Although he does not come under the head of those considered in these sketches, the series would be incomplete did I not make mention of Charles M. Alexander. He was not a composer of music, nor did he essay the role of singer, at least in the more important period of his public activities. He was, however, one of the most magnetic and successful leaders of Gospel song in the history of modern evangelism, and it is quite within the truth to say that no other man has had so great an influence upon the world at large, in his sphere of labors, taking into account its world-wide sweep. In girdling the earth twice on evangelistic missions he left a trail of song unequaled for good in the lands he visited.
Our acquaintance began when he was a student at the Moody Bible Institute back in the 1890's. It was during the World's Fair that, with several other evangelists and singers, I was assisting Mr. Moody in a six months' evangelistic campaign in Chicago. His assistants were given accommodations in the men's department, which was then a dormitory, dining room, classroom, and office combined. It was not long after my arrival there that Mr. Alexander found his way to my room and made himself known, suggesting that I assist him in the use of his voice and in the interpretation of hymns, as he intended to enter the field as a singer of the Gospel. This I took pleasure in doing, and opportunities to study his character and spirituality were thereby frequently presented. It is needless to say that I was attracted to him, as were all with whom he came in contact. He always went about with a smiling face, a cheering word, and a merry laugh, apparently the happiest of all the students in the Institute. He little realized the great talent, latent in him, waiting the time when God would call it forth; and certainly none of his friends saw any evidence of his possessing it at that time—he being just one of two or three hundred students there to get an equipment for service in some part of the Lord's vineyard.
In the course of time he went out into the evangelistic field with M. B. Williams to begin his life work. Occasionally he sent a copy of some local paper containing an account of the work in which he was engaged, thus keeping me in touch with him for some years. His awakening to the fact that he possessed the gifts that made him famous did not obtain for some years, and not till he joined Dr. Torrey in Australia on his tour around the world did his wonderful powers of leadership burst upon the horizon full orbed. From that time on, his sun seemed ever to be at its zenith, for there was never evidence that his powers were waning, but rather gaining to the last.
Back of a personal attractiveness and charm of manner that few possess, there was a love for the salvation of souls and the determination, both in public appeal and personal contact, to lose no opportunity to win men to his Lord.
Mr. Alexander never seemed to be at a loss to know what to do, no matter what the circumstances. One incident, as amusing as it was interesting, will illustrate his ability to meet emergencies and turn defeat into victory.
Some years ago I was assisting one of the New York pastors in a series of Sunday evening services, which were being held in a well-known theater. Just before the sermon, one evening, a note was handed to me saying that Mr. Alexander was in the audience. I handed it to the pastor, who decided it best to go on with his sermon and to call for Mr. Alexander at the close, which he did. After some persuasion, Mr. Alexander came down from the topmost gallery, accompanied by his pianist, and sang the chorus of "He Will Hold Me Fast," until the audience had learned it. He then announced that he would present a copy of the song to anyone who would stand up and sing it correctly. A colored man rose in the body of the house and sang it perfectly; after which Alexander said: "Good, my man, are you a Christian?" "Yes, Sir," responded the man, "and my name's Charles Alexander—and I'm from Tennessee, too!" My first thought, after the laughter ceased, was, "How will Charlie meet such an unexpected situation?" He lost no time, however, in saying to the man, "Come down here; I want to shake hands with you." The man walked down to the footlights and Mr. Alexander reached over, took him by the hand and assured him he was glad to meet him; he then requested the fellow to face the audience and offered prayer, which restored the thought of the congregation to the serious subject that had engaged their attention during the evening.
It will be of interest to know that the last campaign Mr. Alexander was engaged in was at Detroit, the winter before he passed away. He was assisting one of the largest churches of that city in a series of meetings that continued many weeks and resulted in hundreds of conversions.
For several years, Mr. Alexander either assisted in the conduct of the music at the general conference at Northfield or had full charge, as was the case in later years. He was for the most of that time given one hour in the morning of each day during the conference for a service of song. The sessions were always varied with hymns by the congregation, songs by the children's choir, solos, duets, and quartets, and by incidents, of which he seemed to have an inexhaustible supply to relate just when most appropriate. He had the congregation always on the tiptoe of expectation, as he never lacked for something which appealed to them.
Those services were attractive to young and old alike, and always attended with blessing. The memory of his untiring efforts to win men to his Savior can never be effaced. Mr. Alexander was born at Meadow, Tennessee, October 24, 1867, and died October 13, 1920, at his home in Birmingham, England.
From George C. Stebbins: Reminiscences and Gospel Hymn Stories by Himself. New York: George H. Doran Company, ©1924.
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