D. L. Moody: Evangelist – Soul Winner (Part 2)
Young Moody arrived in Chicago in the early autumn of 1856. Knowing no one, and a thousand miles away from home, it took several days before he was able to secure a job with a boot and shoe house. He prospered at his work and was such a good salesman that his employer sent him out as a commercial traveler.
Moody united himself with the Plymouth Church in Chicago. He became a very active Christian worker, putting his soul and energy into the work of winning men to Christ. He rented a pew in the church, which he undertook to fill every Sunday. He would hail young men on the street corners, or visit their boarding houses, or even call them out of saloons to share his pew. Whether the novelty of the invitation or the earnestness and cordiality of the young man induced a large number to attend, the object was at any rate attained, and before long he was renting four pews, which he filled every Sunday with his assorted guests.
The great revival involving Charles Finney in 1856 reached Chicago, and Moody heartily enjoyed the opportunities and blessings it brought. Writing to his mother in January 1857, he expressed great delight in the interest that was awakened. "Oh, mother, pray for us. Pray that this work may go on until every knee is bowed. I wish there could be a revival in Northfield, that many might be brought into the fold of Christ...."
Moody found a little mission Sunday School on North Wells Street where they had sixteen teachers and only twelve scholars. He applied to become a teacher, and they consented on condition that he would find his own scholars. This just suited him and the next Sunday he arrived with eighteen little waifs which he had gathered from the streets. He soon had the building filled with children. An interesting note is that at the school he made the acquaintance of the one who, four years later, would become his wife, Emma C. Revell, at this time a girl of fifteen, and a teacher in the school.
In the fall of 1858 he began another mission school on a larger scale in another part of the city. The large hall was soon overcrowded so he then procured a larger hall, North Market Hall. Here Moody began the Sunday School work which developed later into one of the leading churches of Chicago. This big hall he soon had filled with street children. They loved him and crowded in by the hundreds. An early teacher in the school commented, "At the close of the school Mr. Moody took his place at the door and seemed to know personally every boy and girl; he shook hands and had a smile and a cheery word for each."
The Sunday School grew to such proportions that parents were drawn in. Gospel meetings were conducted week day evenings in a room formerly used for a saloon. Here Moody received the practice and training in preaching that were of such incalculable value in later years.
And it seemed that he needed this training, as at first he apparently spoke very awkwardly in public. It is told that "when he first arose to speak in a prayer meeting one of the deacons assured him that, in his opinion, he would serve God best by keeping still. Another critic, who praised Moody for his zeal in filling the pews at Plymouth Church, said that he should realize his limitations and not attempt to speak in public. ‘You make too many mistakes in grammar,’ said he. ‘I know that I make mistakes,’ was the reply, ‘and I lack many things, but I’m doing the best I can with what I’ve got.’ He then paused, and looking at the man searchingly, inquired, in his own inimitable way, ‘Look, here friend, you’ve got grammar enough – what are doing with it for the Master?’"
Giving Up Business
"The greatest struggle I ever had in my life was when I gave up business," Mr. Moody often said. The steadily increasing duties in his pioneer religious work had not hindered his success in business. His early ambition in business was to save $100,000 and by his mid-twenties he had earned $7,000 towards that goal.
Like the young men who were his associates, Mr. Moody was immersed in business and politics, and keenly alive to all the events of the hour. He had an experience at this time, however, that entirely transformed his career and led him to devote himself exclusively to Christian work.
Moody recalled, "When I went to Chicago, I hired four pews, …and used to go out on the street…and fill these pews. I never spoke to the young men about their souls; that was the work of the elders, I thought. …I started a mission Sunday School. I thought numbers were everything, and so I worked for numbers …Still none were converted; there was no harvest. Then God opened my eyes." He goes on to relate a story of one of his Sunday School teachers who led a class of particularly frivolous, rebellious girls. The man came to Moody looking very ill and related that his doctor had encouraged him to leave the Lake Michigan area because of a condition that very well could take his life. He was upset that he had never led any of his class to Christ and believed that he had done the girls more harm than good. Moody suggested the teacher go to the girls to talk to them, and volunteered to accompany him. The teacher went to the homes of each girl in his class and talked to her about her soul.
Ten days later, the teacher came to the store with his face literally shining. Every last one of the girls in his class had yielded herself to Christ. "The next night he was to leave, so I called his class together that night for a prayer meeting, and there God kindled a fire in my soul that has never gone out. The height of my ambition had been to be a successful merchant, and if I had known that meeting was going to take that ambition out of me, I might not have gone. But how many times I have thanked God since for that meeting!" After the teacher had read John 14, they sang and then knelt to pray. Moody was just rising to pray aloud, when one of the girls began to pray for her dying teacher. Then another prayed, and another, and until the whole class had prayed. As he went out from that meeting, Moody said to himself, "Oh, God, let me die rather than lose the blessing I have received tonight!"
Having the $7,000 saved during his business career, Mr. Moody decided to live on this as long as it lasted. If at the end of this time the Lord continued to reward his labor, thus indicating that it was the right course to continue, he believed that the means for it would be provided. And so he began his full-time mission work, with no Board at his back, no Society to guarantee his salary: his dependence was on God.
(To be continued)
– Adapted from Deeper Experiences of Famous Christians by James Gilchrist Lawson and supplemented with information from The Life of Dwight L. Moody by William R. Moody.