The First Moody/Sankey Crusade

When D L Moody arrived in Liverpool on June 27th 1873 he set foot upon English soil for the third time. His former trips had been brief, but this time he had come with a determination to win 10,000 souls for Christ. When he arrived, however, he was met with disappointment since two of the three men who had invited him had died. He made contact with the third member of the invitation team, a Mr Bennett in York but he got a discouraging response, stating that there was little religious warmth in York and that it would take at least a month to get ready for the meetings. This did not deter Moody, however, and he telegraphed his host to say that he would be in York that evening. He began meetings at once with just eight persons in attendance at the first meeting, and for the next two weeks it was a struggle. Within five weeks, however, 250 persons had been won to Christ. So began the ministry of D L Moody in 1873 and the commencement of a UK tour with his companion Ira Sankey. Within a couple of years he would become a household name in Britain with tens of thousands brought into the kingdom and a reputation as the greatest evangelist of the day.

Victoria Hall

Moody would have liked to have commenced his UK tour in Liverpool since he had previously made contacts here during his first visit in 1867, but they found no special opening for holding meetings at that time. It would be another 19 months before he would arrive back in Liverpool to take the mission. This came at the invitation of a group of businessmen led by Alexander Balfour. As there was not a hall large enough to hold the meetings a large temporary building was acquired and named Victoria Hall and this was erected in Victoria Street, in the place where the Victoria Street Car Park is now located. The Daily Post described the structure as "a simple vast pavilion of rough wood, filled with benches, and unrelieved except by some red cloth round the front of its gallery, inscribed with texts in white letters." Another paper "The Weekly Mercury" gave details of these texts i.e. ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ’ ‘Be ye reconciled to God’ and ‘Ye must be born again.’ At the platform end of the building was also exhibited in still larger letters the words ‘God is Love.’ The meetings commenced on Sunday 7th February, and Moody and Sankey arrived the day before and stayed at the Compton Hotel in Church Street (the present location of Marks and Spencer). On the Saturday evening both gentlemen made a minute inspection of the building and tested its acoustic properties, and they expressed themselves highly gratified with the structure intended for their services. Mr Sankey also had an interview with the choir which had been organised to aid him in the vocal part of the services, and which consisted of 150 men and women drawn from several churches and chapels of the town. Victoria Hall was designed to hold about 8,000 persons although it would appear that up to 10,000/11,000 persons were sometimes crowded into the hall. The expense of the building was met by voluntary contributions with no direct solicitation being made. In all there would be eighteen services held each week, in addition to which the gospel would be carried into the streets and byways, and many other services were also held in other venues.

The Mission commences

The first service on Sunday 7th February commenced at 8.00am and was for Christian workers, and it was estimated that 6,000 persons were in attendance. Long before that time it was an impressive site as streams of people were observed wending their way through Liverpool undaunted either by the damp and chilly atmosphere or by the drizzling rain, towards Victoria Hall. To those over the Mersey great crowds were seen making their way from Rock Ferry, Tranmere, Wallasey and Birkenhead towards the ferry boats, whilst the boat from Woodside at 7.30am was filled with people making their way to the hall. So began the first service of the Mission. This was followed by an afternoon service at 3.00pm, but this time the hall was filled to capacity with hundreds being unable to gain admission. The evening service was similarly packed well before the meeting was due to commence. This became the pattern for all future meetings that were to be held during the mission, with at times many thousands having to be turned away, who either stood outside, or were directed to overflow meetings held nearby, such as Newsome’s Circus, Byrom Hall, Hengler’s Circus, and St James’ Hall (formerly Teutonic Hall). Sometimes more that one hall had to be used.

A united team

There were a number of notable people associated with this mission, including Alexander Balfour, Samuel Smith MP, Robertson Gladstone (brother of the Prime Minister), a great number of the Liverpool clergy, and many distinguished evangelists, such as Hay Aitken, Brownlow North, T Shuldham Henry, Reginald Radcliffe, William Lockhart and John Hambleton, who took an active part in the mission, sometimes taking the overflow meetings. Reginald Radcliffe was particularly involved in this mission who had organised house-to-house visitation well before the mission, whereby every household was brought into touch with the gospel. His efforts so impressed Moody that he asked him to organise a similar visitation programme prior to the London campaign. A committee of five people was appointed for the huge task (including three military and naval officers) of which Radcliffe was the leader. One of the things that was frequently commented on during this mission was the wonderful spirit of unity that existed amongst all those involved and this was no doubt an important factor in what turned out to be a hugely successful campaign. One visitor to a prayer meeting from Manchester, for example, commented that the clergy and ministers were united in a way that theirs never attained to, during their mission. In coming daily to this prayer meeting, he said, you have the opportunity of seeking and obtaining the Spirit in great power. Wherever this spirit of Christian unity has spread, there has been a great revival.

