Christians, let us learn to preach from

Dwight Moody,
the Greatest Evangelist of the 19th Century

John R. Mott: Judged by results of which we have record, Dwight L. Moody may be regarded as the greatest evangelist of the nineteenth century. My acquaintance with him dates from the memorable Christian student conference held at the boys' school of Mount Hermon, Massachusetts, in the summer of 1886. There I literally sat at his feet for four weeks as he presided at that first international Christian student assembly. All of us delegates were brought into intimate touch with him, not only in listening to his powerful sermons and pungent Bible expositions, but also out under the elms plying him by the hour with our questions.

After that I had face-to-face contacts with him at least once every year, save one when I was on the opposite side of the world, right up to the end of his life in 1899. It was a sacred and uplifting experience to be at his funeral along with the host of old friends and colleagues from near and far. During those years I was permitted to see him in action in some of the most notable and fruitful evangelistic campaigns of his wonderful career. Moreover, as he was the presiding officer of the annual student conference at Northfield, to which I sustained an executive relation, I was brought into close relation with him every day of the conference sessions and as a rule at other times during each year in connection with the selection of speakers and the perfecting of all plans for this chain of creative gatherings.

In addition to seeing and talking with him so many times, often in his home, I have been privileged to be well acquainted with the members of his family. Moreover, I had rare opportunities of meeting with nearly all of his leading colleagues in his evangelistic work on both sides of the Atlantic. It is with all this as background, as well as familiarity with the most reliable biographical material, that I venture to share my grounds for maintaining the outstanding greatness of Moody as an evangelist.

If to move to the deepest depths with evangelistic passion and religious purpose the principal cities of the English-speaking world is a sign of greatness, Moody was truly great. We have inspiring records of the profound religious influence of a single Christian leader across a period of years in one city, such as that of Thomas Chalmers in Glasgow, John Knox in Edinburgh, Charles Spurgeon in London, Charles Parkhurst in New York, Phillips Brooks in Boston, and Benjamin Palmer in New Orleans; but here we have an evangelist who, not in one city but in a long chain of great centers of population, such as New York, Chicago, Boston, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Washington, Atlanta, St. Louis, Kansas City, and San Francisco in the United States; Montreal and Toronto in Canada; London, Liverpool, Manchester, and Birmingham in England; Edinburgh and Glasgow in Scotland; and Dublin and Belfast in Ireland, in visits of from one to six months or longer, was God's instrument to move powerfully the entire community to the very center. It is impressive also to note that in every city he was invited in subsequent years to renew his visit and often found it possible to do so. It is an interesting fact that in some of the cities converts of the Moody revivals still come together for thanksgiving and planning services in memory of the days of evangelistic triumph.

It is important to emphasize that the evangelistic action of Moody was never hasty or superficial. He stood for thorough processes and adequate exposure. As indicated, his campaigns ranged in length from one to six months, or even more, as in London and Chicago. In one of his visits to London he gave three addresses a day to audiences averaging seven thousand each, and it was estimated that over two million different persons heard. his appeals. In the famous Chicago campaign during the World's Fair in the year 1893, not fewer than four million different persons were exposed to the messages on one or more occasions.

Moody was a real strategist. He believed that the place to bring power to bear is where power can be most widely and most advantageously distributed. Therefore all his life he concentrated largely on the great cities. Moody was ever ambitious to reach with his message as many people as possible. His simple and effective organization was always planned with this in mind. It also governed the publicity employed, and modern publicity agents with all their ingenuity and large use of funds have much to learn from his methods.

It would be interesting to know which evangelist has had the largest hearing. Most of those who have given the matter thought have come to the conclusion that, taking into view the entire active career of each evangelist, Moody has preached face to face to more persons than has any one of the following: John Wesley, George Whitefield, Charles G. Finney, Sam Jones, Billy Sunday, or Toyohiko Kagawa. It is a worth-while study, provided conscientious attention is given to the actual records, and this with reference to utilizing the experience.

