Chapter 9 - Moody and Sankey

Table of Contents

Mr. Sankey's First Singing at a Moody Meeting - A Sudden Proposition - A Street Service - Mr. Sankey joins Mr.Moody - The Effect of Mr. Sankey's Singing - A Blessed Partnership.

An International convention of the Young Men's Christian Association was held at Indianapolis in June, 1870. Mr. Moody attended. During the convention an early morning prayer. meeting was conducted in a church adjoining the hail where the convention was held. Mr. Moody led this meeting.

Ira D. Sankey, who at that time was Assistant Collector of Revenue in New Castle, Pa., but whose interest in religious work had made him an active worker in the field, had come to Indianapolis to attend the convention. He had heard of Mr. Moody, but had never seen him, and learning that the Chicago preacher was to lead this morning meeting, he yielded to a strong impulse and attended.


When Mr. Sankey entered, the singing was being led by a man who was dragging through a long metre hymn in the slow old-fashioned way. Mr. Sankey was scarcely seated when some one touched his elbow, and turning around, he discovered that he was sitting beside the Rev. Robert McMillen, with whom he happened to be well acquainted. Mr. McMillen whispered to Mr. Sankey that nobody present seemed able to put any life into the singing, adding, "When that man who is praying gets through, I wish you would start up something"

Without waiting for any further invitation, Mr. Sankey arose and sang with wonderful feeling

"There is a fountain filled with blood,
Drawn from Immanuel's veins,
And sinners plunged beneath that flood,
Lose all their guilty stains.''

The power and fervor of the singer's voice was such that the congregation forgot to join in the chorus, and Mr. Sankey finished the hymn by himself.

The effect of this song was not missed by Mr. Moody. At the close of the service, when Mr. McMillen brought Mr. Sankey forward, Mr. Moody stepped to one side and took the singer by the hand. "Where do you come from?" he asked. "Pennsylvania,' replied Mr. Sankey. "Are you married or single?" "Married; I have a wife and one child." "What business are you in?" "I am a government official connected with the Internal Revenue service, answered Mr. Sankey, not realizing what motive was subjecting him to such cross-examination.


"Well," said Mr. Moody, decidedly, "you will have to give that up; I have been looking for you for eight years." Mr. Sankey stood amazed and was at a loss to understand just what Mr. Moody meant by telling him that he would have to give up a comfortable position, and he was so taken aback for a few seconds that he could scarcely reply. At last, however, recovering from his astonishment, he asked the evangelist what he meant. Mr. Moody promptly explained. "You will have to give up your government position and come with me. You are just the man I have been looking for, for a long time. I want you to come with me; you can do the singing, and I will do the talking."

The proposition did not sound particularly attractive to Mr. Sankey, and he told Mr. Moody, that he did not feel he could accept it and begged for time in which to consider the matter. Mr. Moody asked him if he would join him in prayer in regard to it, and the singer replied that he would most gladly do so. Says Mr. Sankey, "I presume I prayed one way and he prayed another; however, it took him only six months to pray me out of business." It was true that Mr. Moody was praying that Mr. Sankey would see his way clear to do as he had asked, while Mr. Sankey was arguing with himself against the proposition. This first meeting between the two men was on Sunday. All that day and night Mr. Sankey thought over Mr. Moody's words, but the next morning found him still inclined to stick to the government position with its assured salary.


Just at a moment when he was in considerable doubt as to the suitable course, a card was brought him which on examination proved to be from Mr. Moody. It requested him to meet Mr. Moody at a certain street corner that evening at six o'clock. Mr. Sankey did not know what he was wanted for, but he accepted the invitation, and, accompanied by a few friends, met the appointment promptly. In a few minutes Mr. Moody appeared, and without stopping to speak, walked into a store on the corner and asked permission to use a dry-goods box. The permission granted, the evangelist rolled a large box out to the edge of the sidewalk, and then calling Mr. Sankey aside asked him to climb up and sing something. Mr. Sankey complied. A crowd began to collect, and Mr. Moody getting upon the box began to preach. Mr. Sankey says of that sermon, "He preached that evening as I had never heard any man preach before." The hearers, most of them workingmen on their way home from the mills and factories, were electrified. They hung on every word, apparently forgetting that they were tired and hungry, and when Mr. Moody closed, which he was forced to do by the density of the crowd, he announced that he would hold another meeting at the Academy of Music, and invited the crowd to accompany him there. Arm in arm with Mr. Moody, Mr. Sankey marched down the street singing hymn after hymn as he went, the crowd following closely at their heels. Mr. Sankey has since declared that this was his first experience in Salvation Army methods. The meeting in the Academy of Music was necessarily brief because the convention was soon to come together, oddly enough to discuss the question, "How shall we reach the masses?" and as the delegates came in Mr. Moody, with a short prayer dismissed the meeting.


