My Life and the Story of the Gospel Hymns and of Sacred Songs and Solos


In June, 1873, we sailed for England, Mr. Moody taking his wife and children with him, and my wife accompanying me, having left our two children with their grandparents.

The only books that I took with me were my Bagster Bible and my ”musical scrap-book,” which contained a number of hymns which I had collected in the past years, and many of which, in the providence of God, were to be used in arousing much religious interest among the people in the Old Country. The voyage was uneventful, but of great interest to our little party. Mr. Moody, shortly after leaving Sandy Hook, for good and sufficient reasons retired to his berth, where he remained for the larger part of the voyage. I had the good fortune to escape seasickness, and was able to partake of my regular three meals a day. Mr. Moody would frequently send his ship steward over to my side of the ship to ascertain how I was getting on, and suggesting a large number of infallible remedies for seasickness.

On arriving at Queenstown, the vessel stopped for a short time, to land and receive mail. Among some letters which Mr. Moody received was one informing him that both the men who had invited us to come to England, the Rev. William Pennefather, a minister of the Established Church of London, and Mr. Cuthbert Bainbridge, a Wesleyan, and a prominent merchant of Newcastle-on-Tyne, were dead.

Turning to me, Mr. Moody said, ”Sankey, it seems as if God has closed the door for us, and if he will not open it we will return to America at once."

The next day we landed in Liverpool, strangers in a strange country, without an invitation, without a committee, and with but very little money. The situation was anything but cheerful. I have always felt that God was, by this strange providence, calling upon us to. lean wholly upon him in any work in which we might be permitted to engage. We had no friends to meet us, and at once we made our way to the Northwestern Hotel, where we spent the night.

As Mr. Moody was looking over some letters which he had received in New York before sailing, and which had remained unread, he found one from the secretary of the Young Men's Christian Association at York, asking him if he ever came to England again, to come there and speak for the Association. ”Here is a door, ”said Moody to me after reading the letter, ”which is partly open, and we will go there and begin our work."

The next morning we left Liverpool, Mr. Moody taking his family to London, where Mrs. Moody, being born in England, had a sister. I, with my wife, went to Manchester, to the home of my greatly beloved friend, Henry Morehouse, whom I had met in Chicago.

After three days' stay in London Mr. Moody went to York, where I joined him. On arriving there I went to the home of Mr. George Bennett, Honorary Secretary of the Young Men's Christian Association, who had invited us to come to York, and, on inquiring if Mr. Moody had arrived, was told that he was in the room directly overhead. When Moody saw me he said, laughingly: ”Our friend here is very much excited over our arrival, and says that he did not expect us so soon, and that he does not think this will be a good time to commence meetings, as all the people are away at the seaside. ”I was struck with the fact that notwithstanding these unpropitious circumstances, Mr. Moody did not show the slightest sign of disappointment or anxiety. After talking over the situation for a while, we called for Mr. Bennett, who was busy dispensing his medicines in his drug store below, and asked him if he could get the use of a chapel for our meetings. He at once secured permission to use an Independent Chapel. On his return he requested me to write out the following notice :

EVANGELISTIC SERVICES. D. L. Moody of Chicago will preach, and Ira D. Sankey of Chicago will sing, at 7 o'clock P. M. tomorrow, Thursday, and each succeeding evening for a week, in the Independent Chapel. All are welcome. No collection.

The first meeting was attended by less than fifty persons, who took seats as far away from the pulpit as possible. I sang several solos before Mr. Moody's address, and that was my first service of song in England. It was with some difficulty that I could get the people to sing, as they had not been accustomed to the kind of songs that I was using.

Although this, the first meeting of the long campaign, was not especially well received by the congregation, it gave Mr. Moody an opportunity to announce his noonday prayer-meetings and Bible meetings, which were to follow. The noonday prayer meetings were held in a small upper room (reached through a dark passage-way), where the Y. M. C. A. held their meetings. Only six persons attended the first of these meetings. But these meetings were the beginning of days with us—the rising of the cloud of blessing, not larger than a man's hand, but which was soon to overshadow us with plenteous showers, and often with floods upon the dry ground.

It was at one of these noonday meetings that a young minister, pastor of the leading Baptist church of the city, his face lighted up with a light which I had not often witnessed before, rose and said:” Brethren, what Mr. Moody said the other .day about the Holy Spirit for service is true. I have been preaching for years without any special blessing, simply beating the air, and have been toiling hard, but without the power of God upon me. For two days I have been away from the meetings, closeted with my Master. I think he has had the victory over my arrogance and pride, and I believe I have made a full surrender of all to him, and to-day I have come here to join you in worship, and to ask you to pray for me."

This confession and testimony was the rod in God's hand that smote the rock in the desert of doubt and unbelief at York. From that day the work took a new start, and soon there were hundreds of souls crowding the inquiry rooms. We were invited to hold services in this young pastor's chapel, and a large number were taken into his church. From that day on marvelous success has attended his preaching, and his name has become almost a household word in the Church at large. He has visited the conventions at Northfield for many years, and has conducted meetings of ministers in many of the leading cities of this country. His books have had an enormous circulation, and together with his addresses have been most helpful, not only to ministers of the gospel, but to Christian workers of all denominations. This young preacher, the Rev. F. B. Meyer, B. A., will ever be held in grateful remembrance by tens of thousands in this and other lands.

