The Dick B. Channel on YouTube
The History of Alcoholics Anonymous and the Christian Recovery Movement
The Great Evangelists of Dr. Bob’s Time as a Youth
This is the thirteenth presentation on the Dick B. Channel on YouTube. The general subject is Dr. Bob’s Christian upbringing as a youngster in Vermont. Here I present the first of two articles that show the impact on Dr. Bob’s youth of several of the great Christian evangelists—Allen Folger of New Hampshire, and Dwight L. Moody, and Ira D. Sankey. The second article on the evangelists will deal with the great evangelists F.B. Meyer and Billy Sunday. This present video briefly discusses the evangelists, what Dr. Bob said that makes their roles important, and what the first three—Allen Folger, Dwight L. Moody, and Ira D. Sankey—actually did that relates to the Christian upbringing of Dr. Bob.
The Great Evangelists of Dr. Bob’s Time as a Youth
Dr. Bob said:
“From childhood through high school, I was more or less forced to go to church, Sunday school and evening service, Monday night Christian Endeavor, and sometimes on Wednesday-evening prayer meeting,” . . . [DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers, 12]
I had refreshed my memory of the Good Book, and I had had excellent training in that as a youngster. [The Co-Founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, 11-12]
Dr. Bob's son, “Smitty,” said about Dr. Bob:
“He read the Bible from cover to cover three times and could quote favorite passages verbatim.” [DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers, 310.]
Dr. Bob also said:
But we were convinced that the answer to our problems was in the Good Book. To some of us older ones, the parts that we found absolutely essential were the Sermon on the Mount, the thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians, and the Book of James. [The Co-Founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, 13]
It wasn't until 1938 that the teachings and efforts and studies that had been going on were crystallized in the form of the Twelve Steps. . . . We already had the basic ideas, though not in terse and tangible form. We got them, as I said, as a result of our study of the Good Book. [The Co-Founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, 14]
Highlights of Dr. Bob’s Christian Upbringing in St. Johnsbury, Vermont
The “Great Awakening” of 1875 in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, was catalyzed by YMCA lay brethren and evangelists. Many hundreds converted to God through Jesus Christ. And in St. Johnsbury, there was a renaissance of church building, and new devotion to Bible, prayer, and church.
Bob’s parents—Judge Walter Perrin Smith and Mrs. Susan Holbrook Smith—were strong Congregationalists, were married in the “Great Awakening” aftermath, and joined North Congregational Church in St. Johnsbury. They there were Sunday school teachers, Sunday school superintendents, and very active in the church’s leadership.
Colonel Franklin Fairbanks, a leading St. Johnsbury religious personage and long-time worker with North Congregational Church Sunday school, made it clear that the Sunday school really stressed salvation and the Word of God.
Church records show the entire Smith family (Judge Smith, his wife Susan, Susan’s mother, Dr. Bob, and his foster sister Amanda Carolyn Northrop) all fully participated in the North Congregational Church of St. Johnsbury.
Church records also show these family members often attended five times a week; and, for some, in addition to attendance at church leadership functions.
And then there was the YMCA factor: The YMCA building was just a short distance from the Smith family church. Judge Smith became president of the St. Johnsbury YMCA in 1895 while Dr. Bob was attending St. Johnsbury Academy. And the YMCA was very active both in the church’s functions and at St. Johnsbury Academy where Dr. Bob matriculated.
And there was also the St. Johnsbury Academy factor where the officers and leaders were Congregationalists to the core; where daily chapel, weekly church attendance, and weekly Bible study were required; where students learned from a Christian curriculum; where both Dr. Bob’s parents were active in teaching, examinations, alumni activities, and reporting the Academy’s history; and where Dr. Bob earned a title bestowed on him by fellow students—“Reverend.” The following appears in the book by Richard Beck, A Proud Tradition A Bright Future: A Sesquicentennial History of St. Johnsbury Academy (1976, p. 49):
Smith’s unusually frequent church attendance also drew the attention of his Academy classmates. His Class of 1898 Class Day program, containing the Class Prophecy, predicted that “after leaving college,” he would become “a professional fisherman,” then “settle down” as “Rev. Robert H. Smith, pastor of a church in Paunee, Ohio.” [Pawnee, Ohio, is about 35 miles from Akron, Ohio!]
There was also the Christian Endeavor Factor—where confession of Jesus Christ, conversion meetings, regular Bible study and prayer meetings, Quiet Hour, the study of religious literature, topical discussions, and a motto of “Love and Service” prevailed. Church records contain Mrs. Smith’s remarks about the effectiveness of this Young People’s Society of Christian Endeavor.
Finally, there was the cluster of noted Christian evangelists whose work was extensive at or near St. Johnsbury, and who laid great emphasis on conversion and Bible, their concern about drunkenness, their involvement in YMCA, the United Society of Christian Endeavor, and even mention of General Booth and his Salvation Army.
