On the first day of the convention Mr. Sankey was rather disappointed, because D. L. Moody was not in the chair, as had been the custom for a number of years, and he did not get to see him. However, on the second day, it was announced that Moody would lead a six o'clock prayer meeting on Sunday morning. Sankey had read about Mr. Moody for a number of years in the religious press. His work in Chicago with children and his ability to get things done had caused comment in many church papers. He was looked on in most quarters of the country as an up-and-coming Sabbath-school worker. Being from a very conservative part of the country, Sankey was not certain whether or not he would like Moody, but he was at least determined to make his acquaintance.
The next morning the youthful delegate from New Castle arrived at the meeting a little late and so took a seat in the back next to Robert McMillan, a representative from his own county. McMillan turned to him. "Mr. Sankey," he said, "the singing here has been abominable; I wish you would start up something when that man stops praying, if he ever does."
When the opportunity came, Sankey stood up and sang, "There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood," and the people joined in with him heartily. A new interest in the meeting was instantly felt.
At the conclusion of the service McMillan introduced the singer to Mr. Moody. Moody's first words to him were: "Where are you from?" followed by "What is your business? Are you married?"
Sankey told him that he was married, had two children, lived in Pennsylvania, and worked for the government.
Without a moment's consideration Moody abruptly announced, "You will have to give that up."
"What for?" asked Sankey with amazement.
"To come to Chicago and help me in my work."
Sankey replied that he could not possibly leave his business. To this Moody retorted, "You must; I have been looking for you for the last eight years."
Moody took Sankey to lunch, told him about his work in Chicago, and tried to get him to make a promise. Failing in this, he asked him to pray about it. And in order to be polite, Sankey promised he would. Moody finished by explaining that he could not sing himself and that he desperately needed someone who could. He said that often when people were about to give themselves to Christ an impromptu singer would ruin everything by choosing the wrong song. He told Sankey he was needed to help "pull in the net."
Only a man of Moody's caliber could have persuaded Sankey to say that he would even think about giving up his good position and his comfortable home to go to Chicago. After all, Sankey held a high place in his community, was settled, and had things going his way. His roots extended deep into the best society of Pennsylvania. As the son and son-in-law of members of the Senate, he had every chance for advancement.
The offer, to be frank, did not sound too attractive to him. What was to be gained by giving up his religious work in New Castle, where he was known, and going to Chicago, where he was unknown? Besides that, he had his children to think about. They had to be supported. Moody had built up a great work in the city, it was true. But who knew how long it would last? The public had a peculiar habit of making a lion out of a man one day and burning him at the stake the next. If he went to Chicago and had to return, would he get his job back? What would his wife's people think?
Sankey was almost ready to tell Mr. Moody that he could not possibly go with him, when he received a card from the evangelist, asking him to meet him on a certain Indianapolis street corner at six o'clock. Sankey did not have any idea about what Moody wanted, but he scribbled on the back of it, "I'll be there," and went to the street corner at the appointed time.
Presently Moody came down the street, but instead of saying hello or holding out his hand in greeting, he boldly walked into a store and asked permission to use a large dry-goods box. Then, with the consent of the owner, he rolled the box out on the edge of the sidewalk and asked Mr. Sankey to climb up on it and sing.
Sankey was astonished, but he complied by singing, "Am I a Soldier of the Cross?" Soon a large crowd of working men on their way home from the factories gathered around him. Then Moody took the makeshift pulpit and preached a short, fervent evangelistic sermon. The people listened to every word he said, becoming so absorbed that they forgot their hunger. Presently the speaker had to stop. The crowd was too big! He then invited them to go with him to the Opera House. Arm in arm, Moody and Sankey led the way, the men following closely behind. Sankey kept up the spirit of worship by singing, "Shall We Gather at the River?" and other hymns, as they marched along.
At the Opera House, Moody carefully made certain that everyone was seated before he continued with the meeting. Here he preached a sermon just as thrilling as the first. Later, in regard to this meeting, Sankey related to a friend, "He preached that evening as I had never heard any man preach before."
Presently, however, the speaker had to close the meeting because, as he explained, the convention needed the hall for its discussion on "How Shall We Reach the Masses?" Moody pronounced the benediction as the delegates filed in!
The evangelist approached Sankey again, but again Sankey would promise nothing. Moody insisted, and Sankey said that he would go home and pray about it. But he refused to make any commitments. He secretly hoped that God would direct him to stay in New Castle. But, of course, he was willing to follow the Holy Spirit.
Sankey returned to his home in New Castle and told his wife what had happened. She, too, had heard of Mr. Moody and his work in Chicago, and was somewhat amazed at the proposition. They thought it over and prayed about it. Moody kept urging him to come.
Finally, Sankey made up his mind to go to Chicago and spend a week with Moody to see what would happen. He had previously confided to his wife that he thought giving up his position would be a rather foolish thing to do. As his train pulled out, it was with a great deal of anxiety that she began to wait to see what his decision would be.
Sankey arrived in the city early in the morning, just as daylight began to break. He gulped down a hasty breakfast and hurried over to Moody's home on the North Side. Moody greeted him at the door, and immediately, without even introducing him to the members of the household, asked him to sit down at the organ and lead the family in their morning worship. When the devotions were over, Moody introduced him to his wife and children.
The formalities finished, Moody told him he was going out to call on a lot of sick people and asked him to come along to sing. The first home they entered happened to be that of a sick woman with a very large family. Moody seated himself by the bed and said to her, "I am going to read a few words from the Bible, but first I want my friend Sankey to sing a little hymn for you." Sankey moved a little closer and sang, "Scatter Seeds of Kindness." He always remembered that song. The music seemed to drive the darkness out of the room, and the woman was glad Sankey had come along.
They went into gambling halls, saloons, and wherever they could gain entrance. If Sankey thought that preaching the gospel was an easy matter, he soon learned that he was mistaken, for during the week they conducted noon prayer meetings, evangelistic services in several of the city churches, and ended the week with a mass meeting in Farwell Hall. That week Sankey learned that Moody, who had made as many as two hundred calls in a single day, was a dynamo of energy and that he apparently never got tired.
At the mass meeting Moody had the people sing a congregational hymn, and while it was being sung he whispered to Sankey, "I am going to speak on 'The Prodigal Son', and I want you to sing one of the songs I heard you sing at Indianapolis, 'Come Home, O Prodigal Child.'" Sankey replied that he could not sing, because he did not have an organ with which to accompany himself. Moody pointed to a large three-thousand-dollar organ at the rear of the platform. "Isn't that enough for you?" he asked.
Sankey shook his head and explained that it was much too large for a solo, that if he used it he would have to turn his back to the audience, and that, furthermore, he did not think that the German organist knew how to accompany him. Moody replied that he should go over with a book and tell the man how he wanted the music played. Sankey did this and then sat down and listened to the sermon, thinking everything would be as planned.
The sermon, as usual, was forceful, and the audience hung on every word the speaker uttered. When Moody had finished, he turned to Sankey and announced, "Mr. Sankey will now sing a solo for us, and let us be perfectly still while he sings."
Sankey stood up to indicate to the organist that he was ready, but to his horror he discovered that the German gentleman was in the back room. With no other way out, Sankey walked to the front of the platform and sang the song without accompaniment. In spite of the handicaps, his solo was effective and quite a number of people stood up for prayer.
The next morning Sankey packed his things and prepared to leave for New Castle. Moody took the opportunity for a parting plea. "You see," he said, with all the persuasive power he could command, "that I was right; your singing has been very helpful in all the meetings, and I am sure you ought to give up your business and come to Chicago at once."
On his way home Sankey hoped that something would happen to stop him from leaving New Castle. He did not want to hinder the Lord's work, but there were other singers in the world. Many of them would be glad to sing for Moody. Some would even be willing to pay for the privilege. Why did he not ask one of them? Besides, his songs were needed in New Castle. He knew that. Big crowds greeted him every Sunday. The church had grown because of his music. What would the home congregation do without his choir? Who would teach his class? How would he support his family? Moody refused to accept a salary. Would Sankey and his wife and children be able to live on the twelve hundred a year Mr. Moody promised? It was hard enough to meet expenses with the fifteen hundred dollars his government job paid! Maybe after awhile the people would get tired of his songs. Most preachers had to move to new congregations every few years. This would probably be true of singers, too. When they got tired of him in Chicago, where would he go? What would happen if Moody lost his popularity or died or moved or accepted another position? These and a thousand other questions crept through his mind as the train rumbled east toward home.
Then he made a decision. He promised himself that he would do whatever God wanted him to do and that he would ask the advice of people who knew God and depended on the Holy Spirit for their direction. If they were agreed that he should go, he would resign his position and go. But before he would leave he was determined that he would know the will of the Holy Spirit.
The first one he approached was his pastor. Surely he would want him to stay! The pastor smiled. "I think you ought to go," he said. Next Sankey went to his friends, but again he was disappointed. They, too, were of the opinion that God wanted him in Chicago.
His mind made up at last, Sankey wrote out his resignation and sent it to Hugh McCullough, the Secretary of the Treasury, and his position, at his special request, was turned over to a man who had escaped from Libby Prison.
From Sankey Still Sings by Charles Ludwig. Anderson, IN: The Warner Press, 1947.