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D. L. Moody: A Hero Of Faith

D. L. Moody: A Hero Of Faith—Part 2

Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer | April 6, 2008

Selected highlights from this sermon

D. L. Moody was used by God for great things—he spoke before millions. He and Ira Sankey traveled all over Great Britain and North America, spreading the news that God loves sinners. 

Moody yielded himself to the strength and will of God. He abandoned self-will and human strength, throwing himself upon the power of God. With Moody’s humble, yielded, and courageous heart, God changed a generation. 

So the question before us is rather simple: Why is it that God so mightily used Dwight Lyman Moody? He had a fifth grade education and came to Chicago as a shoe salesman, intending to make $100,000, and ended up working in the poorest part of the city with children, and then eventually became an evangelist where tens of millions flocked to hear him speak.

Presidents also admired him. Last time I told you about how Abraham Lincoln came to his Sunday school class, and President Grant sat on the platform in one of D. L. campaigns in Philadelphia. D. L. Moody shares with Billy Graham the distinction of being one of the most famous evangelists of all time. How did it happen?

Here you have a man who in many respects had nothing in his background to suggest that God would use him this mightily. He was the kind of person who was humble. He was the kind of person who eventually turned out to be a great speaker, even though education-wise he never did catch up.

Spurgeon, the great British preacher said that when D. L. Moody preached, he could pronounce the word Mesopotamia in two syllables. It is often said that when Moody was reading the Scripture, he’d get to a word he couldn’t pronounce and so he’d stop and he’d talk for a moment, and then he’d pick up on the other side of the word.

Who was this man, Dwight Lyman Moody? This is the second in a series of simply two messages, and I hope that if you didn’t get a chance to hear the first that you will, because they are together as a unit about this remarkable man who founded the Moody Bible Institute and the Moody Church, was president of the Y.M.C.A., traveled to the scene of the Civil War at least four times, and had campaigns here in America all throughout the United States (perhaps 36 cities, at least, I counted).

Who was D. L. Moody? First of all, before I tell you a little bit about what God did in the British Isles through his ministry, D. L. Moody, of course, didn’t do it alone. He knew the power of song. Now D. L. Moody himself was not able to sing. I should clarify that. He sang, but he was tone deaf. Have you ever been beside someone who is tone deaf, by the way, and they love to sing? What it sounds like is a note on a piano that is supposed to be silent at that particular moment, but D. L. Moody knew that it was song that touched people’s hearts. When he heard a song like “The Sands of Time Are Sinking,” or “Rock of Ages,” he was driven to tears just listening to the words, and so he wanted to have someone who would join him in helping with singing, because D. L. Moody believed that singing not only honored God, but it also elicited a response of all those who participated in song. He also knew that people would forget his sermons and so he said, “If we teach them a song, they will remember that song for as long as they live,” so one day when he was in Indianapolis, there was this meeting going on and there was a man who was praying too long. D. L. Moody was a man who was in a hurry and he was very impatient, and he said one time when a person was praying too long, “If this gentleman would cut something at the beginning of his prayer and cut it off at the end, and put some fire in the middle, he’d be better off.” When this man finally finished his prayer, there was a man there (a Presbyterian minister) who said to someone sitting next to him, whose name was Ira Sankey, “Sankey, when this is over why don’t you stand up and sing?” So Sankey did, and he sang, “There is a Fountain Filled with Blood Drawn from Immanuel’s Veins.”

So D. L. Moody went to Sankey later and said, “Who are you? What is your name? Are you married? Where do you work?” and Sankey said, “Well, I work for the Revenue Service. I have a government job which I enjoy very much, and why are you asking?” Moody said, “Well, you’re going to have to give up your job because you are coming with me and you’re going to be my song leader.”

It took six months for Sankey to agree, but eventually he did. He moved from Pennsylvania to Chicago and this became his headquarters, and he and D. L. Moody traveled together for 25 years. It is impossible to over-exaggerate the impact of Sankey’s ministry in the great campaigns that I shall tell you about in just a moment. As a matter of fact, as a result of their singing they came up with a hymnal called “The Sacred Songs and Solos.” It is estimated that between 50 and 80 million copies of this hymnal and the American counterpart, which was called, “Gospel Songs” were sold. Everyone had them in their home all throughout the British Isles.

