MOODY'S EARLY LIFE.
Dwight Lyman Moody was born in the town of Northfield, Mass., February 5th, 1837. He was the sixth child of Edwin Moody and Betsy Holton, who were married January 3, 1828. Nine children in all blessed the union of this couple, seven being sons and two daughters. The homestead consisted of several acres of typical Massachusetts land, most of which was of a stony character, and covered by a mortgage. The father tilled his acres in their season and at other times worked at his trade as a stonemason. According to the best accounts, he was not a successful business man, and the latter part of his life, as his family increased, was burdened with debts. His crushed spirit and business reverses caused his death after a few hours' illness. Dwight was then only four years old, but the shock of that death made an impression upon him which he declared he had never forgotten. The death of the father was followed soon after by the birth of a twin boy and girl. Thus Mrs. Moody was burdened with the care of a large family, the eldest of whom was only fifteen years. The old puritan idea, coupled with a mother's love, made her anxious to keep her brood together, and she bravely set about caring for them all, and contrived to have each of the little hands earn something toward their support. They were taught to till the garden and do odd jobs for the neighbors. She was a strict Unitarian of the old school, a creed much different from that professed in that denomination in latter days. She was a firm believer in the Bible and its teachings, and drew therefrom the inspiration to make the life of her children dearer to the great Creator. It was her daily task and pleasure to teach them a little Bible lesson, and the Sabbath morning found them wending their way to the church service and Sunday school.
The eldest of the children was a boy of rugged mien who had an inclination to break away from his mother's apron strings. He had read the literature of the plains, and wandered off into the world, as he thought, to seek a fortune. This was one of the great sorrows of the Moody family. The mother never lost hope; she was ever praying for the return of her boy. As time went on, the preparations for his home-coming were added to year by year. This was especially true of Thanksgiving time, a festival dear to the hearts of all New Englanders. For years no tidings of the wandering boy reached the mother; night after night her sleep was disturbed by a dread vision of him lying somewhere in the great cold world; perhaps suffering, while she had enough for comfort. She was constantly sending to the little postoffice for a letter; sometimes two or three times a day. She never stated that she expected a letter from "him"—it was not necessary that she should do so, as the children learned by instinct that he was constantly in her mind. By common consent, his name was never mentioned, except in the mother's prayer, and then, when in the family circle, only by inference.
Years afterward, when the widow was getting old and the gray was replacing the black in her hair and she had almost given up hope of ever seeing the lost one, a scene took place which changed her sorrow into joy.
In the dusk of a New England summer evening, a long-bearded stranger approached the humble home and stood upon the porch gazing in the open door with eager eyes. He had passed through the village, looking to the right and left for familiar faces and familiar scenes. He had wandered in the village churchyard and visited the grave of his father, to learn if there was another beside it. The widow came to the door and bid the stranger in. The old eyes which had watched so long for his coming did not know him now. He was only a lank boy when he ran away, now he is a big sun-burned and whiskered man.
The stranger did not move or speak in response to her invitation. He bowed his head and stood there reverently and humble in the presence of her whose love he had slighted and whose heart-strings he had almost broken. The sense of his ingratitude, and the memory of devotion and years of anxiety which were plainly stamped on that mother's face, caused the tears to run from his eyes. These tears were the means by which his mother recognized him.
"I cannot come in," said the son, "until my mother has forgiven me."
It may be surmised that he did not stand out very long. It did not take that mother many seconds to get her arms around the neck of that prodigal child. She had forgotten the sorrow of years, in the joy of seeing him once again.
The Pastor of the Unitarian church where the Moodys worshiped was the Rev. Mr. Everett, and he was a faithful friend of the widow and her large family of children. They were on his regular visiting list and he was constantly cheering them with pleasant words. It was he who settled the quarrels among the boys; it was he who gave them bright pieces of silver urging them to good deeds; it was he who bid the mother to keep on praying.
At one time the great evangelist was taken into his home when but a mite of a boy, to run errands in the Pastor's household. He was a vigorous lad and was familiar with all the pranks known to all the urchins of that period. The good minister's patience was sorely tried on many occasions, but his jolly good-nature stayed the use of the rod.
