Chapter 1: Businessman With A Burden
Dwight Lyman Moody was perhaps the most remarkable Christian layman America ever produced.
Yes, I said “layman,” because D. L. Moody was never ordained, nor did he ever have any formal training for the ministry. He preferred to be called “Mr. Moody,” and he readily admitted his educational limitations. In fact, whenever a group of preachers met with him, Moody usually asked them pointed questions about the Bible and the interpretation of difficult passages. “I have never been through a college or a theological seminary,” he once said to a gathering of London pastors, “and I have invited you here to get all the valuable teaching I can out of you to use in my work!”
And he readily admitted when his interpretations were wrong so that his sermons had to be changed!
One time Moody invited Dr. Henry Weston of Crozier Seminary to be one of the speakers at his Northfield conference. (Dr. Weston was one of the original editors of the Scofield Reference Bible.) As Weston stepped to the pulpit, Moody picked up one of the platform chairs, stepped off the platform, and sat right in front of the pulpit, literally at the preacher’s feet.
Dr. Weston began to expound the Word, and suddenly Moody exclaimed, “There goes one of my sermons!” Weston stopped and asked the evangelist what he had meant by that statement. Moody explained that Weston’s exposition had shown him that his own sermon on that text had been built on a misinterpretation and was now useless.
Weston continued to preach, and Moody said it again: “There goes another!” Weston smiled and kept right on speaking, because in his seminary classes the students had used Moody’s sermons to challenge their professor’s interpretations-and now the situation was reversed!
As I review the life of D. L. Moody, I am again amazed to discover how many important servants of God were influenced by this energetic Yankee’s life and ministry. Ira Sankey, Moody’s soloist, would probably have died an unknown Internal Revenue collector had Moody not recruited him. The saintly F. B. Meyer, proper British pastor, had his life transformed through meeting and working with Moody. The godly American pastor, S. D. Gordon-whose series of Quiet Talk books is still popular-was converted in Moody’s campaign in Philadelphia (1875-1876). Moody laid hands on intellectual Reuben Archer Torrey, and God made a soul-winning evangelist out of him. Spurgeon’s gifted assistant, W. Y. Fullerton, gladly admitted that he “discovered his life’s business”-the winning of the lost-at Moody’s Belfast meetings in 1874. And the great expositor, Dr. G. Campbell Morgan, was “discovered” by Moody and brought to America before Morgan’s gifts were really appreciated in Britain. (In all fairness, we must admit that Moody himself was “discovered” in Britain before he became popular in America.)
Dr. A. T. Pierson estimated conservatively that Moody brought the Gospel to 100 million people during his lifetime-without radio, television or even a public address system! And it is remarkable to discover some of the people who sat in his congregations-a lad named Harry Ironside, for one. When Moody held his Los Angeles campaign in 1888, 12-year-old Ironside was sitting in Hazzard’s Pavilion, listening intently. Little did either of them realize that, for 18 years (1930-1948), Ironside would pastor the Moody Church in Chicago.
When Moody was preaching in Denver, a young lad wanted to hear the evangelist but could not get into the building. “I’ll get you in!” said a heavyset man at the back door. “Just hold on to my coattail.” The man was D. L. Moody, and the boy was Paul Rader, who grew up to become one of America’s greatest preachers and also a pastor of the Moody Church (1915-1921).
In the late 1800s, when Moody was preaching in western New York, a boy named Harry Emerson Fosdick was in the congregation-more than once! Apparently the Gospel message did not impress the lad, for he grew up to become America’s leading liberal preacher and an opponent of the fundamentals of the faith.
How could this relatively unlearned shoe salesman become such a forceful and effective evangelist and teacher? Moody’s success lay in his tremendous burden for the lost and a willingness to do whatever God asked of him. The life and ministry of this humble man of God is an example to us of what the Lord can do in the life of an ordinary person who is totally yielded to Him.
Chapter 2: The Man, the Ministry
Dwight L. Moody was born at North-field, Massachusetts, on February 5, 1837. When he was four months old, young Victoria was crowned Queen of England; and Moody lived through almost all of the Victorian era. He died December 22, 1899, and Victoria died January 22, 1901.
The Moody family was poor, and the situation became even worse when the father died in 1841, leaving the mother with seven children. Twins were born to her just a month after her husband died. The creditors swooped down on her, taking even the fuel from the woodpile. One especially cruel neighbor tried to foreclose on the mortgage. (Forty years later. Moody bought the man out!)
When Moody was 17 years old, he went to Boston to work in his uncle’s shoe store. Sam Holton made his nephew promise that he would attend Sunday school and church, which young Dwight dutifully did. Fortunately, he had a teacher who was burdened for the lost. On April 25, 1855, Edward Kimball visited Moody at the store and led him to faith in Jesus Christ. (Seventeen years later, Moody would lead Kimball’s son to the Saviour.)
“I was in a new world,” said Moody as he recalled the experience. “The next morning the sun shone brighter and the birds sang sweeter; …it was the most delicious joy that I’d ever known.”
A month later, Moody applied for membership in the Mt. Vernon Church, but he was rejected because he simply could not answer the questions put to him by the committee. One officer told him, “Young man, you can serve the Lord better by keeping still!” It took Moody a year to join the church; he was finally admitted on May 4,1856.
Four months later he was in Chicago, selling shoes for the Wiswall Company on Lake Street. Moody was 19 years old, a hard worker and a growing Christian; and, like Joseph in Egypt, he prospered because the Lord was with him.
