Playing the New Game
It is not necessary to be in a big place to do big things.—Billy Sunday.
IF Billy Sunday had not been an athlete he would not today be the physical marvel in the pulpit that he is; if he had not been reared in the ranks of the plain people he would not have possessed the vocabulary and insight into life which are essential parts of his equipment; if he had not served a long apprenticeship to toil he would not display his present pitiless industry; if he had not been a cog in the machinery of organized base ball, with wide travel and much experience of men, he would not be able to perfect the amazing organization of Sunday evangelistic campaigns; if he had not been a member and elder of a Presbyterian church he could not have resisted the religious vagaries which lead so many evangelists and immature Christian workers astray; if he had not been trained in three years of Y. M. C. A. service he would not today be the flaming and insistent protagonist of personal work that he now is; if he had not been converted definitely and consciously and quickly in a rescue mission he could not now preach his gospel of immediate conversion.
All of which is but another way of saying that Sunday was trained in God's school. God prepared the man for the work he was preparing for him. Only by such uncommon training could this unique messenger of the gospel be produced. A college course doubtless would have submerged Sunday into the level of the commonplace. A theological seminary would have denatured him. Evidently Sunday has learned the lesson of the value of individuality; he prizes it, preaches about it, and practices it. He probably does not know what "sui generis" means, but he is it. Over and over again he urges that instead of railing at what we have not enjoyed, we should magnify what we already possess. The shepherd's rod of Moses, rightly wielded, may be mightier than a king's scepter.
As we approach the development of the unique work of Billy Sunday, which is without a parallel in the history of evangelism, we must reckon with those forces which developed his personality and trace the steps which led him into his present imperial activity. For he has gone forward a step at a time.
He followed the wise rule of the rescue mission, that the saved should say so. At the very beginning he began to bear testimony to his new faith. Wherever opportunity offered he spoke a good word for Jesus Christ. In many towns and cities his testimony was heard in those early days; and there was not a follower of the base-ball game who did not know that Billy Sunday was a Christian.
The convert who does not join a church is likely soon to be in a bad way; so Sunday early united with the Jefferson Park Presbyterian Church, Chicago. He went into religious activity with all the ardor that he displayed on the base-ball field. He attended the Christian Endeavor society, prayer-meeting and the mid-week church service. This is significant; for it is usually the church members who are faithful at the mid-week prayer-meetings who are the vital force in a congregation.
Other rewards than spiritual awaited Sunday at the prayer-meeting; for there he met Helen A. Thompson, the young woman who subsequently became his wife. Between the meeting and the marriage altar there were various obstacles to be overcome. Another suitor was in the way, and besides, Miss Thompson's father did not take kindly to the idea of a professional base-ball player as a possible son-in-law, for he had old-fashioned Scotch notions of things. "Love conquers all," and in September, 1888, the young couple were married, taking their wedding trip by going on circuit with the base-ball team.
Mrs. Sunday's influence upon her husband has been extraordinary. It is a factor to be largely considered in any estimate of the man. He is a devoted husband, of the American type, and with his ardent loyalty to his wife has complete confidence in her judgment. She is his man of affairs. Her Scotch heritage has endowed her with the prudent qualities of that race, and she is the business manager of Mr. Sunday's campaigns. She it is who holds her generous, careless husband down to a realization of the practicalities of life.
He makes no important decisions without consulting her, and she travels with him nearly all of the time, attending his meetings and watching over his work and his personal well-being like a mother. In addition Mrs. Sunday does yeoman service in the evangelistic campaigns.
The helplessness of the evangelist without his wife is almost ludicrous: he dislikes to settle any question, whether it be an acceptance of an invitation from a city or the employment of an additional worker, without Mrs. Sunday's counsel. Frequently he turns vexed problems over to her, and abides implicitly by her decision, without looking into the matter himself at all.
Four children—Helen, George, William and Paul— have been born to the Sundays, two of whom are themselves married. The modest Sunday home is in Winona Lake, Indiana. When Mrs. Sunday is absent with her husband, the two younger children are left in the care of a trusted helper. The evangelist himself is home for only a short period each summer.
Mrs. Sunday was the deciding factor in determining her husband to abandon base ball for distinctively religious work. A woman of real Scotch piety, in the time of decision she chose the better part. Her husband had been addressing Y. M. C. A. meetings, Sunday-schools and Christian Endeavor societies. He was undeniably a poor speaker. No prophet could have foreseen the present master of platform art in the stammering, stumbling young man whose only excuse for addressing public meetings was the eagerness of men to hear the celebrated base-ball player's story. His speech was merely his testimony, such as is required of all mission converts.
