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D. L. Moody, The Labors of a single mom

"And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that Moodyoppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth...." II Timothy 2:24-25

The words of this text beautifully describe the ministry of D. L. Moody. Moody was an evangelist gifted by God to win souls for the kingdom. Although the title "the servant of the Lord" is used quite loosely in these days, we can say that Moody served his Lord, the living God of heaven. His meek and gentle disposition allowed him to persuade tens of thousands of souls who "opposed themselves." D. L. Moody, chosen by God to ride the waves of the Revival of 1859-60, was a vessel prepared for the Master's use. They say he won a million souls through his evangelistic pleadings in meetings all around the world. He established three training institutions for ministers and other Christian workers. A church stands to this day with his name on it in Chicago. Thousands of books bear the name Moody Press, another reminder to us of his influence. The name Moody is a household name among most Christian's in the English-speaking world. Why? The answer is filled with challenge and insight for all of us who desire to be servants of the King.

R. A. Torrey answered this question at a memorial service in 1923, twenty-three years after Moody's death. The title of his sermon was "Why God used D. L. Moody." He pinpointed seven remarkable reasons as the body of his sermon. Few men knew Moody as intimately as Torrey did. This is what he said.

Why God Used D. L. Moody

1. He was a fully surrendered man. It was Moody who heard those now famous words spoken by another preacher, "The world has yet to see what God can do with one man who is totally surrendered to God." It was Moody who said, "By God's grace, I will be that man."

2. He was a deep and meaningful man of prayer. God gave ear to this man's prayers in remarkable ways. In Scotland Moody prayed a prayer in utter brokenness that God would use him to bring revival to Scotland. God answered his prayer on the spot. God swept into the meeting, and all fell on their faces in repentance.

3. He was a deep and practical student of the Word of God. This humble, uneducated man spent hours in the word everyday, and faith stirred in his believing heart continually.

4. He was a humble man. God prepared the way for this humility by ordering the circumstances of his up bringing down lowly paths.

5. He had a consuming passion for the salvation of the lost. Moody preached to souls wherever he went. His life as an evangelist was more than preaching to crowds. One by one he sought them on trains, in boats and walking down the street.

6. He was entirely free from the love of money. Most people do not realize how much money goes through the hands of a man who preaches to thousands of people. This money did not affect D. L. Moody. He gave it away, and used it to further the kingdom, as I mentioned above.

7. He had a definite enduement of power from on high. There was a time and a place when D. L. Moody was filled with the Holy Ghost. This is the secret of his strength. This is the reason for all the other points that I have listed.

These powerful reasons are helpful to us all as we consider our own lives and ministries.

God began to prepare him long before he had a public ministry. God works in so many different ways to prepare His servants for the work He calls them to do. His ways are past finding out, and who can understand them all? God's mysterious plan for this servant had some very hard circumstances in it. These circumstances only make sense as you look back over the years and realize that God was preparing a servant.

Puritan Heritage

Seven Moody generations preceded the birth of Dwight Lyman "D.L." Moody. John Moody landed in the area we call Connecticut in 1633. Motivated by the typical desires of the Puritans in those days, he set out to establish a home and to serve his God in freedom. I am sure there were some ups and downs in the generations that followed John Moody's beginnings; however, we still see godliness in the Moody family two hundred years later. This is hard for us modern Americans to imagine, but it is because we have a low vision.

The generations on his mother's side of the family read very much the same way. Betsy Holton's family moved to America in 1630 and settled in the Northfield Massachusetts area. There they lived for two hundred years, serving God in the traditions of the Puritans. The family farm did not change hands for two hundred years according to the biography that I am reading. These two families were pioneers with all the character that develops through a hard working farm life. In addition, they were Puritans with all the convictions and visions of the early settlers of the new land. Mr. Moody looked back on these ancestors with gratitude as he saw traits in his own life that flowed from them.

Betsy Holton and Edwin Moody were married in 1828 in the living room of the old Holton family homestead. They enjoyed a happy, loving marriage, and God gave nine children to their union. Edwin Moody provided for the family in the same way that all the men in the Moody family did for generations: They were masons. They built stone houses, brick houses and fireplaces all over the valley where they lived. This happy life continued for about thirteen years, until providence changed the Moody home and destiny forever.

The School of Poverty

When Dwight was four years old, his father died very suddenly. The family had plenty up until this time, but everything changed overnight. This providential change in events left Mrs. Moody a poor widow with seven children and twins on the way. The family debt was large with no provision for unexpected death. Only the house survived the creditors. At first glance this looks like a tragedy hard to understand, but providence is often that way. I can only imagine the hard-working business minded man that Dwight might have been. He had all the abilities to become a prominent man in his community with plenty of material things to enjoy. God had other plans for him, his family and his struggling mother. One million souls were at stake, and no hardship was too great for the sake of them. Mrs. Moody lived to see providence unveiled before her eyes as thousands flocked to hear her son preach the life-changing gospel of Christ. I am continually amazed at how many of God's servants are trained in poverty. God even sent His only begotten Son into the setting of poverty for training and preparation. We can learn from some wisdom here. The blessings wrought by poverty were many in Moody's life. I want to name a few of the more evident ones for our learning.

