by Harry Ironside
An Agnostic's Challenge
For nearly a year after I left the Salvation Army and launched out in evangelistic work in fellowship with the Christians commonly known as "Brethren," I lived in the San Francisco Bay region. One Lord's Day afternoon as I was walking up Market Street, I saw a large group gathered at the corner of Market and Grant Avenue. When I heard the sound of music and singing, I realized in a moment that it was a meeting of my old Salvationist friends, and went over to enjoy it. They had a splendid brass band. There were perhaps sixty soldiers in all, who had formed a large circle round which some three or four hundred people were gathered. I pushed my way through to the front of the crowd, and was almost immediately recognized by the little lassie captain who came over and asked me if I would not like to give a testimony. Of course I was pleased to do this, so when opportunity presented itself, at her suggestion I stepped into the ring and tried to give a gospel message based on my own personal experience of Christ's saving grace.
While I was speaking, I noticed that a well-dressed man of medium build and intelligent countenance who was standing on the curb took a card from his pocket and wrote something on it. Just as I was concluding my talk, he stepped forward, politely lifted his hat, and handed me the card. On one side I read his name. I realized at once who he was, for I had seen his name in the public press and on placards as one who had been giving addresses for some months all up and down the West Coast from Vancouver to San Diego. He was an official representative of what was then called the I. W. W. Movement — that is, the "Industrial Workers of the World," though opponents of its socialistic principles generally interpreted the mystic letters as standing for "I Won't Work." He held meetings among laboring men, seeking to incite them to class hatred and to organize with a view to overthrowing the capitalistic system.
Turning the card over, I read on the opposite side, as nearly as I can now remember, the following challenge: "Sir, I challenge you to debate with me the question 'Agnosticism versus Christianity' in the Academy of Science Hall next Sunday afternoon at four o'clock. I will pay all expenses —."
I read the card aloud, and replied somewhat as follows: "I am very much interested in this challenge. Frankly, I am already announced for another meeting next Lord's Day afternoon at three o'clock, but I think it will be possible for me to get through with that in time to reach the Academy of Science by four, or if necessary I could arrange to have another speaker substitute for me at the meeting already advertised. Therefore I will be glad to agree to this debate on the following conditions: namely, that in order to prove that Mr.—— has something worth fighting for and worth debating about, he will promise to bring with him to the Hall next Sunday two people, whose qualifications I will give in a moment, as proof that agnosticism is of real value in changing human lives and building true character. First, he must promise to bring with him one man who was for years what we commonly call a 'down-and-outer.' I am not particular as to the exact nature of the sins that had wrecked his life and made him an outcast from society — whether a drunkard, or a criminal of some kind, or a victim of any sensual appetite — but a man who for years was under the power of evil habits from which he could not deliver himself, but who on some occasion entered one of Mr.——s meetings and heard his glorification of agnosticism and his denunciations of the Bible and Christianity, and whose heart and mind as he listened to such an address were so deeply stirred that he went away from that meeting saying, 'Henceforth, I too am an agnostic!' and as a result of imbibing that particular philosophy he found that a new power had come into his life. The sins he once loved, now he hated, and righteousness and goodness were henceforth the ideals of his life. He is now an entirely new man, a credit to himself and an asset to society — all because he is an agnostic.
"Secondly, I would like Mr.—— to promise to bring with him one woman — and I think he may have more difficulty in finding the woman than the man — who was once a poor, wrecked, characterless outcast, the slave of evil passions, and the victim of man's corrupt living." As I spoke I was within perhaps a stone's throw of San Francisco's infamous Barbary Coast, where so many young lives have been shipwrecked; and so I added, "Perhaps one who had lived for years in some evil resort on Pacific Street, or in some other nearby hell-hole, utterly lost, ruined and wretched because of her life of sin. But this woman also entered a hall where Mr.—— was loudly proclaiming his agnosticism and ridiculing the message of the Holy Scriptures. As she listened, hope was born in her heart, and she said, 'This is just what I need to deliver me from the slavery of sin!' She followed the teaching until she became an intelligent agnostic or infidel. As a result, her whole being revolted against the degradation of the life she had been living. She fled from the den of iniquity where she had been held captive so long; and today, rehabilitated, she has won her way back to an honored position in society and is living a clean, virtuous, happy life — all because she is an agnostic.
