Key People in the Life of D. L. Moody: A Gallery

Emma (Revell) Moody

Dwight Moody’s indomitable spouse

Emma Revell emigrated from England with her family in 1849. The eldest of four children, Emma was her father’s favorite because of her calm sensibility, sensitivity, and keen sense of humor. Nine years later, those qualities attracted the attention of Dwight L. Moody, who later commented in a letter to his mother that his fiancee was “a good Christian girl.”

She was 15 when she met Moody in a Baptist Sunday school class; he was recruiting workers for his Sunday school on Chicago Avenue and Wells Street. Emma worked in Moody’s organization for one year before she and Moody were engaged in 1859. Not long after, the successful young businessman decided to renounce business to preach the gospel. Emma faced a choice: become the wife of an itinerant evangelist with no guarantee of support, or abandon the man she had grown to love. She took a teaching position in a Chicago public school to support herself during their three—year engagement and continued to work alongside Moody in the Sunday school.

On August 28, 1862, amid the confusion of the Civil War, Emma Revell became a bride. The records of the Moodys’ early years together are scanty, due in part to the war and to the fact their first house probably burned down. This was only the portent of a life that would test Emma Moody’s mettle.

In 1871 the Chicago Fire gutted the section of the city where the Moodys lived. Moody was preaching at church on the Sunday evening the blaze lit up the Chicago skyline. Alone at home with their two small children, Emma calmly dressed each child in two suits of clothing and led them to the window before they fled, promising them a sight they would never forget: a cityscape engulfed in flames.

Emma provided direction and support throughout her husband’s demanding public life. Although responsible for the care of their three children, Emma wrote D.L.’s correspondence and handled their money. From age 15 until her death in 1903 (she outlived her husband by four years), Emma seized every opportunity to teach. In the last year of her life, in fact, she resumed her Sunday school class at the Old Home in Northfield.

The dignity and serenity with which the “good Christian girl” encountered potentially defeating situations counterbalanced her husband’s impulsive, emotional nature and became the backbone of Moody’s success.

John V. Farwell

Moody’s strong supporter

John Farwell came to Chicago in 1848 with $3.45 and was hired as a bookkeeper in a dry goods store, earning a few dollars a month. Eventually, he became a partner in a dry goods business, his associate a young Marshall Field. Field went on to establish his own business; Farwell also became the head of one of the largest wholesale dry goods firms in the country. (Farwell & Co. was absorbed into Carson, Pirie, Scott & Co. in 1925.)

Farwell met Moody in a young men’s class at the Methodist-Episcopal Church in Chicago where both attended. Moody had been in Chicago but a few years and was scrambling between two churches in his self-appointed role of Sunday school/YMCA street missionary. Farwell was attracted to the young man’s work and was elected superintendent of the North Market Hall Mission in 1860, continuing in that position for ten years.

When Moody gave up business for full-time Christian work, Farwell gave him a home rent-free; it was the beginning of a life-long commitment to support Moody’s endeavors. Farwell designed and built the Chicago Tabernacle for Moody’s revivals there and was a charter member of the Chicago Evangelization Society (later Moody Bible Institute).

Farwell was Moody’s Chicago contact when Moody was involved in campaigns abroad. During an 1874 campaign in Scotland, a Chicago lawyer wrote a scurrilous letter attacking Moody and sent it to people connected with the campaign. In the resulting uproar, the committee that had invited Moody to Edinburgh wrote Farwell for help in determining the truth or falsity of the charges. Farwell obtained the signatures of thirty—five Chicago ministers endorsing Moody’s character.

In addition, John Farwell helped to organize the United States Christian Commission, which ministered spiritually and medically to troops during the Civil War. He had been a presidential elector on the Lincoln ticket in 1860; it was through his contact that President—elect Lincoln was persuaded to make his famous visit to Moody’s Sunday school. Farwell was later Indian Commissioner under President Grant.

Steadfastly concerned with Moody’s ministry, Farewell was said to be the “inventor of Dwight L. Moody.” To this Farwell answered, “I didn’t create Moody; God did.”

“Auntie” Sarah Cooke

Her prayers changed Moody’s ministry

“Few persons in Chicago were better known in certain religious circles than she, for she was continuously going to the missions, street meetings, conventions, camps, conferences, lectures and every kind of religious gathering within her reach. She was the living personification of aggressive evangelism, instant in season and out of season, ever exhorting sinners to flee the wrath of God and urging believers to plunge in the fountain of cleansing.”

