By the fall of 1878 Moody's desire to found a school for girls had grown so much that he purchased the land which now forms the campus of Northfield Seminary. The one hundred acres he bought were between his house and the river, adjoining his property on the north.
The school opened in November, 1879. Only one building was ready at this time. There was no dormitory available. But Moody made up for this by keeping the first twenty-five girls in the upstairs of his own home!
About the time the first classes started, Moody and Sankey were conducting meetings in Cleveland, Ohio. While there Moody got the inspiration to have an annual conference at Northfield. Being a very practical man, he felt that it would be a waste for the buildings then being constructed to be idle during the summer. An annual gathering of ministers and lay workers was the logical solution!
That summer many ministers from the United States and other countries attended. This first conference led to others. There were too many blessings for it to be dropped. These conferences have been carried on ever since. Among those who attended the first one was Dr. Andrew A. Bonar, of England. He had worked with Moody and Sankey in their first English campaign, and now he did his best to persuade them to return for another series of meetings. Both Moody and Sankey had received many urgent requests for return engagements, but all these they had politely turned down, feeling that they were even more urgently needed in America. Through Bonar's influence, however, they finally agreed to go to England for a second campaign. But not all the credit must go to Bonar, because Henry Drummond also urged them to make the trip. His pleading had an added incentive in that he had turned down a dinner engagement with both Longfellow and Holmes in order to be with Moody and Sankey.
On this trip Moody and Sankey were accompanied by George C. Stebbins, who helped out with the singing. This series of meetings followed in much the same path as the previous series. Starting in northern England, they went on to Edinburgh and then to Glasgow, where they stayed for five months. From here they went to other cities in Scotland, Ireland, and Wales. A notable figure in many of these meetings was Professor Henry Drummond, who, as always, put his heart in their work. By 1883 they had covered most of the larger cities of England. And now, as a fitting climax, they went to London.
For the London meeting even more extensive preparations were made than had been made on the previous visit. House to house visitation and every other method known to be of use was employed. This time, instead of choosing several permanent buildings for the gatherings, two large portable tabernacles, seating 5,180 people each, were constructed. These huge auditoriums were moved from place to place throughout the city. While meetings were going on in one, the other one was in the process of being moved. In this way the evangelists carried the message to the people.
As before, several meetings were conducted each day. On Sunday the schedule was as follows: an early morning service at eight o'clock, followed by a service at eleven; then one in the afternoon at three and one in the evening at seven. In addition to this, other meetings were sometimes conducted in between. Sankey was required to sing and to lead singing at most of these meetings.
Many notable things happened in this campaign. There were the usual conversions of tens of thousands, the usual wild scramble at the doors, and the usual praise and attention by the press. These were the things the man on the street saw and heard. But the two things that made the meeting outstanding to Moody and Sankey were not so generally known at the time.
The first of these was the introduction of a new hymn. Mr. Stebbins had been reading a book of poems written by Ellen Lakshmi Goreh, a high-caste native of India. While he was reading it he noticed the poem, "In the Secret of His Presence." Thinking he could use it for an offertory hymn, he wrote some music for it. When Sankey saw the manuscript he was impressed that it was a great hymn, and he tried it out in the tabernacle. Its success was immediate. Since then, millions of copies have been sold. It is still found in many hymnals.
The second important thing happened while they were preaching at Shadwell. One evening just as the service was commencing, a young medical student, returning from an out-patient case, noticed the gathering and dropped in to see what it was all about. As he entered the building a man stood up to pray. He was one of those long-winded men that quote poetry and Scripture to God. The medical student waited patiently for a while, and then, thinking the man would perhaps never stop, started to leave. But at this same moment Moody's patience also reached a limit, and he called on his song leader for a song, suggesting that the man finish his prayer while they sang.
The young student, who was later known as Sir Wilfred Grenfell, thought this was good common sense and stayed for the rest of the meeting. He was so impressed by what he heard that afterwards he went to one of the subsidiary meetings and heard J. E. and C. T. Studd speak. Here, when the speaker asked those who would accept Christ to stand, he waited for a moment and then stood up. Years later, when he was world famous as a medical missionary in Labrador, he stated many times that his usefulness began at the Moody-Sankey meeting. Two million people were reached in the London campaign, but if Grenfell's conversion had been the only result it would have been well worth all the time and money involved.
Before the meeting ended Sankey found that the strain was too much for him. The constant excitement and demand for him on the platform wore on his nerves. He suffered from attacks of neuralgia. Many times he had literally to drag himself before the people. Finally it became apparent that if he expected to continue in revival work he would have to take a rest. The result was that Sankey returned to America, leaving the singing entirely in the hands of George C. Stebbins.
From Sankey Still Sings by Charles Ludwig. Anderson, IN: The Warner Press, 1947.