Although deeply affected by the power of Mr. Moody's inspiring message, Mr. Sankey was still undecided. He went home to talk the matter over with his wife, and to her the proposed partnership seemed, at that time, an unwarranted and injudicious step, but after several months, the influence of Mr. Moody's invitation still working in him, he went by request to Chicago and spent a week with Mr. Moody. For several days they worked together in church, in Sunday school, in saloons and drinking dens, joining their gifts of speaking and singing to bring light to the discouraged and the sinful. When the week was over, Mr. Sankey had decided. He sent his resignation to Hugh McCulloch, who at that time was Secretary of the Treasury; another veteran of the War was given his place in the Internal Revenue Service, and Mr. Sankey joined forces with Mr. Moody.

This was about six months before the great Chicago fire. When that tidal wave of flame overwhelmed that part of Chicago where Mr. Moody's work was especially located, and destroyed his church and his home, the evangelist's plans were for a time completely disarranged, and he went for a tour in the Eastern States, while Mr. Sankey returned to his home in Pennsylvania. But when the new tabernacle sprang from the ashes of the old, the two brethren once more began their labours, taking up their lodgings in anterooms of the great rough building, and throwing themselves heart and soul into the effort to bring the unfortunate people to Christ. This work in the rough chapel among the ruins was signalized by a great revival. While Mr. Moodly was on his second visit to Great Britain in 1872, Mr. Sankey took charge of the meetings. Mr. Moody had gone more especially to attend the Mildmay Conference in London. When he returned, he found that Mr. Sankey had received an especial baptism of the Holy Spirit, and that the blessings of his work had been increased a thousand fold by the responsibilities which had been left with him.


It was about this time, possibly under the influence of this second trip to England, that Mr. Moody decided upon that third tour which was to bring to Great Britain a spiritual regeneration such as had not been known since the days of John Wesley. Mr. Moody said to his co-worker, "You have often proposed that we make an evangelizing journey together; now let us go to England."

Again Mr. Sankey found himself in some doubt as to his proper decision. It happened that he was then considering an offer from Mr. Phillips to go to the Pacific Coast and give a series of "Evenings of Song." Fortunately he again decided to follow Mr. Moody. Possibly he was influenced in his decision by a realization that if he went with Mr. Phillips he would be associated with a man whose gifts were similar to his own, a condition which might lead to difficulties, while if he went with Mr. Moody he would have his own work to do entirely separate from the work of Mr. Moody, although complementary to it. So attended by his little family, he trustfully set forth with Mr. Moody and his family, June 7, 1873, on a journey of four thousand miles.

The joyful, prayerful singing of the Gospel hymns by Mr. Sankey was a revelation of unexpected truth and grace to the people of the British Isles. In Scotland especially, the masses were moved by him. With an indescribable impulse, the cautious, distrustful followers of John Knox, worshippers who for generations had been accustomed to reject as uninspired all other services of praise than their own rude version of the Psalms, now listened with delight to the music which fell like a blessing from the lips of the most gifted Christian singer of the time.


One of his hearers has thus described the impression made by Mr. Sankey's singing in Edinburgh. " Mr. Sankey sings with the conviction that souls are receiving Jesus between one note and the next. The stillness is overawing; some of the lines are more spoken than sung. The hymns are equally used for awakening, none more than 'Jesus of Nazareth Passeth By'. When you hear the ' Ninety and Nine 'sung, you know of a truth that down in this corner, up in that gallery, behind that pillar which hides the singer' s face from the listener, the hand of Jesus has been finding this and that and yonder lost one to place them in His fold. A certain class of hearers come to the services solely to hear Mr. Sankey, and the song draws the Lord's net around them. We asked Mr. Sankey one day what he was to sing. He said, 'I'll not know till I hear how Mr. Moody is closing.' Again we were driving to the Canongate Parish Church one winter night, and Mr. Sankey said to the young minister who had come for him, ' I am thinking of singing' 'I am so Glad to-night.' 'O said the young man, please rather sing 'Jesus of Nazareth.' An old man told me to-day that he had been awakened by it the last night you were down. He said, 'It just went through me like an electric shock.' A gentleman in Edinburgh was in distress of soul, and happened to linger in a pew after. the noon meeting. The choir had remained to practice and began, 'Free from the Law, O, Happy Condition.' Quickly the Spirit of God carried the truth home to the awakened conscience, and he was at last in the finished work of Jesus.


