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Dwight L. Moody

by F. B. Meyer

D. L. Moody"By-and-by you will hear people say, 'Moody is dead.' Don't you believe a word of it. At that very moment I shall be more alive than I am now. I shall then truly begin to live. I was born of the flesh in 1837. That which is born of the flesh may die. That which is born of the Spirit will live for ever."

These striking words, with which Mr. Moody closed a sermon at Northfield not long ago, will be recalled by the thousands who heard them, and the much larger number who read them, as they are repeated again through the world. His serious break-down in Kansas City, in November, when addressing fifteen thousand people in an auditorium specially erected for him, had prepared his friends for the tidings of his death, but cannot mitigate the sense of irretrievable loss for those who knew and loved him.

By a remarkable combination of circumstances this child of the people has spoken to many of the most cultured men and women of his time, has held spell-bound by his speech royal persons, and the common folk, graduates of universities, and masses of working-people. Having missed the advantages of training in his early life, he has furnished appliances for the education of hundreds of young people of both sexes; has been the great organizer of Christian activity, the promoter of Christian missions, and the strategist for the movements of the forces of Jesus Christ against the drunkenness, crime, and immorality of our great cities.

He was born in East Northfield, Massachusetts, in a humble homestead only a few rods from the house in which he died. His father was taken when he was only four years old, and a few weeks later twins were born, leaving the widow with nine children to care for. The little farm upon which they lived was encumbered by a mortgage, and the heroic struggles of his mother to keep a roof over the heads of her children, were greatly appreciated by them, five of whom are still living. The noble heart of the great evangelist never showed itself more plainly than when he referred to the brave woman who struggled against privations that would have made many persons break up their families and send the children to charitable institutions.

When Dwight was seventeen years old, he went with his mother's permission to Boston to seek employment. His mother’s brother was a shoe merchant in that City, and he gave his nephew work on two conditions—first, that he should be governed by his advice; and secondly, that he should attend regularly the Sunday-school and services of the Congregational Church. He was won for Christ by his Sunday-school teacher entering the store in which he served, laying his hand upon his shoulder, and asking him if he would give his heart to the Saviour. That personal appeal decided him, and always afterwards, he believed in, and advocated, such directness in dealing with young men; and those whom he has won by his personal solicitation, are probably only less numerous than those who have been the result of his services and missions. There was a wonderful personal magnetism about him. He not only spoke to men himself, but had a marvellous art in setting other people to work. When one of his huge auditoriums would be dotted all over by men and women in distress about their sins he would suddenly summon to his help many who had not previously engaged in personal ministry, and start them there and then in direct dealing with souls—an appeal which in many cases has determined their practice for all after years.

After Mr. Moody's conversion he applied for  membership in the Church, but was kept waiting for six months, a disappointment he frequently referred to afterwards, urging that every possible inducement should be made to lead young Christians to range themselves in the ranks of Christian discipleship. His teacher said of him at the time, that "he was 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"—a prediction which has been singularly falsified by the result. Probably there was a roughness in the integument, which hid from ordinary observers the sweetness, and purity, and strength of the nature within; but this again was permitted by the great Head of the Church, for how else could his nature have been preserved amid all the flattery, adulation, opposition, dislike, popularity, and disappointment through which the young evangelist was destined to pass.

In the fall of 1856, Mr. Moody went to Chicago and became a salesman in the shoe trade. He entered the Plymouth Congregational Church and showed his earnest spirit by renting four pews which he kept filled with young men and boys. He also wanted to take part in the prayer meetings, but suggestions were made to him that he could best serve the Lord by keeping still. However, he was not to lie silenced. He asked if he might become a Sunday-school teacher, and on being told that he might, if he would bring his own scholars, on the next Sunday he marched into the school-room at the head of eighteen ragged boys, whom he had collected during the week. Later he started a mission of his own in an empty tavern in North Chicago. His school grew so much that the North Market Hall was presently occupied, whilst, John V. Farwell supplied benches for the scholars, and became its superintendent. Largely under Mr. Moody's personal canvassing, sixty teachers were obtained; and the average attendance of scholars mounted up to six hundred and fifty. In 1860 he gave up his business, that he might give all his time to religious work; and reduced his expenses to a minimum, by doing without a home, and sleeping upon a bench in the premises of the Y.M.C.A.

