Essay / Misc.

The Changeless Gospel of R. A. Torrey

Torrey 20s
R. A. Torrey (1856 – 1928) travelled the world preaching the gospel. In a series of startlingly successful preaching tours around 1902 – 1906, his preaching sparked revivals and drew crowds on multiple continents. Throughout these tours and for the rest of his ministry, he delighted in pointing out that the message he preached was changeless. He had been an international superstar in his forties — The Heir Apparent To Dwight Moody, the Billy Graham of His Day – – and even as his reputation faded and he devoted himself more and more to unspectacular tasks of institution-building, he was convinced that the message of salvation remains the same. Here is the theme stated in the introduction to 1922’s The Gospel for Today: New Evangelistic Sermons for a New Day (NY: Revell, 1922):

The Gospel presented in these sermons is the same Gospel of a crucified Christ, a Saviour from the guilt of sin, and a risen Christ, a Saviour from the present power of sin, that we have been preaching throughout our entire ministry as pastor, and as evangelist in all parts of the world.

and

The Real Gospel, when preached in the power of the Holy Spirit, produces the same effects in individual lives to-day, and in the transformation of families and communities, that it has produced throughout all the centuries since our Lord Jesus Christ died on the Cross of Calvary and rose again and ascended to the right hand of the Father and poured out His Holy Spirit upon His people. Practical results prove that that Gospel does not even need to be restated, though of course it is desirable to adapt the illustrations and method of argument to the thinking of our own day.

And in that same volume, in the chapter entitled “The Great Attraction: The Uplifted Christ,” the Torrey of the 1920s, after the crowds have dwindled, can’t help reliving a little bit of his glory days. But he plays this popularity card to refute the modern claim that you have to show movies and do tricks to keep your church popular. He uses his “big revival meeting” stories to underline the sufficiency of the message of Christ for keeping the churches full:

Nineteen centuries of Christian history prove the drawing power of Jesus when He is properly presented to men. I have seen some wonderful verification of the assertion of our text as to the marvelous drawing power of the uplifted Christ.

In London, for two continuous months, six afternoons and evenings each week, I saw the great Royal Albert Hall filled and even jammed, and sometimes as many turned away as got in, though it would seat 10,000 people by actual count and stand 2,000 more in the dome. tor alex royalbert fullOn the opening night of these meetings a leading reporter of the city of London came to me before the service began and said, “You have taken this building for two consecutive months?” “Yes.” “And you expect to fill it every day?” “Yes.” “Why,” he said, “no one has ever attempted to hold two weeks’ consecutive meetings here of any kind. Gladstone himself could not fill it for two weeks. And you really expect to fill it for two months?” I replied, “Come and see.” He came and he saw.

On the last night, when the place was jammed to its utmost capacity and thousands outside clamored for admission, he came to me again and I said, “Has it been filled?” He smiled and said, “It has.” But what filled it? No show on earth could have filled it once a day for many consecutive days. The preacher was no remarkable orator. He had no gift of wit and humor, and would not have exercised it if he had. The newspapers constantly called attention to the fact that he was no orator, but the crowds came and came and came. On both rainy days, and fine days they crowded in or stood outside, oftentimes in a downpour of rain, in the vain hope of getting in. WHAT DREW THEM? The uplifted Christ preached and sung in the power of the Holy Spirit, given in answer to the daily prayers of 40,000 people scattered throughout the earth.

In Liverpool, the Tournament Hall, that was said to seat 20,000 people, and that by actual count seated 12,500 comfortably, located in a very out-of-the-way part of the city, several blocks from the nearest street-car line, and perhaps half a, mile from all the regular street-car lines, was filled night after night for three months, and on the last night they crowded 15,000 people into the building at seven o’clock, and then emptied it, and crowded another 15,000 in who had been patiently waiting outside; 30,000 people drawn in a single night! By what? By whom? Not by the preacher, not by the singer, but by Him who had said nearly nineteen hundred years before, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto myself.”

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