D. L. Moody: Evangelist – Soul Winner (Part 1)
D. L. Moody was undoubtedly one of the foremost evangelists of all time. The meetings held by Moody and Ira Sankey were among the greatest the world has ever known. They were the means under God of arousing the church to new life and activity, and were the means of bringing tens of thousands of persons into the kingdom of God.
Mr. Moody was one of the weak instruments which God has chosen to confound the mighty. He had very little education before his conversion to Christ. At seventeen years of age he could scarcely read or write, and in a Bible class he could not turn to the book of John but searched for it in the Old Testament. After his conversion he became a proficient scholar. Few men have learned so much in the school of observation.
Dwight Lyman Moody was of old New England Puritan stock. For seven generations his ancestors lived the quiet lives of farmers in the Connecticut Valley. Moody inherited the vigorous constitution and hardy common sense of the typical New Englander. He was the sixth child in a family of nine children, and was born February 5, 1837, in the town of Northfield, Massachusetts, where he would later found his famous Bible schools. His home town was always very dear to him, and it was one of the greatest pleasures of his life to return to it after a long and arduous evangelistic campaign.
Moody’s father died at the early age of forty-one, and left his widow in poverty with a mortgage on the home. The creditors seized everything they could, even to the firewood. The children had to stay in bed until school-time to keep warm. A brother to the widowed mother then came to their rescue and helped relieve their immediate needs, bringing an abundant load of firewood. Mrs. Moody’s pastor, Rev. Everett, was also very kind to them helping with both counsel and material assistance. All the Moody children became members of his Sunday School, and were enlisted as workers to bring in other children. It was here that young Dwight began his successful career as a Sunday School worker.
Moody’s mother had sought to bring up her children as a Christian mother should and Dwight never wandered into gross sins as so many young men have done. Lying, complaining, breaking of promises, or talking evil about others, was never allowed in the home. "Trust in God" was the creed of his mother’s simple Christian faith, and early in life the children learned to love God and pray to Him who is the strength of the fatherless and the widow.
When Dwight was eight years of age, he and an elder brother were crossing the river in a skiff with a boatman who was too drunk to row the boat, and who would not let the boys touch the oars. They were drifting with the current, but Dwight took his brother’s hand and encouraged him by assuring him that God would care for them and guard them in their present peril. Soon they came safely to land.
Mrs. Moody was tender-hearted, and the children early learned the privilege of giving from their scanty store. The hungry were never turned away from their door. One evening when the provision for the evening meal was very meager, it was put to the vote of the little ones whether they should give of their small supply to a poor beggar who appealed for aid. The children begged that he should be aided and offered to have their own slices cut thinner.
Church attendance was not a debatable question in the family. To save the wear on their shoes when walking to church, the boys would carry their shoes and stockings in their hands and when in sight of the church would put them on. Dwight thought it hard, after working all week, to have to go to church and listen to a sermon he did not understand. But he came to look upon his mother’s requirement of church attendance as a blessing because it fixed upon him the habit of attending God’s house even when he did not feel like going.
At ten years of age Dwight left home in company of another brother to work in a neighboring village about thirteen miles away. This nearly broke his mother’s heart, as she had striven so hard to keep the family together. He was fondly attached to his mother and sorrowed over leaving her. In describing this time he said, "That was the longest journey I ever took, for thirteen miles was more to me at ten than the world’s circumference has ever been since."
Striking Out on His Own
At seventeen years of age, Moody, tired of farm life and ambitious to work his way upward in the world, decided to go to Boston. He arrived there without any money, and tried in vain to find work until he was almost in despair. In remembering this time Moody commented, "I had the feeling that no one wanted me. I never have had it since, and never want it again. It is an awful feeling. It seems to me that must have been the feeling of the Son of God when He was down here. They did not want Him. He had come to save men, and they did not want to be saved. He had come to lift men up, and they did not want to be lifted up. There was no room for Him in this world, and there is no room for Him yet."
He then found employment with one of his uncles who was in the shoe business, and he succeeded well as a salesman. He also became a regular attendant at the Mount Vernon Congregational Sunday School. Having but little schooling, he took but little part in the discussions in the class, but gradually became deeply interested in the study of the Bible. His teacher, Mr. Edward Kimball, took great interest in him, and gradually led him to see the plan of salvation. "I determined to speak to him about Christ and about his soul," says Mr. Kimball, "and started down to Holton’s shoe store. When I was nearly there I began to wonder whether I ought to go in just then during business hours. I thought that possibly my call might embarrass the boy. …I found Moody in the back part of the building wrapping up shoes. I went up to him at once, and putting my hand on his shoulder…I simply told him of Christ’s love for him and the love Christ wanted in return. That was all there was. It seemed the young man was just ready for the light that then broke upon him, and there, in the back of the store in Boston, he gave himself and his life to Christ."
Moody’s whole life was now changed, and became one of joyful Christian service. "Before my conversion," says he, "I worked towards the Cross, but since then I have worked from the Cross; then I worked to be saved, now I work because I am saved." He was now running over with zeal and love for the Master.
For two years Moody continued to work in Boston but his uncle’s store seemed to offer little promise for the future. At that time a new city of the Western prairies was attracting young men from the east. Without telling any one of his plans, Moody decided to strike out on a new adventure a thousand miles from home in the city of Chicago.
(To be continued)
– Adapted from Deeper Experiences of Famous Christians by James Gilchrist Lawson and supplemented with information from The Life of Dwight L. Moody by William R. Moody.