Editorial Note: This is the last of the present series – see epilogue hereunder where you will find the book with these and other essays advertised at http://www.thefightoffaith.org Our thanks for parts 1 to 3 go to Major Philip Bray and for part 4 to Major Michael Claydon.
DL Moody: a Willing Offering From the Official Biography by WR Moody
‘And the people blessed all the men who volunteered...’ Nehemiah 11:2
Dwight Lyman Moody was an American evangelist based in Chicago who lived from 1837 until 1899. Despite never having enlisted in the army, he willingly gave himself to the service of soldiers by bringing them the good news of the Gospel. Whether personally witnessing to an individual soldier or organising and encouraging others, Moody used every means possible to tell men facing battle of the one true answer to every man’s greatest need. His influence on the American and British military was profound. The Soldiers’ Christian Association resulted from a series of Gospel meetings held by Moody in London in 1887 at which a number of soldiers were converted.
Born on 5th February 1837 in Northfield, Massachusetts into a farming family, Moody had to work from an early age because his father died young. As Moody grew up, he became restless at the rural life and moved to Boston, where he eventually found a job in his uncle’s shoe shop with his terms of service requiring attendance at a Sunday school Bible class.
Through the teaching and witnessing of the class teacher, Moody accepted Christ and experienced a complete transformation. Whereas previously he had been living a passive religious life restricted by moral law where church attendance was a duty, Moody now found his greatest joy to be the service of his God. As he expressed it, “Before my conversion, I worked towards the Cross, but since then I have worked from the Cross; then I worked to be saved, now I work because I am saved.”
This was the beginning of a remarkable ministry that spanned the globe, with some estimating that Moody preached to as many as 100 million people.
Moody gave up his life as a successful businessman in order to devote himself to the preaching of the Gospel in 1860, just one year before the American Civil War began. Therefore, much of his early ministry was amongst soldiers and lessons learnt on this particular ‘battlefield’ were applied throughout the rest of his ministry.
He and many other Christians in Chicago were moved by the urgent need of the soldiers to hear the Gospel. At times, up to 12,000 soldiers were garrisoned on the outskirts of the city, many of whom were already fatally injured and others would be killed on the battlefields soon afterwards. A group of Christians under the leadership of Moody, did everything in their power to ensure that not one soldier died without hearing of Christ.
This article is based on an extract from Moody’s official biography, which he commissioned his son to write. Moody ‘willingly offered himself’ to serve his Lord and Saviour.
Civil War and the Beginning of a Military Ministry
The American Civil War started in 1861 with the Confederate forces firing on Fort Sumter. Camp Douglas was formed near the southern limits of Chicago and there recruits underwent military training. Among these new soldiers were a large number of ‘Moody’s boys’ from the North Market Hall, the Sunday school that Moody had pioneered. A company was also raised among his friends and former business associates; on all sides he was urged to enter the service of his country.
Moody was strongly for the cause of the Union, with both his upbringing and training strongly supporting the abolition of slavery. In spite of all this, he could not in good conscience enlist. “There has never been a time in my life when I felt that I could take a gun and shoot down a fellow being. In this respect I am a Quaker.” At the same time, he was alive to the opportunity for doing good that the military camps offered and at once assisted in forming an Army and Navy Committee of the Young Men’s Christian Association.
The first Christian work undertaken by the commission consisted of services held among the soldiers that passed through Chicago. On the forming of Camp Douglas, a work party was organised which resulted in the building of a small, temporary chapel in which over 1,500 meetings were held.
Moody’s approach was inventive and sought to make the most of every opportunity for getting the good news of the Gospel to the soldiers. One of his fellow workers, Edgar W Hawley, describes the beginning of this work:
At one time there were about 12,000 men there. Regiments were coming in and others going to the front all the time. The Young Men’s Christian Association had a chapel for the use of the men, where frequent meetings were held. We issued an ‘Army Hymn Book’ with an American flag on the front page, and it was distributed freely among the soldiers. We visited the tents and barracks and found the men playing cards and proposed to exchange our hymnbooks for the cards. The soldiers agreed quickly enough; indeed, so numerous were these exchanges that several of the Young Men’s Christian Association rooms were full of playing-cards which the men had surrendered.
