It is the 13th of August 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I’m Dan van Voorhis.
The other day we heard the story of Lowell Mason and considered the role of music in this history of the church. Today we are looking at the life and career of Ira Sankey- who is perhaps only second to Mason on the list of influential American church musicians.
And in the spirit of these closely related shows, I want to teach you a Latin phrase with which you can impress your friends and confound your enemies. It is “Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi”- this is literally “the law of prayer is the law of belief”- it is understood in church history more broadly as “the rule of worship is the rule of belief”. Or, perhaps the easiest way to remember this idea is “the way you worship effects what you believe”.
Now- with a bookmark there, I want you to consider the greatest duos in the history of the church: Priscilla and Aquilla, Clovis and Clotilda, Abelard and Heloise, Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, etc… other partners in ministry can be seen in Luther and Melanchthon as well as Calvin and Beza.
In American church history- and especially the history of American evangelical revival- the Batman and Robin are Dwight Moody and Ira Sankey. Moody has a college named after him and was the most famous American Evangelist prior to Billy Graham- but who was Sankey?
Sankey is the man who wrote and arranged the music for Moody’s services and by the time he died, on this, the 13th of August in 1908 his obituary in the NY Times said he had sold over 50 million copies
Sankey met Moody at a YMCA meeting in Indianapolis in 1870. The former Civil War volunteer and the tax collector wasn’t sure if he could keep up with the famous evangelist's schedule. But Sankey agreed and the two traveled across the US and in the UK until Moody’s death in 1899.
Sankey had no formal training- except a 12-week conference that was taught by among others, Lowell Mason. Mason, famous for his importation of European tunes and sophistication, seems to have left little influence on Sankey. Sankey’s music was simple and suited for easy congregational singing. These “Gospel Songs” would also be called “human hymns” as Sankey and other’s believed old hymnody lacked the emotional punch of these “Gospel Songs”.
Sankey would play his portable organ softly and sing with inflection on the important words. Moody is said to have said something along the lines of “I preach the Gospel and Mr. Sankey sings the Gospel”.
Off his more than 1000 compositions, settings, and arrangements among his most popular are: The Ninety and the Nine, The Lilly of the Valley, There is a Fountain Filled with Blood
On his death bed it is said his last words were from a gospel song- he spoke:
Someday this silver chord will break
And I no more, as now will sing;
But, Oh the Joy! When I awake
Within the palace of the king.
One half of the duo that changed American evangelical worship and belief, Ira D. Sankey died on the 13th of August in 1908. He was 67 years old.
The last word for today comes from 1st Corinthians:
19 For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 13th of August 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man whose favorite duo in church history is Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. He is Christopher Gillespie .
The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis whose favorite church duo is: Dr Gene and Melissa Scott. Hands down.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.