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.

Ira David Sankey Singing Revivalist

This is the day that … Ira David Sankey was born in Pennsylvania, in 1840. His father was a prominent man, a state senator, banker and editor. He was under appointment by Abraham Lincoln to collect internal revenue.

Young David displayed a fondness for music and developed an excellent singing voice.

In his early years he attended the Methodist Episcopal Church, became Sunday-School superintendent, led the YMCA and led the choir.

During the Civil War he was one of the first to enlist with the Union Army.

Three years later, on 9 September, 1863, Sankey married a member of his choir, Fanny Edwards. “She has been a blessing and a helpmate to me throughout my life and in all my work,” he wrote in his autobiography (page 17).

Sankey was in constant demand as a singer for all kinds of religious gatherings.

In 1870 he met D.L. Moody at a 6.00 a.m. YMCA prayer meeting, and after hearing him sing, Moody challenged him to become his partner in an evangelistic ministry. Before long Sankey was leading the singing and contributing some gospel solos at Moody’s meetings in Chicago.

Sankey and Moody travelled to the UK in June 1873, and there Sankey’s singing gave him an international reputation. His wonderful compass of voice, clear enunciation and evident sincerity made a deep impression throughout Great Britain, so much so that before he returned to America the names of “Moody and Sankey” had become household words throughout Europe. (wholesomewords.org)

Many converts testified to the impact made by Sankey’s singing as well as the preaching of the evangelist.

Sankey’s Hymn Book is reputed to have sold 80 million copies in the first 50 years (1873-1923).

Among the well-known tunes Sankey composed are those to which we sing these words: There were ninety and nine…; Simply trusting every day…; Encamped along the hills of light…; The Lord’s our Rock, in Him we hide…; Under His wings…; Oh! Safe to the Rock that is higher than I…

On 13 August, 1908, Sankey joined the Heavenly choir.

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.

Edward McKendree Bounds Promotes Prayer

This is the day that … Edward McKendree Bounds was born in 1835, in a small log cabin in Missouri, USA.

His father was a leading figure in “the social, economic and religious fibre of the town” … but he died when Edward was in his mid-teens.

After studying law, 21 year-old Edward practised for three years and then entered the Methodist ministry. Then came the Civil War … and Bounds was accused by the Union army of being a Confederate sympathiser. He was arrested and harshly treated … then ‘exiled’ from Missouri as long as the war continued.

On 13 May, 1863, he became a chaplain to the Confederate forces … he was wounded at the battle of Franklin, Tennessee … and again was captured by the Northern forces.

After the war he returned to ministry, married Emmie Barnett, and built a great church in St Louis. After the death of Emmie, 10 years later, he married her cousin.

And he took on the editorship of the Christian Advocate, an influential Christian newspaper. During the nine years that followed many powerful articles came from his pen, especially in connection with prayer. His volume, Power Through Prayer, is still in print, and has long been regarded as a classic on that subject.

In 1894 he parted company with the Methodists – their “political, worldly and merchandising attitudes he would not condone”. He continued an itinerant “revival” ministry, and his pen was ever busy.

At the age of 58, and for the next nineteen years (till he went home to be with the Lord at age 77) he started and continued to write books. The rest of his time was spent in intercessory prayer and in an itinerant revival ministry. It is said that he prayed daily from 4am to 7am before he would begin work on his writings.

His principal legacy is his example and writings on the subject of earnest prayer. “What the Church needs to-day is not more machinery or better (machinery), not new organizations or more and novel methods, but men whom the Holy Ghost can use — men of prayer, men mighty in prayer. The Holy Ghost does not flow through methods, but through men. He does not come on machinery, but on men. He does not anoint plans, but men — men of prayer.”

On 24 August, 1913, E.M. Bounds entered his rest.

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.

Thomas L. Johnson’s Passion for Africa

This is the day that … Thomas L. Johnson was ‘probably’ born, in 1836, in Virginia, USA.

His father was an octoroon (i.e. one-eighth negro) … and his mother a black slave. Thomas was born into slavery. His master refused to sell Thomas and his mother to Thomas’ father, so he spent 28 years as a slave.

It was 21 years later that revival fires swept through Virginia, great camp meetings were held, and thousands professed conversion. Among them were Thomas and his mother.

In 1863 he married Henrietta Thompson. The Civil War resulted in his Emancipation, and he pastored a small black congregation in Denver, Colorado, where he even preached some of Spurgeon’s sermons! His passion was to be a missionary to Africa and so that led him, in his 40’s to London – a student in Spurgeon’s College. And on 6 November, 1877, he and his wife sailed as missionaries to Africa.

In a village in Fernando, Poo Johnson preached the gospel. The tribal king was converted. “Soon nakedness, violence, ignorance and indifference to the Sabbath began to disappear” (Evangelical Times, February, 1988).

Mrs Johnson died in June, 1879, and a sick Thomas Johnson found it needful to be carried 80 miles to the coast.

Back in America he re-married … and was nominated as U.S. Consul to Liberia. In 1892 he released the sixth edition of his autobiography, which he titled “Africa for Christ, 28 Years a Slave”. This title celebrated his passion for mission endeavour in Africa.

“He continued to serve the Lord into his 70’s, speaking about Africa and conducting evangelistic missions in many churches,” in America and Europe.

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.