Ministry amongst Prisoners of War
With all the newly trained soldiers deployed, Camp Douglas had completed its role as a training base. Following the capture of around 9,000 Confederate soldiers at Fort Donelson, the base was used as a prisoner-of-war camp with a Union regiment as guards. Moody was not slow to make the most of this opportunity. Hawley describes one particular event following the close of a prayer meeting:
‘Hawley, let us go down and hold a meeting there in the chapel with the prisoners.’ As we neared the entrance to the camp Moody said, ‘Here is a ministerial pass; take it.’ ‘But how will you get in past the guard?’ I asked. ‘In some way,’ was the confident reply!
The guard passed me right in, but Moody was halted by fixed bayonets. ‘Stand back,’ came the stern order. ‘I am Moody, the president of the Young Men’s Christian Association,’ he explained to the soldier. ‘I don’t care who you are; you can’t get in here!’ At that moment a Captain who was passing stepped up and recognised the evangelist. To him Moody appealed. ‘Let me in,’ he urged, ‘for the work’s sake.’ The officer turned to the guard. ‘Let one of your men take Moody to headquarters; I will be responsible.’ We marched to the headquarters, Moody under military guard. On hearing the explanation, the officer in charge said, ‘Well, seeing you are here, and considering your object, you may stay, but don’t repeat it. If you are not out of here by eight p.m. you go into the guard-house for the night.’
We went to the chapel, arranged things, and invited the men. It was soon packed full. Turning to me with a twinkle in his eye, Moody said ‘Now, Hawley, you preach.’ I remonstrated and said I wasn’t a minister. ‘But you came in on a ministerial pass and I didn’t’. He persisted and so I quietly acquiesced and we had an interesting service. Moody took charge and it seemed as though the Spirit of the Lord came down upon these men with great power. They came forward to the altar – 20, 30, and 40 at a time.
We closed the meeting and began answering individuals’ questions. Moody had the platform and God used him wonderfully. The whole audience melted and we saw strong men in tears. ‘God is here!’ Moody whispered to me. When we finally looked at our watches it was a few seconds before eight and we had to run to get out of camp, having no desire to pass the night in the guardhouse.
These meetings we kept up two or three weeks and many were converted. We formed a Young Men’s Christian Association branch at the camp and there were many kind expressions of gratitude even from the higher officers, who were greatly pleased with the work.’
By means of Gospel services, prayer meetings, song services, distribution of Bibles, books, and tracts, and by individual conversations, Moody tried to win the soldiers to Christ. His aim was not merely to make converts: instead, he was obedient to the great commission to ‘make disciples’. He sought to build up and encourage the Christians by organising them into ‘Bands of Brothers,’ who were to carry ‘the Banner of Christ’ with them and be loyal to one another and to their Divine Captain. In a letter to his mother early in the war, Moody’s bond with the soldiers and his love for his Saviour is shown:
I am now at work among the soldiers a good deal. The boys wanted to have me become their chaplain, but my friends would not let me go, so I shall remain in the city. I would like to see you all and talk with you about my Saviour, who seems so near to me. Oh, what would life be without Christ! I sometimes get to looking down on this world of sin, but when I look to Jesus it makes me look up.
Nor was Moody’s ministry limited to the training camps. While Moody was serving under the command of General Howard, who was in thorough sympathy with his efforts, Moody’s ministry was especially fruitful. Here General Howard describes Moody’s work in the army:
Moody and I met for the first time in Cleveland, East Tennessee. It was about the middle of April, 1864. I was bringing together my Fourth Army Corps. Two divisions had already arrived and were encamped in and near the village. Moody was then fresh and hearty, full of enthusiasm for the Master’s work. Our soldiers were just about to set out on what we all felt promised to be a hard and bloody campaign and I think we were especially desirous of strong preaching. Crowds and crowds turned out to hear him. He showed them how a soldier could give his heart to God. His preaching was direct and effective and multitudes responded with a promise to follow Christ.
An Urgent Appeal
The immediate threat to life made it necessary to urge his hearers to accept immediate salvation. Whether with severely injured men ‘hovering between life and death’ or men briefly resting on a long march, it was a choice of ‘now or never’. As Moody would not allow himself to be satisfied with ‘never’, he put all his effort into ‘now’.
Although Moody would not bear arms, he went wherever the Gospel was needed and was on the ground ministering to the wounded after the battles of Pittsburg Landing, Shiloh, and Murfreesboro. It was after one of these battles that the following incident occurred, as Moody here describes:
We were taking a large number of wounded men down the Tennessee River after the battle of Pittsburg Landing. A number of young men of the Christian Commission were with me, and I told them that we must not let a man die on the boat that night without telling him of Christ and Heaven.
