The Life and
Theology of D. L. Moody
particular emphasis on his British Campaigns)
Moody’s Conversion and Early Ministry
III. British Evangelical Influences on Moody
IV. The Beginning of Moody’s British Campaign
Opposition to Moody
Effect of Moodyism
Dwight Lyman (D. L.) Moody (1837-1899) grew up in
Northfield, Massachusetts. His father died when he was four years old,
leaving his mother the task of bringing up six children alone. He and
his siblings were baptized in the name of the Triune God by a "moderate"
Unitarian minister.1 Moody was not a devout child. He also
had little interest in school, with some biographers estimating that he
never attained beyond a fifth grade education.2 From this
unpromising beginning, Moody became an evangelist of worldwide fame.
Some estimate that as a preacher he addressed one hundred million souls.3
Whether the report that in so doing he "reduced the population of hell
by a million"4
is accurate or not, it is undeniable that Moody’s influence lives on.
But what did Moody teach, who influenced him theologically, and what
were the lasting effects of his ministry on the church, especially in
the United Kingdom, where he carried out major evangelistic campaigns in
II. Moody’s Conversion and
Moody traces his "conversion experience" to 1855 in
Boston where he was employed by his uncle to sell shoes. Moody became an
enthusiastic salesman. In his work, we have a foretaste of the zeal with
which he would pursue souls in his career as an evangelist. Curtis
describes Moody’s technique:
Moody waited at the door, pouncing on [customers]
as soon as they showed themselves. And if they did not show, he was
out in the streets, hounding them through the door.5
Moody’s uncle insisted that he join a church, so he
began to attend Mount Vernon Congregationalist Church.6 At
this time he was completely ignorant of the Scriptures and was a
stranger to theology of even the most rudimentary kind. The young man
started to attend the Sunday School where Edward Kimball was the
teacher. Kimball is the one credited with leading young Moody to the
Saviour. On 21 April, 1855, Kimball felt it was time to "approach Moody
with a decision for Christ."7 Kimball told Moody of Christ’s
love for him and of the love Christ desired in return and the young man
responded positively to these "disarming gestures."8 On 16
May, 1855, Moody presented himself before the leaders of Mount Vernon
Congregationalist Church as a prospective member. The examining
committee found him woefully ignorant of basic doctrines. He had no
understanding of what his "conversion" meant, apart from a sincere,
emotional feeling which he could not express. Upon being asked, "What
has Christ done for you and for us all that entitles Him to our love and
obedience?" the only answer Moody could produce was, "I think he has
done a great deal for us all, but I don’t know of anything He has done
in particular."9 Findlay remarks, "The Spirit came perhaps,
but assuredly it [sic] brought no knowledge."10
Could it be that Moody, not having received or known the things of the
Spirit of God, was as yet a "natural man" (I Cor. 2:14)? Those who have
the Spirit "know the things that are freely given to [them] of God" (I
Cor. 2:12). Moody knew nothing. What is worse, "when he stood before the
examining committee almost a year later, little more light appeared."11
On 3 May, 1856, Moody’s application for church membership was finally
granted, more because of his sincerity than any knowledge of the truth.12
This is a recurring problem when the "conversion" of a sinner is a
purely emotional experience. Many of the people who are thus "led to
Christ" have no idea who Christ is or what He has done. They invite this
Christ into their lives but they do not know what they are doing. Edward
Kimball was undoubtedly sincere in his witnessing to young Moody and
Moody was equally sincere in his response, but the result of such
witnessing will be churches filled with ignorant members who worship
what they do not know (John 4:22).
Shortly after joining the church in Boston, Moody
transferred his membership to Chicago. He developed a zeal for seeking
the lost for Christ and spent much of his free time witnessing to
unbelievers. He participated in church meetings, seeking to serve where
he could, but he made himself unpopular with the church authorities. One
man mentioned Moody’s lack of tact in prayer meetings:
Sometimes in his prayers Moody would express
opinions to the Lord concerning the church elders which were by no
means flattering. Apparently before long he received the same
fatherly advice which had been given him in Boston … leave the
speaking and praying to those who could do it better.13
Frustrated at the lack of support from the
established church and craving more activity, Moody set up his own
Sunday school in the slum district of Chicago in 1859. McLoughlin
He tried to teach Sunday school but was
considered too ignorant of the Bible to be of any use so he devoted
himself to rounding up pupils for others to teach.14
Findlay describes Moody’s dedication to the work of
recruiting pupils for his school as "almost frightening in its
single-mindedness."15 By his unorthodox behaviour he earned
the name "Crazy Moody" and established a "congregation of street urchins
so large that even Abraham Lincoln came to have a look."16
Moody continued to witness to unbelievers in Chicago, employing the same
forceful salesman technique: "In a rude, blundering sort of way he
accosted passers-by on the street to inquire bluntly, ‘Are you a
He literally forced people into his meetings:
Moody would recruit congregations for the noon
prayer meetings in the 1860’s by accosting passers-by with the
question, ‘Are you for Jesus?’ Whether they answered yes or no,
Moody insisted that their attendance at the meeting was imperative
and pushed them into the building. When a crowd was obtained he
often went in and led the meeting himself … he would single out
newcomers by calling from the platform … ‘That red-haired man on the
back seat, are you a Christian?’ Weak or negative answers brought
him storming down the aisle with the question, ‘Do you want to be
saved, now?’ And the startled man was down on his knees beside Moody
and other YMCA workers before he had time to object.18
Such bullying tactics do not make lasting converts.
Clearly, Moody had a zeal for God, but it was not according to knowledge
(cf. Rom. 10:3). Findlay remarks,
Although he became a bit more restrained in his
methods later, he never fully lost his all but compulsive tendency
to try to push prospective converts headforemost into the Kingdom of
During this time (1860), Moody gave up a lucrative
career in sales and decided to work full time for the kingdom of God.
