The Biography of Dwight Lyman Moody

(February 5, 1837 – December 22, 1899),

Dwight Lyman Moody also known as D. L. Moody was an American evangelist and publisher connected with the Holiness Movement, who founded the Moody Church, Northfield School and Mount Hermon School in Massachusetts (now Northfield Mount Hermon School), the Moody Bible Institute, and Moody Publishers.

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), became 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” experience.

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, however, his first application for church membership, in May 1855, was rejected. He was not received as a church member until May 4, 1856.

After the Civil War started, he became involved with the United States Christian Commission of the YMCA, and paid nine visits to the battlefront, being present among the Union soldiers after the Battle of Shiloh (a.k.a. Pittsburg Landing) and the Battle of Stones River; he also entered Richmond, Virginia, with the troops of General Grant.

D. L. Moody married Emma C. Revell, on August 28, 1862, with whom he had a daughter, Emma Reynolds Moody, and two sons, William Revell Moody and Paul Dwight Moody.

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, “Someday 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, counseling Moody privately, “Teach what the Bible says, not your own words, and shows people how much God loves them.” Moody’s preaching was much more effective after that.

During a trip to United Kingdom in the spring of 1872, he became well known as an evangelist. Literary works published by the Moody Bible Institute have claimed that he was the greatest evangelist of the 19th century; He preached almost a hundred times and came into communion with the Plymouth Brethren. On several occasions he filled stadia of a capacity of 2,000 to 4,000. In the Botanic Gardens Palace a meeting had an audience between 15,000 and 30,000.

That turnout continued throughout 1874 and 1875, with crowds of thousands at all of his meetings. During his visit to Scotland he was helped and encouraged by Andrew A. Bonar. The famous London Baptist preacher, Charles Spurgeon, invited him to speak, and he promoted him as well. When he returned to the US, crowds of 12,000 to 20,000 were as common as they had been in England. President Grant and some of his cabinet officials attended a meeting on January 19, 1876. His evangelistic meetings took place from Boston to New York, throughout New England, and as far as San Francisco, along with other West Coast towns from Vancouver to San Diego.

His influence was felt among Swedes despite that he was of English heritage, that he never visited Sweden or any other Scandinavian country, and that he never spoke a word of Swedish. Nonetheless he became a hero revivalist among Swedish Mission Friends in Sweden and America.

News of Moody’s large revival campaigns in Great Britain from 1873 through 1875 traveled quickly to Sweden, making “Mr. Moody” a household name in homes of many Mission Friends. Moody’s sermons published in Sweden were distributed in books, newspapers, and colporteur tracts and they led to the spread of Sweden’s “Moody fever” from 1875 through 1880.

He preached his last sermon on November 16, 1899, in Kansas City, Missouri. Becoming ill, he returned home by train to Northfield. During the preceding several months, friends had observed he had added some 30 pounds (14 kg) to his already ample frame. Although his illness was never diagnosed, it has been speculated that he suffered from congestive heart failure. He died on December 22, 1899, surrounded by his family. Already installed as the leader of his Chicago Bible Institute, R. A. Torrey succeeded Moody as its president. Ten years after Moody’s death the Chicago Avenue Church was renamed the Moody Church in his honor, and the Chicago Bible Institute was likewise renamed the Moody Bible Institute.

Leave a Comment