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Charles M. Alexander: The Persuasive Personal Worker

by Faris Daniel Whitesell

Charlie Alexander"Charlie was the most indefatigable personal worker I ever knew," wrote Dr. R. A. Torrey when he learned of the sudden death of his beloved co-worker.1 And S. D. Gordon said, "He was always so whole-heartedly keen in winning men to Jesus. All the power of his lovely, winsome personality was thrown unreservedly into the one service he so loved."2

The acknowledged successor to Ira D. Sankey, and in some respects his superior, Charles McCallon Alexander (1867-1920) was undoubtedly the greatest evangelistic song leader and choir conductor of his time, and perhaps of all time. But all his gifts of personality and musical capacity he laid at Jesus' feet in the all-out effort to win souls. This master of assemblies was ever doing personal work, and always urging others to do it. God gave him unusual gifts of persuasion.

Born on a Tennessee [United States] farm and reared in a godly Presbyterian home, he early learned to love the house of God, the hymns of Zion, and the world of nature. He was born again at age thirteen in his home church.

While receiving a good education in Maryville Academy and College, near his parental home, he was especially active in musical activities and athletics, and was quite popular with both teachers and students. After a year of advanced musical training at Washington College, his own Maryville recognized his musical potential by calling him back as its first professor of music.

His father's death in 1890 shocked him into a serious re-examination of his life's direction and ambitions. He was impressed with the hollowness of all else except the work of Christ, so he dedicated himself to full-time Christian service and became imbued with a deep yearning to bring souls to the Saviour. Resigning from his Maryville position, he became song leader for a short period for John Kittrell, a rather rough and uncultured mountaineer Quaker evangelist, but Kittrell was a godly man who feared nothing, and Charles Alexander learned much from him. But he knew he needed something more.

Hearing about the Chicago Bible Institute's offerings in Gospel music and practical Bible training, he left his beloved Tennessee in the fall of 1892 for Chicago to enter the Institute, bringing eight other Maryville-trained young people with him.

During the years of his Chicago training, he came under the influence of such spiritual giants as D. L. Moody, R. A. Torrey, Major Whittle, Major Cole, Fleming H. Revell, Henry Varley, A. T. Pierson, John McNeill, and Harry Munroe of the Pacific Garden Mission; and the noted music composers and Gospel song leaders Ira D. Sankey, H. H. McGranahan, D. B. Towner, George C. Stebbins, J. H. Burke and others. Mr. Alexander grew rapidly in Christian knowledge, discernment and power to serve his Lord.

His world-wide evangelistic musical career now lay before him. The years 1892 to 1902 he spent with Evangelist M. B. Williams in campaigns in the Middle West, mostly in Iowa. In thirty-four Iowa towns 12,000 people joined the Protestant churches under the impact of Williams-Alexander campaigns.

An outstanding personal worker joined the party. He was Fred Seibert, an Iowa farm boy, who had been converted in one of their meetings in Waverly, Iowa. Spending five years with the Williams-Alexander party, he led 1,200 people definitely to Jesus Christ, and had a big influence in making Charles M. Alexander the personal worker he came to be. Alexander said of him:

He had one of the greatest passions for souls I have ever seen in anyone. Personal dealing was his talk, morning, noon, and night. I loved and admired him, and found that the chief thing keeping me back from doing personal work was an unsurrendered will. One day, Williams sent me to take charge of a meeting, and Fred came along to help. It was a rainy morning, and few people were out, and there was not one person in the building, saved or unsaved, who did not have to speak at that service. It was one of the best meetings I was ever in. From that time I began to do personal work, and I am more convinced every day that this is the work for every believer in Christ.3

Dr. R. A. Torrey now called upon Mr. Alexander to be his music leader in a world evangelistic tour, and they spent the years 1902-1906 in globe-girdling evangelistic campaigns in Australia, Tasmania, New Zealand, India, England, Ireland, Scotland, Canada and the United States.

In 1904, Mr. Alexander married Miss Helen Cadbury of Birmingham, England, a devoted Christian worker from a leading Quaker family of wealth and culture. With his wife, he made a second world tour in 1906-07, both keeping busy in personal and public evangelism.

