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Major D. W. Whittle: Reminiscences

by George C. Stebbins (1846-1945)

D. W. WhittleAmong the most prominent and successful authors of hymns that were used in the evangelistic movements of the last two generations, Major Whittle, who wrote for the most part under the name of "El Nathan," stands well in the front rank. He began writing in 1877, and from that time on for many years wrote extensively and almost entirely for Mr. McGranahan, with whom he was associated in his evangelistic work. His hymns soon became recognized as among the best in use in those times and were in great favor everywhere.

His writings are characterized by faithfulness to Scriptural teaching, and emphasis on the cardinal doctrines, among which are the following:

"I Know Whom I Have Believed," "Moment by Moment," "I Shall Be Satisfied," "The
Crowning Day Is Coming," "I'll Stand By You Till the Morning," and "No More the Curse."

The Major made no claim to being a poet, but there are in his hymns evidences that he possessed poetic gifts. A notable example of this is to be found in some verses written on the death, by accident, of an only son.

I was assisting him in a series of meetings in Pennsylvania, in 1894, when he received the news of his son's death. He hastened to his family to be with them in paying the last tribute of love to the son, and then returned to continue the work from which he was called.

Shortly afterward he wrote the verses which are worthy to be quoted here, not only as showing his poetic trend of mind, but his patient submission to the will of God, which was ever a characteristic of his.

"Be still, my heart! Thy Savior knows full well
The burden on thee laid;
And to thy side He comes, with love to heal
The wound His love hath made.
Close by the sheep, in paths of darkness led,
He walks, the Shepherd true;
'I will not leave you comfortless,' He said,
'I will come unto you.'

"No love but His can fill the vacant place
And soothe the bitter pain:
No power but His can send the needed grace,
To count thy sorrow's gain:
No hand but His can wipe the falling tear,
For He on earth hath wept;
No voice but His can at the grave give cheer,
For there He once hath slept.

"And still He weeps with all His own who weep,
Our great High Priest above;
And through their night of woe He still doth keep
His silent watch of love.
He feels each sigh, each throb of aching head,
And whispers soft and low,
'I will not leave you comfortless and sad,
I will come unto you.'"

These verses were soon set to beautiful music by his daughter, May Whittle (Mrs. W. R. Moody).

As a hymn it has not the elements required to win popular favor or to render it useful for congregational purposes, but it has been used by soloists with wonderful effect.

Another poem, the last he ever wrote, was written or composed during a night made sleepless by pain, and was suggested by the chimes of a clock in his room. As it will be interesting to read his last message, it is given. It will be seen that his mind was still clear, his heart true and his hope bright, as he looked forward to soon being in the presence of his Lord.

"Swift with melodious feet, the midnight hours pass by;
 As with each passing bell so sweet, I think, 'My Lord
 draws nigh.'
 I see heaven's open door, I hear God's gracious voice;
 I see the blood-washed round the throne, and with them
 I rejoice.

"It may be that these sounds are the golden bells so sweet,
 Which tell me of the near approach of the heav'nly High
 Priest's feet.
 Not every night is thus; some nights with pain are drear;
 Then I join my moan with creation's groan, and the
 chimes I do not hear.

"But the Lord remains the same; faithful He must abide;
 And on His Word my soul will rest, for He is by my side.
 Some midnight, sleepless saints, made quick by pain to hear,
 Shall join the glad and welcome cry, 'The Bridegroom
 draweth near.'

"Then I shall see His face, His beauteous image bear;
 I'll know His love and wondrous grace, and in His glory
 So sing my soul in praise, as bells chime o'er and o'er,
 The coming of the Lord draws near, when time shall be
 no more."

Major Whittle was born in Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts, November 22, 1840, and was christened Daniel Webster Whittle. Sometime in the fifties he went to Chicago, and in time became associated with Wells, Fargo and Co., and later the cashier of its bank. In 1861 at the outbreak of the Civil War he enlisted in the 72nd Illinois Infantry and became 2nd lieutenant of Company B.