Let’s fast forward. Three years ago I was leading a tour to the sites of the Reformation in England and Scotland, and there I was in Saint Giles Church where John Knox used to preach, and I met someone there who knew something about history, and she said, “Oh, yes, Moody and Sankey had a great impact on Scotland and on Great Britain,” and then later on that day before we went through the Edinburgh Castle, I told the tour guide that I was the pastor of Moody Church, and he kept coming back to Moody and he said, “I have to tell you why. My grandmother had a copy of the Moody Sankey hymnal on her piano, and she used to play all of those Gospel songs.” The impact was enormous.

But how do I tell you the story of how God used Dwight Lyman Moody? I want to give you just one little vignette, one little example, and we’re going to use as our example the crusade that took place in Great Britain in 1873. It was really Moody’s fourth trip to the United Kingdom. He arrives there and he is under the impression (sometimes he didn’t plan too well) that there are people in Britain who are expecting him and who are preparing meetings. He lands with Sankey and his wife and discovers nobody has planned anything. In fact, the two men he was depending upon had died. A third man did nothing. He had no plans whatever, so Moody said, as they were sitting in the hotel wondering what to do next, “God has closed the door here in Britain, and if he doesn’t open it, we shall not be the one who opens it and we shall simply return back to the United States.” But he remembered that he had an invitation to preach in York. He had received the information but he had not even responded by letter because he was not interested actually in preaching in York, but nonetheless, he had the letter with him, and so they looked up the man and now we’re talking about communication in the 1800s. It took several days to connect, and the man responded back to him and said, “Moody, you have to let me know in advance when you are going to come, but we are interested in having you.” Moody immediately sent a telegram back and said, “We are going to arrive in York tomorrow. Let’s begin the meetings on Sunday,” and they did.

The thing that happened in those meetings is that people were convicted of their sins. People began to understand that the Gospel was for sinners, and D. L. Moody, as he preached, kept emphasizing that. Later on after he was in York he went to Newcastle, and he was the kind of person who loved to do things spontaneously, and in Newcastle he was preaching to a large crowd and there was a woman with a baby, and the baby, as babies sometimes do, was screaming and everybody was staring at her, because you know how annoying a baby can be in a big meeting. D. L. Moody saw the situation and immediately on the spot he said, “We’re going to have a meeting for mothers, and the only ones who are going to be able to attend the meeting are mothers who have babies.” And so what they did is they sent all of the messengers throughout all of the parts of the city, and they brought all of the mothers that they could possibly find, and they had a meeting with mothers and their babies. Somebody said, “It wasn’t a meeting. It was a squealing,” but D. L. Moody preached and Sankey sang, and the women wept to think that they were being included in this special way.

From Newcastle he went then to Edinburgh, and now he began to receive worldwide fame because in Edinburgh for seven weeks he preached the Gospel to large crowds. Somebody said when he went to Glasgow, and this is regarding Glasgow now, “He was borne on a surge. Week after week through a bleak winter into the spring the meetings continued in churches, the city hall, and at last at the Kibble Palace, the enormous glass exhibition building, generally called the Crystal Palace. On foot, by horse, tram, by train, in trim carriages and creaking cabs people came. From shipyards and mills and grimy tenements, where the air was heavy with soot and bitter winds swept cheerless streets, from the sumptuous houses, from middle class homes with sacred songs and solos (that is, the hymnal was on every cottage piano), people were thoroughly aroused either to opposition or sympathy,” and he is there in Glasgow week after week, night after night in the Crystal Palace.

Now you need to understand that when he left in the final meeting there in Glasgow, it is estimated that between thirty and forty thousand people gathered as an overflow crowd, and they gathered in the Botanical Gardens, and D. L. Moody stood on the roof of a house and he preached to them, and almost everyone was able to hear him. By now his sermons were printed in newspapers around the world, sometimes on the front page, in their entirety. The media was printing everything that he said, and then after that he went to London, and he was in London for about four months, night after night, filling halls and auditoriums and theaters and stadiums, and the people simply couldn’t get enough of this man.

When he was there, he preached the Gospel. Now the people in Great Britain had sort of thought that the good news of the Gospel is that God receives saints, and Moody was there to tell them that God loved sinners (and this was news to a lot of people because they had bought into some of the extremes of what is known as [hyper]Calvinism, where only the elect are saved, which the Bible does teach, but they had so emphasized that—to the exclusion of “whosoever will”), that people were glad to know that God actually did love sinners.

