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When World-Famed Divines Visited Dayton

This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News, July 29, 1934


When World-Famed Divines Visited Dayton

By Howard Burba


            Old-time religion, insofar as its effect on the soul is concerned, may not have changed with the ages. But that there has been a decided change in the methods of expounding the gospel on which it is founded, none will dispute.

            Back in the hill country of the south the old-fashioned “camp meeting” still has a treasured place in the hearts of those who have always preferred to mingle physical thrills with their religion. In the log cabin churches of the cotton plantations of Georgia and Arkansas the tall, gaunt pastor holds firmly to his nasal twang as he “lines” hymns which brought solace to the hearts of his forefathers, dead these hundred years and more. It is in truth, only in the churches of the larger centers of population one finds changed methods in religious rites and ceremonies. The latter-day craving for “something new” has not left religious modes unscathed.

            In these changes the Miami valley has had a part. It has been quite a while since the city of Dayton was the scene of an old-fashioned religious revival. Those who delight in recalling such events seem agreed that the spectacular in religious services began to wane shortly after the appearance of the Rev. “Billy” Sunday, whose “tabernacle” was set on the present site of Riverview park in the year 1922. In fact, the revival form of religion lost much of the theatrical with the gradual waning of Rev. Sunday’s power to attract. His small army of imitators, chief among whom might be mentioned “Gypsy” Smith and “Sister” Amy Semple McPherson, also lost much of their luster along about the same time Mr. Sunday ceased to be the world’s greatest drawing card.

            But old-timers, and among them many who still deplore the passing of the old-fashioned revival, recall occasions when divines of world-wide reputation conducted religious campaigns in Dayton which shook the old Miami Valley from stem to stern. The fervor with which they were received, the high pitch to which they worked the entire community, the tremendous interest which marked their every moment on the platform are matters of religious history never to be lost sight of. And it is of the two most famous of these old-time revivalists I want to write.

            Up to the year 1883 there had been, of course, scores of religious revivals in this part of the country. But it was not until that year that the Miami Valley had an opportunity to meet, shake hands with and listen to one of the two greatest and most powerful preachers of that or any other time – the Rev. Henry Ward Beecher.

            Beecher’s name was a household word long before a committee of Dayton churchmen invited him to speak here. Hundreds of thousands had sat beneath the sound of his voice in the great cities of the east. West of the Alleghenies other thousands had to be content with reading his sermons, then a leading feature of hundreds of Midwest newspapers. The fame won by the justly celebrated Mr. Sunday was no more familiar, than that of Henry Ward Beecher. And while they found their inspiration in the same book, and knelt and prayed to the same God, their methods of delivering divine messages were as widely separated as the earth and sky.

            It was on invitation of the little committee of Dayton citizens that Rev. Henry Ward Beecher consented to speak in Dayton, and with the understanding that his appearance here was to be of too brief duration to permit of a genuine religious revival. In fact, he came under the auspices of a sort of “chautauqua course,” and the guest of a cultured literary organization then active in bringing noted platform speakers and musical artists to the city. Rev. Beecher, in the parlance of the theatrical world, only appeared in a “one-night stand” in Dayton.

            The eminent divine came as a lecturer, but his audience consisted largely of those most interested in him as an exponent of the gospel. That he did not preach in the sense the he selected a scriptural text, is indicated by reference to his appearance found in an old file of a local newspaper. Under date of Wednesday, Feb. 14, 1883, we learn that Rev. Beecher had for his subject “The Use and Beauty of Luxury,” and it was defined by the reporter as “a discussion of money and its making.”

            That the reader may more fully appreciate the event, and it was indeed an event in the life of the community at the time, we quote from the files in detail:

            “Rev. Henry Ward Beecher lectured at Music Hall last night, taking for his topic the “Use and Beauty of Luxury.” One of the largest audiences that has been in the hall this season passed through the doors last night. The great preacher came on the platform at 8 o’clock and seating himself, surveyed the audience for about five minutes before beginning to speak. He is somewhat corpulent, and his face has the ruddy color of health, which his agent, Mr. J. B. Pond, says he now has. He speaks slowly with great attention to articulation and emphasis. His delivery is easy, natural, and shows that while his thoughts have been consummated in advance, there has been no preparation. At times he paused for a moment gazing at the floor, thinking his way out of an assertion, and then proceeding with his inherent grace and the additional impressiveness that his age and gray hair conveyed.