This was considerable sacrifice on his part since he had no obvious
source of income.
Moody’s next venture was to establish a church. His
congregation of the poor and of the outcasts of society found the
existing churches unwelcoming and unfamiliar. Moody’s solution was to
set up a church of his own. His "Illinois Street Church" came into
existence on 30 December, 1864. Moody, although never ordained,
"performed all the rites of the church, except that of marriage, from
1864 to 1866" after which time he persuaded the church to obtain a
regular pastor, although Moody himself "remained its guiding force."20
The articles of faith for Moody’s church are described by McLoughlin:
Moody and his followers drew up their own
articles of faith, consisting simply of biblical texts strung
together to spell out the doctrines of the Trinity, the
infallibility of Scripture, the sinfulness of man, the
substitutionary atonement of Christ, the availability of salvation
to all men, and the practice of communion.21
Clearly, in the years following his "conversion
experience" in 1855, Moody had grown somewhat in his understanding of
theological matters. Curtis adds a vital point concerning the "creed"
adopted by Illinois Street Church. They adopted Congregationalist
doctrines, but "they omitted the Congregationalist article on
By 1871 Moody had been elected for the fourth time
President of the YMCA. He had a thriving church, and he had married Emma
Revell (1862). His influence in Chicago and beyond was growing.
Two young women were a major influence on his
spiritual journey. Sarah Cooke and W. R. Hawxhurst were YMCA workers who
regularly attended Moody’s meetings. Cooke told Hawxhurst that she had a
burden for Moody that he might receive the "baptism of the Holy Ghost
and of fire." When the two women told Moody that they were praying that
he might receive a special unction of the Spirit, he was irritated at
their presumption. However, not long afterwards, Moody joined with
Hawxhurst and Cooke in petitioning the Lord for this blessing.23
Disaster struck in October 1871. A huge fire spread through the city and
destroyed Moody’s work—his church, the YMCA and his home were all
destroyed in the conflagration. When on a fund-raising trip to New York
in 1871, Moody had the experience of the "second blessing" for which he
had long prayed:
Ah, what a day! I cannot describe it … I can only
say that God revealed Himself to me, and I had such an experience of
His love that I had to ask Him to stay His hand.24
The result of this mystical experience is that Moody
"lost interest in everything except the preaching of Christ and working
with souls."25 Had Moody consulted the Scriptures instead of
trusting his own mystical experiences, he might have read that preaching
is not the work of a "novice" (I Tim. 3:6) and that preachers are to be
"sent" by an instituted church to ensure accountability and oversight by
elders (Rom. 10:15; Acts 13:2). Moody always eschewed any suggestion
that he be ordained. He wanted to remain plain Mr. Moody. Gundry
He probably realized that he could not have
passed any sort of rigorous ordination examination. Ordination would
have also given him an unwanted denominational identity.
Furthermore, he was an evangelist and never claimed to be more than
Dorsett admits that "Moody was virtually
unaccountable to any human being except his wife."27
Such is the problem with all lay-preachers. They are accountable to
no-one and may preach false doctrine with impunity. Moody was no
Evangelical Influences on Moody
Moody first visited England in 1867. The young
American was interested in becoming acquainted with some of the
prominent figures in British evangelicalism. Dorsett remarks, "Moody
always assumed the role of a student around people who knew more about
God and ministry than he did."28 Gundry notes that throughout
his career Moody carried a notebook in which he wrote down the new ideas
he learned from his theological superiors and often he "pumped others
for information" to improve what he acknowledged to be a natural
weakness.29 This humility is commendable but since Moody knew
little about theology he was not "apt to teach" (I Tim. 3:2). Nor can
Moody be excused on the grounds that a revival preacher is "no pundit
but an exhorter to new life."30 There are no special rules
for the unbiblical office of a "revival preacher." A preacher, whether
he is active in preaching during a "revival" or not, is called to preach
the Scriptures and be "instant in season, out of season; [to] reprove,
rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and doctrine" (II Tim.
4:2). Since Moody was theologically ignorant, he was not called to
The men who influenced Moody when he was in Britain
were from various theological backgrounds. Moody was especially anxious
to meet George Mueller (1805-1898) and Charles H. Spurgeon (1834-1892).
The former was famous for his orphanage in Bristol where he cared for
street children, an orphanage he ran entirely on faith. Mueller never
asked anyone for money. He simply prayed that God would provide and his
orphanage thrived. From Mueller, Moody gleaned information on effective
Bible study methods: he advised the young American to read through the
Bible systematically instead of "verse-chopping." In addition, Mueller
introduced Moody to the Plymouth Brethren, a sect founded by John Nelson
Darby (1800-1882), of which Mueller was a member. The Brethren rejected
special offices in the church, emphasized sudden conversion and were
ardent premillennialists. Moody was initially attracted to the Brethren
because of their commitment to Scripture, their love for the lost and
their premillennialism. He soon became less comfortable with the group
because of their separatism, and had a serious disagreement with Darby
over the subject of Calvinism. Both Findlay and Dorsett mention that
Darby was a staunch defender of predestination and particular
redemption.31 Moody was a defender of freewill. Eventually,
the two men clashed:
One day while doing a Bible reading time at
Farwell Hall in Chicago he and Moody had a verbal exchange on
freewill. The session ended when Darby, in disgust with Moody’s
emphasis on ‘whosoever will may come,’ closed his Bible and walked
out; and he never returned.32
Charles H. Spurgeon, of course, was the "Prince of
Preachers" in the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London. Moody was a
long-time admirer of the English preacher and had read many of his
sermons. The first place Moody visited when he arrived in England in
1867 was Spurgeon’s Tabernacle. He remarked that he "could not get in
without a ticket, but [he] made it somehow," such was his zeal to see
his hero in the flesh.33 Spurgeon was a Calvinist. Yet, far
from clashing with Moody, Spurgeon was supportive of the American. He
even permitted Moody to preach in his Tabernacle. Murray offers an
explanation for this strange behaviour:
There was much in Moody to draw Spurgeon’s
affection … enterprising spirit … compassion for souls … Moody’s
readiness to put his foot through musty traditions … Spurgeon had
long been critical of American ‘revivalists’ but in Moody’s work …
he believed there was something different.34
Murray adds that Spurgeon "accepted Moody as being in
the Calvinist tradition."35 In this, Murray admits, Spurgeon
was mistaken, but he defends Spurgeon by pointing out that Moody’s
preaching was non-doctrinal (so his Arminianism was apparently difficult
to detect) and the Calvinistic Presbyterians in Scotland seemed to
Another influence on Moody was Henry Moorehouse, a
young Brethren preacher whom he met in 1867. Moorehouse arrived
unexpectedly in Chicago and Moody was prevailed upon to allow him to
preach. He impressed Moody with his emphasis on the love of God for
perishing sinners as the central message of Scripture. He also
introduced Moody to the thematic method of Bible study—a method which
consisted of tracing a word or concept through the entire Scriptures to
develop its meaning—which Moody adopted as his own. Before meeting
Moorehouse Moody had concentrated more on the wrath of God against
sinners and had appealed to sinners to repent out of fear of judgment.
