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MBI Centennial

Henry Parsons


Dedicated Steward

by Eric Fellman

lienry Parsons Crowell was to make and give a lot of money. But God first took him through the refiners fire.

he nine-year-old's sobbing beside his father's grave gave no evidence of the powerful servant of God he was to become. But that sad day started Henry Par­sons Crowell on thejourney; it was the day he trusted Christ as his Savior.

Born to Henry and Eliza Crowell in Cleveland on January 27, 1855, Henry Parsons Crowell began life in relative ease. His father was a successful shoe merchant and a leader in the Second Presbyterian Church. But at 42, Mr. Crowell discovered he had tuberculosis and began earnestly to plan so his three young sons would "forget not God and begin to live in the flesh."

At the funeral a year later, young Henry asked the pastor, Dr. Theron Hawks, if he would meet him at the church the next day. Sensing the boy's need, Dr. Hawks tenderly explained the plan of salvation, and Henry knelt in prayer.

Crowell told his biographer: "I do not have clear memory of my father, for I was only nine years old when he died, leaving mother and her three little sons. Nor do I have a clear memory of Dr. Hawks. But I do remember that day, when heartbroken, I went into his vestry in the Second Presby­terian Church, and he brought me to Jesus. What Dr. Hawks said and did were adequate, for I have never had occasion to change my early views excepting as I grew in grace, prayer and Bible reading."

But even as Crowell's spiritual life took root, his physical life was threatened. The tuberculosis that took his father gripped his own body at 17. Returning home from boarding school weak and discouraged,

Eric Fellman, former Moody Monthly director, is an editor with Foundation for Christian Living, Pawling, NX

Crowell asked God what lay in the future. His answer came through Dwight L. Moody, whose school Crowell would begin to serve some 30 years later.

It was 1873, and Moody was eager to be off to England for an evangelistic cam­paign. But funds were late in arriving from London, so Moody accepted an invitation from Dr. Hawks to speak in Cleveland. Crowell went to hear him.

That night Moody spoke of meeting Henry Varley in England and of Varley's statement, "The world has yet to see what God can do through a man fully dedicated to Him." Moody told how he had dedicated himself to be a man like that, and he called the young men present to do the same.

Crowell later recalled: "Moody's words were the words of the Lord to me. I saw that the wrecking of my school plans didn't really matter. God didn't need his men educated, or brilliant, or anything else! All God needed was just a man! Well, by the grace of God, I would be God's man.

"To be sure, I would never preach like Moody. But I could make money and help support the labors of men like Moody. Then I resolved, 'Oh God, if You preserve my life and allow me to make money to be used in Your service, I will keep my name out of it so You will have the glory.'"

Soon after Moody's visit, Crowell's health declined rapidly. But his attention was drawn more and more to Bible study. He became fascinated with the occurrences of the number seven in Scripture and one day came upon this verse: "He shall deliver thee in six troubles: yea, in seven there shall no evil touch thee" (Job 5:19 KJV).

Crowell was convinced the Lord was telling him he would be healed. A short time later, his doctors advised him the only hope for his condition was to move to a milder climate and live outdoors—for





if my life can be always lived so as to please Him,


supremely happy!

seven years. Crowell's odyssey took him across America and into Europe. He rode horses in Denver, farmed in North Dakota, traveled the deserts of Arizona and Cali­fornia, and visited the capitals of Britain, France, and Germany.

Often he returned to Cleveland to visit his mother and brothers. He invested the estate left by his father and developed a head for business. Because his two at­tempts at farming, one growing wheat and another raising horses, had ended in disas­ter, he vowed to enter commerce where "conditions of men and machines are the adversaries, not the weather."

In November 1881, Crowell returned to Cleveland permanendy. His health was now robust, and the doctors pronounced him cured. Immediately he entered into die business that was to launch the Crowell fortune. It was as if the years of hardship and faith had tempered him sufficiently for the Lord to trust him widi millions of dollars.

The grain and cereal industry was on the verge of tremendous change. For cen­turies, millers had set up local grinding wheels to supply crushed wheat, oats, and corn. But new hybrid grains and the emerging machine age were making processing and distribution more efficient. Many of the smaller mills couldn't stand the competition.

The Quaker mill in Ravenna, near Cleveland, was up for sale. Crowell bought it and immediately began to speak to other millers about cooperating rather than competing. Many were skeptical, especially one man who owned the largest mill and proclaimed he needed no one. But in 1886 his mill burned, and he was nearly ruined.

Crowell wanted millers to think in terms of combining to offer a single brand name. He dreamed of educating people to new products rather than waiting for demand to surface. And he had a vision of modern cereal plants that would constantly look for improvements. If a better or cheaper product could be produced with other machines, plants would scrap existing ma­chinery no matter the cost.

During this period, Crowell developed what odiers would call his philosophy of the "breakfast table autocrat": "Take your time, find out what the will of God is."

