The evangelistic company sailed for England on June 10, 1873. Moody was accompanied by his wife and children, but Sankey by only his wife, having left his boys with their grandparents. Other than their suitcases, the only things they took with them were some Bibles, Sankey's small parlor organ, and his music scrapbook. The voyage, except for the usual seasickness, was uneventful.
The men who had invited them to England had promised to pay their passage. Moody had relied on this and had invested the four hundred and fifty dollars he happened to have on hand. However, when he did not receive the promised funds in time to buy the tickets, he had to request the return of his money to pay for their reservations. Now, in mid-Atlantic, with no money and with no private funds from which to draw any, they were in a sorry plight. But they did not worry, because they felt certain that a registered letter would be waiting for them when they steamed into port. They were concerned, however, because they had received no word at all from their three sponsors.
But when their boat stopped at Queenstown, Mr. Moody received a letter that explained everything. All three of their friends were dead! This came as a blow to everyone. Here they were in England without friends, with no revival engagements, and with very, very little money. And more than this, Sankey had his wife's condition to think about.
Moody had secretly hoped that he would see ten thousand conversions, but now these hopes seemed to be shattered into a thousand pieces. Turning to Sankey, he said, "Sankey, it seems as if God has closed the door for us, and if he will not open it we will return to America at once."
The next day, June 17, they landed in Liverpool. The prospects were very gloomy indeed. It seemed that every door was shut and bolted against them. Then, at the last moment, Mr. Moody found a letter he had received before sailing from New York and for one reason or another he had not read. It proved to be a letter from George C. Bennett, secretary of the Y.M.C.A. in York, saying that if he ever came to England again, he should come over and speak to the Association. "Here is a door," said the evangelist to his song leader, "which is partly open, and we will go there and begin our work."
On the following day, Moody took his family to visit his sister-in-law in London, and Sankey went to Manchester to be with his great friend, Henry Morehouse, the only one he knew in England.
When the evangelists got to York they soon found that Mr. Bennett had not been expecting them so soon. And they were told that it was practically impossible to have a successful meeting then, because so many of the people were at the seaside. Nevertheless, by persistent effort, they secured the use of several chapels, and Sankey wrote the first advertisement for the meeting. The notice read:
D. L. Moody of Chicago will preach, and Ira D. Sankey of Chicago will sing, at 7 p.m. tomorrow, Thursday, and each succeeding evening for a week, in the Independent Chapel. All are welcome. No collection.
The evangelists put in "No collection" because they were afraid people would accuse them of preaching for money.
Less than fifty people went to the first meeting, and these sat as far from the pulpit as possible. Sankey sang several solos, but the people were unused to his kind of song service, and the singing was definitely sluggish. Noonday prayer meetings were announced. Only six persons attended the first one. However, it was in these meetings that the fire finally broke loose. One day a young minister, F. B. Meyer, who later became a famous preacher and writer, got up and testified. "Brethren," he said, "what Mr. Moody said the other day about the Holy Spirit for service is true. I have been preaching for years without any special blessing, simply beating the air, and have been toiling hard, but without the power of God upon me. For two days I have been away from the meetings, closeted with my Master. I think he has had the victory over my arrogance and pride, and I believe I have made a full surrender of all to him, and today I have come to join you in worship and ask you to pray for me."
From the very beginning of the meetings the local ministers had criticized the evangelists and their methods, particularly those of Mr. Moody. His blunt manners and poor English were almost unbearable to them at times. These criticisms continued, but after Meyer's testimony the ice was broken and people began to find Christ. The meetings here went on for almost a month, and two hundred people responded to the invitation.
From this place, on the invitation of Rev. Rees, an open-communion Baptist, they started meetings in Sunderland. Moody had been rather reluctant to go to this place for fear he would be bothered by "penny collections." And, being a cautious man, he sent Sankey on ahead to investigate.
Sankey spent a night with the man and was duly impressed with his sincerity and his willingness to cooperate with them. Among other things, Mr. Rees asked if this was the same Moody he had met in Ireland the year before. On being told that he was, he said that he had shared a room with him at the home of Mr. Bewley and that he was greatly inspired by the way he led the devotions. He declared he had never met a man who loved the Word of God and wanted to preach it with power as much as D. L. Moody.
It being agreed that no penny collections would be taken, meetings were started immediately. At first the people were cold and halfhearted. The ministers, if not actively opposed to the movement, were indifferent; and indifference is the worst weapon in use against revival meetings. Mr. Rees was the only preacher on whom the evangelists could count.