Moorehouse, who preached seven consecutive sermons on John 3:16, had a
profound impact on Moody’s message and methods. Moody developed a new
appreciation for the love and grace of God. According to this new
"proclamation theology," the preacher "loves people into the Kingdom."37
Of course, the love of God which Moody had discovered was not the
sovereign, particular, efficacious love of Scripture, but a general
attitude of benevolence towards all; a love which depends on the
freewill of the sinner for its effectiveness; a love which fails to save
multitudes of the objects of that love. As Moody himself once proclaimed
in Scotland, "Jesus loved Judas Iscariot as surely as He loved Simon
A truly horrifying thought!
William Pennefather (1816-1873), an Anglican minister
in St. Jude’s, Mildmay Park, London, invited Moody to speak at the
annual Mildmay Conference in July 1872. These conferences which began in
the 1850’s were precursors to the Keswick movement. Participation in
these events enabled Moody to meet hundreds of evangelicals from across
England.39 Pennefather and the Mildmay conferences emphasized
holiness, missions and the imminent return of Christ. Pennefather in
particular stressed the work of the Holy Spirit. Moody later praised the
Anglican cleric, "The whole atmosphere of the man breathed holiness."40
It was Pennefather who persuaded Moody to return to England in 1873 to
engage in a major evangelism campaign. Although Moody highly regarded
some of the men in the Keswick movement, he never agreed with their
teachings on perfectionism. Writes Gundry,
It was only when the Keswick movement repudiated
the concept of eradication of inward sin and substituted an emphasis
on the Holy Spirit’s power to lead away from sin that Moody began to
really feel comfortable with Keswick teaching and people.41
Moody was too aware of his own weaknesses ever to
claim to have reached sinless perfection.
IV. The Beginning of
Moody’s British Campaign
Moody’s first major evangelistic campaign in England
started inauspiciously. Gundry describes the scene:
Moody and Sankey arrived in England in the summer
of 1873 only to find that the two supporters who had promised to
back them had died. But Moody also had in his pocket an almost
forgotten invitation from the director of the YMCA in York to
conduct evangelistic meetings there. Without prior preparations,
Moody contacted the director by telegraph, announcing that he had
arrived and was ready to begin meetings.42
Moody’s meetings in England began with only a handful
of people, but before long he was speaking to crowds of thousands.
Reports of a revival began to spread throughout British evangelicalism.
Soon, thanks to careful advertising by Moody’s supporters, it was
possible to attend Moody’s meetings only by ticket. Many were turned
away at the door, such was the demand to hear Mr. Moody’s gospel
preaching. Rev. J. Goodspeed provides a full account of "the wonderful
career of Moody and Sankey" in which he describes their whirlwind tour
of Britain and Ireland.43 We will examine later how
"wonderful" the results of the "revival" were.
V. Moody’s Methods
A very important aspect of the Moody phenomenon was
his partnership with Ira D. Sankey (1840-1908). Findlay describes him as
"a typical petit bourgeois American, unambitious, and not overly
enterprising, content to live a moderate, unexciting life," but through
meeting Moody at a YMCA convention in 1870, Sankey was catapulted into a
fame of which he probably never dreamed. Moody heard Sankey sing and
bluntly announced to him, despite Sankey’s weak protests, that he had
been looking for a singer for his campaigns and Sankey was the
man.44 After some reflection, Sankey agreed to accompany
Moody to Britain in 1873. Moody was astute. Although he was "absolutely
tone-deaf he recognized the psychological value of singing in religious
work."45 Moody himself expressed it this way, "The people
come to hear Sankey sing and I catch them in the Gospel net."46
The use of song in revivals did not end with Moody and Sankey:
Whatever the quality and extent of his success as
a musical innovator and as an evangelist, Sankey set a spectacular
example for those who followed him. Every professional revivalist
from Moody’s time on felt it a necessity to have a partner who could
sing the gospel.47
The purpose of Sankey’s songs, as was the purpose of
all of Moody’s work, was to win souls to Christ. The lyrics of the songs
were therefore not doctrinal but exhortative. Various writers have
described these songs:
These songs were called invitation hymns and were
specifically written for the purpose of coaxing people out of their
seats and into the inquiry room. They pleaded with the sinner,
hypnotically tugging him forward by repeating over and over again
the words "come," "trust," "now" as he debated with his conscience.48
Deeply effective are Mr. Sankey’s solos, not only
in touching the heart’s affections but in deepening the impressions
made by the Word. The solo, ‘Too late’ following on Mr. Moody’s
address on the despair of the lost in hell, had the most solemn
effect. The wail, ‘Oh! Let us in; oh! Let us in,’ and the awful
response. ‘Too late, too late, you cannot enter now,’ are enough to
wring the inmost soul of every wavering and undecided sinner.49
Sankey’s songs became so popular that his hymnal,
Sacred Songs and Solos, became a bestseller.50 We object
to this kind of manipulation. The Lord has not ordained hymns to be used
for "awakening." Rather he has ordained the preaching of the gospel to
be the means whereby God’s people are built up and the elect are
gathered. The gospel itself is the power of God unto salvation
(Rom. 1:16) and it requires no manipulation of man’s emotions through
music to achieve its desired effect. Moody and Sankey did not believe
that the Holy Spirit is sovereign in the application of salvation, so
they had to rely on manipulating sinners to get them to choose for
Christ. But the Scriptures teach that sinners are by nature "like the
deaf adder which stoppeth her ear, which will not hearken to the voice
of charmers, charming never so wisely" (Ps. 58:5-6), not even to the
charm of Ira D. Sankey.
