Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
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The Life and Theology of D. L. Moody
(with particular emphasis on his British Campaigns)

Martyn McGeown



I. Introduction
II. Moody’s Conversion and Early Ministry
III. British Evangelical Influences on Moody

IV. The Beginning of Moody’s British Campaign

V. Moody’s Methods

VI. Moody’s Theology

VII. Moody’s Preaching

VIII. Opposition to Moody

IX. The Effect of Moodyism


I. Introduction

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 the 1870s?


II. Moody’s Conversion and Early Ministry

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 remarks,

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 Christian?’"17

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 Heaven.19

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 Predestination."22

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 remarks,

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 that.26

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 exception.27a 


III. British 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 preach.

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 support Moody.36

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 Peter."38 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 churches.

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 his meetings.

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 met.’56

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 immediate effect."57a

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 evangelisation:

‘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 Satan’s emissaries.’59

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 for him!61

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 workers:

[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 pious.62


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 unconditional 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 this:

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 numerous:

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 admission.65

[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 the sermon.73

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 platform.78

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 new-blown rose.79

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 pernicious:

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 parcel.88

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 decline.93

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 into applause.96

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 religion.99

Many who attended Moody’s evangelistic campaigns were already converted. Moody himself was annoyed about that. He chided his audience:

‘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 Moody,

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 explains,

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 comparison.104

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 1837-1899 (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.
4 Evensen, 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. L. Moody (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), p. 22.
7 Curtis, They Called Him, p. 53.
8 Findlay, 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.
10 Findlay, American Evangelist, p. 50.
11 Findlay, American Evangelist, p. 50.
12 Gundry, Love Them In, p. 24.
13 Findlay, American Evangelist, p. 74.
14 McLoughlin, Modern Revivalism, p. 174.
15 Findlay, American Evangelist, p. 77.
16 Evensen, God’s Man, p. 11.
17 Findlay, American Evangelist, p. 92.
18 McLoughlin, Modern Revivalism, p. 177.
19 Findlay, American Evangelist, p. 116.
20 McLoughlin, Modern Revivalism, p. 176.
21 McLoughlin, Modern Revivalism, p. 176.
22 Curtis, 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.
24 Dorsett, Passion, p. 156.
25 Dorsett, Passion, p. 156.
26 Gundry, Love Them In, p. 171.
27 Dorsett, 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 Lay Preaching").
28 Dorsett, Passion, p. 135.
29 Gundry, Love Them In, p. 43.
30 Gundry, Love Them In, p. 65.
31 Findlay, American Evangelist, p. 127; Dorsett, Passion, pp. 136-137.
32 Dorsett, Passion, p. 137.
33 Dorsett, Passion, p. 132.
34 Iain H. Murray, The Forgotten Spurgeon (London: Banner, 1966), p. 177.
35 Murray, Forgotten Spurgeon, p. 178.
36 Murray, Forgotten Spurgeon, p. 179.
37 Dorsett, Passion, p. 140.
38 John Kennedy and Horatius Bonar, Evangelism: A Reformed Debate (Scotland: The James Beggs Society, 1997), pp. 118-119.
39 Gundry, Love Them In, p. 44.
40 Dorsett, Passion, p. 163.
41 Gundry, Love Them In, p. 162.
42 Gundry, 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.).
44 Findlay, American Evangelist, p. 123.
45 McLoughlin, Modern Revivalism, p. 178.
46 McLoughlin, Modern Revivalism, p. 233.
47 Findlay, American Evangelist, pp. 215-216.
48 McLoughlin, Modern Revivalism, p. 239.
49 Goodspeed, Full History, p. 124.
50 George (ed.), Evangelical Tradition, p. 113.
51 Evensen, God’s Man, p. 23.
52 Goodspeed, Full History, p. 153 (also pp. 176, 183, 206).
53 Evensen, God’s Man, pp. 34, 39.
54 Findlay, American Evangelist, p. 411
55 Findlay, American Evangelist, p. 411
56 Murray, Forgotten Spurgeon, p. 188.
57 Gundry, Love Them In, pp. 206, 218.
57a Quoted in J. C. Pollock, Moody Without Sankey (Great Britain: Hodder and Stoughton, 1963), p. 168.
58 Gundry, Love Them In, p. 169.
59 Findlay, American Evangelist, p. 248.
60 George (ed.), Evangelical Tradition, p. 89.
61 Goodspeed, Full History, p. 17.
61a Pollock, Moody Without Sankey, p. 251; cf. p. 45.
62 McLoughlin, Modern Revivalism, pp. 260-262.
63 Gundry, Love Them In, p. 141.
63a Cf. chapter V of Jerome Zanchius, Absolute Predestination, "Showing that the Scripture Doctrine of Predestination should be Openly Preached and Insisted on, and for what Reasons." 
64 Gundry, Love Them In, pp. 94, 139.
65 Goodspeed, Full History, pp. 128, 130.
66 Dorsett, Passion, pp. 192, 398.
67 McLoughlin, Modern Revivalism, p. 247.
68 Gundry, Love Them In, p. 181.
69 Findlay, American Evangelist, p. 253.
70 George (ed.), Evangelical Tradition, p. 23.
71 Gundry, Love Them In, p. 117.
72 Gundry, Love Them In, p. 126.
73 Gundry, Love Them In, p. 127.
74 Findlay, American Evangelist, p. 227.
75 McLoughlin, 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.
77 Robertson, The Chicago Revival, p. 110.
78 George (ed.), Evangelical Tradition, p. 147.
79 Goodspeed, Full History, p. 37.
80 Findlay, American Evangelist, p. 223.
81 Curtis, 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.
90 Dorsett, Passion, p. 200.
91 Kennedy and Bonar, Evangelism, p. 108.
92 Kennedy and Bonar, Evangelism, p. 17.
93 McLoughlin, Modern Revivalism, p. 191.
94 McLoughlin, Modern Revivalism, p. 192.
95 McLoughlin, Modern Revivalism, p. 190.
96 Findlay, American Evangelist, p. 155.
97 McLoughlin, Modern Revivalism, p. 199.
98 McLoughlin, Modern Revivalism, p. 200.
99 McLoughlin, Modern Revivalism, p. 200.
100 McLoughlin, Modern Revivalism, p. 203.
101 Findlay, American Evangelist, p. 173.
102 Murray, Forgotten Spurgeon, pp. 180-181.
103 McLoughlin, Modern Revivalism, p. 210.
104 McLoughlin, Modern Revivalism, pp. 535-526.
105 McLoughlin, Modern Revivalism, p. 529.
106 McLoughlin, Modern Revivalism, p. 215.
107 Kennedy and Bonar, Evangelism, p. 7.