As I look back over the more than half century since Mr. Sankey became the pioneer of "Evangelistic Singers," it is most interesting and surprising to realize what a great army of consecrated men and women has arisen from that small beginning. And while I have seen my contemporaries drop out of the ranks one by one, my mind has been turned to those who have taken their places, and it is very encouraging to see such a number of talented musicians, writers and singers among them.
Instead of two or three singers and leaders, as was true when I joined the ranks threescore years ago, there are so many now that it would be difficult to enumerate them. Of the writers and their songs, there are those of the present day whose names will go down the years as being among the most illustrious in the annals of Christian song. It has not been my privilege to know all of these, personally, as they belong to another generation, but I know them by "their works," and freely accord them the place they have so well merited.
The most outstanding figure among them, however, is he whom I have had in recent years the honor to count among my friends. I refer to Mr. Charles H. Gabriel, who has been acknowledged to be the most gifted and brilliant writer of Gospel songs during the last twoscore years.
He is, therefore, not far removed from the generation of early writers, with whose names his has been engraved on the hearts of the people, and upon the scroll of fame.
It would seem, however, that he stands to-day midway between that illustrious company and the writers of the present time, and that he has many years yet to "make the songs for the people," and to bless the world with his delightful and heart-appealing melodies.
He is the author of "The Glory Song," "He Lifted Me," and "The Sparrow Song," so much used by Mr. Alexander in all parts of the world.
Mr. E. O. Excell used to say, "It is to Gabriel's songs—'Hail Emmanuel,' 'He Is So Precious to Me,' 'The Way of the Cross,' and many others—I owe so much for any success I have gained." Mr. Rodeheaver also bore witness to the value of his compositions when he said, "Without 'Brighten the Corner,' 'Sail On,' 'My Wonderful Dream,' and 'Awakening Chorus'—not to mention others—I could not have held the immense choirs and tremendous audiences I have had to quiet and control.
His song, "Higher Ground," is sung universally, and I regard it as one of the privileges of my later life to have known him and to have come under the influence of his genial and kindly personality; and also to receive from him tokens of friendship and cordial regard I value beyond estimation.
That the future may deal kindly with Charles H. Gabriel, that his gifted pen may be used to enrich the field of sacred song for generations yet to come is the prayer of his host of friends and admirers. In this prayer I would include all those who are led and inspired of God to devote their gifts to this important field of service.
Of the noted leaders of recent years two, whose preéminence has had world-wide recognition—Charles M. Alexander and Homer A. Rodeheaver—come at once to the mind of every one. Of the former, who has but recently been called to sing anew the "Glory Song" among the redeemed in the "land beyond the sea," reference has been made.
The latter is still with us and in the prime of his manhood, waving his magic wand over great congregations. I have met him but a few times, yet this brief contact was sufficient for me to discover his great gift as a leader and to be impressed by
the ease with which he controls vast multitudes of people; also his winsome personality which renders him a worthy and invaluable associate of the great evangelist with whom he has been working for many years, in an endeavor to "Brighten the Corner" in the heart of a world so much in need of the light of the Gospel.
The great service of song, as it has been used in evangelistic movements, was without question called forth providentially to be used as a handmaid to the preaching of the Word, as has been attested throughout its history, by the seal of God's approval.
The enduring work of the pioneers in the ministry of song, very evidently, was wrought in God; and though they have passed to their reward, "their works do follow them." While this is true of them, it will be true of the present-day writers, leaders and singers; for we cannot doubt that God will raise up worthy successors to those who labor today when they—in turn—lay down the armor. The ranks of God's militant army will never be depleted! We should, therefore, not despair when we see great leaders fall at the sound of taps blown for them by order of the Great Commander-in-Chief.
From George C. Stebbins: Reminiscences and Gospel Hymn Stories by Himself. New York: George H. Doran Company, ©1924.
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