The Service of Society
A lot of people think a man needs a new grandfather, sanitation, and a new shirt, when what he needs is a new heart.—Billy Sunday.
SOME day a learned university professor, with a string of titles after his name, will startle the world by breaking away from the present conventionalism in sociology, and will conduct elaborate laboratory experiments in human betterment on the field of a Billy Sunday campaign. His conclusion will surely be that the most potent force for the service of society—the shortest, surest way of bettering the human race—is by the fresh, clear, sincere and insistent preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Of course, the New Testament has been teaching that for nearly twenty centuries, but the world has not yet comprehended the practicability of the program. Your learned professor may prove, by literally thousands of incidents, that honesty, chastity, brotherliness, and idealism have been more definitely promoted by revivals of religion than by legislative or educational programs. All that the social reformers of our day desire may be most quickly secured by straight-out preaching of the Gospel. The shortcut to a better social order is by way of converted men and women. And when a modern scholar comes to demonstrate this he will draw largely upon the aftermath of the Sunday campaigns for his contemporaneous evidence.
H there is one phrase which, better than another, can describe a Billy Sunday campaign it is "restitution and righteousness." In season and out, the evangelist insists upon a changed life as the first consequence of conversion. His message runs on this wise:
"You ought to live so that every one who comes near you will know that you are a Christian. Do you? Does your milkmivn know that you are a Christian? Does the man who brings your laundry know that you belong to church? Does the man who hauls away your ashes know that you are a Christian? Does your newsboy know that you have religion? Does the butcher know that you are on your way to heaven? Some of you buy meat on Saturday night, and have him deliver it Sunday morning, just to save
a little ice, and then you wonder why he doesn't go to church.
"If you had to get into heaven on the testimony of your washerwoman, could you make it? If your getting into heaven depended on what your dressmaker knows about your religion, would you land? If your husband had to
"Does Your Newsboy Know That You admittance Have Religion?" to heaven on the
testimony of his
stenographer, could he do it? If his salvation depended on what his clerks tell about him, would he get there? A man ought to be as religious in business as he is in church. He ought to be as religious in buying and selling as he is in praying.
"There are so many church members who are not even known in their own neighborhood as Christians. Out in Iowa where a meeting was held, a man made up his mind that he would try to get an old sinner into the Kingdom, and after chasing him around for three days he finally cornered him. Then he talked to that old fellow for two hours, and then the old scoundrel stroked his whiskers, and what do you think he said? 'Why, I've been a member of the church down there for fourteen years.' Just think of it! A member of the church fourteen years, and a man had to chase him three days, and talk with him two hours to find it out.
"You have let Jesus in? Yes, but you have put him in the spare-room. You don't want him in the rooms where you live. Take him down into the living-room. Take him into the dining-room. Take him into the parlor. Take him into the kitchen. Live with him. Make him one of the family."
Then follows a Sundayesque description of how Jesus would find beer in the refrigerator and throw it out; how he would find cards on the table and throw them out; how he would find nasty music on the piano and throw it out; how he would find cigarettes and throw them out.
"If you haven't Jesus in the rooms you live in, it's because you don't want him," he says. "You're afraid of one of two things: you're afraid because of the things he'll throw out if he comes in, or you're afraid because of the things he'll bring with him if he comes in."
Here is how a great newspaper, the Philadelphia North American, characterizes the ethical and political effectiveness of Mr. Sunday:
Billy Sunday, derided by many as a sensational evangelist, has created a political revolution in Allegheny County. What years of reform work could not do he has wrought in a few short weeks. Old line "practical" politicians, the men who did the dirty work for the political gang, are now zealous for temperance, righteousness and religion.
Judges on the bench, grand dames of society, millionaire business men, in common with the great host of undistinguished men and women in homes, mills, offices, and shops, have been fired by this amazing prophet with burning zeal for practical religion.
An unexpected, unpredicted and unprecedented social force has been unleashed in our midst. Not to reckon with this is to be blind to the phase of Sunday's work which bulks larger than his picturesque vocabulary or bis acrobatic earnestness.
In the presence of this man's work all attempts to classify religious activities as either "evangelistic" or "social service" fall into confusion.
Sunday could claim for himself that he's an evangelist, and an evangelist only. He repudiates a Christian program that is merely palliative or ameliorative. To his thinking the Church has more fundamental business than running soup kitchens or gymnasiums or oyster suppers. All his peerless powers of ridicule are frequently turned upon the frail and lonely oyster in the tureen of a money-making church supper.
