The Amazing, True Story Of D.L. Moody
From Shoe Salesman To Evangelist Who Shook Two Continents
“Someday you will read in the papers that D. L. Moody of East Northfield is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it! At that moment I shall be more alive than I am now; I shall have gone up higher, that is all, out of this old clay tenement into a house that is immortal — a body that death cannot touch, that sin cannot taint; a body fashioned like unto His glorious body.” — D.L. Moody
D. L. Moody may well have been the greatest evangelist of all time. In a 40-year period he won a million souls, founded three Christian schools, launched a great Christian publishing business, established a world-renowned Christian conference center, and inspired literally thousands of preachers to win souls and conduct revivals. He traveled across the American continent and through Great Britain in some of the greatest and most successful evangelistic meetings communities have ever known. His tour of the world with Sankey was considered the greatest evangelistic enterprise of the century. It was Henry Varley who said, “It remains to be seen what God will do with a man who gives himself up wholly to Him.” And Moody endeavored to be, under God, that man; and the world did marvel to see how wonderfully God used him. Two great monuments stand in the indefatigable work and ministry of this gospel warrior — Moody Bible Institute and the famous Moody Church in Chicago. Moody went to be with the Lord in 1899.”
The early years. Dwight Lyman Moody was born in the town of Northfield, Mass., February 5. 1837. He was the sixth of seven sons who, with two daughters, made up the family of Edwin and Betsy Holton Moody. The father had acquired a little farmhouse and a few acres of stony ground on a hillside just without the limits of the town, but the whole was encumbered by mortgage. Mr. Moody worked as a stonemason when the opportunity was afforded, using his leisure time to till his farm. The burden of his responsibilities proved too heavy; reverses crushed his spirit; and, after an illness of only a few hours, he died suddenly at the age of forty-one years, when Dwight was only four years old, leaving a large family unprovided for.
When Dwight was about six years old, an old rail fence one day fell upon him. He could not lift the heavy rails. Exhausted by his efforts, he had almost given up. “Then,” as he afterward told the story, “I happened to think that maybe God would help me, and so I asked Him; and after that I could lift the rails,” Another incident, which Mr. Moody has related, seems to have made so profound an impression upon his youthful mind that its influence in preparing his heart for the Gospel message cannot have been slight. He himself has related the story in these words: “When I was a young boy – before I was a Christian – I was in a field one day with a man who was hoeing. He was weeping, and he told me a strange story, which I have never forgotten. When he left home his mother gave him this text ‘Seek first the kingdom of God.’ But he paid no heed to it. He said when he got settled in life, and his ambition to get money was gratified, it would be time enough then to seek the kingdom of God. He went from one village to another and got nothing to do. When Sunday came he went into a village church, and what was his great surprise to hear the minister give out the text, ‘Seek first the kingdom of God’ He said the text went down to the bottom of his heart. He thought it was but his mother’s prayer following him, and that some one must have written to that minister about him. He felt very uncomfortable, and when the meeting was over he could not get that sermon out of his mind. source – J. Wilbur Chapman
At the age of seventeen, this country lad, stout and robust in physique, but unpolished in manner and shabby in dress, set off from Northfield to seek his fortune in Boston, with his mother’s blessing upon him as a benediction, and a few dollars in his pocket. At this critical period in his life, young Moody became a shy and silent attendant at the Congregational Church. At first, the evangelical preaching of the pastor, Dr. Kirk, was distasteful to him, and the raw scholar looked unpromising to his teacher, Mr. Edward Kimball. But the interest in the lesson which he showed by the quaint question, “That Moses was what you call a pretty smart man, wasn’t he?” induced his earnest teacher to visit him at his place of business. Mr. Kimball laid his hand on the his shoulder and spoke a few kind words to him. Then he asked him the direct question, “Will you not give your heart to Jesus?” The inquiry pierced him to the heart. He sought and found Jesus as his Saviour, and resolved to consecrate himself to the service of his God. Henceforth life was a new revelation to him. “The morning I was converted,” he has said, “I went outdoors and I fell in love with the bright sun shining over the earth. I never loved the sun before. And when I heard the birds singing their sweet songs, I fell in love with the birds. Like the Scotch lassie who stood on the hills of her native land breathing the sweet air, and when asked why she did it, said, I love the Scotch air.’ If the church was filled with love, it could do so much more.”
God uses Dwight Moody to shake two continents
On September 18, 1856, he arrived in Chicago where another uncle, Calvin, helped him obtain a position in a shoe store operated by the Wiswall brothers. His interest in church work continued as he joined the Plymouth Congregational Church. He rented four pews there to provide lonely boys like himself a place of worship. Then he joined the mission band of the First Methodist Church, visiting and distributing tracts at hotels and boarding houses. Here he met wealthy dry goods merchant John V. Farwell, who later would be a great help. He also worked out of the First Baptist Church where he was later married. The prayer revival that was sweeping the nation in 1857-59 also contributed to his enthusiasm for the things of God. Discovering a little afternoon Sunday School on the corner of Chicago and Wells he offered his help. He was told there were already nearly as many teachers as students so he began recruiting. The first week he brought in eighteen students, doubling the Sunday School! Soon his recruiting overflowed the place.
He withdrew to the shores of Lake Michigan in the summer of 1858 and taught children, using pieces of driftwood as chairs. He was dubbed “Crazy Moody” about this time, but respect came through the years as the title slowly changed to “Brother Moody,” “Mr. Moody,” and finally, “D.L. Moody.” In the fall of 1858, he started his own Sunday School in an abandoned freight car, then moved to an old vacant saloon on Michigan Street. A visiting preacher reported his favorable impressions…seeing Moody trying to light the building with a half-dozen candles and then with a candle in one hand, a Bible in the other, and a child on his knee teaching him about Jesus. The school became so large that the former Mayor of Chicago gave him the hall over the city’s North Market for his meetings, rent free. Farwell visited the Sunday School and became the superintendent upon Moody’s insistence. The use of prizes, free pony rides and picnics along with genuine love for children soon produced the largest Sunday School in Chicago, reaching some 1,500 weekly. Moody supervised, recruited, and did the janitor work early Sunday morning, cleaning out the debris from a Saturday night dance, to get ready for the afternoon Sunday School.