· From day one they were dependent upon God for everything. When the creditors took even the firewood away, the Moody's only had one option: pray and trust God who knows the needs of the fatherless and widow. The children stayed in bed to keep warm until it was time to leave for school, and Mama prayed. Uncle Cyrus Holton arrived with a load of wood to warm the house and the hearts of the whole family. We only need to use our imagination to see how many times God provided for them in ways like this. The oldest son was only twelve when Father passed away. Most of us Americans know very little about trusting God for our daily needs, and our children will pay for this-you can be sure.

· They did without most of the time during the early years after Father died. They had to say "no" to their flesh dozens of times in a week, and this was very good training for a fruitful Christian life. Clothes were worn and mended repeatedly. Shoes were a luxury, and the simple things in life delighted the children who vbouls over to the Master. Somehow we must find some ways to teach our children to do without, even if we have to create them.

· The food was simple and very basic. Of necessity they ate the same thing many times in a month. This would go down hard with our spicy American taste buds, which demand dozens of different kinds of food to be satisfied. When Dwight came to his mother and complained about the food he received while boarding at a neighbor's house, she sent him back to keep his agreement. The complaint was worthy-nineteen consecutive meals of cornmeal and milk. Maybe we should simplify the palates of our children and teach them to be content with plain foods.

· He had to bear the yoke of manhood early in life. The boys had to go to work much earlier than most of their peers. The needs demanded that they leave home at age ten and work for local farmers all week. They returned home for the weekend and for church. I know that most of us would look with pity upon a boy burdened with such responsibilities at such a young age, but look what it produced. We are influenced by our soft society more than we realize. As I see it, we do our children a great favor if we order their lives with self-denying responsibilities.

Are you a wealthy family? Do you have a storehouse that is full with most anything at your fingertips? Most Americans are rich, but we don't know we are. This is a very dangerous position to be in because of the many snares involved in riches. If you are rich, I encourage you to live way below your available income and give the rest away. Your children will bless you for such a decision when they get older. It is possible to be a millionaire and have no one know it.

A Godly Determined Mother

Dear Betsy Moody is one precious example of perseverance to every mother reading this article. She is an example to every single mom who longs to raise children for God without a father. "Trust in God" was her simple creed. This is also the Bible's simple, underlying message. She could not give her children a theological education like some we have studied, but she had the reality of that theology. This is far more important. I do not know what kind of religious life the Moody home had before her husband's death. The historical records are strangely silent about those first thirteen years. It is very possible that the tragedy of her loss and the desolation of her situation brought her to this blessed reality. She lived to see the full scope of her son's ministry as she died only three years before he did at ninety-one. Imagine how she felt as she reflected in her old rocking chair, looking back on the hard times. She remembered the times when she was almost ready to quit and God sustained her to keep going. Now it all makes so much sense, but then it was often dark and cloudy. She followed the patterns and convictions of her Puritan ancestors when it came to raising the children. Let's look at some of the practical methods that she used to mold a "servant of the Lord.

Family Devotions

Mrs. Moody followed the example of her Puritan ancestors and gathered the family together each morning to read and to pray. The Moody home had only three books, but they were the most important ones to have. They were a large family Bible, a catechism and a devotional book of inspiration and prayers. With these the children received instruction in holy things. On Sunday evenings it was a family tradition to gather in front of the fireplace as mother read books from the church library. They made it, though things were far from ideal, and Dwight was weak on Bible knowledge when he left home. God was training a humble, lowly minded servant who stood in amazement when the crowds came out to hear him. He was training a servant who would not touch the glory.

Solid Church Life

Shortly after Mr. Moody passed away, Betsy enrolled the children in the Sunday school of the local church. This proved to be a great blessing to the family in more ways than can be named. The widow and the fatherless are to be under the care of the church, and Pastor Everett was quick to bring the family under his care. For a single-mom family, this is necessary. Godly men as role models provide needed examples when there is no father. Missing church was not an option for young Dwight even though his youthful heart would have longed for play after much work through the week. The family brought lunch along and stayed all day, attending two preaching services and the Sunday school. Moody looked back on the influences that he received during those "Sabbath day" assemblies with fond memories. It was here in the local Sunday school that Moody got his first taste of gathering others for Bible teaching. He often brought other children along for the classes. I am sure that Pastor Everett had no idea whom he was training when he encouraged young Dwight to go find some others to bring with him. Moody was not actually converted until after he left home, but it is evident that this pastor had much to do with the transformation of D. L. Moody.

