Chapter 17 - The World's Fair Campaign

Table of Contents

The First Meeting - How Mr. Moody Vivified the Work - The Reports of Co-Workers - The Monday Conferences - Meetings For Children.

When the World's Columbian Exposition became an assured fact, and Chicago was finally selected as the place of the celebration, Mr. Moody was quick to notice the possibility which would arise to carry the Gospel to the multitudes likely to be attracted there. Other men might have been blind to this, but not this mighty man of God. When he came to Chicago his mind was clear as to the necessity of a wide Opportunity for evangelistic movement, and he was in a position to command the services of those men upon whom God had set the special seal of His approval. His heart had for some time been fixed upon this work, as is evident from the address he made after his memorable experience on the steamship Spree, in which he says:


"As I was preparing to leave London after my last visit there, I called upon a famous physician. He told me that my heart was weakening and that I would have to ease up on my work, that I would have to be more careful of myself; and I was going home with an idea that I would ease up a little. During the voyage, the announcement came that our vessel, the Spree, was sinking, and we rolled there for two days helplessly. No one on earth knows what I passed through at the thought that probably my work was finished, and that I would never again have the privilege of preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ; and on that first dark night after the accident, I made a vow that if God would let me live and bring me back to America, I would go back to Chicago, and at this World's Fair, preach the Gospel with all the power He would give me. And God has made it possible for me to keep that vow during the past five months. It seems as if I went to the very gates of Heaven during that two days on the sinking ship, and God permitted me to come back and preach His Son a little longer." After landing on these shores he went to his Northfield home, and having brought the students of Mt. Hermon and Northfield together at six o'clock in the morning, he said to them, "If you have any regard for me, if you love me, pray for me that God may anoint me for the work in Chicago; I want to be filled with the Spirit that I may preach the Gospel as I never preached it before; we want to see the salvation of God as we have never seen it before."

Not only to the students of Northfield and Mt. Hermon did he emphasize the importance and value of prayer, but he insisted it upon in other directions so that in all regions there was rising continuous prayer that the blessing of God might be poured out upon the unsaved masses which would throng the streets of Chicago.


It was a most fitting thing that the first meeting of this campaign should be held in the Chicago Avenue Church, known as Moody's church. On the first Sunday of May, which was bright and beautiful, a great congregation came together in the church and waited patiently for the appearance of the evangelist. He came in, followed by Mr. Sankey and other distinguished leaders. When the time arrived for Mr. Moody to speak, he took for his theme the elder brother in the story of the prodigal son. If, in his description, he pictured the elder brother as the meanest man on earth, and unworthy of a father's love, on the other hand he showed how graciously God received those who, through repenting of their sins, turned back to Him. The yearning of his own heart that the lost sinner might be found, was a key note, and gave the characteristics of all the sermons that were subsequently preached by Mr. Moody and his co-workers in this campaign. All were animated with the one spirit, that Christ might be presented lovingly, earnestly, and persistently as the friend of sinners. The vast number of those who accepted the invitation invariably offered, shows how God set His seal to simple testimony of this character.


Afternoon services were held in this same church, and again there was another crowd to hear Mr. Moody, who spoke on the subject of Praise. He had such a full assurance that God would send a wave of blessing over the city that his heart was filled with praise in anticipation of it. The invariable desire on the part of Mr. Moody to praise God with his whole heart for anticipated blessings was one of the marked characteristics of his faith. This is as rare as it is beautiful, and it was the theme of that afternoon meeting. At night the church was thronged again, while services were also held in other places. Special meetings in different parts of the city were also conducted by the students of the Institute. So passed the first day of the great campaign in Chicago. The sins and sorrows of the city lay like a heavy burden on Mr. Moody's heart, and it became evident, as his plans matured, that his design was not merely to reach the multitude of strangers who were pouring into the city, but that he might also influence the citizens themselves. The moral condition of the city was beyond description. Sunday was the great holiday of the week; all the places of amusement were open; the worst features of a Sunday on the Continent were observed, and nothing but the outpouring of the Holy Spirit could check the tide.

It is no easy matter to plan and carry into execution the details of a great campaign like this, but Mr. Moody was in perfect command of the situation. He spent hour after hour waiting upon God, and God in response opened door after door of opportunity. Difficulties vanished as they were approached, and what had seemed to be utterly impossible was accomplished. As the days went by the magnitude of the work was very much increased. The great buildings were secured in different sections of the city, theatres, halls, churches and missions were opened. The large circus tent of Forepaugh was also secured. Five other great tent tabernacles were moved from section to section, and sometimes great crowds assembled in the open air. Speakers were assigned to these places, and day after day for months there went out a testimony for God such as perhaps no other city of the world has had.


