Dwight Lyman Moody, the lay Evangelist, was born in the town of Northfield, Mass., [United States], on the 5th of February, 1837. He came of the old Puritan stock, his father's and mother's families being numbered among the earliest settlers of that state. His father, Edwin, owned a comfortable farm-house just without the town, and a few acres of stony land, the whole encumbered by a mortgage. When the building trade was brisk, he worked as a stone mason, and his leisure hours he spent in cultivating his little farm. But his spirit was crushed by reverses in business, and he died suddenly after an illness of few hours. Dwight was then only four year old, but the shock of that death made an impression on him which he declares he has never forgotten. This blow was followed by the birth of a twin boy and girl a few weeks later. Thus Mrs. Moody was burdened with the care of seven sons, and two daughters, of whom the eldest boy was only aged fifteen. Yet this widowed mother refused to part with any of her little brood. She bravely set about caring for them all, and contrived to have the little hands earn something for their support, by tilling the garden and doing odd jobs for the neighbors. She taught them every day a little Bible lesson, and always accompanied them to the Unitarian church and Sunday-school.
Another sorrow came on the bereaved family, through the oldest boy becoming a runaway. We give Moody's description of this incident, as he told it in England, and because of the insight it gives into his home life.
"I can give you a little experience of my own family. Before I was four years old the first thing I remember was the death of my father. He had been unfortunate in business, and failed. Soon after his death the creditors came in and took everything. My mother was left with a large family of children. One calamity after another swept over the entire household. Twins were added to the family, and my mother was taken sick. The eldest boy was fifteen years of age, and to him my mother looked as a stay in her calamity, but all at once that boy became a wanderer. He had been reading some of the trashy novels, and the belief had seized him that he had only to go away to make a fortune. Away he went. I can remember how eagerly she used to look for tidings of that boy; how she used to send us to the post office to see if there was a letter from him, and recollect how we used to come back with the sad news, "No letter." I remember how in the evenings we used to sit beside her in that New England home, and we would talk about our father; but the moment the name of that boy was mentioned she would hush us into silence. Some nights when the wind was very high, and the house, which was upon a hill, would tremble at every gust, the voice of my mother was raised in prayer for that wanderer who had treated her so unkindly. I used to think she loved him more than all of us put together, and I believe she did. On a Thanksgiving day—you know that is a family day in New England—she used to set a chair for him, thinking he would return home. Her family grew up and her boys left home. When I got so that I could write, I sent letters all over the country, but could find no trace of him. One day, in Boston, the news reached me that he had returned. While in that city, I remember how I used to look for him in every store—he had a mark on his face—but I never got any trace. One day while my mother was sitting at the door, a stranger was seen coming toward the house, and when he came to the door he stopped. My mother didn't know her boy. He stood there with folded arms and great beard flowing down his breast, his tears trickling down his face. When my mother saw those tears she cried, "Oh, it's my lost son," and entreated him to come in. But he stood still. "No, mother," he said, "I will not come in until I hear first that you have forgiven me." Do you believe she was not willing to forgive him? Do you think she was likely to keep him long standing there. She rushed to the threshold, threw her arms around him, and breathed forgiveness."
In his boyhood, Dwight was healthy, boisterous, self-willed, and a born leader among his playmates. His mother has said that he used to think himself a man when he was only a boy. He was by no means a promising scholar, for his head was more filled with thoughts of play and mischief than of study. He has related that his first master was quick-tempered and used to bring down his rattan often on his back. But the next teacher was a gentle lady, who was eager to rule the school with love. He chanced to be the first one who violated her discipline. The sturdy boy thought himself able to resist any further rattanning, and doubtless he was. When she told him privately, however, how she loved him and her school, and said, "I want to ask you one favor—that is, if you love me, try and be a good boy."
