December 11, 2017

Moody and Sankey

Bob Jones

First in importance and in prominence among nineteenth century evangelists was faith-for-the-familyDwight Lyman Moody. Moody was born in Northfield, Massachusetts, February 5, 1837. His mother being left a widow, he was unable to attend school longer than a few months, and at the age of seventeen he went to Boston and became a clerk in a shoe store. He might have made a fortune in the shoe business, but he chose another field. One writer Grover C. Loud, states:

The turning point in his life was simple, swift and direct. He was wrapping up a package of shoes. His Sunday School teacher at the Mount Vernon Street Congregational Church, Edward Kimball, dropped in on him and in a few earnest words urged him to give his allegiance to Jesus Christ. Moody paused, the string taut in his fingers. “I will,” he replied … and for forty-five years, from that day in 1856 to his death on December 22, 1899, he never swerved from that pledge of fidelity.

Soon after his conversion Moody moved to Chicago, where he joined the church and wanted to become a preacher. The deacons, however, were not impressed with his efforts. The exuberant youth accepted their decision, determined that he would then bring people to hear somebody else preach. He rented four pews and filled them each Sunday. He also recruited a Sunday School class of urchins which he taught himself.

Here Moody was swept into the nationwide revival of 1857, the first he had encountered. He was filled with great zeal and corralled hundreds of members for a Sunday School that he organized among the slums of North Chicago. Fifteen hundred members outgrew North Market Hall, so Moody built a church for them. His avocation of soulwinning left little time for his vocation of shoe selling, so in 1860 he gave up business and devoted himself to city missionary work and, during the Civil War, to labors among the soldiers. He was active in the work of the Y.M.C.A. and served as its president in Chicago from 1865 to 1869.

About this time Moody discovered that he could preach. He had taken the place of a scheduled speaker who failed to appear and sixty conversions were the fruits of his first sermon. From that moment he dedicated his efforts to evangelism.

At the international convention of the Y.M.C.A. at Indianapolis in 1870, Moody met Ira D. Sankey, who became his singer and life-long partner in the evangelistic field. Sankey was a man of great personal charm and possessed a beautiful voice. Moody insisted from the moment he met him that Sankey join him as singer and music leader. This Sankey determined to do; and after returning to his home in New Castle, Pennsylvania to arrange his affairs, he dedicated his life to the service of God in song. Throughout their whole ministry they were associated inseparably in the public mind. One spoke, not of meeting Moody, but rather of Moody and Sankey. During their first two years together, they were little known beyond the region around Chicago. Then they discovered England for evangelistic efforts, and England discovered them for America.

From the summer of 1873 to the spring of 1875, they engaged in a series of meetings in Great Britain which shook that conservative nation as nothing had done since the time of Whitefield and the Wesleys. When Moody returned to the United States in July, 1875, he was regarded as the outstanding evangelist in the world. Before he set sail from England for home, he had received cables from half a dozen cities beseeching his immediate presence for revival work. The year of his return was the same in which the awakening of the seventies became nationwide.

Moody decided on Brooklyn, New York, as the scene of his first effort in America. He and Sankey began their campaign on October 24, 1875, and remained there until November 19. Moody probably never worked harder than during those four weeks in Brooklyn. The results of this campaign, however, seemed to have left him unsatisfied. Many professed conversion, and certainly the effects on the churches were good, yet in comparison with the meetings in Great Britain, this one left much to be desired. Moody felt that it was due to the shortness of time, and from then on he generally refused to accept engagements for brief campaigns.

Moody and Sankey moved on to Philadelphia where they conducted services in an abandoned railway depot which had been bought by John Wanamaker for a warehouse. Wanamaker turned the building over to them after fitting it with seats. Here they remained until January 16. The total attendance during the two months was estimated at 700,000 and the -number of converts at 4,000. The following article on the Philadelphia campaign by George H. Stuart appeared in the New York Tribune on January 14, 1876:

The last service of the eighth week of Moody and Sankey’s labors in this city was attended this evening by over thirteen thousand persons, filling the great depot building to its utmost capacity. Many thousands were turned away, unable to obtain even standing room. The interest in these services has from the first steadily increased, and the labors of the evangelists have been and continue to be the all absorbing topic of conversation.

