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Many Americans recognise the name Dwight Moody, or at least his surname in association with the Bible Institute, church and publishing house named after him.

However, what many do not know is his connection with Swedish pietism, which is a subject of the next few posts.  These will examine how some Swedish Protestants in their home country and in America latched onto pietism.  Moody was a great influence.

So, who was Dwight Lyman Moody? He was born in Northfield, Massachusetts, in 1837, in an era of abolitionism, Southern slavery and revivalism.

However, this was not to affect Moody in the immediate future, as his father died whilst praying when the lad was only four years old. His mother was in her final trimester, expecting twins.

Twins delivered, and with six other children, Mrs Moody had to farm her older offspring out to work in order to bring in enough money for survival. Young Dwight complained to his mother of the rations from his employer — cornmeal, porridge and milk.  She decided that he was not so poorly off and sent him back.  The five food groups did not exist in those days.  People ate what they were given.

Dwight’s eldest brother ran away from home and was not heard from until some years later.  However, when Dwight was older, he went to work for an uncle in his shoe store in Boston.  One of the conditions of employment was that he would attend the Congregational Church of Mount Vernon.

Dwight’s Sunday School teacher, Edward Kimball, recalled (emphases mine):

I can truly say, and in saying it I magnify the infinite grace of God as bestowed upon him, that I have seen few persons whose minds were spiritually darker than was his when he came into my Sunday School class; and I think that the committee of the Mount Vernon Church seldom met an applicant for membership more unlikely ever to become a Christian of clear and decided views of Gospel truth, still less to fill any extended sphere of public usefulness.[1]

Moody’s conversion moment came in April 1855, when Kimball explained how much God loved the young man. Nevertheless, Moody’s first application for church membership was rejected.

Little did Kimball and the clergy know then that Moody would go on to be one of the greatest evangelists of his time.

In 1856, Moody became a member of the Congregational Church of Mount Vernon.

Moody did not enlist for the Union during the Civil War. He was a pacifist and war went against his principles.  However, he did visit the battlefronts nine times in association with the US Christian Commission of the YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association).  One of these sojourns was with General Ulysses S Grant’s army.

In 1862, he married Emma Revell and the couple had three children — a daughter and two sons.

In the interim, he had relocated to Chicago, where he had started a Sunday School of renown, which Abraham Lincoln would visit. Here is one observer’s record:

The first meeting I ever saw him at was in a little old shanty that had been abandoned by a saloon-keeper. Mr. Moody had got the place to hold the meetings in at night. I went there a little late; and the first thing I saw was a man standing up with a few tallow candles around him, holding a negro boy, and trying to read to him the story of the Prodigal Son and a great many words he could not read out, and had to skip. I thought, ‘If the Lord can ever use such an instrument as that for His honor and glory, it will astonish me. As a result of his tireless labor, within a year the average attendance at his school was 650, while 60 volunteers from various churches served as teachers. It became so well known that the just-elected President Lincoln visited and spoke at a Sunday School meeting on November 25, 1860.

Admittedly, the Victorian Age was one of pietism.  There was a real hunger for Christianity outside of the mainstream. People craved personal religious experience, emotion and the feeling that God’s Word was stirring in them. This was partly to do with Charles Finney’s personal evangelicalism, but also because the spirit of the age was deeply mired in sentimentality. Think of the Cult of the Child, which still exists today.

Moody’s non-denominational Illinois Street Church began to grow. He then attended an international Sunday School Convention in Indianapolis, where he met Ira D Sankey, a Gospel singer, with whom he developed a lifelong association.

Unfortunately, later in 1871 — that same year — the Great Chicago Fire occurred (one remaining remnant is the Water Tower near the highrise mall of shops on Michigan Avenue). Moody’s family lost everything, except for their Bible and reputation.  A benefactor, William Eugene Blackstone, was able to donate the funds to rebuild Moody’s church within three months.

Nevertheless, the Chicago fire took its toll on Moody, and, despite appeals from Illinois benefactors who rebuilt his church, he wanted to return home and to a site which could also serve as a base for his ministry.  He decided to buy a farm near Northfield, Massachusetts, not far from his birthplace.  There, he organised summer conferences for evangelists and three schools which would later merge into Northfield-Mount Hermon School, which still exists today.

In the 1870s and 1880s, Moody not only held evangelistic gatherings in cities across the United States but visited Britain, where he met famous clergymen of the day such as the confessional Baptist Charles Spurgeon and Free Church pastor Andrew Bonar. They supported Moody in his efforts.

In Edinburgh, Moody and Sankey were able to raise £10,000 for a new building for the Carrubbers Close Mission. The Carrubbers Christian Centre (pictured at right) exists today and is still in the Royal Mile in the structure which Moody and Sankey helped to fund.

Moody’s visits to the UK made news in Sweden. Swedish pietists invited him to travel there but he never did.  Nonetheless, the Swedish Mission Friends looked forward to reading his sermons and sang Sankey’s hymns.  Swedes who emigrated to Chicago attended Moody’s church.

Moody also helped the international mission effort. He liked Charles Spurgeon’s Wordless Book (see illustration at left), which was originally a three-colour panel representation of man’s state in relation to Christ’s redemption.  Black represents our state of sin, red stands for Christ’s atonement on the Cross and white indicates our righteousness and promise of eternal life.  Moody enhanced it by adding gold to represent heaven. Since then, other colours have been added. Missionaries still use the Wordless Book today in cross-cultural evangelising. Spurgeon’s book was already widely used in orphanages and missions by the time Moody saw it.

Moody also met Hudson Taylor, an English surgeon and Baptist, who was a pioneer evangelist among the Chinese. At home, Moody encouraged his audiences to volunteer for Taylor’s China Inland Mission.

In 1899, Moody fell ill after preaching in Kansas City, Kansas.  He returned to his home in Northfield, Massachusetts, where he died a month later, on December 22. Moody’s Chicago Bible Institute and Chicago Avenue Church later came to carry his name.

Soon: Moody’s influence on Swedish pietists

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