R.A. Torrey,1856-1928, Preacher, Evangelist
Written by: Unknown Posted on: 03/12/2003
Reuben Archer Torrey
BORN: January 28, 1856
Hoboken, New Jersey
DIED: October 26, 1928
Asheville, North Carolina
LIFE SPAN: 72 years, 8 months, 28 days
EXCELLENCE IN TWO AREAS of ministry has been achieved by a
few; it has been a rare genius who has been so gifted in three
areas, but to excel in four capacities would seem near
impossible...but it has been done two or three times in history.
Reuben Archer Torrey is a classic example, for he was renown as
an educator, a pastor, a world evangelist and an author.
Besides his obvious gifts in all these areas, he was also a
man of prayer, a student of the Bible, and an outstanding
personal soul-winner. It is said that he daily read the Bible in
four languages, having a good working knowledge of Greek and
Hebrew. Some students of church history feel he did more to
promote personal evangelism than any other one man since the days
of the apostles. His prayer life has seldom been equaled in the
annals of Christendom.
One wonders if there has ever lived a man who did so many
things well for Christ. One of his favorite phrases was, "I love
to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ."
Torrey was the son of a New York City corporation lawyer and
banker. His parents, Reuben and Elizabeth, were refined and
cultured Christians, with mother spending much time in prayer for
her son. The family moved to Brooklyn when he was three and, when
he was ten, they moved again to a country home on 200 acres amid
the uplands of New York State. The fortune of the father was
lost, so that Torrey's eventual inheritance was only a matchbox
and a pair of sleeve buttons. The Lord's Day was respected, but
somewhat lax restrictions the rest of the week produced a worldly
teenager. Once, in the attic, he read a book that explained about
being a Christian, but he felt God might make him a preacher
rather than a lawyer, so he determined not to follow through.
At age fifteen he was at Yale University and passed through
a period of scholastic skepticism. His quick mind learned easily.
He was an expert dancer and his conscience was not oversensitive
about campus good times. "What more could I want?" he thought.
"I've got all I need to make me happy." Social and worldly
delights like race tracks, cards, the theater all crowded out any
pursuit of Christian objectives.
One night at Yale, he dreamed his mother came to him as an
angel asking him to preach. His melancholy increased. He had a
sudden impulse to commit suicide. He hurried to the washstand and
fumbled for his razor or any other sharp instrument that would
serve this purpose, but could not find a suitable weapon. His
mother, miles away, was pulled from her bed by an invisible power
to pray for her son whose faith had been shaken. Young Reuben,
about to commit suicide one way or another, was gripped by a
desire to pray. Snapping back to reality, he knelt at his bedside
and asked the Lord to come into his heart. He said, "Oh, God,
deliver me from this burden--I'll even preach!" He returned to
his bed with a soothing peace settling over his mind and his
future plans were settled. This was in the spring of 1875, when
Torrey was 18 years old. In Yale chapel he made a public
profession of faith and, following graduation in 1875, he entered
the Yale Divinity School.
Winning people to Christ became an obsession with him, and
soon he was renown as a great personal soul-winner. After his
conversion, the first time he saw the young lady he had been
taking to dances, he witnessed to her. He says of the incident:
"I commenced to reason with her out of the Scriptures. It took
two hours, but she accepted Christ."
Both of his parents died in the summer of 1877.
While in Seminary, Torrey first heard a man whom the
students called a strange, uneducated evangelist. It was D.L.
Moody at New Haven, Connecticut, in 1878. After Moody spoke,
Torrey and others said, "Tell us how to win people to Jesus
Christ." Moody said, "Go at it! That's the best way to learn!" So
Torrey plunged into personal work starting right there at the
meetings. His method was to put the Bible in the hands of the
inquirer and have him read a selected passage. Torrey would then
ask questions about the words and phrases of the passage until
the seeker understood it. His approach to individuals was
sometimes brusque and always direct and pointed. There was no
attempt to try to win people to himself first as a means of
winning them to Christ. It was always directly to Jesus Christ in
his witnessing. Torrey also heard Moody say in another sermon,
"Faith can do anything!" and faith became the keynote of his
life. Reading the works of Finney those days also helped mold his
Torrey got his B.D. in 1878, with his D.D. coming later in
1889. He was ordained a Congregational minister in 1878 and
pastored the Congregational Church in Garretsville, Ohio, a
community of 1,000, from 1878 to 1882. It was during this time he
married Clara Smith on October 22, 1879. His wife was a constant
inspiration to him. They had five children, beginning with Edith
(Nov. 8, 1880), Blanche, Reuben, Elizabeth, and ending with
Margaret (Feb. 16, 1893).