Moody was an excellent organizer and promoter. His
preaching was in such demand that multitudes had to be turned away for
lack of room in the huge buildings he rented. This meant that he had the
luxury of choosing the next city on his itinerary. He would only go to a
city if he could get a consensus of support from local evangelical
He insisted and received the commitment of local
evangelical pastors to participate in his meetings and get their
congregations to come. The curious followed to get in on the
excitement. The secular press, seeing a good story, both followed
and led. This helped move the Moody story from religious side-show
to page one spectacle.51
If he could not get the local churches to support
him, he would decline invitations, virtually guaranteeing that the city
in question would not partake in the "revival blessings." This meant
that in most cities where he conducted a campaign, "Moody and Sankey
were accompanied on to the platform by a large number of ministers of
all denominations."52 Everywhere Moody went he presented
himself as a "lay preacher who was disinterested in doctrinal
differences" and he scrupulously avoided taking sides in theological
debates.53 This allowed him to appeal to all stripes of
evangelical Christianity and served to increase the numbers who attended
Moody not only had the support of all kinds of
evangelicals; he also appealed to the liberals. In his later years he
invited "liberal churchmen as speakers to his summer conferences."54
One such man was Henry Drummond (1851-1897), a theologian who, in his
Ascent of Man, defended evolutionism. Despite opposition from his
more conservative friends, Moody persisted in allowing Drummond and
others a platform to speak.55
Of Drummond, Murray writes,
Drummond appears to have departed from all the
central doctrines of the faith, yet at his early death at the age of
forty-five Moody spoke of him as the ‘most Christ-like man I ever
Gundry defends Moody by claiming that Moody invited
liberals "in ignorance" and "regretted his invitations after he knew
better" but of Moody’s friendship with Drummond he writes that he
remained "loyal" to his friend but "deplored his theology," adding that
in Drummond Moody saw "true Christianity."57 Only if one
jettisons biblical doctrine can one find "true Christianity" or a
"Christ-like" character in a modernist. The Scriptures ask the pertinent
question, "Shouldest thou help the ungodly or love them that hate the
LORD?" (II Chron.19:2). Moody should have shunned Drummond and other
Scripture-deniers. Christ warned against the broad way which leads to
destruction (Matt. 7:13). Even D. W. Whittle, one of Moody's closest
associates, stated that the broad-minded revivalist "may be in danger of
sacrificing principle and that he magnifies those things that have
Moody’s attitude towards Rome is also one of false
charity. On the one hand, he preached against transubstantiation
in Baltimore and the confessional and priestly absolution in Dublin;58
on the other, he advocated co-operation with Roman Catholics in world
‘I hope,’ he exclaimed ‘to see the day when all
bickering, division and party feeling will cease, and Roman
Catholics will see eye to eye with Protestants in this work. Let us
advance in a solid column – Roman Catholics, Protestants,
Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Methodists – against the ranks of
The true church does not fight against Satan with
those who are themselves the enemies of God (II Chron. 19:2). Nor does the true church
help the false church to spread her errors. Yet, Moody "gave a handsome
sum" to build a Roman Catholic church in his home town60
and on one occasion asked the Roman Catholic bishop of Chicago to pray
J. C. Pollock states,
[Moody's] willingness to co-operate [with Roman
Catholicism] went far beyond the imagination of his friends, who were
shocked that he subscribed towards the building of St. Patrick's Roman
Catholic church for Northfield's Irish colony, and horrified when he
accepted an invitation from a friend who had turned Roman to meet
Archbishop Corrigan of New York, to whom he said 'he wanted to see New
York shaken for Christ and wouldn't it be a great thing if all the
churches swung into a simultaneous effort ... The Archbishop had the
power to do it for the Roman Catholic churches, and the other churches
would follow the lead.'61a
Fundamentalists who praise Moody should reread these
last few paragraphs!
The aim of Moody’s preaching was to get people out of
their seats and into the "Inquiry Room." There the real work of saving
souls was carried out. The preaching "awakened" sinners, but the
personal work in the Inquiry Room was where people made their decision
for Christ. McLoughlin describes the techniques used by Moody and his
[Moody having made a "short forceful exposition"
of a text] asked all who wished to find God ‘to get on their knees
until the thing was settled.’ All the inquirers knelt. Moody asked
them to repeat after him … if he did not get a hearty response he
would make them repeat it again … Moody’s conversations with
inquirers were little more than ad hominem arguments, a sort
of spiritual browbeating … all questions of doctrine were dismissed
as irrelevant in the inquiry room … cases [of dramatic conversions]
were rare even in [Moody’s] wide experience. For the most part all
that happened in the inquiry room was that pious people became more
VI. Moody’s Theology
It is amazing that Moody gained such a large
following for he was not a good preacher. In both content and delivery
his sermons were poor. He preached freewill. It is difficult to
categorize Moody as a consistent Arminian, because he did not have a
systematic theology, but the main theme of his sermons was that
salvation is free in Jesus Christ to whomever will accept it. Gundry is
loath to describe Moody as an Arminian. He admits that the evangelist
had tendencies in that direction but he also tries to argue for
some Calvinistic tendencies. Gundry points to the fact that Moody
believed in election:
‘I do believe in election’ [he said]; ‘but I have
no business to preach that doctrine to the world at large … after
you have received salvation we can talk about election. It’s a
doctrine for Christians, for the Church, not for the unconverted
world’ … Moody compared the matter to a sign outside Tremont Temple,
inviting whosoever will to come in; but once inside, ‘I look up and
see on the wall, ‘D. L. Moody was elected from the foundations of
the world to be saved’ … ‘it’s a very sweet doctrine to the child of
God and very precious, but not to an unbeliever.’63
We have already seen that Moody sharply disagreed
with Darby over election and that predestination was removed from the
Articles of Faith of his Chicago church. In addition, just because
Moody made some reference to election does not mean he held
election. Arminius himself believed in election. What he objected to was
sovereign, particular, unconditional election. The quotes from Gundry
give no indication that Moody believed that. In addition, all
preachers must follow Christ’s example and that of His apostles who
preached election to the unconverted (see John 6:37, 44; 10:26; etc.).63a
There can be no doubt that Moody taught a universal,
resistible grace, which is the essence of Arminianism. Gundry admits
His most consistent manner of speaking suggests
that in spite of the ruin by the Fall, man is able to accept the
remedy on his own … God wants everybody saved, and Moody had a whole
sermon to prove the point … he spoke in this manner, referring to
the power of volition, a power which everyone had … he said that the
door of salvation hangs on one hinge, the will, and the surrender of
the will was the turning point in conversion … he insisted that God
does not command what man cannot do.64
Testimonies to this from other biographers are
He again held forth Christ and invited all to
rise who felt they could there and then accept Jesus … He showed
[Christ] as with one foot upon the threshold of the heart He sought
[Moody said,] ‘The Lord is walking the aisles of
the church right now and pleading’ … [Moody declared,] that God has
been on a magnificent wooing mission ever since the Fall.66
The sinner was like a "poor beggar" fleeing madly
across London Bridge with the Prince of Wales in hot pursuit waving
a bag of gold and shouting. "Oh, beggar, here is a bag of gold."67
Thus Moody presented to the world a Jesus Christ who
woos the sinner, who pleads with the sinner, who earnestly desires the
salvation of all, who loves all and who died for all. This is not the
Sovereign Saviour of Scripture but a miserable counterfeit.
Another integral part of the American evangelist’s
theology was his premillennialism. Earlier revivalist preachers such as
Jonathan Edwards and Charles Finney were postmillennial.68
They believed that revival was one of the ways in which God was going to
realize the "Golden Age" on earth prior to Christ’s return. Moody,
largely under the influence of the Brethren movement, disagreed. Of
course, Moody did not have a consistently worked-out system of
eschatology. He expressed his views in simple terms, and his belief in
the imminent return of Christ gave urgency to his evangelism:
I have felt like working three times as hard ever
since I came to understand that my Lord was coming back again. I
look on this world as a wrecked vessel. God has given me a life-boat
and said to me, ‘Moody, save as many as you can.’69
Moody remained premillennial all his life and even
appointed the famous Dispensationalist, C. I. Scofield (1843-1921),
notorious for his "Bible notes" to be pastor in his church in
Northfield. Scofield was pastor there from 1895 to 1902.70 It
must be noted, however, that Moody never made eschatology a matter of
contention between fellow Christians. He had a broad (too broad)
ecumenical spirit and abhorred denominational infighting when it
hindered his goal of reaching the lost with the gospel.
Gundry sums up Moody’s theology by the "Three R’s":
Ruined by the Fall, Redeemed by the Blood, and Regenerated by the
Spirit. Moody, unlike Finney and the liberal theologians of his day,
recognized that man is not naturally good. He did hold to a
doctrine of human depravity. But we have seen that the depravity was not
total. Moody believed in a substitutionary atonement. He, again unlike
Charles Finney, did not teach the moral or governmental theory. Gundry
points out that Findlay is mistaken when he asserts that Moody taught
the Moral Theory. Findlay believes that Moody’s emphasis on the love and
compassion of God displayed in the cross of Christ is proof of this
assertion, but such a conclusion, argues Gundry, is unwarranted.71
Of course, Moody, like all advocates of a universal
atonement, was inconsistent. The atonement is only truly substitutionary
if all for whom substitution was made are actually saved.
Moody never conducted an evangelistic campaign
without preaching on the new birth. Gundry writes that he "preached his
'New Birth' sermon 184 times between October 23, 1881, and November 2,
1899."72 But Moody did not understand the new birth. He
understood that man’s nature is sinful, that man cannot be saved by
moral improvement or by education, and that the sinner needs a new
nature to enter into Heaven, but he could not understand the sovereign
agency of the Spirit in the new birth. He taught that the Spirit
regenerates but the freewill of the sinner is also involved. Gundry
tries to paint Moody in a more Calvinistic light here:
Moody emphasized the sinful condition of man and
the sole activity of God in regeneration in a manner remarkably
Calvinistic in tone. In fact he defended the necessity of the new
birth with the challenge, "Has not the God of Heaven a right to say
how a man shall come into His Kingdom, and who shall come?" A
statement most un-Arminian in tone! With this emphasis on man’s need
and God’s sole and sovereign agency in regeneration, Moody closed
There is nothing here in Moody’s statement about the
"sole and sovereign agency" of God! To the statement above no Arminian
could object. The Arminian would simply say, "Yes, God says that a man
must come by accepting Jesus as Saviour and then God gives the man the
New Birth." That is a far cry from "The wind bloweth where it listeth"
(John 3:8); "which were born … not of the will of the flesh,
nor of the will of man, but of God" (John 1:13) or "of his own
will [God] begat us" (James 1:18).