Mr. Moody had surrounded himself with a company of men with whom it was one of the greatest privileges to be associated. The men most used of God in evangelistic work went there, as well as a large number of others who had been gifted with the power of Gospel singing. The singing was one of the strong features in all the meetings, and contributed largely to their success. Mr. Moody always made the most careful arrangements for the song services in connection with the meetings. Indeed the singing was a feature of no small importance in all these meetings. Where it was possible, great choirs were organized under skillful directors and these, together with great congregations who were once wrought up into the spirit of praise, would fill the buildings with such music as is rarely heard. Wherever Mr. Moody conducted evangelistic services he paid the same careful thought to the services of praise, and the meetings in the Chicago campaign will by many be remembered best for the magnificent singing.

As a rule when the services of the day were over, Mr. Moody would meet with his co-workers at the Bible Institute. Each speaker, as he came in from some different section of the city, would be greeted with a cordial word from Mr. Moody and an inquiry as to the nature of the services. Almost without exception, the reports were of the most encouraging character. Not only were the audiences large, but often the aisles were filled with chairs, great crowds as well being turned from the doors, unable to get in. Often the report was that large numbers had definitely accepted Christ.


At all such reports Mr. Moody's face would be lighted up with a look of intense pleasure. From the beginning, the only reason that he had for holding these services was in order that sinners might be saved. While he was always glad if Christians were reached and lifted up into a higher level of experience, still the deeper joy came to his heart when some lost man or woman might be through his, or his colleagues', preaching led to accept Christ. Rarely an evening passed that such news was not brought in to the great joy of Mr. Moody. God had so singularly owned the work from the beginning that scarcely a meeting passed without some being led by the Spirit of God to a definite surrender of themselves to His service. It was a privilege to look upon Mr. Moody's face when these reports were brought in by different speakers. When the last one had reported, the meetings would close with praise and prayer. No one who was privileged to attend these after-services in the Institute will ever forget the delightful fellowship of these godly men. They had come from all parts of the world. They had been most largely used of God, and were men of wide and varied experiences. The evening would be spent, not merely in the giving of reports of the special services from which they had come, but other things drawn out of past experience would he brought in, so that one would feel that he was in some special way connected with the carrying out of God's purpose, as he might listen or contribute something to these meetings.

By reason of the work connected with the meetings themselves, the men might come in very much exhausted, yet, after such a meeting as has been spoken of, there would come a sense of a new baptism of the Spirit, and in their waiting upon God there would be a renewal of strength for whatever service might lie before them.


In accordance with the custom of the Institute, Mondays were set aside as days of conference and rest. Mr. Moody would meet the workers from all parts of the city and put to them questions as to the results of the week's work. These meetings, by reason of the suggestions and comments that were offered, were not only deeply interesting, but also exceedingly profitable. Mr. Moody himself would put questions to those who had been conducting the meetings. He would inquire about the progress of the work, ask the number of people that had been present, and how many of them had made up their minds to serve the Lord Jesus Christ. He would also want to know the different nationalities that might be represented, as to the proportion of the working men and of the poor, desiring to learn, if possible, how many of those attending were representatives of visitors to the World's Fair. Then these workers would be asked to give their opinion as to the value of the meetings compared with others which had been held by these same workers at other places. Questions of this kind, and answers given by trained and skillful workmen, would bring out the most useful suggestions. It was also discovered that at the tents, congregations were a thousand or more at the evening services, and perhaps half as large in the day services. These audiences were made up not only of Protestants but also of Roman Catholics. In some sections, the neighborhood being almost altogether Roman Catholic, perhaps more than three-fourths of the great audiences would belong to that faith. In some of the tents were large numbers of workingmen who would sit with intense interest expressed in their faces, and when the invitation was given, individuals among these would make decision for Christ.

As a rule, all the churches in the immediate vicinity of the tent meetings were in perfect sympathy with the work, the ministers attending the meetings and sitting- on the platform, and the largest number of workers were secured from these churches.


Some of the most interesting reports were made concerning the children's meetings. Oftentimes Sunday school teachers would be drawn to these meetings where they would find their classes assembled, and in many instances, if the members of the class were not reached, Sunday school teachers would be, and those who had not hitherto made a profession of faith would come out definitely for Christ in these meetings.

In all the sections where these meetings were held, the spiritual power of the neighboring churches was intensely magnified. The prayer meetings of the local churches grew in attendance, and the Sunday services were far better attended than ever before.