If Sunday could not talk well on his feet he could handle individual men. His aptness in dealing with men led the Chicago Young Men's Christian Association to offer him an assistant secretaryship in the department of religious work. It is significant that the base-ball player went into the Y. M. C. A. not as a physical director but in the distinctively spiritual sphere. He refused an invitation to become physical director; for his religious zeal from the first outshone his physical prowess.
Those three years of work in the Chicago Association bulk large in the development of the evangelist. They were not all spent in dealing with the unconverted, by any means. Sunday's tasks included the securing of speakers for noon-day prayer-meetings, the conducting of office routine, the raising of money, the distribution of literature, the visiting of saloons and other places to which invitations should be carried, and the following up of persons who had displayed an interest in the meetings. Much of it was sanctified drudgery: but it was all drill for destiny. The young man saw at close range and with particular detail what sin could do to men; and he also learned the power of the Gospel to make sinners over.
The evangelist often alludes to those days of personal work in Chicago. Such stories as the following have been heard by thousands.
A Father Disowned
"While I was in the Y. M. C. A. in Chicago I was standing on the corner one night and a man came along with his toes sticking out and a ragged suit on and a slouch hat and asked me for a dime to get something to eat. I told him I wouldn't give him a dime because he would go and get a drink. He said, 'You wouldn't let me starve, would you?' I told him no, but that I wouldn't give him the money. I asked him to come to the Y. M. C. A. with me and stay until after the meeting and I would take him out and get him a good supper and a bed. He wanted me to do it right away before going to the Y. M. C. A., but I told him that I was working for someone until ten o'clock. So he came up to the meeting and stayed through the meeting and was very much interested. I saw that he used excellent language and questioned him and found that he was a man who had been Adjutant General of one of the Central States and had at one time been the editor of two of the biggest newspapers.
"I went with him after the meeting and got him a supper and a bed and went to some friends and we got his clothes. I asked him if he had any relatives and he said he had one son who was a bank cashier but that he had disowned him and his picture was taken from the family album and his name was never spoken in the house, all because he was now down and out, on account of booze.
"I wrote to the boy and said, 'I've found your father. Send me some money to help him.'
"He wrote back and said for me never to mention his father's name to him again, that it wasn't ever spoken around the house and that his father was forgotten.
"I replied: 'You miserable, low-down wretch. You can't disown your father and refuse to help him because he is down and out. Send me some money or I will publish the story in all of the papers.' He sent me five dollars and that's all I ever got from him. I took care of the old man all winter and in the spring I went to a relief society in Chicago and got him a ticket to his home and put him on the train and that was 'the last I ever saw of him."
Redeeming a Son
"I stood on the street one Sunday night giving out tickets inviting men to the men's meeting in Farwell Hall. Along came a young fellow, I should judge he was thirty, who looked prematurely old, and he said, 'Pard, will you give me a dime?' «
"I said, 'No, sir.' "'I want to get somethin' to eat.' "I said, 'You look to me as though you were a boozefighter.'
"'I'll not give you money, but I'll get your supper.'
"He said, 'Come on. I haven't eaten for two days.'
"'My time is not my own until ten o'clock. You go upstairs until then and I'll buy you a good supper and get you a good, warm, clean bed in which to sleep, but I'll not give you the money.'
"He said, 'Thank you, I'll go.' He stayed for the meeting. I saw he was moved, and after the meeting I stood by his side. He wept and I talked to him about Jesus Christ, and he told me this story:
"There were three boys in the family. They lived in Boston. The father died, the will was probated, he was given his portion, took it, started out drinking and gambling. At last he reached Denver, his money was gone, and he got a position as fireman in the Denver and Rio Grande switchyards. His mother kept writing to him, but he told me that he never read the letters. He said that when he saw the postmark and the writing he threw the letter into the firebox, but one day, he couldn't tell why, he opened the letter and it read:
"'Dear :I haven't heard from you directly, but
I am sure that you must need a mother's care in the far-off West, and unless you answer this in a reasonable time I'm going to Denver to see you.' And she went on pleading, as only a mother could, and closed it: 'Your loving mother.'
"He said, 'I threw the letter in the fire and paid no more heed to it. One day about two weeks later I saw a woman coming down the track and I said to the engineer: "That looks like my mother." She drew near, and I said: "Yes, that's mother." What do you think I did?'
