Dwight Lyman Moody the Greatest Evangelist

Dwight Lyman Moody was born February 5, 1837, in Northfield, Massachusetts, USA, to solid New England Puritan Stock. He was the sixth of nine children. For 200 years seven generations of his ancestors had lived in the Connecticut Valley, and it was to his hometown of Northfield that Moody loved to return and there he hosted much of his teaching, including the successful Northfield Conferences.

His father died when he was but 4 years of age, leaving the mother destitute. Creditors even took the firewood, so the children stayed in bed until school time, in order to stay warm. From age 13 there was to be no more schooling. Moody’s mother demanded that her children attend church, keen to see them find salvation. Moody had the fear of God and wanted to please Him, although he did not know how to find salvation in Christ.

In the back room of his uncle’s shoe store in Boston 16 year-old Moody was led to Christ by Edward Kimball, his Sunday-School teacher. When Kimball presented Moody with the love of Christ the young man was keen to respond and the transformation was immediate. Moody recounts of the transformation, “Before my conversion I worked towards the Cross, but since then I have worked from the Cross; then I worked to be saved; now I work because I am saved.”

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Moody was illiterate, unable to read or write at the age of 17. But he became a dedicated student and gained much from his attention to life and to lessons. His zeal for the Lord made little impression on his church, which saw theological knowledge and correct doctrine as important for salvation. A year after his conversion Moody was denied church membership, since he was “not sufficiently instructed in Christian doctrine”.

The following year found him in Chicago, working with the Plymouth Congregational Church where he became a fervent soul-winner. He rented a pew and filled it each Sunday. Then he rented more, until each week he filled four pews.

When Charles Finney’s great awakening reached Chicago Moody was more than ready for action. At the same time his employment was also blessed, as he became such a successful shoe salesman that he was promoted to commercial traveller.

His next venture was to join a Sunday School which had more teachers than students. He set out to find his own pupils and quickly grew a huge gathering. He followed that with a second Sunday School project which outgrew its hall, so it kept expanding. Then, by reaching out to the parents of the students, he was able to build up a huge audience which thrilled to his excellent and powerful preaching. From the base of 1,500 students Moody was able to build his first church.

However, despite the popularity of his preaching, Moody had his critics among the pedantic folk who were offended by his poor grammar and illiterate modes of speech.

To one man who told him he had bad grammar, Moody replied, “I know I make mistakes and I lack many things, but I’m doing the best I can with what I’ve got.” He then gave the man a searching gaze and asked, “Look, here, friend, you’ve got grammar enough — what are you doing with it for the Master?”

Moody gave up his successful employment to work for the Lord full time. He became very active and successful with the YMCA work – when the “C” meant “Christian” in those days – the building up his remarkable Sunday-School … ministering in the Civil War to soldiers of both sides … and with his association with Ira D. Sankey.

In 1867 Moody went to Britain to hear Spurgeon preach, meet George Mueller and well known evangelist, Henry Varley. At a public park in Dublin Varley told Moody, “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.” Moody was struck by the fact that the “man” Varley described did not have to be great, learned or smart, but just ‘a man’. Moody decided to be that man.

Moody met Sankey through the YMCA in 1870 and invited Sankey to sing for some open air meetings. Sankey soon gave up his own work and together Moody and Sankey became the world’s best-known evangelistic team on both sides of the Atlantic.

This semi-literate preacher founded the Chicago Bible Institute (today known as the Moody Bible Institute) – a mighty publishing house that is still to the forefront in issuing evangelical literature – and Bible conferences in his hometown. World famous speakers were invited to speak (like Campbell Morgan) and, alas, some not so evangelical (like Henry Drummond).

Moody’s life and his famous Northfield Conferences associate him with many great names of Christian ministry. One that bears special mention is the famous English boy preacher, Henry Moorehouse, who preached on the love of God so constantly and with such compelling words, that Moody’s own preaching and ministry were greatly deepened by the impact.

It is interesting to note that the salvation message of Moody’s Sunday School teacher, Edward Kimball, was also centred on the love of God. This one message seems to be very significant in impacting Moody’s life and ministry.

In 1871 Moody met two ladies in his congregation who prayed earnestly that he would be filled with the Spirit. This created a great hunger in him which he carried during the great Chicago Fire tragedy. While in New York raising funds for those in need he experienced a touch from God which greatly increased his effectiveness. The same messages now brought much greater results. Of that experience Moody said, “I can only say that God revealed Himself to me, and I had such an experience of His love that I had to ask Him to stay His hand.”

Moody and Sankey drew the largest crowds ever during their first British tour. From then on, both in England and the USA, they spoke to and led to Christ multiplied thousands. On at least one occasion 30,000 people stood outside a meeting hall, because there was no room for them inside.

Moody died on 22 December, 1899. “If this is death, there is no valley …” his friends heard him say. “This is glorious, I have been within the gates, and I saw the children. Earth is receding; Heaven approaching. God is calling me! Hallelujah!”

It has been estimated that before he died – aged 62 – “one million people were converted to Jesus Christ” as the result of his ministry (Hall of Fame, by E. Towns, page 133).

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This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at: www.donaldprout.com

Thomas Hastings the Albino Musical Genius

This is the day that Thomas Hastings was born in Connecticut, in 1784.

At the age of 12 he and his family moved to Clinton, New York State, “by ox sledge”. He studied music from textbooks, without instruction, and in 1806 became the head of a singing school. Despite little education and “acute near-sightedness”, and the fact that he was an albino, he became a genius in the world of church music. He could read a page of music when placed upside down!” (Finney, by K. Hardman, page 252).