Mr. Sankey's hymns were gathered from a hundred sources. A great many of them are to-day known by every child in the land and are remembered by many other persons as means of grace in their own conversions. Of all his songs the favorite was, "The Ninety and Nine". This beautiful hymn has an interesting little history.

While Mr. Moody and Mr. Sankey were in the Highlands of Scotland they were subjected to some criticisms because Mr. Sankey's music was so much of a deviation from the established music of the Scotch churches. Anxious not to offend the prejudices of any in the multitudes whom they were meeting, Mr. Sankey cast about him for a song which might satisfy not only the hearts, but the ears as well of the rough shepherds of the Highlands. One day in the corner of a newspaper he found the words of "The Ninety and Nine ". They had originally been printed in The Christian, of Boston, Mass., and were reprinted in England in The Rock. The melody came to him like an inspiration. The first time he sang it, it was not even written out. It is natural that a song like this should have appealed to the shepherds of Scot1and to whom its sentiment came with an especially pleasing force. It became their favorite among Mr. Sankey's songs. and when he went to Ireland and England it was called for more, and appreciated more, than any other song in his collection.

It was also said of the results of Mr. Sankey's singing, "The wave of sacred song has spread over Ireland and is now sweeping through England, but indeed it is not being confined to the United Kingdom alone. Far away on the shores of India, and in many other lands, these sweet songs of the Saviour's love are being sung."


It was not alone the novelty of his method that aroused interest in Mr. Sankey's songs to such a high degree. He possessed a voice of unusual purity and strength, and even when facing a great congregation of seventeen or eighteen thousand people, could make every word which he uttered so distinct that it was heard on the very outskirts of the throng. His vocal method has been criticised, undoubtedly with justice, but it can be said that, whether his method was correct or incorrect artistically, it was at least effective. Patti at her best could not move hearers with her singing in the way that Mr. Sankey won the hearts of his audiences. He literally, as he himself proclaimed, "sang the Gospel".

This phrase, novel as it was, was criticised by many staid conservatives in the matter of religion, but its truth cannot be questioned. If it were not true how could it have been that so many should have been led to Christ through the influence of that marvellous singing. An English journal has told of a little girl only ten years old who had listened with delight to Mr. Sankey's singing. "O!" she said "How I love those dear hymns! When I am gone, mother, will you ask the girls of the school to sing the hymn.

'Ring the bells of Heaven
There is joy to-day,
For a soul returning from the wild;
See the Father meets him out upon the way,
Welcoming his weary, wandering child.'

The night before her death, she said, "Dear father and mother, I hope I shall meet you in Heaven. You cannot think how bright and happy I feel," and half an hour before her departure she exclaimed, "O! mother, listen to the bells of Heaven, they are ringing so beautifully." She closed her eyes awhile, but presently she cried again, "Hearken to the harps, they are most splendid; O! I wish you could bear them," and then, " O! mother, I see the Lord Jesus and the angels. O, if you could see them too! He is sending one to fetch me!" About five minutes before her last breath she said, "Lift me up from the pillow; high, high up! O! I wish you could lift me right up into Heaven! "Then doubtless conscious that the parting moment was at hand, "Put me down again, quick," and calmly, joyously, brightly, with her eyes upward, as if gazing upon some vision of surpassing beauty, she peacefully breathed forth her spirit into the arms of the ministering angels whom Jesus had sent for her, How can we measure what the voice of the singer had done for that little girl.


An innovation in Mr. Sankey's singing was the use of the parlor organ to accompany himself. Wherever he went this little instrument was placed upon the platform for his use, and it is doubtful if he could have found anything more effective for his accompaniment. Criticised it was, for, like "singing the Gospel," it was a novelty in religious work and, therefore, was frowned upon by those who felt that established methods should never be violated. It was even charged that he had been sent to England by a firm of organ makers who paid him a large salary on the condition that he use their organs in his services. This charge was denied both by the organ makers and by Mr. Sankey, and it does not seem likely that a man, who by agreement with Mr. Moody, turned over a fortune in royalties on books of song to charitable and religious purposes would stoop to accept such an unworthy tribute.

At a children's meeting in Edinburgh in 1874, Mr. Sankey related the following incident: "I want to speak a word about singing, not only to the little folks, but also to grown people. During the winter after the great Chicago fire, when the place was 'built up with little frame houses for the poor people to stay in, a mother sent for me one day to come to see her little child, who was one of our Sunday school pupils. I remembered the little girl very well, having often seen her in our meetings, and was glad to go.


