The Ministry of D.L. Moody

The Life of D.L. Moody



The world has yet to see what God will do with and for and through and in and by the man who is fully and wholly consecrated to Him.1

Henry Varley

The above words were thundered over the pulpit by the nineteenth-century preacher, Henry Varley. Little did he know that among the congregation before him was a man who would be very much affected by his words. That day, Dwight Lyman Moody purposed in his heart that, by God’s grace, he would be that man.

Moody’s mother, Betsey Holton, was born in 1805. At age twenty-three, she married Edwin Moody and they began a family. In 1837, Betsey gave birth to a son, Dwight, her sixth child. The Moody family, which now included eight children, suffered the sad loss of their father who, in 1841, suddenly and unexpectedly, died. Complaining of pain, he went to bed and never woke up. Betsey struggled to raise the children on her own as they persevered through many hard years of poverty. She was nominally Unitarian and knew very little of Christian doctrine.

Dwight Lyman Moody, raised in Northfield, Massachusetts, longed to get away from home. Moody’s uncle, Samuel Socrates Holton, ran a shoe store in Boston. Moody requested that Samuel bring him to Boston and Samuel agreed. Now seventeen, the young Moody found himself living in Boston and working for his uncle. To maintain this arrangement, there were a number of conditions that Moody had to agree to. One of them was that he would regularly attend a Mount Vernon church. It is here that he was taught by a Sunday school teacher, Mr. Edward Kimball.

Kimball felt a deep burden for Moody’s soul and on April 21, 1855, he set aside time to talk with Moody about salvation. Later, Kimball felt that he had made a weak appeal. He said, “I never could remember just what I did say: something about Christ and His love; that was all.”2 However, this was no ordinary day, for on this day Moody found Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. He was transformed and filled with an ecstasy that he would testify of for the rest of his life.

In 1856, Moody moved to Chicago and accepted a job in a boot and shoe store. He soon settled in a Methodist Episcopal church and became involved in a boys mission group which distributed tracts in downtown Chicago. He came across a Sunday school and, being impressed by it, began serving in it regularly.

Moody recruited many of Chicago’s children into the Sunday school class which he was now leading and, because of his enthusiasm, he was given the nickname of “Crazy Moody.”3 By 1859, the Sunday school attendance averaged 600 and it would grow to 1000 and, on some occasions, to as many as 1,500. Moody was a hero to the children of Chicago and when asking them what they were thankful for, one of them said to him, “There is nothing we’re so thankful for as you, Mr. Moody!”4

While they were thankful for Moody, he was thankful for all of the children and all of the staff that worked with him. He was especially thankful for one particular worker. Moody became attracted to the thirteen-year-old Emma Charlotte who worked with him as a Sunday school teacher. On August 28, 1862, when she was seventeen and he was twenty-three, they married.

In the previous year of 1861, new opportunities for ministry had opened for Moody. America was going through the Civil War and one major military mobilization centre was Camp Douglas, located just south of Chicago. Working with the YMCA, Moody set up a large tent at Camp Douglas and began holding prayer and gospel services. Over the course of the war, 15,000 gospel services were held at Camp Douglas. Moody threw himself, heart and soul, into the work. One writer has said, “Moody was ubiquitous; hastening from one barracks to another, day and night, weekdays and Sundays; praying, exhorting, conversing with men about their souls, revelling in the abundant work and swift success the war brought within his reach.”5 Moody did not limit himself to Camp Douglas only. Ten times he went to the war front and preached to large crowds, visited the wounded, and spent time with the soldiers.

More doors of opportunity opened for Moody. Over the years, Moody had been deeply involved in prayer meetings which, by 1865, were too large for the Methodist hall. A Mr. John Farwell donated some property and a 3000-seat auditorium was erected. Moody would use the building for a few brief years before it was burned down in 1868. Another large auditorium was erected and was used again for a few brief years before it also burned down, in 1871, during the great Chicago fire.

Despite losses, such as these, there was no shortage of ministry opportunities for Moody. He kept busy in his work. However, even with this remarkable success, Moody found himself discontented in his own spiritual walk. It seemed that something was missing in his experience and Moody began searching for the answer. He made repeated trips to England where he heard Charles Haddon Spurgeon. Spurgeon was three years older than Moody and Moody was very much drawn to him. It has been said that in 1867, Moody “followed Spurgeon everywhere.”6 Moody also did a deep study of George Muller’s biography. Moody’s search would be aided, in 1868, by two elderly women in his own congregation. They meekly came to him and told him that they were praying for him, that he would be filled with the Spirit. This was humbling for Moody, who at this point had the largest church in Chicago. Moody sank into a depression, and in a private moment prayed, “Oh God what’s wrong with me.”7