It took 25 years, but in 1907 his dream was realized in the forming of die Quaker Oats Co. Crowell found himself president of one of the world's largest companies. In 1889, he had started the Perfection Stove Company, and it was growing without limit. And in 1912, his fascination with agriculture led to his owning one of the five largest ranches in the United States, the

Wyoming Hereford Ranch.

During this time when his businesses were growing, Crowell never forgot his promise to God. He continually gave of his wealth to Christian causes.

Yet God tried him further. Lillian Wick, his wife and childhood sweetheart, died after just three years of marriage. His second wife, Susan Coffin Coleman, was lighthearted and not committed to the faith.

As with every person God uses gready, Henry Parsons Crowell came to a point of deeper experience of the life of Christ. It came through the influence of one of the best men at Moody's new school: W. R. Newell.

The forming of Quaker Oats took sev­eral years and brought the Crowells to Chicago. While attending Fourth Presby­terian Church there, Mrs. Crowell met Newell's wife, and the young mothers be­came friends. Soon the Crowells invited Newell to their home to teach a Bible study. That study in Romans forever changed their lives.

Susan Crowell's reaction came first. The aposde Paul's description of the sinner's condition and the need for grace gripped her soul. Recognizing she was not truly saved, she poured out her heart to the Lord. Soon after, Crowell found a pro­found deepening in his own spiritual life and commitment.

During this time he penned a phrase on a card and kept it with him. It was found on his desk at the time of his death more than 40 years later: "If my life can be always lived so as to please Him, I'll be supremely happy."

The change in Henry Crowell was ex­pressed in the stewardship of both his time and money. While he had always tithed, Crowell began a radical commitment of his material wealth to the work of the Lord. Beginning in 1900, he gave 65 percent to 70 percent of his yearly income to Chris­tian causes. Through him, millions of dollars flowed to schools, missions, and evangelical organizations.

But his most visible contribution to Christian work was his tireless commit­ment to Moody Bible Institute. At D. L. Moody's death in 1899, the school had barely gotten started. Soon the pressures of finances and doctrinal questions threat­ened to disband the training center.

W. R. Newell, who was assistant superin­tendent, saw in Crowell the needed man­agement and financial skills. In 1901, Crowell joined the Moody board, and in 1904 he was elected its president, a position he held for 40 years. In turn, Crowell saw in James M. Gray the same commitment to





the Word of God that he himself had recently developed.

In later years, Dr. Gray would often say, "It is the brain and heart of H. P. Crowell that made this institute!" Crowell, however, would just as often refer the credit to Gray.

Faculty member P. B. Fitzwater, who saw them both, would later say, "It was Paul and Apollos; one planted, one watered, but God gave the increase!" Fitzwater tells how Crowell and Gray built the institute by sheer faith:

"One day they sat across the desk and faced each other. The institute had noth­ing, no prestige. It had not impressed the public, financially less. It had no money, no respect. They faced each other and then prayed. Then they decided to build up the institute!"

Crowell's business style served the insti­tute well. Over the years, he often repeated his principle: "Take your time, be sure to take your time. Be sure to find the will of God. When folks do not agree with you, let them talk. Be quiet while they talk. When they've talked themselves out, they'll ask you what you think should be done. Tell them, they'll do it."

From the brink of disaster, Moody Bible Institute developed into a powerful force for training leaders in evangelism, mis­sions, and education. Student enrollment grew from 292 when he came to 1,247 at his death.

Under his vision of brand names and quality, Moody Press and Moody Monthly were launched. Broadcast ra­dio came to America in 1926, and Crowell brought it to Moody Bible Institute in 1928 with WMBI.

From financial insecurity he brought financial stability. And he did so without underwriting the cost himself. While donating heavily from his own funds, Crowell believed that for an institution to continue, it must inspire funds from the generation it serves. He established many friends for MBI where there were few. And he set the policy of not taking the school into debt; improvements and pro­grams were never begun until the funds were in sight.

In those years of building at MBI, Crowell's constant concern was for the students. During his later years, he feared the influence of modernism upon their lives and ministry. He believed only con­stant touch with the Savior and the Scrip­tures would hold them to the faith once delivered.

Crowell's last address to a graduating class reflects his authority and wisdom born of experience: "The more competent you are, the stronger will be the temptation to yield to the power of accumulating activities. The temptation will be to take time for these activities that belongs to your devotion. . . .

"Something must be given up. Reluc­tantly and slowly you lessen the time set aside for devotions—then comes the cur­tailment of power. I plead with you, refuse to lessen the devotional period, no matter how severe the pressure."

He left other challenges as well. Just five days before his death at age 89, Crowell gave the institute's board a vision of the future that left its members breathless with excitement.

"As never before, the Moody Bible Insti­tute has a responsibility to give forth the true gospel. . . . We must preserve sound doctrine in the years ahead, and we must get the gospel to the ends of the earth. We have a large student enrollment this year, and there has been a significant growth in the circulation of Moody Monthly; the enlarged radio program of WMBI is very gratifying.

"But Moody Bible Institute must think in terms of still greater things for the glory of Christ!" ■




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