Chapter Seven





Bill read this strange sign in front of the circus tent on Chicago's lake front. The Colombian Exposition was in progress and Dwight L. Moody was getting a good share of the strangers who poured into the city, holding revival meetings in Haymarket Theater, five tents at strategic points in the city: and religious meetings in Tattersall's Hall.

William read the sign and said to himself: "That's the man those young people I met on the train told me to be sure to see."

Several young men were putting up thousands of seats that would be needed for the morning meeting.

"Can I give you a hand," he offered them.

"You certainly can," one replied, scanning him from top to bottom, trying to decide if he was friend or stranger or maybe circus worker.

One of the performers passed by. Seeing the two men working together with enthusiasm, he asked, "Expect to get three thousand?"

But it was more of a jeer.

"Yes," one of the religious workers replied with a voice unmistakably confident. "And more. We expect to pack this tent."

"Well I'll tell you now, you'll never do it."

Bill's eyes grew large as he scanned the big tent.

Eighteen thousand people were already seated. The circus usually played to ten thousand.

A song choir circled around the rude platform. An invisible sense of awe fell upon the multitude as the choir sang out: "Nearer My God to Thee."

They went from hymn, to song, to psalm - one voice in melodic praise.

William sang along with the multitude, feeling a kinship with everyone. They came from every corner of the continent, even from every portion of the globe.

Then a short, rotund gentleman, with a round, full face and a jungle beard somewhat greyed, stood calm before the many people. A hush fell upon the tent and Bill knew it had to be Mr. Moody. He had expected to see a larger man. Dwight L. Moody, the most famous preacher of that time, perhaps of all time, proved with the impact of his first words he had an unmistakable power. What was this power? Bill noticed he held an open Bible, as he rapidly turned the pages. There was no doubt in the audience's mind that the Book was the "Word of God."

Moody chose the text: "The Son of Man is come to save that which was lost."

And before he had proceeded deep into the sermon, Bill felt he was talking to him alone. As he worked into his sermon, his strong but not loud voice became more intense with each passing word. It was not a rich, not a well-modulated voice, however, it had the carrying power to reach twenty thousand hearers without an amplifier. Never loud, it did not lose that intimate, everyday quality of talking that so characterized the noted preacher's delivery.

"He is sincere," Bill decided. "A sincere man, for certain, and a man of the Book. No mistake about that."

Towards the close of the sermon a slight disturbance was met when a child was passed up to Mr. Moody's platform. Mr. Moody held the little girl up so her parents might recognize her. Her father walked down to receive his daughter as this humble minister simply commented: "That's what Jesus Christ came to do: to seek and save lost sinners and restore them to their Heavenly Father's embrace."

"That's what happened to me," Bill muttered to himself. He knew he must have a word with this plain little man who had such compassion for humanity that he had sought to mobilize the big city into a many-ringed church service as well as to direct activities of the Young Men's Christian Association, and to conduct Sunday Schools all over the crowded metropolis for poor boys and girls - black and white, Christian and Jew, Catholic and Protestant.

When the service ended, Bill joined the ever-moving stream down to the crude platform. "Here is one man who cares about the poor. There was another, Mr. Clayton," Bill reminded himself as he watched the black-suited, corpulent little man shake their hands, one by one. Bill saw them walk away with tear-wet eyes, and when all had gone he knew his opportunity had come. "I'm on my way to Georgetown University," he declared quickly. "I want to prepare myself for the ministry. I'm a horse trainer. I came here with a load of horses. When they are sold, I'll be leaving. So will you be kind enough to answer a few questions for me?"

Quiet, blue-grey eyes seemed to reply "Go ahead." He must have caught the intent expression that spoke of this young man's avowed purpose, his lack of self-interest, his enthusiasm to do God's work, and he was filled with a zeal to enlist the young horse trainer into immediate service.

"Come over here; sit down and talk with me," the quiet religious leader invited.

The two talked for some time during which Mr. Moody asked Bill many questions. Finally, the apparent lack of education was discussed. Moody himself was unlettered and thus paid more attention to its importance than a scholar would have.

"Do you think that will bar me?" Bill asked.

"Perhaps," the older man said. "But you have this ability to handle wild horses, you say. Could it be God had given you this talent to interest men who might otherwise never be reached?"

"It could be, sir," Bill agreed.

"What do you want to be, a great preacher? Or a great teacher? Or a priest, as you say, or just work for God?"

"God has changed my life, I want to help others be changed in the same way. That's all."

"Fine. I don't hold to any secularism," Moody assured him. "It gives me pain to separate myself from the unfortunate multitude of unbelievers. Perhaps you might serve God better if you ministered to the unchurched."

Bill knew what he meant. He had not felt at home in a church since he attended the Catholic chapel in his boyhood.

"If you have no ambition for greatness, if you only want to do the Will of God, and further His Kingdom, I suggest you get all the understanding of the Bible you can. You can reach them in this one way as in no other way. But if the doors of our schools are closed for you, then get an education by yourself."

Bill looked at the tent menagerie, at the trapeze, the gaudy decorations. He knew God called him to that particular arena which drew men together to watch vicious animals perform. He knew from that moment o his pulpit would have to be of leather.

"I must honestly tell you, I'm afraid you'll run into some difficulty getting the kind of schooling you want," Moody warned. "You might try to get into the Chicago Bible institute here. But don't be discouraged if you are not admitted right away."

"I will look into it, Sir. That I will."

"Where do you go to church? Where is your home?"

"I do not go to church, Sir. I have been working on the ranches of California, and at the race track, too. I'm seldom near a church, but I've been studying the Bible all I could and I have attended a mission in San Josť and in San Francisco once in a while - a Crittenden Mission. I hold my religion is the love of God, Sir."

Moody smiled. "You might get acquainted with the Church of the Stranger when you're in San Francisco. Reverend W. W. Case does some fine work. I think you would feel at home there."

"The Church of the Stranger? It's on Howard Street. I lived close to it for some time. I'll get acquainted with Reverend Case."

Next morning Bill talked with the administrators of the Bible Institute. He also visited with his new-found train companions but he did not come to any decision of what he wanted to do nor did he make any formal application to enter the school. He wanted to study the matter thoroughly and go on to Georgetown University and make an inquiry there to become a Catholic priest. There always had to be in every respectable Irish family a priest, you know.

When his horses were all sold, he took the money he had coming to him so he could return to San Francisco.

"I have had a great education with the horse," he reasoned, "and I'm not discouraged. God gave me that knowledge, and for a purpose. I will use it in the same way Snaky uses his voice in singing for Moody."

Go to Chapter Eight

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