D.L. Moody’s ministry may be well be described as "highly successful crusade evangelism interspersed with periodic revivalism". He began his ministry in Chicago and entered full-time Christian work in 1860, concentrating on his Sunday school and YMCA work. He was by far the most prominent of the nineteenth-century mass urban revivalistic evangelists - God's chosen vessel to take the sparks of the 1857-60 revival to ignite a fresh passion for God and for souls around the world.
This is his story.
Moody was born in Northfield, Massachusetts, the fifth of nine children and grew up as a fun-loving boy who excelled more by playing jokes than by studying. He was a particularly poor speller, which he struggled with all his life.
He left home in March 1854, aged 17, and got a job selling shoes for his Uncle Samuel in Boston on condition that he would attend E. N. Kirk’s Mount Vernon Congregational Church. Edward Kimball, his Sunday school teacher, led him to the Lord when he visited him at work on April 21, 1855. His poor Bible knowledge prohibited him becoming a church member until March, 1856.
In 1856 he moved to Chicago and began work at the Wiswall shoe store. In May 1857 he joined the Plymouth Congregational Church early and experienced the effects of the 1857 revival in Chicago.
In 1858 he joined the Wells Street Mission of the First Baptist Church, mainly because of his desire to serve in their Sunday School.
The Sunday School was held in a slum district of Chicago at North Market Hall. He was told he could have a class if he recruited the boys himself. Moody showed up with eight street kids from the street. So successful was he that he became an expert in ‘drumming up' scholars for Sunday School. In 1858, he started a Sunday School of his own in a vacant saloon, and before long it was the largest Sunday School in Chicago. He so loved this work and God blessed it immensely and school attendance grew to fifteen hundred by 1860. During this time the school was occupied in various locations It became so notable that President Lincoln visited the school in late November 1860.
To give full time to his Sunday schools, Moody left his job in June 1860. He married Emma Revell on August 22 and she became his secretary. They had three children.
Moody made a friend of John Farwell, a dry goods merchant at the young men’s class of the First Methodist Episcopal Church. Farwell generously supported his work and later served on the board of Moody Bible Institute.
Moody built the Illinois Street Church for $24,000 and it was organized in December 1864 as a congregation. It later became the Moody Memorial Church.
When the Civil War began, Moody left his voluntary job as librarian of the YMCA to do war work. he preached to more than nine thousand Confederate prisoners at Camp Douglas. In late 1861 he joined the Seventy-second Illinois Regiment to Kentucky, serving them until 1865 as a delegate to the United States Christian Commission. He encountered several battles during this time and ministered to the physical needs of the men as well as holding temperance and revival meetings.
When the YMCA wanted a new building after the war, Moody’s friend, Farwell bought a lot for $3,000, and Moody raised nearly $200,000, with McCormick contributing $10,000, for the building which was named Farwell Hall. Moody served as president of the Chicago YMCA from 1866 to 1869 and held noonday prayer meetings and open-air services. When the hall burnt down in 1868, Moody raised money for a second building, which was later destroyed by the Great Fire of 1871.
His wife, Emma suffered with asthma and when it grew worse in the spring of 1867, Moody was given the money to take Emma to England for four months. It was an opportunity to meet Charles Spurgeon, George Müller and George Williams, the founder of the YMCA.
While in London, he spoke at Exeter Hall and began a noonday prayer meeting in the London YMCA. He met Henry Moorhouse, who had been a drunkard and a gambler. A friend, Thomas Castle, won him to the Lord in 1861. Moorhouse began meetings in London and Wales where he used textboards to attract hearers. In 1879 and 1880 he sold 120,000 Bibles and New Testaments. Moody invited Moorhouse to preach for him in Chicago.
In February 1866 Moorhouse preached in Moody’s church - seven messages on John 3:16. Moody was so impressed by Moorhouse’s emphasis on the love of God that he began preaching on the love of God more than law.
When Moorhouse first arrived in Chicago, in February 1866, Moody was unexpectedly called out of town. He asked Moorhouse to preach for him and Moorhouse began preaching on the subject of the love of God. Moorhouse preached nightly for an entire week using the text of John 3:16. When Moody returned, he was greatly surprised to find Moorhouse still preaching on the same text, and that souls were being wonderfully converted. Moody confided to a friend, "I never knew up to that time that God loved us so much. This heart of mine began to thaw out; I could not keep back the tears. I just drank it in. So did the crowded congregation. I tell you there is one thing that draws above everything else in the world and that is love."
