On a cold night in 1873, the town of Cheyenne, Wyoming, was set afire. The arsonists were the town's former brothel-keepers, who had been forced out of business by Pastor Josiah Strong's call for a moral cleanup. The flames did nothing to melt Strong's resolve.
Strong had been just a greenhorn graduate of Cincinnati's Lane Theological Seminary when he married Alice Bisbee on August 29,1871. Ten days later, the newlyweds were setting up house in Cheyenne, where Strong was ordained and installed as pastor of a Congregational church. He stayed long enough to lead the anti-prostitution crusade (and suffer the consequences mentioned above), but he soon headed back east to take a chaplaincy at Western Reserve College in Ohio.
As the years passed, Strong's passion for societal reform grew. In 1885 he published his most famous and influential book, Our Country. By 1916 it had sold over 125,000 copies. The book drew heavily on his western experience but also recalled the ideals of his Puritan ancestors. He challenged the nation and the church to transform society with biblical principles and thereby establish the Kingdom of God on earth.
"Free institutions are safe only when the great majority of the people have that reverence for God," he wrote. "The most striking defect of young America is the lack of reverence." To remedy this, he exhorted the church to roll up its sleeves, work hard, pray always, and seize the day for Jesus Christ.
After the initial success of Our Country, Strong dedicated himself fully to biblical social reform, first in America and then in Britain and in South America. His efforts gave birth to the "Safety First" movement, the American Institute for Social Service (and its British counterpart), and the Federal Council of churches in America.