At the very beginning of the campaign the pastor requested Sankey to go with him over to the home of his treasurer, Mr. Longstaff, the author of "Take Time to Be Holy." Going into the living room, Sankey noticed a small organ similar to his own. He was told that this one had been used by Philip Phillips in a recent concert tour. They asked him to sing, and so he sat down to the organ and sang "Come Home, O Prodigal," "Free from the Law," and "More to Follow." He did not dream that the minister, an extreme conservative, was very much against solos, choirs, and organs and never permitted them in his church under any circumstances.
When Sankey discovered Mr. Rees's intolerant view toward music and musical instruments, he was very much perplexed. A few days afterwards, however, he lost his anxiety when he saw huge posters all over the city, reading:
D. L. Moody of Chicago will preach the gospel, and Ira D. Sankey of Chicago will sing the gospel in Bethesda Chapel every afternoon and evening this week, except Saturday, at 3 and 7 o'clock. All are welcome.
The notice had been written by Rev. Rees! And it was in this statement that the phrase "sing the gospel" was first used. Mr. Sankey was especially impressed when he learned that the author of the advertisement was known all over the section as "the pope of the North."
After a week in this city the crowds began to come out, and great blessings followed. Still there was much opposition. The Yankees were so different, their speech was so broad, and Sankey's songs so common. But Sankey knew the Holy Spirit was with him, and in spite of all difficulties sang at his best. The songs may have sounded common to the ritualism-loving Englishmen, but they got into their hearts and led them to Christ. Moody's preaching was successful, people responded by the dozen, but he was not satisfied. "We can never go on this way," he said. "It is easier fighting the devil than fighting the ministers."
A taste of the opposition the men faced can be had by the following description of them written by a member of the Y.M.C.A. who called on them to engage their service for a program at Victoria Hall. We must keep in mind that this man was a friendly critic!
They had already been a week in Sunderland; but, as yet, I had not seen either of them. Ah! thought I, what a lift heavenward shall I get from these holy men! We were shown into a back parlor by the servant, and very soon the two evanglists sauntered in in a style neither ecclesiatical nor dignified. Turning to me, Mr. Moody asked, in true Yankee fashion, what was our business with him. He did not show us a seat; he did not offer us his hand; altogether an auctioneer-like reception. We represent the Young Men's Christian Association, Mr. Moody, and have come to ask you if you will give us an address in Victoria Hall on Sunday."
"Preach for you? Oh, yes! I'll preach for you," replied Mr. Moody.
"We don't want you to preach for us; we want you to preach for Christ."
"Oh, yes—yes! All right! I'll preach for you."
"Our committee," continued I, "hope you will not misunderstand the reason for their not joining you earlier in your work. It is not for want of sympathy; but because you came to us in a sectarian connection, and have allied yourself with Mr. Rees; and if we were to join you on sectarian grounds, we should injure our institution, which has enemies enough already."
After explaining his position, and that his connection with Brother Rees and his congregation had no sectarian significance, he said: "I go where I can do the most good; that is what I am after." And when we left, he followed us out to the gate, saying, "It is souls I want; it is souls I want."
Alas! I had mistaken the man; and whether he spoke of souls or anything else, it is all the same to me now.
"Well, Frank, what did you think of it?" asked my companion, as we walked off from the strange interview.
"Think! It is money; that is what it is, James."
Moody was especially misunderstood. This is just a mild sample of what hundreds were saying. Sankey's songs, however, in time got next to the people and caused the writer of the foregoing to comment:
I went to the meeting, being careful to keep out of sight; but when Sankey began singing, I felt it draw me, and very little more of it would have pulled me on to the platform.
Nevertheless, the evangelists' work so angered some of the local ministers that they turned their backs on the Y.M.C.A. for having had anything to do with them.
But, in spite of all this talk, the meetings grew in public favor. Indeed, the more the opposition, the larger the crowds and the greater the work done. Near the close of the meeting, Mr. Rees described them in these words: "Mr. Moody is the Mercurius of the pair. Mr. Sankey is not the Jupiter, but the Orpheus. Both these brethren are genuine to the backbone."
When the Sunderland mission was over, the Americans were invited to conduct meetings in Newcastle-on-Tyne. This was the home of Mr. Bainbridge, one of the men who had been instrumental in getting Moody and Sankey to come to England. Moody accepted and decided to stay here until he and Sankey had proved their worth.
The services were held in the Rye Hill Baptist Chapel. This building had a seating capacity of sixteen hundred. The meetings at first were not large, but the attendance increased rapidly. Indeed, so many people came that the evangelists were obliged to move to the Music Hall. Here Henry Morehouse joined them, and great throngs waited on their ministry. Local ministers were invited to work in the inquiry room, and hundreds of people were converted. One of the unusual things about this meeting was that the upper middle class formed the bulk of the attendance.
Moody and Sankey stayed here until at least the ones they worked with were convinced that they were sincere.
From Sankey Still Sings by Charles Ludwig. Anderson, IN: The Warner Press, 1947.