The World’s Fair Campaign
Perhaps Moody’s High Point
D. L. Moody (1837-99) “deserves to be remembered as the greatest evangelist of his day, perhaps the greatest since John Wesley,” according to the Chicago Tribune. The climax of his epochal career came with the 1893 World’s Fair Campaign, one of the most outstanding evangelistic efforts ever.
The World’s Fair Columbian Exposition, as it was officially called, drew some 27 million to the South side of Chicago for dazzling exhibits and experiences. Nearly 2 million attended Moody’s meetings in some 80 churches, theaters, tents, halls, and missions all over the sprawling city.
Dr. R. E. Day, in Bush Aglow, noted that, “Moody was never, in any meeting of Chicago ministers or laymen, appointed or asked to head up the work. He was so obvious that such a formality was unnecessary. His years of specialized training [and] world-wide acquaintance with great men…made his leadership [a given]…”
One of his characteristics was a “peculiar genius” for recognizing opportunities,” and one might add, organizing and utilizing them. Long before 1893, he saw the fair as “the opportunity of a century” and he seized it.
From his vast knowledge and contacts, in the U.S. and abroad, he recruited probably the most outstanding company of preachers, Bible teachers, evangelists, and musicians ever assembled for one series of meetings. Even this partial list reads like a Who’s Who of the 19th century evangelical world:
Henry Varley, Ira D. Sankey, A. J. Gordon, C. I. Scofield, A. T. Pierson, T. L. Cuyler, A. B. Simpson, B. Fay Mills, John G. Paton, and H. Clay Trumbull. Speakers ministered for a week or two or whatever their schedule permitted during the campaign, which ran from May 7 to Oct. 31st.
H. B. Hartzler described one service: “The power of God came upon the people. All over the house were faces wet with tears, and hard hearts melted like wax…The gospel was preached with saving effect to multitudes of people, many of them the worst and most wretched of their kind.”
R. A. Torry, superintendent of what is now Moody Bible Institute, was a major leader. The school had begun four years before, following several years of informal classes at various locations. Now all 220 students were fully engaged in one of the greatest clinics ever for personal work.
Foreign language meetings were held for the benefit of many in these special interest groups, who could not have been reached otherwise.
Moody’s office in the original 153 Building was the nerve center for it all. There he directed the vast operation like a general conducting a far-flung battle plan. One day when Moody met with co-workers, he said, “I need $7,000 (equal to far more now) for the work today.”
As Dr. Torry recalled later, he prayed, “Heavenly Father, we need $6,000 right now to meet our honest obligations. Send us that $6,000 today.”
Later a telegram was delivered to the room. It was from the Northfield, Mass. Summer Bible conference, which Moody also founded:
Your friends at Northfield had a feeling you needed some money for your work in Chicago. We have just passed the baskets and there is $6,000 in the baskets and more to follow.
As the morning session was closing, Dr. A. J. Gordon felt led to ask for that special offering. “And so,” Dr. Torrey said, “a thousand miles away, at just a little after the prayer had gone up, as nearly as we could figure it, 3,000 people [contributed] the exact sum that Mr. Moody had asked for…”
At the close, Moody declared, “Thousands have apparently been genuinely converted to Christ…. Fires have been kindled in many parts of this land as a result of the summer campaign.”
“This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes” (Ps. 118:23).
By Bernard R. DeRemer