"I said-, 'Why you climbed out of your engine, kissed her and asked God to forgive you.'
"He said, 'I did nothing of the kind. I was so lowdown, I wouldn't even speak to my mother. She followed me up and down the switchyard and even followed me to my boarding house. I went upstairs, changed my clothes, came down, and she said, "Frank, stay and talk with me." I pushed by her and went out and spent the night in sin. I came back in the morning, changed my clothes and went to work. For four days she followed me up and down the switchyards and then she said, "Frank, you have broken my heart, and I am going away tomorrow." j.
that. Kiss her
good-bye." I jerked from him and turned back. I heard the conductor call "All aboard." I heard the bell on the engine ring and the train started out, and I heard my mother cry, "Oh, Frank, if you won't kiss me good-bye, for God's sake turn and look at me!"
'"Mr. Sunday, when the train on the Burlington Railroad pulled out of Denver, I stood with my back to my mother. That's been nine years ago and I have never seen nor heard from her.'
"I led him to Jesus. I got hhr a position in the old
to be near the depot with the engine when she got on the train and she raised the window and said, "Frank, kiss me good-bye." I stood talking with some of my drinking and gambling friends and one man said, "Frank Adsitt, you are a fool to treat your mother like
Exposition building on the lake front. He gave me the money he didn't need for board and washing. I kept his money for months. He came to me one day and asked for it.
"He used to come to the noon meetings every day. Finally I missed him, and I didn't see him again until in June, 1893, during the World's Fair he walked into the Y. M. C. A. I said, 'Why, Frank, how do you do?'
"He said, 'How do you know me?'
"I said, 'I have never forgotten you; how is your mother?'
"He smiled, then his face quickly changed to sadness, and he said, 'She is across the street in the Brevoort House. I am taking her to California to fill her last days with sunshine.' ■*
"Three months later, out in Pasadena, she called him to her bedside, drew him down, kissed him, and said, 'Goodbye; I can die happy because I know my boy is a Christian.'"
"I have reached down into the slime, and have been privileged to help tens of thousands out of the mire of sin— and I believe that most of them will be saved, too. I've helped men in all walks of life. When I was in Chicago I helped a man and got him a position, and so was able to restore him to his wife and children. One night a fellow came to me and told me that the man was playing faro bank down on Clark Street. I said: 'Why that can hardly be—I took dinner with him only a few hours ago.'
"But my informant had told me the truth, so I put on my coat and went down LaSalle Street and past the New York Life Building and along up the stairway to the gambling room. I went past the big doorkeeper, and I found a lot of men in there, playing keno and faro bank and roulette and stud and draw poker. I saw my man there, just playing a hand. In a moment he walked over to the bar and ordered a Rhine wine and seltzer.
"I walked over and touched him on the shoulder, and he looked and turned pale. I said, 'Come out of this. Come with me.' He said, 'Here's my money,' and pulled $144 from his pocket and handed it to me. 'I don't want your money.' He refused at first, and it was one o'clock in the morning before I got him away from there. I took him home and talked to him, then I sent down into Ohio for an old uncle of his, for he had forged notes amounting to $2,000 or so, and we had to get him out of trouble. We got him all fixed up and we got him a job_selling relief maps, and he made $5,000 a year.
"I didn't hear from him for a long time; then one day Jailor Whitman called me up and told me that Tom Barrett, an old ball player I knew well, wanted me to come up and see a man who had been sentenced to the penitentiary. I went down to the jail and the prisoner was my friend. I asked him what was the matter, and he said that he and some other fellows had framed up a plan to stick up a jewelry store. He was caught and the others got away. He wouldn't snitch, and so he was going down to Joliet on an indeterminate sentence of from one to fourteen years. He said: 'You are the only man that will help me. Will you do it?'
"I said: 'I won't help you, I won't spend so much as a postage stamp on you if you are going to play me dirt again!' He promised to do better as soon as he got out, and I wrote a letter to my friend, Andy Russell, chairman of the board of pardons. He took up the case and we got my friend's sentence cut down to a maximum of five years.
