William Bell Riley Establishes Fundamentalism

William Bell Riley was born to a devout Baptist family, in Indiana on March 22, 1861, just before the start of the American Civil War. He grew up on his parents’ tobacco farms, was converted at the age of 17, and cherished dreams of going to law school.  But the call to preach was inescapable.

After many sleepless nights, he tells us, he knelt between two rows of tobacco on a Kentucky hillside and cried:  “I will!  I will preach!  I can do nothing else!”

He entered the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. From 1888 to 1897 he pastored in Lafayette and Bloomington in Indiana, and Chicago Illinois. In Chicago he met and befriended YMCA worker Billy Sunday. In 1897 Riley commenced a 45-year pastorate at the downtown Minneapolis’ First Baptist Church. During those years membership rose from 585 to 3,600.

Riley married Lillian Howard on December 31, 1890, and they had six children. Lillian died in 1931 and two years later Riley married Marie Acomb.

Riley believed that Christians should be ready to engage in political issues if need be. “When the Church is regarded as the body of God-fearing, righteous-living men, then, it ought to be in politics, and as a powerful influence.”

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Riley championed the cause of evangelicalism and held many revival campaigns. His first social campaign targeted alcohol, and then modernism and liberals. He invented the label “fundamentalist” and became the prime mover, along with A C Dixon, and R A Torrey, in the movement that took that name, founding the World Christian Fundamentals Association.

In the 1920’s Riley targeted evolution as the underpinning belief behind modernism and its various expressions. He vigorously debated with evolutionists on university campuses. Riley’s efforts helped to bring about the Scope’s Monkey Trial, which his side won, but which turned out to be a hollow victory. His efforts to ban evolution failed and he became sidelined among Baptists in the years that followed.

Over 60 books came from his pen.  Evangelistic campaigns took him around the world.

His Northwestern Bible Training School, founded in 1902, saw hundreds of ministers and missionaries trained in its classrooms.

For his successor as President of Northwestern Bible and Missionary Training School he chose a young man named Billy Graham.  Thus it was, for three and half years after Riley’s death, Billy Graham headed up the work.

Riley died in Golden Valley, Minnesota, in 1947.

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This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at: www.donaldprout.com

Helen Amelia Sunday Woos and Survives Billy Sunday

Helen Amelia (Thompson) Sunday died on February 20, in 1957.

Helen Amelia Thompson had been born 88 years previous, on June 25, 1868. She grew up in Chicago, gave her heart to Christ at the age of 12, and went on to become leader of a Christian Endeavour Society in the local Presbyterian Church.

At a Christian Endeavour social she met Billy Sunday – she was 17 at the time, and he was six years older. Two years later, during which time Billy also was converted – they were married; Billy having proposed to Helen on December 31, 1887. And in 47 years of marriage she followed her husband, as he stormed across America leading multitudes to Christ.

The couple had four children; Helen, George, William and Paul. When the children were young Helen and the little ones missed Billy as he made his extensive preaching forays. From 1907 Helen (known also as “Nell”) travelled with her celebrity husband.

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“And Mrs Billy Sunday became “Ma” Sunday to the nation. “Ma” ran the gamut of usefulness during the ever expanding and ever increasing evangelistic campaigns,” says her biographer. “She looked after many of the details so essential to the handling of great crowds. When the meetings were held under canvas, even the strength of the supporting ropes bore the scrutiny of her watchful eyes” (Remarkable ‘Ma’ Sunday, by O. Overmyer, page 13).

An unsympathetic writer concerning these halcyon days confesses: “Mrs Sunday was hard-headed and hard-working, and she demanded as much from every member of the team as she gave herself. She could always be counted on to help out in any task … they were all glad she kept a more business-like eye on the complex enterprise than her husband” (Billy Sunday Was His Real Name, by W. McCloughlin, pages 77-78).

Life was not without incident. In 1920 Helen survived a very serious car accident. In 1932 their daughter, Helen, died of pneumonia. In 1933 Billy collapsed while preaching in Iowa and that same year their son, George, committed suicide. Then, on November 6, 1935, Billy Sunday died of a heart attack. In 1938 Helen’s son, William, died in a car accident. Following the death of her son, Paul, in 1944, Helen had outlived her husband and all of her four children.

After her husband’s death in 1935, she found a fruitful ministry still awaited her. Invitations poured in for her to speak, and this 67 year-old widow set off on what would eventually be a million miles of speaking for the Lord. In her 84th year she shared in the 25th anniversary celebration of HCJB radio ministry, “The Voice of the Andes”. In 1955 Youth for Christ International observed a special “Ma Sunday Day” where she had the opportunity to address some 5000 young people.

