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Dwight L. Moody: Reminiscences

by George C. Stebbins (1846-1945)

D. L. MoodyI met Mr. Moody for the first time in 1871, in Chicago, not many months after I made that city my home. I had seen him occasionally in the meetings he was conducting, and had observed his earnest, forceful way, and that he never seemed to have time for the ordinary conventionalities of life.

One day, as I was looking over some publications in the book store of Fleming H. Revell, a brother-in-law of Mr. Moody, the latter came rushing in and, recognizing me, said, as he hurriedly passed by, "Stebbins, give Revell fifty cents for my Sunday School."

He did his errand and without further word departed as hurriedly as he entered. I was fortunate enough to have just that amount with me, and, of course, handed it to Mr. Revell as readily as if it had been at the command of a king.

Those who knew Mr. Moody intimately, especially in connection with his work, knew how he prosecuted it with all the enthusiasm of his intense nature, and ever with untiring energy, day or night; how he was the life and soul of every effort that was being made to reach the people with the Gospel, and how unceremoniously he would often accost people on the streets and speak to them on the subject nearest his heart; through which acts many who did not know his true spirit or what a remarkable work he had for years been doing among the poor of the city quite misunderstood him.

So whole-heartedly did he give himself not only to that work, but to the Young Men’s Christian Association and the Sunday Schools, that it can be truly said there was no man in his time who expended, daily, more mental and physical energy than did he the first fifteen years of his life in Chicago.

The next time I came personally in touch with him was on the memorable summer afternoon I accompanied Major Whittle to Northfield to spend a Sunday as his guest.

There was no hurried rushing by in our meeting on this occasion, but at least a semblance of the usual formalities in the introduction. A few weeks prior to this Mr. Moody had finished his first winter’s campaign in his own country, after his return from Great Britain, and was resting, apparently care-free after four years of the most strenuous and exacting labors. I found him unaffected toward his neighbors and friends.

Yet, what a contrast! He had but a year before returned from a foreign land the most celebrated and talked-of religious character on either side of the sea, illustrating in a very striking way what God can do in twenty-two years with a youth wholly under His guidance and sway.

At that second meeting I became unexpectedly, but providentially, connected with Moody and Sankey, and from that time on to the end of his career was subject to Mr. Moody’s direction in my work.

This enabled me to see a great deal of him, to come into intimate relations with, and to understand some of the secrets of his influence over men.

One of the strongest elements of his character was his determination to succeed in whatever he undertook; indeed, he once said to me that when he first went into his uncle’s store in Boston he made up his mind that he would sell more goods than any other one, and it was said that he went out on the street and urged passers-by into the store to make purchases. And while he did not himself tell me so, I afterwards learned that he succeeded in accomplishing his object.

This trait, energized and directed of God in after years, combined with his natural force and the rare judgment with which he was so liberally endowed, was unquestionably one of the secrets of the power which enabled him to become the master of men that he was.

But the greatest gift God bestowed upon him was an abiding love for the welfare and salvation of men, which was given him in the very outset of his Christian life. Those who knew his early history in Christian work, and others who came to know him intimately as the years passed by, saw that such was his master passion, and the motive that actuated him in all the forty-five years of his untirmg labors. Everything was secondary to that one object in life. In the founding of the schools at Northfield, and the Bible Institute in Chicago, standing to-day as monuments to his memory more enduring than marble, he had that object only in view, and the mere fitting for usefulness in local communities of all who came to those institutions was secondary.

The giving up of a promising career in business to devote himself to a work he had established among the poor of the city, with no assurance of financial support, firmly relying on the promise of God to supply all his needs, was strong evidence that it was not done in obedience to the call of God alone, but to the added dictates of love for the welfare of mankind that dominated his life.

In the inception of Mr. Moody’s brief experience in business, he had set as the goal of his ambition the accumulation of a hundred thousand dollars, which was a great fortune in those days (especially for one of a family of eight children, whose widowed mother fought hard to keep the wolf from the door) and there is no doubt but that he would have accomplished his ambition, for within the year he gave up business—in his early twenties—he had made seven thousand dollars.

