Dwight L. Moody was born in Massachusetts on February 5, 1837. He was the sixth child. Just a few years later, his father suddenly died at the age of 41, leaving a pregnant widow with no means of support and the homestead mortgaged. Laws protected the house from being taken, but creditors even took the kindling pile out by the shed. Twins were soon born, making it impossible for the mother to earn a living with 9 children all under the age of 12. A couple relatives helped, but most friends considered their obligation met by telling the mother to give her children away as orphans.
Later, a minister visited them and took them under his care by offering advice and assistance. The children were enrolled in Sunday School and sent out to recruit others. So began Dwight’s missionary efforts, at the earliest of years.
When 17, he decided to abandon the family and country living and move to Boston. He arrived destitute and was unable to find a job. Finally, after agreeing to humble his attitude about himself, an uncle hired him in their cobbler shop. Dwight was an enthusiastic salesman, taking salesmanship to the street to convince people to buy shoes from the store!
He joined a Bible Study and one day was asked to open a Bible to a verse. He was totally baffled by the request! He had never used a Bible. Later the teacher, Edward Kimball, sheepishly entered the Cobbler shop and asked Dwight if he had ever accepted the Lord Jesus as His Savior. Dwight had not, and wanted to be saved. Seventeen years later, Edward’s eldest son introduced himself to Dwight after a meeting. Dwight was able to lead Henry to salvation in the Lord Jesus. Dwight mentioned Henry was just a little baby when his dad visited the shop years earlier.
After being a salesman of shoes, and outselling all the other clerks at the shoe shop in just three months, Dwight was afraid that being honest would hinder his salesmanship. However, he found that honesty brought customers who would only deal with him, because they knew they could trust him. But after two years he wanted to go where he might have a future and Chicago seemed to be the place.
As soon as he was in Chicago, he got a job and joined a church. He wanted to become involved in some Christian service there, and decided to rent a pew and go find people to join him in it. Soon he was renting four pews that were filled every Sunday with people from the street, bars, boarding houses, and anywhere he could find someone willing to come.
Filling the pews took up Sunday mornings, but Moody wanted to fill the rest of the day with Christian work. He applied to be a Sunday School teacher, and was accepted if he would bring his own class. The school had 16 teachers and 12 pupils! He showed up the next Sunday with 18 "hoodlums" he had gathered! He did not feel he was qualified to teach, so he worked to provide each teacher a full class.
It was not long before the school grew to 1500 pupils. Dwight was a traveling salesman and would always arrange things to get back home Saturday night. This was usually very late, Saturday night. He would then arrive, usually alone, at the Hall on Sunday morning by 6 a.m. to clean up from the dance users late Saturday night. There were beer kegs to dispose, sawdust to sweep up, things to clean up and the chairs to set up. After this, he had to go out and recruit children to attend the School. By 2 o’clock, the Hall would be filled, and he was needed to keep order. It was his job to hold the children’s interests so the teachers could do their job of giving the lesson. Afterwards, he visited the children that did not show, visited those who were sick and began inviting parents to attend his evening service.
He would not get home until very late Sunday night, exhausted, having maybe eaten a few crackers and a little cheese for the whole day. He later realized such an exhaustive schedule was wrong. He should have taken time out to insure he was caring for the needs his body. He really felt guilty about falling asleep during his evening prayers.
One student was a gang leader and particularly bothersome. Something had to be done, because the friendly Moody was getting no where in controlling him. The policy was to accept anyone who would come. He finally decided to do something and told the song leader that if he grabbed the boy, everyone needed to sing as loudly as possible, until he came back with the boy. When the boy acted up, the plan went into action. Moody grabbed the boy, whisked him out of the room, and had him locked in a side room before the boy knew what was happening. Moody delivered a sound whipping to the boy, and emerged flushed but victorious. The boy soon was converted and years later told a friend how he was still enjoying the benefits of that "gospel exercise!"
Ira Sankey later joined him and they went to England three times on an Evangelistic Crusade. He also went to Scotland three times and came back to the United States to do similar crusades in Brooklyn, Philadelphia, New York and Boston. He travelled as an evangelist one million miles and spoke to 100 million people.
He started several schools and Moody Bible Institute still carries his name and mission today.
He continued preaching and working right up to the end, although he was getting weaker between each event. When he preached you would not know he was dying, he was so vibrant and full of life, but even the short carriage rides were getting to be too much. He was whisked home and telegrams sent to family members of his condition. These were followed by telegrams that he sent saying he was recovering!
The night before his death, he was fading in and out and insisted he was not dreaming, but saw the most beautiful place. He knew there would not be any more valleys for him there. He told his son-in-law who was caring for him that God was calling him Home and he needed to go. He gave instructions of what family members would take each part of his work. Then he said, "This is my triumph; this is my coronation day! I have been looking forward to it for years." His face then lit up and he called out "Dwight! Irene!—I see the children’s faces!" He was referring to two of his small grandchildren that passed away during the last year.
He was revived with medicines and stimulants after it seemed he was gone. He suddenly sat up on his arm and said: "What does all this mean? What are you all doing here?" He was told he was not well. He then said: "This is a strange thing. I have been beyond the gates of death and to the very portals of Heaven, and here I am back again. It is very strange." He then talked about the work to be done and the assignments of personnel. He decided God would do a miracle and raise him up again. He got up and sat in a chair, but then asked to be helped back to bed. After a couple more rounds of rest and rallying he sunk into a peaceful sleep.
Moody left us this quote: "Someday you will read in the papers that D.L. Moody, of East Northfield, is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it! At that moment I shall be more alive than I am now, I shall have gone up higher, that is all: out of this old clay tenement is not a house that is immortal—a body that death cannot touch; that sin cannot taint; a body fashioned like unto His glorious body. I was born of the flesh in 1837. I was born of the Spirit in 1856. That which is born of the flesh may die. That which is born of the Spirit will live forever."
He died on December 22, 1899.
Bonnie H. Harvey. D.L. Moody; The American Evangelist. Uhrichsville, Ohio: Barbour Books, 1997.
G.T. Kurian. Nelson’s New Christian Dictionary: The Authoritative Resource on the Christian World. Nashville, Tenn.: Thomas Nelson Pubs., 2001.
Dwight L. Moody. Arrows and Anecdotes. New York: Henry Gurley, 1877.
William R. Moody. The Life of Dwight L. Moody. Murfreesboro, Tennessee: Sword of the Lord Publishers, n.d.