Hastings was married in Buffalo, N.Y., Sept. 15, 1822, to Mary Seymour. He taught singing in Troy, N.Y. during 1822-23, and was editor of the “Western Recorder”, a religious journal, at Utica, N.Y. from 1823-32, meanwhile lecturing on music in Albany, New York city, Philadelphia, Pa. and Princeton. N.J. He resided in New York city from 1832-72, where he held the position of choir master, first in Dr. Mason’s church, afterward in Dr. Hutton’s and finally in the West Presbyterian church.

He contributed frequently to the musical and religious periodicals, published the “Musical Magazine” for the years 1835-37 and edited many collections of music. He received the degree of Mus. Doc. from the University of the city of New York in 1858. Evangelist Charles Finney employed Thomas Hastings as music director at the Chatham Street Chapel, New York.

For 40 years Hastings taught music, trained choirs, composed, compiled and published hymnals, wrote 600 hymns for tunes and 1000 tunes for hymns!

The tune “Toplady” used for Rock of Ages… comes from his pen, as does “Ortonville”, to which we sing: Majestic sweetness sits enthroned…

Among his best known words are ‘Hail to the brightness of Zion’s glad morning’ and ‘Come, ye disconsolate’, in which he improved upon the work of an earlier poet.

One writer states that Thomas Hastings “did valuable service in his day in stemming the tide of deteriorating influences in American hymnody and maintaining the ideal of devoutness in church praise” (Handbook to the Hymnary, page 363).

One is tempted to add, “Oh, for another Thomas Hastings!”

He died in Vermont, USA, on 3 January, 1918.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.

Lyman Beecher Heads West to Train Evangelists

This is the day that … Lyman Beecher was born in Connecticut, in 1775.

He has been described as “the father of more brains than any other man in America”, a reference to his 13 children.  These included the famous preacher, Henry Ward Beecher, and the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe.  As a matter of fact, “all his sons were well known as preachers” (Concise Universal Biography, page 222).

But Rev. Lyman Beecher was a giant among giants himself. He was educated at Yale in the days when it was barely above a secondary school in its facilities. The students were of dubious character at times.

Beecher was appalled by the example of his peers, but found his ideal in Timothy Dwight, the new President of Yale. It was Dwight who stirred Yale into a religious fervor that led to many revivals in the next twenty-five years. Lyman graduated in 1797 and spent the next year in Yale Divinity School under the tutelage of Dwight as his mentor.

Ordained to the Presbyterian ministry in 1797, he pastored three large churches (Litchfield, Connecticut; Boston; and Cincinatti), was well known as a revivalist, an educator and a social reformer.  He brought revival but also controversy. His preaching on temperance was just one of the themes that offended his parishioners at times.

He was one of the founders of the American Bible Society and President of Lane Theological Seminary in Cincinatti.

Initially he opposed Charles Finney’s new revival techniques and theology, but a few years later he admitted his worth and even invited Finney to hold meetings in Boston.  Lyman Beecher found himself in ‘hot water’ with his Presbyterian brethren who had little time for the famous revivalist.  After all, Finney taught “man was able to repent in response to God’s grace” (Dictionary of American Biography, page 38).

As a result Beecher was actually tried for heresy … but acquitted.

He was already one of America’s best known preachers by the age of 50, when he moved to Boston, seeking better payment for his skills and status.

His next move, to Cincinatti, was motivated by his concern to sure up protestant preaching where the Catholics and Unitarians had already made inroads. His years there were controversial. He used his Presidency of Lane Theological Seminary to train ministers to win the West for Protestantism.

An inveterate opponent of Roman Catholicism and Unitarianism, it is said that one of his fiery sermons apparently helped incite a mob “that resulted in the burning of a convent”.

During those years he was charged with acts of heresy, slander and hypocrisy by opposing religious factions. He resigned from Lane in 1850 and went to live with his son, Henry Ward Beecher, in Brooklyn, where he died on 10 January, 1863, after a long and stormy ministry.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.

Charles Finney Waking America

This is the day that … Charles Grandison Finney was ordained to Christian ministry, in 1824.

Thus began – or “continued” might be a more accurate word – a mighty moving of the Spirit of God through this converted lawyer. Immediately the winning of the lost had become his one purpose in life … as he expressed it – he had been given a “retainer from the Lord Jesus Christ to plead His cause”.

Elmer Towns sums up one of Finney’s revival campaigns: “During his meetings in Rochester, New York … 1,200 people united with the churches of the Rochester Presbytery; all the leading lawyers, physicians and businessmen were saved; 40 of the converts entered the ministry, and the whole character of the town was changed. As a result of that meeting revivals broke out in 1,500 other towns and villages” (Hall of Fame, page 102).

It is estimated that “over 500,000 responded to his public invitations to receive Christ” (ibid).

In 1835 Finney became president of Oberlin College, introducing a curious blend of Calvinism and Arminianism into his theological teaching. The Second Great Awakening in America moved away from the Calvinistic focus of men like Jonathan Edwards and George Whitfield, to a focus on man’s responsibility for his sin and man’s need to take moral action in the face of his sin. This could be called practical Arminiansm.

Finney’s autobiography has been republished in paperback (Bethany Fellowship, 1977, 230 pages), and his Revival Lectures are still a classic in their particular field.

“The pastor who ordained Finney later said he regretted this ordination,” writes Jack Hyles in his book Today. “Finney became known as somewhat of a fanatic, embarrassing his old pastor. God give us more fanatics!!”

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.