Chapter 16 - The Chicago Bible Institute

Table of Contents

Various Bible Conferences - The Pre- Eminence of Northfleld - The Beginnings and the Growth of the Conference The Student Volunteers - Missionary Interest Awakened.

The Chicago bible institute is one of the great monuments which Mr. Moody has left for himself. That it was born in prayer is proved from the words of an address which Mr. Moody made at one of the last meetings of the World's Fair campaign: "Little we thought, when we prayed some three or four years ago for a Bible Institute near the church, that we should have any such opportunity to preach the Gospel to the world as we have had these last six months. We should not have been able to do the work we have clone during these past months but for the Institute and the three hundred workers who had gathered there from every part of the country. No matter at what point the work has been started, we have had force enough to carry it on. I believe that it would have been utterly impossible to have carried on this work without the help of the Bible Institute. It may be that God raised it up for such a time, even as Esther was raised up for the time of her country's peril and need."


The need of an institution of this kind became evident to Mr. Moody as he went about, holding evangelistic services in various places. There was constant difficulty in getting persons who were able to deal directly with inquirers or who were trained sufficiently in the knowledge of the Word of God to point the soul to Christ. In every meeting there would be great numbers of the poor and of the outcast whose hearts would be reached by the message, and when there was any great number of such inquirers it was quite impossible for him to deal personally with them all. On one occasion, Mr. Moody said, "One of the great purposes we have in view in the Bible Institute is to raise up men and women who will put their lives alongside the life of the poor and the laboring classes, and bring the influence of the Gospel to bear upon them." Out of a little Mission Sunday School, which had been organized by Mr. Moody, grew the Chicago Avenue Church, and it was in this church that the first steps were taken toward the founding of such an institute as Mr. Moody had in mind. In the spring of 1889, the Chicago Evangelization Society came into existence, and Mr. Moody was its president. From the experiment made at the church it was clearly demonstrated that it would be possible to have a Bible Institute conducted on practical lines in the City of Chicago. Ground and buildings near the church were purchased, and the organization was effected in October, 1889, when the Institute opened for regular work.


At the beginning something like eighty students were enrolled, fifty of them being men and thirty women. Three houses had been already purchased by the Institution, and another brick structure was at once begun which was finished the following year. The attendance during this year was three times as great as the first year. The students came from all parts of the world. They held religious opinions of every type, and they came to the Institute with different objects. Some of them intended to continue their studies after leaving the Institute; others expected to enter immediately upon active work when they left, indeed, there were many pastors of churches, who came there in order that they might increase their knowledge of practical ways of working in their own churches. Perhaps in no institution of the country would there be manifest a more intense zeal for work than would be found there. The main object of the institution was both practical and simple; it was to give all the students a thorough working knowledge of the Scriptures, in order that they might be equipped for personal Christian work, and at the same time have their own spiritual lives stimulated.

There are, in all, accommodations for about three hundred students. The two departments are kept separate except at the time of lectures, when all come together in the lecture hail of the main building.


One is not a guest at the Institute for any great length of time without discovering the object which the Institute has in view. He will see here 200 or 300 bright and earnest Christian young men and women from all parts of the world. As a rule, they come from that class of people which the Institute is training them to help.

They have no fortune back of them, few of them have had the advantages of an education beyond that afforded by the common schools. They come there with strong convictions that God has called them to some special service which needs special training such as the Institute can give them. One feels the influence of the spiritual atmosphere which pervades the Institute as soon as the door is opened to receive him, and, if he were spending some little time among these young people so consecrated to their work, he could not come away, without having received great personal blessing.