This spirited, untamed lad possessed a very receptive nature, and it was silently alive to the incidents of every-day life. His sermons abound with instances of how his early character was moulded by casual occurrences that would have been unfelt by most folks. He always remembered the efficacy of a prayer that dated back to his sixth year. An old fence up on a hillside had fallen upon him, and his efforts to get from under the heavy rails all failed. Then, as he said, "I happened to think that maybe God would help me, and so I asked him; and after that I could lift the rails." The tolling of the church bell at each death in the village came to his mind very solemnly. The gift of a penny by an old man in a neighboring town was always fragrant in his memory. But a singular incident which occurred in his youth, some little while before he left his home, seems to have had so profound an influence in preparing his heart for acknowledging the Savior as its rightful ruler that it cannot well be passed over unnoticed. He has told it 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. He went away from that town, and at the end of a week went into another church and he heard the minister give out the same text, 'Seek first the kingdom of God.' He felt sure this time that it was the prayers of his mother, but he said calmly and deliberately, 'No, I will first get wealthy.' He said he went on and did not go into a church for a few months, but the first place of worship he went into he heard a third minister preaching a sermon from the same text. He tried to drown—to stifle his feelings; tried to get the sermon out of his mind, and resolved that he would keep away from church altogether, and for a few years he did keep out of God's house. 'My mother died,' he said, 'and the text kept coming up in my mind, and I said I will try and become a Christian.' The tears rolled down his cheeks, as he said, 'I could not; no sermon ever touched me; my heart is as hard as that stone,' pointing to one in the field. I couldn't understand what it was all about—it was fresh to me then. I went to Boston and got converted, and the first thought that came to me was about this man. When I got back I asked my mother, 'Is Mr. L— living in such a place? 'Didn't I write to you about him?' she asked. 'They have taken him to an insane asylum, and to every one who goes there he points with his finger up there and tells him to seek first the kingdom of God.' There was that man with his eyes dull with the loss of reason, but the text had sunk into his soul—it had burned down deep. Oh, may the Spirit of God burn the text into your hearts to-night. When I got home again my mother told me he was in his house, and I went to see him. I found him in a rocking chair, with that vacant, idiotic look upon him. As soon as he saw me, he pointed at me and said: 'Young man, seek first the kingdom of God.' Reason was gone, but the text was there. Last month, when I was laying my brother down in his grave, I could not help thinking of that poor man who was lying so near him, and wishing that the prayer of his mother had been heard, and that he had found the kingdom of God."
Young Moody, at the age of seventeen, left Northfield, with his mother's permission, to seek employment in Boston, where his uncle was in business as a shoe merchant. Mr. Holton engaged his country nephew with some reluctance, and on two conditions. The lad agreed to be governed by his advice, and to attend regularly the Sunday school and services of the Mount Vernon Congregational church. Its pastor was the eloquent and learned Dr. E. N. Kirk, who, in earlier years, had accomplished much good as an evangelist. The lad was not much impressed by the preaching, which he was not qualified to comprehend; but the personal efforts of his teacher, Mr. Edward Kimball, were blessed to his conversion. Many years after, he told the story of how he was saved.
"When I was in Boston, I used to attend a Sunday-school class, and one day I recollect a Sabbath-school teacher came round behind the counter of the shop I was to work in, and put his hand on my shoulder, and talked to me about Christ and my soul. I had not felt that I had a soul till then. I said. 'This is a very strange thing. Here is a man who never saw me until within a few days, and he is weeping over my sins, and I never shed a tear about them.' But I understand it now, and know what it is to have a passion for men's souls and weep over their sins. I don't remember what he said, but I can feel the power of that young man's hand on my shoulder to-night. Young Christian men, go and lay your hand on your comrade's shoulder, and point him to Jesus to-night. Well, he got me up to the school, and it was not long before I was brought into the kingdom of God."
Years afterward, when Mr. Moody was preaching in Boston, he was permitted to lead to the Savior a son of that teacher, who found peace in believing just at his own age of seventeen. Thus the seed sown on the waters bore in due time the sweetest fruitage for the sower.
The young convert was unpromising enough at first, in outward appearance. He knew very little of the Scriptures, and he was not grounded in evangelical truth. Besides, his bashful shyness in the presence of cultured, refined Christians, his poor command of words to express his thoughts, and his broken, awkward sentences, made him, in the language of his teacher, very 'unlikely ever to become a Christian of clear and decided views of gospel truth, still less to fill any extended sphere of public usefulness.' Therefore it was that he was not accepted into membership until May, 1856, a year after his first application. He remained but a few months longer in Boston. He longed for a wider field of usefulness, where his energy in business and religious work would be less trammeled. So, in September, 1856, he betook himself to Chicago with testimonials which secured him a business engagement as salesman in the shoe trade. He also entered the Plymouth Congregational Church, and showed his earnest spirit by renting four pews, which he kept filled with young men and boys. He desired to work in the service of prayer; but the brethren were not patient enough to suffer his crude experience, and suggestions were not infrequent that he could best serve the Lord by silence.
Mr. Moody's first start in the work of reaching souls was obtained through a little mission school. He offered himself as teacher, and was told he might attend if he would bring his own scholars. So that week he collected together some eighteen ragged boys, and marched in at their head on the next Sunday. He liked such work so well that he set about further visitations in the by-streets, and soon had the school filled. He also busied himself in distributing tracts, and in looking after the good of the seamen at the wharves. His ardent spirit soon impelled him to set up a mission for himself, in a neglected and degraded section of North Chicago. He paid for the hire of an empty tavern, and gathered together the unclean and rude children of the neighborhood for Sunday-school services while the intemperate and ignorant adults were reached in the evening meetings. The poor little ones were won over to attention by gifts of maple sugar, and a liberal lot of hymns and stories. Just at this time, Mr. Reynolds, of Peoria, visited this humble mission. His description of the service is invaluable, as illustrating the progressive growth of the lay evangelist in strength and usefulness.