Not satisfied with the training he received in the States,
he studied at the German universities of Leipzig and Erlangen in
1882-83. As a brilliant student, he made great progress in
school. Early in his studies he was a pronounced higher critic,
but before he had completed them, he was convinced of the falsity
of his views and swung gradually back to old conservative
doctrines, reversing the usual trend because of Europe's emphasis
on higher criticism. In fact, Torrey became a most bitter foe of
liberalism the rest of his days. He was hopelessly orthodox.
Upon returning to the states, he received two calls. One was
to pastor a wealthy church in Brooklyn and the other to pastor a
weak and poor church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He chose the
latter. He organized the church with about a dozen members and it
became known as the Open Door Church. He stayed from 1883 to
1886, then moved on to the People's Church from 1887-89. Along
with these pastoral responsibilities, he accepted the
superintendency of the Congregational City Mission Society, 1886-
89. It was in Minneapolis that his motto became "pray through" as
a result of reading Mueller's Life of Trust. He received no
stated salary and was supported by freewill offerings. He said
"A number of years ago (1888), I came to the place where it seemed
my duty to give up my salary and work for God among the
poor...From that day on, every mouthful came directly from my
Heavenly Father, not a meal on our tables...not a coat that went
on my back...not a dress on my wife's back, nor the clothing on
the backs of the four children, that was not an answer to prayer.
We got everything from God. I was never more serene in my life."
Mr. Torrey also made it a habit to hold special prayer meetings
asking God to pour out His Spirit in mighty revival power around
the world. Little did he suspect how instrumental his own life
would be in bringing this to pass.
One day D.L. Moody was talking with a friend, E.M. Williams,
and lamented that he wished he knew of a man to head his new
school. Williams gave a glowing account of Torrey's ministries.
Moody called for him, and at the age of 33, Torrey became the
first Superintendent of the Chicago Evangelization Society (later
Moody Bible Institute), guiding it from its inception September
26, 1889, until 1908. He was the chief executive officer and the
success of the Institute can probably be attributed to Torrey's
contribution more than any other individual. He laid the
groundwork for the curriculum and the practical Christian work
program. Torrey's leadership at the school, plus his part in the
1893 World's Fair evangelism outreach, brought him to the
attention of the Christian world. Torrey was automatically
considered the "Elisha" to carry on Moody's work upon his death
in 1899. When Moody collapsed in Kansas City in November, 1899,
just prior to his death, it was Torrey who carried on the
At school, the students were constantly amazed at his
ability. His teaching and prevailing prayer became renown. As he
lectured in the classroom, he poured out the brilliance of his
Yale and German training, which had been endued with faith and
emboldened by the Holy Spirit. He was sound in doctrine and an
exceptional Bible teacher. His successor, James Gray, said of
him, "Few men were better equipped than he to expound the Holy
Scriptures before a popular audience or in a classroom." And how
he could pray! One student reported how he went to Torrey's
office with a particular need, and after the session kneeling in
prayer together was over, a pool of tears remained when Torrey
arose. His booklet How to Pray is a classic.
Torrey also took upon himself the pastorship of the Chicago
Avenue Church (now Moody Memorial Church) from 1894 to 1905,
where again he wielded a tremendous amount of influence in the
Christian world. The 2,200-seat auditorium soon began to be
filled. Torrey later said he didn't believe a day went by without
someone being saved as a result of the church. The success was
the prayer meetings, for all over the city there were little
groups who would stay up late on Saturday night, or get up early
on Sunday morning to pray for their pastor. This, plus the fact
that his membership was always trained in soul-winning, produced
a church that lived in a constant revival atmosphere. Every year
he spent several months in Northfield, Massachusetts, teaching
and preaching in the various conferences there.
In 1898, a weekly prayer meeting began at the Bible
Institute each Saturday night from 9 to 10 p.m. The attendance
grew until it numbered an average of 300 people. Its purpose was
to pray for worldwide revival. For the next three years the
prayer meetings continued, followed by Torrey and three or four
associates having a second prayer meeting until about 2 a.m. One
night Torrey had a strange burden to pray that God would send him
around the world with the Gospel. Within a week two strangers
from the United Churches of Melbourne, Australia approached him
following a Sunday service saying they felt Torrey was the man
God wanted to come to their country for evangelistic services.
