Shortly after Ira Sankey agreed to join Moody in his travels, they made their famous trip to the British Isles. Along with Sankey on this trip was his “musical scrap-book,” a small collection popular songs he had made for the revival meetings. In England, Sankey’s songs had an emotional impact on those present. Sankey tells the story, for instance, of a young man once interrupting his song in order to plead with his father for forgiveness, and of the Quakers taking great interest in his new tunes, including “The Sweet By and By,” “Heaven for Me,” and “Christ Arose.” Again, to quote his own words,
It was most interesting to notice how quickly the people took up these songs; they sang them in the ship-yards, on Tyneside, on the streets, in the railway trains, and in the market-places. It was the beginning of a revolution in Great Britain in the matter of popular sacred songs, and now, though over thirty years have rolled by, it is said they are still in great favor with the people.”6
But Sankey, of course, paints only one side of the picture. “The objections came from Anglicans and from the more respectable middle-class dissenters who disliked the fact that Moody was a lay preacher and who felt that his unconventional style, like Sankey’s solo singing, was out of place in religious services.”2 Yet the middle and lower classes loved Moody and Sankey and their approach, and their popularity was rising in Great Britain, especially in conservative Scotland. Sankey was able to implement the organ on the grounds that it helped him stay in the right key. McLoughlin notes, “Soon the Edinburgh papers were praising the ‘touching pathos’ of Sankey’s singing which came ‘from the heart’ and unquestionably was ‘the means of winning many souls for Christ.’”3
Sankey was very sensitive to the acceptance of his new music, but Moody at times even more so. Once, while in Ireland, he asked Sankey not to sing “What Shall the Harvest Be?” and began announcing himself the solos he wanted Sankey to sing. Sankey explains this, “I afterwards learned that his reason for not wanting this hymn sung at his meetings was that a prominent minister, after having heard the hymn the first time I sang it, had remarked to Moody that if I kept on singing such hymns I would have them all dancing.”4
Sankey was particularly nervous when Horatius Bonar attended a Scotland service. He recalls,
With fear and trembling I announced as a solo the song, “Free from the Law, oh, happy condition’ [sic].
No prayer having been offered for this part of the service, and feeling that the singing might prove only an entertainment, and not a spiritual blessing, I requested the whole congregation to join me in a word of prayer, asking God to bless the truth about to be sung. . . . At the close the Mr. Moody’s address, Dr. Bonar turned toward me with a smile on his venerable face, and reaching out his hand he said: ‘Well, Mr. Sankey, you sang the gospel tonight.’5
Bonar would end up criticizing those who were against the revivalism, pointing to the many conversions occurring through Moody and Sankey’s efforts.
1Ira D. Sankey, My Life and the Story of the Gospel Hymns (New York: Harper and Brothers Pub., 1907), 53.
2Williams G. McLoughlin, Modern Revivalism: Charles Grandison Finney to Billy Graham (New York: Ronald Press Company, 1959), 182. In My Life, Sankey relates this thus: “This was indeed a trying hour for the singer. Much had been said and written in Scotland against the use of ‘human hymns’ in public worship, and even more had been uttered against the employment of the ‘kist o’ whistles,’ the term by which they designated the small cabinet organ I employed as an accompaniment to my voice” (59). Later he relates the first attempt to sing one of these ‘human hymns’:
“The song selected for my first solo was ‘Jesus of Nazareth passeth by.’
“The intense silence that pervaded that great audience during the singing of this song at once assured me that even ‘human hymns,’ sung in a prayerful spirit, were indeed likely to be used of God to arrest attention and convey gospel truth to the hearts of men in bonny Scotland, even as they had in other places.
“After a powerful address by Dr. Wilson, and a closing prayer, I was requested to sing another solo. Selecting ‘Hold the Fort,’ then comparatively new in Edinburgh, the audience was requested to join in singing the chorus, ‘Hold the Fort, for I am coming,’ which they did with such heartiness and such power that I was further convinced that gospel songs would prove as useful and acceptable to the masses in Edinburgh as they had in the cities of York and Newcastle in England.” (59-60).
4Sankey, My Life, 64. Sankey continues, “Another instance of Mr. Moody’s being influenced against certain hymns, was in the case of the hymn “Memories of Galilee.” I first introduced this hymn at one of our meetings at Newcastle-on-Tyne, at which service a very prominent and distinguished lady was present. She expressed herself as not approving this kind of hymns, and Mr. Moody at once requested me to leave it out of ‘Sacred Songs and Solos,’ which I was just then preparing. I told him that I thought the song would certainly become popular, and that I very much needed some new solos, and that I had already sent it to the publishers. A few months later this lady again heard me sing the song, and after the meeting she told Mr. Moody that she thought it was one of the most beautiful songs she had ever heard. This song from this time became a great favorite of us all” (64-65).