Moody joined the Plymouth Congregational Church where Dr. J. E. Roy was pastor, rented five pews, and filled them with young men Sunday after Sunday. One day he walked into a little mission on North Wells Street and told the superintendent that he wanted to teach a Sunday school class. Apologetically, the superintendent confessed that he had almost as many teachers as students, so Moody decided to recruit his own class. The next Sunday he showed up with 18 ragged pupils, thus doubling the size of the school.
“That was the happiest Sunday I have ever known,” Moody later stated. “I had found out what my mission was.”
During the summer of 1858, he taught his growing class on the shores of Lake Michigan. When winter set in, he moved them into an old, abandoned saloon on Market Street. By 1859 there were one thousand pupils in Moody’s Sunday school, and the creative ministry of their leader had won for him the title “Crazy Moody.” In fact, when Moody returned to Northfield for a visit in January, 1860, his uncle Zeb Allen said he was crazy! However, to compensate for this kind of opposition, something very special happened on November 25,1860-Abraham Lincoln visited Moody’s school and commended his work.
In June of that year Moody learned a lesson that helped to transform his life and direct him into his future ministry. One of his faithful teachers was dying of tuberculosis and was greatly burdened for his pupils. Before he went to heaven, he wanted to be sure all of them were converted. The man was too weak to visit them alone, so Moody went along. For ten days, the two men visited home after home; and at the end of that time, they saw each of the children won to the Lord. When the teacher left for his widowed mother’s home to die, the entire class was at the railroad station, singing songs about heaven!
This experience made a lasting impression on Moody. From it he got “the strongest impulse for trying to bring souls to Christ.” Being successful in business meant less and less to him. The only business that counted was God’s business-winning the lost to Jesus Christ.
During the Civil War, Moody ministered effectively to the soldiers. In fact, this was his training ground for later ministry. He gradually overcame his shyness in public speaking and learned how to deal personally with people in great need. Moody built a chapel at Camp Douglas (where the Illinois Institute of Technology now stands) and saw that the Gospel was preached to the men. He made nine visits to the front. He was on hand at Pittsburg Landing, Shiloh and Murfreesboro and was one of the first to enter Richmond.
Moody had prospered as a shoe salesman and had saved $7000-quite a sum in that day! He decided it was time he thought about marriage. He had noticed a lovely Christian girl, teaching in the Sunday school. Her name was Emma Revell, and her father had been a British shipbuilder who had come to America to make a new beginning. Dwight and Emma were engaged in 1860, and on August 28,1862, they were married. If the name “Revell” sounds familiar to you, it is because Emma’s brother, Fleming H. Revell, founded the Christian publishing firm that still bears his name. In fact, he went into publishing primarily to make Moody’s songbooks and sermons available at a popular price to a wider audience. D. L. Moody was probably the originator of the Christian paperback.
As Moody’s Sunday school prospered, he faced a problem. Most of his converts did not feel at home in the established churches of the city. They wanted to be with Mr. Moody. Always the innovator and the pioneer, Moody built The Illinois Street Independent Church and laid hands on a fellow named Wheeler to be the pastor. Of course, nobody doubted who the leader of the church was!
Moody was now in the Lord’s business full-time. He allowed himself to be appointed to the Illinois State Sunday School Union Board. Always the activist, Moody never did shine serving on committees; however, his presence certainly kept everybody else on their toes! In 1866 he was elected president of the YMCA in Chicago, a position he held until 1870. In that day, the “Y” was an evangelical ministry, seeking to reach the young people in the city. It was a perfect base of ministry for a man like Moody.
Despite his early successes, D. L. Moody still had some important lessons to learn about the Bible and about evangelism. At that moment God was preparing the man who would teach Moody these lessons. And the truths that would revolutionize Moody’s ministry were to come-not from the great theologians and preachers of the day-but from an ex-prizefighter in Great Britain.
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Reproduction for any other purpose is goverened by copyright laws and is strictly prohibited. This material originally appeared in a small booklet entitled “Meet Mr. Moody” and is no longer in print.
Dr. Warren Wiersbe (1929-2019) was an internationally known Bible teacher, author, and conference speaker. He graduated in 1953 from Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lombard, Illinois. While attending seminary, he was ordained as pastor of Central Baptist Church in 1951 and served until 1957. From September 1957 to 1961, Wiersbe served as Director of The Literature Division for Youth for Christ International. From 1961 to 1971 he pastored Calvary Baptist Church of Covington, Kentucky south of Cincinnati, Ohio. His sermons were broadcast as the “Calvary Hour” on a local Cincinnati radio station. From 1971 to 1978, He served as the pastor of Moody Church in Chicago 1971 to 1978. While at Moody Church he continued in radio ministry. Between August 1979 and March 1982, he wrote bi-weekly for Christianity Today as “Eutychus X”, taught practical theology classes at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and wrote the course material and taught a Doctor of Ministry course at Trinity and Dallas Seminary. In 1980 he transitioned to Back to the Bible radio broadcasting network where he worked until 1990. Dr. Wiersbe became Writer in Residence at Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids and Distinguished Professor of Preaching at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. In his lifetime, Dr. Wiersbe wrote over 170 books—including the popular Be series, which has sold over four million copies. Dr. Wiersbe was awarded the Gold Medallion Lifetime Achievement by the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA).