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More than a century afer his death D.L. Moody remains a towering figure whose influence is still felt; the institutions he founded in America continue to flourish; his place in history is secure. But it is his personality that commands attention: a man of total integrity, with a supreme gift for bringing Christianity before a whole range of contemporary hearers and putting them to work for God.
Dwight Lyman Moody was the outstanding evangelist of his time. He was known on both sides of the Atlantic. After success in America he landed at Liverpool, England, unknown and unexpected. But, when he left, Scotland, Ireland and England were at his feet. He was contagious!
John Pollock captures his infectiousness in his classic biography.
This is a very readable book – tracing Moody’s life from his farm childhood in Massachussets to his death there 62 years later. Evangelism is the main theme of the book – how God used Moody as an evangelist both personally and, significantly, in mass meetings on both sides of the Atlantic. All it needed (it seemed) was Moody’s name to be announced and people would flock to the meetings. Was that so for any religious ‘revivalist’ meeting of the time, or was the pull of Moody unique? Either way, it is certainly different in the UK today. The book makes no mention of Christians having to work hard at inviting people to come – crowds just seemed to turn up, day after day at the same venue. Moody preached to large crowds at Cambridge University – and these included many who came and disruptively mocked. “To a generation less colourful, more indifferent, whose reaction would be to stay away in lazy scorn, the full–blooded hounding of Moody… must seem astonishing” (p255) – indeed, such a reaction does seem astonishing. Why are people today more indifferent to and more lazily scornful of Jesus and his gospel? The evangelical church in the UK and the US is vehemently attacked today on sexual/gender issues and hardly anything else. Conversions seemed to last – church attendance rose after ‘campaigns’ but Moody said to someone who worked with children, “I perhaps reach one out of ten… and then I am not sure that the one out of then that I have reached will stick… will ever amount to anything in Christian work” (p243). But our Lord, in the parable of the soils, tells us to expect significant drop–off after initial encouraging signs. Moody was galvanised by a chance comment, “The world has yet to see what God will do with and for and through and in and by the man who is fully and wholly consecrated to Him.” Moody once said, “I am the most overestimated man in America”, but his energy and drive did seem to show that he wanted to be ‘that man’. Moody read the Bible much and prayed – but “…did not spend long hours on his knees. At mention of Luther praying all night Moody said he had tried it once ‘and woke up a ‘very stiff Moody’… [his son, sharing a hotel room] was quite shocked by the extreme brevity of his father’s devotions” (p327). Why do I remark on this? Perhaps I am looking for the ‘secret’ of Moody’s success. It did not seem to lie in hours of personal prayer – and our Lord does warn us against thinking that we shall be heard on account of our many words. Perhaps God just chose to be at work. While Moody is known as a mass evangelist the early part of the book recounts his zeal in ‘personal work’. From his earliest days, while still a salesman, he would continually ask people, “Are you a Christian?” and his desire to speak of Jesus to at least one person every day. I am challenged by Moody’s zeal and single–mindedness. I am saddened by today’s apathy to the gospel – at least, in white Britain. I must continue to pray for God to send out labourers into the harvest field – and that I might be one – and for that harvest field to be fruitful.
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