833) Preacher to the Common People

Moody (with beard) and the boys of the Chicago streets (1860’s).


     Dwight L. Moody (1837 – 1899) was the most influential evangelist of the nineteenth century.  His work became the benchmark for all revivalists who followed him.  He has been called the father of modern campaign evangelism.  This pushy shoe salesman became a powerful evangelist, refusing to be limited by his lack of education and low social status.

     Born in Northfield, Massachusetts, he had a difficult childhood.  His alcoholic father died when Moody was four, leaving his mother in debt and alone with nine children.  The farm was put into foreclosure, and the older children were sent out to other families to work for their room and board.  Even little Dwight was soon sent to live with another family, working for them more than attending school and barely learning to read.  At seventeen he moved to Boston to work in his uncle’s shoe store.  Moody’s conversion came there in the shoe store at the prompting of his Sunday school teacher.

     Moody was enthusiastic to follow Jesus, and what he lacked in book learning he made up for in street smarts and salesmanship.  He moved to Chicago where he excelled in organized evangelistic outreach, shoddy as it was.

     This work led to the founding of a Sunday school of some six hundred children and sixty volunteers.  It was so noteworthy that on November 25, 1860, President-elect Abraham Lincoln visited and offered remarks to the class.  How did Moody attract so many youth in his ministry outreach?  As a salesman he used the tricks of the trade:  passing out candy and offering free pony rides.  Needing a permanent home for the growing class, he started The Illinois Street Church in Chicago.  The church became a home for poor immigrant families.  He also led the Chicago YMCA.  

     In 1871 Moody teamed up with gospel singer Ira D. Sankey.  Two years after the Great Chicago Fire, he and Sankey set out for England.  As a self-made American rags-to-religion hick, Moody rose to superstar status.  Students flocked to his meetings.  Among his converts were the “Cambridge Seven,” some of which were England’s most celebrated cricket players.  Later, the ‘seven’ went to China as missionaries.

     Moody returned to America in 1875 as an internationally famous revivalist.  He was called the “greatest preacher to the common people since George Whitefield” (1714-1770).  Every city wanted him to hold a campaign.  Reporters jostled each other in getting the lead story.  His self-deprecating style and his quotable quips perfectly suited the hungry press, eager to sell penny-papers.  His lack of education and proper etiquette, his poor grammar and pronunciation made him all the more endearing.

     Moody’s uncle once quipped, “My nephew Dwight is crazy, crazy as a March hare.”  Another observer offered a different slant:  “There was the revivalist Moody, bearded and neckless, with his two hundred and eighty pounds of flesh, every ounce of which belonged to God.”  H. L. Mencken, the wit and satirist of the day wrote,  “When he started out, he had no more dignity and social position among us than a lightening-rod salesman; when he finished, he was friendly with leading merchants, industrialists, and public figures of the day.”

     Moody, however, was more than a charismatic revivalist.  The uneducated shoe salesman became an educator, establishing three schools, all founded in part to train more evangelists.  When Moody died in 1899, it was a time of mourning and homage.  “Chicago at one time claimed this mighty preacher,” a hometown newspaper eulogized.  “But when he died the whole world claimed him.”          

(Adapted from Faithful Through the Ages at:   http://www.BibleGateway.com)



I have had more trouble with myself than with any other man.

The thief had nails through both hands, so that he could not work.  He had a nail through each foot, so that he could not run errands for the Lord.  He could not lift a hand or a foot toward his salvation.  Yet, Christ offered him the gift of God, and he took it.

A man ought to live so that everybody knows he is a Christian, and most of all, his family should know.

The world has yet to see what God can do with a man fully consecrated to Him.  By God’s help, I aim to be that man.

God never made a promise that was too good to be true.

There are many of us that are willing to do great things for the Lord, but few of us are willing to do little things.

Where one man reads the Bible, a hundred read you and me.

You may find hundreds of faultfinders among professed Christians, but all their criticism will not lead one solitary soul to Christ.

The best way to show that a stick is crooked is not to argue about it or to spend time denouncing it, but to lay a straight stick alongside it.

He who kneels the most, stands the best.

Our greatest fear should not be of failure, but of succeeding at something that doesn’t really matter.

The Bible was not given for our information but for our transformation.

We can stand affliction better than we can prosperity, for in prosperity we forget God.

I look upon this world as a wrecked vessel.  God has given me a lifeboat and said, ‘Moody, save all you can.’

Temptations are like tramps.  If you treat them kindly they will return, bringing others with them.

I never preached a sermon yet that I could not pick to pieces, and find fault with.  I feel that Jesus Christ ought to have a far better representative than I am.

A good example is far better than a good precept.

Oh, young man, character is worth more than money, character is worth more than anything else in this wide world.

If we are full of pride and conceit and ambition and self-seeking and pleasure and the world, there is no room for the Spirit of God; and I believe many a man is praying to God to fill him when he is full already with something else.

A little faith will bring your soul to heaven, but a lot of faith will bring heaven to your soul.

Preparation for old age should begin not later than one’s teens.  A life which is empty of purpose until 65 will not suddenly become filled on retirement.

Some day 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 Corinthians 1:26-29  —  Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called.  Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.  But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.  God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things— and the things that are not— to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.



Our Heavenly Father, we pray that thy blessing may rest upon all that here assembled; and that every man in this assembly that is without God and without hope in this dark world may be convicted of his sin at this hour.  We pray that the Holy Spirit may do his work; and that there may be many that shall look back, in after years, to this hour and this hall, as the time and place where they became children of God and heirs of eternal life.  We pray that thou wilt bless them; and wilt thou bless the gospel that shall be spoken this afternoon, and may it reach many hearts.  May there be many led by the Spirit of God to the cross of Christ, there to cast their burden and their guilt upon him who came into the world to take away the sins of the world.  May there be many here who shall hear the loving voice of the Good Shepherd saying unto them, “Come unto me all ye that are burdened and heavy laden, and I will give you rest;” and may they find rest in Christ today.  May those that are cast down on account of their sins, this day be lifted up by the gospel of Jesus Christ; and may this be the day that they shall come unto thee.  And thy name shall have the power and the glory forever.  Amen.