You know the cry of a wounded man is, ‘Water! Water!’ As we passed along from one to another giving them water, we tried to tell them of the Water of Life, of which if they would drink they would never die. I came to one man who had about as fine a face as I ever saw. I spoke to him, but he did not answer. I went to the doctor and said,
‘Doctor, do you think that man will recover?’ ‘No, he lost so much blood before we got to him on the field that he fainted while we were amputating his leg. He will never recover,’ was the reply. I said, ‘I can’t find out his name and it seems a pity to let him die without knowing who he is. Don’t you think we can bring him to?’ ‘You may give him a little brandy and water,’ said the doctor, ‘that will revive him if anything will.’
I sat down beside him and gave him brandy and water every now and then. While I was waiting I said to a man nearby, ‘Do you know this man?’ ‘Oh, yes, that is my chum.’ ‘Has he a father and mother living?’ ‘He has a widowed mother.’ ‘Has he any brothers or sisters?’ ‘Two sisters; but he is the only son.’ ‘What is his name?’ ‘William Clark.’
I said to myself that I could not let him die without getting a message for that mother. Presently he opened his eyes and I said ‘William, do you know where you are?’ He looked around a little dazed and then said, ‘Oh, yes! I am on my way home to mother.’ ‘Yes, you are on your way home,’ I said, ‘but the doctor says you won’t reach your earthly home. I thought I’d like to ask you if you had any message for your mother.’ His face lighted up with an unearthly glow as he said, ‘Oh, yes, tell my mother that I died trusting in Jesus!’ It was one of the sweetest messages I ever heard in my life!
On returning to Chicago, Moody at once looked up the widowed mother and two sisters and delivered the message from the dying soldier. As he was leaving the house, one of the sisters, only a child at the time, came to him and gave him the small savings of her sister and herself with the request that he purchase a Bible to give to some soldier. When he went back to the front Moody related this incident, asking who wanted that Bible, and there were many requests for it.
Another incident that Moody frequently repeated occurred after the battle of Murfreesboro.
I was stationed in the hospital. For two nights I had been unable to get rest, and being really worn out, on the third night I had lain down to sleep. About midnight I was called to see a wounded soldier who was very low. At first I tried to put the messenger off, but he told me that if I waited till morning it might be too late. So I went to the ward where I had been directed and found the man who had sent for me. I shall never forget his face as I saw it that night in the dim, uncertain candlelight. I asked what I could do for him and he said that he wanted me to ‘help him to die.’ I told him I would bear him in my arms into the Kingdom of God if I could, but I couldn’t. Then I tried to preach the Gospel. He only shook his head and said ‘He can’t save me; I have sinned all my life.’
My thoughts went back to his loved ones in the North and I thought that even then his mother might be praying for her boy. I repeated promise after promise and prayed with the dying man, but nothing I said seemed to help him. Then I said that I wanted to read to him an account of an interview that Christ had one night while here on earth: an interview with a man who was anxious about his eternal welfare. I read from the third chapter of John, how Nicodemus came to the Master. As I read on, his eyes became riveted upon me and he seemed to drink in every syllable. When I came to the words, ‘As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up: that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life,’ he stopped me and asked, ‘Is that there?’ ‘Yes,’ I said. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘I never knew that was in the Bible. Read it again.’ Leaning on his elbow on the side of the cot, he brought his hands together tightly and when I finished he exclaimed, ‘That’s good! Won’t you read it again?’ Slowly I repeated the passage the third time. When I finished I saw that his eyes were closed and the troubled expression on his face had given way to a peaceful smile. His lips moved and I bent over him to catch what he was saying, and heard in a faint whisper ‘As Moses lifted up – the serpent – in the wilderness, – even so – must the Son of Man be lifted up: – that whoever – believes in Him – should not perish, – but have eternal life.’
He opened his eyes and said, ‘That’s enough; don’t read any more.’ Early next morning I again came to his cot, but it was empty. The attendant in charge told me that the young man had died peacefully and said that after my visit he had rested quietly, repeating to himself, now and then, that glorious proclamation: ‘whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.’
