Scarcely a year after the final dedication of our Tabernacle in 1871 it was completely burned, just before a morning Sabbath service in December, 1872.
I remember that Sabbath morning. I was coming to the church, when I saw the smoke against the sky. I was living in an outlying section of the city. I had been absent for three weeks, and, as I saw that smoke, I said to my wife: “I should not wonder if that is the Tabernacle”; at the same time, this was said in pleasantry and not in earnest. As we came on nearer where the church stood, I said quite seriously: “I shouldn’t wonder if it is the Tabernacle.”
When I came within a few blocks, and I saw a good many people in distress running across the street, I said: “It is the Tabernacle”; and when we stood together in front of the burning house of God, it was an awfully sad time. We had stood together through all the crises of suffering, and we must needs build a church in the very hardest of times.
To put up a structure in those days, and so large a structure and so firm a structure as we needed, was a very great demand upon our energies. The fact that we had to make that struggle in the worst financial period was doubly hard.
It was a merciful providence that none of the congregation was in the church at the time. It was an appalling situation. In spite of the best efforts of the fire department, the building was in ruins in a few hours. My congregation was in despair, but, in the face of trial, God has always given me all but superhuman strength. In a thousand ways I had been blessed; the Gospel I had preached could not stop then, I knew, and while my people were completely discouraged I immediately planned for a newer, larger, more complete Tabernacle. We needed more room for the increasing attendance, and I realised that opportunity again was mine.
We continued our services in the Academy of Music, in Brooklyn, while the new Tabernacle was being built. Not for a minute did I relax my energies to keep up the work of a practical religion. There were 300,000 people in Brooklyn who had never heard the Gospel preached, an army worthy of Christian interest. There was room for these 300,000 people in the churches of the city.
There was plenty of room in heaven for them.