Born JANUARY 28, 1856
As a student at Yale, Reuben Archer Torrey startled awake one night. He felt a heaviness due to some recent disappointments. Overcome by a sense of hopelessness, he decided to end his life. He crawled out of bed, went to his washstand, and opened the drawer. With trembling hands, he reached for his razor. He couldn’t grasp it. Instead, he fell on his knees to the floor. That night R. A. Torrey surrendered his life to God.
YALE STUDENTReuben wanted to be a lawyer. He was admitted to Yale at age fifteen. The promising young man from Hoboken, New Jersey had been raised in church but wanted no part of it. He lived with the fear that if he became a Christian, God would call him to preach.
That night in his dorm room, on his knees, Reuben let his goal to become a lawyer slip away. He pray-ed, “God, if You will take away this awful burden, I will preach.”
After his first four years at Yale, Reuben entered Yale Divinity School. During his senior year, evangelist Dwight L. Moody spoke in chapel. Afterwards, some students including Reuben requested that Mr. Moody instruct them on how to lead someone to become a Christian. He told them how, then told them to go do it.
Reuben spent the rest of his life helping people come to Jesus. He did so as a pastor at the Congregational church in Garresttseville, Ohio. That’s also where he met Clara. They fell in love and married. The young couple moved to Germany for a year so Reuben could better equip himself for ministry. He studied theology at the universities in Leipzig and Erlangen.
When they returned to the States, Reuben and Clara moved to Minnesota to pastor. In Minneapolis, Reuben further resolved what he would believe and preach. He drew con-clusions from the Bible about the doctrines of Jesus’ second coming, eternal punishment of the unsaved, and divine healing.
Both Scripture and personal experience assured him God heals today. Reuben lived with a perforated eardrum — the result of a childhood case of scarlet fever. It occurred to him that he prayed for others to be healed, why not pray for himself. When he did, his hearing was instantly restored.
Reuben grew rich in ministry gifts. His pastoral abilities, especially preaching and teaching the Bible as God’s unchanging word, made him a very successful pastor.
THE MOODY/TORREY TEAM
In 1889, Reuben heard again from D. L. Moody. The Minneapolis pastor was surprised when Mr. Moody not only invited him to attend a conference in Chicago, but then request-ed he move to the windy city. Mr. Moody asked Reuben to serve as the first superintendent of a Bible institute he was opening. He accepted.
The scholarly pastor and famous evangelist worked well together. Reuben excelled at his new job as administrator and classroom teacher. He taught his students the Bible in detail and charged them to go out and apply what they’d learned.
In 1894, Reuben was also voted in as the pastor of the Chicago Avenue Church, which D. L. Moody had founded thirty years earlier. After Mr. Moody’s death in 1899, Reuben was elected to be president of the institute, now called Moody Bible Institute. But he didn’t stay in Chicago for long.
THE TORREY/ALEXANDER TEAM
An evangelist at heart, Reuben began a worldwide preaching tour. He chose Charles M. Alexander as his songleader. During the campaign, lasting from 1901-1905, the team preached and sang the gospel in Australia, New Zealand, Japan, China, India, and Great Britain. In England, Charles met and married Helen Cadbury, heir to the Cadbury chocolate fortune.
Wherever the team of Reuben and Alexander ministered, thousands of souls were won into God’s kingdom. Reuben’s former desire to become a lawyer helped define his preach-ing style. He once said, “I always think of myself as a lawyer when I get up to speak and of the audience as the jury.”
He returned to the United States as an evangelist in demand. He preached for the next six years from one side of the nation to the other and into Canada. His reception in America remained strong. For instance, after a revival in the windy city, the Chicago Tribune ran the headline “3,000 Converted in Eight Weeks.”
DEFENDING THE FAITH
Meanwhile, a storm was brewing in America. Modern thinking that diluted the Bible’s clearest doctrinal teachings was blowing into the church. Reuben and other conservative Christian leaders took a stand. In the last two decades of his life, Reuben Archer Torrey took definite steps to defend the Bible’s unchanging standard.
In 1908, Reuben established a religious retreat center, the Montrose Bible Conference, in Montrose, Pennsylvania. In 1912, he assumed the role of dean of the new Bible Institute of Los Angeles (BIOLA). Three years later, he began pastoring the Church of the Open Door, which was connected with the school.
To help Christians understand orthodox Christianity, some of the defenders of the faith wrote articles for a series of books. The twelve volumes known as The Fundamentals were published between 1910 and 1915. Reuben edited the last two in the series.
Reuben, a prolific author on his own, wrote about 40 books. He dedicated his final years to writing and conducting revival campaigns. Reuben passed away October 26, 1928. Having settled the question as a teenager to commit his own life to God, Reuben Archer Torrey spent the rest of his life serving God. With the tenacity of a courtroom lawyer, he convinced others of scriptural truth and persuaded as many as he could to surrender their lives to God.
Next week: Dwight L. Moody’s story.
LET ME KNOW: How has Reuben’s story informed, encouraged, or otherwise helped you? I welcome your comments.
- Larsen, Timothy, ed. Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2003.
- Martin, Roger. R. A Torrey: Apostle of Certainty. Murfreesboro, Tenn. : Sword of the Lord Publishers, 1976.
Books by R. A. Torrey-
- R. A. Torrey preaching: “Some Reasons Why I Believe the Bible to be the Word of God”
- Others reading from R. A. Torrey’s books- http://www.sermonaudio.com/search.asp?SpeakerOnly=true&currSection=sermonsspeaker&keyword=R%2E%5EA%2E%5ETorrey.
- Charles Alexander singing “Tell Mother I’ll Be There” and “The Glory Song”-http://archive.org/details/CharlesMccallonAlexandercharlesM.Alexander-GramophoneRecordingDated.
- Articles and entire books R. A. Torrey wrote http://www.freewebs.com/ratorrey/.