Torrey was stunned and challenged by the proposal. It seemed the
years of praying were about to bear fruit.
Getting a leave of absence from his Chicagoresponsibilities, he
quickly began to ponder that God might use him as the human
instrument to bring worldwide revival--his burden for many years.
He was to see some 102,000 come to Christ in the next few years
in the most globe-girdling enterprise ever undertaken by an evangelist.
He wired a former student, Charles M. Alexander, to meet him
in Australia. Torrey went to Japan and China on the way, where he
preached with great power and saw hundreds of converts made
during his brief visit there.
It was April, 1902, that Torrey and Alexander met in
Melbourne, Australia, and began their work there. This movement
was known as the Simultaneous Mission and it lasted a month. For
the first two weeks, meetings were held in fifty different
centers by fifty different ministers and evangelists. The "Glory
Song" (O That Will Be Glory) seemed to set the nation on fire.
During the last two weeks the meetings were held in the
Exhibition Building seating 8,000 people. Up to 15,000 were
trying to get in nightly. W.E. Geil, another American evangelist,
assisted in the meetings. Some 8,600 converts were recorded and
the news of the awakening stirred all Christendom. Calls came
from other key cities of Australia, Tasmania, and New Zealand,
where they ministered for the next six months. In Sydney, Torrey
spoke to thousands in the massive city hall with hundreds
converted. In Bendigo, Alexander met and led Robert Harkness, a
brilliant young musical genius, to Christ, and he became his
pianist, soon joining the team for the rest of their tour. In one
Australian city, a largely build man thundered at Torrey, "I am
not a Christian, but I am moral, upright, honorable and
blameless--and I'd like to know what you have against me!" Torrey
looked him straight in the eyes and replied, "I charge you, sir,
with high treason against Heaven's King!"
Up to 2,000 prayer bands were conducted in various sections
of the country praying continually for revival!
Two campaigns were held in Tasmania in Launceston and
Hobart. The heavyweight boxing champ of Tasmania confessed Christ
as Saviour the same night a member of Parliament did. Thirty days
in New Zealand climaxed their tour. Revival fires broke out with
a total of 20,000 decisions for Christ in the land "down under."
Calls now came from England and they headed that way,
stopping in India for six weeks en route. Campaigns were held in
Madura, Madras, Calcutta, Bombay, and Benares. Hundreds were
saved. A convention of 400 missionaries listened to Torrey for
four days receiving much blessing to bring back to their people.
They were welcomed in London in a great meeting in Exeter
Hall by the leading clerics of England. They spent three weeks in
Mildmay Conference Hall in North London stirring up church
members to fresh zeal in soul-winning and witnessing, resulting
in large numbers of conversions. They went on to Edinburgh,
Scotland, for a four-week campaign held in Synod Hall. In the
weeks to follow, they also ministered in France and Germany.
The team made a brief trip to America during July and
August, 1903, where a welcome home crowd of some 10,000
endeavored to gain admission to the Auditorium of the Bible
In September, 1903, they were back in England, and beginning
the Liverpool crusade. In four weeks they saw about 5,000
converts. The crowds became so large that two meetings per night
had to be held, one for women, and the second for men. At Dublin,
Ireland, at the Metropolitan Hall, some 3,000 accepted Christ.
By 1904, some 30,000 persons around the world had committed
themselves to pray for the team and worldwide revival. In
January, 1904, the Birmingham campaign began. It was probably the
most successful campaign held anywhere on their tour. Meetings
were held in Bingley Hall, seating 8,000 with space for 2,000
standees. The thirty-day crusade had some 7,000 conversions! Here
Alexander met his future wife, Helen Cadbury, whom he married in
In September, 1904, the team was in Bolton, Wales (3,600
saved), then on to Cardiff to a 7,000-seat auditorium which
filled nightly (3,750 saved). Evan Roberts led that nation to God
the next year and surely the sparks of revival were lit at those
From Cardiff, the evangelists went back to Liverpool to
conduct a nine-week campaign. The Tournament Hall, seating
12,500, was reserved. At times it proved inadequate and it is
estimated some 35,000 were turned away on the last day of the
meetings. Some 7,000 were saved and an old resident said it
surpassed the Moody-Sankey revival many years previously. The
choir numbered 3,658 alone, which was the largest evangelistic
chorus ever organized up to that time. Two banquets were held,
averaging 2,200 each for the poor people of Liverpool, averaging
about 225 decisions for Christ at each.
