In 1855 as a young man working in Boston at his uncle’s shoe store, D.L. Moody was converted to Christ in a most extraordinary way. His Sunday school teacher, Edward Kimball, had sought him out in the back of the store where the young Moody was busy with tasks. With a simple yet profoundly sincere gesture, Mr. Kimball laid a hand on Moody’s shoulder and said “I want to tell you how much Christ loves you.” Moody knelt and absorbed all that was spoken to him. Kimball then straightforwardly asked of his student, “Will you not give your heart to Jesus?” It is said that this inquiry “pierced Moody to the heart” and he was converted, giving himself and his life to Christ. This conversion was the beginning of Moody, the evangelist.
In September 1856, Moody left Boston and moved to Chicago with great determination to succeed in the business world and amass a fortune. He found employment clerking in yet another shoe store. While in Chicago, he witnessed first-hand a religious revival that was taking over. He became fully engaged by canvassing the city, passing out religious literature, ministering to those living on the streets, teaching Sunday school, attending to the poor, and preaching every opportunity that he had.
Moody was thriving in his new city; he was winning souls for Christ. The original goal of becoming a merchant and earning enough money to open his own shoe store world was no longer in the forefront of Moody’s mind. In 1860, the struggle within became so great that he separated himself from business and concentrated fully on evangelistic and social work. As much as it was a challenge, it was overwhelmingly more rewarding to dedicate his life to Christian work.
Moody was not shy about recruiting volunteers to work at the mission. One young woman in particular, took Moody up on his request to serve as a Sunday school teacher. Miss Emma C. Revell made Moody happy. It is said that she was the best thing that ever happened to him. They married in 1862. Mr. and Mrs. D. L. Moody had three children: William, Emma, and Paul.
In 1864, he expanded his mission church, the precursor to the Moody Memorial Church, and he became the president of the Chicago YMCA. This was the platform needed to create a distribution of tracks throughout the city, recruiting teachers and pupils, and holding noontime prayer meetings throughout all of Chicago. Moody also sought out the financial support of the wealthiest Christian businessmen to support his projects, becoming equally adept at fundraising and organizing as he was at evangelizing.
During a morning prayer meeting in 1870, Moody met Ira Sankey and told him, “You are the man I have been looking for, and I want you to come to Chicago and help me in my work.” Sankey, an employee of the Internal Revenue Department, took time to consider the decision to leave a well-paying job and disrupt his family. Months after their original meeting, Moody extended another invitation to Sankey, to spend at least a week’s time with him in Chicago. Sankey accepted and traveled to Moody’s home. The two men spent their time visiting with members of the church that had fallen ill, held prayer meetings, and labored at Moody’s church. His week’s visit concluded with his last service being a mass meeting held at Farewell Hall. It was a life-changing experience for Sankey; he gave notice to his employer, and within two years moved his family to Chicago.
The singer teamed up with Moody. Sankey had a beautiful voice. Moody had a love for music. Both were humble men, both relied on the power of prayer, both sought the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Sankey’s music embraced the words that the evangelist preached and inspired the people with his music ministry. Fame came upon Sankey as “the pioneer music director of the masses in American evangelism.” Moody knew that music was going to be a valuable component in his campaigns.
October 8, 1871 was the night of the Great Chicago Fire. Moody lost his home, his church, and the YMCA in the blaze. Moody, the fundraiser, headed for New York to raise the funds needed to rebuild his church and the YMCA and Sankey returned to his family in Pennsylvania. Following the devastation of the fire, Moody had become spiritually depressed. But while still in the city, he felt “a presence and a power” as he had never felt before. He had a vision to concentrate no longer on the fundraising and social work but to focus on preaching the gospel of Christ. Moody became vigorous with his missionary work, and he was soon recognized as the innovative evangelist who energized “the evangelization of the world in this generation.” This transformative vision to devote himself wholly to the Kingdom of God would change the world.
In the summer of 1873, Moody, Sankey, and their families traveled to the British Isles, where upon their arrival, were told that both sponsors who had invited them were dead. There were no meetings scheduled. Moody reached out to the YMCA at York where he secured use of the Independent Chapel for his service. Few people were in attendance, but shortly after this first meeting, their popularity started to grow as endorsements came in from local ministers. Invitations began coming in rapidly and they now had a schedule and campaigns. They preached for two years in England, Scotland, and Ireland and reaped converts with their evangelistic efforts.
Moody and Sankey returned to America as internationally famous revivalists in August 1875. Their first services were held in Moody’s hometown of Northfield. Moody’s mother, Betsey Moody, professed her faith and conversion at this service. The men were now in great demand. Cities, large and small, lobbied for their crusades. Moody developed innovative techniques of evangelism to accommodate the large crowds and enhance cooperation among churches and leaders. These revival campaigns were conducted from 1875 until 1878, alternating between America and Europe. God filled these two men with His Spirit as they preached words and gospel music to the hearts of millions in their meetings.
Moody continued to preach across the country, but he also turned his focus towards education in his later years. He realized the value of training young people, especially those who could not afford it, to gain practical skills and become better ministers for Christ. He began the Northfield Seminary for Young Ladies in 1879, and the Mount Hermon School for Boys in 1881. These institutions rapidly grew, and the town of Northfield was filled with many seeking Moody’s teachings.
In 1899, Moody’s health began to fail, and he was forced to return home to Northfield after speaking at a conference in Kansas City. His family surrounded him, and he passed peacefully at home. Moody was buried on Round Top Hill at the campus, a special place from where he said he wanted to see the Lord’s return.
Today, Moody’s impact is still felt through the various educational institutions, ministries, and entrepreneurial ideas he launched. Through the revitalization of the Northfield campus and the launch of The Moody Center, D.L. Moody’s legacy continues to thrive.