AMONG the most remarkable scenes I have witnessed was one in East London during the visit of those beloved and honored men of God, Moody and Sankey, in the years 1883-84. The hall was located in the center of the dense working population, where men by the hundred thousands worked and lived in workshops and factories. One Monday evening had been reserved for an address to atheists, skeptics, and freethinkers.
At that time, Charles Bradlaugh, the champion of atheism, was at his zenith, and hearing of this meeting, he ordered all the clubs he had formed to go and take possession of the hall. They did so, and five thousand men marched in from all directions and occupied every seat. The platform was occupied by the clergy and the workers.
The service commenced earlier than usual. Mr. Moody asked the men to choose their favorite hymns, which suggestion raised many a laugh, for atheists have no song or hymn. The meeting got well under way. Mr. Moody spoke from "For their rock is not our Rock, even our enemies themselves being judges." (Deut. 32:31). He poured in a broadside of telling, touching incidents from his own experience at the deathbeds of Christians and atheists, and let the men be the judges as to who had the best foundation on which to rest faith and hope. Reluctant tears were wrung from many an eye. The great mass of men, with the darkest, most determined defiance of God stamped upon their countenances, faced this running fire, attaching them in the most vulnerable points, namely, their hearts and their homes. When the sermon was ended, one felt inclined to think nothing had been accomplished, for it had not appealed to their intellects or reasoning faculties, had convinced them of nothing.
At the close, Mr. Moody said, "We will rise and sing, 'Only Trust Him'. And while we do, will the ushers open all the doors, so that any man who wants to leave can do so; and after that we will have the usual inquiry meeting for those who desire to be led to the Saviour." I thought, all will stampede, and we shall have an empty hall. But instead, the great mass of five thousand men rose, sang, and sat down again, not one man vacating his seat.
What next? Mr. Moody then said, "I will explain four words--receive, believe, trust, take HIM." Broad grins appeared on the sea of faces. After a few words upon 'Receive,' he made the appeal, "Who will receive Him? Just say, 'I will'." From the men standing around the edge of the hall came some fifty responses, but not one from the mass seated before him. One man growled, "I can't," to which Mr. Moody replied, "You have spoken the truth, my man; glad you spoke. Listen, and you will be able to say, 'I can,' before we are through." Then he explained the word Believe, and made his second appeal, "Who will say 'I will believe Him'?" Again some responded from the fringe of the crowd, till one big fellow, a leading club- man, shouted, "I won't." Dear Mr. Moody, overcome with tenderness and compassion, burst into broken, tearful words, half sobs, "It is 'I will,' or 'I won't,' for every man in this hall tonight."
Then he suddenly turned the whole attention of the meeting to the story of the Prodigal Son, saying: "The battle is on the will, and only there. When the young man said, 'I will arise,' the battle was won, for he had yielded his will; and on that point all hangs tonight. Men, you have your champion there in the middle of the hall, the man who said, 'I won't.' I want every man here who believes that man is right to follow him, and to rise and say, 'I won't'." There was perfect silence; all held their breath, and as no man rose, Moody burst out, "Thank God, no man says 'I won't.' Now, who'll say 'I will'?"
In an instant the Holy Spirit seemed to have broken loose upon that great crowd of enemies of Jesus Christ, and five hundred men sprang to their feet, their faces wet with tears, shouting, "I will, I will," till the whole atmosphere was changed, and the battle was won. Quickly the meeting was closed so that personal work might begin, and from that night till the end of the week nearly two thousand men were drawn from the ranks of the foe into the army of the Lord, by the surrender of the will. They heard Christ say, 'Rise and walk,' and they followed Him. The permanency of that work was well attested for years afterward, and the clubs never recovered their footing. God did away with them in His mercy and might by the Gospel.