From Philadelphia, Moody and Sankey journeyed to New York, where a campaign was begun February 7. On opening night 20,000 people attempted to gain entrance to the Hippodrome where the services were held. The press reports of the campaign were glowing with praise of the evangelist. Moody, like all successful modern evangelists, knew how to use newspapers effectively, and up until his death was excellent “copy.”

The New York Daily Graphic, in an editorial of April 25, said:

The series of religious meetings held at the Hippodrome by Messrs. Moody and Sankey was in many respects the most remarkable ever held in the country. The meetings were a marked improvement on all previous great revivals in important particulars. They were well managed. The order was perfect. There was no disturbance, no rowdyism, no flippant jeering, no noisy vociferation of useless and inopportune amens … The preaching was unlike that of previous revivalists in the fact that it was not exciting; it awoke no feelings of terror; it produced no spasms and agonies and convulsions; it sent nobody to the madhouse. It was pervaded with an undertone of sympathy and hope and love … Whatever may be thought of Mr. Moody’s doctrines, it must be conceded that he made a new departure in revivalism.

After a summer’s rest at Northfield, contrary to his stated purpose Moody held a series of brief campaigns in Nashville, Louisville, St. Louis, and Kansas City. The evangelist then began a crusade in Chicago, the seat of his early revival efforts. A large tabernacle had been built, and it was filled throughout the course of the revival with an eager, hungry throng. Here, as in other metropolitan centers, and perhaps even to a greater degree than in any, the revival commanded the attention of the dailies, and at the close of the campaign they received his public thanks.

Moody, like most great evangelists who preceded him, and like many of his prominent successors, never published an account of the number professing conversion. The only numerical results that can be accurately noted in any of his revivals are the number who joined churches. So it was in his Chicago campaign, at the close of which the Tribune stated:

Moody has for a long time refused to give the number of hopeful conversions resulting from his meetings but the following facts and figures may serve to show the magnitude of the success of which over 10,000 or 12,000 of the Christians of Chicago and vicinity met to rejoice last evening. The number of persons already received into the Chicago churches are set down as follows: Baptist 300; Congregational 300; Methodist 700; Presbyterian 750; besides many received into the German, Welsh, and other smaller churches not reported. It is safe to say that about 2500 new members have already been received into the churches of Chicago and vicinity, with perhaps an equal number known to the pastors who are expected to join at some future time.

In sharp contrast to the compromise modern ecumenical evangelism of Dr. Billy Graham, who welcomes modernistic and apostate pastors to his sponsoring committee, Moody was criticized for not doing so. The outstanding example of this was an open letter from the Rev. W. H. Ryder, pastor of St. Paul’s Universalists Church. In this, the revivalist was taken to task in the Tribune of January 14, 1877, for allowing only “so-called evangelistic” churches to cooperate in the campaign, for his “persistent effort to show the worthlessness of morality as an element in the soul’s salvation,” and for the narrowness of his theology. Moody was not in the least disturbed, and the campaign was apparently helped by the opposition to it.

Several things occurred to throw a gloom over this series of meetings, yet, in spite of them all, Moody and Sankey considered them of great spiritual success. The first incident was the death of Moody’s brother, necessitating his absence for a week to be with his aged mother. The second tragedy was the death of P. P. Bliss and his wife in a railroad wreck at Ashtabula, Ohio, as they were on their way to Chicago to assist in the campaign.

Bliss, a personal friend of both Moody and Sankey, was a hymn writer of great prominence and popularity. The tragic death of “the Sweet Singer” threw a pall over both revivalists and their congregations. Services in his memory were held in the tabernacle and $10,000 raised for the two young Bliss children.

Despite opposition, criticism, and tragedy, the meetings were conceded to be most successful and were continued for some time after Moody and Sankey left by Whittle and Stebbins, who worked with Moody in the evangelistic field.