So quotes a memorial article (Moody Monthly, September 1921) for “Auntie Cooke.” She arrived in Chicago in 1868—in her words, “a perfect stranger”—but it didn’t take her long to become involved in God’s work, helping the YMCA on Madison Street. She attended Moody’s church when he was young. Cooke described him years later as a “ ‘diamond in the rough’—most truly, with the one desire to do good burning through everything, his very earnestness moving people, but withal such a lack in his teachings of the divine unction and power.”

During a St. Charles camp meeting in 1871, she felt burdened for Moody—he needed an anointing of power from the Holy Spirit. She and her friend, Mrs. Hawxhurst, who usually sat on the front row, told Moody they were praying for him to be baptized with the Holy Ghost and fire. Moody was unsure this was a need; nevertheless, he asked the two ladies to meet with him in Farwell Hall every Friday afternoon to discuss this matter and pray. Apparently his hunger increased. Cooke reports that on the Friday before the Great Chicago Fire, “Mr. Moody’s agony was so great that he rolled on the floor and in the midst of many tears and groans cried to God to be baptized with the Holy Ghost and fire.”

Following the fire, Moody went to New York shortly thereafter to raise funds for the rebuilding of the church and YMCA building. In New York, while walking down Wall Street, the young preacher finally received the spiritual blessing they had prayed for. Moody felt such a sense of the Holy Spirit’s filling that he cried, “Hold, Lord, it is enough!”

“I went to preaching again,” Moody testified. “The sermons were not different; I did not present any new truths, and yet hundreds were converted. I would not now be placed back where I was before that blessed experience if you should give me all the world.”

Auntie Cooke continued in vigorous service and died in Chicago in 1921.

Ira D. Sankey

Partner in song

Sankey was no newcomer to Christian service when he met Moody in 1870 at the International Convention of the YMCA in Indianapolis. Sankey was converted at 16 and became a member of the Methodist—Episcopal church in New Castle, Pennsylvania. By age 22, Ira was superintendent of the Sunday school and began solo singing. He also became an active member of the New Castle YMCA and later its president.

Sankey was helping with his father’s business and working as a local revenue collector, married and with one child, when Moody’s path crossed his. Moody heard him sing at the YMCA convention and in his characteristic straightforward way informed Sankey that he would have to quit his job. “I have been looking for you for the past eight years,” said the evangelist. But Sankey hesitated to give up the security of a well-paying government job.

So the next day, according to one writer, “Moody . . . asked to meet him on a certain street corner. When Sankey arrived, he found Moody setting up a barrel on the sidewalk. Moody called to Sankey to climb up and start singing. Startled, Sankey hardly remembered how, but he found himself on the barrel singing ‘Am I a Soldier of the Cross?’ The crowd of factory workers heading home stopped and stayed for Moody’s sermon. One example was worth a thousand arguments to Sankey. He knew he must return home and seriously consider joining Moody in Chicago.”

He did, and their names became inseparably linked. Although Sankey was not college—educated, and his voice was untrained, the enrapturing quality of his sound and his sensitivity to the use of music in spiritual capacities became his trademarks. It was said of him: “Mr. Sankey sings with the conviction that souls are receiving Jesus between one note and the next.”

Sankey also composed hymns, although many of his successful solo performances used the hymns of P. P. Bliss, another singer associated with Moody. One of Sankey’s most famous hymns, “The Ninety and Nine,” was a poem he found in a Scottish newspaper; two nights later he sang it to a large audience, improvising the melody as he went.

Moody and Sankey became famous during their campaign in the British Isles in 1873–75. Sankey was an oddity to the puritanistic Scots, singing hymns a form unfamiliar to them and playing a harmonium, which shocked congregations not accustomed to musical instruments in church services. His musical eloquence, however, won them over, and it became necessary for Moody and Sankey to print hymnbooks so congregations could learn the songs they used. Sacred Songs and Solos is said to have reached a circulation of seventy million by 1927. A successor, Gospel Hymns and Sacred Songs, sold over fifty million copies. Both Moody and Sankey relinquished rights to the hymnbook royalties; the money was used toward the work of the gospel.