Moody not only moved the multitude but did so more profoundly than did any other man in the last century. Notwithstanding the great possibilities of the radio, it is indeed doubtful whether that medium can ever take the place of confronting men with a vital personality. If Christ's standard of greatness, that he who would be greatest shall be the servant of all, is the right one, then surely Moody should be ranked among the truly great. His life was one long unselfish ministry. For forty years he ranged up and down the world, literally "not to be ministered unto, but to minister" (Matt. 20:28).

Is it not a sign of elemental greatness that one not trained in the schools should have been able to arrest and to hold in a remarkable way the attention of students? How true this was of Moody. We need only recall his evangelistic meetings at Princeton, Yale, the University of Virginia, and even more notably those at Oxford and Cambridge. Seldom, if ever, have these important centers been so moved religiously as on the occasion of his visits. Among his converts were not a few of the outstanding Christian leaders of his time.

Think also of the great streams of carefully selected undergraduates, the future leaders of nations, who attended the famous Christian student conferences at Northfield over which he presided up to the year of his death. It is my impression, having spanned this entire series and observed carefully their searching, enriching, and energizing power, that this constituted one of the most highly multiplying services of Moody's life. This point takes on added significance when we recall that it was this Northfield conference which stimulated the launching of similar gatherings of future leaders in other parts of this country and also in many foreign lands. He not only presided over the Northfield gathering; he pervaded it.

God found in Moody one through whom he could communicate his authentic calls and challenges. What was the secret of this man's hold on students whether at these conferences or back in the different colleges? One might venture the answer: his reality, healthy humor, courage, earnestness, large tolerance, and God-consciousness.

From the beginning of his career of Christian service Moody concerned himself with reaching youth, and evidently this was ever his chief love. His first activity when he entered business in Chicago was work with children, notably in connection with the Sunday school. It was while absorbed in this that he heard the call of God to turn from a business career and devote all his life and power to Christian service.

This occupied him up to the time of the Civil War, in which, under the Christian Commission - corresponding largely to the Young Men's Christian Association - he served the men in uniform. After the war, as president of the Chicago Y.M.C.A. and in other ways, he gave a great deal of his best thought and energy to serving youth through this organization, and throughout the rest of his life he was a great factor in fostering its growth and influence.

The same was true with reference to the Sunday-school movement. In his service of youth it was evident that he regarded his greatest single contribution that of establishing the famous girls' school at Northfield in 1879 and the equally famous boys' school at Mount Hermon in 1881. These have ever since been most fruitful training grounds for Christian workers. They have already sent out over thirty thousand boys and girls who have achieved an enviable reputation as efficient Christian workers, lay and clerical, the world over. Maintaining across the years a markedly Christian atmosphere and sense of mission, and concerned as they are with youth in the adolescent age - that is, in the habit-forming years, the vision-forming years, the years of determining life attitudes and tendencies - they are clear evidence that among the grounds of Moody's true greatness is his recognition from the start of the strategy of reaching youth for Christ and for the extension of his Kingdom.

If to raise up and thrust forth hundreds, yes thousands, of men and women into Christian service in all parts of the world in order to widen the limits of his Kingdom constitutes a great contribution, then beyond question this is one of the most notable marks of his greatness. Moody's well-known aphorism, "I would rather set ten men to work than do the work of ten men," expresses one of his governing principles and practices. It reminds one of the expression of the British statesman, John Morley, "He who does the work is not so profitably employed as he who multiplies the doers." Moody realized his ambition in this respect on a wonderful scale.

In the pathway of his countless evangelistic campaigns an unnumbered multitude of men and women were led to devote their lives to unselfish service. Literally thousands of these became ministers, home missionaries, foreign missionaries, Young Men's and Young Women's Christian Association secretaries, and Christian social-service workers. They are scattered over the wide world, as I can testify.

