The dying nineteenth century recorded the death of one of its greatest men. Dwight Lyman Moody (1837-1899), world-renowned worker for Christ, went to be with his Lord on December 22, 1899. From the life of this humble man rivers of living water had streamed out to bless America, Great Britain and the world.
Acclaimed by many as the leading platform evangelist of the century, famed as the founder of Christian institutions, prominent as a Sunday school and YMCA worker, D. L. Moody also held highest rating as a personal worker. He wrote no books on personal evangelism, but numerous references in the D. L. Moody literature prove that he was a practical and persistent personal evangelist and that he inspired many others to engage in this work. That he gave top priority to personal, soul-winning as a Christian responsibility there can be no doubt.
Moody owed his own conversion to personal work. His Boston Sunday school teacher, Edward Kimball, tells the well-known story as follows:
I determined to speak to him about Christ and about his soul, 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, and that when I went away the other clerks would ask who I was, and taunt him with my efforts in trying to make him a good boy. In the meantime I had passed the store, and, discovering this, I determined to make a dash for it and have it over at once.
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 made what I afterwards felt was a very weak plea for Christ. I don't know just what words I used, nor could Mr. Moody tell. 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 that store in Boston, he gave himself and his life to Christ.1
Coming to Chicago in 1856 to seek his fortune, young Moody immediately enlisted in Christian work. He hired a pew in Plymouth Congregational Church and went out into the boarding houses and streets to round up young men to fill it.
Soon he started his own Sunday school for neglected children on the Near North Side of Chicago. Though somewhat crude in his methods, he was so energetic in personal visitation and so enthusiastic in invitation that he built up his Sunday school in a few years to be one of the largest in the country. His personal work in these years was more directed toward getting people into Sunday school and church than in winning them to Christ.
He received the vision of personal soul-winning from an experience with one of his Sunday school teachers. This teacher, quite ill and ordered to leave Chicago, was concerned about his unsaved Sunday school scholars. Moody relates his words:
"I have had another hemorrhage from the lungs. The doctor says I cannot live on Lake Michigan, so I am going back to New York State. I suppose I am going to die."
He seemed greatly troubled, and when I asked the reason, he replied:
"Well, I have never led any of my class to Christ. I really believe I have done the girls more harm than good."
I had never heard anyone talk like that before, and it set me thinking.
After a while I said: "Suppose you go and tell them how you feel. I will go with you in a carriage, if you want to go." He consented and we started out together. It was one of the best journeys I ever had on earth. We went to the house of one of the girls, called for her, and the teacher talked to her about her soul. There was no laughing then. Tears stood in her eyes before long. After he had explained the way of life, he suggested that we have a word of prayer. He asked me to pray. True, I had never done such a thing in my life as to pray God to convert a young lady there and then. But we prayed and God answered our prayer.
We went to other houses. He would go upstairs and be all out of breath, and he would tell the girls what he had come for. It wasn't long before they broke down and sought salvation. When his strength gave out, I took him back to his lodgings. The next day we went out again. At the end of ten days he came to the store with his face literally shining.
"Mr. Moody," he said, "the last one of my class has yielded herself to Christ."
I tell you we had a time of rejoicing.
He had to leave the next night, so I called his class together that night for a prayer-meeting, and there God kindled a fire in my soul that has never gone out. The height of my ambition had been to be a successful merchant, and if I had known that meeting was going to take that ambition out of me, I might not have gone. But how many times I have thanked God since for that meeting!2
This experience took place in 1860. From that time onward Moody was an aggressive personal worker. Whether working for the Lord in his Sunday school, the Y.M.C.A., the Civil War army camps, or in mass evangelism, he was out after individuals for Christ. While he took hold of the opportunities for personal work as they occurred, he felt it his duty to make such opportunities. He resolved that he would try to win at least one person to Christ every day. If, under the pressure of his many responsibilities, he forgot his resolve, he would get out of bed and go out into the streets to find someone to talk to about Christ.