Sankey’s role in the partnership diminished with the gradual weakening of his voice. By the 1880s his talent as a singer was nearly spent, and he accompanied Moody less. Sankey was blind the last five years of his life and died in 1908.

William Moody

Dwight’s elder son

William Revell Moody, born March 25, 1869, the second child of Emma and Dwight Moody, published the first “official” biography of his father’s life. The announcement of unauthorized biographies prompted him to hastily pen, in 1900, the first version, which was revised in 1930.

D.L. Moody’s thoughts were never far from his children, and stories about young Willie often made their way into his sermons. Moody once remarked that he taught Willie the concept of faith by having him jump from the table into his father’s arms.

In his teenage years, Will and older sister Emma accompanied their father on his second overseas tour in 1870. Although Moody traveled extensively, Will and Emma spent most of their time in London boarding schools.

In the fall of 1887 Will entered Yale, which became a point of contention between Moody and his ultra—conservative critics. Moody paid little attention to them; he trusted his children to evaluate the liberal religious views for which Yale was gaining a reputation. (In fact, he preached on campus each year that Will, and later, son Paul, were there. )

This trust was put on trial. Will began to vacillate between commitment to Christ and the current philosophies promoted in the college. At one point, Will communicated an increasing dislike for the Bible, an observation that left the Moodys devastated. Four months later, however, the Moodys were encouraged with the news that their son had decided to take a stand for Christ.

Will’s strong family ties brought him home to Northfield following his graduation; there he married and reared a family. Eventually he assumed leadership of the schools his father established in Northfield and Chicago. He served in a general leadership capacity over the Moody legacy for over thirty years. His evangelical viewpoint, more conservative than his father’s, set the tone for those schools after 1900.

Paul Moody

He carved his niche outside the Moody legacy

D.L. Moody desired that his sons, Paul and Will, jointly manage his Northfield Schools. Will was to be in charge of Mount Hermon School for Boys, and Paul to be responsible for Northfield Seminary. But soon after their father’s death, the Moody brothers became estranged. Will was conservative and formal, while Paul had an easygoing nature and a reputation for being a practical joker like his father.

Will pressed for the incorporation of the two schools’ boards; under the new consolidation, Paul would be forced out altogether. A bill proposing the merger was presented to the Committee on Mercantile Affairs on April 8, 1912. Despite opposition to the timing of the proposal, which gave Paul, away in Chicago at the time, no chance to voice his opinion, the bill passed.

Paul then carved out a distinguished career for himself independent of Moody circles, primarily among the liberal wing of American Protestantism. After graduating from Hartford Theological Seminary in 1912, he pastored a church in Saint Johnsbury, Vermont, and during World War I he was commissioned senior chaplain of the American Expeditionary Forces. After the war he served as president of Middlebury College for 21 years. Paul also published a biography of his father, My Father: An Intimate Portrait of Dwight Moody.

The remarkable breadth of D.L. Moody’s life and faith can be seen no more clearly than in the theological differences of his two sons. He was a man who stood in the gap, inviting differing theological perspectives—all the while preaching with unmitigated certainty the necessity for the sinner to repent.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon

Moody’s preaching mentor

Dwight Moody first encountered Spurgeon through newspaper accounts of London’s celebrated preachers. Moody began to read everything he could about and by this popular preacher, and he determined that one day he would hear him preach. In 1867, following his first sea voyage, Moody remarked that the fourteen days of seasickness were worth it because he had accomplished a lifelong ambition: hearing Spurgeon preach at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London. Moody was moved by Spurgeon’s sermon and inspired by his prayers. Moody later recalled that the veteran preacher gave him the incentive to begin his own preaching ministry.

The relationship between the two famous preachers was distant, perhaps due to the fact that Spurgeon’s philosophy of ministry clashed with Moody’s. Years before Moody gained the reputation of being a revivalist, Spurgeon said he was suspicious of anyone who called himself a revivalist, and the title, if it were applied to him, would be derisive. Despite this, Moody and Spurgeon supported and complemented each other’s ministries. Spurgeon became part of an evangelistic movement that heralded the potential of every person to be forgiven and saved. His work laid an essential foundation for the acceptance and sensational success of Moody’s revivals of 1873.

Like Moody, Spurgeon was concerned that biblical education be accessible to the general public. He founded a pastors’ college as well as schools and facilities for the poor and orphaned. He edited a magazine, The Sword and the Trowel, and wrote many tracts emphasizing the atonement of Christ.

