Dwight Lyman Moody, also known as D. L. Moody, was a well-known evangelist in the 19th century who revolutionized evangelism in the United States.
D. L. Moody was born in Northfield, Massachusetts, in 1837 to Edwin and Betsey Holton Moody. Edwin died in 1841, leaving Betsey to raise nine children under the age of 13 on her own. This is likely why D. L. Moody never advanced beyond the fifth grade; however, at age 17, Moody began a short but successful career selling shoes. While working in the Holton Shoe Store—which was owned by his uncle—Moody joined a Sunday School class, and, after the teacher visited Moody in the shoe store’s stock room to share the good news, Moody accepted Christ. About a year later, Moody relocated to Chicago where he continued selling shoes. His original goal was to amass a fortune of $100,000, which was a realistic goal due to his business acumen and outgoing personality, but that changed when Moody began to sense God’s call on his life.
Gregarious, lively, and hard-working, Moody became more and more involved with the local YMCA, despite the fact that the YMCA could not pay him. His time there likely piqued Moody’s interest in social work, for he soon established a Sunday school class in the inner city of Chicago with the intent of reaching less fortunate, uneducated children. This mission eventually became a full-fledged church, and Moody continued with both evangelism and social work, drawing children of immigrant families to Sunday school with candy and pony rides. He also started evening prayer meetings, English classes for the adults, and other ministries. It was at this church where Moody met the woman he would marry: Emma Revell, a Sunday school teacher. The two eventually had three children.
After a time Moody became the president of the Chicago YMCA. The American Civil War started about this time, and, although Moody refused to fight, he did begin a ministry to the soldiers at Camp Douglas, the base for the 72nd Illinois Volunteer Regiment. Over the course of the war, Moody traveled to battlefields throughout the state and the country, ministering to both Union and Confederate soldiers.
The early part of Moody’s evangelistic career was characterized by preaching and social work, but Moody also knew the importance of educating others so they could aid in the spread of the gospel. He recruited a woman named Emma Dryer, who had a strong background in ministry and education, and together they established a training program for women for evangelistic outreach and missionary work. Things seemed to be going well until the Great Chicago Fire destroyed the YMCA, the church, and Moody’s home in 1871. This hard time marked a shift in Moody’s evangelistic strategies. During a trip to New York to raise funds for rebuilding, Moody felt a strong pull from the Lord to increase his preaching of the Word and decrease his emphasis on social work.
In 1873 Moody received an invitation to help spread the Word of God throughout the British Isles. So Moody gathered his family and, along with his song leader, Ira Sankey, traveled to England and began a two-year European mission. When he returned to America, Moody was a world-renowned revivalist. He immediately began campaigns in various cities and states, during which he developed many techniques of evangelism that are still used today, such as employing a gospel singer as a main draw to each crusade; renting a large, central building; providing a room for quiet confession and repentance; and canvassing neighborhoods before the start of the crusade. Moody held numerous campaigns throughout the United States and Europe, and it is estimated that he spoke to more than 100 million people. Through it all, Moody remained humble: “I know perfectly well that, wherever I go and preach, there are many better preachers . . . than I am; all that I can say about it is that the Lord uses me.”
Eventually, Moody again put his mind to the need for biblical education. He understood the importance of equipping future generations to carry out the work of spreading the gospel. He first began Northfield Seminary for girls and soon Mount Herman School for Boys. In 1886 he founded the Bible-Work Institute of the Chicago Evangelization Society, which, after his death, was renamed Moody Bible Institute. This school still functions and is part of Moody’s legacy, along with Moody Press, Moody Church in Chicago, and of course the many people he led to the Lord in his lifetime.
Near the end of his life, D. L. Moody still worked tirelessly to bring the gospel to as many people as he could. Even up to a month before his death, Moody was preaching six sermons a day. He passed away on December 22, 1899, while with his family on their farm in Northfield, Massachusetts. His work for the Lord had a lasting impact on evangelism and spiritual training in the United States and around the world, and many today still benefit from his dedication to the Lord.
Moody’s simple, straightforward style of preaching was mocked by some as rustic and uncouth. It’s true that his grammar wasn’t always correct and his illustrations lacked philosophical pizzazz, but there is no doubt as to the Holy Spirit’s power in his meetings. D. L. Moody was a man of prayer whose one text was always the Bible. His practical wisdom born from his study was eminently quotable. Here are a few examples:
• “There are many of us that are willing to do great things for the Lord, but few of us are willing to do little things.”
• “He who kneels the most, stands the best.”
• “The best way to show that a stick is crooked is not to argue about it or to spend time denouncing it, but to lay a straight stick alongside it”
• “The Bible was not given for our information but for our transformation.”
• “A holy life will produce the deepest impression. Lighthouses blow no horns; they only shine.”
• “I look upon this world as a wrecked vessel. God has given me a lifeboat and said, ‘Moody, save all you can.’”
• “God makes a promise; Faith believes it; Hope anticipates it; and Patience quietly awaits it.”
• “God doesn’t seek for golden vessels, and does not ask for silver ones, but He must have clean ones.”