Strict Discipline

Mrs. Moody believed in the old fashioned way of training children. A kind, loving heart to guide, and the rod to use when guidance did not bring the proper response were her methods. I was blessed to find that she was slow and careful in her discipline, taking the time to instruct while she spanked. Moody recalled the time he told her it didn't hurt and commented, "That was the last time that it didn't hurt." Betsy kept the children away from evil influences, and the children did not go play away from home. She always invited the neighbor children to the Moody house for fun and frolic, to keep them from the evil.

Although Moody always reflected affectionately upon the discipline his mother gave him, he never spanked his own children. I think we can glean something here for our own homes. Moody had two very different types of schoolteachers that made an impression on him. The one was stern and demanding, giving many spankings; the other was kind and loving and gave none. Moody must have evaluated the two and decided love and grace works better than law and judgment. This choice affected the next generation of Moody children. How sad. Balance is the lesson we can learn for our homes. The Bible way is a balance of both. Our hearts should overflow with love while we guide our children into obedience and at times spank them. If we are out of balance, our children may react to that imbalance and go too far the other way.

Practical Righteousness

This is the realm where Mrs. Moody's simple faith excelled. Down to earth, everyday righteous living was her greatest strength. This is the area we lack most in today. We stand in great need of the common wisdom of right living. We American Christian's are full and running over with theology, and running empty with practical living. Lord, help us learn from this poor widow woman. What did she teach them during the twenty years that each one lived under her roof?

· She taught them by example and precept to give when you do not have enough for yourself. This happened many times at the Moody home. When a tramp came by or another need came to her ear in the community, she gave to the needy. Imagine the impact that this had on the children. They knew there was very little bread in the house. Then God, who is the Father of the fatherless, topped off the lesson by providing bread enough for all to eat. Let us trust the Lord and give before the eyes of our little ones. They are taking notes as the days of home life pass by.

· She taught them to seek first the kingdom of God in the midst of much want. These verses are easy to believe in a land of plenty, but what about the destitute? The children learned first hand that God was their Father and that He cared for His own.

· She taught them by precept and example that there would be no complaining in the Moody household. Consider the depth of this lesson and the impact it had on the children. They lived in poverty. There were many things to complain about. The wolf was continually at the door, and yet no complaining was allowed in the house. She knew that complaining leads to bitterness, and bitterness leads to more poverty with evil deeds standing beside it. "In everything give thanks," was the rule of the house.

· She taught them the dangers of judging their neighbor. This task had some real challenges for them because they often received wrong at the hand of uncaring neighbors. The widow and the fatherless are the responsibility of the Christian community, but they are often the most neglected and despised. This happened many times during the first years of desolation. Mother guided the children through these learning experiences with righteous zeal. The children heard the words, "We will not judge our neighbor" many times when neglect was very evident.

· She taught them to be independent, to make it on their own. There was no welfare spirit in the home. The neighbors did not owe them anything because God was in control. You may react at first to the word independence. In the midst of poverty, it is one of the highest qualities of character. She taught the family to rise up in faith with works and meet the needs with determination. This was Moody's strongest point of character all his days in the ministry. A wise God and a wise mother worked together to instill this in him.

· She taught them the sanctity of a promise. "Let your yea be yea, and your nay be nay." This instilled a carefulness of words in all the children. When Dwight found himself in the midst of hundreds of requests, he was slow to say "yes" because of mother's training about promises. Many times she made the boys go back and keep the promise given in a moment of weakness. We could use a good dose of this kind of carefulness and commitment in our day.

· She taught them about the day of rest. They called it the Sabbath in those days and practiced it very much as the Jews do. The day of rest began on Saturday evening and ended on Sunday evening. Everything changed on the Lord's Day. Life slowed way down, and the hearts of the children turned toward spiritual things all day. This is very different from our modern day Sunday when everyone is playing, buying, selling and catching up on the work around the house. Have we lost something? I think we have.

· She provided a warm, affectionate home life for them. Fifty years later Moody was still reflecting with joy upon the home fires that burned in Mother's home. It drew him like a magnet repeatedly. Though they lived in poverty, she filled their humble dwelling with the thing that means the most but costs the least-love. This tender mother gave herself in love to her children. They knew this, and it drew their respect and even adoration.


Don't you just love this dear saint? I do. My heart's respect rises up to bless her as I bring this article to a close. She is an example to every single mother who longs for godliness in her children. She passed on to her reward at the ripe old age of ninety-one. The words of her grandson seem fitting here at the end. He described her funeral service with words that crown her legacy. He said, "Her children and her children's children and an entire community rose up to call her blessed." As for me, I am one more voice that joyfully rises up to call her a blessed woman and a dear mother in Israel.

This Study here came from the book
The Life of D. L. Moody
by his son William R. Moody
Sword of the Lord Publishers
PO Box 1099
Murfreesboro, TN 37130
(800) 247-9673
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
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