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A Biographical Sketch Of Dr. Reuben Archer Torrey

A Biographical Sketch Of Dr. Reuben Archer Torrey poster

This year the Christian world celebrates the 100th anniversary of the birth of Dr. R.A. Torrey, who was renowned as a fervent prayer warrior, a personal soul winner, and a powerful revivalist. In a very real sense, as the mantle of Elijah fell upon Elisha, so Dr. Torrey was the successor of D.L. Moody. Torrey headed the new Bible Institute founded by Moody through its formative years; pastored the church Moody founded; and followed Moody in the field of world evangelism.

Torrey was born in Hoboken, New Jersey, on January 28, 1856. He grew up in a wealthy home, attended Yale University and Divinity School, where he received the A.B. and B.D. degrees, and studied abroad, at Leipzig and Erlangen, Germany.

During his early student days at Yale, young Torrey became an agnostic, and a heavy drinker. Even during the days of his “wild life,” he was strangely aware of a conviction that some day he was to preach the Gospel. At the end of his senior year in college, he was saved.

While at Yale Divinity School, he came under the influence of D.L. Moody. During his New Haven campaign, Moody noticed the young theological student attending the meetings, and told him, dramatically, “Young man, you’d better get to work for God!” In the inquiry room at that campaign, Torrey got his first taste of leading souls to Christ. Little did Moody know the mighty forces he was setting in motion in thus stirring R.A. Torrey to service!

It is remarkable that during his early Christian experience, Torrey held definitely liberal views. “In fact, I think I may say that I was the leader of the new theology and destructive criticism wing of the seminary,” he wrote later. “The professors in Yale Seminary at that time were all orthodox, but I was not.” During his studies abroad, he became convinced of the falseness of his views, swung back to the conservative position, and ever afterward was a stalwart defender of the faith once delivered to the saints.

Ordained to the Congregational ministry in 1878, Dr. Torrey served pastorates at Garrettsville, Ohio, and later Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he was also superintendent of city missions. His ministry everywhere was characterized by revival, in the midst of which he was called to Moody bible Institute (then known as the Chicago Evangelization Society). With his wonderful gift of discernment, Moody, who never finished grammar school, called the young college and seminary graduate to head the work of his Institute almost from its founding (1886).

Torrey came to the Institute as superintendent in 1889, and continued in that capacity until 1908 (although he was on leave after 1901). He did much to lay the groundwork for the curriculum of the infant Bible school, model of more than 200 similar institutions since, and he is especially noted for the strong emphasis on practical Christian work, such as street meetings, jail and hospital visitation.

Along with his responsibilities at the Institute, he was pastor of The Moody Church from 1894 to 1906 (known as the Chicago Avenue Church prior to 1901). After 1901, however, he entered upon his world evangelistic tours, including four of the six continents. Between 1902 and 1905, he conducted meetings in many cities across this country and abroad, including a five-month campaign in Royal Albert Hall, London. He also ministered in other principal cities of England and Scotland, as well as points in other European countries, India, Australia, China, and Japan.

Later he served as the first dean of the Bible Institute of Los Angeles (1912–1924), and the first pastor of the Church of the Open Door (1915–1924), returning to Moody Bible Institute as a special lecturer in 1927.

Dr. Torrey, who possessed the rare combination of gifts as scholar, teacher, and evangelist, was author of more than 40 books, including the Sunday school commentary Gist of the Lesson. Published annually for 30 years, it enjoyed a wide circulation. Torrey also wrote a number of articles and tracts, and his works have been translated into numerous languages.

Dr. Torrey died on October 26, 1928, at Asheville, North Carolina, and was buried at Montrose, Pennsylvania, site of the famous Bible conference which he founded in 1908.

Mrs. Torrey died in 1953. Of their five children, two are living: Miss Edith Clare Torrey, Wheaton, Illinois, a retired Wheaton College instructor; and Reuben Archer, Jr., a Presbyterian missionary to Korea featured in Time last year.