Mr. Moody worked hard for his mission, and in 1863 a church building was erected. Two years later he was elected President of the Y.M.C.A. at Chicago, and, under his direction, Farwell Hall was built, and when the first building was destroyed by fire, within a few months, by his enterprise, another building was erected on the same site. When the civil war broke out he became one of the foremost workers in the Christian Commission, which provided Christian evangelists for the soldiers. After the great Chicago fire, which consumed his church, he erected a large frame tabernacle, which served the double office of a depot for supplies for the starving people, and of a church edifice. At the time also, he prominently identified himself with Sunday-school work, and held meetings and conventions in various parts of the country. Wherever he went he displayed the marvellous faculties for organisation, tact in dealing with men, shrewdness, quaint humour, common-sense, and singleness of purpose so characteristic of his afterlife. He made mistakes, but never the same mistake twice; he was rebuffed, but took the rebuffs with great meekness. Men could hardly afford to be jealous of one whose object was so absolutely simple, and whose motive for the glory of God was so perfectly transparent.

He had visited England twice before the year 1873, when for the first time he impressed himself upon our country as a great religious force, and it is almost impossible for this generation to realize how great a movement was generated by the services he conducted in all parts of the kingdom, culminating in the great London Mission. The leading papers of the time would give three or four columns daily to descriptions of the vast audiences, which overflowed the mighty buildings specially erected for his ministrations. The story of the swift hansoms which conveyed the evangelist, from one meeting to another, of the titled persons that crowded the Royal Opera House, day after day, of Mr. Sankey's singing and of the marvellous cases of conversion was eagerly read in every corner of the empire.

Mr. Moody had few equals as a preacher in this generation. And he used his great influence entirely in favour of the evangelical view of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. His theological views were strictly conservative. "People ask me," he said, "if I believe in the 'higher criticism?' How can I, when I don't know what it is? They ask me if I think there were two Isaiahs? Before taking up that question seriously, I believe we should try to see what the prophecy itself contains." While this was a true statement of his position, no preacher had a greater power over educated men than he. "Why do you go to hear Moody?" said a lawyer contemptuously to a fellow club member, "You don't believe as he does." "No, but he believes what he preaches with all his heart, and it is well to meet such a man in these days of doubt and uncertainty."

Writing upon Mr. Moody's sermons, Henry Drummond, of whom the evangelist was extremely fond, said:—

"If one were asked what on the human side were the effective ingredients of Mr. Moody's sermons, you would find the answer difficult. Probably the foremost is the tremendous conviction with which they are uttered. Next to that their point and direction. Every blow is straight from the shoulder, and every stroke tells. Whatever canons they violate, whatever faults the critics may find with their art, their rhetoric, or even their theology, as appeals to the people they do their work with extraordinary power. If eloquence is measured by its effects upon an audience, and not by its balanced sentences and cumulative periods, then there is eloquence of the highest order. In sheer persuasiveness, Mr. Moody has few equals, and rugged as his preaching may seem to some, there is in it a pathos and equality which few orators have ever reached, an appealing tenderness which not only wholly redeems it, but raises it not unseldom almost to sublimity."

In addition to his evangelistic efforts, which were enough to exhaust a man not made of iron, Mr. Moody carried the burden of four distinct institutions, not to speak of the summer conferences, which were virtually summer schools for Bible study and prayer, and for which he provided as good speakers as he could, from both sides of the Atlantic. In 1879, the Northfield seminary for girls was started, primarily for the daughters of the farmers in the Connecticut Valley, who could not afford to go to the schools and seminaries then in existence. The new institution opened with eight girls studying in an annex built to his own house. Soon the number increased to twenty-five, and the first college building was erected. To-day there are more than three hundred and fifty girls in one dozen buildings, from which a stream of well-educated girls is sent into the leading colleges of America, and into every branch of mission work. Every year many students are refused admission as are accepted.