            “Mr. Beecher began his lecture by saying that every nation had its peculiarities. Citing the American race, he said it is yet under the influence of the old Puritan example, solid, frugal, practiced; on the whole a very good people, very thrifty for this world, and very earnest for the next. Yet men have a double consciousness that riches and righteousness do not mix well, and that poverty and piety do. Therefore we hear ministers pointing out the danger of riches. ‘But I have never heard one calling attention to the danger of poverty,’ he said. ‘In this life, things are dangerous in proportion to their power. If riches have great power, the reflex is great temptation. The overt feeling of the people is in favor of riches. It is needed in churches. Generally it may be said, I think, that riches does away with the fear of it. But while the open purpose of life is to attain wealth, in the hours of musing there is a feeling that it is a dangerous influence. This is a trademark of the old Puritans, and it is distinctive in the people of America, notwithstanding the population is made up from Europe, Asia and Africa.’

            “Beginning with the assertion that the Puritans were creature of the Reformation. Mr. Beecher detailed the classes of men that are valuable to life, paying tribute to that band known as skilled laborers. There is another class of laborers, often called common folk or rabble, especially just before elections. They produce just about as much as they consume, and pass through life apart from any semblance of respectability.

            “ ‘Then there is the largest class, who eat more than they produce. They are simply born, eat and die, which is the best thing they do. Mr. Darwin has shown that even an angle worm had its use to plow ground, but the most depressing aspect of a community is the individuals who die without having done anything. The question is what is the measure of a man for benefit to the commonwealth? When the Reformation came about it set a new measure of man’s value. It made man worth what he is to himself, to immortality, to God. And the Father has said that every man’s life has a value, and that he forfeits life if he disobeys His laws. What a man is iswhat he is to be, notw hat he is now. His value cannot be told until futurity. The lowest man has the shield of God’s love over him. The real value that attaches to him is the value of the love that God has for him. That is enough to make the most infinitesimal thing valuable. Every single one of us shall give account of himself to God. Now, this idea was the unfolding of the Reformation. The Puritans drank deep of the idea that every man has within him that which is capable of self-development. They took hold of the common people and emancipated them from their superstitions and amusements. When the Puritan came to New England he brought his limitations and his enlargements. He despised beauty and art as wasteful, and built his house plain, but it was a temple of solid granite. As the monument of Christopher Wren says, ‘Would you know what the Puritans have done? Look about you, at the state , at the country, at the man,’ It was the indomitable spirit of the Puritan that built this country as upon solid rock, that carried it through a revolution, and that will last for centuries. You will never throw off that severe idea of religion that your parents had. You can never get over their stern belief in the injunction that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven.’

            “ ‘What is poverty? It is where a man has to put to every thought, using every capability to sustain life and can lay nothing aside. That I call poverty, mere animalism. So soon as man has implements enough to enlarge his wealth by his productive industry, he recedes farther from the bonds of animalism. When he has accumulated enough to keep him independently and without personal supervision of the business, he has all that he needs. I claim that all young men should be independent by the time they are 40. If they do not, they are criminal and self-indulgent. But, young man, you cannot make yourself free of animalism if you wear broadcloth and smoke 25-cent cigars. You must wear course clothes; you must make the animal work for you.

            “ ‘When men have grown in their means of prosperity and enjoyment what uses can they be allowed to put their abundance to? Money itself is as dead as Ceasar; like powder, it has no effect unless it goes off. There is just as much evil in a lack of knowledge of how to spend as in inability to make or keep it. Man should spend money, has a perfect right to spend it on himself, but not in the self-indulgence, in pampering the animal within him. A man has a right to use his riches in three ways: On himself, on his family, and on the public. I am not democratic because I dress plainly but I have a right to clothe myself well, and make myself comfortable. I do not believe in the backbone theory. I do not wish to demean charity, but I have no sympathy for those who strip themselves and give away everything they have. Society grew in two directions, horizontally and perpendicularly, over and above the earth. The true leaven was that which lifted men, for the man who went up drew others after him. A man who had means, honestly earned, should have a nice house. A man should have a yard around his house, as much like the Garden of Eden as possible. A beautiful ground belongs to everyone who passes, and the man who built it has enriched his community incalculably.’