Among persons influenced by him have been many of the most influential and effective Christian leaders of modern times, such as Professor Henry Drummond, Sir Wilfred Grenfell, Sir J. Kynaston Studd, Sir George Adam Smith, the Honorable Ian Keith Falconer, and D. E. Hoste. Even more impressive was his influence in raising up and energizing tens of thousands of lay workers who for a generation constituted largely the backbone of the lay forces of Britain and America.

If to be the means of turning millions, yes tens of millions, of dollars into channels of religious, philanthropic, educational, and other altruistic movements is a great contribution to human progress, then Moody deserves highly merited distinction. The influence of truly consecrated money might be characterized as omnipotent, omnipresent, and eternal. With this in mind think of the hundreds of new churches erected and paid for as a direct result of his appeals at the end of his campaigns. In this connection it should be remembered that to him, more largely than is generally recognized, is traceable the so-called institutional church development.

Moreover, literally scores of the Young Men's and Young Women's Christian Associations owe their modern buildings to the powerful initiative of this unselfish leader.

In Britain I was told that many a city there is indebted to him for the home for its Bible institute or training school. He had a wonderful hold on men and women of financial power. We think, for example, of American businessmen of large affairs, such as Cyrus H. McCormick and John V. Farwell in Chicago, William E. Dodge and D. Willis James in New York, John Wanamaker and John H. Converse in Philadelphia, and Lord Overtoun and Lord Maclay in Britain. These are but typical of many hundreds who in their lifetime entrusted to him large sums of money for the furtherance of the plans of the Kingdom. He antedated but also influenced by example the processes leading to the modern financial campaigns and community chest drives.

His great contribution, however, was to make the releasing and use of money a pronouncedly spiritual process. To this end he always appealed to the spiritual motives. He associated the giving of money, which in a true sense is so much stored-up personality, with the dedication of life. This explains why all his great evangelistic campaigns set to flowing the fountains of beneficence and sacrifice. His schools in the Connecticut Valley and his famous Bible Institute in Chicago were the recipients of innumerable gifts of the rich and poor aggregating many millions of dollars.

One secret of his commanding all his life the confidence and backing of men and women of consecrated means was the fact no one could ever charge him with seeking money for himself. His world-famous gospel hymns achieved a sale of over fifty million copies and yielded royalties aggregating $1,350,000, not a penny of which would he keep for himself but insisted on having it all go toward various Christian causes and institutions. He died a poor man.

As already shown, he was ever eager to help any worthy and needy project. What sacrificial prices did he not pay in the soliciting of funds to relieve human need and to advance the cause of Christ! From his own vital experience he coined a new beatitude: "Blessed are the money raisers: for in heaven they shall stand next to the martyrs."

If it is a great work, as it most certainly is, to help answer markedly the high-priestly prayer of our Lord, "that they all may be one ... that the world may believe" (John 17:21), then Moody stands among the truly great. Few men have done so much for the realization of real Christian unity. Doubtless others in the realm of research, in advocacy through public address and printed page, and in negotiations of ecclesiastical and ecumenical bodies - such as Bishop Brent, Archbishop Soderblom, Robert Gardiner, Sir Willoughby H. Dickinson, William Adams Brown, and H. Paul Douglass - have done more to advance the cause of church unity; but none has done so much as he to create the atmosphere so essential to its achievement.

This he accomplished by requiring a united front and action before agreeing to undertake a city-wide evangelistic campaign. Again he brought it about by the catholicity of the platform and program of the countless conferences and summer schools of which he consented to take charge. It would be difficult to exaggerate the importance and contagious power of these actual demonstrations of unity in action and in confronting the most critical situations. Wherever he presided and pervaded, men of different ecclesiastical background and experience came increasingly to loathe to differ and to determine to understand.

In the Scriptures we are told that he that ruleth his spirit is better than he that taketh a city (Prov. 16:32). This lets us into the secret of Moody's real power and influence. Many a time did I hear him tell the incident which most influenced his life. On one of his visits to England he heard Henry Varley, a devoted and Christlike worker, relatively not well known, say, "The world has yet to see what God will do with a man who is wholly consecrated to him." Moody then and there determined to be that man. His devotion became absolute. Henceforth his governing motive and purpose was to do the will of God, cost what it might.