VII. Moody’s Preaching
When we examine Moody’s homiletics and delivery our
wonder increases that he was ever considered such a great evangelist.
Moody had neither the natural ability nor the training to produce
logical sermons grounded in sound exegesis. The evangelist had an
ability to tell stories and make biblical accounts come alive. He also
had the powers of persuasion and could "market" the gospel as
effectively as he could sell shoes. However, his sermons were "extremely
diffuse," "unconnected, rambling and given to repetition" lacking in
"logical structure and thought."74
They were a "hodge-podge of illustrations and texts, all reiterating one
simple idea over and over again."75
"His strength," writes Murray "was his spirit, his Sunday-school
simplicity, and his superabundant anecdotes."76
His sermons were "pragmatic discourses designed primarily to effect
conversions … lacking woefully in careful exegesis and often
theologically inconsistent."77 His method of sermon making
was rather unusual:
In reality his sermons are never made, they are
always still in the making. Suppose the subject is Paul: he takes a
monstrous envelope, capable of holding some hundreds of slips of
paper, labels it "Paul’, and slowly stocks it with original notes,
cuttings from papers, extracts from books … he selects a number of
the most striking points, arranges them, and finally, makes a few
jottings in a large hand, and these he carries with him to the
One admirer writes,
It is not necessary for him to bear the
exhausting labors of preparing new discourses since he has new
hearers all the time to whom his old utterances are as fresh as a
Moody’s delivery was characterized by poor
enunciation, mispronunciation, poor diction and grammatical mistakes; he
even spoke too fast. Several men testify to this:
[there is a] scuffle among the words for suitable
places in his hasty sentences, they become chipped and mutilated.
Final letters disappear, middle syllables are elided and the outer
ones run together.80
His gestures, like his rate of utterance, were
subdued at first, but by the time he had warmed to his subject – and
in never more than five minutes – he was vigorous, sometimes
violent, speaking at an occasional clip of 230 words a minute … to
the despair of stenographic reporters.81
His spelling was atrocious and his pronunciation
quaint. C. H. Spurgeon once remarked that Moody was "the only man
who could say ‘Mesopotamia’ in two syllables.82
VIII. Opposition to Moody
Not everyone welcomed the American evangelist. One
man who saw in Moody a grave threat to the future well-being of the
church was John Kennedy of Dingwall (1819-1884), a Presbyterian minister
in the Highlands of Scotland. In 1874, Kennedy wrote a pamphlet entitled
Hyper-evangelism: ‘Another Gospel’ Though a Mighty Power, in
which he criticized the whole Moody-Sankey campaign. Kennedy objected
both to the methods and to the message of the American visitors. He
deplored the use of hymns, the enquiry room, and he attacked Moody’s
Arminianism. He complained that Moody’s message was superficial. A full
setting forth of the holiness and majesty of God, a true appraisal of
man’s totally depraved condition and a proper presentation of the work
of Christ were absent. Murray writes,
Kennedy argued that the securing of mass consent
in evangelistic campaigns was only possible where the full biblical
teaching on depravity or regeneration is kept out of view.83
Kennedy was therefore unable to join with the
majority in the excitement of the Moody-movement. He describes himself
as "a mourner and apart."84 Horatius Bonar (1808-1889)
responded to Kennedy in 1875, in The Old Gospel, Not ‘Another Gospel’
But The Power of God Unto Salvation. Bonar was sharply critical of
Kennedy and took it as a personal affront to himself and many of his
colleagues that Kennedy dared to attack Moody. This was inevitable
because Bonar and a great many Scottish ministers were actively
promoting Moody as the answer to the problems of the Scottish church. He
therefore sought to deflect the charges.
Bonar, who was obviously sensitive to the thrust
of Kennedy’s arguments, does not deal with the doctrinal and
practical issues on which Kennedy focuses but majors on
personalities and on perceived cultural differences between the
north and south of Scotland as the reason for Kennedy’s disapproval
of Moody and those supporting him.85
Bonar insists that Kennedy is only criticizing from
the outside. Kennedy’s objections are based on hearsay evidence, he
claims. He accuses Kennedy of prejudice, hyper-Calvinism and even
malice, portraying Kennedy as "one vindictive as Haman and more unfair
than [John Henry] Newman."86 Kennedy responded in 1875:
In forming an estimate of the doctrine that was
mainly effective in advancing the movement, I had sufficient
materials at hand. I heard the leading preacher repeatedly, and I
perused with care published specimens of his addresses … I was near
enough to be able to look into the inside.87
Kennedy concedes that sometimes Moody’s message
sounds orthodox in places but insists that the overall effect is
Sometimes, an address may be heard, in which the
necessity of regeneration is very strongly urged, but this is sure
to be followed by some statement that blunts the edge of all that
was said before … A breach in the wrapping exposes the contents of a
Bonar, amazingly, claims that Moody’s preaching is in
accordance with Scottish orthodoxy:
It is the teaching of the Westminster
Confession and the Shorter Catechism, and seldom have I
heard the doctrine of the divine purpose in election more
unreservedly and unequivocally set forth than by Mr. Moody.89
Dorsett describes Kennedy’s pamphlet a "venomous
piece" and dismisses Kennedy as one of those "militant predestinarians …
who were determined to drive Moody from the land."90 However,
the "piece" is well-written, well argued and earnest. It was not written
out of malice but out of a love of the truth. Kennedy was not
mean-spirited. He loved and respected Dr. Bonar.91 History
has vindicated Kennedy in his assessment of the movement. He knew that
since the methods employed by Moody and Sankey were unscriptural, he was
"forbidden to expect a good result."92
IX. The Effect of Moodyism
When the American evangelist came to Scotland the
churches were in a period of decline. Moody arrived in 1873 between the
Disruption of 1843, in which Thomas Chalmers and 475 ministers had
walked out of the Church of Scotland, forming the Free Kirk of Scotland,
and the split of the Free Kirk in 1893, which was occasioned by the
Declaratory Act, a weakening of the creedal position of the Scottish
Church. Moody’s Scottish campaign, therefore, was only twenty years
prior to the latter split. Neither Kennedy nor Bonar lived to see the
split in the Free Kirk. Moreover, the Free Kirk was at the time of
Moody’s arrival embroiled in internal debate and division over a
possible merger with the United Presbyterian Church. Writes McLoughlin,
Amid all the tension and the cries of peace where
there was no peace, the diversionary activity of a restrained but
exciting revival was the very thing to let off steam. If the revival
could only avoid doctrinal quarrels and emotional excesses, if it
could claim to reach the masses, if it welcomed co-operation in
winning souls from men of all shades of evangelical belief, then it
was the perfect antidote to incipient ecclesiastical epilepsy and
Many in the Free Kirk therefore rallied around Moody.