Moody continued on but, again, he would be brought to a crossroads. At the close of an evening service, some women came to him and one gently placed her hand on his arm and said, “Lad, Jehovah is dealing with thee!” 8 Moody broke into tears. He stammered, “Won’t you please come to my house and talk with me?”9 They did come to his home and prayed for him, but his day of breakthrough was not yet. The breakthrough would come one November night as he walked alone down a street in New York. As he was meditating on spiritual things, he cried out to God in prayer, “Oh God, why don’t You compel me to walk close to Thee, always? Deliver me from myself! Take absolute sway! Give me the Holy Spirit!”10 Suddenly, something glorious happened. Moody could hardly bear the rapture of it. God met him and baptized him in the Holy Spirit. Years later, a New York newspaper recounted Moody’s experience of that night in these words:

In distress he walked the streets of the great city by night – ‘Oh God, anoint me with Thy Spirit!’ … God heard him … and gave him right on the street what he had begged for … Words could not express the influence upon him … He had been trying to pump water out of a well that seemed dry … He pumped with all his might and little water came … Then God had made his soul like artesian well that could never fail of water. 11

Moody and his ministry would never be the same.

Moody’s ministry began to flourish even more. A new building was constructed in Chicago and Moody continued preaching. In the ensuing years, God’s presence was felt in these services in an amazing way. One writer said, “The building was kept warm day and night; wave after wave of revival swept the people; ‘almost a continual service for months together, crowds weeping over sin one day, shouting over pardon the next; dispirited men and women seemed to absorb Moody’s overflowing gladness.’”12 Revival would begin expressing itself in beautiful ways.

Moody seemed to be ushered into a whole new experience and he had a deep revelation of love. It became a major theme in his preaching. He said:

I took up that word ‘love,’ and I do not know how many weeks I spent in studying the passages in which it occurred, till at last I could not help loving people! … I had been feeding on love so long that I was anxious to do every- body good that I came in contact with … I got full of it. It ran out my fingers. You take up the subject of love in the Bible! You will get so full of it that all you have got to do is to open your lips, and a flood of the love of God flows out upon the meeting. There is no use trying to do church work without love. A doctor, a lawyer, may do good work without love, but God’s work cannot be done without love.13

God’s work, done in love, began to mushroom as Moody kept moving in this stream.

In 1872, Moody made another trip to England. He had not gone with the intention to minister but, rather, to study. However, he was invited to speak at a church in North London and, in those meetings, a mighty revival broke out. An elderly lady had been praying for revival for years. Now was the time that God’s answer came. Moody was the preacher, and hundreds were converted. Prior to leaving England for home, Moody was urged by a Reverend William Pennefather to come back to England quickly to hold more meetings. Filled with excitement, Moody headed back to America.

His stay in America would not be long. In 1873, Moody and his family headed back to England, this time with his ministry partner, Ira D. Sankey (with family), a former government officer, who now sang in Moody’s meetings.14

The English preacher, F. B. Meyer, opened services for Moody and again a wonderful revival broke out. Moody held services in York, Sunderland, Newcastle-on-Tyne and Edinburgh and saw God move mightily. They continued to Glasgow, Perth, Aberdeen, Tain and Huntley where he spoke to 15,000 in an open air meeting. In Ireland, he addressed crowds in Rothesay, Belfast, Londonderry and Dublin. They continued in England, preaching in Manchester, Sheffield, Birmingham and Liverpool. In London, it is estimated that he spoke to 2,330,000 people.15

Moody did not return to America until 1875. Back home, opportunities to speak throughout the country awaited him. Moody preached in New York, Augusta, Philadelphia, Boston, St. Louis and, again, in Chicago. At this time a very precious blessing came his way. Moody’s mother had never approved of him becoming a preacher, nor would she come and hear him preach, until August of 1876. On that night, he was deeply moved to see his mother in the congregation. When the invitation was issued, asking those in the congregation who desired prayer to stand, Moody’s mother stood. Moody was overcome with emotion.

A couple of years later, in 1879, he also began the Northfield Seminary for girls and, in 1881, the Mount Herman School for boys. In 1889, working together with the Chicago Evangelization Society, a Bible institute was opened, which after his death was renamed Moody Bible Institute. 16

Along with the love of God, other major themes in Moody’s preaching were the death and resurrection of Christ, justification and substitution. He once said:

If you wish to know the secret of our success for the last two years, it is this: we have stood fair and square on the Biblical doctrine of Substitution. Oh! that is what is needed by a dying world, Substitution! If you take that out of the Bible you can take the Bible along with you. The scarlet thread is unbroken from Genesis to Revelation.17

He said on another occasion, “When I give up preaching Substitution, I shall go farming, for I know not else to preach.”18 A Boston newspaper summed it up in these words: “There is no longer any doubt as to Moody’s doctrine. He is an out-and-out believer in the ruined state of man, and in pardon, through faith, in the substitution of the blood of Christ for broken law.”19

At the close of gospel services, Moody would open an “enquiry room.” Here, those seeking salvation would come and would be helped by individual soul winners. Moody would instruct his soul winners to “[c]ontinue patiently with one soul until it is on the Rock, till it sees the truth as God gives it.”20 Every soul was precious.