Eagerness for prayer

Prayer was an important factor both before and during the mission. Every day prayer meetings were held in the Victoria Hall at midday, and several thousand people attended these meetings. One minister commented that he normally struggled to get his people to their prayer meetings but he was very pleased to see many of his members eagerly making their way to these midday prayer meetings in the hall. At one of the first meetings Moody asked the Christians present in the audience to join him in asking God’s blessing on those services. He then said that if they leaned upon man they would be disappointed; but if they looked to God and leaned upon Him and expected Him to do the work, they would not be disappointed. He never knew God to disappoint any one. All through the service, he said, let them continue to ask God’s blessing. At the Tuesday prayer meeting Moody gave a discourse on the power of prayer. He spoke of the wonderful magnitude of the universe and the wisdom displayed in its minutest details and showed that He who could do all that by a mere word of His power, was able to fulfil His own promises to them. He said that there was nothing too hard for God; there was no drunkard in Liverpool so far gone but that Christ could save him. If but a hundred Christians in Liverpool were to pray fervently with unwavering faith for a great blessing to descend upon it, the Spirit of God would come down with mighty power upon its population.

At one of the first evening services he made an appeal and a number of people stood up in response to the appeal in various parts of the hall. As they arose he thanked God that so many were rising, at the same time urging Christians to go on praying for them. Moody then asked those who were not Christians to sit down, and followed this up by asking those who were Christians to speak to those who had sat down and invite them to the inquiry room. As a result of this many people made their way into the inquiry room and were spoken to by both Moody and several of the local ministers and laymen. Prior to this Moody invited those Christians present who desired to see the Lord’s work go on to remain in the hall and gather around the platform and pray, and about 2000 persons responded to this. Incidentally the idea of the inquiry room was a relatively new one, having previously been adopted at the Edinburgh mission. The room allocated for inquirers could hold between 200-300 people, but as the mission went on this would prove to be inadequate for the many thousands of people who would respond during the mission. Sometimes hundreds of anxious inquirers, unable to access the inquiry room were addressed and conversed with in the large hall at the close of the evening service.

The first week of the mission was a huge success and everybody was pleased with the results. By the middle of the week the evening meetings were being filled an hour before the meeting was due to commence, and sometimes the meetings were started early because of this. There were many remarkable conversions with strong men sometimes weeping under heavy conviction of sin and finding Christ as their Saviour. One young man who made his way into the inquiry room on the first Monday night was actually spending the last night in his native country, as he was emigrating to America the next day. Mr Moody took this young man to his hotel and there wrote a couple of letters of introduction for him to Christian friends in America. Another young man had heard somebody speaking in the open air, which caused him to become anxious for his soul, and brought him into the meetings and finding the Lord as his Saviour. This testimony was sited as an encouragement to those who had been labouring in the highways and byways to rejoice in the thought that their work had not been lost, and that the mighty ingathering of sheaves in that hall was but the produce of bygone work. On Thursdays Mr Moody also commenced a series of Bible lectures at 3.00pm in the College Hall in Shaw Street, and around 2,000 persons attended these meetings.

