Chapter 3: Learning Important Lessons
“I do not expect to visit this country again.”
Dwight L. Moody made that statement shortly after arriving in England in March, 1867. He had been seasick during the voyage from America and was also a bit discouraged with the “dull and formal” church life in England. In short, he was homesick.
But Mr. Moody was wrong in his evaluation. During his ministry, he would visit Britain seven times, and his fourth visit would last more than two years and result in thousands coming to Christ. In fact, it was Britain that really “discovered” Moody and Sankey and made their names household words before the men were famous in America.
During that first visit, Moody had practically no public ministry. He went to the Metropolitan Tabernacle and heard Charles Spurgeon preach. Moody was greatly moved by the message from “an untrained man” like himself. An usher tried to keep Moody out of the Tabernacle because he didn’t have a ticket, but the quick-talking shoe salesman argued his way in. Spurgeon was one of his spiritual heroes, and Moody was not about to visit London without hearing him.
In the weeks that followed, Moody also met John Nelson Darby (founder of the Plymouth Brethren movement) and George Mueller (pioneer of the famous “faith ministry” with orphans).
Moody gave a brief address at the anniversary breakfast of the Aldersgate YMCA in London. He was introduced as “our American cousin, the Reverend Mr. Moody from Chicago.”
“The vice-chairman has made two mistakes,” Moody said in reply. “To begin with, I’m not the ‘Reverend’ Mr. Moody at all. I’m plain Dwight L. Moody, a Sabbath school worker. And then I’m not your ‘American cousin.’ By the grace of God, I’m your brother who is interested with you in our Father’s work for His children.”
In the speech that followed, Moody “unstarched” the British brethren, won many friends, offended a few saints, but started a fresh wind blowing. The noon prayer meetings at the YMCA took on new power and blessing, thanks to the influence of Moody. This brief contact with some of Britain’s religious leaders would bring rich dividends in Moody’s later ministry, particularly the 1873-1875 campaign.
But in retrospect, the most important man he met on that trip was the ex-prizefighter Harry Moorehouse. Converted out of a life of great sin, Moorehouse had become a bold evangelist for the Lord. He and Moody had a great deal in common, but Moody was to learn from Moorehouse two important lessons.
“If you are ever in Chicago, plan to preach at my church,” Moody casually told Moorehouse; and then Moody forgot the matter completely. But Moorehouse did not forget. No sooner had Moody returned to Chicago than he received a letter from Moorehouse, informing his new friend that he had arrived in New York and would be coming to Chicago to preach! Moody had to be out of the city, so he told the church officers to let the young man preach.
When Moody returned home, he asked Emma how the British preacher had done; and she gave her husband an enthusiastic report. “He proves everything he says from the Bible,” she said, “and he has preached both nights from the same text-John 3:16. “Always ready to learn new truths and pick up new ideas, Moody went to the meeting and was amazed to see his own people carrying Bibles and using them during the message. Moorehouse began at John 3:16 and took the people from Genesis to Revelation as he talked about the love of God and the divine plan of re-demption.
Privately, Moorehouse gently rebuked Moody. “Learn to preach God’s words instead of your own. He will make you a great power for good.” Then Moorehouse showed Moody how to use the Bible and trace the great themes of Scripture. It was like a second conversion for Moody. He purchased a Cruden’s Concordance and began to get up two or three hours before breakfast so that he might read and study the Bible. Years later, at the 1887 Northfield Conference, Moody said: “Take up the Bible, with a concordance. I believe Alexander Cruden did more to open up the Bible than he could ever have dreamed.”
But Moorehouse did more than teach Moody how to study the Bible. He taught him to love sinners to the Saviour. Night after night, as the ex-prizefighter preached on John 3:16, he emphasized the love of God for lost men and women. As Moody listened, his eyes were opened and his heart was melted. “I never knew that God loved us so much! This heart of mine began to thaw out; I could not hold back the tears.”
From 1867 to the fall of 1871, Moody kept busy in Sunday school work and the program of the YMCA. He became a popular speaker at state Sunday school conventions and was even elected to various offices in the associations, including that of president of the Illinois State Sunday School Association.
In 1870 Moody made a second trip to Britain. That same year, at the “Y” convention in Indianapolis, he heard Ira Sankey sing and decided he was just the man he needed for his own ministry. “Where are you from?” Moody asked. “What is your business? Are you married?” Sankey answered Moody’s questions, wondering what he was driving at.
It took Moody six months to convince Sankey that evangelism was his calling; but the man finally yielded, and the team of “Moody and Sankey” was born.