It was in June, 1860, that Moody decided to abandon secular employment and go into the Lord’s work full time. He was now 23 and in only five years had built his income up to $5,000 annually and had saved $7,000. Friends believed he could have become a millionaire had he concentrated his efforts in business. Income for the first year in his Christian ventures totaled no more than $300.
This decision was prompted by the following incident. A dying Sunday School teacher had to return east because of his health and was greatly concerned about the salvation of the girls in his class. Moody rented a carriage for him and the teacher and went to each girl’s home winning them all to Christ. The next night the girls gathered together for a farewell prayer meeting to pray for their sick teacher. This so moved Moody that soul- winning seemed to be the only important thing to do from then on. He made a vow to tell some person about the Savior each day, even though it eventually meant getting up out of bed at times.
With the advent of the Civil War, Moody found himself doing personal work among the soldiers. He was on battlefields on nine occasions serving with the U.S. Christian Commission. At the Battle of Murfreesboro in January, 1863, under fire, he went among the wounded and dying asking, “Are you a Christian?” During the Civil War, he was also back at his Sunday School from time to time, where popular demand forced him to start a church. A vacant saloon was cleaned, rented and fixed up for Sunday evening services with the Sunday School continuing at North Market Hall until it burned in 1862. Then Kinzie Hall was used for a year. In 1863, when only 26, he raised $20,000 to erect the Illinois Street Church with a seating capacity of 1,500. It began February 28, 1864 with twelve members. This was the official beginning of what is now known as Moody Church. He preached Sunday evenings until a pastor, J.H. Harwood, was called in 1866 and served until 1869, during which time Moody served as a deacon. The Chicago Y.M.C.A. was moving ahead also, as Moody rose to its presidency from 1866 to 1869. He had a part in erecting the first Y.M.C.A. building in America when he supervised the erection of Farwell Hall in 1867, seating 3,000. That year he also held his first revival campaign in Philadelphia.
In 1867, primarily due to his wife’s asthma, the couple went to England. He also wanted to meet Spurgeon and Mueller. On this trip, while they sat in a public park in Dublin, Evangelist Henry Varley remarked, “The world has yet to see what God will do with, and for, and through, and in, and by, the man who is fully consecrated to Him.” John Knox allegedly originated this saying that was now to burn in Moody’s soul (some historians put this Varley conversation in an 1872 trip). Moody met Henry Moorhouse also in Dublin, who said to him, “Some day I am coming to America, and when I do, I would like to preach in your church.” Moody agreed to give him the pulpit when he came.
Three incidents prepared Moody for his world-famous evangelistic crusades. First, in February, 1868, Moorhouse came as promised to Moody’s pulpit in Chicago. For seven nights he preached from the text, John 3:16, counselling Moody privately, “Teach what the Bible says, not your own words, and show people how much God loves them.” Moody’s preaching was much more effective after that.
A second incident was the meeting of Ira A. Sankey, while attending a Y.M.C.A. convention in Indianapolis in July of 1870. Moody was to speak at a 7 a.m. prayer meeting on a Sunday morning. Sankey was there. When Moody asked for a volunteer song, Sankey began to sing, There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood. Moody’s reaction? “You will have to come to Chicago and help me. I’ve been looking for you for eight years!” Sankey left his post office job in Pennsylvania and joined Moody in Chicago in early 1871.
A third incident was the Chicago fire and the ensuing filling of the Holy Spirit. On Sunday night, October 8, 1871, while preaching at Farwell Hall, which was now being used because of the increased crowds, Moody asked his congregation to evaluate their relationships to Christ and return next week to make their decisions for Him. That crowd never regathered. While Sankey was singing a closing song, the din of fire trucks and church bells scattered them forever, for Chicago was on fire. The Y.M.C.A. building, church, and parsonage were all to be lost in the next 24 hours. The church was reopened on December 24, 1871, and it was now called the North Side Tabernacle, located on Ontario and Wells Street, close to the former building. There was no regular pastor at this church in its brief history 1871-1876.
While out east raising funds for the rebuilding of this church, Moody describes a life-changing experience he had upon locking himself in a room of a friend’s house: “One day, in the city of New York, oh what a day! I cannot describe it. I seldom refer to it. It’s almost too sacred an experience to name. Paul had an experience of which he never spoke for fourteen years. I can only say that God was revealed to me, and I had such an experience of His love that I had to ask Him to stay His hand.” In 1872, he returned briefly to England where he accepted an invitation to the Arundel Square Congregational Church in London. The evening service ended with nearly the entire congregation in the inquiry room. He continued on for ten days with some 400 people saved. It was learned that an invalid had been praying for two years for him to come to the church! Three English men invited him back the following year. With their families, Moody and Sankey left June 7, 1873. Little did they know that they were going to shake England as Whitefield and Wesley had 125 years previously. Two of the sponsors had died by the time they arrived and they were fortunate to get an invitation to conduct some meetings at the York Y.M.C.A. Five weeks of meetings saw 250 won to Christ. F.B. Meyer was the principal supporter. Then they traveled on to Sunderland for five weeks with Arthur A. Rees, the host. Next came Newcastle where the meetings were gigantic with special trains bringing people in from surrounding areas. Here a novel all-day meeting was held and their first hymn book was introduced to the public.