"Now, Mr.——," I exclaimed, "if you will promise to bring these two people with you as examples of what agnosticism will do, I will promise to meet you at the Hall at the hour appointed next Sunday, and I will bring with me at the very least one hundred men and women who for years lived in just such sinful degradation as I have tried to depict, but who have been gloriously saved through believing the message of the gospel which you ridicule. I will have these men and women with me on the platform as witnesses to the miraculous saving power of Jesus Christ, and as present-day proof of the truth of the Bible."
Turning to the little Salvation Army captain, I said, "Captain, have you any who could go with me to such a meeting?" She exclaimed with enthusiasm, "We can give you forty at least, just from this one corps, and we will give you a brass band to lead the procession!"
"Fine!" I answered. "Now, Mr.——, I will have no difficulty in picking up sixty others from various Missions, Gospel Halls, and evangelical churches of the city, and if you promise faithfully to bring two such exhibits as I have described, I will come marching in at the head of such a procession, with the band playing 'Onward, Christian Soldiers,' and I will be ready for the debate."
I think Mr.—— had quite a sense of humor, for he smiled rather sardonically, waved his hand in a deprecating kind of way as much as to say, "Nothing doing!" and edging through the crowd he left the scene, while that great crowd clapped the Salvation Army and the street-preacher to the echo, for they well knew that in all the annals of unbelief no one ever heard of a philosophy of negation, such as agnosticism, making bad men and women good, and they also knew that this is what Christianity has been doing all down through the centuries.
Our gospel proves itself by what it accomplishes, as redeemed people from every walk of life, delivered from every type of sin, prove the regenerating and keeping power of the Christ of whom the Bible speaks.
Fed by Ravens
Some of the most interesting and spiritually profitable experiences of my life have been in connection with financial needs and God's marvellous intervention when I seemed to be at the end of all human resources. It is not always wise or profitable to speak of these testings to others lest one be misunderstood, or lest some should take it for granted that all of Christ's servants should act upon the same principles.
Long years ago, however, I, personally, felt that I should rely upon the Lord alone for my temporal support and that of my family, without making our needs known in any way to other people whether saved or not. And as to receiving from the unconverted, it has always seemed clear to me that the Lord's work and the Lord's servants should be sustained by the Lord's own people and not by those who are enemies of the cross of Christ. Sometimes, when acting on this principle, it pleased God to test me in peculiar ways which were hard to understand at the time, but for which I can now praise Him unfeignedly.
One such case I desire to recall and to share with my readers. It occurred, I think, in the year 1904. My wife and I, with our little son, not yet four years old, had been East on an evangelistic tour, visiting and preaching in a number of different places. Our home was still in Oakland, California. On the way home we were obliged, because of a short purse, to stop in Salt Lake City. At Chicago I had been able to purchase a through ticket for my wife, but for myself was unable to buy beyond Salt Lake. I concluded therefore to go on to that city and remain there till able to go farther. We arrived with a very few dollars and put up at an exceedingly cheap hotel. I asked the Lord to open some door of service and to send us, in some way, the needful wherewithal for our living expenses and my fare home. But ten days went by, and all our money was gone and there was no apparent opening for testimony. I preached every night upon the street, visiting and tract distributing each day, but not a soul could I find who seemed concerned about our message. As our little fund of silver dwindled away, I am ashamed to say that my faith seemed to dwindle too. I became anxious and troubled, and actually peevish with God for withholding what I felt I had a right to expect as His servant. As day after day our prospects grew darker, I became more and more concerned. I sold a set of books one day, the six volumes of C. H. M.'s Notes, to a Baptist minister. This enabled me to pay up our hotel bill for a week.
When the last dime was gone, my faith was at its lowest ebb and my spirit so perturbed that I had lost all sense of communion with God. For several days we had barely eked out an existence on forty cents a day. Tomorrow we would be without food unless God intervened.
Greatly distressed I went for a long walk in the snow (it was winter), and I tried to quiet my mind and get into the attitude of soul where I could really pray with the expectation of an answer, for my mind was in a turmoil.