But instead of his accumulating a hundred thousand for himself, or a tenth of that amount, it is safe to say that many hundreds of thousands passed through his hands to be used for schools and various Christian enterprises that appealed to him.

He had come in those early years of life to value money only for the good it could do in furthering the cause he so ardently espoused, and therefore the acquisition of wealth for the sake of possessing it or for the use of his family was never a part of his plan.

It will be of interest to the friends of both Moody and Sankey to know that while in England the latter were greatly pained to learn that those who were opposing their work circulated the report that large sums of money were being made from the sale of their hymn book, and that the meetings were really carried on for commercial purposes.

Therefore, when in 1865 "Gospel Hymns" No. 1 was issued, and they began their work in this country, they mutually agreed that neither they nor their families should receive for their own use any royalties accruing from the sale of the book. This agreement was kept to the end of their lives for the sake of the cause in which they engaged. I have mentioned these facts because of the unkind and ignorant assertions made to the contrary.

Another evidence of Mr. Moody’s determination not to give occasion for criticism along this line, was that in all his evangelistic work he would not allow a collection, or "thank-offering," to be taken up for his benefit, nor would he have anything to do with efforts committees might make to raise money to compensate him for his services; neither would he give the slightest intimation as to what would be satisfactory to him, insisting always in leaving that to committees.

The method of compensating evangelists by freewill or thank-offerings that has been in vogue for many years, would seem to be open to less criticism, if properly conducted, than raising money in any other public way, as it gives people the opportunity to express in some substantial manner their appreciation of blessing they may have received. But, doubtless for some good reason, Mr. Moody chose the method he adhered to all through his evangelistic career.

Just a bit of history concerning the make-up of "Gospel Hymns" No. 3. It was necessary that great care should be exercised in the selections of hymns that would conform to Scriptural and evangelistic teaching. The book had been in preparation during the winter of 1887, and the three compilers, Sankey, McGranahan and myself, met at Northfield in the summer of that year, by an arrangement with Mr. Moody, to go over the selections we had to offer. It also occurred to him that, as Major Whittle and Dr. Pentecost, with whom McGranahan and I were associated, would use the books, they might like to pass upon the hymns to be chosen. They were invited, and we became guests of Mr. Moody during those pleasant days.

The mornings were spent in going over the selections that had been made, we three singers singing the songs and the three evangelists sitting in judgment upon them, passing such comments upon their effectiveness and fitness for evangelistic purposes as occurred to them. After the verdict on their merit was pronounced, time would be given to the examination of the hymns as to their strength and to their devotional character as well.

The afternoons would be given up for the most part to relaxations of some sort—to drives, games upon the lawn, etc., and the evenings to social intercourse, always closing the day, as it began, with a chapter from the Word, a song and a prayer.

Mr. Moody entered into the social features of those memorable days with boyish delight, and into the Christian fellowship over the Word, and the devotional hour both morning and evening, with all the sincerity of his nature. There were some good story-tellers in the company, and they very often gave illustrations of their ability in that direction—usually at the dining table.

There was one day that stands out in my memory when the stories began, one following another, causing roars of laughter that continued until it—seemed as if we no longer had strength to endure it. Mr. Sankey went to one side of the room and, with his head on his arms, leaned against the window, and I to another room suffering with pain, each laughing immoderately at the veritable sidesplitting incidents that were related.

No one enjoyed the merriment more than Mr. Moody, as no one possessed a keener sense of humor than he, and it always seemed to do him good to relax in that way.

There is often found in villages and towns some one who is looked upon as a "character." This was the case in Northfield.

Mr. Moody told of an amusing conversation he had with a Mr. L., a man he had known all his life and who stuttered noticeably. It was in the summer of 1835, soon after his return from Great Britain, and he was much in demand for services in the small towns about Northfield on Sundays, where large crowds of people came out to hear him.