One day when Moody was preaching, he said these words, “A young man told me last night that he was too great a sinner to be saved. Why, they are the very men Christ came after. This man receiveth sinners and eateth with them. The only charge they could bring against Christ down here was that he was receiving bad men. They are the very kind of men he is willing to receive. All you’ve got to do is to prove to me that you are a sinner and I will prove to you that you’ve got a Savior, and the greater the sinner, the greater the need of Savior. You say your heart is hard. Well then, of course, you want Christ to soften it. You can’t do it yourself. The harder your heart, the more need you have of Christ. If your sins rise up before you like a dark mountain, bear in mind that the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses from all sin. There is no sin so big or so corrupt or so vile but that the blood of Jesus Christ can cover it, so I preach the old Gospel again. The Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” And that’s the way D. L. Moody preached. Remember, as I told you last time, he was a plain man preaching the plain Gospel and preaching it plainly.

London made him, of course, even more famous than Glasgow and Edinburgh. By the time Moody returned, and he had been in the British Isles for nearly three years, of course he was met by all of the newspaper people and the media of that era because Moody was now known around the world, and he basically told them that he had nothing to tell them except that he needed to go to Northfield to get some rest, which is very understandable. The estimate in London alone is that he had between 100 and 150 meetings with 2.5 million people hearing him directly. What a legacy!

Now I have to tell you about the city of Chicago. He came back and began to have crusades in all of the major cities of the United States, and also in Canada. I counted up at least 36. He was in Saint Louis for six months. He was in Boston twice. He was in Philadelphia and when he was there he was there months at a time. That was the remarkable thing. People kept streaming to hear him. He had a fifth grade education but was preaching the Gospel, and he had the ability to do it, and they came and they listened.

What about the city of Chicago? Well, in 1893 you have the World’s Fair here in Chicago, and D. L. Moody was always looking for opportunities to preach the Gospel. He was very creative, always thinking about how we can strategically reach our era and reach our time, and so D. L. Moody thought of something. There were some Christians who wanted to just boycott the World’s Fair, because they said it’s open on Sunday, and Moody said, “Let’s not have a boycott. Let’s do something positive.” So what he did was he recruited pastors from Germany and France and Poland, and all of the countries of Europe, and he brought them over here because he wanted everyone who came to the World’s Fair to be able to hear the Gospel in their own language. And then he recruited about 200 evangelists and Bible teachers. Moody Bible Institute was about six years old at the time, so he took them from his training school and he began to put them in ministry, and they hired tents to be built, and they were in theaters and churches and everywhere preaching the Gospel, and it is believed that tens of thousands of people were saved in 1893 during the time of the World’s Fair. What a man he was!

Now, we still haven’t answered the question though: Why did God so mightily use D. L. Moody? Ultimately we only know that that’s in God’s providence and in his sovereignty, because we can’t pry into his diary and find out why, but we do know that there were some things that D. L. Moody did that gave God much liberty and much joy in blessing him.

If you were here last time, you’ll remember hearing me say that first of all, he turned away from success to significance. When he said no to $100,000, when he said no to making money because of those girls who were converted in that Sunday school class, Moody said, “From now on, money can’t tempt me,” and money never did tempt him after that. He had received a taste of what it was to lead people to Christ.

There was a second decision that Moody made, and that was to go from many things to one thing. “Not these forty things I dabble in, but this one thing I do.” He was passionately driven to see people come to faith and trust in Jesus Christ, and that’s all that really mattered. He was consumed with it, but there’s another reason that God used him, and that was that Moody understood in ways perhaps that we do not what is called the filling of the Holy Spirit. When he was here in Chicago there were two women who continually prayed that he might have the anointing, that he might have the filling of the Spirit, and Moody used to tell them, “Don’t pray for me. Pray for the unsaved,” but they continued to pray for him anyway.

After the Great Chicago Fire that we talked about last time, Moody was in New York trying to raise funds to build the new church, and when he was there, he had an experience of the Holy Spirit that he never forgot. He was walking down Wall Street and suddenly it seemed as if the presence and the joy and the love of God came upon him in a way that was gripping. As a matter of fact, he asked a friend, “Can I stay at your place? Give me a room so that I can just be alone.” He had such an encounter with God at that time that it seemed to him as if God didn’t stay his hand, and if God wouldn’t he might even die there on the spot in the presence of the Lord God. D. L. Moody never forgot that time. He said he could scarcely talk about it, but he knew now what it was like to be filled with the Holy Spirit. He said the difference was this: “It was previously as if I was carrying water with a bucket and I was tired.” He said, “After I had this experience in New York it was as if I was being borne along by a river,” and he referred to the words of Jesus who said, “He who believes in me, from within him shall flow rivers of living water,” that there is such a thing as an artesian well which can bubble up within us—the fullness of the Holy Spirit.