The year 1908 saw Alexander joining hands and heart with Dr. J. Wilbur Chapman in evangelistic campaigns that were to take them around the world again and again until Mr. Alexander's death in 1920. During World War I they evangelized in the army camps winning an untold number of servicemen to Christ.

Charles Alexander's platform work was effective because he was always seeking to win people to Christ in private. He never urged others to do what he was neglecting himself, and everywhere he went he left the impression that he wished to introduce everyone to Christ. Dr. Torrey testified:

I told the men at the noon meeting today how I looked out of the window of our hotel in Dublin, when we were waiting dinner for him once, and saw him pleading with the driver of the jaunting-car to accept Christ.4

Mr. Davis, representing a syndicate of religious newspapers as a writer, accompanied the Torrey-Alexander party to England, but he was not a personal worker. But before he returned home, Alexander had him doing personal work. Mrs. Alexander tells it this way:

One night, as the after-meeting (in Bolton, England) was proceeding, Mr. George Davis stood upon the platform, eagerly looking out over the crowd, on the watch for striking incidents. Alexander was leading the choir in songs of invitation, which should form a suggestive background to the entreaty of the personal workers. His quick eye caught sight of Mr. Davis, and at the first chance between the hymns he was down beside him.

Several people below the platform had come forward to take their stand for Christ, amongst them some boys. All the personal workers seemed busy, and no one was at hand to talk and pray with these waiting seekers for Christ. Alexander made a call for more workers at the front, and then said to Mr. Davis, "What are you doing here, Davis, while people are down there waiting to be led to Christ?"

"I'm watching for incidents for my articles," was the reply.

"Get off the platform and lead some of those people to Christ," said Alexander, "and you'll have some first-hand incidents to tell."

A firm, though gentle, push accompanied the words, and almost before he knew it, Davis had descended the steps, and with Bible in hand stood ready for business...

As one boy after another said he would take Christ as his Saviour, the heart of Mr. Davis thrilled with the joy of soul-winning in a way never experienced before. From that day onward he grew and developed in the exercise of that marvellous gift which has been the distinguishing characteristic of his life ever since.5

What made Charles M. Alexander a great personal worker? He was entirely dedicated to that objective. Mr. Fleming H. Revell, his intimate friend and publisher whom he affectionately called "Uncle Fleming," wrote:

The one object of his life appeared to be the winning of others to the service of his Master, and I never knew any one more uniformly possessed of this master-passion, in private as well as in public.6

His prayer life was deep and constant. He prayed about everything with the faith and expectancy of a little child. He loved the Bible, reading and using it constantly. He emphasized the fundamentals. His wife wrote:

He always insisted that there were three equally important essentials to secure a growth in grace that would be constant and beautifying-communion with God, through prayer; nourishment of the spiritual life, by feeding on the Word of God; and development of spiritual muscle, through the exercise of soul-winning, for which the Bible must be the unfailing weapon.7

He insisted that following Jesus included fishing for men. As Mrs. Alexander states:

Among all the commands of Christ, he regarded as most urgent and decisive his words spoken to Peter and Andrew, when he called them from their boats and their nets... "Follow me and I will make you fishers of men." ... Many a time, when speaking of the duty of soul-winning, Alexander would say, "You claim you are following Jesus. Are you fishing for men? If you are not fishing, you are not following."8

To a group of men in Dundee, Scotland, in 1903, Mr. Alexander said:

Be a soul-winner if you are never anything else. You will find very few who want to shine in winning souls all the time. You have a chance here to distinguish yourselves... The last thing the devil will let you do is to win a soul definitely to Christ. If you don't believe it, try it. He will let you never miss a prayer-meeting or a Sunday morning service; he will even let you get up and lecture on religious subjects, and do all sorts of religious deeds, if you will just stop short at one thing, and that is to get face to face with individuals, to bring them to a decision for Jesus Christ, and get them to confess him openly before the world.9

His life motto was II Timothy 2:15, "Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth," a text which he publicized around the world, and always appended it to his signature.