At that time the main street of Northfield made a little bend at his house, so that the road ran close to his door. One day he was sitting with Sankey on his front porch when Mr. L. came by, driving a span of oxen hitched to a load of black loam. Mr. Moody, knowing he would get some bright reply, called to him: "Mr. L., if you want to do a real benevolent act that will do you good, put that load of loam on my garden back here, for it needs it." Mr. L. replied: "Ye-yes, you and Sa-Sa-Sankey have been havin’ some big meetin’s round the country." "Yes! Mr. Moody replied. Mr. L. continued: "If you and Sa-Sa- Sankey would do one thing it would be the bi-bibiggest day’s work you ever did, but you ca-cacan’t do it." "Well, what is it? We would like to know," Mr. Moody queried. "If you would do it the half da-da-day it would turn this town upside down, but you ca-ca-can’t do it." Mr. Moody became interested. "Do tell us, for we want to know." To which Mr. L. replied: "If you and Sa-Sa-Sankey would mu-mu-mind your own business!" And with that remark he drove on, leaving them in gales of laughter.

For many years in his dealing with all sorts of people, Mr. Moody had come to be a good judge of men, so it was not difficult for him to recognize at a glance one whose religious life was characterized by pretense and cant. He had had much experience with those who make themselves conspicuous by mannerisms and ways of dress, or who had some peculiar experience they felt called upon to make known, and had found that the best way to deal with such characters was to have as little to do with them as possible.

A good illustration of this occurred during his meetings in Boston in 1877. In a tabernacle that was built for the purpose, off the choir platform was a room put at his disposal for meeting his committees and ushers before service. To avoid interruptions an usher was placed at the door. One day a gentleman called, wishing to see Mr. Moody, and when the usher conveyed the request, he asked, "What sort of a looking man is he?" The usher replied that the man had long hair. Mr. Moody decided at once: "That’s enough! Don’t you ever let a long-haired man or a short-haired woman in here."

Mr. Moody was intensely human, a great lover of all forms of life, and especially of children. They ever seemed to be his delight, and it was his joy to play with them. This was so characteristic of him that his own children idolized him and would always prefer to be with him than with their young playmates.

It was a great joy to him when his first grandchildren—Irene Moody and Emma Fitt—were born. He used to write them letters soon after they came to bless their homes, and when they were old enough to ride about with him he would often be seen with one or the other of them snugly sitting beside him as he drove about the seminary campus and the village.

When little Irene, at four years of age, sickened and died, I can never forget how deeply it affected him, and especially how he manifested his grief when trying to pay a tribute to her at the funeral services.

The child passed away during one of the summer conferences, which proved, by the way, to be the last one he attended, as he was summoned to join little Irene but a few months after she was called away. To accommodate the many friends wishing to attend, the service was held on the lawn in front of his home. Mr. Moody came out upon a little balcony over the porch of his house and poured out his heart in the tribute he struggled to pay to the child that had entered so much into his life and had been such a companion to him during the few brief years of her radiant life.

It was very touching to see the great man sobbing out his grief as he tried to tell the people what a blessing her little life had been to him.

Mr. Moody possessed a very sympathetic nature that was easily influenced by the trials and sorrows of others; and also the ability to put himself in another’s place to a remarkable degree. I have heard him tell in his sermons of an experience he had in his early Christian work in Chicago.

Among the poor he was accustomed to visit there were many who attended no church and who, through his kindness, became attached to him. The experience referred to was when he was requested to conduct the funeral services of one of his Sunday School children, which he did, although never having been ordained a minister. The child’s name was Emma—that of his only daughter, who was of about the same age. While he was conducting the services the thought came to him, "What if that was my Emma, how would I feel!" The thought quite overwhelmed him, so really did he put himself in the place of the grief-stricken mother. As he would relate the incident the tears would always come to his eyes, and he seemed, for the time being, to live over the experience.

This gift, in after years, served him in a remarkable way when describing incidents in the lives of some of the great Bible characters. Who can forget his description of Elijah on Mount Carmel, when Elisha prayed that he might have a double portion of his spirit; his dramatic account of Daniel in the lion’s den, or his realistic description of the fiery furnace? So real did all these seem to him that his graphic account of them was always thrilling.

