John Wilbur Chapman, 1859-1918, Evangelist
AUTHOR: Unknown
PUBLISHED ON: March 13, 2003
PUBLISHED IN: Biographies

John Wilbur Chapman
Presbyterian evangelist. John W. Chapman was born in Indiana
and educated at Oberlin College and Lane Seminary. He re-
ceived the LL.D. from Heidelberg University. He held pastor-
ates in Ohio, Indiana, New York, and Pennsylvania. He con-
ducted evangelistic campaigns in Canada, Hawaii, the Fiji Is-
lands, Australia, New Zealand, England, Scotland, Japan, Tas-
mania, and the Philippine Islands.
        Chapman became the director of the Winona Lake Bible
Conference and helped set up conferences at Stonybrooke, Long
Island, and Montreat, North Carolina. He was made executive
secretary of the Presbyterian General Assembly in 1903. He
won thousands of souls to Jesus Christ and influenced hun-
dreds of young men to enter the ministry. He was “cultured,
earnest, enthusiastic, and sane.” In his preaching and manner
of life, he was never coarse or thoughtless. His preaching
was calm, but forceful; emotional, but not dramatic.

ARTIST’S NOTE: The conservative blues and browns show a man
who was not at all sensational, but unobtrusive, yet

John Wilbur Chapman
BORN: June 17, 1859
Richmond, Indiana
DIED: December 25, 1918
New York, New York
LIFE SPAN: 59 years, 6 months, 8 days

FOREVER RENOWN AS A GREAT combination pastor and evangelist,
Chapman has been overlooked in another area that still brings
blessings to myriads of Christians singing the great songs of
the faith, for J. Wilbur Chapman gave the Christian world
perhaps the greatest gospel content song of all time when he
penned the words for One Day. Who does not thrill to sing:

        One day when heaven was filled with His praises,
        One day when sin was as black as could be,
        Jesus came forth to be born of a virgin,
        Dwelt amongst men, my example is He.


        Living, He loved me; dying, He saved me;
        Buried, He carried my sins far away,
        Rising, He justified freely forever;
        One day He’s coming, Oh, glorious day!

He also wrote the words for the following hymns:

Our Great Saviour
        Jesus! What a Friend for sinners! Jesus! Lover of my
        Friends may fail me, foes assail me, He, my Saviour,
makes me whole.
        Hallelujah! What a Saviour!
        Hallelujah! What a friend!
        Saving, helping, keeping, loving, He is with me to the

‘Tis Jesus
        I know of a World that is sunk in shame,
        Where hearts oft faint and tire;
        But I know of a Name, A precious Name,
        That can set that world on fire;
        Its sound is sweet, Its letters flame,
        I know of a Name, a precious Name, ‘Tis Jesus.

