The inspiration for this website came from a Scripture song I heard over 10 years ago at a ladies retreat:
Like Apples of Gold in pictures of silver
A word fitly spoken shall be,
Like Apples of Gold in pictures of silver
Let my life bring glory to thee.
¶ A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.
Although some of the "stories" listed are made up, the Scriptural truths they illustrate are very real and can be of great benefit in a Christian's walk with the Lord and as illustrations for the lost.
It is my heart's desire that amongst the pages of this website, the Christian find words of encouragement and be spurred on to service for our Lord, and that seekers of the truth find Salvation in the timeless truths of God's Word for these troubled times.
|BORN: November 19, 1862
|DIED: November 6, 1935
|LIFE SPAN: 13 days short of 73 years|
William Ashley Sunday was one of the great evangelists in history. This fiery dynamic “baseball evangelist” conducted approximately 300 crusades in the 39 years of his ministry, preaching to over 100,000,000 people, the largest prior to Billy Graham. It is estimated that he personally shook the hands of 250,000 to 1,000,000 converts. For years he captured the attention of the media, the eyes of the nation, and the hearts of the multitudes as he proclaimed the gospel in his unique manner.
Billy Sunday was born November 19, 1862 in a two-room log cabin outside of Ames, Iowa. He was the third son of William and Mary Jane Corey Sunday. Billy was a war child, America was wracked by the Civil War. Soon, Billy was a war orphan, one month after his son’s birth, Private William Sunday succumbed to a disease contracted on the battlefield.
Jane Sunday was remarried in 1870 to a man named Heizer, who abandoned her after she bore him two children. Billy’s mother kept the family with her as long as she could, but was finally forced to send 12-year old Billy and his older brother Edward to the Soldier’s Orphans’ Home in Glenwood, Iowa.
About two years later, the boys returned to their grandfather Corey’s farm, but Billy did not stay long. He later recalled: I borrowed a horse . . . and rode to the town of Nevada, which was the county seat, some eight miles away, to look for a job.
Over the next few years Billy held a variety of jobs, including fireman, janitor, and undertaker’s assistant. After several months he went to work for Colonel John Scott, who was then lieutenant-governor of Iowa. With Scott’s help, Billy was able to enroll in the Nevada High School, though he never graduated.
Sunday moved to Marshalltown, Iowa., he got a job in a furniture store. He began to play baseball on the `own team, and his speed and daring nature soon made him the star player. It was here that the 20-year old youth began his rise to fame. A.C. (Pop) Anson, captain of the Chicago White Stockings, discovered the young prodigy while visiting relatives in Marshalltown. He returned to Chicago and wired Sunday to come for a tryout.
Sunday’s tryout consisted of a race against Fred Pfeffer, the “crack runner” for the Chicago team. Billy won the race and a place on the team by 15 feet.
Speed was Billy Sunday’s claim to stardom. For years he held the record as the fastest man in baseball, circling the bases in 14 seconds flat. He was known as the most daring base stealer in the game. This helped to offset the fact that he was not a great batter. In fact, it took Billy a little while to get the hang of batting in the big leagues. He struck out his first 13 times at bat for Chicago. He usually played center field.
It was while playing ball for Chicago that Billy Sunday signed up with God, in the fall of 1887. Years later, he recalled: Twenty seven years ago I walked down a street in Chicago in company with some ball players who were famous in this world, some of them are dead now – and we went into a saloon. It was Sunday afternoon and we got tanked up and then went and sat down on a corner. I never go by that street without thanking God for saving me. It was a vacant lot at that time. We sat down on a curbing. Across the street a company of men and women were playing on instruments – horns, flutes, and slide trombones and the others were singing the gospel hymns that I used to hear my mother sing back in the log cabin in Iowa and back in the old church where I used to go to Sunday School.
I sobbed and sobbed and a young man stepped out and said, “We are going down to the Pacific Garden Mission. Won’t you come down to the mission?”
I arose and said to the boys, “I’m through. I am going to Jesus Christ. We’ve come to the parting of the ways,” and I turned my back on them. Some of them laughed and some of them mocked me, one of them gave me encouragement, others never said a word.
Twenty seven years ago I turned and left that little group on the corner of State and Madison streets and walked to the little mission and fell on my knees and staggered out of sin and into the arms of the Saviour.
The new Billy Sunday continued to play ball, but his extracurricular activities changed dramatically. He followed the rule of the Pacific Garden Mission that the redeemed of the Lord should say so, testifying at every opportunity. At first he could hardly speak three sentences without “sputtering and sweating,” but he gained confidence with each meeting. The Y.M.C.A. arranged speaking engagements for him on his baseball circuit, and soon everyone knew that the Chicago baseball star was a Christian. Captain Anson made him the business manager of the Chicago White Stockings.
