FIRST MEETING WITH SANKEY.
Mr. Moody's meeting with Mr. Sankey took place in June, 1871, at Indianapolis. Both were delegates to the national convention of the Young Men's Christian Association held there at that time. It was at an early prayer-meeting; the singing was dull and doleful until Mr. Sankey was called forward to act as leader. His sweet voice and fervent spirit at once brought the bold evangelist to his side.
"Where do you live?" asked Mr. Moody, bluntly.
"At Newcastle, Pa.," was the answer.
"Are you married?"
"How many children have you?"
"I want you with me to help me in my work in 1 Chicago."
"I cannot leave my business."
"You must. I have been looking for you for the last eight years; you must give up your business and come to Chicago with me."
"I will think of it; I will pray over it; I will talk it over with my wife."
With painful reluctance Mr. Sankey severed the associations so dear to him at his home, and in the spirit of faith joined Mr. Moody in his vast labors as an evangelist in Chicago, and here they worked together in harmony and were blessed with many souls as their hire.
Then came the great Chicago fire, which not only devastated Mr. Moody's mission and home, but almost the entire city. Mr. Moody was one of the first relief workers. He toiled day and night, forgetful of self, forgetful of everything except the safety of his family, and the rebuilding of a city in which had been wrought such ruin. One of his first thoughts was the rebuilding of his place of worship, and when once the thought was fixed in his mind, it did not take him long to execute it. Even before the ashes had cooled, and smoke was yet issuing from the embers, Mr. Moody began to clear away a place to erect his tabernacle. His enterprise brought him success, however, and his church was one of the first rebuilt in the city. He was one of the persons entrusted with the relief funds, and had a hand in distributing more than $7,000,000.
Mr. Sankey now rejoined his family in Pennsylvania, and set about singing in conventions again until a telegram from Mr. Moody, three months later, said, "Come at once," and he returned to work in the new tabernacle in Chicago.
Ira David Sankey was born on the 28th of August, 1840. His birthplace was the village of Edinburgh, Lawrence County, Pa. On the paternal side, he came from English stock, and on the maternal, Scotch-Irish. His parents were natives of Mercer County, and were members of the Methodist Episcopal Church. Out of their family of nine children, only three sons and one daughter grew up to maturity. David, the father, was well off in worldly circumstances, and in such good repute among his neighbors that they repeatedly elected him a member of the state legislature. He was also a licensed exhorter in his own church. Thus the means and the character of this household were such as to insure ample advantages for culture in general knowledge and spiritual truth.
Ira, from his childhood, was noted for his joyous spirit and trustful disposition. The sunshiny face that is so attractive in his public ministry, has been a distinguishing feature from early boyhood, and very early won him the praise of being "the finest little fellow in the neighborhood." His father states: "There was nothing very remarkable in his early or boyhood history. The gift of singing developed in him at a very early age. I say gift, because it was God-given; he never took lessons from anyone, but his taste for music was such that when a small boy he could make passable music on almost any kind of instrument." An old Scotch farmer, named Frazer, early interested himself in the little lad; and of his good influence Mr. Sankey thus spoke, at a children's meeting held in the town of Dundee, Scotland: "The very first recollection I have of anything pertaining to religious life was in connection with him. I remember he took me by the hand, along with his own boys, to the Sabbathschool—that old place which I shall remember to my dying day. He was a plain man, and I can see him standing up and praying for the children. He had a great, warm heart, and the children all loved him. It was years after that when I was converted, but my impressions were received when I was very young, from that man."
Thus reared in a genial, religious atmosphere, liked and respected by all who knew him and accepted as a leader by his boyish comrades, Ira lived on till past his fifteenth year before his soul was converted to Christ. His conviction as a sinner occurred while he attended a series of special services held in a little church three miles from his home, and of which Rev. H. H. Moore was then pastor. At first, he was as gay as his curious companions. But an earnest Christian met him each evening with a few soul-searching words; and after a week's hard struggle, he came as a sinner to the Savior and found peace in acceptance. Soon after, when his father removed to Newcastle to assume the presidency of the bank, Ira became a member of the Methodist church, and also a pupil at the academy at Newcastle.
This young Christian was richly endowed with a talent for singing spiritual songs. His pure, beautiful voice gave a clear utterance to the emotions of his sympathetic, joyous nature, and was potent in carrying messages from his heart to the hearts of his hearers. It now became his delight to devote this precious gift to the service of his Lord, and it was his continual "prayer that the Holy Spirit would bless the words sung to the conversion of those who flocked to the services to hear him. Before he attained his majority he was appointed superintendent of the Sunday-school, which contained above three hundred scholars; and it was blessed with a continual revival. His singing of the gospel invitations in solos dates from this time. These sweet hymns were sung in the very spirit of prayer, and the faith of the singer was rewared with repeated blessings. A class of seventy Christians was committed to his charge, and this weighty responsibility made him a more earnest student of the Holy Bible. He encouraged his class to tell him of their condition in Bible language, as texts abounded for every state of grace, and every description of religious feeling. The choir of the congregation also came under his leadership. Young as he was, he insisted on conduct befitting praise-singers in the House of God, and on a clear enunciation of each word sung.
These congenial religious duties were suspended for a time by a call for defenders of the flag upon the fall of Fort Sumter. Mr. Sankey was among the first to volunteer for three months and he served out his term of enlistment. Even in the camp, he gathered about him a band of singers and was an earnest worker in the prayer meetings of the soldiers. Upon his return home, he became assistant to his father as collector of internal revenue and held that position with credit, until his voluntary resignation nearly ten years later. He was united in marriage on the 9th of September, 1863, to Miss Edwards, a helpful member of his choir and teacher in his school.
He assisted in organizing a Y. M. C. A., at Newcastle, and was elected president, and it was in this connection that he attended the Indianapolis convention as a delegate.