Biography of D.L. Moody
Written by: Unknown Posted on: 03/13/2003
Dwight Lyman Moody
BORN: February 5, 1837
DIED: December 22, 1899
Northfield, Massachusetts[qm]Northfield, Massachusetts
LIFE SPAN: 62 years, 10 months, 17 days
DWIGHT LYMAN MOODY was the first evangelist since
Whitefield to shake two continents for God.
It was on his mother's birthday that Moody was born on a
small New England farm. He was only four when his father, Edwin,
a bricklayer and an alcoholic, died suddenly at 41. His mother,
Betsy (Holton), was now a widow at 36 with seven children...the
oldest being thirteen, and D.L. being the youngest. Twins were
born one month after the death of the father bringing the total
to nine. Their uncle and the local Unitarian pastor came to their
aid at this time. The pastor also baptized Moody (age five) in
1842. This was undoubtedly sprinkling and his only "baptism"
Six-year-old Moody never forgot seeing his brother Isaiah
leave home. The reconciliation, years later, became an
illustration in a sermon depicting God welcoming the wanderer
home with outstretched arms. Moody's education totaled seven
grades in a one-room school house and during his teenage years he
worked on neighboring farms.
On his seventeenth birthday (1854), Dwight Moody went to
Boston to seek employment. He became a clerk in Holton's Shoe
Store, his uncle's enterprise. One of the work requirements was
attendance at the Mount Vernon Congregational Church, pastored by
Edward Kirk. Church seemed boring, but a faithful Sunday School
teacher encouraged him along. One Saturday, April 21, 1855, the
teacher, Edward Kimball, walked into the store and found Moody
wrapping shoes. He said, "I want to tell you how much Christ
loves you." Moody knelt down and was converted. Later he told how
he felt, "I was in a new world. The birds sang sweeter, the sun
shone brighter. I'd never known such peace." Not sure of his
spiritual perception, it was a year before the church admitted
him for membership!
On September 18, 1856, he arrived in Chicago where another
uncle, Calvin, helped him obtain a position in a shoe store
operated by the Wiswall brothers. His interest in church work
continued as he joined the Plymouth Congregational Church. He
rented four pews there to provide lonely boys like himself a
place of worship. Then he joined the mission band of the First
Methodist Church, visiting and distributing tracts at hotels and
boarding houses. Here he met wealthy dry goods merchant John V.
Farwell, who later would be a great help. He also worked out of
the First Baptist Church where he was later married. The prayer
revival that was sweeping the nation in 1857-59 also contributed
to his enthusiasm for the things of God. Discovering a little
afternoon Sunday School on the corner of Chicago and Wells he
offered his help. He was told there were already nearly as many
teachers as students so he began recruiting. The first week he
brought in eighteen students, doubling the Sunday School! Soon
his recruiting overflowed the place.
He withdrew to the shores of Lake Michigan in the summer of
1858 and taught children, using pieces of driftwood as chairs. He
was dubbed "Crazy Moody" about this time, but respect came
through the years as the title slowly changed to "Brother Moody,"
"Mr. Moody," and finally, "D.L. Moody."
In the fall of 1858, he started his own Sunday School in an
abandoned freight car, then moved to an old vacant saloon on
Michigan Street. A visiting preacher reported his favorable
impressions...seeing Moody trying to light the building with a
half-dozen candles and then with a candle in one hand, a Bible in
the other, and a child on his knee teaching him about Jesus.
