D. L. Moody (1837-1899)

img_3566A Passion for the Lost

Dwight Lyman Moody has been described by Warren Wiersbe as possibly the most remarkable Christian layman America has produced.[1] He was a pioneer in evangelism and thought outside the box when it came to reaching the lost. His legacy and vision can be seen through history in the lives of evangelists such as Billy Sunday, Billy Graham, and now today Greg Laurie.
He never was ordained nor did he ever have any formal pastoral training. Yet, he was willing to learn and seek counsel from men who were formally trained. God would use a man with very little education to become an administrator over an educational facility, Moody Bible Institute. God would use a man who was not formally ordained or trained to reach a whole generation. God would use a man who came from an unknown family to leave a legacy in so many lives of other men.
It has been estimated that Moody brought the gospel to 100 million people during his lifetime throughout America and Great Britain. This number is amazing but what is more remarkable is that he did this without the radio, television, or the internet.
He impacted more people than we know: R. A. Torrey, who would be his school’s administrator, F. B. Meyer, and S. D. Gordon, who would be Spurgeon’s assistant. W. Y. Fullerton also realized the desire of winning the lost through Moody. The well-known preacher and commentator H. A. Ironside was 12 when Moody came to Los Angeles on a campaign to share the gospel. Paul Radar, who grew up to become one of America’s greatest preachers was also a young boy who heard Moody. The list probably could go on and on with those who were impacted by Moody’s ministry.

Moody the Shoe Salesman

Moody was born in Northfield, Massachusetts on February 5, 1837, to a poor family. His father died in 1841, leaving his mother to care for seven children. When he was 17, he went to Boston to work in his uncle’s shoe store. Edward Kimball, Moody’s Sunday school teacher, visited him at the shoe store and led him to faith in Jesus Christ. Moody was changed. He would recollect, “The next morning the sun shone brighter and the birds sang sweeter . . . it was the most delicious joy that I’d ever known.”[2]
In 1856 he moved to Chicago selling shoes, but God would change his calling. He joined Plymouth Congregational Church, where he rented five pews (a practice where one would pay a monthly fee for seats) and filled them every Sunday with young men he would invite and bring.

The Burden for the Lost

Moody, though uneducated, was ambitious as he desired to teach young men the basics of what it means to follow Christ. He went to a mission called North Wells and asked if he could teach a Sunday school class. The response was that they had more teachers than students but if he could bring his own students, he could teach them. He took that challenge. He brought some young men and taught his own class, which kept growing, and by 1859 there were over 1,000 students in Moody’s Sunday school.
As he desired to reach the lost, the calling of Moody’s life came into full swing as Moody went to visit students with one of his teachers who was dying. The teacher’s desire was that all of his students would come to faith before he went to heaven but he needed help, so Moody went with him and visited the other students. Moody tagged along and they were able to see each of the students that they visited come to faith and that faithful teacher went home to be with the Lord. This impact showed him what he was called to do: God’s business of winning the lost to Jesus Christ.
One of the darkest points in American history was the Civil War. God used Moody to visit soldiers who were sick and dying, to just be there for them. This was the hands-on training that he would need for his future ministry of caring for the souls of others.

God Used a Boxer to Teach Moody the Proper Way to Teach the Bible

Moody, who was the founder of Illinois Street Independent Church, served on the Illinois State Sunday School Union Board and was President of the YMCA in Chicago. The Lord kept on opening the doors for D. L. Moody and he was asked to visit the YMCA in England in 1867.
Harry Moorehouse was an ex-boxer who then became a well-known English evangelist. He quickly became friends with Moody when he visited England. Moorehouse came to Chicago on an open invitation from Moody to preach at his church. It was from Moorehouse’s preaching that Moody realized the importance of Bible teaching. Moorehouse encouraged Moody to “learn to preach God’s words instead of your own. He will make you a great power for good.”[3]
This was a change for Moody, and he would take a concordance with him as he spent a few hours every morning studying the Bible. This was advice that he took and it changed his ministry. Moody, a lover of God’s Word, would not overcomplicate his message. He would say, “A good many preachers say I am lowering the pulpit. I am glad I am. I am trying to get it down to the level of men’s hearts. If I wanted to hit Chicago I would not put the cannon on the top of this building and fire into the air. Too many preachers fire into the air.[4]

Urgency with the Gospel

The Great Chicago fire broke out in 1871 and more than 17,000 buildings were destroyed. Moody was preaching one night during the fire and asked people what they would do with Jesus, and he ended the message by asking people to take a week to decide and then to come back to share their decision. There were some there that night who died in the fire. This tragedy would serve as a reminder to Moody, and he would never again have people wait to respond to the gospel.
He went home to be with the Lord on November 16, 1899 at the age of 62.
We do not have enough space to record the number of accomplishments that Moody was able to achieve. He is a world changer as he desired to preach the gospel to the lost, and his legacy really is lived out today in our modern evangelism.
We can learn from Moody that God can use anyone who is willing and that the Christian should have a passion for the lost.
God Can Use Anyone
D. L. Moody, though not educated or formally ordained, was used by God to reach a generation, multiple nations, and even people today with his legacy. What a great reminder that God can use anyone. You do not have to have a formal education; you just need to be willing to be used. Moody would say this about his preaching:

“I know perfectly well that, wherever I go and preach, there are many better preachers . . . all that I can say about it is that the Lord uses me.”[5]

It doesn’t matter who you are and what you do for a living—share the gospel! God used a Sunday School teacher to reach a shoe salesman to be a fisher of men to the world. God would use that shoe salesman to reach thousands of people. God uses the simple things to confound the wise (1 Corinthians 1:27). It is important for us to be faithful where we are, doing what we are called to do, making disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19). We can’t use the excuse of not having formal training or feeling ill-equipped. God will use us in our weaknesses and our inadequacies for His glory.

His Passion to Reach the Lost

Moody realized the one thing that he was to do. It was not to sell shoes; it was to reach the lost. He would write,

“The trouble with a great many men is that they spread themselves out over too much ground. They fail in everything. If they would only put their life into one channel, and keep it in, they would accomplish something. They make no impression, because they do a little work here and a little work there . . . Lay yourselves on the altar of God, and then concentrate on some one work.”[6]

He would concentrate on this one work for the rest of his life.
We can summarize the life of the Christian the same way: the one thing we should do is reach the lost. We can do that everywhere and at all times. We can be a light to our coworkers, neighbors, and family. This should be our motivation—to reach the lost.
The apostle Paul wrote, “The one thing that I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13–14 ESV). As believers, we should all have that one thing we do, sharing our faith. How we do that may look different, but still it is that one thing we do.
Recommended Reading

  • A Passion for Souls by Lyle W. Dorsett
  • For younger readers: D. L. Moody: One Devoted Man by Nancy Drummond

[1] Wiersbe, Warren. 10 People Every Christian Should Know. PG. 65
[2] IBID. PG. 69.
[3] IBID. PG. 74
[4] Miller, Steve. D. L. Moody on Leadership. PG. 115
[5] Gansky, Alton. 60 People Who Shaped the Church. PG. 53.
[6] Miller, Steve. D. L. Moody on Leadership. PG. 179

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