Nevertheless, the results of Sunday's preaching are primarily social and ethical. He is a veritable besom of righteousness sweeping through a community. The wife who neglects her cooking, mending and home-making; the employer who does not deal squarely with his workers; the rich man who rents his property for low purposes or is tied up in crooked business in any wise; the workman who is not on "his job"; the gossip and the slanderer; the idle creatures of fashion; the Christian who is not a good person to live with, the selfish, the sour, the unbrotherly—all these find themselves under the devastating harrow of this flaming preacher's biting, burning, excoriating condemnation. "A scourge for morality" is the way one minister described him; he is that, and far more.
After the whole field of philanthropy and reform have been traversed it still remains true that the fundamental reform of all is the cleaning up of the lives and the lifting up of the ideals of the people. That is indisputably what Sunday does. He sweetens life and promotes a wholesome, friendly, helpful and cheerful state of mind on the part of those whom he influences.
Assuredly it is basic betterment to cause men to quit their drunkenness and lechery and profanity. All the whiteslave or social-evil commissions that have ever met have done less to put a passion for purity into the minds of men and women than this one man's preaching has done. The safest communities in the country for young men and young women are those which have been through a Billy Sunday revival.
One cannot cease to exult at the fashion in which the evangelist makes the Gospel synonymous with clean living. All the considerations that weigh to lead persons to go forward to grasp the evangelist's hand, also operate to make them partisans of purity and probity.
Put into three terse phrases, Sunday's whole message is: "Quit your meanness. Confess Christ. Get busy for him among men." There are no finely spun spiritual sophistries in Sunday's preaching. He sometimes speaks quite rudely of that conception of a "higher spiritual life" which draws Christians apart from the world in a self-complacent consciousness of superiority.
His is not a mystical, meditative faith. It is dynamic, practical, immediate. According to his ever-recurring reasoning, if one is not passing on the fruits of religion to somebody else—if one is not hitting hard blows at the devil or really doing definite tasks for God and the other man— then one has not the real brand of Christianity. Sunday's preaching has hands, with "punch" to them, as well as lift; and feet, with "kick" in them, as well as ministry.
Like a colliery mined on many levels, Sunday's preaching reaches all classes. Everybody can appreciate the social service value of converting a gutter bum and making him a self-supporting workman. Is it any less social service to convert a man—I cite an actual instance from Pittsburgh— who had lately lost a twelve-thousand-dollar-a-year position through dissipation, and so thoroughly to help him find himself that before the meetings were over he was back in his old office, once more drawing one thousand dollars a month?
To a student of these campaigns, it seems as if business has sensed, better than the preachers, the economic waste of of sin.
A careful and discriminating thinker, the Rev. Joseph H. Odell, D.D., formerly pastor of the Second Presbyterian Church of Scranton, wrote an estimate of Billy Sunday and his work for The Outlook, in which he explains why his church, which had been opposed to the coming of the evangelist, reversed its vote:
Testimony, direct and cumulative, reached the ears of the same refined and reverent men and women. The young business men, even those from the great universities, paused to consider. The testimony that changed the attitudes of the Church came from judges, lawyers, heads of corporations and well-known society leaders in their respective communities. The testimony was phenomenally concurrent in this: that, while it did not endorse the revivalist's methods, or accept his theological system, or condone his roughness and rudeness, it proved that the preaching produced results.
"Produced results!" Every one understood the phrase; in the business world it is talismanic. As the result of the Billy Sunday campaigns—anywhere and everywhere—drunkards became sober, thieves became honest, multitudes of people engaged themselves in the study of the Bible, thousands confessed their faith in Jesus Christ as the Saviour of the world, and all the quiescent righteousness of the community grew brave and belligerent against vice, intemperance, gambling, and political dishonesty.
During the last week of February I went to Pittsburgh for the purpose of eliciting interest in the candidacy of J. Benjamin Dimmick for the nomination of United States Senator. Billy Sunday had closed his Pittsburgh campaign a few days earlier. My task was easy. A group of practical politicians met Mr. Dimmick at ciinner. They were the men who had worked the wards of Allegheny County on behalf of Penrose and the liquor interests for years. Together they were worth many thousands of votes to any candidate; in fact, they were the political balance of power in that county. They knew everything that men could know about the ballot, and some things that no man should know. Solidly, resolutely, and passionately they repudiated Penrose. '' No one can get our endorsement in Allegheny County, even for the office of dog-catcher, who is not anti-booze and anti-Penrose," they asserted. When asked the secret of their crusader-like zeal against the alliance of liquor and politics, they frankly ascribed it to Billy Sunday; they had be°n born again—no idle phrase with them—in the vast whale-back tabernacle under the preaching of the base-ball evangelist.