"The first meeting I ever saw him at," he said several years since, "was in a little old shanty that had been abandoned by a saloon keeper. Mr. Moody had got the place to hold the meetings in at night. I went there a little late, and the first thing I saw was a man standing up, with a few tallow candles around him, holding a Negro boy, and trying to read to him the story of the Prodigal Son; and a great many of the words he could not make out, and had to skip. I thought, if the Lord can ever use such an instrument as that for his honor and glory, it will astonish me. After that meeting was over. Mr. Moody said to me: 'Reynolds; I have got only one talent. I have no education, but I love the Lord Jesus Christ, and I want to do something for him. I want you to pray for me.' I have never ceased from that day to this, morning and night, to pray for that devoted Christian soldier. I have watched him since then, have had counsel with him, and know him thoroughly; and, for consistent walk and conversation, I have never met a man to equal him. It astounds me when I look back and see what Mr. Moody was thirteen years ago, and then what he is under God today—shaking Scotland to its very center, and reaching now over to Ireland. The last time I heard from him, his injunction was, 'Pray for me every day; pray now that the Lord will keep me humble.'"
Henceforth, missionary efforts were the uppermost concern in his daily life. The growth of his school led to the occupation of the North Market Hall, and John V. Farwell, a liberal merchant who supplied benches for the scholars, had the grace to become its superintendent. Under Moody's vigorous canvassing, the average attendance was kept up to 650, and sixty teachers were obtained. His engagements as a traveling salesman were not suffered to interfere with these Sunday duties, and he was rarely compelled to be absent. As the hall was used till a late hour on Saturday night for dancing, it was his custom for six years to clean out the dirt and put the room in decent condition for the services. And he took care to let his light shine wherever he went. He feared neither drunkards nor rum sellers, deists nor infidels, for he felt himself a match for any adversary when armed with the sword of the Spirit and strengthened by prayer. When the children of Roman Catholic parents stoned his windows he at once sought redress of their bishop, and so won his confidence by a devout simplicity of spirit that immunity was secured for the future. His courageous avowal of his faith was startling to timid believers. When he was solicitous about the salvation of an acquaintance or a stranger, he hesitated not to kneel and offer prayer for his conversion then and there, no matter whether they were out in the streets or traveling in a railroad car. His faith and spirit of consecration waxed stronger by the study of God's Word and the constant fruitage of his life in good works.
In 1860, after a time of soul-searching in prayer, he determined to give all his time to God as an Evangelist. When his employer inquired how he expected to support himself, he replied: "God will provide for me if he wishes me to keep on, and I shall keep on till I am obliged to stop." His impulse in this personal work for souls was derived from the zeal of one of his teachers, who was dying of consumption, and who was permitted, before his death, to lead every one of his large class to the Savior. He reduced his expenses to a minimum by doing without a home, so that he slept on a bench in the room of the Young Men's Christian Association, and spent but little for food. After a time, contributions came to him from friends, and he was appointed a city missionary, so that his means for assisting the destitute were much enlarged. He commenced then to fulfill a vow by speaking to one unconverted man every day. Sometimes his tender approaches were rejected with scorn and cursing, but again and again persons who had vilified him were drawn by the power of a conscience under conviction to seek the intercession of his prayers, that they might be led to the Savior.
In the spirit of reliance on the leading of the Lord, the evangelist was married on the 28th of August, 1862, to Miss Emma C. Revell. This Christian lady was an helpful assistant in his meetings, and her sympathy made their little fireside a refuge of rest to him amid his toils. For years their home was a small and plain cottage. But its hospitality became proverbial, for gospel workers and reclaimed prodigals were entertained without stint. The gift of a daughter and a son made the father more susceptible to the thoughts and impulses of child-life. He took care always to remain in close communion with their budding minds, and his sermons often have graphic illustrations of the methods he took to make them familiar with the fundamental truths of the faith. Meanwhile his daily living was wholly committed to the providence of God. His mind was absorbed in watching over the souls of the throngs about him, and he obeyed the scriptural injunction to take no anxious thought for the morrow. He lived the placid life befitting a child of God, having the trustful faith that his father would supply his needs while he was busy as a worker in his vineyard. One morning he said to his wife: "I have no money, and the house is without supplies. It looks as if the Lord had had enough of me in this mission work, and is going to send me back again to sell boots and shoes." But a day or two later brought to him two checks, one of fifty dollars for himself and the other for his school. He accepted this gift as a token from the Lord that he was held in favor. This instance was but one of many of a similar character. His unselfish labors raised up for him many friends, and these gave him, on New Year's day, 1868, the lease of a pleasant and furnished house.
