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Christian History Home > 131 Christians > Evangelists and Apologists > Dwight L. Moody

Dwight L. Moody
Revivalist with a common touch
posted 8/08/2008 12:56PM

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Dwight L. Moody

"If this world is going to be reached, I am convinced that it must be done by men and women of average talent."

With his boundless physical energy, natural shrewdness, self-confidence, and eternal optimism, Dwight Lyman Moody could have become a Gilded Age industrial giant like John D. Rockefeller or Jay Gould. Instead, he became one of the great evangelists of the nineteenth century.

Pony rides to the YMCA

He was born in Northfield, Massachusetts, to a Unitarian bricklayer's family. His father died when Moody was 4, leaving nine children for his mother, Betsey, to raise. His mother never encouraged Dwight to read the Bible, and he only acquired the equivalent of a fifth-grade education.



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He struck out on his own at age 17 and sold shoes in his uncle's Boston store. He also attended YMCA and Sunday school classes, where he became a Christian at age 18. Shortly after that, he moved to Chicago, where he sold shoes and worked toward his goal of amassing a fortune of $100,000.

It slowly dawned on Moody that, in light of his new faith, his life should not be spent on amassing wecaptionh as much as on helping the poor. In 1858 he established a mission Sunday school at North Market Hall in a slum of Chicago. It soon blossomed into a church (from which, six years later, was formed the Illinois Street Independent Church, precursor to the now famous Moody Memorial Church). By 1861 he had left his business to concentrate on social and evangelistic work. He drew the children of the German and Scandinavian immigrant underclass to his mission with candy and pony rides, and he drew the adults through evening prayer meetings and English classes. He was convinced, "If you can really make a man believe you love him, you have won him."

There he met and later married one of the Sunday school teachers, Emma C. Revell, with whom he had three children.

As president of the Chicago YMCA for four years, he championed evangelistic causes such as distributing tracts all over the city, and he held daily noon prayer meetings. During the Civil War, he refused to fight, saying, "In this respect I am a Quaker," but he worked through the YMCA and the United States Christian Commission to evangelize the Union troops. He relentlessly sought and received financial support for all his projects from rich Christian businessmen, such as Cyrus McCormick and John Wanamaker. In all this, he tried to mix effective social work with evangelism.

The Great Chicago Fire in October 1871 destroyed Moody's mission church, his home, and the YMCA. He traveled to New York to raise funds to rebuild the church and the YMCA, but while walking down Wall Street, he felt what he described as "a presence and power" as he had never known before, so much that he cried aloud, "Hold Lord, it is enough!" He returned to Chicago with a new vision: preaching the Kingdom of God, not social work, would change the world. He now devoted his immense energies solely to the "evangelization of the world in this generation."

Innovative evangelism

Moody believed music would be a valuable tool in his evangelistic campaigns, so when, in 1870, he heard Ira Sankey sing at a YMCA convention, he convinced Sankey to give up a well-paying government career to join him on the sawdust trail.

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