March 12: John Wanamaker

Hungry for Souls

John WanamakerThe average shopper, at least on the east coast, knows all about Wanamaker department stores. What they may not know is that the name behind the department store was a committed Christian, and a God-fearing Presbyterian at that.

John Wanamaker was gifted in making American business possess a soul. He was first in offering workers at his department stores such benefits as pensions, life insurance, and vacations. He wasn’t shy either about venturing out into big projects. When he bought an old abandoned rail depot, he invited other merchants to come in with him. When they refused to venture into that new idea, he opened his own stores there and created the first successful department store in America. But his interest in how to do business paled beside the Lord’s business.

Devoting the Lord’s day to the Lord’s work, he said once, “If you once have the joy and sweet pleasure of bringing one soul to Christ, you will be hungry to get another.”  And so he had a spiritual hunger to bring every one of his pupils in his Sunday School class, for example,  to the feet of the Savior.  On March 12, 1888, he personally wrote letters to each member of his class about their souls and where they would be spending eternity. The gist of each letter was, “If you are not saved my dear friend — flee to the merciful Savior, as you would fly, into this warm room tonight out of the cold streets and the drifting snow. — If you are saved — humbly trusting in what Jesus did when his love failed not on the Cross — think of others not saved — NOT SAVED — going to the eternal darkness — your near friend, your relative — and do something!”

John Wanamaker knew, as a soul-winner, that he never was alone in this spreading of the gospel. As he said, “when you have faith enough and love enough to start out in the effort to bring a soul to the Savior — God the Holy Ghost joins in your effort, for God . . . works with even the poorest instrument that engages in His work.”

Words to Live By: Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 1:26 that “not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential, not many were of noble birth (into being called of God.” (NIV)  But as some have pointed out, Paul didn’t say “not any” were called.  Some influential individuals have been  called to do God’s work, and we praise God that these ones used their God-given talents to successfully do God’s work in extraordinary ways. Regardless, none should boast in their own selves, but rather in God. And John Wanamaker did that.



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