Chapter 5 - His Conversion

Table of Contents

First Acquaintance With Mr. E. D. Kimball - Just Ready for the Light - Mr. Moody's Probation - Admitted To the Church - A Changed Life - He Seeks His Future In the West.

DWIGHT L. MOODY was not the boy to forget his compact with his uncle. He went to church every Sunday-- because he had promised to go. - attending the Mount Vernon Congregational Church, of which the Rev. Dr. E. N. Kirk was pastor. He always considered this to be a great church.

Dr. Kirk was an excellent preacher, but young Moody was at a stage where all sermons sounded alike to him. Frequently he would fall asleep during service, at least until an occasion when he was suddenly awakened from his complete repose by a stern-faced deacon, who, as he roused the lad from his slumbers, pointed to Dr. Kirk, who was preaching - as much as to say, " Keep your eyes on him! " Thereafter Dwight remained awake. Moreover, for lack of something else to do, he began to listen to the sermons. For the first time in my life," he said in later days, "I felt as if the preacher were preaching altogether at me."


One Sunday the young man appeared in the Sunday school of Mount Vernon Church. The superintendent, Mr. Palmer, to whom he gave his name, took him to the class taught by Mr. Edward D. Kimball, and he took his seat among the other boys. Says Mr. Kimball, " I handed him a closed Bible and told him the lesson was in John. The boy took the book and began running over the leaves with his finger away at the first of the volume looking for John. Out of the corners of their eyes the boys saw what he was doing and, detecting his ignorance glanced slyly and knowingly at one another, but not rudely. I gave the boys just one hasty glance of reproof. That was enough - their equanimity was restored immediately. I quietly handed Moody my own book, open at the right place, and took his. I did not suppose the boy could possibly have noticed the glances exchanged between the other boys over his ignorance, but it seems from remarks in later years that he did, and he said in reference to my little act in exchanging books that he would stick by the fellow who had stood by him and had done him a turn like that."

This Sunday school teacher was not one of the ordinary type. Mere literal instruction on Sunday did not satisfy his ideal of the teachers duty. He knew his boys, and, if he knew them, it was because be studied them, because he became acquainted with their occupations and aims, visiting them during the week. It was his custom, moreover, to find opportunity to give to his boys an opportunity to use his experience in seeking the better things of the Spirit. The day came when he resolved to speak to young Moody about Christ, and about his soul.


I started down town to Holton's shoe store," says Mr. Kimball. 'When I was nearly there, I began to wonder whether I ought to go just then, during business hours. And I thought maybe my mission might embarrass the boy, that when I went away the other clerks might ask who I was, and when they learned might taunt Moody and ask if I was trying to make a good boy out. of him. While I was pondering over it all, I passed the store without noticing it. Then when I found I had gone by the door, I determined to make a dash for it and have it over at once. I found Moody in the back part of the store wrapping up shoes in paper and putting them on shelves. I went up to him and put my hand on his shoulder, and as I leaned over I placed my foot upon a shoe box. Then I made my plea, and I feel that it was really a very weak one. I don't know just what words I used, nor could Mr. Moody tell. I simply told him of Christ's love for him and the love Christ wanted in return. That was all there was of it. I think Mr. Moody said afterward that there were tears in my eyes. It seemed that the young man was just ready for the light that then broke upon him, for there at once in the back of that shoe store in Boston the future great evangelist gave himself and his life to Christ."

Many years afterward Mr. Moody himself told the story of that day. When I was in Boston," he said, "I used to attend a Sunday school class, and one clay I recollect my teacher came around behind the counter of the shop I was at work in, and put his hand upon my shoulder, and talked to me about Christ and my soul. I had not felt that I had a soul till then. I said to myself This is a very strange thing. Here is a man who never saw me till lately, and he is weeping over my sins, and I never shed a tear about them.' But I understand it now, and know what it is to have a passion for men's souls and weep over their sins. I don't remember what he said, but I can feel the power of that man's hand on my shoulder to-night. it was not long after that I was brought into the Kingdom of God.'


One of his first steps after his conversion was to apply for admission into the Mount Vernon Church.

It is frequently stated that after his application for membership in the Mount Vernon Church, he was looked upon so unfavourably as a candidate that he was kept waiting for a year before he was granted admission. It has also been said, that even after his acceptance by the church his remarks in the church meetings were so far from edifying that his pastor was obliged to suggest to him, that he could serve the Lord much more acceptably by keeping silence.

While there is a foundation of truth in these statements, they must not be taken too literally. Mr. Moody was undoubtedly at that time ignorant of many of the most important reasons of his profession; but Dr. Kirk's church was a revival church, and his spirit was not such as to deny the opportunities of grace to any one who deserved them. The Rev. Dr. James M. Buckley, editor of the Christian Advocate, has written quite exhaustively on this matter. He has said

"Those sympathising with his Dr. Kirk's peculiar work, gathered about him. Among them were such men as Julius Palmer, the brother of Dr. Ray Palmer, the author of 'My Faith Looks Up to Thee'; he was one of the deacons, and all the rest had the same sympathies. Mr. Kimball was not only Mr. Moody's Sunday school teacher, and, as Mr. Moody expressly informed us, the means of his conversion, but was also one of the examining committee. But the Mount Vernon Church did not receive a person who could not furnish evidence that he was converted, even if he was perfectly orthodox in doctrine.