He served through the war and was at one time Provost Marshal on the staff of Gen. O. O. Howard, who was ever after his life-long friend. He was with Sherman on his march to the sea. He was sent home wounded from Vicksburg, having been shot in the arm while leading a charge for his wounded Captain, and at the close of the war was breveted "Major," the title by which he was known thereafter. While at home he met, for the first time, Mr. Moody, who became a true and devoted friend to the last. The occasion of their meeting was—as told by himself:

"A big meeting of some kind was being held in the Tabernacle, and with some help I was able to attend, although I was still weak from loss of blood and with my arm in a sling. I was called upon to speak, and as I got slowly to my feet, feeling shy and embarrassed, a strong voice called out, 'Give him three cheers, boys!' and they were given with a will, for every heart was bursting with patriotism in those days, and the sight of a wounded soldier in a blue uniform stirred the blood. And how that kindly thought and the ringing cheer stirred my heart, too! How grateful I was to them and to the one who called out, 'Give him three cheers,' and for what his friendship meant to me from that moment onward; stimulating, encouraging, appreciating in a twinkling the whole situation—the young soldier's embarrassment—his need of a friendly word of help!"

After the war closed, the Major became connected with the Elgin Watch Co., and for some years was its treasurer, which position he held at the time he entered evangelistic work in 1873, due to Mr. Moody's influence, though it should be said, it soon became very evident that his decision was also in obedience to the call from the Lord, for his labors were greatly owned of God from the very beginning.

I became acquainted with him in 1870. We were living not far apart on the west side of Chicago, and occasionally met, as did our families. He was at that time the superintendent of one of the largest mission Sunday Schools in the city, which was located on that side, and I recall singing for him on one or more occasions, and also of assisting him in a series of meetings he was conducting in one of the nearby towns. I thus came to know and to value him highly in those earlier years.

Twenty years later when Mr. McGranahan's health gave out, necessitating his retiring permanently from all public activities, I became associated with the Major and assisted him thereafter in the most of his evangelistic work for the remainder of his life, both at home and abroad.

The last work Major Whittle did was among the soldiers in camp, during the Spanish-American War. He cherished the memories of his army life many years before, and he loved men, hence it was impossible for him to refrain from devoting his time and strength to the boys called to arms.

That he might be of the greatest service to them, he went into camp, ate with them, slept with them and lived the life they were living, and devoted his strength to their physical and spiritual welfare without thought of himself. In so doing, however, he undermined his strength to such an extent that he came home broken in health, from which he never recovered, and from that time on for the three years he lived his strength gradually failed till the last year or more he was confined to his room and bed.

His home for some years had been in Northfield, but for the last year or two of his life he lived with his daughter, Mrs. Moody. My last visit with him was some months before he died. It was during the August conference in the summer of 1900. When sitting by his bedside, he said to me: "What is the last hymn you have written?" I replied that I had just completed the music to a hymn entitled, "O House of Many Mansions." Said he, "I wish you would sing it for me—I would like to pray that it may be greatly blessed of God." I did so, the first verse of which is as follows:

"O House of many Mansions,
  Thy doors are open wide,
And dear are all the faces
  Upon the other side.
Thy portals they are golden,
  And those who enter in
Shall know no more of sorrow,
  Of weariness and sin."

How well his prayers have been answered may never be known, but the hymn was for years a favorite with congregations, and it has been used by evangelistic singers as a solo.

Major Whittle loved children and had a happy faculty of presenting the great truths of the Gospel in such a way as to make it attractive and easily understood by them. It was his custom wherever he was conducting meetings, to hold special services for them; and in order to make these services attractive he gave blackboard illustrations and chemical experiments to make the truths plain. So successful was he in these services that there was a demand for his addresses, and to supply this demand they were published in book form.

Few men were ever more sincerely respected and loved than was Major Whittle, and none more deservingly; nor has it been my privilege to know a more manly, self-sacrificing Christian man, or one whose sincerity and loyalty to his Lord more surely had their springs in the depths of his heart.

When his life-long friend, Mr. Moody, passed away, he bemoaned the fact that he could not have been taken and Mr. Moody spared to continue his great work. The year and eight months that remained for him to suffer were not lost, however, for he spent many of his days and nights in prayer for his large circle of friends, naming them one by one before the Lord, and for the objects that claimed his thought and interest. Not many men have had such a hold on God in prayer as had he.

Major Whittle passed on to be with his Lord at his daughter's home in Northfield, March 4, 1901.

It can be truthfully said of him that "for him to live was Christ,' and that his work, both in the hymns he wrote and in the sermons he preached during his life as an evangelist, "was wrought in God."

From George C. Stebbins: Reminiscences and Gospel Hymn Stories by Himself. New York: George H. Doran Company, ©1924.

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