By the time the Civil War ended in 1865, these wartime experiences had introduced Moody to a larger field by bringing him prominently before the whole country. The Young Men’s Christian Association’s noon prayer meetings in Chicago had become a centre where he and his fellow-workers met and reported on their frequent excursions to the front. People from all over the northwest sent in requests for prayer at these meetings, on behalf of husbands, brothers, and sons. Moody went on to travel the world preaching the Gospel; however, his ministry in the military was not yet over.
The Spanish War
When the Spanish-American War broke out in 1898 and thousands of young men were again gathered into army camps, Moody’s heart went out towards them with the same longing that had urged him on during the Civil War. He became chairman of the Evangelistic Department of the Army and Navy Christian Commission, whose method of work was fourfold:
The preaching of the Gospel by well-known ministers and evangelists, to whom the men would listen.The placing of Young Men’s Christian Association tents within reach of every regiment, where the men might go as a place of resort and where they would find good reading and writing materials.The free distribution of Bibles, Testaments, hymnbooks, and other religious books.The visiting of the sick and wounded in hospitals.
His experiences in the American Civil War helped him to recruit the churches in this new emergency. The following letter, which he wrote at this time, resulted in great blessing to thousands of soldiers in the great military camps during the summer of 1898:
30 years ago war clouds gathered over our land and the church of God was aroused as I have never seen it since in behalf of the young men of America. This interest expressed itself in the formation of the Christian Commission and everywhere efforts were made for the religious interests of the soldiers. Meetings were held everywhere and many a camp became the scene of a deep and effective revival, and for more than 30 years I have been continually meeting men who were converted in those army meetings.
Now the dark shadow of war again rests upon our land. Is it not possible that God intends to use even the darkness of this evil for the blessing of the youth of this land; and while He has called us to become the instrument of His justice may He not have in store a season of revival for those who, brought face to face with danger and in realisation of the seriousness of life, may be reached, when at other times careless and indifferent? It seems to me that it is just in the nick of time in which to reach thousands of young men with the Gospel, either through a Testament, a good book, or the spoken message. A minister in Philadelphia writes me that there is an excellent opportunity of doing good at Tampa and I have no doubt that other camps offer equally favourable conditions.
Ministers such as R. A. Torrey were sent and an appeal was made for money to send books as well as men. Bibles, religious books, library books and a large number of the new Army Hymn Book, compiled by Ira D. Sankey, were sent.
The fruit of this work is illustrated in an account by Major Whittle of one of many incidents:
I called on a dying Lieutenant this morning, who said that he was turned to God at the first meeting held in the camp. I did not know about it at the time, but my heart was full of gratitude to God as the dying man’s face lit up in recognition of me! His hot hand pressed mine as he drank in ‘the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out,’ and other Scripture passages. He told me that he did in his heart trust Christ. We sang to him ‘My faith looks up to Thee,’ and commended him to God in prayer. He has a wife and five children. He was a travelling man and unsaved up to the night of May 27th. The doctor said there was no help and that he would die today. If God has been pleased to use my coming here to save that one soul, I will praise Him through eternity.
Born of the Spirit
It is fitting to conclude with a quote from Moody. It reveals the certainty of his hope in his Lord and Saviour, the same certainty that led him to offer himself willingly as an evangelist to soldiers.
Some day you will read in the papers that DL Moody, of East Northfield, is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it! At that moment I shall be more alive than I am now, I shall have gone up Visit www.cwmfellowship.org for information on CWM Fellowship BRISBANE. higher that is all; out of this old clay tenement into a house that is immortal – a body that death cannot touch; that sin cannot taint; a body fashioned like His glorious body.
I was born of the flesh in 1837. I was born of the Spirit in 1856. That which is born of the flesh may die, that which is born of the Spirit will live forever.
This series of biographies are extracted from a book, ‘The Fight of Faith, Lives and Testimonies from the Battlefield,’ on behalf of the Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Scripture Readers Association. Further details including how to order a copy are contained on the webpage, http:\\www.thefightoffaith.org. All proceeds will be given to mission work in the Armed Forces.
Abouth The Author
Michael Claydon was brought up in a Christian family and saved as a teenager at a Christian summer camp. Whilst training as a doctor he was commissioned into the British Army and has since served in Germany and deployed to Afghanistan. He serves on the council of the Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Scripture Readers Association. Majors Michael Claydon and Philip Bray are co-editors of the book, The Fight of Faith, Lives and Testimonies from the Battlefield.
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