The Cluster of Great Evangelists Whose Work Impacted upon St. Johnsbury
Allen Folger of New Hampshire should perhaps be listed first. He became a lay evangelist in 1873. In 1905, he published his autobiography, Twenty-Five Years as an Evangelist. Folger there recounts his many revivals, conversions, and work with churches and the YMCA. He worked mostly under the auspices of the YMCA for his first 16 years; and then changed “when called by the Evangelistic Association of New England to labor under their auspices and visit any place in New England where invited” (p. 336). He said of his preaching that it was plain to lovingly preach “Christ and Him crucified,” “man a sinner and Christ a Saviour” (p. 211). And he was one of the men who attended the Vermont State YMCA convention in Norwich, Vermont, in November, 19-20, 1874, where the kickoff for the “Great Awakening” of 1875 in St. Johnsbury really began with despair over Vermont’s religious state. He comments on the union meetings for prayer by churches in St. Johnsbury, pointing out that “the result was the greatest revival the town had experienced in this generation” (pp. 51, 191). He commented on the work of Christian Endeavor, and on his address to, and the work of, the United Society of Christian Endeavor in St. Johnsbury (191).
Dwight L. Moody, of Northfield, Massachusetts, a giant of the YMCA movement, would come next, if not first. In The Life of D. L. Moody (NY: Fleming H. Revell, 1900), William R. Moody wrote that Moody held “tenaciously to the Bible as the inspired word of God,” stating, “Take the Bible, study it . . . feed on the Word . . . pass on the message.” (pp. 497, 19). Biographer James F. Findlay, Jr., wrote Dwight L. Moody: American Evangelist (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1969). He called Moody the most widely-heralded representative of evangelical Protestantism after 1870 . . . a “professional revivalist” (pp. 19-21, 136). Findlay commented about Moody’s views: “Jesus as the Christ stood as the divine instrument by which individuals were brought to God and transformed into people of faith. . . . The dealings of God compel men to turn to the man Christ Jesus for sympathy, to the Savior Christ Jesus for atonement and pardon, to the intercessor Christ Jesus for an answer to prayer, and to the glorified Christ for an heavenly inheritance (p. 231).
Moody’s first connection with Dr. Bob’s St. Johnsbury occurred in 1870 when Moody attended and spoke at the Fourth Annual Convention of the State of Vermont Young Men’s Christian Association; and, as was his custom, began his talk with a quote from the Bible. In September 12, 1875, Moody addressed 1,000 people on the steps of the Orthodox Church in Northfield, Massachusetts. In the afternoon, Colonel Fairbanks of St. Johnsbury organized a grove meeting for the crowds waiting and before whom Moody spoke at 5:00 PM. Moody again preached—this time to an audience of 2,000. On November 3, 1877, The New York Times published an article on revivals in New England, stating, “The Moody and Sankey campaign in Vermont closed last night, and was very successful at every point. At Burlington they had large audiences three and four times each day. During the past month, the churches have been strengthened and revived, and large numbers from all classes of citizens have been converted. . . . Mr. Merehouse [sic—the famous English evangelist, Henry Moorhouse], assisted by Mr. Sankey during the past week, has been at work in St. Johnsbury. They have had large audiences, and the work promises well.” Later, Moody played an important role Brattleboro, Vermont, where the eighteenth [Vermont YMCA] State Convention was held October 10-12, 1884. See Dick B. and Ken B., Dr. Bob of Alcoholics Anonymous (p. 260)
As we have shown and will show, Moody’s evangelism permeated the Vermont scene, influenced St. Johnsbury leaders, and impacted citizens of that village at the time when Dr. Bob’s parents were married and becoming leaders in their church and community. Moody also was much connected with Christian Endeavor, as illustrated by the Christian Endeavor book by Dwight L. Moody, Golden Counsels (Boston: United Society of Christian Endeavor, 1899). Moreover, Moody also influenced A.A.’s progenitor, Dr. Frank N. D. Buchman, founder of the Oxford Group. Buchman had been to the Northfield Student Conference, founded by Moody, in 1901, and stated that the visit “'completely changed' my life.” He then decided that winning people to Christ must be his main objective in life. He had also been profoundly impacted by Moody's words on the wall of Henry Wright's lecture hall at Yale: “The world has yet to see what God can do in, for, by and through a man whose will is wholly given up to Him.” [See Dick B., The Oxford Group & Alcoholics Anonymous, 2d ed. (p. 46); and Garth Lean, Frank Buchman: A Life, pp. 17, 77-78.]
Ira D. Sankey also deserves listing. He was not only a famous singer-evangelist, but a traveling partner with Dwight Moody. Sankey wrote My Life and the Story of the Gospel Hymns (NY: Harper & Brothers, 1907). Sankey was with Moody during their highly-successful tour of Great Britain (1873-1875) and by Moody’s side during the aftermath of the “Great Awakening” of 1875 in St. Johnsbury. And he was characterized as an evangelist.
End of Program Thirteen
This presentation has covered three of the five great Christian evangelists whose lives and activities impacted the Christian upbringing of A.A.’s Dr. Bob as a youngster in Vermont. The next program will cover the remaining two evangelists of importance—F.B. Meyer and Billy Sunday.
I close by giving you pictures of two of my books which more fully detail the facts about these evangelists. The first is Dr. Bob of Alcoholics Anonymous: His Excellent Training in the Good Book as a Youngster in Vermont. The second is The Oxford Group & Alcoholics Anonymous: A Design for Living that Works, 2d ed. Each of the two books is important on the subject of evangelists and contains excellent bibliographies for the pertinent additional materials on the subject.