Sunday joined the Jefferson Park Presbyterian Church in Chicago shortly after his conversion. He attended every service, and grew commensurately in grace. Other rewards awaited him there as well, for it was there that he met Helen Amelia Thompson, who later became his wife. (Note: Biographers disagree as to whether Sunday and Miss Thompson began courting before or after his conversion). She was born June 25, 1868 and died in 1957.
The next spring Billy was sold to Pittsburgh with a large salary increase included in the deal. By this time Billy and Helen were engaged, They postponed their wedding until after Billy’s first season with Pittsburgh. This allowed them to save the money they needed and (finally) to win the good will of Helen’s father. With that, the wedding was set for September 5, 1888 at the Thompson home.
Billy did not immediately leap into the field of evangelism. It was a slow, arduous move, full of doubts and fears. He continued playing ball for Pittsburg until he was traded to Philadelphia in 1891. It was a three-year contract with a huge salary, but Billy soon wanted out. Since his conversion he had become heavily involved with the Y.M.C.A. work, and his heart was burdened to give himself to full-time Christian service. A contract for three years of his life stood in his way, a contract from which Philadelphia refused to release him.
Sunday begged God, and finally set out a fleece: “Lord, if I can get my release by March 25th, I will go into Y.M.C.A. work. If I don’t get it, I will accept that as evidence you want me to continue playing ball, and I will play out the rest of my contract.” On March 17, Sunday was notified that he could have his release. God had answered.
Immediately, God sent a test. Cincinnati offered Sunday a contract for five thousand dollars for one season. For two days he wrestled, neither eating or sleeping. Another baby was coming and times were hard. He decided to accept the contract, but his wife Nell reproved him. “You promised God that you would quit. Stick to your promise.”
He did. The next day he signed up as a full-time Y.M.C.A. worker, trading a $5000 contract for a salary of $83.00 a month. His duties included street meetings, literature distribution, fund-raising, routine office duties and securing speakers for the noon prayer meetings.
It was a time of testing as well. Once, he almost returned to baseball, but Nell encouraged him. So he resigned himself to stay.
Two years later, in 1893, Sunday joined the team of evangelist J. Wilbur Chapman. He served as advance man and general helper, seeing all the aspects of evangelistic work. Suddenly, Christmas Eve of 1895, Chapman decided to return to the pastorate. The Sundays were stunned. What were they to do? They wondered. The answer came a few days later from a Presbyterian pastor in Garner, Iowa, in a letter that read: “The Baptist and Methodist ministers have united with me, and we are going to hold a city-wide revival. We would like to know if you would be our evangelist and lead us in the revival. We have already rented the opera house in Garner. Let us know at once, please.”\
Sunday accepted, and left for Garner with eight sermons he borrowed from Chapman. 268 were saved in ten days, January 8-17, 1896. The sawdust trail had begun.
Billy Sunday was licensed to preach by the Presbyterian church in 1898 and ordained in 1903.
Crusades continued in: Sigourney, Iowa – January 17-February 6, 1896, Oneida, Illinois – January-February, 1898 and Dundee, Illinois – January, 1900.
The simple meetings became organized, highly structured endeavors involving many people. Large wooden tabernacles were built to accommodate the crowds, the first being in Perry, Iowa in December of 1900, costing about $700, seating 1,000 for the March 6-27, 1901 crusade there.
For years Sunday held his meeting mostly in small mid-western towns, not rising to national prominence until 1911. A list of these crusades follows:
On the last Sunday of 1910 a very significant campaign opened in Portsmouth, Ohio which lasted six weeks into February of 1911. This crusade drew 5,200 converts. This was followed by a February 11-March 25 crusade in Lima, Ohio which gained 5,700 converts. Toledo, Ohio followed April 9-May 21 with the six week crusade eclipsing all previous crusades with 7,300 converts and a freewill offering of over $15,000. It seems these three Ohio crusades in 1911 brought Sunday to the attention of the nation.
Good crusades continued:
Then came the famed Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania crusade commencing February 22, 1912. It was estimated that 25% of the population came to Christ, and in the year that followed it has been told that 200 taverns closed. This has to be a most remarkable record, and one wonders if this was not real revival, where the entire atmosphere of a city was changed. Two years after the crusade a Philadelphia newspaper reported that 83% of his converts were still in active Christian service. South Bend, Indiana was next, April 27-June 15, 1913. Then came Steubenville, Ohio, September 14October 26, 1913 where a most remarkable thing happened again. One third of the city hit the “sawdust trail.” Again this might show the value of crusades in smaller areas.
Then it was Scranton, Pennsylvania, March 1-April 20, 1914. Here there was the Dunmore Social Club, a group of 40 men who used a saloon and engaged in all kinds of debauchery. When the crusade was over, 38 of the men were converted and the club made the former saloon the Dunmore Christian Mission. Other hardened sinners were tamed. Four more crusades would transpire before he hit “big-time” cities such as Philadelphia.