            “Rev. Beecher then protested against the use of wealth to build a golden fence between the rich and the poor. It is an abomination before God. The day is coming when the public will have to meet the question of a superabundance of combined wealth. He had no objection to a combination of wealth, but when two or three giant corporations have the power of taxing the industry of the country, as at present, the people inquire how long such a state of affairs shall last.

            “As to the luxury of riches, the speaker said he repudiated those that simply favored the stomach, but those which fed the higher instincts were most desirable. He believed in good dress and good living. Some people objected to the luxury of going to Paris for a gown made by Worth. He did not, but he wouldsday frankly he did not like the dresses made by Worth. He had never seen one yet that was not about six inches too short at the top and three feet too long at the bottom. It was an old Puritan idea that dresses were made to cover nakedness and not to display it. However he had no idea that anything he might say would have any effect as only a divine miracle would ever change a woman’s idea about fashion.

            “After speaking briefly of the self-denial which he had always endeavored to preach in his sermons, and which was necessary to become a Christian, Mr. Beecher closed his lecture and sat down amid vociferous applause.”





Six years after Henry Ward Beecher’s appearance in Dayton the city enjoyed that for which it had long felt itself in need – a rousing religious revival. This time plans were laid for bringing to town the greatest religious divine of his day, and one still believed by many to have been the most notable minister of the gospel America has ever known – the Rev. Dwight L. Moody.

            The coming of Moody had been broadcast frr and wide. For weeks before the day set for the opening of the revival, plans for accommodating the enormous crowds that were sure to be in attendance were carefully made. Newspapers joined with the Protestant pastors of the city in heralding the coming of the famous pulpit orator, and all else was lost sight of in the approaching revival.

            Referring to the files of the Dayton Democrat we learn that the Moody meetings opened on the evening of Wednesday, Nov 13. 1889. The Democrat announced his arrival and opening meeting in these words:

            “The first of a week’s series of meetings was held last night at the skating rink. Mr. Dwight L. Moody arrived late in the afternoon and was escorted to the Phillips House where he occupies Parlor No. 181. This is Mr. moody’s first visit to Dayton.

            “He comes from Indiana and Illinois with the inspiration of wonderful meetings there. The meeting of last night insures like results in Dayton. Long before the time for meeting a crowd of people patiently waited for the opening of the doors. By 7 o’clock the entire seating capacity of the rink was exhausted. Fully 500 people stood in the aisles. And still the people came. Hundreds could only get to the outer door, to be told of the impossibility of entering, and were compelled to go away disappointed.

            “One thing is evident. If the citizens of Dayton hope to hear Mr. Moody they must make special efforts to attend the morning and afternoon services. Thousands heard him last night and thousands more were turned away.

            “Upon the platform were the ministers of Dayton and of neighboring cities and towns. A choir of voices were directed by James A. Martin. After a song service of one-half hour Mr. Moody addressed the vast audience on the subject: “Essentials to Success in Christian Work.’

            “The evangelist is a large, well-proportioned man, with sharp, keen eyes, and a thrilling, sympathetic voice. An adequate analysis of his power is impossible. His evident faith in God’s word, his absolute dependence upon the Holy Spirit, his masterly and ready command of Bible incident and teachings, his wide observation and extended personal experience in the old world and in America, his inexhaustible fund of anecdotes and illustrations, his simplicity of statement combined with a heart full of sympathy for me and consecration to the saving of souls are some of the elements that mark Mr. Moody as the first and foremost evangelist of the entire world.”

