D. L. Moody: Evangelist – Soul Winner (Part 3)
During the Civil War, Moody became a prominent member of the Christian Commission, an organization that provided printed materials (Bibles, religious tracts, library books, and religious newspapers) and other goods (such as blankets) to soldiers and prisoners of war quartered in Chicago and on many leading battlefields of the Southern States. Ministering to both Union and Confederate soldiers, Moody held multiple services everyday. Many dying soldiers were led to Christ as he and his helpers prayed with them.
After the war he returned to Chicago and again devoted himself to Sunday School work. His Sunday School was so great a success that it made him famous all over the country. Inquiries concerning his methods of work came from all directions, and people traveled thousands of miles to learn them. He was called to many places to address Sunday School conventions and to help organize Sunday School work. Through his efforts many Sunday Schools agreed to use the same lessons each Sunday, and thus the International Sunday School lessons were started.
Even after he began to devote himself more fully to evangelistic work he frequently attended Sunday School conventions. As a daily speaker at the International Sunday School Convention held in Boston in 1896, Moody tried to awaken all the delegates to their personal responsibilities in the salvation of the children entrusted to their teaching: "If I had the trumpet of God, and could speak to every Sunday School teacher in America, I would plead with each one to lead at least one soul to Christ this year!"
Moody also became one of the most prominent YMCA workers in America. It was at the Indianapolis YMCA Convention in 1870 that he first met Ira Sankey who was to become his co-worker and song leader. Moody led an early morning prayer meeting during the convention and Sankey went hoping to meet the well-known evangelist. There was some difficulty in starting the singing until a friend of Sankey urged him to begin a hymn. He began to sing, "There is a fountain filled with blood," in which all the congregation joined. At the close of the service he was introduced to Moody and after a few inquiries regarding his family and occupation followed, then Moody announced in his determined fashion, "Well, you’ll have to give that up! You are the man I have been looking for, and I want you to come to Chicago and help me in my work." Some months afterward Sankey gave up his business and joined Moody in Chicago.
Visit to Great Britain
In 1867 Mr. Moody made up his mind to go to Great Britain and study the methods of Christian work employed in that country. He was particularly blessed during his visit to meet and hear the great English preacher Charles H. Spurgeon. He also met George Müller and saw his faith orphanages in Bristol. Moody was then unknown in England except to a few prominent Sunday School leaders.
It was during this first visit to Britain Moody heard the words which set him hungering and thirsting after a deeper Christian experience and which marked a new era in his life. The words were spoken to him by evangelist Henry Varley as they sat together in a park in Dublin: "The world has yet to see what God will do with and for and through and in and by the man who is fully and wholly consecrated to Him." Moody thought, "He said ‘a man.’ He did not say a great man, nor a learned man, nor a rich man, nor a wise man, nor an eloquent man, nor a smart man, but simply ‘a man.’ I am a man, and it lies with the man himself whether he will or will not make that entire and full consecration. I will try my utmost to be that man."
The Chicago Fire
In the spring of 1871 the weather had become very hot, his congregation scattered and it seemed almost impossible to get them together again. After praying over it the thought came to him: "Preach to them upon Bible characters." It was not long before the church began to fill up, and inside of five weeks he had large congregations.
When he came to the study of Christ he intended to devote six nights to His life. On the fifth Sunday night, October 8th, he preached to the largest congregation that he had ever addressed in Chicago, having taken for his text, "What then shall I do with Jesus which is called Christ?" After preaching with all his power of entreaty, presenting Christ as a Savior and Redeemer, he said: "I wish you would take this text home with you and turn it over in your minds during the week, and next Sabbath we will come to Calvary and the Cross, and we will decide what to do with Jesus of Nazareth." That Sunday evening the great Chicago fire swept the city. The Illinois Street Church and Farwell Hall, along with the entire central business district, burned to the ground.
"What a mistake I made!" Moody said, in relating the story to a large audience in Chicago on the twenty-second anniversary of the great fire. "I have never dared to give an audience a week to think of their salvation since. ...I have looked over this audience and not a single one is here that I preached to that night. Twenty-two years have passed away, and I have not seen that congregation since. One lesson I learned that night, which I have never forgotten, and that is, when I preach, to press Christ upon the people then and there...."
"You Need the Power of the Spirit"
The year 1871 was a critical one for Moody. He realized more and more how little he was fitted by personal acquirements for his work, and how much he needed to be qualified for service by the Holy Spirit’s power. This realization was deepened by conversations he had with two ladies who sat on the front pew in his church. He could see by the expression of their faces that they were praying. At the close of each service they would say to him, "We have been praying for you." "Why don’t you pray for the people?" Moody would ask. "Because you need the power of the Spirit," was the reply. These words perplexed him for it seemed God was blessing him. He had the largest congregation in Chicago, and there were many conversions. But these two godly women kept praying and months later there came a great hunger to his soul.
Moody says, "I asked them to come and talk with me, and they poured out their hearts in prayer that I might receive the filling of the Holy Spirit. I really felt that I did not want to live if I could not have this power for service." One day while he was walking in the city of New York, God answered his prayer for the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Moody got off alone with God and the Holy Spirit flooded his soul with power and joy again and again until at last he asked God to stay His hand. "I went to preaching again. The sermons were not different; I did not present any new truths, and yet hundreds were converted. I would not now be placed back where I was before that blessed experience if you should give me all the world."
(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.