        Chapman was born into a Christian home, son of
Alexander H. and Lorinda (McWhinney). His mother died when he
was thirteen. In his youth he attended a Quaker First Day
School on Sunday mornings and the Grace Methodist Church
Sunday School in the afternoons. He recalls that he never
could set a date for his conversion, but an incident at age
seventeen crystallized his beliefs. Mrs. Binkley, a Sunday
School teacher, helped him during an invitation time. He
describes, “Mrs. Binkley put her hand under my elbow…and I
stood up with the others. I do not know if this was the day of
my conversion, but I do know it was the day of my
acknowledgment of Christ.” He united with the local
Presbyterian Church in September of 1986, and left for Oberlin
College soon after. In 1877 he went on to Lake Forest
University where he graduated with a B.A. in 1879, then he
completed his training at Lane Seminary in Cincinnati in 1882.
He was later given a D.D. degree by the University of Wooster
and an LL.D. by Heidelberg University.
        While at Lake Forest studying for the ministry, he
attended a Moody crusade meeting in Chicago in 1878. Chapman
had some doubts about his commitment, sometimes feeling saved,
sometimes not. So he went forward and into the inquiry room,
where Moody personally dealt with him using John 5:24 to give
Chapman the assurance that he needed.
        Chapman was ordained into the gospel ministry on April
13, 1881 by the Presbytery of Whitewater, Ohio. On May 10,
1882, six days after graduation from Lane, he was married to
Irene E. Steddon, who died only four years later.
        The newlywed couple accepted a two-church field at
Liberty, Indiana, and at College Corner, Ohio, where they
ministered on alternating Sundays. In 1883 he accepted the
pastorate of the Old Saratoga Dutch Reformed Church of
Schuylerville, New York. In May of 1885 he began a ministry at
the First Reformed Church of Albany, New York where he stayed
until 1890, during which time some 500 members were added.
Attendance grew from 150 to 1,500.
        The Chapmans’ first child, Bertha Irene, was born on
April 1, 1886, only to be followed by the death of the new
mother–Chapman’s beloved wife–a month later. Slightly
confused and discouraged, it was at the 1886 summer Northfield
(Massachusetts) conference where his life was altered as he
listened to F.B. Meyer speak. Said Meyer, “If you are not
willing to give up everything for Christ, are you willing to
be made willing?” Said young Chapman, “That remark changed my
whole ministry; it seemed like a new star in the sky of my
life.” He married the second time to Agnes Pruyn Strain on
November 4, 1888 who was to live until June 25, 1907. Four
children were born to them: Robert (who died in infancy), John
Wilbur, Jr., and Alexander Hamilton, plus a daughter, Agnes
Pruyn (Linder), who along with Bertha Irene (Goodson), brought
joy to the family.
        Then came the call to Bethany Presbyterian Church of
Philadelphia in January, 1890. It boasted the largest Sunday
School of the world with the church and school plant seating
capacity of 4,820. This was the church of John Wanamaker,
wealthy Christian layman. Here one said to Chapman, “You are
not a very strong preacher, but a few of us have decided to
gather and pray every Sunday morning for you.” That prayer
meeting grew to 1,000 participants before it was over. He
conducted his own revival soon after assuming the pastorship
and some 400 new members were brought into the church, the
majority of them making professions of faith. He built the
church into a strong spiritual, educational and social center
that attracted hundreds, with as many as 300 joining at one
given time. As the church became nationally known, requests
for his evangelistic services multiplied. In 1892 he assisted
his college friend, B. Fay Mills, in a great Cincinnati
crusade. In late 1892 he submitted his resignation to Bethany
because of numerous calls for his services.
        In 1893 Chapman was in Minneapolis in a great crusade
with Mills, and after the he became one of Moody’s key
evangelists in the World’s Fair evangelistic effort in
Chicago. Plus aiding these two men, he had his own revivals in
such places as Boston, Massachusetts; Montreal, Quebec;
Saginaw, Michigan; Burlington, Vermont; Saratoga, New York;
Ottawa, Illinois; Bloomington and Fort Wayne, Indiana. In 1895
Moody called him the “greatest evangelist in the country.”
Moody’s confidence in him was further shown in that he served
as the vice-president of the Chicago Bible Institute (later
Moody Bible Institute), and was later importuned to accept the
presidency of the same, but a multiplicity of duties precluded