I thought of one promise after another, but all seemed inapplicable to my case. "If ye abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will and it shall be done," was no help, for conscience said, "You are not abiding, so there is no use asking." "Whatsoever ye shall ask in faith believing," only seemed to mock me, for I felt I had no faith left! Suddenly I remembered the words, "If two of you shall agree ... it shall be done." I did not know then the real meaning of this verse. I was not aware that to "agree" was to "symphonize," to be in harmony with God and with each other. But I grasped at the promise as a drowning man reaching for a rope.
I turned back to the hotel and found my wife in deep exercise. I said, "Helen, I want you to kneel with me, and we shall agree together to ask God for forty cents tonight so as to provide food for tomorrow and if He does this, I can trust for the future."
She joined with me and prayed earnestly. I still remember my own wretched attempt at prayer. I said, "O Lord, we claim this promise. We two are agreed to ask for forty cents tonight. If we do not receive it, I shall never believe this verse again." My wife shuddered and implored me not to speak to God like that, but I was so upset I would not heed her admonition. I went out to preach, saying as I left her, "This is the test. If God does not hear us, I simply cannot pray any more."
You will wonder how I could preach when in such a rebellious frame of mind. I wonder at it myself today. But I spoke to a crowd of about three hundred people for perhaps forty minutes. As I turned away when the meeting was ended, I thought some Christian might come to me and offer some expression of fellowship, but no one spoke to me. I walked away in bitterness of soul.
I had gone a full block when two men came hurrying after me. One exclaimed, "You forgot something; didn't you?"
"What?" I asked.
"Why, you did not take a collection at your meeting!"
"I never do," I replied.
"Well, how do you live?"
"Why, I just trust the Lord and He meets my need." The words were out before I realized the hypocrisy of which I was guilty at that moment, for I was not trusting at all. I was filled with doubt and fear. But the men were not to be put off.
One exclaimed, "Well, shake hands any way," and as he took my hand I felt several small coins pressed into my palm. The other immediately did the same.
Suddenly I realized that I had not inquired if they were Christians. So I said, "Gentlemen, I thank you, but are you Christians yourselves? I do not accept money from the unsaved."
"That's all right," they exclaimed; "we know all about it. We have been out for two years without purse or scrip ourselves."
I knew that meant that they were Mormon elders. I started to insist that I must return the money, but they dashed off in the crowd and were lost to sight. I opened my hand and found two dimes and four nickels! As I looked at the forty cents, I felt humbled indeed. God had answered my ill-tempered prayer, but He had sent two ravens — men of an alien faith — to feed His unworthy servant.
I hastened to the hotel, showed my wife the money, and we fell on our knees and thanked Him for His mercy, and I confessed my sins of unbelief and complaining against His providences.
The next day a letter came with sufficient money to meet our needs. ...How rich we felt, and how we realized that God our Father had not forgotten, but was caring for us even when I was in such a backslidden state of soul.
How good to know that He understands all our weaknesses and He remembers that we are dust, and that,
"God never is before His time,
And never is behind."
From Infidelity to Faith
For a number of years following the close of the World War it was my privilege to preach in the famous old Tent Evangel in New York City for a limited period every summer. This was a testimony carried on under the direction of Dr. George W. McPherson, backed by a committee of Christian business-men, designed to give the people of Manhattan a nightly gospel service during the hot months, when many of the churches either closed altogether or discontinued the evening meetings. It was a cheering sight to see 1500 to 2000, or even more, gathered night after night under the canvas top, listening to the gospel of the grace of God as proclaimed by well-known evangelists and outstanding pastors from all parts of the American and other continents. Of these I was one of the least.
It was through the good offices of a group of Christian brethren, who were deeply interested in the evangelization of the great metropolis, that I was first invited to come over from California for a month's meetings, after which I was asked to go year after year.
One could tell of many who were brought to a saving knowledge of Christ in those days. But of these one man stands out as a clear-cut testimony to the power of the Word of God to speak to heart and conscience and reveal the glories of Christ as the Son of God, through whose merits salvation is offered to sinful men.
