Sankey's visit to the Holy Land had made him a new man. It helped erase some of the wear of years. The memory of the sacred spots he had visited became a spring of ambition that stirred him with a passion to do even greater things for God in the way of public singing and hymn writing. And now, with invitations constantly pouring in, he threw himself into gospel work.
His confidence in God’s power to save was constantly on the increase. In a letter to a Mr. Greer, of New Castle, he wrote:
Move forward in the name of the Lord. His enemies are falling on the right hand and on the left, but God is ever marching on.
This enthusiasm was augmented by his reunion with Mr. Moody, who related the achievements that had been accomplished during Sankey’s absence and laid before him extensive plans for the future.
While he was taking a short rest in Brooklyn he noticed an advertisement in the paper stating that the famous English evangelist, Gypsy Smith, was going to start a revival meeting in the Nostrand Methodist Episcopal Church. Having heard of Gypsy’s power as a preacher, Sankey arranged to take him for a long drive the Saturday before the meetings were to commence. While they were driving along, Gypsy Smith asked Sankey if he remembered placing his hand on a gypsy boy’s head out in Epping Forest, and saying, "The Lord make a preacher of you, my boy." When Sankey said that he did, Gypsy Smith told him that he was that boy! This pleased Sankey immensely.
In previous years Sankey had been simply the singer, but now with some practical preaching experiences behind him he often went out in meetings on his own. Likewise, Mr. Moody had become accustomed, because of Sankey’s frequent illnesses, to use other singers occasionally for his meetings. And now, both of them wanting to see as many conversions as possible, they decided to hold some meetings separately. At Moody’s suggestion, Sankey accepted a call to conduct services in Toronto, Canada, while he himself made arrangements for a big union meeting in Kansas City.
Sankey finished the meeting in Canada and started for Brooklyn by way of Rochester, where he had arranged for a one-night service. While stopping here he received a nine-page letter from Moody, written at Northfield, telling him to meet him at the Murray Hill Hotel in New York on Wednesday. Sankey wired him that he would be there, and after the meeting that night he caught the first express for New York. But when he got to the hotel he found that Moody had already boarded a train for Philadelphia.
At Kansas City, Moody faced crowds of fifteen and twenty thousand at every service. But his body was worn out. He simply did not have the strength he used to have. And in spite of the way the people responded to his preaching, he could not go on. By the third day he knew his health was breaking. On Thursday night he preached his great sermon on "Excuses," and hundreds of people accepted Christ, but his strength was gone and he was forced to board a train for Northfield.
In his home town, the scenery he loved before his eyes, he fought to live. But the struggle was too hard; his resistance was gone. The whole world looked toward his bedside, waiting, watching. Newspapers reported his condition hour by hour. Prayer meetings were held for his benefit. Famous doctors were consulted. But nothing was of any avail. The Master had called. His time had come. On Friday, December 22, 1899, those who were by his bedside heard him say in an unusually clear voice: "If this is death, there is no valley. This is glorious. I have been within the gates, and I saw the children! Earth is receding; heaven approaching! God is calling me!"
The news of his death was immediately wired to Sankey, who canceled all his appointments and hurried to Northfield, arriving there the day before the funeral. Although he knew that Moody had been overworking and that his time might be near, he was intensely shocked when he heard what had happened. Moody’s death to him was like the losing of an only brother. The two had worked together for nearly thirty years. They had been so close to one another that many people thought of Moody and Sankey as one man.
Two days after the funeral, Sankey, heartbroken, described the events as follows:
On Tuesday, 26th December, we laid our beloved brother and friend, Mr. Moody, in his grave on beautiful "Round Top," within a stone’s cast of the spot where he was born a little over sixty-two years ago. The day was one of the most beautiful I ever witnessed in Northfield; not a cloud in the sky from morning till night. When I went into the room where he was yet lying on the couch, I could scarcely believe that he was not sleeping, just as I had seen him so often after a day's hard work.
About twenty-five Mount Hermon students carried him from his home to the church, about half a mile down the street; there he lay in state for a short time before the hour appointed for the funeral service. Thousands of his neighbors passed by in tears, looking for the last time upon the face of him who had been a personal friend to almost every one of them. During the service, and while one of his collaborators was speaking of the joyful death our brother was permitted to die, the sun, which was shining so brightly without, broke through a small opening in one of the window shutters and cast a beautiful ray of sunshine upon Mr. Moody’s face and the pillow of roses at his head, on which was written the dying words of the brave warrior, "God is calling me." Every other spot in the building was in the deepest shadow.
We followed him once more through the quiet street, past the house in which he was born, to the spot selected by his family for his last resting place; and while the day was dying in the west, we sang a hymn and laid the tired body away to await the resurrection morning, when we shall clasp glad hands again and be "forever with the Lord."
At the end of the funeral Sankey returned to Brooklyn, where he helped conduct several memorial services for his friend, including one in Carnegie Hall, where fifteen thousand people crowded in to pay their last respects.
From Sankey Still Sings by Charles Ludwig. Anderson, IN: The Warner Press, 1947.