Peter Bilhorn, noted Gospel musician, tells how years later he had an experience which showed that Moody was still living by his resolve. He writes the following lengthy but vivid story:
In the fall of 1892, a request came from Mr. Moody to help out in the music of a series of union meetings then in progress in the city of Buffalo, N.Y., Mr. Sankey had been taken sick and was compelled to leave. George C. Stebbins and James McGranahan were elsewhere engaged.
Mr. Moody was being entertained in a suite of rooms in a downtown hotel, and asked me to occupy one of the rooms in his suite. The meetings were held in an opera house building many blocks away from the hotel.
It was the practice of Mr. Moody each morning after breakfast to read a chapter from the old Book, comment on the subject read, then get down on his knees and pray for the meetings and for certain men he had on his mind, and for the Bible Institute in Chicago and the schools at Northfield. These prayers were always fraught with warmth and power.
One stormy Monday morning, after reading and prayer, I ventured to ask him wherein his power lay. (It seemed that every man with whom he spoke on the subject of salvation and becoming a Christian was swept right into the kingdom. Oh, how I craved this blessing and power!) He said, "Bilhorn, I will tell you this much: I made a promise to God and the rule of my life that I would speak to at least one man every day about his soul's salvation."
I said: "But, Mr. Moody, the opportunity does not always present itself!"
He quickly replied and said: "It will if you keep in touch with God and keep your eyes open for the opportunity!" I was anxious to see just how he approached men on the subject of salvation, as it is not always an easy task. So, watching closely from morning till evening, I was sure there had no one called that rainy day to see him.
I knew that the elevator man was a Christian, also the clerk and the colored man who waited on the table.
The storm which had been gathering grew more severe, and at about time to get ready for the meeting, it seemed to be at its worst. I said: "Guess there won't be many out tonight in this storm!"
With a sort of a grunt he said: "There will be a houseful if you believe there will."
He was looking out of the window, and said: "I never saw it rain harder than this! Go and get a carriage!"
I hastened down the stairs, and as I stepped out of the door a carriage drove up. The man on the seat said: "Has Moody gone to the meeting yet?"
I said: "I have come down to get a carriage."
"Well, here I am," said he.
I hastened back to the room, helped Mr. Moody with his overcoat, and together we went down the elevator.
Mr. Moody said to the elevator man, "Jim, pray for us tonight!" The Irishman replied: "I will do that, Mr. Moody! 'Tis a lot of wet birds you'll be having out tonight."
I held the umbrella over Mr. Moody and urged him to get in first, but no, he pushed me in and then stepped in.
He had hardly closed the door of the carriage when he opened it again, stuck his head out and shouted to the driver: "Drive close to the curbing!"
Water was running down the street like a river, and almost reached the stepping board. Every few minutes he would open the door and stick his head out in the storm. The night was pitch dark; the rain was beating against the carriage. I was puzzled at the seeming peculiarity of his sticking his head out in the storm. But I had learned not to question him about it, and soon I learned the reason. He called to the driver to stop, which he did, and Mr. Moody stepped out of the carriage into the rain and stood there a moment. Soon a man came along, pushing his way against the storm with an umbrella. Mr. Moody stopped him and said: "Where are you going?"
"I'm going to the Opera House to hear Moody preach."
"So am I. Step in and ride!"
He literally lifted the man in. Hardly had the man seated himself when Mr. Moody said to him: "Are you a Christian?"
"No, I am not."
"Would you like to be?" was the next question.
The man, shaking the water from his hat and collar said: "You don't think I'd be coming out in this storm to hear Moody preach if I wasn't thinking that way, would you?"
Then Mr. Moody said to me: "Bilhorn, you pray for this man!"
Oh yes, I prayed, but to me it didn't seem much of a prayer. Then Mr. Moody prayed and just at this moment the storm was spending its fury, and amidst the thunder and lightning his voice could be heard: "O God, save this brother tonight, right here now, for Christ's sake! Amen."