            On the day following the name of Moody was on the lips of thousands in the Miami valley. He preached on the second day at the First Presbyterian church to an audience, we are told, which completely filled the vast auditorium long before the hour set for the meeting. The pastor of the First Presbyterian church, who had been deeply interested in the coming of Rev. Moody, and who had conducted the correspondence between the Ministerial association and the noted divine, had been killed in a railroad wreck in New York state but a short time before. His name was Dr. D. Veuve, and he was among the best loved of all Dayton ministers.

            “After a song service conducted by G. N. Bierce,” said the Democrat in reporting the meeting, “and prayers by Revs. Dennis and Macafees, Mr. Moody gave a Bible lecture on ‘Prayer.” It was more than an hour long, and commanded the close attention of all.

            “Two thousand people listened to him at the Rink yesterday afternoon. Delegations were present from Springfield, Troy, Piqua, Xenia and other cities. The faculty and students of the United Presbyterian Seminary of Xenia were present in a body. The choir was led by Rev. McCauley and prayers were offered by Revs. Icenbarger, Bookwalter and Baker. Again last night the Rink was filled to overflowing. Hundreds wended their way to the place of meeting long before the service began. Following the night service a 25-minute prayer meeting was held. The spirit and interest in all these services foretell glorious results in those to come.”

            Each day offered a like scene, except that larger numbers sought admittance to the various churches and halls in which he was scheduled to appear. “Growing interest is manifested in all lines of Christian work,” the old newspaper file informs us, “and no greater audience ever greeted a speaker in Dayton than that of last night at the Rink. People were present from a radius of 40 miles of Dayton, and again several thousand had to be turned away.”

            Then came Sunday, the banner day of all. A crowded schedule had been arranged for the divine, but he carried it out to the letter. Early Sunday morning he appeared at the Soldiers’ Home preaching to the entire soldier body of the institution. At 11 a.m. he arrived at the First Presbyterian church to find the vast auditorium filled and hundreds grouped about the door, unable to gain admission yet hopeful of at least getting a glimpse of the famous preacher as he entered the edifice. It was stipulated in advance that only those who had been unable to hear Mr. Moody in his previous sermons should be admitted at this Sunday morning service, so members of the churches were barred from this session.

            At 3 o’clock in the afternoon he spoke to women only, and at 7 p.m. he delivered a short sermon to men. Both times he had overflow audiences, so local divines preached to those unable to gain admission in services especially arranged at the Grand opera house. In one edition of the Democrat during the great revival campaign a reporter wrote:

            “The afternoon meeting yesterday was the largest daylight meeting held during the week, and the largest daytime religious gathering Dayton has ever seen. The speaker occupied an elected platform and could be seen and head from all parts of the Rink. He preached upon ‘Grace’ and it was a grand sermon and an inspiring service. The audience was wonderfully moved. It was regarded as one of his best sermons so far and clearly showed this great preacher at his best. He loved his theme and the inspiration of his affection was imparted to all present.  People lingered after the close of the service, feeling it was good to be there. These sermons must tell upon the churches in quickening the energy of pastors and members and in the extension of activities and agencies.

            “In the evening the Rink was once again crowded to capacity. He spoke on God’s ability to use the foolish things for His glary. He cited Moses and his rod in the emancipation of Israel; Samson and his victory over the Philistines; Gideon and the pitchers of fire and the fall of Jericho; the good office of Dorcas; Mary’s anointing of Christ; the immortality won by fidelity to duty and the use of small things that His glory may be the more manifest.

            “He drew a beautiful word picture of the sealed book and the sorrow-smitten John; the appearance of the worthy one, who was a slain lamb. When God wanted a lion’s power He took a slain lamb and that had more than a lion’s strength. His sermon was a series of word pictures that held his audience breathless. Every sermon seems to grow more powerful than the one which went before.”

            A half-century has passed since the first of these two great divines visited Dayton. Since then there have been many revivals of note at which well-known religious leaders have officiated. But not since the spectacular campaign conducted by the Rev. “Billy” Sunday has there been one of the ‘old-fashioned, soul-stirring” kind, the kind our fathers and mothers knew back in a day when faith may not have been stronger than it is now but when stronger means were deemed necessary to impress its power on the multitudes.