“If we can only get people to have the words of the Love of God coming from their mouths, it’s well on its way to residing in their hearts.”
D.L. Moody spoke these words of the role of Ira Sankey in the evangelistic meetings they led. Moody believed that music was more than formality; it should be way to warm and win hearts to the gospel.
After the Civil War, Sankey had a successful career with the IRS and was continuing to rise in fame as a gospel singer as well. He was involved with the YMCA, and he first met D.L. Moody after he performed a song at a YMCA convention that rallied the crowd.
In a biography by Jacob Henry Hall, Mr. Sankey describes their meeting thus: “As I drew near Mr. Moody he stepped forward and taking me by the hand looked at me in that keen, piercing fashion of his as if reading my very soul. Then he said abruptly, ‘Where are you from?’ ‘Pennsylvania,’ I replied. ‘Are you married?’ ‘I am.’ ‘How many children have you?’ ‘Two.’ ‘What is your business?’ ‘I am a government officer.’ ‘Well, you’ll have to give it up!’ I was too much astonished to make any reply and he went on as if the matter had already been decided: ‘I have been looking for you for the last eight years. You’ll have to come to Chicago and help me in my work.'”
This was a defining moment for Ira Sankey and the future of the Moody revivals. It was an act faith for him to resign a stable job and trust that he and his family would be provided for. Sankey chose to pursue the call of God rather than his own comfort. It was clear quickly that this was a work of God far beyond their own power.
The impact of music
As their revival meetings grew, Sankey continued to write and arrange music, which eventually resulted in the “Sacred Songs & Solos” hymnal. This collection of songs eventually grew to over 1,200 pieces, including works from now famous writers such as Phillip Paul Bliss, Fanny Crosby, and Frances Havergal.
If you read any stories of the revival meetings, you will see that the music and sermons were each critical. People were moved by the simple music that presented the gospel and God’s truths.
Sankey himself said, “If you have singing that reaches the heart, it will fill the church every time. There is more said in the Bible about praise than prayer, and music and song have not only accompanied all Scripture revivals, but are essential in deepening spiritual life. Singing does at least as much as preaching to impress the word of God upon people’s minds. Ever since God first called me, the importance of praise expressed in song has grown upon me.”
It was a risk for Sankey to step out and answer God’s call, but the result makes it clear that faith is rewarded. Faith requires that we step out beyond our own wishes and seek to serve others; there is the most fulfilling life. Where is God calling you to the unknown? It may feel uncomfortable, but often that is the Spirit’s nudging to move us out of safe apathy.