The storm which had so furiously been raging ceased, and there seemed to be a sweet calm as Mr. Moody said, "Brother, will you take Jesus Christ to be your Lord and Saviour?"
The man, still dripping with water, said, "Yes, yes, I do, I do!" Just then the carriage came to a stop at the door of the Opera House.
Mr. Moody stepped out and said: "Bilhorn, you give the man a seat down in the front," which I did. The place was well filled with men, as it was to be a men's meeting.
I then went to the platform to start the singing. I saw Mr. Moody in a side room on his knees praying.
When the preaching was over, Mr. Moody asked all those who were Christians to stand. The man in question also arose.
Mr. Moody pointed at him and said, "Are you a Christian?"
With a shout the man replied: "I was saved in a carriage tonight coming here. A man prayed for me. I guess that was you, Mister." And it was. He had kept his vow and pledge to God that he would at least speak to one man each day about his soul's salvation. Thus I learned one reason wherein lay the remarkable spiritual power of that man of God, D. L. Moody.—Peter Bilhorn in Record of Christian Work.3
Moody's Christian life deepened as the years went by. While in England in 1867, he was challenged by these words: "The world has yet to see what God will do with and for and through and in and by the man who is fully and wholly consecrated to Him." Moody determined to try his utmost to be that man.
In 1871, Moody, seeking a deeper work of the Holy Spirit, soon after the great Chicago fire met God on the streets of New York City and received a powerful filling of the Holy Spirit. He testifies that his evangelistic efforts were much more fruitful after this.
The year 1872 found Moody in England where his notable work in mass evangelism began. From then on to the end of his life, he was in great city campaigns and Bible conferences both in America and England. One writer summarizes his work as follows:
It is said that in holding special meetings for the conversion of his fellowmen, Mr. Moody has traveled over 1,000,000 miles, has addressed over 100,000,000 persons—25 million of whom were young people— and has dealt personally with nearly 750,000 individuals.4
One aspect of Mr. Moody's personal work was in the inquiry room, which he brought into prominence. From the time that the 1871 Chicago fire scattered one of his Sunday night audiences beyond possibility of regathering, he laid great stress on the after-meeting. The purpose was to get the seekers apart from the general audience and deal with them personally in order to bring them to an immediate decision. Moody was an expert in the inquiry room, where the after-meeting was held. He often stayed longer and worked harder there than he had in the preceding main meeting.
Another important feature of Mr. Moody's contribution to personal evangelism was his continuous effort to enlist others in this work. He found that too few Christians were qualified to work in the inquiry room. In 1889 he founded what is now the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, one major purpose of which was to train Christians in practical methods of soul-winning. Personal work had an important place in the curriculum and in the field work of the students, and has had ever since.
Mr. Moody was adept at turning adverse circumstances into favorable witnessing opportunities because he was always on the alert to win souls. Dr. Clinton N. Howard relates the following interesting incident which occurred in Moody's Buffalo, New York, campaign in Howard's boyhood:
As Moody was returning after a night meeting on a crowded Madison streetcar as a strap-hanger, a rider asked who the big man was. Told he was Moody, the revivalist, the scoffer asked him a question, "Hey, Sky Pilot! How far is it from Chicago to heaven?"
Quick as lightning, Moody answered, "One step; will you take it?"
Pushing his way to the door, the man dropped from the rear platform into the street, followed by Moody, who reached the platform, funneled his hands, and shouted to the fleeing sinner, "One step from Chicago to heaven. One step! Will you take it?"
On the following night, Moody related the incident at the close of his sermon, and repeated, "One step-one step-one step, from Chicago to heaven. Who will be the first to take it tonight?" Out from the rear of the house came a man pushing his way to the platform, saying, "I'll take that step tonight!" It was the man who had asked the question of the "Sky Pilot" the night before!5
D. L. Moody recognized that no two persons were exactly alike and that it was impossible to lay down hard-and-fast rules for dealing with inquirers. But he did practice and teach some general principles for dealing with souls. A few of them are included in the following quotation from Mr. Moody:
Always use your Bible in personal dealing. Do not trust to memory, but make the person read the verse for himself. Do not use printed slips or books. Hence, if convenient, always carry a Bible or New Testament with you.