Every Christian receives the Holy Spirit at conversion. We are indwelt with the Spirit. In fact, Paul says, “If you do not have the Spirit you are none of his,” so we all have the Holy Spirit, but there are many people who never experience the fullness of the Holy Spirit. They don’t understand the work of the Spirit as the Spirit of God leads people along.

Now there were some folks who believed that Moody was really a Pentecostal because he experienced the blessing and the fullness of the Spirit, but D. L. Moody never did talk in tongues. That was never a part of what he was into. How do we interpret this experience of the Spirit? Should we seek it? Well, yes, we should first of all seek God, and if God then is pleased to give us an experience like that, that’s up to him. It’s not our responsibility to seek an experience as such but as we seek God, and as we are pure before God, God may indeed choose to anoint us in a very special way for whatever ministry we have. No matter what our vocation is, we may experience the fullness of the Spirit.

One of the reasons that many of us don’t is because in the Bible purity and the fullness of the Holy Spirit are related, and for many Christians their cup of joy has sprung a leak because sin causes that to happen, and there are many Christians who have no joy at all. They are like a cup half full, trying desperately to spill over but they don’t have enough for themselves much less for anyone else, but D. L. Moody entered into the fullness of the Holy Spirit in a way that was indeed remarkable.

One day somebody said to him, “D. L. Moody, what you are doing has to be a work of God, because I see no connection between all of the things that are happening in your meetings and you,” and D. L. Moody said, “That’s true, and I hope it always stays that way.”

I think that God is pleased when there seems to be no connection between what we’re able to do and who we are and all that God enables us to do, and so that was the experience of D. L. Moody—the fullness of the Holy Spirit.

So the third lesson could be that he turned from human strength to divine strength, and then there is a fourth lesson, and that is that he turned from self-will to God’s will. Early in his ministry when he went to London, long before he was famous, he met a man by the name of Henry Varley. Henry Varley was an evangelist, and one day Varley said to him casually—so casually that later on Varley didn’t remember he had told D. L. Moody this. He said to D. L. Moody, “The world has yet to see what God can do through a man who is totally yielded to him.” D. L. Moody never forgot those words. He said that when he came back to America on the ship it seemed as if those words were painted on the boards of the ship, and he began to think about it and he said, “You know, Varley didn’t say, ‘The world has yet to see what God can do through an educated man who is yielded to him.’ He didn’t say, ‘The world has yet to see what God can do through a talented man who is wholly yielded to him.’” He said, “He just said ‘a man—any man.’” So D. L. Moody said, “By the grace of God I will be that man,” and I think by the grace of God he was that man. When D. L. Moody gave up self-will and yielded himself totally to God, one of the clearest evidences of it was his humility.

D. L. Moody, it is said by those who knew him well, was one of the most humble, self-effacing men that they had ever met. One day Moody was preaching and a man came to the platform (I’m not sure exactly why this man was at the platform) and criticized Moody’s grammar and his inability to really organize a sermon well. Now the average pastor would walk off the platform and say, “If that’s the way Christians treat their own, I’m out of here. I can do something else.” That would have destroyed him. D. L. Moody stood up and said that he totally agreed with the man, and he apologized to the people for his bad grammar, for his sermons which were not well organized, and then he said to the man, “Come over here. I want you to come to the podium and I want you to pray for me that God will help me to be able to preach better and to have better grammar.” What are you going to do with a man like that?

You know it was [John] Bunyan who said, “He who is low need fear no fall.” One day here in America a man shook hands with Moody and said, “Well at last I get to shake hands with a man whom God has mightily used,” and Moody said, “I’m sure glad that in your sentence you put that little phrase, ‘a man whom God has mightily used,’” and then Moody scooped up some dirt in his hand and let it fall through his fingers and said, “You see this. That’s what I am. I’m only dirt, and what makes the dirt different is that God may use dirt, but that’s all I am.”

So there he is, a man whom tens of millions of people heard preach, spending his last days in America, ending in a crusade in Kansas City, and getting sick and being taken back to Northfield. So now, because all good things must come to an end, we come to the end of Dwight L. Moody. It’s 1899. It’s December 21st, and he is very ill, and it’s very clear that he’s going to die at the ripe old age, by the way, of 62. So he’s lying there, and his son-in-law is with him all night. His son, Will, comes in at three in the morning, and D. L. Moody begins to say, “Earth recedes; heaven opens.” His son, Will, said, “Dad, are you dreaming?” and he said, “This is no dream. If this be death it is glorious.”

