigned supreme. It was to this home of vice Mr. Moody went to begin his work. He found a deserted shanty which had formerly been a saloon and hiring this ramshackle place, started out to drum up children to fill it. At first he found it hard to get at the young street Arabs; then he filled his pockets with maple sugar, and, judiciously distributing it among those who promised to come, soon had his little room overflowing with barbarians. One who visited the school in those days has described his experiences. "When I came to the little old shanty and entered the door," he said, "the first thing I saw by the light of the few candles, was a man standing up, holding in his arms a Negro boy, to whom he was trying to read the story of the Prodigal Son. A great many words the reader could not make out and was obliged to skip. My thought was, If the Lord can ever use such an instrument as that for His honour and glory it will astonish me! When the meeting was over, Mr Moody said to me, 'I have got only one talent. I have no education, but I love the Lord Jesus Christ, and I want to do something for Him.' I have watched him since, and have come to know him thoroughly, and for consistent walk and conversation I have never met a man equal to him."


There was probably never another school just like this school on "The Sands" to which young Moody devoted his spare time. Speaking from the steps of the hall entrance, the evangelist could make his voice heard in the doors of two hundred saloons. At first he had no seats for his school, and for some time none of the other usual requisites; no blackboard, no library, no maps; but it was a live school - in fact, it was about as much as the teachers could do to keep the turbulent membership sufficiently quiet to sing a little and hear a little talking. Mr. Moody was helped here by his friend Mr. Stillson. As a cardinal doctrine they held that the worse a boy was the more necessity there was to keep him in the school. There is a story of one young rough who defied for a long time all efforts to tame him, and whose riotous behavior endangered the existence of the school. Having meditated and prayed over the matter all the week, Mr. Moody came to the school on Sunday persuaded that there was but one remedy that would reach this case, and that was a good thrashing. Coming up behind the young rowdy, he seized him and pushed him through the open door of a little anteroom, then, locking the door, proceeded to business. The excitement in the schoolroom was drawn off by singing until the two reappeared after a somewhat prolonged and noisy recess in the anteroom. Both were evidently well warmed up, but the humble bearing of the offending boy made manifest the result of the battle. "It was hard work," remarked Mr. Moody, "but I guess we have saved him." This proved to be true; and, moreover, this exhibition of muscular Christianity served as a strong claim on the admiration of the school Mr. Moody had demonstrated his ability to keep order, and thereafter found many helpers. One day an old pupil, coming up the aisle, noticed a new recruit with his cap on. He snatched it off, and with one blow sent the offender to the floor. "I'll teach you to keep your cap on. in this school," was the explanation of the young protector as he passed to his own seat with the air of one ready to do his duty.


After a while the little shanty became too small for Mr. Moody's purpose, and, with the permission of Mayor Haines, the school was removed to a large hall over the North Market. This hall was generally used on Saturday evenings for dancing, and it often took the whole Sunday morning for Mr. Moody to clean it up so that it would be in condition for his use in the afternoon. There were no chairs, so Mr. Moody set out to secure money to buy them. He went to several rich men, among others to Mr. J.V. Farwell, a prominent merchant. After receiving a contribution, he asked Mr. Farwell what he was doing in a personal way for the unsaved, and invited him to attend the mission. The next Sunday Mr. Farwell appeared at the North Market School. The scene, to his imagination, defied all description. Ragamuffins were darting hither and thither, crying their street cries, and entering upon all sorts of mischief, but from this state of confusion Scripture readings, songs, and speeches occasionally rescued them. Mr. Farwell made a speech, and at the close, to his great consternation was nominated by Mr. Moody superintendent of the school. The election was carried by acclamation before he had time to object. This office, so suddenly pressed upon him was filled by Mr. Farwell for more than six years.


It was not easy to find suitable teachers for the classes which made up such a school, and it was not always easy to get rid of unsuitable teachers, but a plan was hit upon that worked to a charm. As no teacher could do such pupils good unless he could interest them a rule was made giving the pupils the privilege, under certain limitation, of leaving his class when he chose and going into another one. The result was that the superintendent was relieved from the unpleasant task of taking a dull teacher's class away from him, for the class, one by one, quickly took itself away.

Mr. Moody put a vast amount of work into the school. His evenings and Sundays were spent in skirmishing about "The Sands" looking after old pupils or hunting up new ones. Along with the Gospel he gave a great deal of relief for the sick, the unemployed, and unfortunate. He was the almoner not only of his own charity, but also of the gifts of the many friends who became interested in his work. His old employer has stated that as many as twenty children used to come into the store at one time to be gratuitously fitted with new shoes.