Billy Sunday deals with the very springs of action; he seeks to help men get right back to the furthermost motives of the mind. "If you're born again, you won't live knowingly in sin. This does not mean that a Christian cannot sin, but that he does not want to sin." This truth the evangelist illustrates by the difference between a hog and a sheep. The sheep may fall into the mud, but it hates it and scrambles out. A hog loves the mud and wallows in it.
Nobody can measure the results of the social forces which this simple-thinking evangelist sets to work. His own figure of the dwarf who could switch on the electric lights in a room as easily as a giant, comes to mind. He has sent into Christian work men who can do a kind of service impossible to Sunday himself. Thus, one of Sunday's converts out in Wichita, two years ago, was Henry J. Allen, editor of The Beacon and Progressive candidate for governor. Mr. Allen became a member of one of the celebrated "Gospel Teams," which, since the Sunday meetings, have been touring Kansas and neighboring states and have won more than eleven thousand converts. It was in a meeting held by this band that William Allen White, the famous editor, author and publisher, took a definite stand for Christ and Christian work. One of the most interesting facts about Sunday's work is this one that the three greatest editors in the State of Kansas today are his direct or indirect converts. An "endless chain" letter would be easier to overtake than the effects of a Sunday revival campaign.
In the face of the mass of testimony of this sort is it any wonder that business men deem a Sunday campaign worth all it costs, merely as an ethical movement? The quickest and cheapest way to improve morals and the morale of a city is by a revival of religion. Thus it is iUuminating to learn that there were 650 fewer inmates in the Allegheny County jail, during the period of the Sunday revival meetings, than during the same time in the preceding year.
From Pittsburgh also comes the remarkable story that the Cambria Steel Company, one of the largest steel concerns in the country, has established a religious department in connection with its plant, and placed a regularly ordained minister in charge of it. This as an avowed result of the Sunday campaign.
The Rev. Dr. Maitland Alexander, D.D., pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh, is sponsor for this news, and he also declares that nine department stores of Pittsburgh are now holding prayer-meetings every morning at eight o'clock. These two statements are taken from Dr. Alexander's address to a body of ministers in New York City. He is reported to have said also:
Billy Sunday succeeded in moving the city of Pittsburgh from one end to the other. That, to my mind, was the greatest result of the meetings. It is easy to talk about religion now in Pittsburgh. Men especially are thinking of it as never before, and the great majority are no longer in the middle of the road. They are on one side or the other. I never knew a man who could speak to men with such telling effect as Billy Sunday. I covet his ability to make men listen to him.
It was necessary in my own church, which when packed, holds 3200 persons, to hold special meetings for different groups, such as lawyers, doctors, bankers, etc., and they were always crowded. In the big tabernacle, which was built for the campaign and holds more than 20,000 persons, the men from the big steel shops, after the second week, came in bodies of from one to three thousand, in many cases headed by their leading officers.
Dr. Alexander said that up to the time of this address the Sunday campaign had added 419 members to bis own church.
One of the striking consequences of the Sunday campaign in Scranton was the development of the "Garage Bible Class." This was originally a Wilkes-Barre poker club. As the story was told by Mr. Thos. H. Atherton, a Wilkes-Barre attorney, to the same New York meeting that Dr. Alexander addressed, the Garage Bible Class was originally a group of wealthy men meeting at different homes every week for a poker game. One man bet a friend fifteen dollars that he wouldn't go to hear Billy Sunday. One by one, however, the men found themselves unable to resist the lure of the Tabernacle. As a result the poker club was abandoned, and in a garage belonging to one of the men they organized a Bible class which now has about a hundred members. They have adopted a rule that no Christian shall be added to their ranks. They make their own Christians out of the unconverted.