In his 20th year in evangelism he finally had a crusade in a major city in America, Philadelphia. God uses evangelists in different ways. It was the same with Charles Finney, starting in smaller towns and eventually reaching the bigger cities. In the case of D.L. Moody it was the London crusade that launched his career, and in the case of Billy Graham it was the Los Angeles crusade that launched his career.
The Philadelphia crusade ran January 3-March 20, 1915. More than two million attended the meetings with another one million hearing his associates in factories, offices, clubs, homes and miscellaneous meetings. Over 40,000 converts were “signed up,” with 1,850 on the final day alone. Homer Rodeheaver’s choir had 6,000 that was divided into three groups that sang alternately. The favorite congregational song was “Since Jesus Came Into My Heart.” John Wanamaker, business man, and Mayor Blankenship were key supporters of the crusade. When the meetings were over, there were enough requests by delegations to have continued to fill the tabernacle for three more months. The impact of Philadelphia has lasted until this day.
Four good crusades were between his next major national impact, Baltimore.
Then came Baltimore, Maryland, February 28-April 23, 1916. The tabernacle seated 15,000 and 5,000 more could squeeze in. Baltimore papers say 24,000 heard him at one of his final day meetings. On that final Sunday, Sunday conducted four meetings, preached to 96,000 people, and had 1,843 “hit the trail.” It was estimated a total of one and a half million attended with more than 23,000 conversions during this time. Three children of Mayor Preston were saved. On the final evening service, “Home Run” Baker of the New York Yankees and four of his team mates joined those getting saved. A nursery was available for mothers and during the crusade nearly 2,000 babies were taken care of. Sunday spoke in several wealthy mansions to socialites and turned bridge clubs into Bible classes as a result. The night after the crusade ended, and the team was gone, a service was held to give converts a chance to testify. 75 more were saved. Churches were swamped with converts.
Next same Kansas City, Missouri, April 30-June 18, 1916 where 40,000 ignored torrential rains to attend his opening services. The Detroit crusade September 10-November 6, was a great success as well. This was followed by a crusade in Boston, November 2, 1916January 21, 1917. There was a Christmas break but the city was turned on to spiritual things. Such as William Ward Ayer was converted at these meetings. Then came a crusade in Buffalo, New York January 28-March 25.
His greatest crusade and perhaps the greatest crusade in history by any evangelist was the New York crusade, held April 8-June 19, 1917. There were nearly 100,000 conversions in ten weeks, over 7,000 on the final day. This total amount was by far the largest single number of decisions for a single crusade that we have ever come across in our research. He was also deeply involved in support of the American war effort, helping to sell war bonds, speaking on the need to save food and fuel, and vigorously encouraging young men to enlist. He gave the entire amount of his love offering, $113,000 to the Y.M.C.A. and the American Red Cross.
Following this was two large scale crusades in key cities, Los Angeles, September-October, and Atlanta, November-December, 1917. He also published his first book in 1917, Love Stories of the Bible.
Then it was time to hold a crusade in the nations capital, Washington, D.C., January 6-February, 1918. His Washington Tabernacle was erected just a few hundred yards from the Capitol Building and Union Station. He was invited to offer the prayer at the opening session of Congress. It was the most unusual ever given, for it was interrupted by applause three times. More than any other, he made an impact on lawmakers in the establishment of the Prohibition Amendment in 1919.
Then it was crusade time in Chicago, his “second home,” where he was converted, where he first played baseball. This crusade went on from March 10-May 19. His $67,000 love offering was given to the Pacific Garden Mission, the place of his spiritual birth.
The year finished with crusades in Duluth, Minnesota, May 26June, Providence, Rhode Island, September 22-November 3, and Ft. Worth, November-December, 1918.
The Sundays had a summer cottage at Winona Lake (Indiana) for about 10 years before they moved there permanently in 1910. Ma Sunday was often with her husband in crusades, their four children were left in the care of a nurse. None of the children would live to age 45. In 1920, the Winona Lake Assembly honored its friend and community resident by erecting and dedicating its largest auditorium to him – called the Billy Sunday Tabernacle. It would seat 7,500.
Large scale revival campaigns suffered a great loss in effectiveness after World War I and Sunday was affected by a parallel decrease in his national exposure and influence. He also spent time defending the constitutional amendment on the prohibition of alcoholic beverage and fighting its repeal. He was also engaged in the management of Winona Lake Bible Conference.
His final major crusade was held in Kansas City, Missouri, April 28-May 18, 1935. He was 72 years of age. It is interesting to note that D. L. Moody’s final campaign was also in Kansas City. As Sunday’s career came to an end, he continued to hold three week crusades. As Billy Graham’s career runs down, he closes out holding five day crusades.
