Dwight Lyman Moody was born into a bankrupt family of nine children with a father who loved whiskey and who died when Dwight was just four. His mother sent them to a school where he learnt very little, and she sent them to the First Congregational Church where he learnt less. His upbringing was something of a disciplined, Puritan-influenced life.
By 17 years old this stout young Yankee decided to leave his farming work at home and head for Boston where he became a shoe salesman. He attended a Congregationalist Church which bored him as did all religious matters but over the next year the convicting message of sin and righteousness began to take effect. At the same time though, he raised up a wall of arguments. He settled his heart by deciding to leave the matter until his deathbed, but God’s Word continued to disturb him.
In April 1855 young Edward Kimball a Sunday school teacher was deeply burdened for Moody’s soul. Kimball left his house and made his way to the shoe shop where Moody worked with the intention of confronting Moody about his standing before God. A thousand contrary thoughts invaded the young man’s mind and he almost turned back. When he realized he had passed the shop he decided he would go for it and get it over with quickly. With what he later thought was a very weak plea with tears in his eyes he challenged Moody concerning his salvation, God’s love and his need of Christ. That day in the back of the shop Moody accepted Christ and Kimball returned home within minutes.
The first change in Moody was that he received a burden to see all his family saved. Later that year he moved to Chicago and although he started to show signs of real business ability and success, when he experienced the revival which commenced in that city in January 1857, business success faded into insignificance. He was ruined - success of this world no longer interested him instead, he began to glow in Christian virtue. He mixed freely amongst Plymouth Brethren, Methodist Episcopal, Congregationalists and Baptists. The years passed and he worked with the YMCA and raised up one of the most unusual Sunday Schools of that day which became a church. He reluctantly began to preach and struggled every step of the way. He turned down Congregational ordination and remained a simple uneducated layman with a burden for souls. Having heard of Spurgeon’s ministry in London he did all he could to get hold of and read every Spurgeon sermon. He took thorough hold of Spurgeon’s three ‘R’s: Ruin by the fall, Redemption by the Blood, and Regeneration by the Holy Spirit. This flowed through every one of his messages and was the marrow of Moody’s theology. Many thought him too radical and so nicknamed him ‘Crazy Moody.’
When his wife Emma suffered bad asthma the doctor suggested a boat trip so Moody decided to take her to Britain. In February 1867 they set sail for Britain for the first time. Altogether they had a thoroughly inspiring time. They visited Spurgeon’s Metropolitan Tabernacle which had a congregation of 5,000. He sat amongst the Plymouth Brethren and heard their most fervent preachers as well as preaching for them. He was also invited to speak at some meetings in London where his warmth won everyone’s affection. He also visited Bristol to see George Muller’s work where 1,500 orphan children were provided for financially without requests for money. Moody was very impressed with what God could accomplish through this meek godly man of prayer. They managed to include Dublin and France in the trip then in June they returned to America.
He became very settled and successful in ministry in Chicago. He sat on at least ten separate committees while at the same time fighting the call of God to step out as an itinerant Evangelist. Ministry was becoming mechanical. In June 1871 a great burden came upon two older ladies in his congregation to pray that he would receive the baptism of the Holy Ghost and fire. These two ladies became very obvious to Moody as they sat on the front pew and prayed as he preached. When he enquired about their praying they informed him that he needed the power of the Spirit.
At first Moody could satisfy himself that he was ok. But the persistence of these ladies led him to meet and pray with them. They poured out their hearts asking God to fill His servant with His Spirit. From that day a deep hunger and prayer gripped Moody. By October he was in agony of soul as he prayed and sought God for the promised gift. At times he would roll on the floor in agony and in tears with this singular prayer to be baptised in the Holy Ghost and with fire. This was a wrestle between his will and God’s will. It was that very month that Chicago burnt to the ground. All his works, efforts and organizational committees literally went up in a blaze. Shortly after this while passing through New York on his way to Britain the second time God heard his prayer. As he walked the streets his will bent before God, the power of the Holy Ghost fell upon him, the Lord drew near and revealed Himself to His servant. Moody rushed to a friend’s house and asked for a room and to be left alone. Hour after hour he bathed in the presence of God as the Holy Spirit filled him. So strong was this that he cried out to God to stay His hand lest he die. He was filled with the joy of the Lord. When he left that house it was in the power of the Spirit.
