Posted by: rcottrill | August 19, 2009

Strange Instruments

The year 1907 was early days for the Salvation Army in Canada. Art Smith and his wife were serving as probationary captains in Coburg, Ontario. Down the street they marched one Sunday afternoon, “Blood and Fire” flag unfurled, to hold an open air meeting. They stopped in front of a fashionable hotel, where American tourists lounged carelessly on a broad veranda.

After the Smiths had sung and prayed, a short, stocky man came down the steps to ask if he might join in the singing. And, “Could we sing the old hymn, ‘Lead, Kindly Light’”? They did so. And the stranger’s soaring tenor voice electrified listeners. Conversation ceased until the hymn was done. The same thing happened when they sang “Abide With Me.” The gathering crowd strained to hear each glorious note. Something unusual was happening.

Then, as was the custom, Mrs. Smith went around with her tambourine, taking a collection to help with their work. It was filled to overflowing, providing the largest amount ever received by the couple. Not until afterward did they learn from the hotel manager the identity of their volunteer soloist. It was none other than Enrico Caruso (pictured here), the legendary tenor with the Metropolitan Opera Company.

Graphic Enrico CarusoCertainly the most esteemed singer of his day, and one of the greatest ever, that very year Caruso had made the first million-selling recording in history. His golden voice made him rich and famous. Even those who don’t know much about opera recognize his name. But eternity alone will tell the impact of the Smiths’ humble ministry, and of the funds collected that day.

God sometimes uses strange instruments to accomplish His design. Among the most unusual in the Bible was a donkey that the Lord empowered to keep a wayward prophet from folly (Num. 22:9-35). It is a reminder that God can give power to serve His purposes to whomever (and whatever) He chooses. Even arrogant Pharaoh, who refused to release the Israelites from bondage, served the plan of God, however unwittingly (Rom. 9:17).

And what of us, as Christians, trying to serve the Lord? Our gifts and talents are of value when they are dedicated to His service. God has given them to us for a reason. But more than our ability, the Lord is looking for our availability, our readiness to do His will. And time and again He uses weak instruments to accomplish great things. “God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things that are mighty…that no flesh should glory in His presence….He who glories, let him glory in the Lord” (I Cor. 1:27-31).


  1. Hi Robert, This is a very nice story! Thanks for posting it.

    • Thanks. Glad you liked it. I’m always on the look-out for out-of-the-way stories related to hymns, things that maybe haven’t made it into print for one reason or another.


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