this. He inspired everyone who worked with him. He hired Billy
Sunday as his “advance man” in 1893 at $40 per week, giving
Sunday his start in Christian work. Their methods ended up
different, but their message was the same–straight gospel
preaching. Sunday’s first crusade in 1896 was made up
basically of Chapman’s sermons.
        In December of 1895 the Bethany congregation again
extended a call for Chapman to come back “home.” He accepted
in 1896 and went back to the pastorship there until 1899. With
eight associates and assistants, the total Sunday attendance
reached 12,000 persons in all departments of the church.
Sunday School membership reached a record high enrollment of
6,027 in 1898 to clearly make it the world’s largest, and
Bethany became the largest Presbyterian Church in North
America. Church membership was 3,558 with 2,000 brought into
the membership by Chapman. Over 16,000 signified professions
of faith during his ministry there. A daily nursery cared for
1,867 children. It was in Philadelphia also that he first
experimented with a group of fifteen evangelists in conducting
simultaneous revival meetings throughout an area.
        About 1895, while Chapman was preaching at the
Tabernacle Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis, Sol C. Dickey
approached him about starting a Bible Conference. At first
Chapman dismissed the idea, but Dickey later called by
telephone urging Chapman to assist him in getting a conference
going that would reproduce the spirit of Northfield in the
midwest. So Chapman and Dickey gave birth to the Winona Lake
Bible Conference, for years the center of evangelism in the
United States. Chapman built a home there in 1902, and became
the first director of the conference, working for fourteen
years as an active leader until his death. Chapman was also
used in later years to help in the development of two other
conferences, one at Montreat, North Carolina, and one at Stony
Brook, Long Island, New York.
        In March of 1899 Chapman accepted the call to the
Fourth Presbyterian Church of New York City, where he remained
until 1902. Some 650 were added to the membership there. A
trip to the Holy Land in 1900 was an added blessing.
        On October 30, 1901, William Henry Roberts, Stated
Clerk of the Assembly, whose life was to become inseparable
from Chapman’s evangelistic work, informed Chapman of his
appointment as corresponding secretary of the denomination’s
Committee on Evangelism. Chapman stayed at his church until
December 12, 1902, but then relinquished the pastorate.
        New duties had Chapman supervising fifty-one
evangelists in 470 cities. His title was soon changed to
General Secretary. At this time, Chapman found time to write a
widely used book, Present Day Evangelism. John H. Converse, a
lay leader in the denomination, made a strong plea for Chapman
to develop his Simultaneous Evangelistic Campaigns and
underwrote his expenses until he died in 1910, then leaving in
his will funds for Chapman as long as he stayed in
evangelistic work.
        By 1905 Chapman was ready to promote his new method of
urban mass evangelism. It was basically the use of a large
staff of assistants with meetings held simultaneously in many
sections of a city, thus stirring the whole area for God. The
first real attempt at this took place in 1904 when Chapman
took seventeen evangelists to Pittsburgh, divided the city
into nine districts, organized church members into committees
in each district, procured nine meeting places, and, taking
the central one for himself, conducted a revival that was a
departure from the norm in modern revivalism. The whole city
went into action, with some 7,000 professing salvation. In
1906 it was done in Syracuse, New York with good results also.
Chapman continued to work out the details of the system and
after 1907, when Charles M. Alexander joined him, he felt
ready to try the procedure in the largest cities in the
country. Chapman’s gracious spirit showed in his hiring of
Alexander. Because of Alexander’s long association with R.A.
Torrey, Chapman first wired Torrey, asking if there would be
any objection to having the young singer with him. Torrey was
equally gracious and encouraged the new relationship.
        From March 12 to April 19, 1908, Chapman divided
Philadelphia into 42 districts, and with 21 pairs of
evangelists and choristers, conducted meetings for three weeks
in one-half of the city; then they all exchanged districts
simultaneously for three more weeks. Chapman and Alexander
held services in Bethany Church during the first half of the
revival and in Russell H. Conwell’s Baptist Temple during the