Rev. W. G. Blaikie (1820-1899), Professor of Apologetics and of
Ecclesiastical and Pastoral Theology at the Free Church New College was
Moody’s host when he stayed in Edinburgh. He believed in "reducing the
Westminster Confession to the fundamentals, ‘the great central truths,’
in the interest of unity and evangelism."94
The "conciliatory evangelical" leader of the Church of Scotland, Rev.
Archibald Charteris (1835-1908), Professor of Biblical Literature at the
University of Edinburgh also favoured abbreviating the creeds. He
complained about the "burden of the [their] unnecessary minuteness."95
Moody provided a way for the warring factions in the different
Presbyterian denominations to work together in a common goal of reaching
the unchurched masses with the gospel. Great success was initially
claimed for the "revival":
When the Moderator of the Scottish Free Church
spoke of the revival generally and of the specific contributions of
the two visitors from overseas in his address to the General
Assembly of the church in 1874, the delegates spontaneously broke
However, a more sober assessment reveals a different
picture. McLoughlin describes the claim that Moody reached the
unchurched masses as "wishful thinking."97 Church statistics,
he adds, "indicate that Moody’s impact was slight and that his meetings
barely scratched the surface of the unchurched."98
He gives one example of how Horatius Bonar was mistaken in thinking that
Moody had achieved mass conversions among the slum-dwellers of Glasgow:
According to Bonar, ‘Six hundred of the
Grassmarket [Edinburgh slum] men streamed up from the Corn Exchange
and into the Assembly Hall and falling on their knees gave
themselves to God.’ Bonar of course assumed that the 600 men were
from the ranks of the poor and wicked, the dregs of Edinburgh
society … the 600 men, whom he had seen were merely the Christian
workers, who had marched to the slums to see Moody reach the poor
and then marched back again to assert anew their dedication to
Many who attended Moody’s evangelistic campaigns were
already converted. Moody himself was annoyed about that. He chided his
‘I see too many Christian people here,’ Moody
told his … audience … ‘I know you. A great many of you were at my
meetings … You are converted already. Now I want you to get up and
go out and leave room for the hundreds of those sinners who are
waiting outside for a chance to hear the Gospel.’ But those waiting
outside were exactly like those sitting inside.100
The initial applause was therefore premature. After
the excitement had died down and Moody and Sankey had returned home as
conquering heroes, the Free Church was more sober in its analysis:
Especially revealing was a detailed analysis
prepared by the Free Church. Surveying the work of the Americans in
the north, the authors of the report admitted that ‘little effect
has been produced on the masses among whom ignorance and open
wickedness abound and abide. From large towns especially it is
reported that … the masses have not been reached, and there is no
perceptible change in their moral condition.’ The same conclusions
also appear to be valid for England.101
Murray argues that although "the old Calvinism was in
decline in Scotland before 1873 … Moody’s missions accelerated the
change in the theological climate."102 The supporters of
pretended not to countenance the open advocacy of
free will and free grace. To do so might have turned their
conservative colleagues against the revival.103
McLoughlin offers a critique of revivalism in general
which is surely applicable to Moody as well. Revivalists bring
excitement to a local community but their effect is "fleeting." He
The regular pious church members who attended
revival meetings were enthralled by the revivalist’s vivid and
dramatic presentation of ideas to which they were already committed
and they did not notice his inconsistencies or contradictions. The
unchurched auditor who went forward and was converted at a revival
meeting accepted at his own evaluation the colorful vagaries of the
revivalist. But he soon discovered upon entering a church that the
theology of the local minister was cold, dull and rigid by
The result in the instituted church was that "the
temporary boost to church morale was generally followed by apathy and
backsliding instead of by increased zeal and dedication."105
Therefore it should be said that Moody "was not the
right man for the future prosperity of British religious life as a
whole."106 As one other commentator writes, "The renowned
evangelists have indeed failed. Thousands upon thousands have professed
Christ but Britain has grown more and more godless."107
This is to be expected. Religious excitement does not build up the
church. What is needed in every age is the faithful, yet unglamorous,
preaching of sound doctrine from the Scriptures as summarized in the
Reformed confessions with solid catechetical instruction of the youth,
overseen by godly elders. Moody could not bring such a blessing to the
churches. He did not know sound doctrine, and was not accountable to
elders. After Moody had gone the local pastors had to "pick up the
pieces" and work with ignorant "converts" who were left behind. Moody’s
long-term effects on the church were therefore pernicious. Arminianism
is always detrimental to the church, no matter how many souls are
allegedly "saved" through the preaching of it.
