Reuben Archer Torrey (1856—1928), better known as R. A. Torrey, was an American evangelist, Congregationalist minister, educator, and author. He served as the inaugural superintendent of Moody Bible Institute (then Institute of the Chicago Evangelistic Society), pastor of Moody Memorial Church (then Chicago Avenue Church), and dean of Biola University (then Bible Institute of Los Angeles). Like many conservative evangelicals of the early 1900s, Torrey’s concerns over the rising tide of liberalism, skepticism, and theological modernism put him at the center of the Fundamentalist movement.
R. A. Torrey was born in Hoboken, New Jersey, the son of Elizabeth Ann Swift and Reuben Slayton Torrey, a successful banker, lawyer, and manufacturer. He spent his early childhood in Brooklyn until the family moved to an affluent estate in Geneva, New York. His mother’s devotion to Christ and to prayer dramatically influenced Torrey’s own conversion, which didn’t come until 1875, when he was in his final year at Yale University. One night, Torrey “had a dream in which his mother came to him as an angel and asked him to preach the gospel” (https://healingandrevival.com/BioRATorrey.htm, accessed 8/24/23). He awoke to wrestle with God’s call while, across town, his mother was awakened by God to pray for her son. That night, Torrey surrendered his life to the Lord.
After graduating from Yale in 1875, Torrey attended Yale Divinity School, earning his Bachelor of Divinity in 1878. Ever since boyhood, Torrey had struggled with shyness and felt severely challenged when he had to speak in front of an audience. However, he pressed on in his efforts to preach the gospel. The budding evangelist was moved and inspired after hearing the uneducated but wholly devoted Dwight L. Moody evangelize with great fervor. Torrey also began to study the life of Charles Finney, gaining insight into the empowering work of the Holy Spirit for ministry.
Upon graduating, Torrey was ordained and began serving as pastor of the Congregational Church of Garrettsville, Ohio. It was here that he met and married Clara Belle Smith in 1879. The couple had five children: Edith Clare, Blanche, Reuben Archer, Elizabeth, and Margaret.
In 1882, Torrey left his pastoral position to pursue a year of theological studies at the universities of Leipzig and Erlangen in Germany. His time spent overseas seemed to strengthen his conservative theology and fuel his involvement in the growing Fundamentalist movement in America.
When he returned home to the United States, he accepted the pastorate of Open Door Congregational Church in Minneapolis. In 1886, he planted the People’s Church in downtown Minneapolis and served as superintendent of the Congregational City Missionary Society. As Torrey’s churches grew, so did his zeal for evangelism. God was answering his prayers as he saw many souls accepting Jesus Christ as Savior.
In Minneapolis, Torrey caught the attention of Dwight L. Moody, who invited Torrey in 1889 to become the first superintendent of his newly established Bible Institute in Chicago, later named Moody Bible Institute. After five years, Torrey took over as pastor of Moody’s Chicago Avenue Church (Moody Memorial Church). In these years, Dwight L. Moody and R. A. Torrey forged a close friendship and ministerial association, so solid that, after Moody died in 1899, Torrey was made president of Moody Bible Institute.
Just after the turn of the century, Torrey embarked on an international evangelism tour accompanied by singer Charles M. Alexander. From 1902 to 1906, Torrey held revival-style meetings for more than fifteen million people in Australia, New Zealand, India, Japan, China, and the United Kingdom. When he returned to North America, Torrey continued his evangelism campaigns for another six years in cities across the United States and Canada.
In 1908, Torrey opened the Montrose Bible Conference in Pennsylvania. He moved to California in 1912 to serve as dean of the newly established Los Angeles Bible Institute (Biola University). R. A. Torrey started the Church of the Open Door in 1915, which he pastored until 1924. In 1926, Torrey moved to Asheville, North Carolina, where he lived until his death in October 1928. In those last two years, he continued to host conferences at Montrose and hold revival services in the Southeast.
R. A. Torrey published more than 40 books in his lifetime. He edited a twelve-book series, The Fundamentals, which provides a groundwork defense of traditional Christian theology and Fundamentalist positions. His life’s passion was preaching a conservative theology to ordinary people. He was “deliberately interdenominational, repeatedly and proudly telling his audiences that he was an ‘Episcopresbygationalaptist!’” (Trollinger, Jr., W. V., “Torrey, Reuben Archer,” Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals, Larsen, T., ed., InterVarsity Press, 2003, p. 675).
Here are a few nuggets of wisdom from R. A. Torrey:
“The prayer that is born of meditation upon the Word of God is the prayer that soars upward most easily to God’s listening ear.” (How to Pray)
“A man’s face will often reveal that which his words try to conceal.” (How to Work for Christ: A Compendium of Effective Methods)
“The reason why many fail in the battle is because they wait until the hour of battle. The reason why others succeed is because they have gained their victory on their knees long before the battle came.” (How to Succeed in the Christian Life)
“Words must be turned over and over in the mind before their full force and beauty takes possession of us. One must look a long time at the great masterpieces of art to appreciate their beauty and understand their meaning, and so one must look a long time at the great verses of the Bible to appreciate their beauty and understand their meaning.” (How to Work for Christ: A Compendium of Effective Methods)
“Faith is not belief without evidence. It is belief on the very best of evidence, the word of Him who cannot lie. Faith is so rational that it asks no other evidence than this all-sufficient evidence. To ask other evidence than the word of Him ‘who cannot lie’ is not ‘rationalism,’ but consummate irrationalism.” (What the Bible Teaches a Thorough and Comprehensive Study of What the Bible Has to Say Concerning the Great Doctrines of Which It Treats)