Levi (Matthew) wasn’t the only tax collector to follow Christ into full-time ministry. Ira Sankey did, too. Sankey was born on August 28, 1840, in a small Pennsylvania town. His family later moved to New Castle, where his father became president of a local bank. Ira served in the Union Army during the Civil War, then returned home to serve as the local internal revenue collector.
His real love, however, was singing, and he was in demand through Pennsylvania and Ohio as a soloist at meetings. His father, hoping he would enter politics, complained, “I am afraid that boy will never amount to anything. All he does is run about the country with a hymnbook under his arm.” His mother replied that she would rather see him with a hymnbook under his arm than a whisky bottle in his pocket.
In 1870 Ira attended the national convention of the YMCA, meeting in Indianapolis. One of the convention sessions was dragging along so badly that Ira offered to lead some hymns. At the end of the session, he was approached by a big, burly man who pelted him with questions. “Where are you from? What is your business? Are you married?”
When Sankey told him he was married, lived in Pennsylvania, and worked for the government, the man abruptly announced, “You will have to give that up.”
“What for?” asked Sankey in amazement.
“To come to Chicago and help me in my work.”
Sankey replied that he could not possibly leave his business. To this, the man said, “You must; I have been looking for you for the last eight years.”
Thus began one of the most famous partnerships in evangelistic history—D. L. Moody and Ira Sankey. For the next quarter century, Moody and Sankey traveled around the world. As Moody preached the gospel, Sankey sang solos, conducted the singing, and composed music for the gospel hymns. His Gospel Hymns and Sacred Songs and Solos sold over 50 million copies. He became his generation’s most beloved gospel singer.
Once again, Jesus went to the shore of Lake Galilee. A large crowd gathered around him, and he taught them. As he walked along, he saw Levi, the son of Alphaeus. Levi was sitting at the place for paying taxes, and Jesus said to him, “Come with me!” So he got up and went with Jesus. (Mark 2:13,14)
Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). August 28.