I had just come down from the platform at the close of the meeting one evening, when a man came forward and in a rather nervous, jerky manner exclaimed, "I'd give a lot to believe what you have preached tonight. I know you folks get a lot of comfort and peace out of it, that I know nothing of. But I cannot take it in. I am an agnostic. But I will say this — If you could prove to me that Jesus Christ is the Son of God I would trust Him as my Saviour and give my life to Him. I admire the character of Jesus immensely, but I cannot accept His Deity. What proof have you that He is more than man? — that He is the divine Son of God?" "Are you in dead earnest about this?" I inquired. "Do you promise faithfully to follow Him if convinced He is the Son of God?"
"Yes. I am not afraid to make that promise. But how can you prove any such thing?"
"I cannot prove it," I replied. "It is the work of the Holy Spirit of God to do that. He came to reveal the things of Christ to the honest heart. But if I show you how you may find out for yourself if Jesus is the Son of God, will you yield yourself to Him and follow Him?"
"Yes, I will, if you show me how I may know it for certain."
Opening my Bible at John 20:30,31, I read, "And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing ye might have life through His name."
I pointed out the tremendous challenge of these verses. The author declares that this Gospel of John was written expressly to show that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Therefore, if anyone is perplexed as to this, let him read this Gospel, with open mind, desiring to know the truth, and he may know for himself whether its claims for Jesus are true.
"Now," I said, "will you do this? Take this Gospel of John I am giving you. Get down before God and lift your heart to Him. Tell Him you want to know the truth about Jesus Christ and the way of life. Ask Him to reveal to you, as you read this book if Jesus Christ is really His Son. Tell Him you are a sinner and that you desire to be saved. Tell Him you will take Christ as your Saviour if He shows you He is the Son of God."
He exclaimed, "There is no use doing that. I do not believe in prayer. I never prayed in my life. I am not even sure there is a God, and I have no way of knowing that the Bible is authentic."
I pointed out that he was begging the question. I challenged him with being "yellow." He had asked for proof. I told him how he might obtain it and he refused to follow instructions. He was not an honest seeker or he would at least give my plan a trial.
He exclaimed, "I guess you are right after all. I ought to be willing to test it since I have asked you to show me how I may know whether this thing is true or not. I'll give it a trial."
And so he went away, and I did not know that I would ever see him on earth again. But as I went to my room I lifted my heart to God, beseeching Him to lead this needy soul to the saving knowledge of His beloved Son.
I think it was three years later that I was conducting evangelistic meetings in the same big tent. As I stepped down to greet friends from the audience, a bright-faced man came forward with a big seven by nine Bible under his arm, and exclaimed, "Do you remember me?" I was at a loss for a moment, then replied, "I seem to recall your face, but cannot remember your name."
"I am the man who told you I would be a Christian if I could believe that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, and you set me to reading the Gospel of John."
Even this did not bring all back to my mind, for I have asked many other unbelievers to do the same thing. But when he reminded me that I had told him he was "yellow" if he would not face the issue fairly and give God a chance through His own Word to settle the question, it all came back to my mind.
" I do recollect our conversation. Did you make the test? And, if so, what happened?"
Then he told me that he had begun the careful reading of the Gospel, asking God if He really existed and if Jesus Christ was His Son, to make it clear. Night after night he read in the little book — not lengthy portions, but a few verses, pondering each expression carefully. I think he told me he had not finished the sixth chapter before the truth of the Deity of Christ and His divine Sonship burst upon his soul with crystal clearness.
I fell on my knees and cried, 'Lord, I know Thou art the Son of God, and I take Thee as my Saviour."' And the joy of the Lord filled his soul as he rested on the revelation given by inspiration, a revelation that he could no longer refuse to acknowledge as the very Word of the living God.
I found that he had become an active Christian, was identified with a group of believers in church-fellowship, and was teaching several men's Bible classes, meeting in fire department houses in various parts of the city. His radiant face told the story of a heart that had found a satisfying portion in Christ and a constant joy in seeking to make Him known to others.
The Holy Scriptures are God-breathed. They are living and energetic, and can be depended upon to do their own work if men are but willing to search them with honest hearts, ready to act on the truth when the Holy Spirit reveals it.
Learning to be Abased
There are experiences which all servants of God go through that seem almost too personal and too sacred to reveal to the public, and yet some of these incidents might be used of the Lord to strengthen the faith of others passing through seasons of special trial, and so I have decided to share several such episodes with my readers.
