At the Northfield Conference in the summer of 1891, Rev. John Smith, of Edinburgh, Scotland, stepped up to the platform and handed a bulky package to Mr. Moody. When the evangelist opened it he found that it contained an invitation for him and Sankey to hold meetings in Scotland. The roll had been signed by 2,500 people, representing fifty towns and cities. A very dramatic invitation, to say the least! If either Moody or Sankey had it in their hearts to say no to the proposition, the words refused to come when they realized the earnestness of their Scottish brethren.
The result was that they soon sailed for England. This time, however, instead of having long campaigns in each city, the evangelists drew up an itinerary to include ninety-nine towns in ninety days, with three or four services at each place!
Such an itinerary would tax the strength of even a young man, but apparently Moody never got tired. It was in this campaign that a man said he heard Sankey include the following sentence in his prayer, "O God, do tire Moody, or give the rest of us superhuman strength." Sankey's health was definitely on the decline. He had repeated attacks of neuralgia and often had to lie down after one meeting in order to have sufficient strength for the next.
The campaign started in Edinburgh on November 13. From here the evangelists went to other cities throughout Scotland, and then on to Dublin, Belfast, and Londonderry.
Whenever they happened to be in a meeting near London they longed to go to the Metropolitan Tabernacle and hear Spurgeon preach. But during most of the time they were in England on this trip, the great Baptist preacher was away in Mentone, France, sick. Sankey was keenly disappointed not to get to hear him at least once. Both he and Moody were agreed that he was the greatest preacher of the century. Then suddenly, on January 31, 1892, the shocking news came that Spurgeon was dead. At first Moody and Sankey refused to believe it. But when it was certain that the report was true, Sankey went over to London to comfort Susannah, the wife of the pulpit giant, and to help in whatever way possible with the funeral arrangements.
Sankey's presence at the funeral was much appreciated by the congregation and by the hundred thousand people who filed through the Tabernacle to pay their last respects. At the proper time he stood near the famous pulpit from which Spurgeon had preached to more than twenty million people and sang with deep emotion the appropriate words:
Sleep on, beloved, sleep, and take thy rest;
Lay down thy head upon the Savior's breast;
We love Thee well, but Jesus loves Thee best—
Good night! Good night! Good night!
Sankey's prayer that Moody would get tired was evidently not answered, and by October Moody was forced to cable for George C. Stebbins to come to help with the singing. In the meantime Sankey returned to America for rest. Three to four services a day, week after week, was too much.
Moody himself should have slowed up. This became apparent when he was conducting meetings in Spurgeon's tabernacle. Finding himself with a cold that would not let go and that interfered with his speaking, he became a little worried. His friends finally persuaded him to let Sir Andrew Clark, the most famous physician in London, examine him. The doctor's verdict was that Moody had an irregular heart action and that he should slow up. Moody heeded Sir Andrew's advice for a time—but only for a time. He found it impossible to say no to anyone who called on him for an address.
Back in America, Sankey kept himself busy by compiling a hymnal for youngsters. This kept him at work all winter. But even this recreation, the best tonic Sankey knew, was not enough to restore his health completely. We find a letter of his, dated January 9, 1893, and addressed to Stebbins, who by now had returned with Moody to America, in which he writes:
Fanny and I were all ready to go to see your good wife this very evening when it set in a regular young blizzard of fine snow. . . . Moody starts tomorrow for Chicago. He wanted me to go out, but I can't do it and finish up this book in good shape...
I have to go singing with Mr. Moody on 22nd Wilmington, Del. Oh! I fear the draft.
A month later we have another letter, addressed to his brother Richard, in which he again complains about the cold:
This is awful weather, and I am taking care of your brother Ira D. Sankey. I sing at five meetings a Sunday and speak, and slip out. Tonight I sang twice, slipped out, and took electric cars and came home. No use sitting in drafty old rink and catching cold. I will be able to stick it out three more weeks and then I cut sticks for [will go to] Brooklyn.
In the summer of 1894 Sankey was in charge of the singing at the conference in Northfield. One evening just before A. J. Gordon was to speak, Fanny Crosby came into the building. Sankey approached her, asking that she come to the platform and give a talk. This she refused to do, saying that there was too much talent present for people to be interested in what she would have to say. But when Gordon and Sankey insisted, she got up and made a few remarks, ending them by quoting the words of a hymn she had composed.
Sankey had never heard the poem before, and believing that it would be popular as a hymn if set to music, asked her where she had got the words. Her reply was that she had written them two years before for just such an emergency. At Sankey's request, George C. Stebbins set the words to music. The result was the now famous and beautiful hymn, "Saved by Grace."
During the next two years Moody and Sankey held meetings all over the United States and made a special trip into Mexico. When advised to go a little slower, Moody refused; forgetting all about Sir Andrew's advice. Nevertheless, the strain of incessant speaking and constant travel began to have its effect. In a letter from Texas, Sankey mentioned the unusual fact that Moody had missed a service because of tiredness.
As they went on and on from one meeting to another, never sleeping in the same bed for more than a few nights, Sankey pleaded with Moody to take things a little easier. He told him that he should preside over the meetings at Northfield and let younger men do the hard evangelistic work. Moody, however, his heart set on winning as many souls as possible, would not listen. He wanted to die in the harness.
From Sankey Still Sings by Charles Ludwig. Anderson, IN: The Warner Press, 1947.