second half. Over 400 churches of almost every denomination
cooperated in this revival–including Quakers, Lutherans,
Episcopalians, Moravians, Mennonites, and Schwenkfelder
Churches. The total cost was over $30,000. Total attendance
was estimated at 35,000 nightly for the six weeks resulting in
a total of 1,470,000. This surpassed the Moody Crusade of
1875-76 when 1,050,000 were reached. Converts were estimated
at 8,000, although this is probably exaggerated. The campaign
slogan used far and wide was “The King’s Business.”
        Early in 1909, Chapman collected some thirty
evangelists and musicians for the most successful campaign of
his career–Boston. He divided the city into twenty-seven
districts and tried to awaken the whole city in three weeks.
Chapman and Alexander conducted the central meetings in
Tremont Temple. The total cost was about $20,000. A total of
166 churches participated. Two preaching services were held
daily in most of the twenty-seven districts and Tremont
Temple. At 4:15 each day a special talk for children was also
held. Every Sunday afternoon it was a meeting for men only.
Scattered through the Campaign there were special meetings for
mothers, “Old Folks,” young people, and parents. Special days
were advertised as Good Cheer Day, Flower Day, a Day of
Rejoicing, and Education Day. Chapman conducted meetings
specifically designed for drunkards, actors, university
students, businessmen, office workers, shop girls, and fallen
women. This all provided good copy for the local newspapers. A
total of 990 services were held between January 26 and
February 17 by Chapman and his brigade. Nightly attendance was
estimated at 20,000 with total attendance being around
720,000. Four final services were held at Mechanics Hall by
Chapman and Alexander which added 44,000 to the conference
total. An estimated 7,000 conversions were recorded.
        It was in 1909 his attitude toward higher criticism
was demonstrated in no uncertain terms as he demanded that all
missionaries who doubted the inerrancy of Scriptures should be
recalled from abroad at once.
        After 1909 his evangelism technique slowly went out of
favor. A series of failures followed, except for the 1910
Chicago series. His 1910 Bangor and Portland, Maine, and
Dayton and Columbus, Ohio, campaigns, were not successful. The
blame was laid upon his co-workers rather than on Chapman
himself. Not everyone was as tireless a worker as Chapman. By
1912 he was conducting single mass meetings only.
        Chapman and Alexander spent a considerable part of
their time on worldwide revival tours, which was news of a
sort. As other evangelists did the same, the secular press
lost interest, although the religious journals continued to
give fine coverage to international revivalism. They spent
eight months of 1909 touring many of the same missionary areas
that Torrey and Alexander visited in 1901 and 1902. The 1909
tour began and ended in Vancouver, British Columbia, leaving
on March 26 and returning on November 26. Meetings began in
Melbourne, Australia, on April 20 with 4,000 businessmen
filling the Town Hall for noonday services. Two thousand were
converted at the last service alone. Sydney welcomed the team
on June 22. On August 11 they sailed to Manila. Then it was
Hong Kong, Canton, Nanking, Hankow, Pekin and Tientsin. A stop
at Seoul, Korea, gave Chapman a brief rest. Then on to Kyoto,
Tokyo, and Yokohama before returning home, which was now in
Stony Brook, Long Island, New York.
        In April of 1910 a month-long crusade was held in
Cardiff, Wales. On August 30, 1910, he was married for the
third time to Mabel Cornelia Moulton.
        Chapman’s second most successful Simultaneous Revival
Campaign was in Chicago from October 16 to November 27, 1910,
following the same pattern of the 1909 Boston meetings. Four
hundred churches cooperated bringing some 800,000 to the
        In 1911 Chapman’s title was changed to Representative
at Large. Demands for his single appearances now overshadowed
his organizational crusades. This year saw good crusades in
Toronto, Ontario, Canada and Brooklyn before departure for
England. During March in Swansea, Wales, some 2,000 converts
professed faith according to a report by the forty-two
participating ministers. Then meetings were held at Leeds,
London and Shrewsbury. The latter crusade, which was held
April 20-28, started small and barren. Then an American
missionary known as “Praying Hyde” began to pray for the
meetings. The crowds picked up and Chapman’s first invitation
saw fifty people saved. Afterwards Hyde came to Chapman’s room
and began to pray in such a way for the evangelist that
