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Acrobatic Preaching

If nine-tenths of you were as weak physically as you are spiritually, you couldn't walk.—Billy Sunday.

IF, as has been often said, inspiration is chiefly perspiration, then there is no doubting the inspiration of Rev. William A. Sunday, D.D. Beyond question he is the most vigorous speaker on the public platform today. One editor estimates that he travels a mile over his platform in every sermon he delivers. There is no other man to liken him to: only an athlete in the pink of condition could endure the gruelling exertions to which he subjects himself every day of his campaigns. The stranger who sees him for the first time is certain that he is on the very edge of a complete collapse; but as that same remark has been made for years past, it is to be hoped that the physical instrument may be equal to its task for a long time to come.

People understand with their eyes as well as with their ears; and Sunday preaches to both. The intensity of his physical exertions—gestures is hardly an adequate word— certainly enhances the effect of the preacher's earnestness. No actor on the dramatic stage works so hard. Such passion as dominates Sunday cannot be simulated; it is the soul pouring itself out through every pore of the body.

Some of the platform activities of Sunday make spectators gasp. He races to and fro across the platform. Like a jack knife he fairly doubles up in emphasis. One hand smites the other. His foot stamps the floor as if to destroy it. Once I saw him bring his clenched fist down so hard on the seat of a chair that I feared the blood would flow and the bones be broken. No posture is too extreme for this restless gymnast. Yet it all seems natural. Like his speech, it is an integral part of the man. Every muscle of his body preaches in accord with his voice.

Be it whispered, men like this unconventional sort of earnestness. Whenever they are given a chance, most men are prone to break the trammels of sober usage. I never yet have met a layman who has been through a Billy Sunday campaign who had a single word of criticism of the platform gymnastics of the evangelist. Their reasoning is something like this: On the stage, where men undertake to represent a character or a truth, they use all arts and spare themselves not at all. Why should not a man go to greater lengths when dealing with living realities of the utmost importance? i

Sunday is a physical sermon. In a unique sense he glorifies God with his body. Only a physique kept in tune by clean living and right usage could respond to the terrific and unceasing demands which

Sunday makes upon it. 0 r T,


When in a sermon he All Fours.

alludes to the man who acts

no better than a four-footed brute, Sunday is for an instant down on all fours on the platform and you see that brute. As he pictures a man praying he sinks to his knees for a single moment. When he talks of the death-bed penitent as a man waiting to be pumped full of embalming fluid, he cannot help going through the motions of pumping in the fluid. He remarks that death-bed repentance is "burning the candle of life in the service of the devil, and then blowing the smoke in God's face"—and the last phrase is accompanied by "pfouff!" In a dramatic description of the marathon he pictures the athlete falling prostrate at the goal and—thud!—there lies the evangelist prone on the platform. Only a skilled base-ball player, with a long drill in sliding to bases, could thus fling himself to the floor without serious injury. On many occasions he strips off his coat and talks in his shirt sleeves. It seems impossible for him to stand up behind the pulpit and talk only with his mouth.

The fact is, Sunday is a born actor. He knows how to portray truth by a vocal personality. When he describes the traveler playing with a pearl at sea, he tosses an imaginary gem into the air so that the spectators hold their breath lest the ship should lurch and the jewel be lost. Words without gesture could never attain this triumph of oratory.

A hint of Sunday's state of mind which drives him to such earnestness and intensity in labor is found in quotations like the following:

"You will agree with me, in closing, that I'm not a crank; at least I try not to be. I have not preached about my first, second, third or hundredth blessing. I have not talked about baptism or immersion. I told you that while I was here my creed would be: 'With Christ you are saved; without him you are lost.' Are you saved? Are you lost? Going to heaven? Going to hell? I have tried to build every sermon right around those questions; and also to steer clear of anything else, but I want to say to you in closing, that it is the inspiration of my life, the secret of my earnestness. I never preach a sermon but that I think it may be the last one some fellow will hear or the last I shall ever be privileged to preach. It is an inspiration to me that some day He will come.

"'It may be at mom, when the day is awaking,
When darkness through sunlight and shadow is breaking,
That Jesus will come, in the fullness of glory,
To receive from the world his own.