This whole season was one abounding in labors. Besides his army services, Mr. Moody was keenly alive to the needs of his mission at the North Market Hall. His school numbered a thousand scholars. The congregation he had gathered together now contained three hundred adults converted under his preaching. Thus had grown up, wholly without human design, a staunch and inseparable congregation under a lay pastor. This was organized as an independent fold, on the basis of the evangelical faith. In 1863 a church building was erected on Illinois street at a cost of $20,000. Never had a people a more faithful and energetic pastor to watch over their welfare. Nor was he in the least forgetful of the Young Men's Christian Association, of Chicago. By his efforts its noon services for prayer were attended steadily by a thousand people. When its members were intent on obtaining a permanent hall, they elected him president in 1865. Their expectations were fulfilled by the speedy erection of "Farwell Hall," and its dedication on the 29th of September, 1867. That building was destroyed by fire within a few months, but his exhaustless energy soon reared a second edifice on the same site. On Sunday evenings he used to preach in its hall after spending the morning in his own pulpit, and the afternoon in superintending ten hundred school children.
When Farwell Hall was dedicated, as "the first hall ever erected for Christian young men," Mr. Moody confessed his faith that, by the Lord's blessing, a religious influence was to go out from them that "should extend through every county in the State, through every State in the Union, and finally, crossing the water should help to bring the whole world to God." And this blessing did speedily begin. Through the earnest efforts of Mr. Moody, the Christians of Springfield were awakened to the need of prayer for the approaching meeting of the State Convention of Sunday-school teachers. As the results, all its sessions exhibited a hallowed influence. Many conversions occurred, and the delegates bore through the length and breadth of the State tokens of the fervid baptism of the Spirit.
Mr. Moody has been for years peculiarly a Bible Christian. Again and again friends have suggested to him certain courses of study, or the reading of particular books. But the pressure of his active duties as an evangelist has always intervened and prevented him from making any effort for the attainment of a theological education. Hence, he has been providentially driven to depend upon his personal study of the Bible itself, as its own best interpreter. The solemn injunction of Holy Writ to "Preach the Word," and the Word only, was impressed upon his mind by Harry Morehouse, "the boy preacher" of Manchester, who told him: "You need only one book for the study of the Bible. Since I have been an evangelist I have been the man of one book. If a text of scripture troubles me, I ask another text to explain it; and if this will not answer I carry it straight to the Lord." He met this lad, then aged seventeen, in his first visit to England and Ireland in 1867. A few months later, Morehouse visited Chicago, and delighted Mr. Moody by delivering seven Bible readings upon the love of God. He brought a multitude of passages to illustrate the depth of spiritual meaning in the text of John 3:16, which Luther has well termed "the little Gospel." This intercourse came to him as a new revelation of the wonders of God's Word and love. From that time his two accepted guide books were Cruden's Concordance and the little Bible Text Books. These aids enabled him to trace any word or doctrine through the Holy Scriptures. In Mr. Moody's second visit to England, in the spring of 1872, he learned from the devout Plymouth Brethren to appreciate and appropriate the promises which abound in the Bible of the second coming of Christ. "I have felt like working three times as hard," he has stated, "since I came to understand that my Lord was coming back again. I look on this world as a wrecked vessel. God has given me a life-boat, and said to me, 'Moody, save all you can.'" He was also impressed by the prediction of Henry Varley, the Bible reader: "It remains for the world to see what the Lord can do with a man wholly consecrated to Christ." Again, at another time, he heard one Christian ask another of himself: "Is this young man all O. O.?" meaning, "is he out and out for Christ?" He has confessed that this question burned down into his soul, and taught him that it meant a good deal to be O. O. for Christ.
The terrible fire of October, 1871, which swept Chicago into a whirlwind of flame, laid in ruins all the buildings that were associated with his labors. It also separated from him his yoke-fellow, Mr. Ira D. Sankey, who had joined him as a gospel singer only four months before. But the evangelist was not cast down. Contributions came to his aid from his friends in the East, in answer to his appeals. Within three months he had a large frame Tabernacle erected, measuring seventy-five by one hundred and nine feet. All his services were resumed, and the building also served as a storehouse of supplies for the impoverished district. His plans were laid out for the completion of a permanent church edifice, and an appeal for aid was made to the Sunday-school children of the land. While this was in progress, the two yoke-fellows, after a patient waiting on the Lord for guidance, accepted an invitation to visit the British Isles as evangelists. Mr. Moody, after four months of self-searching inquiry, had made an entire consecration of his life to the the Lord, and was fired with a baptism of the Spirit which, as he avowed later, made him eager "To go round the world and tell the perishing millions of a Savior's love."
[Published in 1883; D. L. Moody died in 1899.]
From "The Gospel Awakening"... edited by L. T. Remlap [pseud.]. Chicago: Fairbanks and Palmer Pub. Co., ©1883.
>> More D. L. Moody