Billy Sunday was an American evangelist. He was known for his arresting â€śfire and brimstoneâ€� preaching style.
William Ashley "Billy" Sunday was born on November 19, 1862, in Ames, Iowa. His father died a month after he was born and left his mother with three small children. She later remarried and had two more children. When Billy was 13, circumstances forced his mother to send him and his elder brother, George, to an orphanage. Billy ran away from the orphanage two years later, and found work as a stable boy for Colonel John Scott in Nevada, Iowa. Scott gave him a place to live and sent him to school.
Billy left high school before he graduated and moved back to Ames to play on the baseball team. Not long after that, he moved to Mashalltown, Iowa, where he worked at a few odd jobs and played outfield for the local baseball team. His coach requested that Cap Anson, a Marshalltown native and future Baseball Hall-of-Famer, come to see Billy play. In 1883, Anson signed Billy to play with the Chicago White Stockings.
Billy immediately moved to Chicago. He struck out his first 13 times at bat, but became a huge asset to the team. He was a champion sprinter, boasting a career record of 92 stolen bases, which was topped only by Ty Cobb with 96. Sunday played professional baseball for eight years for the Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia teams.
In 1886, Sunday was invited to attend a service at the Pacific Garden Mission in Chicago. It was then that he was "born again" by accepting Jesus Christ into his life as his savior. In 1888, he married Helen A. Thompson, who would later be known as "Ma Sunday." They would have four children.
In 1891, Sunday quit baseball to devote his energies to the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA). He became an assistant to evangelist J. Wilbur Chapman, before going solo as an evangelist in his own right in 1896. The following year, Sunday held his first revival meeting at Garner, Iowa; nearly 100 persons accepted Christ during the week of meetings. In 1903, he became an ordained preacher in the Presbyterian Church.
Owing to his travels, Sunday's wife initially spent many hours without him. By 1907, however, Ma Sunday was traveling with him, handling his campaign planning and finances, and speaking at women's meetings. She devoted her life to her husband and his works.
In 1917, the eloquent orator staged a 10-week New York campaign; more than 98,000 participants came forward to accept Christ. Sunday was given a â€ślove offeringâ€� of $100,000 by the Red Cross and charities supporting the war effort.
Temperance and Prohibition
Sunday was credited with being a major social influence in the temperance movement, which led to Prohibition in 1919. One of his most famous sermons was "Booze, or, Get on the Water Wagon," which persuaded many to give up drinking. Even after Prohibition was repealed, he called for its reintroduction. He averred, "I am the sworn, eternal and uncompromising enemy of the liquor traffic. I have been, and will go on, fighting that damnable, dirty, rotten business with all the power at my command.â€� He continued to preach against alcohol consumption until his death.
In October 1935, Billy Sunday preached his final sermon, at First Methodist Church, Mishawaka, Indiana. Even at 73, he managed to turn the lives of 44 people over to the Lord.
A voice is stilled
Sunday died of a heart attack on November 6, 1935. He died a wealthy man, leaving a large estate as well as trust funds for his children â€" at the depths of the Great Depression. Most of his money was given to him by contributions during his charismatic sermonizing.
His memorial service was held at Moody Memorial Church, Chicago, and was attended by thousands of people.