"'Oh joy, Oh delight, to go without dying,
No sickness, no sadness, no sorrow, no crying I
Caught up with the Lord in the clouds of glory
When he comes to receive from the world his own.'"

entered the hut of A
the Prophet Eli-
sha and found
him sitting
perched upon
a stool, writ-
ing on Pa
pyr us,
had the
the old
got up,
but just said,
'Tell him to

bathe in the Jordan seven
times—now BEAT IT I

—oo— So the servant went back, and Naaman , \ said, 'Well did you V* see him?'

And the servant said, *Yes, but he's a queer old duck—he said for you to bathe in the Jordan seven times.1

—And then up he came and stamped and pounded and spluttered and got the water out of his ears—

—And nothing had happened except that his sores began to itch—but when he had dipped seven times—his flesh was made whole

A Caricature Of Billy Sunday's Emphatic Way or Preaching.

Biting, Blistering, Blasting Condemnation Of Sin. This Rare PhoTograph Shows The Tremendous Earnestness Of Mb. Sunday And The Energy, Zeal And Fire He Puts Into His Message Which Has Warmed This Cold World More Than That Of Ant Other Apostle Of Righteousness In This Generation.

"Go straight on and break the lion's neck and turn it into a beehive, out of which you will some day take the best and sweetest honey ever tasted, for the flavor of a dead lion in the honey beats that of clover and buckwheat all to pieces. Be a man, therefore, by going straight on to breathe the air that has in it the smoke of battle.

"Don't spend much time in looking for an easy chair, with a soft cushion on it, if you would write your name high in the hall of fame where the names of real men are found. The man who is willing to be carried over all rough places might as well have wooden legs. 'He is not worthy of the honeycomb who shuns the hive because the bees have stings.' The true value of life lies in the preciousness of striving. No tears are ever shed for the chick that dies in its shell.

"'Did you tackle the trouble that came your way

With a resolute heart and cheerful?
Or hide your face from the light of day

With a craven soul and fearful?
Oh, a trouble is a ton, or a trouble is an ounce,

Or a trouble is what you make it,
And it isn't the fact that you're hurt that counts—

But only—How did you take it?'"

"This poem is by Paul Lawrence Dunbar, the negro poet:

"'The Lord had a job for me, but I had so much to do,
I said: "You get somebody else—or, wait till I get through.
I don't know how the Lord came out, but he seemed to get along—
But I felt kinda sneakin' like, 'cause I know'd I done him wrong—
One day I needed the Lord, needed him myself—needed him right away—
And he never answered me at all, but I could hear him say—
Down in my accusin' heart—"Nigger, I'se got too much to do,
You get somebody else, or wait till I get through."
Now when the Lord he have a job for me, I never tries to shirk;
I drops what I have on hand and does the good Lord's work;
And my affairs can run along, or wait till I get through,
Nobody else can do the job that God's marked out for you.'"'

"I will tell you many young people are good in the beginning, but they are like the fellow that was killed by falling off a skyscraper—they stop too quick. They go one day like a six-cylinder automobile with her carbureters working; the next day they stroll along like a fellow walking through a graveyard reading the epitaphs on the tombstones. It is the false ideals that strew the shores with wrecks, eagerness to achieve success in realms we can not reach that breeds half the ills that curse today. One hundred years from tonight what difference will it make whether you are rich or poor; whether learned or illiterate.

'"It matters little where I was born,

Whether my parents were rich or poor;
Whether they shrunk from the cold world's scorn,

Or lived in pride of wealth secure.
But whether I live an honest man,

And hold my integrity firm in my clutch;
I tell you—my neighbor—as plain as I can,

That matters much.'

"The engineer is bigger than the locomotive, because he runs it.

"Do your best and you will never wear out shoe leather looking for a job. Do your best, and you will never become blind reading 'Help Wanted' ads in a newspaper. Be like the fellow that went to college and tacked the letter V up over his door in his room. He was asked what that stood for, and he said valedictorian, and he went out carrying the valedictory with him.

"'If I were a cobbler, best of all cobblers I would be.

If I were a tinker, no tinker beside should mend an old tea kettle for me.'"

In dealing with the unreality of many preachers, Sunday pictures a minister as going to the store to buy groceries for his wife, but using his pulpit manner, his pulpit tone of voice and his pulpit phraseology. This is so true to life that it convulses every congregation that hears it. In these few minutes of mimicry the evangelist does more to argue for reality and genuineness and unprofessionalism on the part of the clergy than could be accomplished by an hour's lecture.

