Who is Dwight L. Moody?
Dwight Lyman Moody (February 5, 1837 – December 22, 1899), also known as D. L. Moody, was an American evangelist and publisher connected with Keswickianism, who founded the Moody Church, Northfield School and Mount Hermon School in Massachusetts (now Northfield Mount Hermon School), Moody Bible Institute and Moody Publishers. One of his most famous quotes was “Faith makes all things possible… Love makes all things easy.” Moody gave up his lucrative boot and shoe business to devote his life to revivalism, working first in the Civil War with Union troops through YMCA in the United States Christian Commission. In Chicago, he built one of the major evangelical centers in the nation, which is still active. Working with singer Ira Sankey, he toured the country and the British Isles, drawing large crowds with a dynamic speaking style.
Dwight Moody was born in Northfield, Massachusetts, as the seventh child in a large family. His father, Edwin J. Moody (1800–1841), was a small farmer and stonemason. His mother was Betsey Moody (née Holton; 1805–1896). They had five sons and a daughter before Dwight’s birth. His father died when Dwight was age four; fraternal twins, a boy, and a girl were born one month after the father’s death. Their mother struggled to support the nine children but had to send some off to work for their room and board. Dwight too was sent off, where he received cornmeal, porridge, and milk three times a day. He complained to his mother, but when she learned that he was getting all he wanted to eat, she sent him back. During this time, she continued to send the children to church. Together with his eight siblings, Dwight was raised in the Unitarian church. His oldest brother ran away and was not heard from by the family until many years later.
When Moody turned 17, he moved to Boston to work (after receiving many job rejections locally) in an uncle’s shoe store. One of the uncle’s requirements was that Moody attend the Congregational Church of Mount Vernon, where Dr. Edward Norris Kirk served as the pastor. In April 1855 Moody was converted to evangelical Christianity when his Sunday school teacher, Edward Kimball, talked to him about how much God loved him. His conversion sparked the start of his career as an evangelist. Moody was not received by the church when he first applied in May 1855. He was not received as a church member until May 4, 1856.
According to Moody’s memoir, his teacher, Edward Kimball, said:
I can truly say, and in saying it I magnify the infinite grace of God as bestowed upon him, that I have seen few persons whose minds were spiritually darker than was his when he came into my Sunday School class; and I think that the committee of the Mount Vernon Church seldom met an applicant for membership more unlikely ever to become a Christian of clear and decided views of Gospel truth, still less to fill any extended sphere of public usefulness.
The growing Sunday School congregation needed a permanent home, so Moody started a church in Chicago, the Illinois Street Church.
In June 1871 at an International Sunday School Convention in Indianapolis, Indiana, Dwight Moody met Ira D. Sankey. He was a gospel singer, with whom Moody soon began to cooperate and collaborate. Four months later, in October 1871, the Great Chicago Fire destroyed Moody’s church building, as well as his house and those of most of his congregation. Many had to flee the flames, saving only their lives, and ending up completely destitute. Moody, reporting on the disaster, said about his own situation that: “… he saved nothing but his reputation and his Bible.”
In the years after the fire, Moody’s wealthy Chicago patron John V. Farwell tried to persuade him to make his permanent home in the city, offering to build a new house for Moody and his family. But the newly famous Moody, also sought by supporters in New York, Philadelphia, and elsewhere, chose a tranquil farm he had purchased near his birthplace in Northfield, Massachusetts. He felt he could better recover in a rural setting from his lengthy preaching trips.
Northfield became an important location in evangelical Christian history in the late 19th century as Moody organized summer conferences. These were led and attended by prominent Christian preachers and evangelists from around the world. Western Massachusetts has had a rich evangelical tradition including Jonathan Edwards preaching in colonial Northampton and C.I. Scofield preaching in Northfield. A protégé of Moody founded Moores Corner Church, in Leverett, Massachusetts, and it continues to be evangelical.
Moody founded two schools here: Northfield School for Girls, founded in 1879, and the Mount Hermon School for Boys, founded in 1881. In the late 20th century, these merged, forming today’s co-educational, nondenominational Northfield Mount Hermon School.