The ordinary routine of the Institute is systematic and orderly to a high degree. The hour for breakfast is seven o'clock. All take part in asking God's blessing upon the food, for grace is "sung" and not "said". When the breakfast is finished the chairs are pushed back from the tables and a short exposition is made of the Scripture chosen for the morning devotions. As a rule this Scripture is read by Mr. John H. Hunter, who has a general oversight of the men's department; if not by him, then by some one of the visiting lecturers who is living temporarily at the Institute. At eight o'clock they assemble for prayer, and at nine o'clock the young men and young women assemble together for the first lecture of the day. From ten to eleven o'clock the time is given to thorough instruction, under competent teachers, in vocal and instrumental music. The second lecture hour is at eleven o'clock, and dinner at 12.30. At four o'clock in the afternoon comes the fourth lecture, and the evenings are invariably taken up by the students who are assigned to various places for practical work. It would seem to be one object of these students to bring theory and practice close together, for as in the morning they are shown where to find the Scriptures which would point the way to Christ, they are in the evening sent out with those same Scriptures to make a practical application of them upon the unsaved.


The practical part of the education which is given to those who study here is of the most important character. Every student is required to do a certain proportion of practical work each week that he is in the Institute. Sometimes he will be obliged to visit the homes in some section of the city designated to him. At other times he will be obliged to organize and carry on cottage prayer meetings. Then, nearly all the missions of Chicago are supplied more or less by students from the Institute. Children's meetings are held, industrial schools are also carried on, and in almost every case where students are sent to conduct meetings they are obliged also to hold inquiry meetings, so that they get hold not only of theories, but also are shown how to put these theories into operation.

The course of study is most varied, though the main object constantly adhered to is that all the students may get a thorough knowledge of the Word of God and be taught how they may skillfully apply it. The doctrines of the Scriptures are studied in a thorough and careful manner. Several books are taken up and an analytic study made of these. Each year some of the best known Bible students of the country are brought in to reinforce the regular staff, and these give daily lectures on some biblical theme. As I have before stated, one of the most impressive features of the Institute life is the spiritual atmosphere which pervades it.


After the supper hour, and just before the students scatter in all directions to visit the homes and missions and other places of assignment, they meet together for prayer, and those who have some special burden upon their hearts send up a written request to the leader. It is most touching sometimes to hear the words of these requests for prayer. Sometimes they are like this, "Please pray for that unsaved man with whom I am to speak to-night; or "Pray for me that I may conduct the services in my mission tonight in all the power of the Holy Spirit;" or "Pray for me that I may be led to do the right thing in striving to arrange for that series of cottage meetings." One by one these requests are read by the leader, and then the most fervent prayers are offered up that these desires may be heard and granted. The students insist upon it, that they have the most remarkable answers to prayer, and no one could be present at one of these meetings and notice the nature of the requests, and the fervent spirit in which they are presented to God, without believing that these prayers would be answered.

The teacher from the outside has, as a rule, rare opportunities to get into close and intimate relationship with the young men of the Institute. If he can succeed in interesting these men with his Bible theme, he will be sure to be visited by large numbers, sometimes as many as twenty, who come to him for some further light upon questions which are troubling them. The students are frank and open-hearted, and are earnestly seeking whatever light God will give them. They seem to have a burning desire to be fitted properly for any work to which God may call them.

The Rev. R. A. Torrey, who is the superintendent of the Institute, is without question the most capable man that Mr. Moody could have found for this very important position. He has preeminent endowments which qualify him in a very special manner to conduct this work which has been in his charge from its inception. He is a man of most delightful spirit, and has a profound knowledge of the Word of God, which he has wrought up in a most thorough form, and which is with intense earnestness taught the students, who are subjected to a very thorough examination at the end of their course.


Mr. Torrey is not only the superintendent of the Institute, but also the pastor of the Chicago Avenue Church. He is loved by all the students, who accept as absolute his word, from which it is dangerous for any strange teacher to digress.

