We were holding meetings in Springfield, Massachusetts, in 1878. One day, at the noon meeting in City Hall, a minister rose on the platform and bore testimony to the way the Lord had blessed one of his sons, a Yale student.
My son, he said, “happened to be seated beside a gentleman from England in one of Mr. Moody’s meetings. Tarrying for the after-meeting, he was spoken to by the gentleman beside him about becoming a Christian.
After half an hour spent in talking they went out into the street, and the gentleman said that he would gladly walk home with my son if he had no objection, as he had nothing else to do. Before parting, the earnest Christian worker said he would like to offer one more prayer for my boy.
Holding the young man’s hand, he asked that the Lord would enable him to decide the great question that very night. With this prayer they separated. The gentleman left town the next day, and may never know how God heard and answered his prayer.
“My son was greatly impressed. Approaching the house, he stopped suddenly, made a deep line across the graveled walk with his cane, and said, ‘Now, I must decide this question, for or against Christ, tonight. If I cross the line my life shall be for him; but if I go around it, it will be for the world.’
Standing there considering the great question with himself for a half hour, at last he cried, ‘O God, help me to decide aright! Then he went bounding over the line, and came into my room and said, ‘Father, I wish you would pray for me! I have decided to be a Christian.’” The minister said that his heart went out in supplication to God to keep and bless his boy.
This story affected the audience to tears. One of the newspapermen, Mr. E. H. Phelps, proprietor of one of the leading papers of the city, took down the father’s story and published it the next morning. And Mrs. Bradford, of Palmer, in the same state, after reading the incident in the paper, sat down and wrote Over the Line.
She sent the hymn to the editor of the paper, Mr. Phelps, and he at once set it to music. Three days later he handed the song to me. I adapted it and had it published in “Gospel Hymns.” It has been blessed to thousands of souls all over the world, leading to the conversion of many.
Sankey, pp. 216–17