One story about Sankey must be repeated. While serving in the Union army, Sankey was on guard duty one night and felt impressed to sing a hymn. What he did not know was that he was in the sights of a Confederate rifleman who, when he heard the song, lowered his rifle and did not shoot. If ever a man had been “compassed about with songs of deliverance” (see Ps. 32:7), it was Ira Sankey.
It appeared that everything was now in place, and Moody could move ahead in Sunday school work, the YMCA ministry and the winning of souls. But something was still missing in Moody’s life and ministry, and he had to experience some further crises before he would become the man God wanted him to be.
Chapter 4: On Fire for God
If ever there was a busy man serving the Lord, it was Dwight L. Moody. But deep within, Moody knew that something was missing from his ministry.
Enter at this point two somewhat eccentric women, Aunt Sarah Cooke and Mrs. Hawxhurst, both of whom were identified with “the holiness movement” of greater Chicago and northern Indiana. Cooke belonged to the Free Methodist Church but fellowshipped widely with God’s people and called herself simply “the handmaiden of the Lord.”
“Mr. Moody was an earnest, whole-souled worker,” Sarah Cooke wrote in her memoirs, Wayside Sketches, “but ever to me there seemed such a lack in his words. It seemed more the human, the natural energy and force of character of the man, than anything spiritual.”
Cooke and Hawxhurst often discussed Moody and his ministry and then decided to talk to the man himself. They told him that they were praying for him that he might receive the power of the Spirit. At first Moody was surprised at their concern and suggested that they pray for the lost. Then he became convicted and began to pray with the ladies every Friday afternoon.
“At every meeting,” Sarah Cooke reported, “he would get more earnest, in agony of desire for this fullness of the Spirit.”
But before the “fire” of God’s power came upon him, Moody experienced another kind of fire, for on October 8, 1871, the great Chicago fire broke out. From Belden Avenue on the north to 12th Street on the south, and as far west as Halsted Street, the fire destroyed more than 17,000 buildings and property worth nearly $200 million.
Moody was preaching that night at Farwell Hall on the theme “What Will You Do With Jesus?” He admitted later that what he did that night was foolish-he ended the message by asking the people to take a week to decide and then come back to report their decision! But even while Sankey was singing the closing song (ironically it was “Today the Saviour Calls”), the noise of fire engines and warning bells drowned out the meeting. Moody dismissed the crowd and set about doing what he could to rescue his family and a few possessions.
The Moody family found refuge with Horatio Spafford, the author of the hymn “It Is Well With My Soul.” Later Moody said that the fire had taken from him “everything but my reputation and my Bible.” When a well-meaning friend said, “Moody, I hear you lost every-thing!” Moody opened his Bible to Revelation 21:7 and said, “Well, you understood wrong. I have a good deal more than I lost!” Then he read the verse: “He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God.”
His family cared for, Moody left for the East Coast to preach, rest and raise money to replace his church building. It was while ministering in Theodore Cuyler’s church in Brooklyn that Moody had his life-changing experience and the power of the Spirit came upon him. He was walking down Wall Street in New York City, mulling over the impotence of his preaching and the failure of his fund-raising program, when the Spirit of God filled him.
“Oh, what a day!” he later reported. “I cannot describe it; I seldom refer to it; it is almost too sacred an experience to name. I can only say that God revealed Himself to me, and I had such an experience of His love that I had to ask Him to stay His hand.”
It is unfortunate that some groups have tried to use Moody’s experience to promote their own special views of the baptism of the Spirit and speaking in tongues. There is no evidence that D. L. Moody ever spoke in tongues; and during his many campaigns in Great Britain, he and Sankey always avoided the people who promoted tongues and prophesying. If somebody in a meeting began to speak out or swoon, Moody would either call for a hymn or close the meeting.
One of the leading specialists on the theology of D. L. Moody is my friend Dr. Stanley Gundry, whose definitive book Love Them In: The Proclamation Theology of D. L. Moody should be in every pastor’s library. Originally published by Moody Press, the book is now available from Baker Book House.
Dr. Gundry says, “One must proceed cautiously when examining Moody’s statements on this matter (the filling of the Spirit), for it is all too easy to impose upon Moody’s statements a meaning that he did not intend. Moody himself seldom went into the details of his 1871 experience, or at least existing sermons seldom give the details. But on those rare occasions when he did, he described it as a filling, a baptism or an anointing that came upon him when he was in a cold state. His selfish ambitions in preaching had been surrendered, and he then received power by which to do his work for Christ” (pp. 153,154).