He has had from the beginning a most profound influence upon the character of the Institute, as well as of the students who have gone from it. These students are trained for special spheres of work, spheres which would never be filled, if it were necessary to depend upon the ordinary theological seminaries. The theological student prepares himself for the ordinary ministry; those who come to the Moody Institute are seeking to become pastors' assistants, mission workers in the slums, secretaries to Young Peoples' Societies or Young Men's Christian Associations, Sunday school workers, and evangelists. That there is need of such workers is clearly evident from the large number of requests which are constantly coming in to the superintendent for men to supply vacancies. It has been impossible hitherto to meet the demand, but nevertheless, year after year, there has been put into the world by this Institute a large number of consecrated Christian workers for fields which are considered by no means easy.


The Institute is accomplishing the very object which Mr. Moody had in mind at the time of its organization, This object has been held to unswervingly from the beginning, and in the ten years' history of the Institute it would be impossible to overestimate the value of the work which has been accomplished by it. Steadily from the beginning, the number of students in attendance has increased, and this increase is noticeable not only in the men's department, but also in the women's department.

During these first ten years of its organization nearly three thousand students have studied at the Institute, and at least a third of these are now engaged in active Christian work throughout the country. The Institute has not only provided home workers, but is represented also by a large number in the field of foreign missions, and some of those who have come from foreign lands to be educated here have returned to their own homes and are loyally serving Christ there.

Since the organization three other buildings have been purchased for the work of the Institute, and in connection with the Institute a Colportage Association has been established, which has published millions of books, and distributed them widely in all parts of the world. The purpose of this Association is to send out sound Christian literature at low prices. The work has no denominational connection, and all Christians are expected to give their sympathy and co-operation to the work in order that the vast influence of vicious literature, which is now so widely circulated, may be counteracted. Thousands of these books are distributed free, and it has been the special desire of Mr. Moody to put these books within the reach of the prisoners in the penal institutions of the country.


So long as the Institute endures, it cannot be said of Chicago, at least, that there is not a large number of intelligent, consecrated, Christians who are both willing and eager to go down in the slums and dark places and put their lives alongside the lives of the outcast and fallen. So deeply impressed was Mr. Moody with the importance of this work that he thought it desirable that such institutes should be started in other sections of the country, and I believe that he cherished the hope that, at no distant day, there might be institutes of this character in all of our great centres of population. It is the unique and splendid work which is being accomplished by the Institute that kept it close to Mr. Moody's heart, and just so far as our sympathies go out toward the poor and the unsaved masses, we will seek by all the influence we possess to perpetuate this, and to multiply in our land institutes of a similar character.

It is most interesting to notice the peculiar and deep influence which Mr. Moody had, not only upon the students in the Institute, but also upon those who gathered together at Northfield and Mt. Hermon. Not always at once were students drawn to him, but it would not be long before his tremendous magnetism would be felt in their lives. He held a unique position in all the schools that were under his direction; both at Northfield and Chicago he came to be regarded as a father, and no one would be able to estimate the influence exerted upon the character of the students by Mr. Moody's broad sympathy.


While the Northfield schools were ever near to his heart, there was a special sense in which the work that was being carried on at the Institute appealed to him. Possibly too, his heart was drawn out more toward the Chicago work, because this more than the other depended upon the personal interest of Mr. Moody for its maintenance. It is in no sense a theological seminary; it was never designed to be; it was not even designed to supplement the education that might be obtained at a theological seminary. The institution was born of the necessity of bringing into the field workers who would be skilled to meet the needs and difficulties of those who never would come within the reach of the graduate of the theological school.

If, however, the Institute does not cover the ground of theoretical study, which is ordinarily taken up by the technical school, it is nevertheless in its own way giving a thorough training for those who are to do a special work in the world. The Bible itself is the book upon which the attention of the student is constantly centred. The book is approached from various standpoints. All the great doctrines are most carefully and systematically taught the students. It would be a strange thing for any young man or woman to pass through the course of studies without having at the end a very clear conception of the great truth of salvation; and also a clear idea as to how salvation might be presented to other men. Whoever has had the privilege of working in the Institute of Chicago, or in any other place where graduates of this institution have assisted in the work, would see as no other how much real value lies in an institution of this kind. It would not be too much to say that the effectiveness of any evangelistic campaign would be quadrupled if there could be distributed through the audience a number of trained workers such as are to be found in the Chicago Bible Institute.