From this episode one gets some conception of the tug and pull of the Sunday Tabernacle. The temptation to attend becomes well nigh irresistible. All the streams of the community life flow toward the great edifice where the base-ball evangelist enunciates his simple message. A writer in The Churchman said, following the Pittsburgh campaign:
This evangelist made religion a subject of ordinary conversation. People talked about their souls as freely as about their breakfast. He went into the homes of the rich, dropped his wildness of speech, and made society women cry with shame and contrition. One's eternal welfare became the topic of the dinner table, not only in the slums but in the houses of fashion. It sounds incredible, and it is not a fact *to be grasped by the mere reading of it, but the citizens of Pittsburgh forgot to be ashamed to mention prayer and forgiveness of sin; the name of Christ began to be used with simpleness and readiness and reverence by men who, two months ago, employed it only as a by-word. City politicians came forward in the meeting and asked for prayer. The daily newspapers gave more space to salvation than they did to scandal, not for one day, but for day after day and week after week. As a mere spectacle of a whole modern city enthralled by the Gospel it was astonishing, unbelievable, unprecedented, prodigious.
Because he preaches both to employers and to employed, Sunday is able to apply the healing salt of the gospel at the point of contact between the two. From Columbus it is reported that a number of business men voluntarily increased the wages of their helpers, especially the women, because of the evangelist's utterances.
A horse jockey out West reached the core of the matter when he said to a friend of mine concerning Billy Sunday, "He sets people to thinking about other people." There you have the genesis and genius and goal of social service. No other force that operates among men is equal to the inspirations and inhibitions of the Christian religion in the minds of individuals. The greatest service that can be done to any community is to set a considerable proportion of its people to endeavoring honestly to live out the ideals of Jesus Christ. »
It is simply impossible to enumerate anything like a representative number of incidents of the community value of Billy Sunday's work. They come from every angle and in the most unexpected ways. A banker, who is not a member of any church, showed me the other day a letter he had received from a man who had defrauded him out of a small sum of money years before. The banker had never known anything about the matter and did not recall the man's name. What did amaze him, and set him to showing the letter to all of his friends, was this man's restitution, accompanied by an out-spoken testimony to his new discipleship to Jesus Christ, upon which he had entered at the inspiration of Billy Sunday.
The imagination is stirred by a contemplation of what these individual cases of regeneration imply. Consider the homes reunited; consider the happy firesides that once were the scene of misery; measure, if you can, the new joy that has come to tens of thousands of lives in the knowledge that they have given themselves unreservedly to the service of Jesus Christ.
The dramatic, human side of it strikes one ever and anon. I chanced to see a young man "hit the trail" at Scranton whose outreachings I had later opportunity to follow. The young man is the only son of his parents and the hope of two converging family lines. Grandparents and parents, uncles and aunts, have pinned all of their expectations on this one young man. He was a youth of parts and of force and a personality in the community. When, on the night of which I write, he came forward up the "saw-dust trail" to grasp the evangelist's hand, his aged grandfather and his mother wept tears of joy. The grandfather himself also "hit the trail" at the Scranton meetings and has since spent his time largely in Christian work. It is impossible to say how this young man's future might have spelled sorrow or joy for the family circle that had concentrated their hopes on him. But now it is clear that his conversion has brought to them all a boon such as money could not have bought nor kings conferred
One of the countless instances that may be gleaned in any field of Sunday's sowing was related to me the other evening by a business man, who, like others, became a protagonist of Sunday by going through one of his campaigns. In his city there was a cultivated, middle-aged German, a well-known citizen, who was an avowed atheist. He openly scoffed at religion. He was unable, however, to resist the allurement of the Sunday meetings, and he went with his wife one night merely to "see the show." That one sermon broke down the philosophy of years, and the atheist and his wife became converts of Billy Sunday. His three sons followed suit, so that the family of five adults were led into the Christian life by this evangelist u
untaught of the schools. One of the sons is now a member of the State Y. M. C. A. Committee.
A western business man, who is interested in the Young Men's Christian Association, told me that one cold, rainy winter's day he happened into the Association Building in Youngstown, Ohio. He found a crowd of men streaming into a meeting, and because the day was so unpropitious, he asked the character of the gathering. He was told that it was the regular meeting of the Christian Workers' Band, gathered to report on the week's activities. The men had been converted to Christ, or to Christian work, by Billy Sunday, and their meeting had continued ever since, although it was more than a year since the evangelist's presence in Youngstown. Said my friend, "That room was crowded. One after another the men got up and told what definite Christian work they had been doing in the previous seven days. The record was wonderful. They had been holding all sorts of meetings in all sorts of places, and had been doing a variety of personal work besides, so that there were a number of converts to be reported at this meeting I attended." To have set that force in operation so that it would continue to work with undiminished zeal after twelve months of routine existence, was a greater achievement than to preach one of the Billy Sunday sermons.
