Revival History – Billy Sunday

Billy SundayWilliam Ashley “Billy” Sunday was noted first as a professional baseball player, and then a more famous evangelist.

Born in Ames, Iowa, Sunday grew up the son of a single mother. The family endured significant poverty during his childhood. His father, also named William, enlisted in the Iowa Infantry Volunteers four months before Sunday was born. He died, a month after Sunday was born, of an unknown disease contracted in Missouri while on duty.

At the age of 12, Sunday and his older brother were sent to Soldier’s Orphanage in Glenwood, Iowa. Billy ran away from the orphanage two years later and ended up as a stable boy tending shetland ponies.

Cap Anson, future baseball Hall of Famer, saw Sunday play after being told by a coach that he should come see Sunday compete. Anson signed Sunday on to the league leading Chicago White Stockings. Although Sunday struck out his first thirteen times at bat he was acknowledged to be the champion sprinter of the National League. At one point Sunday raced, Arlie Latham, champion sprinter of the American League, and Sunday beat him by fifteen feet. Sunday played professional baseball for eight years for the Chicago, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia teams.

sunday006In 1887, after a night of drinking with some of his teammates, Sunday was invited to attend a service at the Pacific Garden Mission in Chicago, Illinois. He began attending services at the mission regularly, and it was after one of these services that he accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior and was born-again. Sunday married Helen A. Thompson in September 1888, and in 1891 he quit baseball to devote his energies to the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). Sunday spent time as an assistant to another famous evangelist, J. Wilbur Chapman,  before embarking  on his own in 1896. Sunday was one of the first prominent preachers to make use of the then-new medium of radio.sunday004

Billy Sunday is most noted for his “fire-and-brimstone” approach to evangelism. He would often preach fiery sermons against political liberalism, evolution and alcohol. By the power of God, Sunday saw many converts.

Sunday is noted as being one of the major social influences in the temperance movement leading to the adoption of Prohibition in 1919. One of his most famous sermons was “Booze or Get on the Water Wagon,” which convinced many people to give up drinking. As the tide of public opinion turned, he continued to strongly support Prohibition, and after its repeal in 1933, Sunday called for its reintroduction. He often said, “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. Sunday preached that whiskey and beer are all right in their place, but their place is in hell!

Watch a rare video clip of Billy Sunday below:

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