From February to June 1905, the famous London Crusade was
held. Total expenses amounted to $85,000 with nearly 15,000
professed conversions. Meetings were held at the Royal Albert
Hall for the first two months; an iron and glass building seating
5,500 in South London for the next two months; and another great
iron building seating over 5,000 in the heart of London on the
Strand for the last month. A 1,000-voice choir helped nightly.
The crusade began at the 11,000-seat Royal Albert Hall on
February 4 with a welcome by many of the cities' dignitaries. The
first evangelistic service was held the following night with
10,000 unable to secure admission. Some 250 were saved. A well-
known concert hall singer and entertainer by the name of Quentin
Ashlyn was saved soon after. It seemed as though all of London
was singing revival hymns. The "Glory Song" captured the city. It
was sung at every service. Tell Mother I'll Be There was also
greatly used. Some 6,500 were saved at the Royal Albert Hall with
special meetings for men and children also packing out the hall.
Meetings held in South London produced 5,000 converts and then in
the final month another 2,500 were saved. A closing service at
the Royal Albert Hall announced the totals--202 meetings,
1,114,650 attended (average 5,500 per service) with over 17,000
Wherever they had gone--to Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen or
Dundee in Scotland; to Dublin and Belfast in Ireland (4,000
saved); to Manchester (4,000 saved) and the other above mentioned
crusades in England and Wales--the halls were unable to hold the
crowds. Not since the days of Moody and Sankey had Great Britain
been so stirred. A total of 70,000 came to the Lord during these
three years of ministry there.
Returning to the United States in December, 1905, with more
revival preaching on his mind, he made his leave of absence
permanent at the two hallowed institutions that had stood by
awaiting his return. James M. Gray became the chief executive
officer at Moody Bible Institute and A.C. Dixon became pastor of
Moody Church. From 1906 to 1911, a heavy series of crusades in
America occupied his time. Oswald J. Smith was converted in the
1906 Toronto, Ontario, crusade. Atlanta, Ottawa, Ontario, San
Francisco, Omaha, Cleveland, Nashville, Buffalo, Montreal,
Quebec, Detroit, Los Angeles and Chicago all had good revival
sessions with him. Perhaps his most successful revival stateside
was in Philadelphia in the spring of 1906. Newspaper headlines
blared out, "Hell is absolutely certain, Dr. Torrey warns his
hearers!" These meetings lasted 62 days in three different
armories at a cost of $38,365. John Wanamaker and John Converse,
successful Christian businessmen, were among the chief
supporters. Some 7,000 converts were claimed, although decision
cards totaled only 3,615. Charles Alexander left Torrey in 1907-
08 and joined up with J. Wilbur Chapman.
Torrey helped establish the Montrose (Pennsylvania) Bible
Conference in 1908. Later he would be buried there on Conference
In 1911 he went back to England, Scotland and Ireland for
Now a call came from the west coast of the United States to
give Los Angeles similar institutions to those he led in Chicago.
From 1912 to 1924 he served as dean of the Los Angeles Bible
Institute (now called BIOLA). He also helped to organize and
served as the first pastor of the Church of the Open Door (1915-
1924). There he preached to great throngs and God blessed both
his pastoring and teaching. Thousands were trained at the school
including Charles E. Fuller, famed radio preacher of the next
In 1919 he visited Japan and China with the Gospel and in
1921 he toured China and Korea in evangelistic endeavors.
From 1924 to 1928 he devoted his time to holding Bible
conferences, giving special lectures at the Moody Bible Institute
among other places. He made his home in Biltmore, North Carolina.
He passed on quietly at Asheville, North Carolina.
Will Houghton, preaching his funeral, said:
"...But those who knew Dr. Torrey more intimately knew him as a
man of regular and uninterrupted prayer. He knew what it meant to
pray without ceasing. With hours set systematically apart for
prayer, he gave himself diligently to this ministry."
Reuben A. Torrey wrote some forty books and his practical
writings on the Holy Spirit, prayer, salvation, soul-winning, and
evangelism are still favorites of many Christians. His Gist of
the Lesson continued for more than thirty years. This was a
series of helps on the International Sunday School lessons. Many
of his works have been translated into foreign languages.
His first book was How to Bring Men to Christ (1893). His
last, Lectures on the First Epistle of John, published in 1929
after his death. His How to Promote and Conduct a Successful
Revival (1901) is considered one of the best books on personal
and mass evangelism ever written.
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