"About the time Mr. Moody was converted, a young man came from Scotland with a letter from a Presbyterian church. He could repeat the Shorter Catechism, answer all doctrinal questions glibly, but when he was asked of his position before God as a sinner and his conscious relation to Christ as a Saviour, he knew nothing of it and made no reply, except that 'such questions were never asked him before'. He confessed that he had simply 'joined' because he was advised and expected to do so. This young man was advised to wait, and brethren were appointed to try to arouse in him a consciousness of his need of a Saviour and of a work of grace, and to point him to the Lamb of God. About the same time, a young woman applied who was wholly in the dark on 'doctrines'; tender, tearful, hesitating, distrustful of herself, she could not tell why she thought herself a Christian, but could only say that she loved Christ and the prayer meeting. One of the committee said, 'Do you love God's people because they are His?' Her face brightened, and she said, 'O, sir, is that an evidence?' Yes.' Then I am sure I have that if I have no other, for I love to be with Christians anywhere.' She was promptly received.


"When Mr. Moody appeared for examination, he was eighteen years old. He had only been in the Sunday school class a few weeks; he had no idea and could not tell what it was to be a Christian; even when aided by his teacher, whom he loved, he could not state what Christ had done for him. The chief question put to him was this: 'Mr. Moody, what has Christ done for us all - for you - which entitles Him to our love?' The longest answer he gave in the examination was this: ' I do not know. I think Christ has done a great deal for us, but I do not think of anything particular as I know of.'

"Under these circumstances, as he was a stranger to all the members of the committee, and less than a month had elapsed since he began to give any serious thought to the salvation of his soul, they deferred recommending him for admission to the church. But two of the examining committee were specially designated to watch over him with kindness, and teach him 'the way of God more perfectly.

"When he met the committee again no merely doctrinal questions were asked of him; but as his sincerity and earnestness were undoubted and he appeared to have more light, it was decided to propound him for admission. About eight years after this, and when Mr. Moody had become prominent as an evangelist, he expressed his gratitude to one of the officers of the church for the course pursued, and said his conviction was that its influence was favourable to his growth in grace. He also said he was afraid that pastors and church officers generally were falling into the error of hurrying new converts into a profession of religion. To a person of our acquaintance Dr. Kirk himself referred with the deepest grief to these imputations upon the Church, and declared them to be without foundation in truth; as well he might, for if there ever existed a man in New England who was free from the spirit of 'staid and stiff New England orthodoxy ', it was Dr. Kirk.

"As for the suggestion to say but little in prayer meeting, we have little doubt that some one suggested that, for Mr. Moody has told us of his utter ignorance of the evangelical system. He was converted, he 'wished to do his duty', he said, 'whatever came to his lips, knowing no thing about its consistency or inconsistency; but he acted on John Wesley's rule, 'Do every religious, duty as you can until you can do it as you would.'"


One of those who knew Mr. Moody at the time of his conversion was Mr. Charles B. Botsford, of Boston. Shortly after the death of Mr. Moody, Mr. Botsford related what he knew of the life of Moody in Boston.

"I distinctly recall my first interview with Mr. Moody, early in 1856, said Mr. Botsford. "It was at the close of one of the Monday evening religious meetings of the Mt. Vernon Association of Young Men, formed several years before by Dr. Edward N. Kirk, for the benefit of young men of his church and congregation. Antedating the Y. M. C. A. by several years, it continued a vigorous life for several decades, and proved of great value.

"A literary meeting alternated with a devotional meeting. It was at this, his first attendance, at one of the latter, that in a broken and trembling way, he earnestly stated his purpose to turn over a new leaf and lead a Christian life. When the meeting was over I took him by the hand and conducted him for the first time to the rooms of the Y. M. C. A., in the old Tremont Temple, to attend, as was my custom, the 9 o'clock prayer and conference meeting. Moody spoke, but much more zealously than grammatically, and he continued to be an active participant in the meetings from week to week.


"After a time, one of the most cultured members complained to Mr. Moody's uncle, a shoe dealer on Tremont Row, between Brattle and Hanover streets, that his nephew was altogether too zealous and conspicuous in the Y. M. C. A. meetings, saying that he wished in some way to have the zealot restrained. When consulted about the matter I said: 'No, let the leaven work!' The world knows what Mr. Moody has since done, in, by and for Y.M.C.A.'s, to say nothing of his other work.

"In the meantime I had taken Moody to a Sunday morning devotional meeting, that I was accustomed to attend, in the vestry of Dr. Neal's Baptist church, where the Boston University now stands. At that meeting, also, with its strong sectarian atmosphere, Moody spoke, and so stumbled in absolute disregard of the Pilgrim's English, that, in embarrassment, I bowed my head on the rail of the seat before me. He continued there, also. It was from this church, later, that a good sister, more zealous to steady and guard the ark of the Lord than to encourage unlearned young men to become leaders in Israel, went to Mr. Holton and said: 'If you have any interest in or regard for your nephew, you had better admonish him not to talk so much, for he is making a fool of himself.' But still the leaven worked.