The school became so large that the former Mayor of Chicago
gave him the hall over the city's North Market for his meetings,
rent free. Farwell visited the Sunday School and became the
superintendent upon Moody's insistence. The use of prizes, free
pony rides and picnics along with genuine love for children soon
produced the largest Sunday School in Chicago, reaching some
1,500 weekly. Moody supervised, recruited, and did the janitor
work early Sunday morning, cleaning out the debris from a
Saturday night dance, to get ready for the afternoon Sunday
It was in June, 1860, that Moody decided to abandon secular
employment and go into the Lord's work full time. He was now 23
and in only five years had built his income up to $5,000 annually
and had saved $7,000. Friends believed he could have become a
millionaire had he concentrated his efforts in business. Income
for the first year in his Christian ventures totaled no more than
This decision was prompted by the following incident. A
dying Sunday School teacher had to return east because of his
health and was greatly concerned about the salvation of the girls
in his class. Moody rented a carriage for him and the teacher and
went to each girl's home winning them all to Christ. The next
night the girls gathered together for a farewell prayer meeting
to pray for their sick teacher. This so moved Moody that soul-
winning seemed to be the only important thing to do from then on.
He made a vow to tell some person about the Savior each day, even
though it eventually meant getting up out of bed at times.
On November 25, 1860, President-elect Abraham Lincoln
visited Moody's Sunday School and gave a few remarks.
In 1861 Moody became a city missionary for the YMCA.
He married Emma Charlotte Revell on August 28, 1862 when he
was 25 and she nineteen. The three Moody children were Emma
(October 24, 1864), William Revell (March 25, 1869), and Paul
Dwight (April 11, 1879).
With the advent of the Civil War, Moody found himself doing
personal work among the soldiers. He was on battlefields on nine
occasions serving with the U.S. Christian Commission. At the
Battle of Murfreesboro in January, 1863, under fire, he went
among the wounded and dying asking, "Are you a Christian?"
During the Civil War, he was also back at his Sunday School
from time to time, where popular demand forced him to start a
church. A vacant saloon was cleaned, rented and fixed up for
Sunday evening services with the Sunday School continuing at
North Market Hall until it burned in 1862. Then Kinzie Hall was
used for a year. In 1863, when only 26, he raised $20,000 to
erect the Illinois Street Church with a seating capacity of
1,500. It began February 28, 1864 with twelve members. This was
the official beginning of what is now known as Moody Church. He
preached Sunday evenings until a pastor, J.H. Harwood, was called
in 1866 and served until 1869, during which time Moody served as
The Chicago Y.M.C.A. was moving ahead also, as Moody rose to
its presidency from 1866 to 1869. He had a part in erecting the
first Y.M.C.A. building in America when he supervised the
erection of Farwell Hall in 1867, seating 3,000. That year he
also held his first revival campaign in Philadelphia.
In 1867, primarily due to his wife's asthma, the couple went
to England. He also wanted to meet Spurgeon and Mueller. On this
trip, while they sat in a public park in Dublin, Evangelist Henry
Varley remarked, "The world has yet to see what God will do with,
and for, and through, and in, and by, the man who is fully
consecrated to Him." John Knox allegedly originated this saying
that was now to burn in Moody's soul (some historians put this
Varley conversation in an 1872 trip). Moody met Henry Moorhouse
also in Dublin, who said to him, "Some day I am coming to
America, and when I do, I would like to preach in your church."
Moody agreed to give him the pulpit when he came.
Three incidents prepared Moody for his world-famous
evangelistic crusades. First, in February, 1868, Moorhouse came
as promised to Moody's pulpit in Chicago. For seven nights he
preached from the text, John 3:16, counselling Moody privately,
"Teach what the Bible says, not your own words, and show people
how much God loves them." Moody's preaching was much more
effective after that.
A second incident was the meeting of Ira A. Sankey, while
attending a Y.M.C.A. convention in Indianapolis in July of 1870.
Moody was to speak at a 7 a.m. prayer meeting on a Sunday
morning. Sankey was there. When Moody asked for a volunteer song,
Sankey began to sing, There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood.
Moody's reaction? "You will have to come to Chicago and help me.
