During their first two years in England, Moody and Sankey received many urgent requests to conduct meetings in London. Both knew that the great metropolis sorely needed a religious revival, but they also felt that more unity would be needed among the various local denominations before such a campaign could be successful. Accordingly, all these invitations were politely turned down.
When the requests became more urgent, Mr. Moody replied that before such meetings could be started he would have to have at least twenty-five thousand dollars for advertising and expenses. London's answer to this was that they had already raised fifty thousand dollars and were ready to go to work. The evangelists felt that this indicated unity, and extensive preparations under their direction started.
The entire months of January and February were devoted to getting ready for the gospel assault. No method that was known to work was left unused. Moody and Sankey prepared for it in a lavish way that was unknown in the history of evangelism. Among other things, Moody decided that he would let the people know just where he and Sankey stood on some of the issues that were being gossiped about by those who would hinder.
Before an audience of two thousand at a ministerial meeting he explained his methods, acknowledged those accusations that were true, and denied those that were not. Many of the stories circulated were utterly false, and he exposed these as well as he could. He brought up the question of hymnbook royalties.
A great deal has been said about our making a fine thing financially out of this movement from the sale of hymnbooks, organs, etc. Now I desire to say that up to January first we received a royalty from the publishers of our hymnbooks, but from that date, when the solo book was enlarged, we determined not to receive anything from the sale, and have requested the publishers to hand over the royalty upon all our hymnbooks to one of your leading citizens, Mr. H. M. Matheson, who will devote the same to such charitable objects as he may decide upon.
In regard to the organ question, I want to say, once for all, that we are not selling organs—that is not our mission; nor are we agents for the sale of organs; nor do we receive a commission or compensation in any way whatever from any person or persons for the organ that Mr. Sankey uses at our meetings.
I hope now that no one will think that I have made these statements to create financial sympathy in our behalf. We do not want your money; we want your confidence, and we want your sympathy and prayers, and as our one object in coming here is to preach Christ, we believe we shall have them and that with God's blessing we shall see many brought into his fold. If we make mistakes, come and tell us. Then I shall not fear for the result.
Four buildings were engaged for the meetings. The largest one was Agricultural Hall, at Islington, in North London, seating 13,700, and with standing room for 5,000 more. Bow Road Hall, on the East Side, had a capacity of 10,000. The other two places used were the Royal Opera House, on the West End, and Victoria Theater, in the south part of the city.
The opening meeting at Agricultural Hall was held on Tuesday evening, March 9th, and the noon meeting at Exeter Hall on the following day. The house-to-house visitation committee had been actively at work, and in the noon prayer meeting at Moorgate Street Hall there was a decided increase of interest and fervor. Prayer meetings had also been held in Agricultural Hall for a month, attended by more than a thousand people.
The campaign was an unquestionable success from the outset. Many of the leading evangelical ministers and laymen of London were on the platform at the first service. The hall was quickly filled, seats and standing room, and thousands went away disappointed, though seventeen thousand people were crowded into the great building.
Mr. Moody won all hearts in the very beginning by asking the vast audience to "praise God for what He was going to do for London." He then added that he had received dispatches from many cities in Great Britain saying that the Christians were praying for London, and then he prayed with great fervor that a blessing might come upon the city, thanking God for the spirit of unity among the ministers and praying that there might be no strife among them.
Great crowds attended all these meetings. Much of the success was due to Sankey. Night after night people thronged into the buildings just to hear him. Sims Reeves, at that time one of the world's leading tenors, went to hear him on several occasions and marveled at the way he moved his listeners. The Daily News declared that "his voice would enable him to make a figure on the operatic stage." Royalty often went to his services, and he had the unique opportunity to sing to such people as the Princess of Wales, Earl Cairns, Mr. Gladstone, the Earl of Shaftesbury, and the Duchess of Teck.
Charles Spurgeon did all he could to help in the meetings. He attended the services and urged his congregation to do likewise. On one Sunday morning he noticed Sankey in his tabernacle and insisted that he come forward and teach the people to sing "Ring the Bells of Heaven." When someone made fun of the way Moody pronounced Jerusalem in only two syllables, Spurgeon's comment was, "I thank God there is one man in such hot haste to get the gospel to the people that he does not stop to pronounce all the syllables of every word."
Naturally, with all this success there was a great amount of criticism. One story was that the evangelists were interested in the sale of cheap photographs of themselves. This incredible tale was widely broadcast. Later, however, a photographer put a stop to it by publishing a letter in the Times stating that he had offered Moody and Sankey a thousand pounds (nearly five thousand dollars) to pose for him and to allow him to copyright the photograph, but they refused.
As always, these attacks helped the meetings to prosper. Before the evangelists came to London the papers started repeating the time-worn story that the Americans were interested in the sale of organs. This particular story amused a certain man by the name of Studd, and it was one of the incentives that got him to attend the meetings. Here he heard Sankey sing "The Ninety and Nine" and was converted. Upon being urged to win someone else he set out to tell his sons about the good news. As a result, his son, C. T. Studd, one of England's most famous cricket players, became a Christian and later a world-famous missionary.
The London Times, replying to some of the criticism, ran an article including the following paragraph:
But people would not come together for weeks merely to hear expressive singing, nor to yield to the impulse of association. They come to hear Mr. Moody, and the main question is: What has he to say? Is any Christian church in this metropolis in a position to say that it can afford to dispense with any vigorous effort to arouse the mass of people to a more Christian life? The congregations which are to be seen in our churches and chapels are but a fraction of the hundreds and thousands around them, of whom multitudes are living little better than a mere animal existence. If any considerable proportion of them can be aroused to the mere desire of something higher, an immense step is gained; if the churches are really a higher influence still, Mr. Moody will at least have prepared them better material to work on.
Singing night after night finally got the best of Sankey, and he had to go away from London for a rest. Thinking he would get away from the meetings, he spent a few days in Switzerland. But imagine his surprise when he was awakened early in the morning by hearing one of his own hymns being sung. At first he thought he had been dreaming, but when he looked outside he discovered the truth. The street was crowded with singers on their way to church. The revival had spread to Switzerland. Some of his songs had already been translated into languages used by the Swiss.
Coming back to London, he went with Moody out to Epping Forest to visit the Smith brothers. These men were converted gypsies and were quite successful as evangelists. While the men were talking, some gypsy boys came up to the carriage. One of them climbed up on the wheel. Sankey, noticing that he was unusually bright for his age, placed his hand on his head and said, "May the Lord make a preacher of you, my boy!"
At the end of the four months' campaign, figures were shown to indicate the success of the united effort. Here they are:
In the Agricultural Hall, Islington, sixty meetings were held, attended by 720,000 people; in Bow Road Hall, a similar number of services were held at which 600,000 persons were present; in Camberwell Hall, too, sixty meetings were held, with audiences totaling 480,000; in the Haymarket Opera House, 330,000 attended sixty meetings; in Victoria Hall, forty-five services were conducted with audiences numbering 400,000. In all, 285 meetings were held, with an aggregate attendance of 2,530,000. The cost of the meeting was $141,985, practically all of which was subscribed ere the mission reached its close.
From Sankey Still Sings by Charles Ludwig. Anderson, IN: The Warner Press, 1947.