Unless my memory is playing tricks with me, it was in the summer of the year 1900 that my wife and I went to what is now known as East Bakersfield, but was then called Kern City, in California, for a tent campaign. It was a venture of faith, because I knew but one family in that district — very dear friends of mine who had found blessing in meetings at Long Beach some time before and who had urged me to come to their town for tent services, particularly because of an interest that had developed among some French Roman Catholics through the quiet ministry of an aged man named Mr. Petrequin.
The meetings went on for about two months and were blessed to the salvation of a few souls, which greatly gladdened our hearts. When the time came to take down the tent, with a view of returning to our home in Oakland, we went over to the station to get our tickets. Just before purchasing them, a very distinct impression came to me that I should not go through to Oakland, but should stop at Fresno.
Now I know that it is a very dangerous thing to be guided by impressions, but this one was of such a definite character that I could not throw it off. I told my wife how I felt, and said to her, "You stay here and pray, while I go outside and talk to the Lord about it." I walked up and down the station platform, asking God to make clear to me whether this was His mind. The more I prayed, the less I could shake it off, so I went to the window and bought a ticket for my wife to Oakland, but a ticket to Fresno for myself.
As we got on the train I said, "If when we reach Fresno I am clear about going on, I will simply step out and purchase another ticket; otherwise I will get off at Fresno."
However, when that station was reached, I simply could not get the consent of my own mind to go on to Oakland, so I handed my wife all the money I had with the exception of a solitary dollar, not telling her, of course, the low state of my finances, and bidding her and our little one good-bye I stepped off the train, not knowing what was before me.
I should perhaps explain that something like a year before I had received a letter from a brother in the Lord in Fresno, telling of blessing received through some literature I had sent him and asking me, if circumstances ever permitted me to come to Fresno, to make my abode at his home and he would be glad to do what he could to find a place for public testimony. I had his address with me, and leaving my bag at the station I took a street-car to the place indicated. What was my disappointment when I got there, to learn from neighbors that he and his family were away for a summer vacation and would not return for a number of weeks! I felt rather rebuffed, and wondered whether I had not made a great mistake in following my impression.
However, I was in for it now, and there was nothing to do but carry on. So back to the station I went, got my grip, and found a palatial lodging at a cost of twenty-five cents a night! The little money that I had would not carry me very far even in so inexpensive a place, so I was very careful not to spend any more for food than was absolutely necessary.
It was now going on toward evening, and I was on my knees asking God to show me if I had made a mistake, or on the other hand to give me some indication if He had a service for me in this city, when I heard the sound of singing outside. I went out to a street corner and listened a little while to the Salvation Army, but when the collection plate was passed I walked away, the state of my finances not being such as to make me enthusiastic about participating.
A block away another street-meeting was in progress, and I went down and listened to that. It was under the auspices of the Peniel Mission of Los Angeles. There was a good ring to the testimonies, and I decided to go on to the Hall for the later meeting. I waited until a large crowd had gathered inside, and then slipped in quietly and sat down by the door. Two ladies were in charge of the meeting. I had hardly taken my seat when I became conscious of the fact that both of them were looking in my direction and whispering together, evidently about me. It was a little embarrassing, to say the least. The next moment one of the ladies walked down the aisle, and coming directly to where I sat, inquired, "Are you the one who is to preach here tonight?" Surprised, I answered, "I do not know. "
She looked at me peculiarly, I thought, and then said, "Well, are you not a preacher of the gospel?" I told her that I was, or tried to be. "And have you not a message for us tonight?" I replied, "I am not sure. Why do you ask?" She answered that the other lady and herself, who had charge of the Mission, had been praying about the message for the evening, and it had seemed as though a voice distinctly said to both of them, I will send My own messenger tonight. You will know him when you see him." And she added, "So we were watching everyone who came in the door, and when you entered, we both were sure that you were the person."
This was more surprising than ever, but it fitted in with my own experience, and I told her how I happened to be in the city that night. She immediately said, "You must be the Lord's messenger. Please come right to the platform."
Accepting it as an opening of God, I obeyed, and after some testimonies, I preached the gospel to the assembled throng. They immediately asked if I would not remain with them for at least a two-weeks' campaign, which I agreed to do.