The splendid services of Mrs. S. B. Capron, for so long the superintendent of the women's' department, ought not to be passed by without notice. Coming as she did, enriched in experience, she brought a peculiar ability and a devotion of spirit to the work of the Institute. The same delightful spiritual atmosphere which pervades the men's department, is noticeable in the buildings of the women's department. These consecrated young women are, by no means, behind the young men in their zeal for the work which is laid out for them. They, too, are sent out upon the streets to work. They go to the police stations; they are to be found in the halls and tents; they go from house to house in visitation of the poor and the sick, and are especially equipped with the right answer for those who may be inquiring the way of salvation.

As a rule the students are assigned to their different sections in pairs. They hold a mothers' meeting on Wednesday at the Institute and, in their house to house visitation, invite the mothers to this meeting, telling them to bring their children too, and these little ones are entertained and taught by kindergarten methods, while the poor mothers have their bodies refreshed and their souls brought into contact with a higher spiritual plane. Then they are invited also to the great Sunday afternoon Bible class, to which they come, and again the children are taken care of in the primary departments. Often they can be induced also to attend the evening service, and all these tremendous results are being achieved, home and character being transformed by this noble band of young women who have given up their whole lives to consecrated service of this kind.


The object of the Institute is not altogether defined by, or limited to, the study of the Bible or practical Christian work. There is another design, namely, that the character of the students themselves may be developed on spiritual and symmetrical lines. Many a one has come to the Institute with little conception of the possibilities lying within himself, or of the possibilities of service lying without him, who here, under the spiritual influence of the home, has had these things dawn upon him and has gone forth with some wide and noble plan of action.

No wonder that this Institution, with its noble aim and its already accomplished good, was the joy and delight of Mr. Moody's heart. It means the perpetuation of that work to which he had consecrated his own life; it means that after him will be raised up generations of men and women who will, so far as God will give them strength, do what he has done, by putting their lives alongside the lives of the poor and wretched and miserable and outcast. No man in all the world has so closely touched the lowly classes as did Mr. Moody. It might almost be said of him as it was said of his Master, "The common people heard him gladly," and his great design in the establishing of the Bible Institute was that it might ever be in the interests of the common people. In the interests of the common people it has been and doubtless will continue to be, for whatever of training may be gained by the students is immediately utilized, not in the behalf of the rich, but in behalf of those whom sin has marred, and who are in special need of personal sympathy such as they can give. Nowhere in all the world will there stand a whiter monument to the memory of Mr. Moody than this great training school of Christian workers. This is no finished work but one that will live on, and one which, by reason. of its peculiar need, will have a peculiar claim upon the sympathy and prayer of those who are interested in it.

It was one of the cherished desires of Mr. Moody's heart that this Institution might be put upon a basis that would make it possible for the work to continue without a constant appeal to its devoted friend is for an annual deficit. No more fitting tribute can be paid to the founder of the Institution than to fulfill this desire of his heart, and raise a sufficient endowment to perpetuate this one of his greatest works.

At Mr. Moody's special request. I, a few years ago, became Vice-President of the Bible Institute. He was desirous at that time that I should give much of my life to it, and I was very strongly tempted to do so. But the call of duty was clearer in another direction, and so I was obliged to turn aside, although nothing would have given me greater pleasure than to have been associated with him in this great work. I desire to commend it to my readers everywhere, and I believe the blessing of God will be especially upon them, if they should help, not only with their prayers, but by the contribution of their money, to the firmer establishment of this important work. Young men and women who could not possibly secure training for Christian work elsewhere, have been given opportunities for study here, and to my personal knowledge hundreds of them have been helped by Mr. Moody when there was no one else to help. I pray God, that in Chicago the Bible Institute may ever stand as a memorial of the work of this consecrated man of God.

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