His final preaching engagements were at the Methodist Church in Mishawaka, Indiana where he replaced of all people, Homer Rodeheaver, as a scheduled speaker, when Rodeheaver was called away. His last sermon was on Acts 16:31 and some 40 responded. He died soon afterwards of a heart attack. He had been ill most of the year, and had to miss such things as his honorary doctorate presentation at Bob Jones College.
A few odds and ends need to be shared as this story winds down. His tabernacles were unique. He used low, straight roofs instead of lofty ceilings and pushed the speaker’s platform as far as possible toward the center of the building. A huge sounding board hung over the platform and projected the evangelist’s voice. Behind the platform was a post, office, to which the names of converts were sent daily to the city pastors. At the rear of the platform were desks and phones for the press. Everything was fireproof, including the sawdust. There was never a balcony. No more than two nails were hammered into any board so that it could be easily kicked down in case of an emergency requiring speedy exit.
His style of preaching was his own. It is estimated he walked a mile over his platform during each sermon. He would be in all kinds of positions before the service was over. The choir was always one tenth the size of the crowd. The song service lasted for 30 minutes, then Sunday preached for an hour and gave an invitation, personally shaking hands with all that came forward. It is said he could handshake 84 “trail-hitters” a minute. His Bible was always opened to Isaiah 61:1 every time he preached.
His prayer life was unique. He prayed privately, just as he prayed publicly. He did not pray for any long period, for he was never any long period away from prayer. He prayed as he dressed, and as he rode to the tabernacle. No formality was ever found.
His financial involvement was acceptable by all. The only offering that went to him was that which was collected on the final day of the crusade. All previous offerings went to pay the crusade expenses. And we have read what he did with the New York and Chicago offerings. His home at Winona Lake was simple, compared to that of Homer Rodeheaver.
His greatest opposition was because of his fight against the liquor traffic. His most famous sermon, “Get on the Water Wagon “lasted one hour and forty minutes. Prior to prohibition in eleven of fifteen Illinois towns where he campaigned, “dry” victories were won at the next election.
His family had mixed problems. His wife Helen (Ma) was very important to him and the crusades. She was the business manager and also made many important decisions for him that he turned over to her. There were four children, Helen (1891), George (1894), William Jr. (1902) and Paul (1908). George and William both had well publicized personal problems and divorces. In 1932, a daughter Helen died at age 42. She lived the longest of all the four children. In 1933, just before going out to preach, Billy Sunday was shattered by the news that George had committed suicide by leaping from a building. After that, Sunday’s ministry declined sharply. William Jr., died in 1938 and Paul in 1944.
It has been conjectured that although he was friends with Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, Warren Harding, Woodrow Wilson, Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover, he and his children were not as close as he later realized they should have been.
Strangely he was guilty of some things that showed he was not in the mold some would like to have others to be. He advocated the teaching of sex education in high schools. There is no evidence that he was ever baptized by immersion. He probably was not. During his Boston crusade he was asked by Unitarian ministers to speak to them which he did. His famed New York Crusade had him give 3,500 decision cards to Catholic churches, 900 to Jewish synagogues and 400 to Christian Science churches.
A word about his team. His songleader and choir director was Homer Rodeheaver who assisted him 1908-1927 for 20 years. Early songleaders were Fred Fisher 1900-1910 and later Homer Hammond tree 1927-1929 and Harry Clarke, 1932-1935. His piano player was B.D. Ackley, 1908-1915 and Robert Matthews 1916-1930. Many others were on the team serving in various capacities.
His funeral was conducted at Moody Memorial church, and officiated by pastor Harry Ironside. Harry Clarke and Homer Rodeheaver each gave a tribute and song. The main message was given by John Timothy Stone, famed Presbyterian pastor from Chicago. Dr. Ironside told of his conversion and gave a eulogy. The large congregation concluded by singing “0 That Will be Glory for Me.”
One of a kind – Billy Sunday, but then is this not true of you, too. The editor is indebted to Rick L. Rasberry, a former student for compiling some of the earlier material mentioned in this account.
Listed is a chronological record of his major crusades so you can see if he came to your town.
Credits: Ed Reeves, Fundamental Publishers
Billy Sunday, as a Bible believing Christian, knew that his place in Heaven was secured by repentance toward God and faith toward the Lord Jesus Christ and the blood He shed for our sins when He died on the cross of Calvary. Brother Smith is with the Lord Jesus Christ right now, but do you know, with 100% assurance, from God’s Word, that you will be with Jesus when you die?
If you do not have this assurance, please read:
These things have I written unto you
that believe on the name of the Son of God;
that ye may know that ye have eternal life,
and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.
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