DWIGHT L. MOODY

Born FEBRUARY 5, 1837

Dwight Lyman Moody had a limited formal education and was never ordained into the ministry. Still, he became the most successful evangelist of the Nineteenth Century. He left his mark in Christian education and Christian publishing and set standards for both one-on-one and large-scale evangelism.

D. L. Moody [PD-1923]

D. L. Moody [PD-1923]

FORMATIVE YEARS

Dwight was born into a poor family in Northfield, Massachusetts. When he was only four years old, his father died. Dwight’s family’s poverty limited his early years of education. He remained a poor speller  throughout his life

At age 17, Dwight moved to Boston, where he worked at his uncle’s shoe store. He chose to join the local YMCA for its social and educational benefits. Out of obligation to his uncle and aunt, he attended Sunday school and church. His Sunday school teacher saw right away that young Dwight Moody knew nothing about the Bible.

After a few weeks, the Sunday school teacher visited Dwight at work. He found him in the back room of the shoe store. He told him that God greatly loved him and wanted his love in return. That day, Dwight prayed and committed his life to God. It was the first step of a million miles in Dwight L. Moody’s spiritual journey.

CHICAGO HARVEST

Dwight moved to Chicago where he got a job in another shoe store. His winsome person-ality made him a successful salesman. As a young Christian, Dwight also wanted to be successful for God. He began visiting the slums. Dwight took food and clothing to some of the families. He invited children to Sunday school at the church he attended. A crowd of children went with him.

D. L. Moody and part of his Sunday school class. [PD-1923]

D. L. Moody and part of his Sunday school class. [PD-1923]

There was just one problem: the church didn’t want all those noisy kids. The church leadership couldn’t get past their dirty faces, ragged clothing, and loud voices. So Mr. Moody became their Sunday school teacher. At first he held classes in an abandoned freight car. But he had to keep changing locations for the growing class. It expanded to over 500 students, then surpassed 1,000.

Through the Chicago YMCA, Dwight also threw himself into activities that included leading prayer meetings and distributing gospel tracts. He once described his philosophy of Christian service: “Work as if everything depended on you and pray as if everything depended on God.”

In 1861, Dwight L. Moody quit selling shoes. He gave up soles for souls.

FACING THE FIRE

He eventually became president of Chicago’s YMCA. He raised money to build Farwell Hall, a place to hold noon prayer meetings. Driven to draw others to a personal relation-ship with God, Dwight constantly asked the question, in preaching and in casual conversation: “Are you a Christian?”

"Chicago in Flames" by Currier and Ives         [PD-1923]

“Chicago in Flames” by Currier and Ives
[PD-1923]

There’s one time he failed to ask it. With the largest gathering he’d ever addressed up to that time, he spoke on the topic “What Then Shall I Do With Jesus Who is Called The Christ?” He concluded by asking everyone to go home and ponder the question, then return the following Sunday to respond. But, he never saw that group again. That evening of April 8, 1871, the Chicago fire raged through the city.

Dwight and his wife Emma lost their home. The fire destroyed his church building and the YMCA. But the man with a reputation for leading others to faith felt his deepest loss from not offering that congregation an opportunity to pray for salvation.

SURVIVING THE FIRE

Chicago’s destructive disaster took some of the fire from Dwight L. Moody. Then he experienced a spiritual renewal which he cited as an empowerment by the Holy Spirit. Mr. Moody and his song leader Ira Sankey turned their eyes to England and Scotland.

Ira Sankey [PD-1923]

Ira Sankey [PD-1923]

His style of sermon delivery received mixed reviews. With his limited education, he sometimes mispronounced words, but he commanded attention with stories told in a rapid-fire manner. The crowds caught his enthusiasm. The songs Ira Sankey popularized in those services were published in the hymnal, Sacred Songs and Solos, which sold very well.

During that campaign, Dwight preached effectively to the poor of London and the well-to-do students at Oxford and Cambridge. From his meetings at the latter university emerged seven young men of wealth and social standing who answered the call to serve as missionaries in China. Those men came to be called the “Cambridge Seven.”

TRAINING A NEW GENERATION

When they returned to the United States, D. L. Moody accepted preaching opportunities of all sizes. In 1875, he kicked off his New York campaign in a skating rink. He later spoke to thousands at a time at P. T. Barnum’s Hippodrome.

P. T. Barnum's Hippodrome (the future site of Madison Square Garden) [PD-1923]

P. T. Barnum’s Hippodrome (the future site of Madison Square Garden) [PD-1923]

Wanting to train others to serve God in a lay evangelist role, Mr. Moody established two training schools: the Northfield seminary for young women and Mount Hermon for young men. A new wave of evangelistic fervor sprang up. One conference Mr. Moody led resulted in the Student Volunteer Movement. Those young men and women set the goal of evangel-izing the world in their generation.

Moody Bible Institute. [PD-USA]

Moody Bible Institute. [PD-USA]

Then D. L. Moody took another step in Christian education. In 1886, he opened a school in Chicago to train young people for preaching and missionary service. Hiring R. A. Torrey to help run the school proved the key to its success. After Dwight’s death, it was renamed Moody Bible Institute. That model paved the way for future Bible institutes.

THE WORLD’S FAIR AND A WORLD OF BOOKS

Dwight L. Moody saw an opportunity to reach thousands with the gospel in 1893 and ran with it. The Chicago World’s Fair lasted from May through October of that year. Official-ly known as the World’s Columbian Exposition, it celebrated the 400th anniversary of Columbus discovering America. Mr. Moody employed the aid of students from his Bible institute and some of America’s best-known pastors and evangelists.

He established stations for evangelistic services all over Chicago. Each night, thousands attended. In four months time, the city-wide campaign brought multitudes into the Christian faith.

Mr. Moody also influenced Christian publishing. He inspired his wife’s brother, Fleming H. Revell, to start the company that bears his name. Years later Dwight organized the Bible Institute Colportage Association to offer inexpensive paperback versions of Christian books. In 1941, it was renamed Moody Press.

EVANGELISM PIONEER

A drawing of D. L. Moody preaching               [Courtesy of Sermon Index]

A drawing of D. L. Moody preaching
[Courtesy of Sermon Index]

During his life, Dwight redefined how to do evangelism. He raised the bar for all evangelists who came after him.

He began “house to house” visitation in a city prior to a campaign. He got different denominations to work together to support an evangelist. He initiated the “after meeting” so that someone who had responded to the altar invitation could be counseled.

Mr. Moody died on December 22, 1899. Some of his final words were “Earth is receding, Heaven is approaching! God is calling me!”

During his lifetime, Dwight Lyman Moody presented the gospel message to over 100 million people of all ages and social classes. He did so effectively before any modern means of mass communication, including radio.

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LET ME KNOW:  How has Dwight’s story informed, encouraged, or otherwise helped  you? I welcome your comments.

Bibliography——————————————————————————————-

  • Duewel, Weslwy L. Heroes of the Holy Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002.
  • “The Unconventional Dwight L. Moody.” Christian History. Vol. 9. No. 1, 1996.
  • Fisk, Samuel. Forty Fascinating Conversion Stories. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1993.
  • Woodbridge, John D., ed. Great Leaders of the Christian Church. Chicago, Illinois: Moody Press, 1988.

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About William E. Richardson

I'm married to a wonderful woman named Deb. We're the parents of a son and daughter who bring great joy to our lives. I currently pastor the Assembly of God church in Afton, Iowa.
This entry was posted in Author, Evangelist, Sunday school leader. Bookmark the permalink.

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