The effect on the community

By the beginning of the third week the very conversation of Liverpool was turned upon Divine things. Men and women were anxious about their souls in numbers exceeding anything ever yet witnessed. Fathers, mothers, and sisters were meeting for prayer, and sending up united requests for their dear relatives, in anxiety that those dear to them should find Christ. Men, women, rich and poor, high and low, were pressing into the kingdom. Whole families were giving themselves to the Lord. One young lady who was converted subsequently saw the whole of her family won for Christ, totalling 15 persons. Those also who had been converted were carrying the gospel to others. It was stated by those who were acquainted with the city that there was a marked diminution in the attendance at the theatres and public houses. It was even observable that some booksellers in Liverpool had found the sale of Valentines had been much diminished by the revival movement and religious literature and hymnbooks seemed to be bought instead. One businessman made the comment that he came from the Liverpool Exchange, and he could say that there was a marvellous change of opinion touching the movement. On the ‘Flags’ there was a most favourable feeling expressed towards Messrs Moody and Sankey, and any young man daring to cast ridicule on those meetings was certain of a sharp reproof. One minister also commented that God’s people had been quickened, as they had never been before. Many who had not the courage previously, even to open their mouth for the Lord, now spoke boldly. There was, he said, a widespread and intense desire for the salvation of others. The effects of what God was doing in Liverpool was also spreading to other towns and places near to Liverpool. People stirred by the meetings in Liverpool returned home and commenced to stir up their fellow townsmen. Two such towns near to Liverpool commenced evangelistic services shortly afterwards. News of what God was doing also soon reached America and this was widely reported in the Christian press. One of the things that they were particularly impressed with was the action of the Liverpool businessmen in purchasing the temporary building for the mission, and they were looking forward to the return of Moody/Sankey for God to continue to work in a similar way there. One other remarkable event was a revival amongst the sailors. The chaplain to the Sailors’ Home in Liverpool said that during all his labours amongst sailors in Liverpool he had never seen such a movement amongst them as during this mission. Numbers of them had come to Christ, and he said that he was persuaded that there was such a work of awakening amongst the men as to send the work of the mission to all ends of the earth.

Remarkable results

The meetings continued for the rest of the mission in the same way. At midday there was the prayer meeting, then a Bible lecture in the afternoon, and the gospel service in the evening. Night after night there were hundreds of anxious ones in the hall, weeping over their past life, and then subsequently rejoicing in the Lord. Up to 400-500 persons remained each evening to be spoken to. No record was actually kept of the number of conversions during the mission but it was certainly many thousands of people. Space doesn’t permit to go into any further details of this mission, but I will conclude with some of the other highlights during the course of the visit.

  • One of the most interesting meetings of the mission was the children’s service. Some of the papers put down the number in Victoria Hall at 12,000 children, with an overflow meeting of about 2,000 in Hengler’s Circus. Mr Moody gave an address founded on a book with four leaves – black, red, white, and gold – with a sort of running interchange of simple yet searching questions and answers. Reponses were very promptly given. Mr Sankey’s singing was especially enjoyed by the young people, who joined in the choruses with great heartiness.
  • Mr Moody made an impressive appeal in Victoria Hall to merchants, employers and friends of young men, the meeting being in connection with a special appeal for funds on behalf of the YMCA. The audience was one seldom seen, even in Liverpool, with ministers from every Christian denomination, town councillors, millionaire shipowners, timber merchants, sugar merchants, tea merchants, corn merchants, shopkeepers etc. He was later requested by Alexander Balfour to place the memorial tablet of the new building for the YMCA in Mount Pleasant, which he did on 2nd March 1875. This tablet can be seen in the Dining Room of the YMCA.
  • On the Monday of the second week at 9.00am a breakfast party of ministers and laymen met, on the invitation of Mr Balfour in the large hall of he Adelphi Hotel, in order to confer with Mr Moody on the important work of evangelisation in Liverpool.
  • A convention was held in Victoria Hall on 3rd and 4th March during which a number of issues were discussed, i.e. 1) a report on the Lord’s work in the UK, 2) how are the masses to be reached? and 3) a question drawer (practical questions sent in writing to Mr Moody). The second item will be covered in the next chapter.

I would like to finish this section by quoting from the autobiography of Samuel Smith MP who was on the committee of those who invited Moody/Sankey to Liverpool.

"It has never been my lot to see so vast a crowd so deeply moved as those that filled the Victoria Hall, night after night for more that a month. I have often listened to the eloquence of Gladstone, and sometimes of Bright, but neither of these orators could hold 8,000 – 10,000 night after night spellbound as Mr Moody did. And strange to say he had no graces of eloquence, but an uncouth manner and an unmusical voice, and not a few Yankee mannerisms. The evident sincerity, the tremendous earnestness, and the wondrous knowledge of the human heart and of God’s remedy for sin made Mr Moody’s appeals irresistible."