Chapman declared as he rose from his knees he now knew what
real prayer was. Then it was back to the States and Pacific
Coast engagements, and finally a large crusade in Belfast,
        The years 1912-1913 saw the team return to Australia,
adding to their schedule New Zealand, Tasmania and Ceylon. The
Exhibition Building in Melbourne, Australia, with its 10,000
seating capacity, was filled with crowds up to 15,000
attending. In three weeks in Auckland, New Zealand, some 2,000
definite commitments for church membership were made. This
second tour far surpassed the first one in 1909 and no
auditorium seemed adequate to hold the crowds. Some 2,800
young people declared their desire to enter Christian work and
the outcome of this was the establishing of a Bible Institute
in Adelaide.
        On October 25, 1913, a crusade opened in Glasgow,
Scotland, and continued for eleven weeks. Some 12,000 made
decisions for Christ. In 1914 it was Edinburgh, Scotland, and
other areas of England. During one day at the Olympian in
Edinburgh, some 18,000 heard Chapman in three services. He
frequently preached six times a day and city-wide interest was
aroused to an astonishing degree.
        During the years of 1915 and 1916 several cities
across America were touched, with Atlanta, Georgia and
Washington, Pennsylvania receiving an unusual moving of God.
The Atlanta crusade had 250,000 attending the 200 meetings
with more than 4,600 additions to local churches made. Many
cities and places were touched by the Chapman team besides
those already mentioned including New York, Detroit, Hawaii,
Fiji Islands, etc. Demands for his preaching increased with
the years. His last evangelistic campaign was with Alexander
in Elizabeth, New Jersey, in early 1918.
        No one up to that time had been an evangelist to as
many nations as had Chapman. No one had had such a successful
dual ministry as both pastor and evangelist as did Chapman as
he spent about eighteen years in each of these fields. Through
1912 it was estimated that he had preached 50,000 sermons to
some 60 million people.
        In 1918 he served as the Moderator of the Presbyterian
General Assembly, elected to the post in May, 1917, in Dallas.
He worked with the National Service Commission and the New Era
Movement of the Presbyterian Church, which dealt with
reconstruction problems coming out of the First World War.
        Chapman gave two historic messages during the last
year of his life. One was while retiring as Moderator of the
General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., on May
16, 1918. He spoke on I Chronicles 16:36: “And all the people
said, Amen.” Chapman had brought his denomination to the
foremost position in evangelism at that time.
        The other address was given a month before he died, in
November, 1918, at Carnegie Hall in New York City, for the
Prophetic Bible Conference. He spoke on “Saved When the Lord
Comes,” his last address to a large crowd.
        His last message was on December 15th in the First
Presbyterian Church of Jamaica, New York, on “Christ, Our Only
        He had never spared himself, and he suffered at least
thirteen serious breakdowns in his health from 1902 on. These
sick spells and surgical operations laid him aside for
extended periods during the latter years of his life. He died
a few days after a gallstone operation, his third in the last
two years of his life. His funeral was at the Fourth
Presbyterian Church of New York, conducted by the pastor,
Edgar Work, on December 29th, 1918.
        Other musicians who assisted Chapman in his ministry
besides Alexander were soloists Ernest W. Naftzger (1909-
1913), Albert Brown (1913-1918) and pianists Robert Harkness
(1908-1913) and Henry Barraclough (1914-1917). Peter Bilhorn
and George Stebbins assisted in some of the earlier meetings.
A sermon, “Ivory Palaces” (Psalm 45:8), first delivered at
Montreat in 1915, helped Barraclough compose the song bearing
the same title.
        Chapman’s own works include: Ivory Palaces of the King
(1893); Receive Ye the Holy Ghost (1894); And Peter (1895);
The Lost Crown (1899); The Secret of a Happy Day (1899); The
Surrendered Life (1899); Spiritual Life of the Sunday School
(1899); Present Day Parables (1900); Revivals and Missions
(1900); From Life to Life (1900); The Life and Work of D.L.
Moody (1900); Present Day Evangelism (1903); Fishing for Men
(1904); Samuel Hopkins Hadley of Water Street (1906); Another
Mile (1908); The Problem of Work (1911); Chapman’s Pocket
Sermons (1911); Revival Sermons (1911); and When Home Is
Heaven (1917).

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