He went to England for a few months of rest and with a desire to draw inspiration from Christian leaders there. He had no intention of preaching although he did a few times but he attended conventions and conferences and wrote numbers of notes and thoughts. He met with the Plymouth Brethren near Dublin and he spent a whole night in fervent prayer with about 20 of these zealous men. That next morning he walked with Henry “Butcher” Varley through the streets. This Brethren Evangelist said something to him which made a deep impact on this vessel God was forging. He said “Moody, the world has yet to see what God will do with a man fully consecrated to Him.”1 That night as these words still reverberated in his mind and heart he vowed that by the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit he would be that man. All who met with him during this journey in Britain and Ireland were strangely aware that God was preparing a great work for this man.
Before returning home he was persuaded to preach at a Congregational church in Arundel Square, London. The message came with real power. As a result over 400 new converts were taken into membership in the following weeks. As other requests to preach reached him he decided he would return home and prepare to return for a period of six months at a later stage.
So in June 1873 he arrived again into Liverpool, England, accompanied by his wife and song leader Ira Sankey and his wife. Key men who were leaders and financers who had invited him with the promise of financial help had died since he was last there. There were no meetings, no funds and no committees. It seemed all was lost. Maybe they would just have to return to America? Only one unattractive invitation came from York in the North of England and so there they went. It was hard ground but in the midst of these meetings one unimpressed minister called F.B. Meyer slowly melted and then ignited with holy fervent fire. Next the Evangelistic pair moved to Sunderland for several weeks of soul saving meetings where God’s power to change lives was manifest. In August they journeyed on to Newcastle where a daily prayer meeting was conducted with some 300 saints in attendance. News spread throughout the whole land that revival was coming to churches and salvation to thousands. Other towns were visited in the same manner.
Next came the invitation to Edinburgh, Scotland. Only eternity will reveal the results of this revival which started in November, 1873. On the first night at the first meeting 2,000 people had to be turned away from the building which was already filled to capacity. By now Moody had the full backing and support of many great theologians as well as all national leaders of every denomination. It was later said that “The revival in Edinburgh was like a Pentecost to the land”. Cold Calvinism gave way to fiery evangelism. This great city was startled out of its sleep and stirred to its depths. In the New Year they travelled on to Dundee, Glasgow and elsewhere. This was not successful evangelism, it was heaven sent revival. The nine months in Scotland ended, but the revival burned on.
In September 1874 they travelled to Belfast in the North of Ireland for five weeks of meetings like those in Scotland. Then onward to Dublin for a month where several thousand were reported converted. These were some of the most remarkable meetings ever held in Ireland. In November they sailed for England and continued to minister in the main cities and towns. In March 1875 he moved to London to start a 4 month campaign. Initially meetings had about 16,000 people in attendance. He reached the rich and poor, the famous and the destitute, princesses as well as paupers. It is estimated that a million and a half people heard him in this chief of cities. After one very brief visit to Cambridge University he returned home to America and did not return again until 1882 when he ministered in Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England.
In November 1882 when he spoke at Cambridge University he was filled with great anxiety as this educational centre for Britain’s aristocratic and wealthy youth had a reputation of unparalleled riotous behaviour. That first night at a prayer meeting Moody spoke on ‘the Spirit’s power for service.’ The university vicar Handley Moule was somewhat nervous. The young C.T. Studd greatly doubted ‘if this Yankee was up to the task.’ The first mission night on the Monday had 1,700 students in attendance. As Sankey sang his sacred Hymns they jeered, laughed and shouted. When Sankey finished he was near to tears. As Moody preached on Daniel in the lions den (how appropriate) again they laughed, shouted and did all in their power to disturb him. He maintained his calm. By the end of the week at least 200 students had accepted Christ as their Saviour. Amongst them was a main ‘ring leader’ who later went as a missionary to China and was Bishop of Hong Kong. Out of this mission came The Cambridge Seven, missionaries who touched a lost world. This campaign had repercussions that also touched the youth of the whole nation.
During the summer of 1883 he returned home to refresh but was back again; first to Ireland and then London in November. For the next 8 months he held his greatest meetings yet in the capital. Many of his best new labourers were converts from 1875. This campaign sealed the future destiny of many young men who would later go to the mission field. It was not long after his death in 1899 that his sermons were second only in demand to Pilgrim’s Progress and were in print right across the globe.
This however, is a mere summary of a man who showed the world what could be done when a man was fully consecrated unto God and baptised in the Holy Ghost.
Edited from "Pentecostal Pioneers Remembered" by Keith Malcomson. Copyright 2008 by Keith Malcomson. No part of this article may be reproduced without the permission of the author.