When the first Tabernacle was consumed by fire my utterances were criticised and my enthusiasm to rebuild it was misconstrued. My convictions then were the same, they have always been the same. To me it seemed that God’s most vehement utterances had been in flames of fire. The most tremendous lesson He ever gave to New York was in the conflagration of 1835; to Chicago in the conflagration of 1871; to Boston in the conflagration of 1872; to my own congregation in the fiery downfall of the Tabernacle. Some saw in the flames that roared through its organ pipes a requiem, nothing but unmitigated disaster, while others of us heard the voice of God, as from Heaven, sounding through the crackling thunder of that awful day, saying, “He shall baptise you with the Holy Ghost and with Fire!”
It was a very different state of public feeling which met the disaster that came to the Tabernacle on that early Sabbath morning of October 18, 1889. I had a congregation of millions all over the world to appeal to. I stood before them, accredited in the religious course I had pursued, approved as a minister of the Gospel, upheld as a man and a preacher. The hand of Providence is always a mysterious grasp of life that confuses and dismays, but it always rebuilds, restores, and prophesies.
The second Tabernacle was destroyed during a terrific thunderstorm. It was crumpled and torn by the winds and the flames of heaven. I watched the fire from the cupola of my house in silent abnegation. The history of the Brooklyn Tabernacle had been strange and peculiar all the way through. Things that seemed to be against us always turned out finally for us. Our brightest and best days always follow disaster. Our enlargements of the building had never met our needs. Our plans had pleased the people, but we needed improvements. In this spirit I accepted the situation, and the Board of Trustees sustained me. Our insurance on the church building was over $120,000. I made an appeal to the people of Brooklyn and to the thousands of readers my sermons had gained, for the sum of $100,000. It would be much easier to accomplish, I felt, than it had been before.
At my house in Brooklyn, on the evening of the day of the fire, the following resolutions were passed by the Board of Trustees:—
“Resolved—that we bow in humble submission to the Providence which this morning removed our beloved Church, and while we cannot fully understand the meaning of that Providence we have faith that there is kindness as well as severity in the stroke.
“Resolved:—That if God and the people help us we will proceed at once to rebuild, and that we rear a larger structure to meet the demands of our congregation, the locality and style of the building to be indicated by the amount of contributions made.”
A committee was immediately formed to select a temporary place of worship, and the Academy of Music was selected, because of its size and location.