Another of his famous passages is his portrayal of the society woman nursing a pug dog. You see the woman and you see the dog, and you love neither one. Likewise, Sunday mimics the skin-flint hypocrite in a way to make the man represented loathe himself.

This suggests a second fact about Sunday's preaching. He often makes people laugh, but rarely makes them cry. His sense of humor is stronger than his sense of pathos. Now tears and hysterics are supposed to be part of the stock in trade of the professional evangelist. Not so with Sunday. He makes sin absurd and foolish as well as wicked; and he makes the sinner ashamed of himself. He has recovered for the Church the use of that powerful weapon, the barb of ridicule. There are more instruments of warfare in the gospel armory than the average preacher commonly uses. Sunday endeavors to employ them all, and his favorites seem to be humor, satire and scorn.

As a physical performance the preaching to crowds of from ten to twenty-five thousand persons every day is phenomenal. Sunday has not a beautiful voice like many great orators. It is husky and seems strained and yet it is able to penetrate every corner of his great tabernacles. Nor is he possessed of the oratorical manner, "the grand air" of the rhetorician. Mostly he is direct, informal and colloquial in his utterances. But he is so dead in earnest that after every address he must make an entire change of raiment—and, like most base-ball players, and members of the sporting fraternities, he is fond of good clothes, even to the point of foppishness. He carries about a dozen different suits with him and I question whether there is a single Prince Albert or "preacher's coat" in the whole outfit.

A very human figure is Billy Sunday on the platform. During the preliminaries he enjoys the music, the responses of the delegations, and any of the informalities that are common accessories of his meetings. When he begins to speak he is an autocrat and will brook no disturbance. He is less concerned about hurting the feelings of some fidgety, restless usher or auditor than he is about the comfort of the great congregation and its opportunity to hear his message.

Any notion that Sunday loves the limelight is wide of the mark. The fact is, he shuns the public gaze. It really makes him nervous to be pointed out and stared at. That is one reason why he does not go to a hotel, but hires a furnished house for himself and his associates. Here they "camp out" for the period of the campaign, and enjoy something like the family life of every-day American folk. Their hospitable table puts on no more frills than that of the ordinary home. The same cook has accompanied the party for months; and when a family's religion so commends itself to the cook, it is likely to grade "A No. 1 Hard," like Minnesota wheat.

"Ma," as the whole party call Mrs. Sunday, is responsible for the home, as well as for many meetings. Primarily, though, she looks after "Daddy." Sunday is the type of man who is quite helpless with respect to a dozen matters which a watchful wife attends to. He needs considerable looking after, and all his friends, from the newspaper men to the policeman on duty at the house, conspire to take care of him.

The Pittsburgh authorities assigned a couple of plain clothes men to safeguard Sunday; of course he "got them" early, as he gets most everybody he comes into touch with. So these men took care of Sunday as if he were the famous "millionaire baby" of Washington and Newport. Not a sense of official duty, but affectionate personal solicitude animated those two men who rode in the automobile with us from the house to the Tabernacle.

This sort of thing is one of the most illuminating phases of the Sunday campaign. Those who come closest to the man believe most in his religion. As one of the newspaper men covering the meetings said to me, "The newspaper boys have all 'hit the trail.'" Then he proved his religion by offering to do the most fraternal services for me. From Mrs. Sunday, though, I learned that there was one bright reporter who had worked on aspects of the revival who had not gone forward. He avoided the meetings, and evaded the personal interviews of the Sunday party. The evangelist's wife was as solicitous over that one young man's spiritual welfare as if he had been one of her own four children.

Ten of the policemen stationed at the Tabernacle went forward the night before I arrived in Pittsburgh. I was told that twenty others were waiting to "hit the trail" in a group, taking their families with them.

The personal side of Sunday is wholesome and satisfactory. He is a simple, modest chap, marked by the ways of the Middle West. Between meetings he goes to bed, and there friends sometimes visit him. Met thus intimately, behind the scenes, one would expect from him an unrestrained display of personality, even a measure of egotism. Surely, it is sometimes to be permitted a man to recount his achievements. Never a boast did I hear from Sunday. Instead, he seemed absurdly self-distrustful. These are his times for gathering, and he wanted me to tell him about Bible lands!

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