Moody's wife, Emma, upon hearing Moorhouse, commented, "I like Moorhouse's preaching very, very much. He is very different from you. He backs everything up he says by the Bible." Moody's approach to preaching, at that time, was to string together a number of detached thoughts and texts from the Bible in his messages. Moody saw that there was something missing in his preaching. He longed for a more biblical ministry. On one occasion, young Moorhouse challenged Moody, "You are sailing on the wrong tack. If you will change your course, and learn to preach God's words instead of your own, He will make you a great power." The Spirit gave him no rest. As a result Moody now saw more clearly than ever that he needed to preach Scripture-based messages. This was a major turning point in his ministry.
When Moorhouse first arrived in Chicago, Moody was unexpectedly called out of town. He asked Moorhouse if he would preach for him at Farwell Hall. Moorhouse began preaching on the subject of the love of God. Moorhouse preached nightly for one solid week using the text of John 3:16. When Moody returned, he was greatly surprised to find Moorhouse still preaching. As he listened to Moorhouse, he discovered that Moorhouse was still preaching on the same text, and that souls were being wonderfully saved. Moody confided to a friend, "I never knew up to that time that God loved us so much. This heart of mine began to thaw out; I could not keep back the tears. I just drank it in. So did the crowded congregation. I tell you there is one thing that draws above everything else in the world and that is love."
Moody’s brother-in-law Revell said, ‘D. L. Moody had great power before, but nothing like what he had after dear Harry Moorhouse came into our lives and changed the character of the preaching.
Moody met Ira D. Sankey at a YMCA convention in Indianapolis during the summer of 1870 and invited him to be the song leader and soloist for his Chicago ministry. Sankey accepted the invite and accompanied Moody for twenty-five years.
Royalties of more than $1,250,000 were collected from the sale of 50 to 80 million copies of his Gospel Hymns and Sacred Songs and Solos, by 1900, in his crusade meetings. This were distributed between Moody Church, YMCAs, Moody Bible Institute, and the Northfield Schools. Sankey pioneered as a revivalistic song leader, soloist, and composer of gospel songs.
Around this time Sarah Cooke, a fervent prayer warrior and passionate soul-winner, with a Mrs. Hawxhurst, gave a challenge to Moody. Cooke describes her encounter with the evangelist. "Mr. Moody was an earnest, whole-souled worker, but 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. I felt he lacked what the apostles received on the day of Pentecost. Dear sister Hawxhurst and myself would, after the evening meetings, talk with him about it. At first he seemed surprised, then convicted. Then he asked us to meet with him on Friday afternoon for prayer. At every meeting he would get more in earnest, in an agony of desire for the fullness of the Spirit." Soon after these prayer meetings, Mr. Moody was baptized with the Spirit. While walking down Broadway in New York City, "suddenly the Holy Spirit fell upon him, and he staggered under the weight of Glory and the wealth of love. He was so overwhelmed by the revelation of Christ within him that he cried out, 'Oh, Lord, stay Thy hand, stay Thy hand, or the vessel will break.' Moody went back to Chicago and, as he said himself, he preached the same sermons, but where before he had ten converted, he now had hundreds." His ministry was revolutionised!
On October 8, 1871 he had told the congregation to think about his message and accept Christ the following week. But that week the Great Fire broke out and many of those present died in the fire. This tragedy challenged Moody to give an invitation to go to the inquiry room at every meeting.
Moody went to London alone in the summer of 1872 for a much-needed rest. Raising money for the YMCA and pastoring his church of 1,400, left him exhausted. It was here that he met Henry Varley who told him that “the world has yet to see what God will do with a man fully consecrated to him.” Moody was resolutely determined to be that man.
During this same UK visit, he spoke at the Arundel Square Church at the invitation of Pastor Lassy. The response to his preaching was surprising to him as many people responded to his invitation to accept Christ. In successive meetings, four hundred converts joined in ten days. He later discovered that a bedfast invalid named Marianne Adlard had prayed for revival in the church. This was a divine lesson for him on the need of anointed prayer for revival.
