Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Sankey in Scotland, 1873


'... There is a fascinating power in the singing of a hymn which can do God's work in a soul when every other instrumentality has failed. There was not always so much freedom in this respect in the days of our grandfathers. The opposition to hymn singing was widespread throughout Scotland, and Sankey tells how, when he commenced singing a solo in the Free Assembly Hall, Edinburgh, during the great mission there in 1873, a woman's shrill voice was heard in the gallery, as she made her way toward the door, crying: "Let me oot! Let me oot! What would John Knox say to the like o' yon?"

In his delightfully written life story, where he relates his varied experience during his first campaign amongst the good Scottish folks, Sankey does not hide the fact that he was not a little perturbed regarding the question of solo singing, as its propriety and usefulness was not yet fully understood or admitted.

As he took his seat at the instrument at one of the first meetings held in Edinburgh, Sankey discovered to his surprise that Dr. Horatius Bonar was seated close by the organ, right in front of the pulpit. "Of all men in Scotland," says Sankey, "he was the one man concerning whose decision I was most solicitous. He was, indeed, my ideal hymn-writer, the prince among hymnists of his day and generation. And yet he would not sing one of his own beautiful hymns in his own congregation, such as "I heard the voice of Jesus Say" or "I was a wandering sheep", because he ministered to a church that believed in the singing of Psalms only. With fear and trembling, therefore, I announced as a solo the hymn "Free from the law, O happy condition".

No prayer having been offered for this part of the service, and fearful lest the singing might prove only an entertainment, instead of spiritual blessing, Sankey requested that the whole congregation should join him in a word of prayer asking God's blessing on the truth about to be sung. It was a time of tense solemnity, but the anxiety of the moment was relieved, and believing and rejoicing in the glorious truth contained in the hymn, he sang it through to the end, amid a reverent silence never before experienced.

At the close of Mr. Moody's address, Dr. Bonar turned toward the American singer with a smile on his venerable face, and reaching out his hand, he said : " Well, Mr. Sankey, you sang the Gospel to-night." Thus the way was wonderfully opened up for the mission of sacred song in Scotland, a particular sphere of ministry in which so much has been accomplished since that memorable hour ...'

- from The Romance of Sacred Song by David J Beattie

You can read about the Moody & Sankey campaign in Britain in this 1875 book