On his way from London to Northfield this year (1907), Dr. Meyer paid me a most delightful visit on .*. Sunday afternoon. We talked over the old times at York, London, Leicester and other places, and I sang for him, ”There'll be no Dark Valley When Jesus Comes,”and after praying with me, he promised to call and see me again.

From that small beginning in York the attendance at our meetings continued to increase, until not less than twenty thousand persons attended the meetings at the Agricultural Hall, London.

The first public mention of our arrival in England was as follows:

“Mr. D. L. Moody has just arrived from Chicago . with his family, and is accompanied by a Christian brother, who leads the singing at the meetings after the manner of our friend, Philip Phillips

Last Lord's Day he preached in Independent and Wesleyan Chapels, in York, and we believe that he intends to continue a while in the north of England, and then go to Scotland”

Our sacred songs continued to grow in popularity, and I was continually beset with requests for the loan of my” musical scrap-book,” in which alone could be found the songs that were then being sung as solos at our meetings. For a while I permitted many of my friends to have them, but soon found that it would be impossible to continue doing so, as persons having my book failed to return it in time for the meetings, thus preventing me from using the desired hymns at the services. To overcome this difficulty I had the words of a number of hymns printed on small cards. I hoped that these cards would supply the demand for the song, but as soon as the congregation observed that the cards were given out free to applicants, a rush was made for the platform, and the supply was exhausted the first day. I could not afford to continue this plan, and it was evident that something else had to be done. Having received a number of complaints from persons who had purchased copies of the ”Hallowed Songs,” which we were using in the meetings, that that book contained but a very few of the solos the people so much desired, I made an effort to have the publishers of that book print a few of the most popular pieces and bind them in the back of future editions of that book. This offer the publishers respectfully declined, saying that Philip Phillips, the compiler of the book, was in California, and that they did not care to make any alterations without his permission. I wrote them again, saying that I was an intimate friend of Mr. Phillips, and that I was sure he would be very glad to have this addition made to his book, but again the offer was declined, and here the matter rested for a while.

Among the many requests we had by this time received from towns in the vicinity, was a very urgent one from a large watering place on the north shore of England. We accepted the invitation and expected to go, but a few days before the time appointed for our start, a deputation of ministers called upon us, asking if they might not recall their invitation, giving as the reason, that the attendance at our meetings was so very large, it would no doubt interfere somewhat with the ”penny collections,” which they were in the habit of receiving from visitors during the summer season, and on which they relied very largely for the necessary funds to carry on the work for the balance of the year. Notwithstanding that Moody was well aware that they were making a mistake, he allowed them to withdraw the invitation, as we had many others in hand, and there was lost to that town an opportunity which never returned. A number of petitions were brought to us from this place, urging us to come and hold meetings, but we were never able to do so.

Among other invitations was one from a minister at Sunderland, the Rev. A. A. Rees. Mr. Moody, fearing that in this case there might also be some trouble in regard to ”penny collections,” sent me to the place to learn the situation. Mr. Rees met me at the station, and I remained with him over night. During the evening he made a number of inquiries about Mr. Moody, and said that a year or so ago he had met a man in Ireland with the name of Moody, and that if this was the same man, he desired very much to have him come and preach in his chapel. His reason for this was, that in the home of a Mr. Bewley, he had been assigned to share a bedroom with Mr. Moody, and before retiring Moody suggested that they have evening devotions, and that he had never heard anything that equaled Mr. Moody's prayer and burning desire for a greater knowledge of God's Word and power to preach it. On assuring him that this was the same man, it was at once settled that we should come the next week, and that there should be no” penny collections” to interfere with the work.

Almost immediately after arriving Mr. Rees requested me to go with him to the home of Mr. Longstaff, treasurer of Mr. Rees' chapel, and the man who many years afterward wrote the hymn, ”Take time to be holy. ”On entering the parlor I discovered an American organ in a corner of the room, which, I was told, had been used by Philip Phillips in his service of song in that city. I was requested to sing, which I did, not knowing that the minister was strongly opposed, not only to solo singing, but to organs and choirs as well, never allowing anything of the kind in his church. Among the songs that I sang on this occasion I recall the following: ”Come home, O Prodigal,” “Free from the law,” and ”More to follow.” The minister made no comments, but seemed much interested in the singing. A few days after our arrival in the city we were surprised to see the walls and billboards placarded with enormous posters, containing the following notice: ”D. L. Moody of Chicago will preach the gospel, and Ira D. Sankey of Chicago will sing the. gospel in Bethesda Chapel every afternoon and evening this week, except Saturday, at 3 and 7 o'clock. All are welcome. ”Thus the phrase, ”sing the gospel ”originated with one of the most conservative ministers in England.