I've been looking for you for eight years!" Sankey left his post
office job in Pennsylvania and joined Moody in Chicago in early
A third incident was the Chicago fire and the ensuing
filling of the Holy Spirit. On Sunday night, October 8, 1871,
while preaching at Farwell Hall, which was now being used because
of the increased crowds, Moody asked his congregation to evaluate
their relationships to Christ and return next week to make their
decisions for Him. That crowd never regathered. While Sankey was
singing a closing song, the din of fire trucks and church bells
scattered them forever, for Chicago was on fire. The Y.M.C.A.
building, church, and parsonage were all to be lost in the next
24 hours. The church was reopened on December 24, 1871, and it
was now called the North Side Tabernacle, located on Ontario and
Wells Street, close to the former building. There was no regular
pastor at this church in its brief history 1871-1876.
While out east raising funds for the rebuilding of this
church, Moody describes a life-changing experience he had upon
locking himself in a room of a friend's house: "One day, in the
city of New York, oh what a day! I cannot describe it. I seldom
refer to it. It's almost too sacred an experience to name. Paul
had an experience of which he never spoke for fourteen years. I
can only say that God was revealed to me, and I had such an
experience of His love that I had to ask Him to stay His hand."
In 1872, he returned briefly to England where he accepted an
invitation to the Arundel Square Congregational Church in London.
The evening service ended with nearly the entire congregation in
the inquiry room. He continued on for ten days with some 400
people saved. It was learned that an invalid had been praying for
two years for him to come to the church!
Three English men invited him back the following year. With
their families, Moody and Sankey left June 7, 1873. Little did
they know that they were going to shake England as Whitefield and
Wesley had 125 years previously. Two of the sponsors had died by
the time they arrived and they were fortunate to get an
invitation to conduct some meetings at the York Y.M.C.A. Five
weeks of meetings saw 250 won to Christ. F.B. Meyer was the
principal supporter. Then they traveled on to Sunderland for five
weeks with Arthur A. Rees, the host. Next came Newcastle where
the meetings were gigantic with special trains bringing people in
from surrounding areas. Here a novel all-day meeting was held and
their first hymn book was introduced to the public.
Now being invited to Scotland, the evangelists began in
Edinburgh on November 23. For hundreds of years, only Psalms had
been sung here with no musical instruments. Now Sankey began
"singing the Gospel" and crowds packed out the 2,000-seat
auditorium. By the time the last service was over on January
20th, Moody was receiving requests from all over the British
Isles. They spent two weeks in Dundee and then began the Glasgow,
Scotland, crusade on February 8, 1874. These meetings soon moved
into the 4,000-seat Crystal Palace and after three months
climaxed with a service at the famed Botanic Gardens Palace.
Moody was unable to even enter the building surrounded by 15,000
to 30,000 people, so he spoke to them from a carriage and the
choir sang from the roof of a nearby shed! Later the team
returned to Edinburgh for a May 24 meeting held on the slopes of
"Arthur's Seat" with a crowd of 20,000. An estimated 3,500
converts were won in each of these two places.
Now Ireland was calling, so they began at Belfast on
September 6, 1874. People flocked to hear them and the largest
buildings of each city were used. A great climactic service was
held in the Botanic Gardens on October 8, in the open air with
thousands attending. One final service was held October 15 with
admission by ticket only. Tickets were given only to those who
wanted to be saved. Two thousand, four hundred came. Next it was
Dublin (October 26-November 29,) where even the Irish Catholics
were glad at the awakening amongst their Protestant neighbors.
The Exhibition Hall seating 10,000 was filled night after night
with an estimated 3,000 won to Christ.