May 4, 1856, Mr. Moody united with the Mt. Vernon Church, where he was a member of Mr. Kimball's class in the Sunday school. He was not a constant attendant of the mid-week devotional meetings of the church, for, as he expressed it, he did not have liberty there in his utterances, and, naturally enough, perhaps, for the atmosphere of the meetings was strongly intellectual and positively spiritual, with such leaders as Deacons Palmer, Kimball, Pinkerton and Cushing, with Dr. Kirk, at the close, to deepen and seal the impression."


Concerning his relations to the Mount Vernon Church, Mr. Moody afterward said: "When I first became a Christian, I tried to join the church, but they wouldn't have me, because they didn't believe I was really converted."

A number of years afterward, Dr. Kirk was attending the anniversary of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, which was held that year in Chicago. He was entertained by Mr. Moody, the man who as a boy had come into the light, in some measure, under his influence, and he preached on Sunday in the pulpit of his former parishioner. When he returned to Boston Dr. Kirk called upon Mr. Moody's uncle, Mr. Holton, and said: " I told our people last evening that we had every reason to be ashamed of ourselves. That young Moody, whom we thought did not know enough to belong to our church and Sunday school, is to-day exerting a wider influence for the Master than any other man in the great Northwest."

Speaking of his experience in passing from the life of sin to the life of religion, Mr. Moody once said: "I used to have a terrible habit of swearing. Whenever I would get mad, out would come the oaths; but after I gave my heart to Christ, He took the oaths away, so that I did not have the least disposition to take God's name in vain."

At another time, when waited upon by a journalist, who asked him for a sketch of his life, Mr. Moody said " I was born in the flesh in 1837; I was born in the Spirit in 1856. What is born of the flesh may die; that which is born of the Spirit will live forever".


The Rev. Dr. Savage, of Chicago, used to tell of the way in which Mr. Moody revenged himself upon one of the deacons who had been instrumental in keeping him waiting for admission to the church. Mr. Moody's action was, of course, good-natured, for he not only bore no malice, but, on the other hand, was thankful for the wisdom which had required of him some sane understanding of his own state before he was allowed full fellowship with God's people. The earnest inquirer finds only a stimulus to further search when his own unfitness is made clear to him.

To return to the story. It was during the London campaign, and in the midst of one of the great meetings in Exeter Hall. Mr. Moody, whose sharp eyes never missed a detail in the great audiences which he faced, saw, away back under a gallery, his old friend, the deacon. The good man was travelling at the time, and had come to the meeting largely out of curiosity. Mr. Moody said nothing until toward the close of the service. Then he suddenly exclaimed: "I see in the house an eminent Christian gentleman from Boston. Deacon P., come right up to the platform; the people are anxious to hear you."

'The deacon was far from eager to accept this hearty invitation, but he found that there was no alternative. So, mounting the platform, he began to speak. He told of having been acquainted with Mr. Moody during the evangelist's early life - of the fact that they had been members of the same church. Here Mr. Moody suddenly interrupted: "Yes, Deacon, and you kept me out of that church for six months, because you thought I did not know enough to join it." The deacon, at last succeeding in making himself heard above the roar of laughter which greeted Mr. Moody's sally, retorted that it was a privilege to any church to receive Mr. Moody at all, even though with considerable trepidation, and after long endeavour to know him thoroughly.


A number of years after his own conversion Mr. Moody found an opportunity to repay his old Sunday school teacher in kind for the help which Mr. Kimball had given to him. After a service in Boston a young man came to Mr. Moody and introduced himself as a son of Mr. Kimball. "I'm glad to meet you," said Mr. Moody. "Are you a Christian?" The young man admitted that he was not, and Mr. Moody inquired of him as to his age. "I am seventeen, was the reply. "That was just my age, when your father led me to the Lord," said Mr. Moody, "and now I want to repay him by leading his son to Christ."

The coincidence, in age made an impression on the young man. After a brief conversation, he promised to surrender his heart to the Saviour, and a short time afterward Mr. Moody received a letter from him, stating that he had found what he had sought. After his reception into the Mount Vernon Church, Mr. Moody remained in Boston for about five months. The restraint of his conservative surroundings lay heavy upon him. He yearned for freedom - freedom to think, freedom to speak, freedom to work. He must have had some consciousness of the great intuitions, the great feelings, which were struggling' in him to burst forth into bloom, and he must have realised that the soil of staid Boston was not stimulating to such a growth. He had come into a new life his forceful nature was not the kind to wait for circumstances to develop it. He required broad opportunity.


His unrest finally decided him definitely to seek a future in the West. His mother, it is said, did not approve of the move, dreading, as do all good mothers, the change which would take her son farther from her, and possibly fearing the dangers of a new environment which might not prove wholesome. Any dread which she may have felt was afterward proved to have been ill-founded.

Securing a letter from his uncle, Mr. Moody set out for Chicago in September, 1856, and entered the Western Metropolis with small store of earthly goods, but with a large fund of buoyant hope and energy, and a devoted purpose to serve his Divine Master.

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