"Time passed again, and one day he came in dressed fit to kill. He had on an $80 overcoat, a $50 suit, a $4 necktie, a pair of patent leather shoes that cost $15, shirt buttons as big as hickory nuts and diamond cuff buttons. He walked up to my desk in the Y. M. C. A. and pulled out a roll of bills. There were a lot ot them—yellow fellows. I noticed that there was one for $500. There was over $4,500 in the roll. He said: 'I won it last night at faro bank.' He asked me to go out to dinner with him and I went. We had everything on the bill of fare, from soup to nuts, and the check was $7.60 apiece for two suppers. J've never had such a dinner since.
"We talked things over. He said he was making money hand over fist—that he could make more in a week than I could in a year. I was working at the Y. M. C. A. for $83 a month, and then not getting it, and base-ball managers were making me tempting offers of good money to go back into the game at $500 to $1,000 a month to finish the season. But I wouldn't do it. Nobody called me a grafter then. 'Well,' I said to my friend, 'old man, you may have more at the end of the year than I've got— maybe I won't have carfare—but I'll be ahead of you.'
"Where is he now? Down at Joliet, where there is a big walled institution and where the stripes on your clothes run crossways."
A Living Testimony
"I had a friend who was a brilliant young fellow. He covered the Chino-Japanese war for a New York paper. He was on his way home when he was shipwrecked, and the captain and he were on an island living on roots for a week and then they signaled a steamer and got started home. He got word from the New York Tribune and they told him to go to Frisco, so he went, and they told him to come across the arid country and write up the prospects of irrigation. And as he walked across those plains, he thought of how they would blossom if they were only irrigated. Then he thought of how his life was like that desert, with nothing in it but waste.
"He got to Chicago and got a job on the Times and lost it on account of drunkenness, and couldn't get another on account of having no recommendation. So he walked out one winter night and took his reporter's book, addressed it toius father, and wrote something like this: 'I've made a miserable failure of this life. I've disgraced you and sent mother to a premature grave. If you care to look for me you'll find my body in the Chicago River.' He tossed aside the book and it fell on the snow.
"He leaped to the rail of the bridge, but a policeman who had been watching him sprang and caught him. He begged him to let him leap, but the policeman wouldn't do it and got his story from him. Then the policeman said, 'Well, I don't know whether you're stringing me or not, but if half of what you say is true you can make a big thing out of life. I'm not much on religion, but I'll show you a place where they will keep you,' and he took him to the Pacific Garden Mission at 100 East Van Buren Street, which for 13,000 nights has had its doors open every night.
"He went in and sat down by a bum. He read some of the mottos, like 'When did you write to mother last?' and they began to work on him and he asked the bum what graft they got out of this. The bum flared right up and said there was no graft, that Mrs. Clark had just mortgaged her home for $3,000 to pay back rent. Then he told him he could sleep right there and go down in the morning and get something to eat free, and if he could not land a bed by next night he could come back to one of the benches. Then my friend got up and told him the story of Jesus Christ, and the young man went down and accepted Christ. He was so full of gold bromide cures that he tingled when he talked and he jingled when he walked.
"He started out to give his testimony and he was a marvelous power. I met him some time later in an elevator in Chicago, and he was dressed to kill with a silk lid and a big diamond and the latest cut Prince Albert, and he said, 'Bill, that was a great day for me. I started out with not enough clothes to make a tail for a kite or a pad for a crutch and now look at me.' He was secretary in the firm of Morgan & Wright, and was drawing $175 a month. He is an expert stenographer. A newspaper in New York had written him to take an associate editorship, but I told him not to do it, to stay where he was and tell his story."
The next class in the University of Experience which Sunday entered was that of professional evangelistic work, in association with Rev. J. Wilbur Chapman, D.D., the wellknown Presbyterian evangelist. This invitation came after three years of service in the Chicago Y. M. C. A. Not yet to platform speaking as his chief task was Sunday-called. Far from it. He was a sort of general roustabout for the evangelist. His duties were multifarious. He was advance agent, going ahead to arrange meetings, to organize choirs, to help the local committee of arrangements with its advertising or other preparations, and, in general, tying up all loose ends. When tents were used he would help erect them with his own hands; the fists that so sturdily beat pulpits today, have often driven home tent pegs. Sunday sold the evangelist's song books and sermons at the meetings; helped take up the collection, and, when need arose, spoke from the platform. The persons who wonder at the amazing efficiency for organization displayed by Sunday overlook this unique apprenticeship to a distinguished evangelist. He is a "practical man" in every aspect of evangelistic campaigns, from organizing a local committee and building the auditorium, to handling and training the converts who come forward.
The providence of all this is clear in retrospect: but as for Sunday himself, he was being led by a way that he knew not.