Back in England on November 29, the Manchester crusade was
held at the Free Trade Hall. No hall was large enough! As many as
15,000 were trying to gain admission for a single service. Next
came Sheffield for two weeks beginning on December 31st, then
Birmingham with untold blessing. The January 17-29, 1875 crusade
noonday prayer meetings drew 3,000. Bingley Hall seated only
11,000 but crowds of 15,000 came nightly. Liverpool was next,
where the 8,000-seat Victoria Hall was used from February 7 to
Finally, it was the London Crusade climaxing the tour. It
was a four-month encounter from March 9 to July 11. Five weeks of
preaching began in the Agricultural Hall in the northern part of
the city. Then he moved to the east side in the 9,000-seat Bow
Road Hall for four weeks. Next came the west side in The Royal
Haymarket Opera House. Often, during this time, Moody would hold
a 7:30 meeting with the poor on the east side, and then shuttle
over for a 9 p.m. service with the fashionable. Then on the south
side of London he spoke for several weeks in the Victoria Theatre
until a special tabernacle seating 8,000 was constructed on
Camberwell Green where he finished this crusade. A total of two
and one-half million people attended! The awakening became world
news and it was estimated that 5,000 came to Christ. A final
preaching service was held in Liverpool on August 3rd before
sailing for America. He arrived home August 14 and hurried to
Northfield to conduct a revival. His mother, many friends and
relatives were saved there. Invitations for city-wide crusades
were coming from many places in America now.
His first city-wide crusade in America was in Brooklyn
beginning October 31, 1875, at the Clermont Avenue Rink, seating
7,000. Only non-church members could get admission tickets as
12,000 to 20,000 crowds were turned away. Over 2,000 converts
Next came Philadelphia starting on November 21 with nightly
crowds of 12,000. The Philadelphia crusade was held at the unused
Pennsylvania freight depot which John Wanamaker had purchased. It
was located at Tenth and Market. His ushers were very well
trained, capable of seating 1,000 people per minute, and vacating
the premises of some 13,000 in 4 minutes if needed. The doors
were opened one and a half hours early and in 10 minutes the
12,000 seats were taken. On January 19, 1876 President Grant and
some of his cabinet attended. Total attendance was 1,050,000 with
4,000 decisions for Christ.
Next it was the New York crusade running from February 7 to
April 19, 1876. The meetings were held in the Great Roman
Hippodrome on Madison Avenue, where the Madison Square Gardens
now stands. Two large halls gave a combined seating attendance of
15,000. Moody had just turned 39 for this crusade. Some 6,000
decisions came as a result of his ten-week crusade. Three to five
services a day were held with crowds up to 60,000 daily.
Back in Chicago, his beloved church was expanding. Property
had been purchased on Chicago Avenue and LaSalle Street.
Thousands of children contributed five cents each for a brick in
the new building. The basement, roofed over, served as a meeting
place for two years, then in 1876 the building was completed and
opened on June 1, 1876, and formally dedicated on July 16 with
Moody preaching. It was now called the Chicago Avenue Church, and
W.J. Erdman was called as pastor.
The Chicago crusade started October 1, 1876 in a 10,000-seat
tabernacle, closing out on January 16, 1877. The sixteen-week
crusade was held with estimates being from 2,500 to 10,000
converts. Moody never kept records of numbers of decisions, hence
reports vary. The meetings were held in a temporary tabernacle
erected on Farwell's companies' property, located at Monroe and
Franklin, which was converted to a wholesale store after the
The Boston crusade was held January 28 to May 1, 1877 in a
tabernacle seating 6,000. The years 1877-78 saw many smaller
towns in the New England states being reached. The years 1878-79
saw Baltimore reached in 270 preaching engagements covering seven
months. In 1879-80, it was six months in St. Louis where a
notorious prisoner, Valentine Burke, was saved among others. In
1880-81 it was the Pacific coast, primarily San Francisco.
Moody went back to England in September 1881, returning home
for the summer of 1882. He returned for an important student
crusade at Cambridge University in the fall of 1882, then back to
America, and returned the following fall for a crusade in London
from November 4, 1883 to January 19, 1884, where some two million
heard him in various auditoriums. Wilfred Grenfell was among
those saved and young C.T. Studd was also won indirectly.