Two years after starting this seminary, Moody made arrangements for a similar institution for boys, at Mount Hermon, across the Connecticut River, about four miles from Northfield. Yale, Princeton, Brown, Amherst, and other colleges receive men prepared at this school, but the majority of the students in both institutions never graduate, but go back to the country town and the country church better fitted for the battle of life, because of the education received, and the enthusiasm aroused at Northfield. Half of the cost of each student, was raised by Mr. Moody himself, and opportunities were given by which either in work on the farm, or by personal service at the convention time, the poorer ones could earn the remainder.

In 1889, the Chicago Bible Institution with its branches for men and women was organized and met with pronounced success from the first. Representatives of this college are to be found in every part of the world, and many of them have been called to important and prominent positions.

Mr. Moody's study was crammed with books. He was a larger reader than  might have been supposed, but mostly of the older theology and of whatever would throw light on the Bible. A book has lately been published, entitled, "A Thousand and One Thoughts from my Library," which includes extracts from a wide variety of authors. His most precious   treasure was the Bible of the late C. H. Spurgeon, presented to him by Mrs. Spurgeon, and containing the entries of the dates when Mr. Spurgeon preached from certain texts.

Mr. Moody was one of the humblest men I ever knew. He never spoke about himself, the people he had known, or the vast audiences he had addressed. The one who spoke least of D. L. Moody was D. L. Moody himself. He was simple and transparent as a child. In his home-circle perfectly simple and unaffected, always thinking of the pleasure, and comforts of others, and arranging for them to have "a good time." The abruptness of his manner was laid aside in his family life, where he was tenderness itself. Simplicity, strength, humility, and a tremendous force of will, attention to details and a grasp of a great situation, with independence and force of initiative, were the prominent characteristics of his vigorous, but beautiful personality.

He was pre-eminently a strong man. Men gathered round him. attracted by his humour, his mother-wit, his graphic speech, his wide knowledge of men and things. He would always become the center of any circle he entered. But I have seen him playing with his little grandchild Emma, as her companion; or he would drive through the picturesque lanes of Northfield with the dying child, little Irene, the sweet only daughter of Mr. W. H. Moody, who married Miss May Whittle, in his strong arms.

Nothing revealed him more completely than his shipwreck on the Spree which for a whole night lay in the trough of the Atlantic, the deck being at an angle nearly forty-five degrees, the waves mountains high, the wind roaring, twenty-feet of water in the second cabin, seven hundred souls on board, and none knowing, but that every lurch of the vessel would be the last. On Sunday morning, under these circumstances, Mr. Moody assembled the passengers and crew, of every creed and church, and no creed and no church, to service in the saloon. How he preached! How they listened. And when the service was over, he went down to his berth, lay down, and in the serenity and simplicity of his child-like faith went to sleep—the only one of the entire number that dared to do so, awaking to find that the wind had ceased, the waves had gone down, and deliverance was at hand.

He died triumphantly in his home, with all his family around him. As death came he awoke as from slumber, and said with much joyousness: "I see earth receding. Heaven is opening. God is calling me." He lies buried on Round-Top, where we were wont to hold some of the brightest meetings of the conventions—an eminence above his house, in which a natural amphitheater has been hollowed as by the scoop of an angel's trowel. Around him stand the buildings of the Northfield Seminary, before him the lovely landscape on which he loved to look from the porch of his house, stretching up the Connecticut Valley to the western hills, and away in the distance, clearly discernible, the buildings of Mount Hermon. I little expected, when he drove me over that spot last autumn, that it was to be his last resting-place. He was then urging me to accompany him in a tour beginning next month.

He rests well. Few that have entered the Master's presence can have received a welcome from a larger number of saved ones than he; and now, already, his strong, eager spirit must be making for itself fresh avenues of service, and discovering new methods of expressing its ardent devotion to the Master whom he so nobly served.

From The Sunday at Home. London: The Religious Tract Society, 1899-1900.

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