A few moments later he revived and had a conversation, and once again told his wife what she needed to do, and told his son what their responsibilities were, and said a few things about what needed to be done at the school, and then he again very clearly was in a period of transition from this life to the next, in which he said, “I already see the children. I can see Dwight and Irene.” Dwight was a baby, a little grandson of D. L. Moody’s who died when he was only about one-year-old, and Irene died at the age of four, and he said, “I already see Dwight and Irene.” I want to simply say in parenthesis that years ago before people died with all the drugs that they have today, it was very often that as they went from the transition of this life to the next they actually already saw into heaven and saw the people who were there waiting for them.

A few moments later D. L. Moody said, “This is my coronation. This is the day for which I wait,” and then Moody died. A few years before that he had said, “Someday you shall read in the newspaper that D. L. Moody is dead.” He said, “Do not believe it for in that moment I shall be more alive than I have ever been,” and so D. L. Moody went into eternity.

A number of years ago it was my privilege to be in Northfield and to visit D. L. Moody’s grave. He’s buried there along with Emma, and on his tombstone there is a remarkable verse that was one of his favorites. In fact, it hung over his office at what used to be the facilities of the Moody Bible Institute, and it is this, taken from the book of 1 John: “The earth passes away and all of its lusts, but he who does the will of God abides forever,” and that’s on his tombstone.

At the end of the day the world does pass away. The $100,000 that he was hoping to earn, and could have earned, all passed away, but there is one thing that abides, and that is the will of God and those who do it. They do abide forever. And you and I have the wonderful privilege of having a legacy of a founder such as Dwight L. Moody to motivate us through his life and through his witness.

We here at The Moody Church do not revere D. L. Moody. He was far from perfect. There were some things that he believed that some of us might not even agree with, but we do honor him as a great man of faith and as a man who loved God and had a passion to lead people to Jesus Christ.

So what do we say now as we conclude? How do we sum it all up? What was it all about? What was his dying passion? One day he and Sankey were riding on a train from Glasgow to Edinburgh, and on the way D. L. Moody was reading a letter, and Sankey was reading a poem. What happened is Sankey had bought a penny newspaper, hoping to get some news from the United States, and in it there was a poem and he read it to Moody, he said, and he read it loud and enthusiastically, but Moody never heard a word because he was engrossed in reading a letter.

The poem was actually written by a woman by the name of Elizabeth Clefane, and she had had a brother who was a lost sheep. He was the kind of person who was an alcoholic, and actually died and was found along the side of a road, and as his sister was contemplating this tragedy, she hoped that maybe her brother at some point came to saving faith in Jesus Christ. And the idea occurred to her to write a poem about her own heart’s desire, that there are those out there who are really lost sheep, and Jesus said the good shepherd, according to the book of John, leaves the ninety and nine if there is one that is lost, and then he goes out on the hills and he finds the lost sheep, and that’s what the poem was about.

Sankey had taken the poem and put it in his pocket hoping to put it into his scrapbook, and the very next day the theme that was used in the service was the good shepherd. D. L. Moody preached, and some others preached, and the emphasis was on how Jesus, the good shepherd, seeks for his sheep. And then at the end of the meeting, Moody turned to Sankey and said, “Sankey, what I want you to do now is to conclude with a hymn. Would you conclude with a solo?” Sankey didn’t know quite what to do. He couldn’t use Psalm 23 because it was already sung twice in that very meeting. Sankey took the piece of paper out of his pocket and put it on the organ, and thought to himself, “Here’s a poem. There’s no music to it. Maybe I can make up some music,” and so he improvised, and he began to sing, “There were ninety and nine that safely lay in the shelter of the fold.” He began to think to himself, “I got through the first stanza but can I even repeat what I did for the second and the third and the fourth and the fifth?” Well, he did, and when it was over D. L. Moody was in tears, as was half the congregation there in Edinburgh. The Ninety and Nine became an instant favorite. It was part of the Moody Hymnal and it was sung throughout Scotland. It was sung everywhere where D. L. Moody went. It became a famous song.

One person who listened to Sankey sing it said that it was as if when Sankey was singing that song, he expected somebody to receive Jesus Christ as Savior on every single note. He said it was as if Jesus was going up and down the aisles, in the balconies, in places where people couldn’t even see the singer, and Jesus was knocking on people’s hearts, and He was rescuing sheep, even when the song was being sung, and that’s really the passion of D. L. Moody’s heart.

D. L. Moody, if he were here today, would say to you, “Have you trusted Christ as Savior? Have you come? Are you the lost sheep that Jesus is looking for today?” So you now listen to The Ninety and Nine.

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