As the school became popular, interest and curiosity brought many visitors, and it became easier to find teachers for the seventy or eighty classes. The attendance at the school increased in the most astonishing fashion, In three months there were 200 pupils in six months 350, and within a year the average attendance was about 650, with an occasional crowd of nearly 1000. The city missionary made objection to the wide range from which Mr. Moody was now drawing his recruits, on the plea that he was infringing on the work of other missions, but the work of the North Market School continued. No uniform lesson leaf was used in the school, but each teacher and pupil was supplied with a copy of the New Testament and from this drew information and inspiration.


A notable event in the history of the school was the visit of President-elect Lincoln, who came one Sunday at the request of Mr. Farwell. When the carriage went to the house where Mr. Lincoln was visiting, he left an unfinished dinner in order to keep his appointment, and was hurried northward to the unsavoury district in which the North Market was situated. The President-elect was perhaps not accustomed to talk to Sunday schools; at any rate he requested that he should not be asked to make a speech; but when he was introduced to the spirited aggregation in the North Market Hall, the enthusiasm was so great that he yielded and spoke. His words were for right thinking and right acting. When a few months later this man issued a call for 75,000 volunteers, about sixty of the boys who had heard him that day in the North Market Hall answered. To them the words of the man who had told them of duty still rang through the words of the head of the State.

Conversions and transformations were continually occurring as a result of the work of Mr. Moody's school. More are related than can possibly be mentioned here,


It must not be supposed that in his peregrinations among the lowly and the wretched, Mr. Moody always met with a welcome reception. There were many times when he stood in danger of his life. On such occasions he made it a principle to run away just as fast as he could, and he generally escaped because he could run faster than those who pursued him. One Sunday morning he was visiting some Roman Catholic family, with the purpose of bringing the children to the school, when a powerful man sprang at him with a club. The man had sworn to kill him, but a hard run saved the life of the young evangelist. Even after this attack he did not desist in his visit to this house, but continued again and again, until his tact and patience disarmed his adversary.

On another occasion, one Saturday evening he found in a house a jug of whiskey, which had been stored there for a carouse the following day. After a rousing temperance lecture, Mr. Moody persuaded the women of the house to permit him to pour the whiskey into the street. This he did before departing. Early the next morning he came back to fetch the children of the place to Sunday school. The men were lying in wait for him to thrash him. It was impossible to get away, for he was surrounded on all sides, but before they could touch him, Mr. Moody said, "See here, men, if you are going to whip me, you might at least give me time to say my prayers." The request was unusual; perhaps it was for that very reason that it was acceeded to. Mr. Moody dropped upon his knees and prayed such a prayer as those rough men had never heard before. Gradually they became interested and then softened, and when he had finished they gave him their hands, and a few minutes later Mr. Moody left the house for his school, followed by the children he had come to find.


Mr. Moody was not only busily engaged in Chicago, but early in his missionary life he was called to speak in small Sunday school conventions chiefly because he had already gained the reputation of reaching the masses of poor children in the cities. He knew this work thoroughly, and in his own way he could tell about it, not only to the instruction but often to the amusement as well of his audience. At one time he was invited to a place in Illinois and was accompanied by a Christian Association secretary; they two were advertised to speak. The secretary, in speaking of it afterwards said, "If ever two poor fellows were frightened, it was Moody and I." They reached their destination about two o'clock in the morning, too early to sit up and too late to go to bed, but they determined that they would spend all the time that was given them in prayer. During the rest of the night they sought God for power and guidance. Before the hour came when they were to speak, Mr. Moody secured the use of a public-school room which was quite near the place of the larger meeting. When asked what he wanted to do with it, he said, " I want it for an inquiry meeting." Both these young men were to speak, and each agreed that while the other spoke he would pray for him. When Mr. Moody was announced he seemed like one inspired. He pictured to them their need of Christ to help them as Sunday school teachers; told them it was an awful sin to do their work in a careless manner, and alter an address of an hour called upon all who wanted to meet him and to know Christ, to come with him to the school-room next door, where great numbers were helped. This was the beginning of a widespread spirit of revival, but it was also the beginning of a new life for Mr. Moody. From 1858 to 1865, Mr. Moody, Mr. Jacobs and Major Whittle, who were closely identified in conventions held in different parts of the country, became deeply impressed with the need of more of the presence of the Holy Spirit. The annual convention was to meet in Springfield, and these three workers were deeply concerned that it should be the best convention in the history of the State. They reached Springfield before the association convened, and held revival meetings as a prelude to what was to follow afterward. Seventy persons were converted. This became the Revival Conference. The next year the Sunday school workers met in the city of Decatur, and a record was brought up of ten thousand persons brought to Christ in a year. From this time on Mr. Moody was constantly invited to other States, and from Maine to Texas, from Montreal to San Francisco, from St. Paul to New Orleans, he went year after year, preaching and praying, rousing the Christian Associations into activity, inspiring the pastors to labour for revivals, helping the Sunday school teachers to reach their scholars for Christ; and in all his work as an evangelist throughout the world, deeper impressions were never made than in the first days of his active work as a Sunday school teacher and leader.

Back to Table of Contents