1 Timothy George (ed.), Mr. Moody and the Evangelical Tradition
(London/New York: T & T Clark, 2004), p. 2.
2 James R. Findlay, Jr., Dwight L. Moody: American Evangelist
(Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1969), p. 41.
3 Bruce J. Evensen, God’s Man For the Gilded Age: D. L. Moody
and the Rise of Modern Mass Evangelism (Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 2003), p. 3.
God’s Man, p. 3.
5 Richard K. Curtis, They Called Him Mister Moody (Grand
Rapids: Eerdmans, 1962), p. 58.
6 Stanley N. Gundry, Love Them In: The Life and Theology of D.
(Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), p. 22.
They Called Him, p. 53.
American Evangelist, p. 49.
9 William G. McLoughlin, Jr., Modern Revivalism: Charles
Grandison Finney to Billy Graham (New York: The Ronald Press
Company, 1959), p. 172.
American Evangelist, p. 50.
American Evangelist, p. 50.
Love Them In, p. 24.
American Evangelist, p. 74.
Modern Revivalism, p. 174.
American Evangelist, p. 77.
God’s Man, p. 11.
American Evangelist, p. 92.
Modern Revivalism, p. 177.
American Evangelist, p. 116.
Modern Revivalism, p. 176.
Modern Revivalism, p. 176.
They Called Him, p. 112.
23 Lyle W. Dorsett, A Passion for Souls: The Life of D. L. Moody
(Chicago: Moody Press, 1997), p. 150.
Passion, p. 156.
Passion, p. 156.
Love Them In, p. 171.
Passion, p. 401.
27a D. L. Moody's sin of lay preaching is condemned in
Westminster Larger Catechism, A. 158: "The word of God is to be
preached only by such as are sufficiently gifted, and also duly approved
and called to that office" (cf. "Against
Passion, p. 135.
Love Them In, p. 43.
Love Them In, p. 65.
American Evangelist, p. 127; Dorsett, Passion, pp.
Passion, p. 137.
Passion, p. 132.
34 Iain H. Murray, The Forgotten Spurgeon (London: Banner,
1966), p. 177.
Forgotten Spurgeon, p. 178.
Forgotten Spurgeon, p. 179.
Passion, p. 140.
38 John Kennedy and Horatius Bonar, Evangelism: A Reformed
(Scotland: The James Beggs Society, 1997), pp. 118-119.
Love Them In, p. 44.
Passion, p. 163.
Love Them In, p. 162.
Love Them In, p. 47.
43 E. J. Goodspeed, A Full History of the Wonderful Career of
Moody and Sankey in Great Britain and America (Cincinnati, OH: Henry
S. Goodspeed & Co.).
American Evangelist, p. 123.
Modern Revivalism, p. 178.
Modern Revivalism, p. 233.
American Evangelist, pp. 215-216.
Modern Revivalism, p. 239.
Full History, p. 124.
50 George (ed.), Evangelical Tradition, p. 113.
God’s Man, p. 23.
Full History, p. 153 (also pp. 176, 183, 206).
God’s Man, pp. 34, 39.
American Evangelist, p. 411
American Evangelist, p. 411
Forgotten Spurgeon, p. 188.
Love Them In, pp. 206, 218.
57a Quoted in J. C. Pollock, Moody Without Sankey (Great
Britain: Hodder and Stoughton, 1963), p. 168.
Love Them In, p. 169.
American Evangelist, p. 248.
60 George (ed.), Evangelical Tradition, p. 89.
Full History, p. 17.
Moody Without Sankey, p. 251; cf. p. 45.
Modern Revivalism, pp. 260-262.
Love Them In, p. 141.
Love Them In, pp. 94, 139.
Full History, pp. 128, 130.
Passion, pp. 192, 398.
Modern Revivalism, p. 247.
Love Them In, p. 181.
American Evangelist, p. 253.
70 George (ed.), Evangelical Tradition, p. 23.
Love Them In, p. 117.
Love Them In, p. 126.
Love Them In, p. 127.
American Evangelist, p. 227.
Modern Revivalism, p. 244.
76 Iain H. Murray, Revival and Revivalism: the Making and
Marring of American Evangelicalism 1750-1858 (Edinburgh: Banner,
1994), p. 401.
The Chicago Revival, p. 110.
78 George (ed.), Evangelical Tradition, p. 147.
Full History, p. 37.
American Evangelist, p. 223.
They Called Him, p. 192.
82 George (ed.), Evangelical Tradition, p. 2.
83 Murray, Revival and Revivalism, p. 370.
84 Kennedy and Bonar, Evangelism, p. 13.
85 Kennedy and Bonar, Evangelism, p. 10.
86 Kennedy and Bonar, Evangelism, p. 109.
87 Kennedy and Bonar, Evangelism, pp. 17, 107.
88 Kennedy and Bonar, Evangelism, pp. 23, 110.
89 Kennedy and Bonar, Evangelism, p. 86.
Passion, p. 200.
91 Kennedy and Bonar, Evangelism, p. 108.
92 Kennedy and Bonar, Evangelism, p. 17.
Modern Revivalism, p. 191.
Modern Revivalism, p. 192.
Modern Revivalism, p. 190.
American Evangelist, p. 155.
Modern Revivalism, p. 199.
Modern Revivalism, p. 200.
Modern Revivalism, p. 200.
Modern Revivalism, p. 203.
American Evangelist, p. 173.
102 Murray, Forgotten Spurgeon, pp. 180-181.
Modern Revivalism, p. 210.
Modern Revivalism, pp. 535-526.
Modern Revivalism, p. 529.
Modern Revivalism, p. 215.
107 Kennedy and Bonar, Evangelism, p. 7.