Until her death in 1957, “and in a more subdued manner, ‘Ma’ Sunday carried on from where her bounding, founding Billy left off… (Remarkable ‘Ma’ Sunday, page 4).

Find hundreds of succinct Church History posts at: http://chrisfieldblog.com/topics/ministry/church-history

This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at: www.donaldprout.com

James Rowe is Lifted by Love

Hymn Writer, James Rowe was born in Devonshire, England on January 1, 1865.

At an early age Rowe entered the Government Survey Department, where he continued till 1890. when his family migrated to America and he settled at Albany, NY. There Rowe became a railroad employee and married Blanche Clapper.

He later devoted his life to literary pursuits and became famous for writing hymn lyrics, becoming one of the most prolific hymn poets of the twentieth century. By his own record, he produced more than 19,000 hymns for a number of different composers.

In 1896 he turned his hand to writing hymns. “Poetry, came easy to him”, said his daughter in one of her letters. His first song was “Speak it for the Saviour”.

“He delighted in composing extemporaneously a poem of some length as he spoke to an assembled audience.” (Songs of Glory by W.J. Reynolds, page 126). Not only gospel songs flowed from his pen, but also “humorous verse for greeting cards.”

Rowe wrote several enduring hymns with the assistance of a pianist, composes, Howard E. Smith, who was born on July 16, 1863. Smith was an active musician throughout his life and served many years as an organist in Connecticut.

In a letter dated 23 May, 1955, James Rowe’s daughter (Mrs. Louise Rowe Mayhew) wrote: “Howard E. Smith was a little man whose hands were so knotted with arthritis that you would wonder how he could use them at all, much less play the piano, but he could and did.” She goes on to describe how her father paced to and fro around the room composing the words of his best-known gospel song whilst Howard E. Smith, the local church organist, set them to music. The result?
I was sinking deep in sin, Far from the peaceful shore;
Very deeply stained within, Sinking to rise no more;
But the Master of the sea Heard my despairing cry,
From the waters lifted me … Now safe am I.

That song. “Love Lifted Me”, was written in 1911, or 1912 and was copyrighted in 1912.

Other gospel songs written by James Rowe include:
Be like Jesus … this my song,
In the home and in the throng…

And the grand old Elim chorus…
I walk with the King …Hallelujah!
I walk with the King, praise His name…

Rowe not only composed songs and poems, but he was also an effective singing teacher. It is recorded on one singing instructor named Eugene Monroe Bartlett that “his schools brought together such well known singing teachers as James Rowe and Homer Rodeheaver”.

Rodeheaver, a popular gospel singer, recounts an occasion when he sang Rowe’s song, “I walk with the King”, “to a great crowd of coloured folks one night”. He explains that “one of the good old-fashioned aunties got up from the back row, taking off her sun-bonnet, waving it in the air, and stepping high down the aisle, she exclaimed, ‘Hallelujah! I walk wid Him too, brudder!’ Then there came the chorus from all over the house, ‘Yeah! we all walk wid Him down here!’”

Gypsy Smith had a favourite song among Rowe’s 8,000 hymns and poems that were circulated, being…
“Be like Jesus, this my song,
In the home and in the throng;
Be like Jesus, all day long!
I would be like Jesus.”

Many of Rowe’s best songs owe much of their popularity to the attractive musical settings of Mr. B. D. Ackley, who was at one time pianist for Billy Sunday.

James Rowe went Home to walk the golden street with his King on 10 November, 1933, in Vermont, USA.

This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at: www.donaldprout.com

Billy Sunday Moves a Nation

William Ashley (Billy) Sunday was born on November 19, in Iowa, USA, 1862.

He never saw his father. Billy, as he is better known, was born four months after his father had marched away to fight in the Civil War – never to return to see this third child. Billy lived with him mum, in a Soldier’s Orphans Home and with his grandfather during his growing years, then went through diverse jobs including fireman, janitor and undertaker’s assistant, before getting the chance to go to high school.

By 1880 baseball had become the passion of his life and in 1883 he left his amateur team to play with the Chicago White Stockings. Sunday gained nationwide recognition for his baseball prowess, becoming the first player to run the bases in 14 seconds. He also set records for stealing bases.

In 1886 he stopped to listen to a gospel band on a street corner and he then followed them to the Pacific Garden Mission on Van Buren Street. At that meeting he knelt to accept Christ.