Moody and Sankey next attacked the center of New England Unitarianism and Conservatism. They began their efforts in Boston on January 28, 1877. For both the afternoon and evening of the initial day the doors were opened long before the time announced, and the building was at once filled, and overflow services were held in other halls. The press did not hail him as warmly as it had in other places, and the Boston Transcript said, “It was the remark of many that in Moody they were disappointed and in Mr. Sankey they were surprised.” Moody’s voice was described as “unpleasant” and his manner as “abrupt,” but it was conceded that he was “brief” and “forceful.”

It was not long, however, until populace, press, and Protestant preachers were nearly unanimous in supporting the campaign. Phillips Brooks was active from the beginning. It was he who pronounced the benediction on the first evening of the revival; and on another occasion when Moody was absent, he preached for him in the tabernacle. Moody and Sankey were tireless in their efforts. There are records of as many as four services in one day, the last being a prayer meeting following the evening service, for which 2,000 persons remained.

Conservative New England was being thoroughly awakened. Railroads offered half-fare excursion rates from nearby towns to persons desiring to attend the campaign. “The seventh week of the revival effort continued with no apparent diminution of interest” according to the March 12 Transcript. The tabernacle was crowded and hundreds were turned away from three services a day.

On Monday, May 21, just before the close of the campaign, Moody addressed the ministers who had cooperated in the series of meetings. He urged them to provide a warm church home for the new converts and stressed the necessity of feeding the flock. The ministers attempted to persuade Moody to remain another year and continue his efforts of evangelizing New England. They “had noticed a remarkable change here and at Harvard College” and “were pleased to note the decline of that literary indifference which had been so common” according to the May 22 Transcript.

Moody’s Boston campaign was followed up by L. W. Munhall, an evangelist of great power and spirituality.

The season of 1877-78 was also spent by Moody and Sankey in New England-this time in visiting a number of leading cities. According to Frank Beardsley’s History of American Revivals, “Thousands were converted and all New England felt the impulse of the revivals with which these cities had been visited.”

During 1878-79 meetings were held in Baltimore, in which all the evangelical denominations of the city cooperated. These services closed on May 26 after nearly eight months duration, during a large part of which another campaign was being conducted· only a few blocks away by Thomas Harrison. The meetings did not interfere with each other, however, and Beardsley said, “Baltimore was greatly blessed in this double visitation.”

Moody, during the remainder of the nineteenth century, continued to draw great crowds and have splendid results in revival meetings throughout the U. S. The most outstanding single effort was his campaign in Chicago during the period of the Columbian Exposition. Moody divided the city into districts, in each of which services were held by assisting evangelists and the students of the Bible Institute which he had founded on the North Side. Moody himself preached to great throngs which crowded a tent on the Midway each Sunday to hear the Gospel proclaimed amidst the babble of the carnival.

This Chicago campaign may be considered the climax of Moody’s spectacular career. Though he continued to preach up until a few days before his death, his powers were visibly on the wane. His death on December 22, 1899, was symbolic of the passing of the century of great evangelists, of whom none left a more indelible imprint than Dwight Lyman Moody.

Moody was always a disciple of love. His sermons stressed the divine love, and that has been suggested as the key to his great success. Moody was not a great scholar, nor essentially a great preacher. One of his biographers, W. R. Moody, said, “The sermon that could hold the rapt attention of the most intelligent of his congregation would also be listened to with the same eagerness by the children present.” His faith was that of a child. Practical and sensible, Moody was never given to extreme positions on doctrine and was kindly but intolerant of evil. He considered himself simply a preacher who had a definite duty to God and man. Gamaliel Bradford sums up the ministry of Dwight L. Moody in these well-chosen words: “In his day, none worked more passionately, more lovingly, and more successfully to bring God to man and man to God.”


Dr. Bob Jones was the Chancellor of Bob Jones University at the time of his death in 1997.

This article was originally published in Faith for the Family, November/December 1973 and is used by permission.


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