Some one wrote in one of his Bibles the following:

"Ruin by the Fall,
Redemption by the Blood,
Regeneration by the Spirit,"

which he chose to call the "Three R’s," inasmuch as those three great Scripture truths lay at the foundation of his creed, and he believed them with all the strength of his nature.

It is obvious that no attempt has been made in these pages to more than mention some of the great work he accomplished among the poor of Chicago, the important service rendered the Young Men’s Christian Association in its early history in this country, his work in evangelism, the establishing of the Northfield Schools and the founding of the Bible Institute in Chicago, as it would take volumes to properly describe the good accomplished by these agencies, So much has already been written and said concerning the great and good man that I have tried to visualize him as I knew him during our twenty-five years of association in the Master’s vineyard.

The last public service of Mr. Moody was preaching the gospel of God’s love to the world in Kansas City, in the autumn of 1899. While there engaged in what promised to be one of the largest movements in his history (Convention Hall, with its fifteen to twenty thousand seats being filled night after night) the order came to cease pleading with men to be reconciled to God, and to lay down the burden he had borne nearest his heart for the many years of his great activities.

Kind friends accompanied him to his home in Northfield where, surrounded by those most dear to him, he lingered for four weeks with varying hope and despair of recovery and restoration to the work he loved, but his work was done, and the call came for him to depart and be with his Lord.

The funeral services were attended by a large company of notable friends from among the clergy and laity, and were held in the church of which he had been the life and inspiration for many years. A company of young men from his Mount Hermon School, twelve on a side, bore his body a half mile down the main street of the village, followed by his co-worker, the famous singer, and others long associated with him in his work, with the trustees of his schools and his distinguished friends in their wake. The precious burden was laid down in front of the pulpit from which he had so often preached the riches of Christ with his wonted tenderness and power.

It was a cloudless December day, and during the services the slanting rays of the afternoon sun shot through the unstained windows and rested upon his quiet face, as if it were the smile of his Father attesting to the faithfulness of His servant.

Upon the conclusion of the service in the church, the casket was borne by his student-bearers, followed—with heavy feet and saddened hearts—by his devoted and admiring friends to the place prepared for him on "Round Top," from which he had expressed the wish to "rise from there on the resurrection morning."

As the last rites were spoken and his form was being lowered to its final resting place, the sun was sinking behind the western hills—a coincidence most impressive—an emblem, it seemed, strikingly reminding us that night falls upon every day, yet not one of despair, for as the sun marches on to its rising in the morning, so will the great evangel of "Love," like all who fall asleep in Him who is Himself the resurrection and the life, rise again when the morning "dawns and the shadows flee away." The fact also that the central figure of his generation in the religious history of his country was passing from the stage as the last rays of the sun were fading upon the closing hours of the century in which his great work was wrought added impressiveness to the scene.

"Round Top" has become associated in the minds of Christians the world over with "Northfield." It is on the Seminary campus, well covered with trees that give refreshing shade, and beautiful for situation. It is about three hundred yards directly north of, and on the same level with, the house in which he was born, and about the same distance east of the home in which he spent the last twenty-five years of his life. At the place where the sunset services were held—and still are—is a depression, amphitheater in shape, sloping to the east; on the west a gentle slope toward his home and the river beyond, and on the north an abrupt descent from the top of which may be seen one of the most beautiful river, valley, hill and mountain views in New England.

Mr. Moody loved the place, as it was attractive to children in their play; and here, during the summer conferences, he was accustomed to gather the people in an informal way about him at sunset, before the evening services.

At the head of his grave stands a plain granite stone, upon which has been inscribed the following:

Dwight Lyman Moody
"He that doeth the will of God abideth forever."

By his side rests his gifted and faithful wife—a stone similar to that of her husband marking her resting place.

Thus passed from view the man who was the greatest blessing and inspiration to me of any that ever crossed my path; for it was he who opened the door of service and privilege, over the threshold of which—but for him—I would never have been able to pass. Nor would my life have been enriched by the many years of his fellowship or blessed by association with the noble men enlisted with him in the great campaign for God, of which he was the militant leader.

From George C. Stebbins: Reminiscences and Gospel Hymn Stories by Himself. New York: George H. Doran Company, ©1924.

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