A Shut Door—and an Open One
Faith is the beginning of something of which you can't see the end but in which you believe.—Billy EfcjNDAY.
DESTINY'S door" turns on small hinges. Almost everybody can say out of his own experience, "If I had done this, instead of that, the whole course of my life would have been changed." At many points in the career of William A. Sunday we see what intrinsically small and unrelated incidents determined his future course in life.
If he had not been sitting on that Chicago curbstone one evening, and if the Pacific Garden Mission workers had failed on that one occasion alone to go forth into the highways, Billy Sunday might have been only one of the multitude of forgotten base-ball players. If he had not gone to prayer-meeting in his new church home he would not have met the wife who has been so largely a determining factor in his work. If he had not joined the Y. M. C. A. forces in Chicago he would not have become Peter Bilhorn's friend and so Dr. Chapman's assistant.
And—here we come to a very human story—if Dr. J. Wilbur Chapman had not suddenly decided to abandon the evangelistic field and return to the pastorate of Bethany Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, Sunday would doubtless still be unknown to the world as a great religious leader. The story came to me from the lips of the evangelist himself one morning. We were discussing certain current criticisms of his work and he showed himself frankly bewildered as well as pained by the hostility displayed toward him on the part of those up to whom he looked as leaders and counselors. Off the platform Sunday is one of the most childlike and guileless of men. He grew reminiscent and confidential as he said to me: "I don't see why they hammer me so. I have just gone on, as the Lord opened the way, trying to do his work. I had no plan for this sort of thing. It is all the Lord's doings. Just look how it all began, and how wonderfully the Lord has cared for me.
"I had given up my Y. M. C. A. work, and was helping Chapman, doing all sorts of jobs—putting up tents, straightening out chairs after the meetings and occasionally speaking. Then, all of a sudden, during the holidays of 1895-96, I had a telegram from Chapman saying that our work was all off, because he had decided to return to Bethany Church.
"There I was, out of work, knowing not which way to turn. I had a wife and two children to support. I could not go back to base ball. I had given up my Y. M. C. A. position. I had no money. What should I do? I laid it? before the Lord, and in a short while there came a telegram from a little town named Garner, out in Iowa, asking me to come out and conduct some meetings. I didn't know anybody out there, and I don't know yet why they ever asked me to hold meetings. But I went.
"I only had eight sermons, so could not run more than ten days, and that only by taking Saturdays off. That was the beginning of my independent work; but from that day to this I have never had to seek a call to do evangelistic work. I have just, gone along, entering the doors that the Lord has opened one after another. Now I have about a hundred sermons and invitations for more than two years in advance. I have tried to be true to the Lord and to do just what he wants me to do."
That naive bit of autobiography reveals the real Billy Sunday. He has gone forward as the doors have been providentially opened. His career has not been shrewdly planned by himself. Nobody has been more surprised at his success than he. Of him may be recorded the lines that are inscribed on Emerson's tombstone in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Concord:
"The passive master lent his hand
To the vast Soul that o'er him planned."
From Garner, Iowa, to Philadelphia, with its most eminent citizens on the committee of arrangements, seems a far cry; but the path is plainly one of Providence. Sunday has added to his addresses gleanings from many sources, but he has not abated the simplicity of his message. The gospel he preaches today is that which he heard in the Pacific Garden Ressue Mission a quarter of a century ago.
In childlike faith, this man of straight and unshaded thinking has gone forward to whatever work has offered itself. Nobody knows better than he that it is by no powers of his own that mighty results have been achieved: "This is the Lord's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes."
While the Sunday meetings have swung a wide orbit they have centered in the Middle West. That typically American section of the country was quick to appreciate the evangelist's character and message. He was of them, "bone of their bone, flesh of their flesh," mind of their mind.
When news of the triumphs of this evangelist's unconventionally-phrased gospel began to be carried over the country a few years ago, the verdict of religious leaders was, "Billy Sunday may do for the Middle West, but the East will not stand him." Since then, again, to the confusion of human wisdom, his most notable work has been achieved in the East, in the great cities of Pittsburgh and Scranton; and at this writing the city of Philadelphia is in the midst of preparations for a Sunday campaign; while the Baltimore churches have also invited him to conduct meetings with them. Billy Sunday is now a national figure—and the foremost personality on the day's religious horizon. A recent issue of The American Magazine carried the results of a voting contest, "Who's the Greatest Man in America." Only one other clergyman (Bishop Vincent, of Chautauqua) was mentioned at all, but Billy Sunday was tied with Andrew Carnegie and Judge Lindsey for eighth place.
When the Presbytery of Chicago, in 1905, ordained William A. Sunday to the regular ministry, there were some doubting Thomases, and the evangelist's examination lasted more than an hour. Since then, however, Sunday has been honored by Princeton, the oldest of the theological seminaries of his denomination, as no other living man has been honored.
When Sunday visited Washington for a day, his meetings overtopped in public interest the proceedings of the nation's Congress and he was greeted by the President of the United States and most of the leading government officials.
His Philadelphia meetings, January 3—March 21,1915, were literally a center of nation-wide attention. In all the history of the world no other religious event has ever received so much consecutive and contemporaneous newspaper publicity. Pilgrims, clerical and lay, traveled to Philadelphia from all parts of the land in order to attend the services. Several hundred New York clergymen went over in a body to spend a day in the Tabernacle.
There are no parallels for the manner in which Philadelphia and its vicinity was swept by the revival. The aggregate attendance upon the Tabernacle services was more than two million persons, with another million attending the meetings conducted by the eighteen members of the' Sunday party, and by the volunteer associates.
The ovation given to Sunday upon his arrival at Broad Street Station by the eheering thousands exceeded anything ever accorded president, prince or returning hero. The farewell demonstration was still more ovemhelming.
The climax of twenty years of arduous campaigning was this Philadelphia experience. The cards signed by trailhitters numbered 41,724, with churches reporting two and three times as many converts outside of the Tabernacle. The last day's recruits numbered 1,858. The farewell gift to Mr. Sunday was $52,849.97, and the collections for the local expenses were over $50,000. Something more than $15,000 was raised in the meetings for charitable purposes.