This, I should explain, was on Thursday night. I preached the next two evenings, looking to the Lord daily in prayer that He would supply my temporal needs, of which I could not, of course, speak to anyone else. But in His inscrutable wisdom He allowed Saturday night to come, leaving me absolutely penniless. I did not even have the required twenty-five cents to pay for my room, so rather disconsolately I said good-bye to my landlord and took my suitcase into a drug store, asking permission to leave it there until called for. The druggist smiled, and said, "If it does not contain dynamite you are welcome to do so!" I assured him that it was perfectly safe, and left it there.
I will never forget how utterly alone I felt as I stepped out into the street. It was getting quite late in the evening, and I had had only five cents' worth of food all day, and I had no place to go for the night. Yet somehow I felt strangely lifted up as I remembered One who had said, "The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man hath not where to lay His head. "
I had a large supply of gospel tracts with me in a number of different languages, so I walked across the Santa Fe' tracks into what was then the very worst section of the city, and I spent my time until two o'clock in the morning visiting the vile saloons and filthy dancehalls of the district, until I had distributed about three thousand of these little gospel messages. God gave the opportunity for earnest testimony to quite a number of different people — poor derelicts, far away from their homes and sunk in the depths of sin.
But now even the saloons were closing up. My supply of tracts was exhausted, and still I was left without any place to go. So following the street-car track, I walked out to the end of the suburban line, and there found an empty car into which I crept, and tried to sleep on the benches. The night had turned very cold, and I could not be comfortable. I tried to pray, but I regret to confess that I was not in the spirit of prayer. In fact, by this time I was inwardly complaining, not without bitterness, to God. The scripture came to me, "My God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus," and my rebellious spirit exclaimed, "Then why does He not do this? He has promised, and He is not fulfilling His Word. "
I became very much perplexed and distressed. But about four o'clock in the morning I decided that I would find more comfort in walking than in the car, so I went back to the city. In the grounds surrounding the court-house was a large weeping-willow tree, the branches of which hung very low on all sides. I crawled in under them, and found myself in a kind of leafy bower where I managed to get about two hours' sleep where no one could see me.
When I awoke, God was speaking to me in regard to certain things in my life concerning which I had allowed myself to become very careless, and I knelt beneath the tree and poured out my heart to Him regarding my lack of faith and my self-will. The more I confessed, the more things came to my mind which required self-judgment, until I no longer wondered why God had not undertaken for me, but I was amazed to think how very good He had been to me in spite of my many failures.
After a while I went over to the fountain in the court-house grounds and washed a bit, and then walked around until it was time for Sunday School service at the Methodist Church, where I had promised to teach a class of young men.
When I went in to the opening exercises I was much surprised to see a man taking quite a part in the service who had been my own Sunday School teacher years before in Los Angeles. I stepped over and introduced myself, and received a warm welcome from him. Upon his inquiry as to how I happened to be there, I explained that I was holding meetings at the Mission, and had been asked to teach a class. He immediately invited me to lunch with him after the morning service, an invitation which I need not say I was delighted to accept.
I taught my class, remained to hear the sermon, and then my friend and I went out for lunch. I did not dare to tell him anything of my actual circumstances, but it was refreshing to enjoy the fellowship, and a good meal quite set me up.
At the afternoon meeting an interested crowd filled the Mission Hall, and at the close of the service a young osteopathic doctor came up to me to inquire at what hotel I was staying. I told him that I had been staying in a certain quarter of the city, but did not indicate the name of my hostelry. He then asked, "Could you not come and stay with me? I have a nice apartment with a spare room. I am lonely for Christian fellowship, and I would be delighted to have your company.
Well, what could I do but accept? I felt that it was the Lord's wondrous provision. He was eager to come with me to my "hotel" to get my grip, but I assured him that I would attend to that myself. I hurried off to the drug-store where I had left my bag, and having obtained it, I hastened to the doctor's apartment. He noticed that I was rather weary, and suggested that while supper was being prepared — which he himself was to attend to — I should have a little nap. To this I very gladly consented, and I remember so well that about an hour afterward I dreamed I was passing through a fearful earthquake, but I soon found it was the doctor shaking me to get me up! He was amazed to find that I was such a sound sleeper.