Moody returned to the rather dismal “revival” meeting at Cuyler’s church, and the fire began to turn. More than 100 people professed faith in Christ, and the blessings spread to other congregations. Moody was preaching the same messages, but his preaching contained a new tenderness, and the power of God was evident in the meetings.
Something also happened to Moody the fund-raiser. Instead of depending on his own experience as a salesman, Moody began to trust God for guidance as he approached people with his needs. He was still aggressive, but in a new way. Before long he had the needed funds to replace the church building. On December 24, 1871, he dedicated the new tabernacle, with more than, 1000 children and their parents assisting him.
Perhaps this is a good place to mention the history of the church that Mr. Moody founded in 1864. It was originally called The Illinois Street Independent Church with Mr. Wheeler as the pastor. Of course, everybody knew that Mr. Moody was their leader, but he was not an ordained minister. From 1866-1869 J. H. Harwood pastured the church, but there was no regular pastor from 1869 to 1871. Moody had many friends who enjoyed assisting in the work, so there was always somebody in the pulpit. Often Moody did the preaching himself.
After the fire, the new structure was called the North Side Tabernacle, and in 1876 the church relocated to Chicago Avenue and LaSalle Street and became the Chicago Avenue Church. The esteemed pastors were William J. Erdman (1876-1878), Charles M. Morton (1878, 1879), George C. Needham (1879-1881), Charles F. Goss (1885-1890) and Charles A. Blanchard (1891-1893). From 1894 to 1906, Reuben Archer Torrey pastored the church, which was renamed The Moody Church in 1901. Mr. Moody would never have put his name on the church, but it seemed to be an appropriate way to honor his memory after his death.
Beginning in 1889, the newly founded Chicago Evangelistic Society (later Moody Bible Institute) used the church’s facilities, and Dr. R. A. Torrey served as both pastor and superintendent of the school. When Torrey left in 1906 to start the Church of the Open Door in Los Angeles, Dr. A. C. Dixon became pastor (1906-1911). One of America’s greatest preachers, Paul Rader, became pastor in 1915, and the church moved a mile north on LaSalle Street to North Avenue, where a 5000 seat tabernacle was built. Rader preached to thousands of people night after night, and multitudes were saved.
Rader resigned in 1921, and P. W. Philpott accepted the pulpit, remaining until 1929. During his ministry the congregation tore down the old tabernacle and, in 1925, dedicated the present building that is officially named The Moody Memorial Church. For 18 fruitful years (1930-1948), Dr. H. A. lronside ministered the Word to large congregations, and on every Sunday except two he saw public decisions for Christ.
S. Franklin Logsden followed Dr. Ironside as pastor. Logsden was succeeded by Dr. Alan Redpath from England. From 1966 to 1971, Dr. George Sweeting was pastor. I had the privilege of succeeding Dr. Sweeting, serving from 1971 to 1978. The present pastor is Dr. Erwin Lutz, a former instructor at Moody Bible Institute.
Whenever former Moody pastors or Moody church “alumni” get together, there are often spirited discussions about what Mr. Moody would have done had he lived longer. Would he have approved the construction of a 4000-seat cathedral-type church building? Would he perhaps have scattered the congregation to various locations in Chicago, to build 50 or 100 soul-winning churches? Paul Rader wanted to build a “skyscraper” with an auditorium for 2500 people, classrooms and offices for the church, and then to rent the rest of the structure out to help pay the bills!
Unless Mr. Moody tells us in heaven, we will never know what he would have done; therefore, it is useless to speculate. We do know that both the Moody Church and Moody Bible Institute, with its many ministries, have been used by God over the years to bless people around the world.
Moody made another trip to Britain in 1872, during which he was introduced to “dispensational truth” and met evangelist Henry Varley. It was Varley who said to Moody (and this seems to be the accurate version): “Moody, the world has yet to see what God can do with and for and through and in a man who is fully and wholly consecrated to Him.” Varley did not remember making the statement, but Moody never forgot it.
One of the ministers asked Moody to preach at a church in Arundel Square, London, and that service turned into a two-week meeting during which 400 people professed faith in Christ! Part of the secret behind the harvest was the praying of Marianne Adlard, a bed-ridden girl who had read about Moody in a newspaper and had been praying daily that he would come to her church and preach! God answered her prayers, and Moody caught a new vision of what God could do through him in Britain.
In fact, it was a crisis experience for him. As a result, he determined to concentrate on evangelism and give himself completely to the winning of lost souls.
The result was the great campaign of 1873-1875.
©2001 WWW Used by permission. This article is copyrighted by the author and is for your individual use. Reproduction for any other purpose is governed 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).