She was lying in one of the poor little huts, all the property of the family having been destroyed by the fire. I ascertained that she was beyond all hopes of recovery, and that they were waiting for the little one to pass away. 'How is it with you to-day?' I asked. With a beautiful smile on her face, she said, 'It is all well with me to-day. I wish you would speak to my father and mother.' 'But,' said I, 'are you a Christian?' 'Yes.' 'When did you become one?' Do you remember last Thursday in the Tabernacle when we had that little Singing meeting, and you sang, 'Jesus Loves Even Me?' 'Yes.' 'It was last Thursday I believed on the Lord Jesus, and now I am going to be with Him to-day.' That testimony from that little girl in that neglected quarter of Chicago has done more to stimulate me and to bring me to this country than all that the papers or any persons might say. I remember the joy I felt when I looked upon that beautiful child face. She went up to Heaven, and no doubt said that she learned upon earth that Jesus loved her, from that little hymn. If you want to enjoy a blessing, go to the couches of the bedridden and dying ones, and sing to them of Jesus, for they cannot enjoy these meetings as you do, and you will get a great blessing to your own soul."

A story is told of a young Highlander who had lived far from the Lord for so long that his pastor had come to believe that the truth could not touch him, but one day he was found deeply awakened. When asked what had brought about this change in his feelings he said that it was the result of hearing his little sister sing

"When He cometh, when He cometh
To make up His Jewels.

During the great revival in Scotland, a certain writer said, Perhaps not a week has passed during the last year in which we have not had evidence that the Lord had directly used a line of one of these hymns in the salvation of some soul."


Mr. Moody's preaching, Mr. Sankey's singing - how indissolubly these two are associated in the minds of millions of people! And how wonderful were the spiritual returns that this partnership brought! Often Mr. Moody's words would bring a sinner to the point of conviction, and then the tender pathos of Mr. Sankey's singing would let a great flood of blessing into that sinner's soul, and the softening influences would work until he would cry out in his joy, "I am saved!" And, on the other hand, when a meeting had just begun, and away back in the farthest corners men were sitting who had come in a scoffing mood, or out of curiosity, to hear the evangelists, the preliminary song of Mr. Sankey would rouse the attention of those persons, and they would try to get nearer the platform, and by the time Mr. Moody was ready to speak, they would have forgotten why they had come, in their eagerness to hear the preacher's message.

Mr. Sankey's singing was as direct in its appeal to the individual as Mr. Moody's speaking. Their was no sentimental clap-trap about either, in spite of. the charge which we have frequently heard to that effect against the "Gospel hymns". Music, of all the arts, is now in the highest development. John Addington Symonds in his story of the Renaissance tells us that the form of art in which any given generation finds the most perfect expression for its ideals of beauty depends upon the nature of the religious feeling of that generation, Thus, the mysticism of the mediaeval Church was typified in the symbolism, the lofty aspiration of Gothic architecture; the rich formalism, the sensuous comprehensiveness of the Church of Rome in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries established the ideals and led to the feelings which were spread in glowing colors upon the canvasses of the greatest painters the world has ever known; while, in present times, the development of religious life to a plane of lofty hope, brotherly love, and a consciousness of salvation has found its highest expression in music.


Music comes from the heart in a way that words cannot; there are times when its appeal is resistless, and so, for nearly thirty years, to the sound sense of Mr. Moody's words, illumined as they were by the reflection of a great heart, was added the appeal of Mr. Sankey's song. Surely this partnership was blessed beyond our comprehension.

It has been wonderful the way Mr. Sankey's song has been carried beyond the mere locality of utterance. An illustration of the way in which it heralded and accompanied the Gospel message as sent out from the words of his brother evangelist is found in the letter of a traveler who was going from England to France in 1875. "It has been perfectly delightful," he says "to find traces of the work everywhere. While waiting at I heard a porter filling the whole station with the 'Sweet Bye and Bye.' As he came up to my carriage, I was struck with his bright, cheery face and spoke to him. The man's face glowed when he talked of Mr. Moody and Mr. Sankey.

Sunday afternoon at______, I was alone in the reading room and began to sing to myself one of 'the hymns'. Presently the door creaked, and on looking up I saw that a whole bevy of maids had gathered and were listening attentively, it was so unlike what foreign servants would do, I felt sure that they must be English, and I knew that if I moved they would run away, so I sang on as if I had not seen them. Then an old gentleman came in, and on my stopping, said, ' O! don't stop, but please sing 'The Home Over There'. He went on to tell that he had been sitting gloomily in his room when he heard a Sankey hymn. How one is taught every day that one's 'times' are not in ones own hands! I wanted to sing for my own selfish gratification; but I was shamed by being shown how it might be used, for others came in after, and a band of us sang 'Hold the Fort', a specially necessary command it seems when travelling abroad."

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