We had our supper together, and went down to the evening meeting. God wrought in power, and quite a number of precious souls came forward and were dealt with personally, all professing to accept the Lord Jesus. Then, without the least intimation on my part of a need of any kind, one and another of the Christian friends crowded around me, slipping money into my hands, until when I went back to my room I counted it out and found I had twenty-seven dollars.
How I thanked God for His mercy! On the morrow I sent my wife a good portion of the money, knowing it would be needed at home, but I prudently retained enough to pay my railroad fare if nothing more was received.
A little later I went out to the post office to look for mail, and found a letter from my step-father. He had a way of folding his letters backwards, and as I drew the letter from the envelope I saw a postscript staring me in the face. It read as follows: "God spoke to me through Philippians 4:19 today. He has promised to supply all our need. Some day He may see that I need a starving! If He does, He will supply that. "
Oh, how real it all seemed to me then! I saw that God had been putting me through that test in order to bring me closer to Himself, and to bring me face to face with things that I had been neglecting. And so I pass this little incident on to others, hoping it may have a message for some troubled worker who may be going through a time of similar need and perplexity.
When I Heard Moody, Stebbins, and Sankey
It is impossible for me to express in any adequate manner my indebtedness to many of the Lord's well-known servants for help received in early days, which opened up to me the Word of God and suggested methods of presenting His truth to others. I have always been most grateful to Him, especially since becoming pastor of the Moody Memorial Church of Chicago, that He permitted me to hear His devoted servant, Dwight L. Moody, at two different periods of my life: one when I was a boy, and the other when I was a young preacher just feeling my way along, as it were, and never dreaming that the day would come when it would be my privilege to stand in the pulpit of the great church built in memory of him whom I esteem as the most outstanding evangelist of the nineteenth century.
When Dwight L. Moody and George C. Stebbins came to Los Angeles for a great campaign in 1888, I was only twelve years old. But already I had been under considerable exercise about spiritual things, and thought myself to be a Christian, although it was not until two years later that I came to a definite saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Moody meetings were held in Hazzard's Pavilion, a large, wooden structure with two galleries, seating perhaps 8,000 people. I shall never forget my first night there; it made an indelible impression on my mind. Arriving after the song service had begun, I found apparently every seat taken, and many people standing up. I made my way to the first gallery, and then to the upper one, looking for an unoccupied place, but found none.
Then I observed that another lad had crawled out on one of the great, wooden girders supporting the roof. These were heavy box-like supports, composed of three 4 x 12 planks spiked together like immense troughs, extending at an angle from the gallery to the center of the roof, and then on down to the opposite side. I crawled out on one of these and, lying in the trough, was quite secure, and able to get a good view of the great audience, the choir and others on the platform, and could hear perfectly.
The singing thrilled me, but I cannot recall the titles of any of the congregational hymns used that night. Finally, a short, thick-set, bearded man arose, who seemed from my vantage point to have no neck. His head appeared to fit very closely into his shoulders as I looked down upon him from so far above. He began to speak in a crisp, business-like way, with a decided New England twang that, to use the old Scotch lady's words, "did not even hae a holy tone to it."
The text was, "Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting." With telling effect he recounted the story of Belshazzar's folly and doom. I have read the sermon since and was surprised to find how little of it I had forgotten through the years. As he went on, I was deeply moved. I could see that the audience, too, was greatly stirred. I actually prayed, "Lord, help me some day to preach to crowds like these, and to lead souls to Christ." Although I was not really clear as to my own salvation, God marvelously answered that boyish petition.
So interested was I in what Mr. Moody was saying that I was amazed when he suddenly brought his discourse to an end as he exclaimed, "Mr. Stebbins will now sing one of my favorite hymns." I looked at the clock, and saw that he had been speaking less than thirty-five minutes. He seldom preached longer. His custom was to have several clear, definite points to each discourse, and to drive them home to the hearts and consciences of his hearers by remorseless logic, and clear, telling illustrations, many of which were extremely tender and homely, often moving his hearers to tears. Then he pressed upon them the importance of immediate decision for Christ — the definite acceptance of Him as Saviour and Lord.
He used a great deal of Scripture, and counted on God by His Holy Spirit to enforce the Word and make it the instrument of convicting sinners and bringing them to repentance and to personal faith in the Lord Jesus.