It was most interesting also to hear the reports of the men who had charge of the great meetings in the theatres. Sometimes, as for example at the Empire Theatre, nearly the whole congregation would consist of men only, and a very large proportion of these men would be not only out of work, but drinking men. For these, temperance meetings were held, and hundreds of pledges were signed by these men, while hundreds of others yielded themselves altogether to Christ.


While there were large audiences at nearly all the services, some of them reached enormous proportions. Dr. J. Munro Gibson, of London, who was associated with Mr. Moody in his campaign, said on returning to London, "While the Fair grounds were quite deserted on Sundays the churches were full. There was little use trying to get into the churches where Mr. Moody or Mr. McNeill preached unless you went an hour or two before the time, but even with only a preacher of ordinary abilities the church would be filled, not only in the morning but also at the evening service, and it is not an easy thing to secure a good attendance for evening services in Chicago." It was not only on Sunday nights, but on week nights as well. Many of the great buildings were thronged long before the hour of opening. At the Haymarket Theatre, in West Madison Street, where Mr. Moody was to preach, a great throng would stand in the streets long before the doors were opened, and when they were opened every available inch of space would be filled in an almost incredibly short time, and those who failed to gain entrance would be directed to some place for an overflow meeting, to which, however, they could by no possibility be induced to go until assured that Mr. Moody would speak there.

Perhaps the most extraordinary meetings in point of number, were those held in Forepaugh's circus tent,' and those in Tattersall's Hall. When Mr. Moody was arranging to secure the use of the mammoth tent, he had difficulties in making an agreement with the manager, who expected Sunday to be his great day in Chicago, but he was finally prevailed upon to allow him the use of it for Sunday morning, reserving Sunday afternoon and evening for his show. When these arrangements were being made, one of the circus men contemptuously asked him if he supposed it would be possible to get an audience of 3,000. What must have been his surprise when, arriving on the scene Sunday morning, he found assembled a vast congregation of 18,000 people, whereas the attendance at the circus in the afternoon and evening was so poor that the performances had to be given up altogether on Sundays. This was perhaps the greatest throng that attended any one service. After an hour of singing by the great choir and congregation, Mr. Moody spoke from the text, "The Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost." His whole being seemed to be under the control of the power and Spirit of God, and never perhaps did he speak with so much earnestness as to this vast multitude.


It was at this service that the pathetic incident happened where a little child was lost, and Mr. Moody taking the little one in his arms made an effort to discover the parents. As the anxious father made his way toward the platform, Mr. Moody, still holding the child, said, with tears streaming down his cheeks, "this is what Jesus Christ came to do, he came to seek and save sinners, and to restore them to their heavenly Father's embrace." It was a most solemn service and will never be forgotten by any one who had the privilege of attending.

Toward the close of the meetings Mr. Moody said, "We have to-day everything to encourage us, and nothing to discourage us. This has been by far the best week we have had. The Gospel has through this agency been brought to 150,000 people during the week. I have never seen greater eagerness to hear the word of God, The largest halls are too small for the crowds that come to many of the services. One night, for instance, on my way to the Fair Grounds, I beheld one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen on earth. It was a wonderful display of fireworks and illuminations, tens of thousands of people gazing on the scene. It seemed useless to expect any one to come away from that scene and sit down in a tabernacle to hear the Gospel; but the house was filled, and we had a blessed meeting. The following nights though cold and rainy, with a damp, uncomfortable room, the people crowded in until every inch of space was occupied. I thank God that I am living in Chicago to-day; these have been the happiest moments of my life; what a work He has given us to-day; what encouragements He has given us; how He has blessed us. Perhaps never in your life will some of you have an opportunity to do as much for Christ as now.

Though it required a vast sum of money, Mr. Moody was equal to the occasion, and raised every dollar. Northfield was deeply interested in the work, and contributed largely. The work being presented by Dr. Gordon, of Boston, a contribution of about $10,000 was sent to Mr. Moody from Northfield after Dr. Gordon's appeal. Mr. Moody himself had great skill in getting good collections. When he had to leave the Haymarket Theatre, he said to the audience, "How many people believe we ought to go on? Just lift your hands." And when they had their hands up, he said, "Now put them down deep into your pockets, and help us to carry it on."

No work of this kind can be measured in terms of money. I am sure that in the days to come there will still be great harvests gathered from this sowing, and this World's Fair campaign will doubtless be numbered among the greatest ever conducted by Mr. Moody.

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