D L Moody
Dwight L Moody
Dwight L Moody (1837-1899) was an Evangelical preacher who launched a Christian revival in America and in England. His trusty sidekick, Ira Sankey, wrote effusive Victorian Hymns that when collected into a book proved to be the best selling hymnal of the 19th Century.
D L Moody was an honest and industrious boy from a village in New England who moved to the big city to seek his fortune and fame as a merchant. God had other plans for him. He was transformed from an unknown Sunday School teacher in 1856 into a spiritual giant by the time of his death.
Dwight L Moody looked like a businessman. He brought middle class respectability to American revivalism. Moody was not theatrical or sensational. His message was "living truths for head and heart, illustrated by . . . thrilling anecdotes and incidents, personal experiences, touching home stories, and stories of tender pathos." He stressed the Love of God for us—and the need for us to love Him.
The Moody Church
Dwight L Moody was one of the first fundamentalists. He believed in personal holiness, Christian ethics, and that the Bible was the infallible Word of God. Moody followed the Holiness Movement and taught that what people needed was an infilling of the Holy Spirit to empower their Walk with the Lord.
D L Moody helped establish the YMCA in his adopted city of Chicago. He preached on the streets for a few years. In 1862, during the Civil War, Moody ministered to the 100,000 wounded soldiers of the horrific Battle of Shiloh. He said: "We must not let a man die . . . without telling him of Christ and Heaven."
By 1871, Dwight L Moody was well-known as the evangelical leader of Chicago, though only 34 years old. On Sunday nights he had preached at the three-thousand-seat Farwell Hall, which he had built for the Chicago YMCA a few years earlier when he was President of that organization. Outgrowing that venue, Moody founded the Illinois Street Church—The Moody Church today.
The Moody Bible Institute
The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 destroyed Farwell Hall, the Illinois Street Church, and Moody's home. All he had left was his Bible. Until that event, D L Moody had been torn between staying in Chicago and going on the road to evangelize wherever the Lord might lead him. The fire turned everything that kept him in Chicago to ashes. He went on the travel over a million miles as the greatest evangelist in the world as the 19th Century came to a close. Moody would eventually share the Gospel with more than a hundred million people.
In 1873 and 1874, Dwight L Moody preached throughout England. The 2.5 million people who came to see him preach represent the greatest British revival since the days of John Wesley. Moody would also launch great revivals in Scotland, Ireland, and Canada.
After returning to the United States, D L Moody started a non-denominational Sunday School for poor children. He always sought cordial relations with all denominations. In 1879, Moody founded a school for girls in Northfield, Massachusetts.
In 1886, Dwight L Moody founded a Christian college that he called the Chicago Evangelization Society for the "education and training of Christian workers, including teachers, ministers, missionaries and musicians who may completely and effectively proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ." It was renamed after Moody's death and is thriving today as the Moody Bible Institute—sometimes called Moody Bible College.
The son of D L Moody, William, took over leadership of the Moody Bible Institute after his father passed away. William Moody was a serious, formal, conservative man. Under his guidance, the Moody Bible Institute became the premier Bible institute in America, with 1,000 students enrolled by the 1920s. Today it has 1,400 full time students and 18,000 in distance training. Moody Bible Institute has trained more missionaries that any school in the world.
D L Moody
D L Moody believed strongly that charity and evangelism naturally go together: "I go to a poor sinner with the Bible in one hand and a loaf of bread in the other." The most compassionate care for the needy should foremost to care about their soul. Coming to Christ inevitably led to moral uplift; to taking personal responsibility for oneself and one's family; to stability in the home that is the key to resolve a multitude of social pathologies—including poverty. "Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things [material sustenance] shall be given to you."
Dwight L Moody delivered a simple and positive message in his sermons based on the three R's: "Ruin by sin, Redemption by Christ, Regeneration by the Holy Ghost." Moody did not preach on God's wrath or about fire and brimstone. He believed that "Terror never brought a man in yet." He did denounce evolution, atheism, the theatre, drunkenness, selling liquor, Sunday newspapers, and disregard of the Sabbath. He preached against greed, avarice, jealousy, envy, and selfishness. He also warned about "pandering the lusts of the body," "telling vile stories," and "loving worldly pleasures and amusements."
D L Moody focused on personal sins: "Whatever the sin is, make up your mind that will gain victory over it." The Christian community was there to set a good example and encourage others but ultimately it was up to the individual to accept Christ and conquer sin. The sinner stands alone before God. Sin causes personal, familial, and societal distress. It can be relieved by passionate surrender to the incredible love of Jesus.
Dwight L Moody, unlike most evangelicals who thought the world would get better and better as time marches on, believed the world would "grow worse and worse." He said: "I look upon this world as a wrecked vessel. God has given me a lifeboat and said to me, 'Moody, save all you can.'"
D L Moody avoided controversy and divisiveness like the plague. He said: "Christ's teaching was always constructive . . . His method of dealing with error was largely to ignore it, letting it melt away in the warm glow of the full intensity of truth expressed in love."
His heir apparent, Rueben Torrey saw it differently: "Christ and his immediate disciples immediately attacked, exposed and denounced error. We are constantly told in our day that we ought not to attack error but to simply teach the truth. This is the method of the coward and trimmer; it was not the method of Christ."
Torrey also rejected the notion that the Bible needed theologians to explain its truths: "In ninety-nine out of a hundred cases, the meaning that the plain man gets out of the Bible is the correct one."
Dwight L Moody saw Jesus face to face December 26, 1899. Moody had founded the Mount Hermon School for Boys, and it was fitting that 32 of those boys carried his casket to its final resting place. At the funeral, his son remarked that his father's face looked peaceful, reflecting the deep satisfaction the Christian experiences after leaving the streams of earth for the oceans of heaven.
It was a cloudy day but just as the service drew to a close a shaft of sunlight appeared in back of the church. The beam moved through the church, coming to rest on the face of D L Moody. His face seemed to illuminate with pure, joyful radiance. His son wrote: "The sunshine touched no other object; the face only was illumined and then . . . the sun set behind the distant hill."
My sources for this article include: The One Year Book of Christian History by E. Michael and Sharon Rusten; A History of Christianity by Paul Johnson; and Fundamentalism and American Culture by George Marsden.