It is a good thing to get a man on his knees, but don't get him there before he is ready. You may have to talk to him two hours before you can get him that far along...
Sometimes a few minutes in prayer have done more for a man than two hours in talk. When the Spirit of God has led him so far that he is willing to have you pray with him; he is not very far from the Kingdom. Ask him to pray for himself. If he doesn't want to pray, let him use a Bible prayer; get him to repeat, for example, "Lord, help me!" Tell the man, "If the Lord helped that poor woman, He will help you if you make the same prayer. He will give you a new heart if you pray from the heart." Don't send a man home to pray. Of course, he should pray at home, but I would rather get his lips open at once. It is a good thing for a man to hear his own voice in prayer. It is a good thing for him to cry out, "God be merciful to me, a sinner!"
Urge an immediate decision, but never tell a man he is converted. Never tell him he is saved. Let the Holy Spirit reveal that to him...
Always be prepared to do personal work...
Do the work boldly. Don't take those in a position in life above your own, but as a rule, take those on the same footing. Don't deal with a person of the opposite sex if it can be otherwise arranged. Bend all your endeavors to answer for poor, struggling souls that question of such importance to them, "What must I do to be saved?"6
In one of his Northfield Conference talks on personal work, Mr. Moody advised dividing inquirers into classes, for example, those lacking assurance of salvation, backsliders, persons not convicted, the penitent, those who say they could not hold out, those who feel too weak, and so on. This classification was for the purpose of analyzing their difficulties better.
Regarding backsliders, he said:
One backslider will do more harm than twenty Christian men can do good... Now, in dealing with backsliders, I use Jeremiah more than any other book in the Bible. Some use only the New Testament, but I want the Old Testament as well as the New. It seems as if the whole Book of Jeremiah was written for backsliders.7
When dealing with persons not under conviction, Mr. Moody advised:
We are to sow beside all waters. But in dealing with these men in the inquiry room, it is a great mistake to give certain passages to a man who has not been convicted of sin that were never meant for him. The law is what the man wants. It is no use talking peaceful words when he doesn't know there is war; no use offering medicine when he doesn't know he is sick.8
In answer to the question, "Is it possible for a man who has been convinced by the Holy Spirit to keep some sins?" he replied:
If he doesn't know they are sins, yes. But the next thing will be, the Holy Spirit will show him that they are sins. His conscience will become quickened, and he will get light.
...The first thing the Spirit of God does is to let a man know that he is a sinner. If the Spirit has taken up his abode in his heart, he sees what an awful thing sin is—loathes it, hates it. Then he is ready to preach the Gospel of Christ who came to put away sin.9
Thus, with practical common sense, with spiritual intuition, and with unflagging zeal, D. L. Moody was always trying to win someone to Christ by a personal appeal, and always trying to stir up others to do the same.
1—William R. Moody, The Life of D. L. Moody by
His Son, (New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1900), p. 41.
2—ibid, p. 64-65.
3—The Watchman-Examiner of New York City, issue of January 18, 1951, pp. 64-65.
4—George T. B. Davis, Dwight L. Moody, the Man and His Mission (copyright, 1900, by K. T. Boland), p. 119.
5—The Watchman-Examiner of New York City, issue of June 14, 1951, p. 580.
6—The Life of D. L. Moody by His Son, pp. 490-491.
7—T. J. Shanks, D. L. Moody at Home, (New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1886), pp. 44-45.
8—ibid, p. 49.
9—ibid, p. 54.
Copied for WholesomeWords.org from Great Personal Workers by Faris Daniel Whitesell. Chicago: Moody Press, [©1956].
More Information on D. L. Moody