Money Man for the Churches: C. C. McCabe

by Bernard R. DeRemer

In the 19th Century a young Buckeye preacher confided to his diary (with misgivings?), "I seem doomed to raise money. And I hope I am not grieving the Lord when I do it."

Doomed, indeed! C. C. McCabe, Civil War chaplain, U.S. Christian Commission delegate, and Methodist bishop, had perhaps no more effective and lasting ministry in all his dedicated lifetime than raising millions of dollars for new churches, as well as home and foreign missions. For 30 years he was the most successful money raiser of his denomination in the era of circuit riders forging westward with the late 19th century migration.

A biographer declared that: "It may be doubted if any pastor, secretary, or bishop in the history of the Methodist Episcopal Church as been so popular on the lecture platform...Perhaps no man since George Whitefield's day has possessed such money-raising genius and eloquence as Chaplain McCabe."

Once during a fund-raising tour, McCabe read the famous infidel Robert G. Ingersoll's declaration, "The churches are dying out all over the land! They are stuck with death!"

McCabe wired: "Dear Robert: All hail the power of Jesus' name! C. C. McCabeWe are building more than one Methodist church building for every day in the year and propose to make it two a day!"

"We're Building Two a Day" became a powerful rallying cry and the title of a hymn which McCabe sang from coast to coast.

Charles Cardwell McCabe, was born October 11, 1836, at Athens, Ohio, where he received his earliest spiritual impressions during quarterly revival meetings. He began ministerial preparation at Ohio Wesleyan University; where he was accorded the title of "most popular student."

Yet for days or even weeks at a time, he would drop out of school to hold revivals in various places. Prayer meetings and preaching appealed more than studies and classes. Finally, he had to quit school in order to nurse his uncle through a siege of typhoid fever, which he then contracted.

That year, recovering slowly, he began teaching at a country school. Later, he became a principal at Ironton, where he met and married Rebecca Peters, daughter of an iron manufacturer.

But McCabe never escaped the calling to the ministry, and he joined the Ohio Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, with his first charge near Zanesville.

By nature and training an abolitionist, McCabe addressed meetings and inspired thousands to volunteer for the Union. Largely through his influence the 122d Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry was raised; he became chaplain in 1862.

On the battlefield, he ministered zealously to wounded and dying men. As Lee pressed toward Pennsylvania during the summer of 1863, building to the great Gettysburg climax, McCabe was captured and sent to Libby Prison.

On July 1, 1863, he wrote his wife: "I am now in Richmond; don't know how long I shall be kept here; hope to see you soon. I am in fine health and the best of spirits. Be cheerful, Beccie; all will be well." Libby differed vastly from Andersonville and other institutions. McCabe wrote that he was "growing fleshy for we get plenty to eat."

After another serious bout with typhoid, McCabe recovered and was released. He resigned his chaplaincy in order to become a delegate of the U.S. Christian Commission, the remarkable YMCA affiliate which was a sort of Salvation Army USO Red Cross during the Civil War. Reports of conversion and blessing attended his ministry, and Bible classes sprang up for new converts. But perhaps from lingering effects of the typhoid illness, periods of work were followed by exhaustion and recovery.

Assigned to the district including Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin, McCabe set out to raise $250,000 for the Christian Commission. During these travels he met D. L. Moody, John V. Farwell, and other famous leaders of the day.

McCabe's rich baritone voice was powerfully effective. He particularly helped popularize the "Battle Hymn of the Republic," which so mightily stirred the nation. After he sang it in Washington, President Lincoln declared, "Take it all in all, the song and the singing, that was the best I ever heard."

Following the war, McCabe returned to evangelistic work among the churches and served as a pastor of Spencer Chapel, Portsmouth, Ohio. But before long Ohio Wesleyan called him to raise a great educational fund for better equipment of schools, in connection with the Methodist centennial. He became financial agent of the Church Extension Society in 1868 and later corresponding secretary of the M. E. Missionary Society.

Raising the battle cry "A Million for Missions!" McCabe wrote letters and articles, preached and lectured, traveling widely. Once he preached every day for 21 days. Denominational giving soared, and the third year went over the goal and continued to rise.

His experience with Eliphalet Remington, the "most liberal layman of the Wyoming Conference," is instructive. Remington had been giving $10 a year to the work, but after hearing McCabe preach, he donated $500. The next year he gave $1,000, and the third year handed McCabe a check for $10,000. And the next year he even doubled that amount!

Elected a bishop in 1906, McCabe for a time traveled and supervised work in Latin America. Later he became chancellor of American University, Washington, D.C.

McCabe preached his last sermon on Dec. 9, 1906, helping the burdened M. E. Church of Torrinton, Conn., pay off a $10,000 mortgage. His text: "And (he) built there an a ltar unto the Lord" (Gen. 13:18).

Ten days later, the warrior for the faith went to be with the Lord, his prophetic vision bright and unspoiled. Of all the multitude of eulogies flowing from minds and hearts, perhaps the most eloquent was that of a colleague, Bishop Earl Cranston:

"Few men have done more to make the world better."

Adapted from Sunday Digest, © 1968 David C. Cook Pub. Co.