The Billy Graham Of The 19th Century

From the Dean

A regular article written by Phillip Jensen in his role as Dean of Sydney at St Andrew's Cathedral.

Originally Published:
31st May 2013

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Dwight L. Moody was to the 19th century what Billy Graham was to the 20thcentury.  Both spent the better part of their life as itinerant evangelists, travelling the world preaching Christ and calling upon people to repent and put their trust in him.  There were differences between the two men and differences between the two centuries in which they preached, but it is unlikely that anybody preached Christ to more people in the last two centuries than these two men.

This week the Men’s Collegiate Choir of the Moody Bible Institute is visiting us.  The Moody Bible Institute was one of the many spin offs of Mr Moody’s evangelistic ministries.

Dwight Lyman Moody, 1837-1899 was raised in poverty.  He was one of nine children.  His father died when Dwight was 4.  He left school at 13 with only a fifth grade education.  At 17 he left home to work in his uncle’s shoe shop in Boston.  His uncle insisted he attend Sunday school classes.  His Sunday School teacher testified: “I have seen fewer persons whose minds were spiritually darker than when he came into my Sunday school class.”  At the age of 18, he became a Christian through the ministry of this Sunday School teacher, challenging him with the gospel in his uncle’s shoe store.

Shortly after he moved from Boston to Chicago to start his own shoe business, aiming to make his fortune. However, God had other plans for Moody’s enormous energies, drive and passions.  Within three years of living in Chicago, he was moved from pursuing his own wealth to helping the poor.  He started a Sunday School in a slum, which grew into a church.  By 1861 he had given up the shoe business to concentrate on his social and evangelistic work.

One of the key parts of Moody’s life was the Young Men’s Christian Association.  In those days the ‘C’ in the name was still prominent and its aims were evangelistic.  He had joined it when he first went to Boston and continued in its membership in Chicago, even becoming its Chairman for four years.  This non-denominational ministry was one of the bases of all Moody’s work, for he preached evangelistically in fellowship with people of any and no denominational background.

Two key turning points in his life were the Civil War and the Chicago fire.  He spent the war working with the YMCA, evangelising the troops of the Northern army.  While the war years may have shaped the urgency and compassion of his ministry it was the fire that changed the direction of his life.  D.L. Moody was preaching in Chicago the night of the great fire in 1871.  He and his family were protected but he lost everything.  The great fire destroyed his church and home as well as the YMCA.  He did not rebuild in Chicago but back in his home in Northfield, Massachusetts, for in the aftermath of the fire his ministry moved from Chicago to the world and more significantly from social work and evangelism to simply evangelism.

Evangelism is never ‘simply’; and Moody’s evangelism was no exception.  It involved music and travel, fund raising and organisation, and spawned a whole range of other activities.  Moody’s own experience of poverty and working with the poor, remained part of his great appeal to the masses as well as his concern for the lost in every class of people.  His entrepreneurial energies invented new ways of presenting the gospel, that today we would take for granted.

He teamed up with a singer, composer and organist Ira Sankey.  Together they published famous hymn books, but more importantly they travelled on evangelistic tours: Sankey singing solos, and leading the crowds in singing their hymns and D.L. Moody preaching.  It seemed a winning combination as people flocked to hear them and were, by God’s grace, won to the Kingdom.  Travelling frequently through North America and across the Atlantic, it is estimated that over 100 million people heard this gifted evangelist call them to the Saviour.

Coming out of all this evangelistic activity, he created several institutions.  He founded schools in his home state of Massachusetts.  Sadly, they have become prestigious and even famous but have not continued in his Christian ideals.  He started a ministry of distributing gospel books and pamphlets, which in turn became the publishing house named Moody Press.

His ministry had a great effect on students.  From a famous mission in Cambridge University a group of 7 students travelled around Britain arousing great interest in Overseas Missions.  He ran Summer Bible conferences near his home – at one such conference the Student Volunteer Movement was founded, with its, soon to be adopted, motto of “the evangelization of the world in this generation”.  Again sadly, following generations within this movement did not hold to his clear gospel presentation, but from it have come many other movements such as the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students.

In 1886 D.L. Moody established the Chicago Evangelization Society.  The aim was clearly stated as the “education and training of Christian workers, including teachers, ministers, missionaries, and musicians who may completely and effectively proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ.”  The aim was to train people to do city mission work, reaching people with the gospel.  Shortly after his death the institute changed its name to “The Moody Bible Institute”.

Which brings us to our visitors in Sydney this week.  For these students of Moody’s Bible Institute come “striving for musical excellence with the goal of encouraging believers and sharing the good news of Jesus Christ.”  In that goal they are continuing Moody’s great aim of saving the lost and we pray that God blesses their endeavours.