Charles M. Alexander loved people, and had no difficulty meeting and conversing with them. Philip I. Roberts, for seventeen years his personal friend, says:

He possessed the art of making people talk about themselves—without sophistry or veneer. He could ask the most direct question without raising a ripple of resentment. And it was due in no small measure to his amazing frankness and his unerring knowledge of human nature, that he could do almost anything he pleased with a single individual, a company of ten or an audience of ten thousand.10

The Philadelphia Evening Telegraph of April 13, 1906, gave this personality sketch of him:

Did you ever meet Mr. Alexander? If you have, the secret of his success, the magic of his pleading, you can readily understand. If not, picture to yourself a young man of average height, smoothly shaven, a head growing bald, but it holds a brain that never sleeps; a pair of bright eyes that sparkle and dance with the joy of living, a mouth that is ever smiling, lips from which come sympathy for the unfortunate, encouragement for the depressed, hope for the fallen, and words of truth and wisdom for all.

Charles M. Alexander is a magnetic man. He is religious from the soles of his feet to the top of his head. He is so full of good thoughts and works that they bubble over, He exudes them from every pore. You cannot be in his presence sixty seconds before you are infected by his manner. He is a humorist too... His laugh is the hearty laugh that goes with a clear conscience.11

How did he go about personal work? While aggressive in seizing and making opportunities for evangelistic conversations, he was always tactful, courteous and considerate. He had no set rules, but was motivated by the love of Christ and governed by the sensitivity of the Holy Spirit. He said:

The only way to learn how to do personal work is by doing it, and the place to begin is the first place you find open. Carry your Bible with you always, and use it to show the way of life. There is something about the Word of God which convinces men, even though they claim to be infidels. Don't be drawn into an argument, and don't forget what Paul says, "Love suffereth long and is kind," and, "The servant of the Lord must not strive, but be gentle to all ... and patient."12

He knew how to plead the cause of Christ at the appropriate time, but he respected personality. One night he walked the streets of Melbourne, Australia, the whole night with a man, seeking to win him for the Lord.

Alexander kept at it wherever he was—in evangelistic meetings, on travels, in places of business, in his home, in barber shops and restaurants. He never passed by porters, cab drivers, baggage men, shoe shine boys, or policemen, without speaking to them about Christ. "To Charles Alexander, every new soul with whom he came in contact thrilled him with an ardour as fresh as if it were the first whom he came in contact to lead to Jesus," says his wife.13 While in the hospital for an appendectomy he led his two nurses to the Lord.

For the last ten or twelve years of his life, he promoted the Pocket Testament League as the most effective method of personal evangelism he had found. In addition to the usual personal soul-winning conversations, the Pocket Testament League member offers an attractive New Testament to the needy individual who will sign the pledge to read a chapter a day and always carry it on his person. Helen Cadbury had started a similar movement in her school before she ever met Charles Alexander.

The Pocket Testament League was formally launched on a world-wide scale during the Chapman-Alexander evangelistic campaign in Philadelphia in 1908. Philip I. Roberts claims that during World War I around one million British and American soldiers joined the League and received Testaments. Mr. Alexander found that the approach through the Pocket Testament League plan was the easiest and led to the most definite and abiding results. In a campaign which he led by himself in a large Detroit church, 24,000 people signed up as members of the Pocket Testament League.

The great song leader, hymn publisher, and personal worker lived to be only fifty-three, but the last thirty of those years were so rich in soul-winning that their fruitage will abide forever. In a day like ours when attractive personalities are in such demand in the business, educational, entertainment and religious worlds, would it not honor and please our Lord if more, like "Charlie" Alexander's, were dedicated to personal soul-winning?


1—Helen C. Alexander and J. Kennedy MacLean, Charles M. Alexander, A Romance of Song and Soul-Winning (London: Marshall Brothers, Ltd., 1920), p. 15.
2—ibid, p. 15.
3—ibid, p. 41.
4—ibid, p. 15.
5—ibid, p. 98-99.
6—ibid, p. 15.
7—ibid, p. 130.
8—ibid, p. 11.
9—ibid, p. 12.
10—Philip I. Roberts, Charlie Alexander: A Study in Personality (New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1920), p. 88-89.
11—Alexander and MacLean, as above, p. 148-149.
12—ibid, p. 13.

From Great Personal Workers by Faris Daniel Whitesell. Chicago: Moody Press, [©1956].

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