William Pennefather, founder of what became Mildmay Conference (a highly influential evangelical conference held annually) in 1856, with two others, asked Moody to hold meetings in England.
Moody and Sankey arrived in Liverpool in June 1873. They went to York and began a noonday prayer meeting in the YMCA where several hundred were converted. Three weeks later, in July, they went to Sunderland, where Moorhouse joined them for a “disappointing” five weeks. But real revival came through Moody’s ministry at Newcastle upon Tyne. Conversions were abundant.
In November they travelled to Edinburgh and stayed with the famous theologian, William Blaikie. Evangelistic meeting were held for seven consecutive weeks. It was during this time that Moody met Henry Drummond (1851-97. About three thousand came to Christ in Edinburgh and three thousand in Glasgow, the next venue.
Andrew Bonar hosted Moody in Glasgow during meetings from February to May 1874. Three thousand Sunday school teachers were attended one meeting. The revival meetings in Scotland were then transported to Belfast and to Dublin, where he ministered from September to November of 1874.
Returning to England, Moody held meetings in Manchester, Sheffield, Liverpool and Birmingham. From March 9 to July 12, 1875, he preached at the Agricultural Hall, in Islington, London, which seated 21,300. Lord Shaftesbury and Prime Minister Gladstone visited some of those meetings.
Whenever Moody visited Britain, his first idea in every great city was to establish permanent union prayer meetings, daily at noon. Likewise, Moody made a point of trying to contact various classes and groups of people in all of his great campaigns. Also the Y.M.C.A., which backed the 1858 Awakening wholeheartedly, became Moody’s chosen organization, for undoubtedly the work of that body in the 1858 Revival commended itself to Moody’s practical mind. Again, Moody's greatest success was in his ability to set laymen to work in Christian activity.
Spurgeon spoke of Moody’s visit of 1873-1875 as "a gracious visitation" and a "very notable ingathering of converts", especially at Newcastle and Edinburgh. Andrew Bonar, too, refers, in his diary to "the tide of real revival in Edinburgh" comparing it with his own experience of revival 35 years earlier.
When Moody returned to the United States his successful methods to revive Christians and save sinners was released to the American people. He began to preach in the largest cities across the States. In each place preparations were made to enlist Christians to pray, organise house-to-house visitation, and set up a large central meeting place with and a suitable enquiry room. From 1878 he would divide a city into sections and preach in each section for a week during his eight to ten weeks there. This method was first tried in Baltimore in October 1878 to give him time to study and prepare fresh sermons. Sankey would sing a solo and lead the hymns for half an hour, then Moody would preach. He was informal and used Scripture with illustrations. Like Hammond, he had special meetings for children.
Moody returned to England in 1881-83 and had an astounding effect on a new breed of evangelists in Britain and across the world. His
mission in Cambridge, in 1882, marked the beginning of a worldwide interdenominational student missionary movement.
Though the YMCA in the States and Christian Unions in the U.K. had their inception during the former revival (1857), Moody's influence transformed these works into powerful missionary movements. The 'Cambridge Seven', including C. T. Studd, were products of Moody's visit and they went to on evangelise China in 1885. By 1912 Studd founded W.E.C., a missionary movement which had great success in parts of Africa. Wilfred Grenfell, the renowned missionary to Labrador was converted at a tent mission led by Moody in 1885. Similar results occurred in the US.
Thousands of young men volunteered for missionary work and the Anglo-American impetus spread around the world, producing the world's Student Christian Federation, which, in turn, provided a large proportion of the outstanding Christian leaders of the early 20th Century. Moody founded the Moody Bible Institute in 1883, with an emphasis on missions. The Christian and Missionary Alliance was formed during this time by A. B. Simpson and the Christian Endeavour Movement was born out of a revival in Portland, Maine, in 1880-1881. Other evangelists, spurred on by Moody, threw themselves into the harvest. Sam Jones, J. Wilber Chapman and Billy Sunday had extraordinary success in North America.
He was God's chosen vessel to take the sparks of the 1857-60 revival to ignite a fresh passion for God and for souls around the world.
Bibliography: Earle E. Cairns: ‘An Endless Line of Spendour,’ J. Edwin Orr: ‘The Fervent Prayer.’