As this very intense, abounding, ever-outreaching life passes in review before us, we come to realize increasingly the secret. It was a life of humility. It was a life of unselfishness. It was a God-inhabited life. Christ found in him and through him his opportunity. On his simple tomb on Round Top, where we laid his body at rest on that memorable day at Christmastide, and where more young people have dedicated their lives to the missionary career than at any other spot on earth, are carved these words which best sum up this wonderful life, "He that doeth the will of God abideth forever" (1 John 2:17).

The four evangelists of modern times who have impressed me most are Dwight L. Moody, Henry Drummond, Sam Jones, and Toyohiko Kagawa. They had practically nothing in common in national background and family tradition. They differed greatly in personal appearance. Each one had marked individuality. What a contrast, for example, in their dress! Drummond ever appeared in the faultless attire of an English gentleman, whereas Kagawa much of the time wears a laborer's suit costing $1.85. In manner of speaking they were as different as could possibly be.

While each one was characterized by profound earnestness, they had little in common in the choice and development of their subjects. Robert Speer in commenting on Moody said he was unpredictable; the same might be said of Drummond, Jones, and Kagawa. But in the matter of evangelism - the bringing of men into vital union with Christ - they were all very much alike and agreed in the following particulars.

They all insisted on the most thorough preparation for any united evangelistic effort, often involving months. Nothing was left at loose ends.

All were ambitious to bring within their lifetime as many as possible under the sway of Christ.

All recognized the importance of coming to closer quarters with groups and individuals who had heard their messages and appeals.

All believed, therefore, with great conviction in the urgent necessity of following up the public meetings by personal work.

They one and all preached for a verdict and, under a mastering sense of immediacy, directed their own efforts and those of their helpers to securing wherever possible immediate definite decisions.

All believed in raising up, training, and stimulating the action of personal workers, thus enormously augmenting the outreach.of their influence.

It is impressive also how each one recognized the front-line importance of reaching youth.

All regarded the evangelistic campaign not as an end but as a means to other significant ends, such as the uplift or transformation of the social and economic life of the entire community, the overcoming of great evils and alarming downgrade tendencies, the summoning of the Christian forces to a really great advance, and the affording of a contagious object lesson to other communities.

In their personal lives and practices also it is impressive to observe how much they had in common.

Each had a compelling sense of divine mission, a dominant purpose, that of doing the will of God.

Each lived a simple life.

All were remarkably free from sensationalism and fads, religious or otherwise.

They identified themselves with those in desperate need. With splendid courage they exposed sham and attacked evils. Coupled with this trait was their marked tenderness and capacity for sympathy. They preached a gospel of love.

They practiced what they preached.

They believed profoundly in the efficacy of prayer and manifested attentiveness unto God. It was true of each one that he was Christ-centered, Christ-controlled, and Christ-exemplified.

The deeper life of each one of these mightily used servants of God is revealed in the following familiar verses in which Henry Drummond, in his great weakness the last Sunday of his life, audibly joined in song with his friend Dr. Barbour:

I'm not ashamed to own my Lord, Or to defend his cause, Maintain the glory of his cross, And honor all his laws.

Jesus, my Lord, I know his name; His name is all my boast; Nor will he put my soul to shame, Nor let my hope be lost.

I know that safe with him remains, Protected by his power, What I've committed to his trust Till the decisive hour.

Then will he own his servant's name Before his Father's face, And in the new Jerusalem Appoint my soul a place.

A "Sam P. Jones Lecture" by John R. Mott at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, 1944

  1. Christ Commands Worldwide Evangelism.
  2. The World is Ready for Evangelism.
  3. Dwight Moody, the Greatest Evangelist of the 19th Century.
  4. Individual Work to Convert Individuals.
  5. The Evangelization of the World in This Generation.

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