Stebbins sang most feelingly, "At the Feast of Belshazzar," a song then quite new. I had never heard it before.
After the solo, Mr. Moody again rose to his feet and began to plead with men to be reconciled to God. At first there was no move, then he said abruptly, "Will every truly converted person in this building rise to your feet?" Possibly five thousand instantly arose. "Will all who were converted before you were fifteen years of age sit down?" Over half took their seats. "Now all who were saved before you were twenty please be seated." Probably half of those remaining obeyed him.
Then he went on in the same way, "All below thirty — forty — fifty." By that time a mere handful were still standing. "All below sixty." If my memory serves me aright, only three out of that vast throng continued to stand. "Now all saved before you were seventy," and the last were seated. It was a powerful object lesson, showing the importance of coming to Christ while young.
Moody pressed this home, then invited anxious souls to the inquiry-room. Many went in.
Another night I managed to get there early, with my mother and several of her friends. We sat only a few seats from the front, and so had a good view of Mr. Moody and the rest. I remember thinking, "He isn't very handsome." But when he preached on "Sowing and Reaping," his face lighted up, and he really seemed beautiful in his sincerity and kindly earnestness. Mr. Stebbins and his wife sang, "The Model Church." It was the first time I had heard it. I thought it did not have enough gospel in it. You see, I was already quite a sermon-taster and meeting-appraiser. Again many went to the inquiry-room at Moody's invitation.
On the way home a gentleman in our party remarked, "He seems just a very ordinary man. I have heard many better preachers." "Yes," my mother answered, "but he wins souls!" I have often recalled this since. It was not remarkable eloquence or superior preaching ability that accounted for Moody's success. It was a life dominated by the Spirit of God, coupled with a certain native shrewdness that enabled him to understand the needs and hearts of men as few others have done.
I did not hear him again until some ten years later, when, I was a young evangelist myself, and Moody came back to California for a few meetings in the larger centers. I heard him both in Oakland and in Los Angeles. In each place he preached almost the identical sermon, at his big night meetings. He spoke on, "Ye must be born again." Like Wesley, Whitefield, and others, he believed a worth-while message could be given repeatedly with good results.
I like to remember that up to the last Moody was emphasizing the need of a second birth, that he never turned aside to a so-called liberal theology that fails to take into account man's lost condition and the necessity of regeneration if he would ever be saved. His son, Will Moody, was with him during this California tour, and I heard him in Los Angeles in the Peniel Hall. He was a good man, but of an altogether different type from his father. He dwelt more on the practical side of the Christian life.
At an afternoon meeting D. L. Moody talked to Christian workers on soul-winning and the need of revival. I remember he spoke a great deal on the devastating effect of carping criticism, and urged, "Pray for people; do not waste time talking about them." He warned church-members against criticizing their pastors, even though the latter were not clear: criticism accomplished nothing; praying for them would be constructive. "My trouble," he said, "is not so much with the ministers as with lazy Christians in the pews."
I never saw him again. The next year he answered the Home-call after his collapse on the platform in Kansas City. But I have always been thankful that I had these several opportunities of hearing the man God used in such a mighty way, to the salvation of many thousands of souls.
Ira D. Sankey I heard twice only. He was not with Mr. Moody at the meetings I have referred to, but he visited Oakland and San, Francisco in 1897, and I heard him in both cities. I shall never forget how he moved a great audience gathered to hear Henry Varley, as he sang, for the first time on the Pacific Coast, "Saved by grace." Other hymns that he brought out with him, that were new in those days, were, "There'll be no dark valley when Jesus comes," and, "Let the blessed sunshine in."
And, of course, he sang, "There were Ninety and Nine," as only he could sing it. I have never heard anyone else who seemed to put into it what he did, and who made it so appealing and impressive. In each meeting he sang by special request, "My Ain Countree," and told how he found it and how he came to use it. Since I myself am of Scotch extraction, I think I enjoyed this most of all. One trouble with many modern gospel soloists is, there is too little gospel and too much solo. The tendency is to perform instead of endeavoring to give a spiritual message. If either preacher or singer is more concerned about drawing attention to himself than exalting Christ and reaching the consciences of his hearers, he fails utterly in his service.