L ike the children of Israel, Americans have been prone to forget their spiritual heritage. In Israel’s case, God sent prophets to forestall judgment. In the nineteenth century and the early part of this century, God sent to the American scene:

                                         A lawyer

                                          A shoe salesman

And a major league ballplayer.

Charles G. Finney: From Law to Grace.

In 1830 lawyer Charles G. Finney preached for six months at Rochester, New York, and saw one hundred thousand souls make a profession of faith in Jesus Christ. It is estimated that the preaching of Finney, who founded Oberlin College in Ohio and sewed as its first president, influenced change in one half million lives.

Finney did not inherit his religious bent. In his home he never heard the name of God, except in blasphemy. Though reared in the backwoods of New York state, he emerged to study law and pursue in Adams, New York, what promised to be a real brilliant legal career.

Since Finney’s law books contained many references to the Bible, he bought one for reference. But he always made sure it was hid under other volumes when anyone else was around.

Finney visited the Presbyterian church in town and found the congregation praying for revival. The young lawyer offered only scorn and ridicule until young people in the church, led by the girl Finney would eventually many, began to pray for him. The Spirit began to convict of sin. Finney could not eat or sleep. Finally one evening he fled to the woods on the edge of town, poured out his sins to God and found great release. He raced hack into town to shout out the news of his salvation in offices, in homes, on the street. Within twenty-four hours he had won twenty- four to the Lord, among them another lawyer and a distiller!

Finney dropped law and began to plead the cause of Jesus Christ. He launched into evangelism and took onto his team a man named Nash, who made prayer his sole and all-consuming role. When Finney preached, Nash stayed behind and prayed. Wherever Finney conducted campaigns in London, New York, or elsewhere thousands responded. In Boston alone, fifty thousand (50,000) accepted the Lord in just one week.

When Finney preached in Philadelphia, “a number of lumberjacks who had floated their logs down the river took in the meeting. Many were converted, and on returning to their work eighty miles upstream, they took the story of salvation with them. At home they organized prayer circles, held family devotions, conducted simple services. On returning within a year’s time they asked for a minister. Five thousand, the lumbermen reported, had turned to the Lord in their region and they were without a preacher!”

“What will you do with Jesus Christ? ” Finney always demanded a verdict on this all important issue. Many of those converted went on to exert a profound social impact in their day. Finney continued as educator and evangelist until his death in 1875.



Chicago can never erase the memory of the great disaster that befell her little more than one hundred years ago. On an October Sunday evening in 1871, ominous big flames erupted on the city’s south side. By midnight the entire populace was fleeing in panic as the inferno swept northward block by block, reducing the city to ashes.

The great Chicago fire destroyed both the home and the church of an evangelist named Dwight L Moody, along with the impressive Chicago YMCA. which he had founded. But in Moody’s eyes it was not the worst catastrophe that could happen to man. Far worse that anyone should not hear clearly the gospel. Moody quickly rebuilt his church and pressed forward.

By the time of the Chicago fire, Moody had already uplifted Jesus Christ to millions at home and abroad, but by the time of his death more than a quarter century later some would estimate his total audience in the tens of millions.

Moody’s spiritual life started in the back of a shoe store in Boston in 1855 when a dry-goods salesman led Moody to Jesus Christ. Moody soon went west to Chicago and established himself as a first-rate shoe salesman. Moody also began rounding up street urchins from the poor section of Chicago’s north side and before long his burgeoning mission Sunday school hosted hundreds weekly. In 1860 even Presid- ent-elect Abraham Lincoln dropped in on Moody’s class. In 1873 the rising D. L. Moody, with his song-leader Ira Sankey, launched a campaign in the British Isles. Things started slowly, but they picked up momentum. Crowds grew. The campaign extended into weeks, then months first Edinburgh, later Glasgow, finally London. Thousands were converted, homes were transformed, lives chang-ed, genuinely, permanently an impact that would he felt throughout England for decades. When the campaign closed two years later, all Great Britain was talking about Moody and Sankey. He later returned for two more highly successful campaigns.

Moody’s preaching mission at England’s erudite Cambridge University touched off a spiritual revival that ultimately sent hundreds of students around the world as missionaries. But back home, America, too, needed Moody’s message, perhaps as never before. The Civil War, like all wars, had disrupted general morality. People chased after easy wealth. Corruption penetrated high political office.

Before launching a campaign in Philadelphia, Moody kicked off a small revival at Princeton University. At Philadelphia one evening President Ulysses S. Grant and several of his Cabinet sat on the platform. . There was the New York campaign of 1876 and many more to follow in the cities and towns across America, spanning at least a quarter century until his death during a Kansas City campaign in 1899, just a few days before the turn of the Twentieth Century.



Flash now to the early twentieth century and the impact of a one time major league ball player named Billy Sunday, who played with the then Chicago White Stockings

Fans labeled him the “only man who could round the diamond touching every base in fourteen seconds.”

Billy Sunday received Christ at the Pacific Garden Mission in Chicago around the time Dwight L Moody founded his Bible Institute two miles away. Sunday continued in pro ball four more years, until resigning for full-time evangelism. His great physical stamina as a ball player carried over well into his new career, during which he would preach twenty thousand times! in 1917, in New York, a million and a half people heard Sunday during a ten-week campaign. Some two million, it is said, gave their hearts to God during the Sunday campaigns, which spanned a quarter of a century. Sunday would roll up his sleeves and deliver his sermons machine-gun style, roam-ing vigorously about the whole platform. No one denied his color and showmanship, but there was much more the historic gospel that transformed the lives of millions.

Three men out of the nineteenth century helped set great spiritual forces in motion. There were millions across America whose lives, homes, and careers were salvaged, redirected, transformed, as a direct result. Had not God singled out a handful of individuals in each century who could help reverse the inevitable degeneracy in the hearts of men, America by now might have died as a major nation.



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