The friendship and partnership with Charles Spurgeon was especially precious to Moody. In 1892, Moody was pained deeply when, on January 31, Spurgeon died. He traveled to England to pay his respects to this great preacher and good friend. On his visit there, Spurgeon’s widow, Susannah, gave Moody a priceless gift. She handed him Spurgeon’s Bible, which was marked with hundreds of sermons. She said, “Take it … I’m sure he’d want you to have it.”21 Deeply moved and with eyes blinded with tears, Moody received the gift and returned to America.

Returning to America was a miracle in itself because the ship that Moody was on began to sink. For forty-eight hours the ship drifted in this sinking condition. A Quebec vessel, the S. S. Huron, intercepted the ship and rescued Moody and the other passengers before Moody’s vessel went under. As he journeyed back, Moody was anticipating what would be one of his greatest ministry opportunities. The World’s Fair was scheduled to be held in 1893, in Chicago. This meant that thousands of Americans would be pouring into Chicago, Moody’s back yard. Concerning both the sinking of the ship and the World’s Fair, he said, “ … no one on earth knows what I passed through in those hours … my loved ones! my schools! Then I prayed ‘Oh, God, if You will spare my life and bring me back to America, I will go back to Chicago and this World’s Fair and preach the gospel with all the power you give me.’”22

Chicago in 1893 was a city of two million. Its crowds filled the Exposition grounds seeking pleasure and excitement. Joining them were multitudes of other Americans coming from all over the country. The Fair was extensively advertised throughout the city by ads in newspapers, on street cars, on billboards and on posters. Moody rented a number of facilities to hold his meetings in, such as the Central Music Hall, the Grand Opera House, theatres, halls, large auditoriums, churches and even in tents, with over eighty meeting places in all. The chief centre was Haymarket Theatre, seating three thousand, where Sunday morning services were held throughout the Fair, Moody preaching each Sunday except for two. Soon, a mighty revival broke out. On an average Sunday, thirty-to-forty thousand people attended the meetings. On some evenings, these numbers climbed even higher. On the second Sunday of October, 71,000 came to the Sunday meetings. One writer has said, “… the currents of revival were running with torrential power.”23

One circus tent used for the Fair had a seating capacity of 10,000. Moody secured use of it for two Sundays in June. On the second Sunday, an estimated 18,000 people stood beneath it and outside of it, listening to Moody. One writer has said, “D. L. seemed like an angel of God as he spoke in the midst of the ocean of faces on the rickety center platform. The mob roar hushed; it forgot the heat; the silence became intense; Pentecost came down, and hundreds were saved!” 24 Moody would always remember the Chicago World’s Fair for the amazing way that God moved there.

In 1899, when he was sixty-two years old, Moody began sensing that his life was coming to a close. In an address, given in New York, he said, “You may read in the papers that Moody is dead. It will not be so! God has given me the gift of life everlasting.”25 He did become ill that year and, even in the midst of sickness, held a Kansas City campaign. Five days into the campaign, he had to give it up. He went by train back to the homestead at Northfield, where he remained in bed. As he neared the end, he said, “If this is death, there is no valley. This is glorious. I have been within the gates, and I saw the children! Earth is receding; Heaven approaching! God is calling me!”26 He then turned to his wife, Emma, and said, “You have been a good wife to me!”27 On December 22, 1899, Moody left this world for heaven.

After his passing, Sankey recounts:

we talked of him who had been our joy in days gone by, and every now and then we would look toward the door of the hotel almost expecting to see him rush through the door … a great winter’s storm blew down from the northwe waited for the morning, wondering if the storm would break. And it did! No fairer day ever broke upon those beautiful hills than the day we buried our loved one … After all the addresses had been made, we carried him through the cold, frozen street, past the very door where his mother had lived and where he was born … We bore him to beautiful Round Top. …28

Moody had humble beginnings, working in a shoe store. He had humble beginnings, ministering to children. He had a dream of being used by God and a determination to be fully and wholly consecrated to Him. God raised him from the small work that he began with, but God didn’t raise him out of the humble state of mind and heart which had been forged in Moody through these experiences. Moody said once, I am the most overestimated man in America.”29

This humble life, called into God’s service and baptized in the Holy Spirit, saw victory after victory as he stepped out in faith and preached the love of God and the substitution of Christ. His life was saved from a sinking ship and he preached salvation to others. In so doing, he was a hero to men, women and children who were thankful for his sacrifice.

