THE BIRMINGHAM MEETING.
Moody and Sankey were at Birmingham in the early part of January in 1874. Their first meeting was held on Sunday morning, the 17th, at 8 o'clock, in the town hall. The meeting was for "Christian workers," and the admission was by ticket. The morning was cheerless, damp and raw, but the people were crowded in every part. In the afternoon they held an open service in the hall, and thousands went away unable to get in. The great test, however, which they had excited came in the evening. In October, 1873, when Mr. Bright addressed his constituents after his return to the cabinet, he spoke in Bingley Hall, a building used for the annual cattle show, and as a drill hall for the volunteers. Various estimates were made as to the number of people who listened on that occasion. It seems probable that most of them fell far short of the truth. There were no seats on the floor of the hall, and without seats there is now reason to believe that the hall will hold between 20,000 and 25,000 people. It was crowded in every part.
For the meetings, the "Moody and Sankey Committee" hired upwards of 9,000 chairs. On their first Sunday evening, long before 8 o'clock, when the services commenced, not only were all the
chairs occupied, but several thousands of people were standing, and thousands could not gain admission. It is believed by those who are in a position to judge, that there were fully 13,000 people present every night. Through the first week the hall was thronged in the same way, and there were vast crowds outside.
On Sunday morning, January 24th, it was filled with people who obtained admission by tickets, and who, before they received their tickets declared that they were not in the habit of attending any place of worship. In the afternoon of the same day, it was filled with women, and a second service was held in the town hall for the overflow, and in the evening it was filled with men. There was a break on the Monday afternoon of the second week, when Mr. Moody had an engagement at Manchester. He professed to have met Christ on his visit to that city. Mr. Bright spoke in the hall that night, and it was most inconveniently crowded, but some people were of the opinion that on several of the following evenings the crowd that filled the hall for religious service was denser than that which filled it for the political demonstration.
Night after night, long be/ore the hour of service, long rows of carriages stood in the street filled with persons who hoped that when the crowd about the doors had thinned, they might be able to find standing room just inside, and thousands streamed away because they found they had come too late to have a chance of pressing in.
In addition to the evening service, there was a
prayer meeting every noon, at which Mr. Moody
gave an address of twenty or twenty-five minutes, a
and Mr. Sankey sang. The meeting was held at first in the Town Hall, which was generally quite full. On the last four days it was held in Bingley Hall, and the attendance varied from four to six thousand. At three o'clock, after the first day or two, Mr. Moody gave a Bible lecture. He began in Carr's Lane Chapel, which was soon found to be too small. It was then transferred to Bingley Hall, and the attendance varied from five to ten thousand.
The meetings had been well advertised. The local newspapers published a series of articles on Mr. Moody and Mr. Sankey before they came, describing the impression they had produced in Scotland and Ireland. The Morning News generally gave several columns each day to the reports of the service. The Daily Post gave great prominence to this news feature, and even the local Conservative organ, the Daily Gazette, always had enough about the evangelist to attract attention. The local committee, in addition to the newspaper notoriety, covered the walls of the town with placards, announcing the services and these were constantly being renewed. When the fact became known that Bingley Hall, the largest in the city, had been filled to hear the strangers, it created a certain measure of popular excitement and curiosity, which made it almost certain that the hall would be filled again.
These services were not deemed "hysterical." The first sign of hysterical excitement was instantly repressed by Mr. Moody, and it is a curious fact that although the crowds were enftrmous, very few women fainted. It is said there were only three or four cases diiring the meeting.
Mr. Sankey had a great share in keeping up the interest in the meetings, and it is interesting at this time to note that the songs which to-day have lived and are popular in the church and evangelistic work were the ones used by the great singer in his European meetings. The people were much in love with such songs as "Hold the Fort for I am Coming," "Safe in the Arms of Jesus," and " I am So Glad that Jesus Loves Me," but it was not the singing only that made the services interesting. There was great animation and variety in them In the evening they began with a hymn, which the people sang together, but what would be the order of the service no one knew before hand, and it has been frequently said that Mr. Moody did not even know. He had the instinctive perception to a remarkable degree whereby he could easily tell if the people were interested. After the first hymn somebody generally offered a short prayer. If it was clear that the heart of the attendance went with the prayer, he would then read a chapter and make a few remarks on it as he read. If not, he would ask Mr. Sankey to sing a solo, or a solo with a chorus, in which the people joined, or else one of the most popular hymns; then he would read a chapter and perhaps have another hymn or offer a short prayer himself. Then would come another hymn, and then the sermon. Sometimes the sermon would be followed by a solo from Mr. Sankey. Sometimes by a hymn, in which all united. Sometimes by a prayer. Everything was determined by what was felt to be the actual mood of the moment. Generally the whole service was over in a little more than an hour and a quarter. "One of the elements of Mr. Moody's power," said a critic of the period, "consisted in his perfect naturalism. He had something to say and he said it, and said it as simply and directly to 13,000 people as to thirteen. He had nothing of the impudence into which some speakers are betrayed when they try to be easy and unconventional, but he talked in a perfectly unconstrained and straightforward way, just as he would talk to half a dozen old friends at his own fireside. The effect of this was very intelligible. One would no more think of criticising him than to think of criticising a man one meets in the street who directs you to the shortest route to the depot. There are some men who force one to be critical. There is a tendency to test every sentence they utter. Their words are received with a kind of suspicion, yet this never occurred to the people when they listened to Mr. Moody.. Now and then Mr. Moody quoted a text in a very illegitimate sense. Now and then he advanced an argument which would not hold water. Now and then he laid down principles which seemed untenable, and there may have been a protest, but if so, it was only momentarily. ''
Mr. J. R. Creed, in an article published in Pearson's Magazine, in 1898, about Moody and Sankey, now says, Though it is more than twenty years since the Americans, Moody and Sankey, left this country after their remarkable diatribe on British morals; these names are not forgotten.