There is a sufficient body of evidence to show that the work of Billy Sunday does not end when the evangelist leaves the community. He has created a vogue for religion and for righteousness. The crowd spirit has been called forth to the service of the Master. Young people and old have been given a new and overmastering interest in life. They have something definite to do for the world and a definite crowd with which to ally themselves.
One result has been a tremendous growth of Bible classes for men and women and a manifestation of the crusader spirit which makes itself felt in cleaned-up communities and in overthrown corruption in politics. So far as the Billy Sunday campaigns may be said to have a badge, it is the little red and white bull's eye of the Organized Adult Bible Classes.
Six months after the Scranton campaign five thousand persons attended a "Trail Hitters'" picnic, where the day's events were scheduled under two headings, "athletic" and "prayer." When wholesome recreation comes thus to be permeated with the spirit of clean and simple devotion something like an ideal state of society has come to pass for at least one group of people.
In more ways than the one meant by his critics, Sunday's work is sensational. What could be more striking than the visit on Sunday, October 25, 1914, of approximately a thousand trail-hitters from Scranton to the churches of Philadelphia, to help prepare them for their approaching Sunday campaign? Special trains were necessary to bring this great detachment of men the distance of three hundred miles. They went forth in bands of four, being distributed among the churches of the city, to hold morning and evening services, and in the afternoon conducting neighborhood mass meetings. These men were by no means all trained speakers, but they were witnessbearers; and their testimony could scarcely fail to produce a powerful influence upon the whole city. That, on a large scale, is what Sunday converts are doing in a multitude of places.
To close this chapter as it began, the truth stands out that Billy Sunday has set a host of people to thinking that this world's problems are to be solved, and its betterment secured, not by any new-fangled methods, but along the old and tested line of transforming individual characters through the redeeming power of the crucified Son of God. Salvation is surest social service.
The great evangelist's sermons are filled with the life stories of the men and women he has saved. The following is only one of many:
"I was at one time in a town in Nebraska and the people kept telling me about one man. 'There is one man here, if you can get him he is good for one hundred men for Christ.' I said: 'Who is he?'
"'JohnChampenoy. He is the miller.' I said to Mr. Preston, who was then a minister: 'Have you been to see him?' 'No.' I asked another minister if he had been to see the fellow and he said no. I asked the United Presbyterian preacher (they have a college out there), and he said no, he hadn't been around to see him.
"I said: 'Well, I guess I'll go around to see him.' I found the fellow seated in a chair teetered back against the wall, smoking. I said: 'Is this Mr. Champenoy?' 'Yes, sir, that's my name.' He got up and took me by the hand. I said: 'My name is Sunday; I'm down at the church preaching. A good many have been talking to me about you and I came down to see you and ask you to give your heart to God.' He looked at me, walked to the cupboard, opened the door, took out a half-pint flask of whisky and threw it out on a pile of stones.
"He then turned around, took me by the hand, and as the tears rolled down his cheeks he said: 'I have lived in this town nineteen years and you are the first man that has ever asked me to be a Christian.'
"He said: 'They point their finger at me and call me an old drunkard. They don't want my wife around with their wives because her husband is a drunkard. Their children won't play with our babies. They go by my house to Sunday school and church, but they never ask us to go. They pass us by. I never go near the church. I am a member of the lodge. I am a Mason and I went to the church eleven years ago when a member of the lodge died, but I've never been back and I said I never would go.'
"I said: 'You don't want to treat the Church that way. God isn't to blame, is he?'
"'The Church isn't to blame, is it?'
"'Christ isn't to blame?'
"'You wouldn't think much of me if I would walk up and slap your wife because you kept a dog I didn't like, would you? Then don't slap God in the face because there are some hypocrites in the Church that you don't like and who are treating you badly. God is all right. He never treated you badly. Come up and hear me preach, will you, John?'
"'Yes, I'll come tonight.'
"I said: 'All right, the Lord bless you and I will pray for you.' He came; the seats were all filled and they crowded him down the side aisle. I can see him now standing there, with his hat in his hand, leaning against the wall looking at me. He never took his eyes off me. When I got through and gave the invitation he never waited for them to let him out. He walked over the backs of the seats, took his stand for Jesus Christ, and in less than a week seventy-eight men followed him into the kingdom of God. They elected that man chairman of the civic federation and he cleaned the town up for Jesus Christ and has led the hosts of righteousness from then until now. Men do care to talk about Jesus Christ and about their souls. 'No man cares for my soul.' That's what's the trouble. They are anxious and waiting for some one to come."