From 1884 on, his crusades were smaller and limited to
October to April. He spent his summer months in Northfield,
Massachusetts for study, rest, family and development of his
From 1884-1886 he was in many of the smaller cities of the
nation, remaining about three days in each place. In 1888-1889 he
was on the Pacific coast from Vancouver to San Diego. In 1890 he
held his second crusade in New York, in November and December.
A last trip was taken in 1891-92 to England, Scotland (99
towns), France, Rome and Palestine, where he preached on the
Mount of Olives on Easter Sunday morning. On his trip home to
America, he endured a shipwreck, a dark hour of his life, but God
Peter Bilhorn, who substituted for Sankey in the 1892
Buffalo, New York, crusade, tells his amazement at Moody's
personal work, observing him lead the driver of a carriage to the
Lord in the midst of a violent rainstorm.
In 1893 he had the "opportunity of the century." The World's
Columbian Exposition (World's Fair) was to be held in Chicago
from May 7 to October 31. He had a burden to saturate Chicago
with the gospel during this time. Using many means and meetings
in different languages, including 125 various Sunday services,
thousands were saved. Exactly 1,933,210 signed the guest register
of the Bible School.
In 1895 he had a large crusade in Atlanta. That same year a
roof collapsed on a crowd of 4,000 at Fort Worth, Texas.
Fortunately, there were no deaths.
In 1897 he conducted another large Chicago crusade, packing
out a 6,000-seat auditorium.
His church which was renamed Moody Church in 1901 (two years
after his death) continued to progress with the following
pastors: Erdman (1876-78), Charles M. Morton (1878-79), George C.
Needham (1879-81), no regular pastor (1881-85), Charles F. Goss
(1885-90), Charles A. Blanchard (1891-93), and Reuben A. Torrey,
who began as pastor in 1894.
Moody's interest in schools left him a lasting ministry. The
forming of the Northfield Seminary (now Northfield School for
Girls) in 1879, and the Mount Hermon Massachusetts School for
Boys (1881) was the beginning. The Chicago Evangelization Society
(later Moody Bible Institute) was opened with the first structure
completed on September 26, 1889 with R.A. Torrey in charge. The
school was an outgrowth of the 1887 Chicago Crusade.
In 1880 he started the famous Northfield Bible Conferences
which continued until 1902, bringing some of the best speakers
from both continents to the pulpit there. The world's first
student conference was held in 1885 and the Student Volunteer
Movement started two years later as a natural outgrowth.
In 1898 Moody was chairman of the evangelistic department of
the Army and Navy Christian Commission of the Y.M.C.A. during the
He started his last crusade in Kansas City in November,
1899. On November 16, he preached his last sermon on Excuses
(Luke 14:16-24) and hundreds were won to Christ that night. He
was very ill afterward, the illness thought to be fatty
degeneration of the heart. Arriving home in Northfield November
19 for rest, he climbed the stairs to his bedroom--never to leave
it again. He died about seven a.m. December 22, with a note of
victory. He is reported to have said such things as the following
at his death: "I see earth receding; heaven is approaching (or
opening). God is calling me. This is my triumph. This is my
coronation day. It is glorious. God is calling and I must go.
Mama, you have been a good wife...no pain...no valley...it's
The funeral was on December 26 with C.I. Scofield, local
Congregational pastor, in charge. Memorial services were held in
many leading cities in America and Great Britain. Moody left to
the world several books, although he never wrote a book himself.
His Gospel sermons, Bible characters, devotional and doctrinal
studies were all compiled rom his spoken word, those after 1893
by A.P. Fitt. However, he read every article and book before they
were published. His innumerable converts were estimated by some
as high as 1,000,000.
R.A. Torrey, one of his closest friends, writes his
conclusions in his famous Why God Used D.L. Moody: (1) fully
surrendered, (2) man of prayer, (3) student of the Word of God,
(4) humble man, (5) freedom from love of money, (6) consuming
passion for the lost, (7) definite enduement with power from on
Perhaps the world HAS seen what one man totally consecrated
to God can do.
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