Evangelist and gospel lyricist Daniel Webster Whittle was born on November 22, 1840 in Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts. In 1857 Daniel moved to Chicago and on the first Sunday in the city he was approached by two young men who would be involved in the founding of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) of Chicago.
Daniel, by his own account in the Historical Sketch of the Young Men’s Christian Association of Chicago 1858-1898, began attending a Congregational church and joined a Bible class. He was impressed with the Bible teacher, Dr. J.H. Hollister, though he remained unconverted. By 1860 he had made his decision to follow Christ and in 1862 he married Abbie Hanson, just before he was deployed to fight in the South during the Civil War.
Curiously, however, I’ve found more than one account of his conversion, the one above in 1860 and the other while serving in the Civil War. Another account recorded by D.W. Whittle in the book Twice Born Men:
When the Civil War broke out, I left my home in New England and came to Virginia as lieutenant of a company in a Massachusetts regiment. My dear mother was a devout Christian, and parted from me with many a tear, and followed me with many a prayer. She had placed a New Testament in a pocket of the haversack that she arranged for me.
We had many engagements, and I saw many sad sights, and in one of the battles I was knocked out, and that night my arm was amputated above the elbow. As I grew better, having a desire for something to read, I felt in my haversack, which I had been allowed to keep, and found the little Testament my mother had placed there.
I read right through the book – Matthew, Mark, Luke, to Revelation. Every part was interesting to me; and I found to my surprise that I could understand it in a way that I never had before. When I had finished Revelation, I began at Matthew, and read it through again. And so for days I continued reading, and with continued interest; and still with no thought of becoming a Christian, I saw clearly from what I read the way of salvation through Christ.
Whittle went on to say that he still had not repented, but one night around midnight he was awakened by a nurse who told him about one of his young men who was dying in another part of the hospital. The young man had been begging the nurse or someone to pray for him. The nurse declined believing he was too wicked and not able to pray so he came to Daniel.
Daniel said, “I can’t pray. I never prayed in my life. I am just as wicked as you are.” The nurse, however, thought surely Daniel was a Christian because he had been seen reading the Bible (and the fact that it had been observed that he was the only man in the ward who hadn’t cursed). The nurse continued to implore Daniel and he finally relented . The young man, upon seeing Daniel cried:
Oh, pray for me! Pray for me! I am dying. I was a good boy at home in Maine. My mother and father are members of the Church, and I went to Sunday School and tried to be a good boy. But since I became a soldier I have learned to be wicked. I drank, and swore, and gambled, and went with bad men. And now I am dying, and I am not fit to die! Oh, ask God to forgive me! Pray for me. Ask Christ to save me!
Daniel felt God speaking to him: “You know the way of salvation. Get right down on your knees and accept Christ, and pray for this boy.” He dropped to his knees beside the boy’s bed and first confessed his own sins, believing “right there that He did forgive me, and that I was Christ’s child.” He then proceeded to earnestly pray for the boy. By the time Daniel arose from his knees the young man had died with a peaceful look upon his face.
At the end of the Civil War, Daniel was breveted with the rank of Major and thereafter was often referred to as Major Whittle. After the war he returned to Chicago and began working for the Elgin Watch Company. It was there he became acquainted with Dwight L. Moody and his ministry. Moody’s influence was so significant on Daniel’s life that he gave up his job at the watch company and began his ministry as an evangelist. Apparently, he was a close associate and friend of the Moody family as his daughter Mary married D.L. Moody’s son, William Revell Moody.
Whittle began writing hymns in 1875, often using the pseudonym “El Nathan”. Out of approximately two hundred hymns he wrote, There Shall Be Showers of Blessing and I Know Whom I Have Believed are among the most well known. The tune for There Shall Be Showers of Blessing was composed by James McGranahan, a soloist who worked with Daniel Whittle. The hymn was based on the scripture in Ezekiel 34:26 which says:
I will make them and the places surrounding my hill a blessing. I will send down showers in season; there will be showers of blessing. (NIV)
D.L. Moody once said of Whittle and his hymns: “I think Major Whittle has written some of the best hymns of the century.” Jacob Henry Hall, a gospel musician and singer, related that Whittle, in speaking of his hymns, once said, “I hope that I will never write a hymn that does not contain a message – there are too many hymns that are just a meaningless jingle of words; to do good a hymn must be founded on God’s word and carry the message of God’s love.”
Major Whittle and James McGranahan made several evangelistic trips to England and around America before McGranahan’s health began to decline in 1890. Daniel Whittle’s ministry continued until his own health declined and he died in Northfield, Massachusetts at the age of sixty on March 4, 1901.
Have a GREAT day . . . someday it will be HISTORY!