During their famous evangelistic tour over 2,500,000 people attended their meetings in London alone, and when we consider the thousands that thronged nightly to hear them in the Provinces and in Ireland and Scotland, it is probable, that taking all in all, they addressed the greatest number of different people that any other preachers have succeeded in reaching.
Their names, therefore, have passed into a phrase, and the memory has been kept green by the sale of their hymn books, which have attained a circulation of several millions, a secret the publishers will not divulge.
And what wonderful men these two—orators and solicitors—were, whatever may be our opinion of their methods.
The friends who had invited them to this country, and guaranteed to pay their expenses, were no longer alive when they at last reached Liverpool. To meet these predicaments, which left them completely stranded, an edition of their hymn book was at once issued, part of the proceeds from the royalty being sufficient to cover their personal expenses from the first. Indeed, so ready was the sale that on his return from Ireland, in 1875, Mr. Moody announced in public his intention of ceasing to make private use of the income so derived, and the balance, which, at the close of the London mission, had amounted to nearly .£6,000, was devoted to the liquidation of the debt incurred by the members of the Chicago church, in which Moody was interested.
There were people who declared that Moody and Sankey were over here "to make as much money as they could out of the Lord,'' But though fabulous sums were collected on their behalf, fabulous sums were also spent. In March, 1875, Moody received an invitation to visit London. "If I come,'' was the preacher's response, "you will have to raise .£5,000 for expenses."
The answer came at once—
"We have £ 10,000 ready!"
As a matter of fact ,£28,238 9s. 6d. was altogether received, while the expenses amounted to ,£28,296 9s. 6d., thus showing the deficit of
Moody and Sankey's reputation had preceded them, and London awaited their arrival with no little curiosity. Who were these great men who placarded each town they intended to visit with vast posters announcing their arrival? "Moody and Sankey are coming!" Was it a traveling show or a circus, or some popular entertainers?
Wherever they went they engaged the largest buildings, and, provincial theaters and public halls were crammed each night from floor to skylight, thousands who had waited for hours struggled vainly for admission.
"To hear Moody and Sankey," says a writer of the day, in a London paper, "the theaters are deserted, the gin shops emptied, the streets appear depopulated, and the very nature and habits of a work-a-day's world were seized and transformed by them into something new. They came in scorn, and left behind respect, surprise, new thoughts, and whole communities stirred to the quick."
On March 16, 1875, over twenty-two thousand people thronged the Agricultural Hall to hear them, and more than ten thousand people were turned away unable to obtain even standing room. Such various characters of all ranks and all conditions of men and women and children as could gather in the largest buildings, London had never before seen or known in the metropolis. During the addresses the audience arose literally in hundreds and
expressed their desire to be saved! "The cream of the hour," Mr. Moody asserted, "was in the inquiry room."
The Prince of Wales, Dean Stanley, and Lord Cairnes honored the revivalists by going to hear them. Already they had become popular heroes. One thousand pounds was offered to Mr. Moody if he would sit for a photograph, an offer which he, however, unhesitatingly declined, declaring that he would pay five hundred pounds to be able to prevent portraits of himself to be sold. Thousands of men and women, people of high life, who drove up in their carriages, poor creatures who dragged themselves to the meetings on weary feet, professed to "find Christ." The converted were divided into classes and placed under the pastors to whose congregation they belonged.
In speaking of Moody and Sankey, the preacher was always mentioned fir it. But to imply from this that the singer played an inferior part in the work would be both an unfair and a mistaken view. Sankey had one of the finest tenor voices that had ever been heard. When he sang he held the people enraptured. Moody's eloquence it is difficult to criticise. To address and entertain 20,000 people night after night, month after month, was a performance that only a great preacher could accomplish. Yet he made no attempt at rhetoric. Illustration was employed to occupy the place of argument. Eloquence receded before a store of simple anecdote.
It was Moody who knitted the attention of the vast audiences, who held them spellbound, and Sankey's wonderful voice which carried them away in a burst of spiritual enthusiasm, ceasing to leave them once more, in the great hush that follows, in the convincing arguments of the preacher.
The most extraordinary event in connection with Moody and Sankey's visit to this country was in connection with their proposed visit to Eaton College. From some of the boys, or some of the boys' parents, they received a pressing invitation to visit the school. The moment this became known there arose such a storm in London as no similar event has ever called forth.
The question came up before the House of Commons. Thirty-four members arose to their feet. A serious and animated discussion occurred in the House of Lords; a remonstrance, newly signed, was sent to the head master.
In spite of this a large tent, capable of holding a thousand persons, was erected in the south meadow of the College play field, and a public notice was given of a service, especially addressed to the students. At the last moment, however, an edict was issued which emphatically prohibited this. Mr. Moody at once appealed to the Mayor for the use of Round Hall, a request that was at first acceded to. Shortly before three, however, the hour at which the service was to commence, a notice was posted on the door declaring that no meeting would be held.
Nothing daunted, Moody obtained permission to deliver his address m the garden of one of the houses in High street. At least seventy or eighty Eaton boys were present. The meeting was very quiet and orderly. It may be that a lasting impression was made on these youthful attendants; at all events, Mr. Moody's address and Sankey's melodies could not have done them the slightest harm.
When the two finally quitted the country vast crowds congregated at Liverpool to see them off. At their farewell services both Moody's stand and Sankey's organ was decorated with flowers and costly bouquets; their appearance was greeted with tremendous applause; nor is it surprising that orator and melodist should both be broken down on that occasion.