Destiny’s door turns on small hinges. Almost everybody can say out of his own experience, “If I had done this instead of that, the whole course of my life would have been changed.” How true for all of us. In reading the autobiography of Billy Sunday, I can see how so many intrinsically small and unrelated incidents determined his course of life.
If he had not been sitting on that Chicago curbstone one evening, and if the Pacific Garden Mission workers had failed on that one occasion alone to go forth into the highways, Billy Sunday might have been only one of the multitude of forgotten baseball players. If he had not gone to prayer meeting in his new church home he would not have met his wife who became such a factor in his work. If he had not joined the YMCA in Chicago he would not have become Dr. J Wilbur Chapman’s assistant.
And here is where the human element comes into play… if Dr. J Wilbur Chapman had not suddenly decided to abandon the evangelistic field and return to the pastorate in Philadelphia, Billy Sunday would doubtless still be unknown to the world as a great preacher of the Gospel message. It is interesting in reading about Billy Sunday that off the platform he was one of the most childlike and guileless of men. However, he was often bewildered and pained by the hostility displayed toward him and and his preaching.
Billy Sunday was quoted in responding to his critics, “I don’t see why they hammer me so. I have just gone on, as the Lord opened the way, trying to do his work. I had no plan for this sort of thing. It is all the Lord’s doings. Just look how it all began, and how wonderfully the Lord has cared for me.
“I had given up my YMCA work, and was helping Chapman, doing all sorts of jobs; putting up tents, straightening out chairs after the meetings and occasionally speaking. Then, all of a sudden, during the holidays of 1895-96, I had a telegram from Chapman saying that our work was all off, because he had decided to return to Bethany Church (in Philadelphia).
“There I was, out of work, knowing not which way to turn. I had a wife and two children to support. I could not go back to baseball. I had given up my YMCA position. I had no money. What should I do? I laid it before the Lord, and in a short while there came a telegram from a little town in Garner, out in Iowa, asking me to come and conduct some meetings. I didn’t know anybody out there, and I don’t know yet why they ever asked me to hold meetings. But I went.
“I only had eight sermons, so could not run more than ten days, and that only by taking Saturdays off. That was the beginning of my independent work; but from that day to this I have never had to seek a call to do evangelistic work. I have just gone along, entering the doors that the Lord has opened one after another. Now I have about a hundred sermons and invitations for more than two years in advance. I have tried to be true to the Lord and to do just what he wants me to do.”
That naive bit of his autobiography reveals the real Billy Sunday. He went forward as the doors were providentially opened. His career had not been shrewdly planned by himself. Nobody was more surprised at his success than he!
I wonder if all of us would be willing to follow Mr. Sunday’s pattern: give it to the Lord and let Him open the doors! Oh, how our lives would be different!