Shawn Stevens


1. Henry Varley, quoted in Richard Ellsworth Day. Bush Aglow : The Life Story of Dwight Lyman MoodyCommoner of Northfield (Philadelphia : The Judson Press, 1937), 9.

2. Edward Kimball, quoted in Richard Ellsworth Day. Bush Aglow : The Life Story of Dwight Lyman MoodyCommoner of Northfield (Philadelphia : The Judson Press, 1937), 65.

3. Richard Ellsworth Day. Bush Aglow : The Life Story of Dwight Lyman MoodyCommoner of Northfield (Philadelphia : The Judson Press, 1937), 75.

4. Ibid., 76.

5. Ibid., 107.

6. Ibid., 122.

7. D.L. Moody, quoted in Richard Ellsworth Day. Bush Aglow : The Life Story of Dwight Lyman MoodyCommoner of Northfield, 125.

8. Richard Ellsworth Day. Bush Aglow : The Life Story of Dwight Lyman MoodyCommoner of Northfield, 132.

9. D.L. Moody, quoted in Richard Ellsworth Day. Bush Aglow : The Life Story of Dwight Lyman MoodyCommoner of Northfield, 132.

10. Ibid., 136.

11. Richard Ellsworth Day. Bush Aglow : The Life Story of Dwight Lyman MoodyCommoner of Northfield, 137.

12. Ibid., 144.

13. D.L. Moody, quoted in Richard Ellsworth Day. Bush Aglow : The Life Story of Dwight Lyman MoodyCommoner of Northfield, 146.

14. A. P. Fitt, The Shorter Life of D.L. Moody (Chicago : Moody Press, 1950), 57.

15. Richard Ellsworth Day. Bush Aglow : The Life Story of Dwight Lyman MoodyCommoner of Northfield, 188-191.

16. T. P. Weber, “Moody, (D)wight (L)yman (1837-1899)” in Dictionary of Christianity in America, Ed. Daniel G. Reid (Downers Grove : InterVarsity Press, 1990), 768-769.

17. D.L. Moody, quoted in Richard Ellsworth Day. Bush Aglow : The Life Story of Dwight Lyman MoodyCommoner of Northfield, 216-217.

18. Ibid., 217.

19. Richard Ellsworth Day. Bush Aglow : The Life Story of Dwight Lyman MoodyCommoner of Northfield, 217.

20. D.L. Moody, quoted in Richard Ellsworth Day. Bush Aglow : The Life Story of Dwight Lyman MoodyCommoner of Northfield, 240.

21. Susannah Spurgeon, quoted in Richard Ellsworth Day. Bush Aglow : The Life Story of Dwight Lyman MoodyCommoner of Northfield, 306.

22. D.L. Moody, quoted in Richard Ellsworth Day. Bush Aglow : The Life Story of Dwight Lyman MoodyCommoner of Northfield, 308.

23. Richard Ellsworth Day. Bush Aglow : The Life Story of Dwight Lyman MoodyCommoner of Northfield, 316.

24. Ibid., 317.

25. D.L. Moody, quoted in Richard Ellsworth Day. Bush Aglow : The Life Story of Dwight Lyman MoodyCommoner of Northfield, 337.

26. Ibid., 330.

27. Ibid., 330.

28. Ira D. Sankey, quoted in Richard Ellsworth Day. Bush Aglow : The Life Story of Dwight Lyman MoodyCommoner of Northfield, 330-331.

29. D. L. Moody, quoted in John Pollock. Moody (Chicago : Moody Press, 1983), 209.


Day, Richard Ellsworth. Bush Aglow : The Life Story of Dwight Lyman Moody Commoner of Northfield.

Philadelphia : The Judson Press, 1937.

Fitt, A. P. The Shorter Life of D. L. Moody. Chicago : Moody Press, 1950.

Mann, Chester. D. L. Moody : Soul Winner. Greenville : Ambassador, 1997.

Pollock, John. Moody. Chicago : Moody Press, 1983.

Weber, T. P. “Moody, (D)wight (L)yman (1837-1899)” in Dictionary of Christianity in America, Ed. Daniel G. Reid.

Downers Grove : InterVarsity Press, 1990.

One thought on “The Ministry of D.L. Moody

  1. Shawn Stevens Post author

    Hi Mantada:

    I am glad that you like our ministry. Are there specific booklets that you would like to receive? You can see on the website the titles of booklets and magazines that we have to offer.
    God Bless you.

    Ramona Stevens

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