Thursday, January 5, 2017

A Dynamic Duo for Jesus: Moody and Sankey—Part 1

Evangelist Dwight Lyman Moody and song leader Ira David Sankey became one of the great evangelistic teams of the nineteenth century. Together this unlikely pairing of a former shoe salesman and government worker, respectively, would help change the world for Christ—an influence effecting evangelism and the church to this day.
 In 1873, D. L. Moody and Ira Sankey were invited to Britain to conduct evangelistic crusades. In advance of the first meeting there, Moody requested Sankey compose an announcement, which read:

D. L. Moody of Chicago will preach, and Ira D. Sankey of Chicago will sing, at 7 o'clock P. M. tomorrow, Thursday, and each succeeding evening for a week, in the Independent Chapel. All are welcome. No collection.[1]

Less than fifty persons, sitting as far away from the pulpit as possible, attended the first meeting of the week in London, England. The next night there were about two hundred in attendance. Britain witnessed the power of the gospel presented by Moody and Sankey over two years of meetings, the turnout of which swelled to an astounding twenty thousand by the time they ministered at Agricultural Hall, London, in 1875.[2]
The Moody/ Sankey team, functioning between 1871 and 1899, personified the fervor expressed in the passionate missionary motto of the day that Moody helped coin: “evangelization of the world in this generation.”

D. L. Moody

Moody expressed the love he had for his birthplace, when he said, “The quiet days at Northfield [Massachusetts], how I long for them!”[3] Born there on February 5, 1837, Moody’s upbringing was marked by the sudden loss of his father Edwin, then a forty-one-year-old bricklayer, when Dwight was only four-years-old. His mother, Betsy, was left alone with a family of seven boys and two girls (twins were born after the husband died) to care for; the resulting hardship made an indelible impression on the young Moody.
Another thing that had a deep-rooted effect on young Dwight was when his older brother ran away from home and did not return for several years. In a sermon that Moody often preached, he recalled the summer night when a scruffy, dark-bearded man knocked on the door of his aging mother’s house. As the door was opened, the mother was unable to recognize the stranger on the front porch. When the stranger’s tears began to flow, the face of her long-lost son came into memory, and she invited him in. He could only answer, saying, “No, no…I can not come in until you forgive me.”[4] Moody said, “She took him to her heart at once; she made him come right in; she forgave him all and rejoiced over his coming more than over all the other children that had not run away.”[5] His own mother’s heartbreak stirred in him a desire to see other wanderers “come home” in his evangelistic crusades.
             Moody attained the equivalent of only a fifth-grade education. He left Northfield for Boston at the age of seventeen to sell shoes for his uncle. It was there that he attended a YMCA, visited a Sunday school, and was converted at the age of eighteen. 
His life-purpose was the proclamation of the Gospel through various enterprises, which to some observers seemed to exceed the limits of his ability. But, as his son William would later recall, “…in all these cases…the results have not only surprised his advisers, but have far surpassed even [his own] expectations.”[6]
Moody was a humble, God-reliant man, but also full of confidence. He stood alone many times while considering an endeavor, even against the objection of a venture by friends. However, he always trusted the counsel of beloved Emma, his wife of 37 years.[7]
Chicago, the city that would become his home as an adult, shaped Moody in tremendous ways. The great Chicago Fire of October 1871 destroyed his own home and displaced thousands of people—killing hundreds. This desperate reality shook him to the core, and propelled him into a focused ministry that would engage him until his death in 1899.
Moody helped establish many techniques that were necessary for the great evangelistic ministry that God provided in the England, Scotland, Ireland, and throughout America. He was thought to have reached one million persons for Christ (without television, the Internet, or radio) during his ministry, and he would do this in partnership with a music man just a few years younger—and almost as ambitious—Ira David Sankey.

A Consummate Team

D. L. Moody and Ira Sankey were an indomitable team comprised of two diverse individuals that worked effortlessly in tandem. Sankey recalled in his biography that at a meeting in Norfolk, Virginia, after singing a number of hymns, and just before Moody was about to take the pulpit, the local church pastor stepped up to say: “I want to make a little explanation to my people; many of my members believe that Moody and Sankey are one man, but brethren and sisters, this man is Mr. Moody, and that man at the organ is Mr. Sankey; they are not one person, as you supposed.”[8]
The Moody/ Sankey partnership started locally in Chicago, but was to blossom into a global enterprise. In 1872, Moody took a trip to England on behalf of the YMCA. It was there that he felt called to minister to the masses, first in England and then in America.[9] Following a two-year campaign in Britain, between 1873 and 1875, with Sankey again at his side, the duo’s popularity was brought to the attention of the whole world.[10]

Part 2—Ira Sankey—next time!

[1] Ira David Sankey, Sankey’s Story of the Gospel Hymns and of Sacred Songs and Solos (London: The Sunday School Times Company, 1906), 19.

[2] Mark Galli, 131 Christians Everyone Should Know (Nashville: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 71.

[3] William Revell Moody, D. L. Moody By His Son (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1900), 531.

[4] D. L. Moody, “Moody’s Prodigal Brother,” The Evangelical Herald, March 27, 1919, 3.

[5] Ibid.

[6] William Revell Moody, 505.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Sankey, 80.

[9] Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, Vol. 2: The Reformation to the Present Day (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985), 254.

[10] Donald P. Hustad, Jubilate II: Church Music in Worship and Renewal  (Carol Stream, IL: Hope Publishing, 1993), 234.

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