For thirty years Spurgeon held the pulpit in the Metropolitan Tabernacle, which was built (seating 6,000) to accommodate the large crowds he drew. On Spurgeon’s fiftieth birthday, in 1884, the church sponsored a jubilee celebration, and Moody was invited to give an address. In his reply, Moody wrote to Spurgeon that not only would he consider it a great honor to be invited to speak on that occasion, but also he would consider it an honor to blacken the boots of the great preacher.

Cyrus H. McCormick

Inventor of the reaper who financed Moody’s spiritual harvest

During Cyrus McCormick’s boyhood, farmers faced the unwieldy task of harvesting increasingly larger crops of grain. McCormick inherited his father’s dream to perfect a mechanical reaping machine. When he did (assisted by a slave named Jo Anderson), Cyrus McCormick made history. In 1847 McCormick moved to Chicago to oversee manufacture of his reaper, and in one year he sold 1,500 machines. At age 40, McCormick was heralded as a captain of industry.

A Presbyterian layman, McCormick lived by the creed that business and Christianity are compatible; the latter ought to serve the former. In that context, he enticed the Presbyterian Theological Seminary of the Northwest to move to Chicago by promising to endow a chair if it relocated. The seminary not only moved, but also adopted McCormick’s name.

It took an extraordinary man to convince McCormick to invest in projects outside his own denomination. Dwight L. Moody succeeded. When the young revivalist described his vision for a Chicago YMCA building that would be larger than the Crosby Opera House, McCormick warmed to his tenacity.

Moody boldly asked McCormick for an initial investment of $10,000. His plan was to raise $125,000 by selling stocks in the YMCA association. The association then hoped to repay investors from its paying boarders. McCormick’s name, Moody said, would start the ball rolling. Two years later, in 1866, the full sum was pledged.

The building was hardly built when it burned down. McCormick again purchased $10,000 in stocks, and in 1869 the new hall was dedicated to him.

Reuben Archer Torrey
Moody's opposite, yet his successor

Torrey was distinguished from other revivalists in his time by his level of education: he graduated from Yale University and Yale Divinity School. He was ordained in 1878 a minister of the Congregational Church and studied theology from 1882 to 1883 in Leipzig and Erlangen.

Torrey was an agnostic during his first years at Yale, and as a young Christian he adopted liberal views. By his own admission, he was unorthodox in his beliefs. He came back to conservatism while studying abroad. He was working in Minneapolis with International Christian Workers Conventions when Moody heard of him.

Torrey served as a pastor in Ohio and Minnesota before coming to Chicago at Moody's request to superintend the Bible Institute of the Chicago Evangelization Society (later Moody Bible Institute) in 1889. An associate described the two men: "Moody was brusque, impulsive, and uneducated; Torrey polished, logical, and scholarly." Complements to one another, they were close friends. Torrey eventually built a summer home in Northfield, where the two of them could be seen early mornings in a carriage, touring the countryside and discussing matters of faith. Another friend once said that "Moody was the only person who ever dared tell Torrey what to preach."

Torrey contributed much to the Chicago school's curriculum. He also served as a trustee of the Northfield Schools until well after Moody's death. Torrey was one of the most popular lecturers during the summer conferences at Northfield, although there was some conflict over his strong preaching of the "baptism of the Holy Spirit," a doctrine not held by some teachers at Northfield.

R. A. Torrey lectured frequently at conventions around the country. He also was a revivalist whose meetings reaped similar effects as those of Moody. This reputation, as well as his close affiliation with the Bible Institute and Moody's church, identified him in public consciousness as Moody's successor. Torrey pastored Moody's Church from 1894 to 1906, although from 1902 to 1906 he also conducted evangelistic tours in ten or more countries. From 1912 to 1924 he was dean of the Bible Institute of Los Angeles; the last ten of those years he was pastor at the Church of the Open Door, also in Los Angeles. In 1927 Torrey returned to Moody Bible Institute as special lecturer.

Torrey authored at least 40 books, among them The Fundamentalist Doctrines of the Christian Faith, The Baptism of the Holy Spirit, and How to Study the Bible for the Greatest Profit.

By Vinita Hampton and C. ]. Wheeler

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #25 in 1990]

Sketches by Vinita Hampton and C. ]. Wheeler
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