In the years shortly following his conversion he married Helen Amelia Thompson, worked with the YMCA and gave public talks about Christian living while touring with his baseball team. His career advanced and he played with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He also attended Northwestern University for a time, coaching the baseball team in return for his tuition.

Sunday turned down a $400 per month baseball salary (the average worker made $480 per year) for a $84 per month ministry position. Ball teams later offered $500- $2000 per month. Later in life he was offered $1,000,000 to be in the movies, but declined them all in order to continue the evangelistic ministry.

After working for some years with the YMCA and then as assistant to evangelist Wilbur Chapman, Billy Sunday launched out into an itinerant evangelistic ministry (1896-1935).

Thousands crammed into specially built ‘tabernacles’ with sawdust-lined aisles to hear the explosive preaching of this new revivalist.

“By the end of his career he had preached to 100 million souls, of whom a million had walked the ‘sawdust trail’ – that is, had responded to his invitation for them to accept Christ as Saviour (Christianity Today, June, 1991, page 36).

“His magnetic personality, blended with sensational speech and theatrical gestures, kept audiences spellbound!” says the Dictionary of Religious Biography, page 443.

His anti-booze sermon caused “scores of towns and counties” to go dry. Hotels went out of business. His acrobatic preaching meant “he had to change his sweat-soaked suit after each meeting”.

His song-leader, Homer Rodeheaver, wrote that when Billy preached his sermon “The Devil’s Boomerang” – “until he tempered it down a little … two to 10 men fainted every time I heard him preach it!” (Twenty Years with Billy Sunday, page 32).

Sunday contributed much to the Prohibition of alcoholic beverages, through his powerful anti-booze preaching, especially his famous “Get on the Water Wagon” sermon. In later life he devoted much energy in defending the Prohibition amendment from repeal. A battle which he and the temperance movement lost.

It has been pointed out that he was one of the most outstanding preachers of history, yet he has left virtually no legacy. John Wesley was also a great preacher, yet his legacy survives today. The difference between the men is that Wesley built systems which others could employ, while Sunday built only on his own temporary presence and talent. There is a lesson in there for all who wish to make a difference.

Sunday passed away after a heart attack in 1935 at age 73. Helen began an active ministry of her own following his death and continued touching lives for another 22 years.

Not without his faults and plagued by errant sons, nevertheless Billy Sunday stood tall among the giants of evangelism.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.

Charles McCallon Alexander Music and Bibles

This is the day that Charles McCallon Alexander was born in a log house near Cloyd’s Creek, East Tennessee, USA, in 1867.

His father, John Darius Alexander, played the ‘fiddle’ and led the singing at the local Presbyterian Church. He also taught Charles to read music at a young age and to beat time with his hands. His mother was also a great influence, reading Moody’s sermons and talking much with him and his siblings. By the age of 9, he had read the entire Bible.

At the age of 13 young Charles “rose and walked timidly to the front (of the church) and made his first public confession of Christ” (C.M. Alexander, by his wife, Helen, page 21).

He studied music at Maryville University and eventually became a Professor of Music. His father’s death was pivotal in clinching his life of ministry. Doubting his father’s salvation, Charles asked God to confirm it to him, promising to serve the Lord if He did. When that assurance came to his heart as he peered up to the stars, Charles kept his word and engaged in Christian ministry.

After studying at Moody Bible Institute, he did evangelistic work with Mr. M. B. Williams, Georgia State Secretary for the YMCA for 8 years. He was also Billy Sunday’s song leader in Chicago.

In 1902 he found himself on a worldwide tour with Dr R.A. Torrey, starting in Australia before heading to England the following year. It was Alexander who led the massed choirs (“The Glory Song” became a firm favourite!) – and compiled the hymnbook that bears his name.

In Birmingham he married Helen Cadbury (her family having revolutionised the chocolate industry), and later travelled the world again, leading choirs for J. Wilbur Chapman.

Charles wanted to promote Bible reading, confident that it would lead people to faith. In 1906 he heard news of the “Testament Circles” in Philadelphia and that prompted Helen to tell her husband about her school initiative with “The Pocket Testament League”.

Alexander decided to revive his wife’s earlier initiative and in 1908 it was launched in Philadelphia and actively begun in Melbourne, Australia in 1909. During The Great War thousands of British and American soldiers were impacted by the league, and many testimonies of salvations poured in.

C.M. Alexander died in Birmingham, England, on 13 October, 1920, at the age of 53.

Helen continued the work of The Pocket Testament League and by 1936, there were 5 million members in TPTL. She died in 1969 at the age of 92, having seen millions of New Testaments carried in many pockets.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.