The old minister had quite an influence with the boy, but it was not nearly so far-reaching as that of his mother. She was almost the only one who could command implicit obedience. In the winter time young Moody attended the village school; but at that period of his existence he had little desire for learning, and at the end of his six or seven terms he knew but little. Mr. Moody, in speaking of his school days, said:
"I remember, when a boy, I used to go in a certain school in New England, where we had a quicktempered master who always kept a rattan. It was, 'If you don't do this, and you don't do that, I'll punish you.' I remember many times of this rattan being laid upon my back. I think I can almost feel it now. He used to rule that school by the law. But after a while there were some parents who were in favor of controlling the school by love. A great many said you can never do that with those unruly boys, but after some talk it was at last decided to try it. I remember how we thought of the good time we would have that winter when the rattan would be out of the school. We thought we would then have all the fun we wanted; I remember who the teacher was—it was a lady—and she opened the school with prayer. We hadn't seen it done before and we were impressed, especially when she prayed that she might have grace and strength to rule the school with love. Well, the school went on for several weeks and we saw no rattan, but at last the rules were broken, and I think I was the first boy to break them. . She told me to wait till after school and then she would see me. I thought the rattan was coming out sure, and stretched myself up in warlike attitude. After school, however, I didn't see the rattan, but she sat down by me and told me how she loved me, and how she had prayed to be able to rule that school by love, and concluded by asking me if I loved her to try and be a good boy. Her pleading reached my heart, and I never after caused her trouble.''
Mr. Moody, one time, when talking of his early childhood, said that before he was four years old, the first thing he remembered was the death of his father; that he had been in business and failed, and that soon after his death the creditors came in a'nd took everything. He said it seemed that one calamity after another came along and swept over the entire household; the coming of the twins in a
month after the death of the father, the rapacity of the creditors, and the illness of the mother, together with the demoralized state of the family, rendered the household anything but a congenial home. It was at this time that the elder son became a wanderer.
Another incident of Mr. Moody's boyhood days is related by him as follows: "I was in a field one day with a man who was hoeing. He was weeping, and he told me a strange story, which I have never forgotten. He said that when he left home, his mother gave him this text, 'Seek first the Kingdom of God,' but he paid no heed to it. He said when he got started in life, and his ambition to get money was gratified, it would be time enough then to seek the Kingdom of God. He went from one town to another and got nothing to do. When Sunday came, he went into the village church and what was his great surprise to hear the minister give out the text, 'Seek first the Kingdom of God.' He said the text went down to the bottom of his heart, but thought it was but his mother's prayer following him, and that some one must have written to that minister about him. He felt very uncomfortable, and when the meeting was over, he could not get that sermon out of his mind. He went away to another village, and at the end of the week, went into another church, and he heard the minister give out the same text, 'Seek first the Kingdom of God.' He felt sure this time that it was the prayers of his mother, but he said calmly and deliberately, 'No, I will first get wealth.' He said he went on, and did not go into a church for a few months, but the first place of worship he did go into, he heard the third minister preach a sermon from the same text. He tried to stifle his feelings, he tried to get the sermon out of his mind, and he resolved that he would keep away from church altogether. For a few years, he never entered a church door. 'My mother died,' he said, 'and the text kept coming into my mind, and I said, "I will try to become a Christian.' " The tears rolled down his cheeks as he said, 'I could not. No sermons ever touched me. My heart is as hard as stone.' I could not understand what it was all about; it was fresh to me then. I went to Boston and got converted, and the first thought that came to me was about this man. When I went home, I asked my mother about him. She said they had taken him to an insane asylum, and to every one who went there he pointed with his finger upward, and told him to seek first the Kingdom of God. I went to see him, and I found him in a rocking-chair, with a vacant, idiotic look upon him. As soon as he saw me, he pointed to me and said: 'Young man, seek first the Kingdom of God.' Reason had gone, but the text was there."
One of Mr. Moody's brothers was employed in a store at Greenfield, a short distance from the family home, and it was so lonesome there for him that he wanted young Dwight to be near him for company. So when he came home one cold Saturday night in the month of November, he told the boy that he had a place for him. Dwight didn't want to go, but after the matter was talked over by the family, he decided that the next morning he would visit the man, and if the conditions were to his liking, he might accept the place. In one of his sermons, Mr. /
MOODY'S EARLY LIFE. 48
Moody tells that incident. He said that the brothers
started off in the early morning, and when they got
to the top of the hill, they looked back at the home,
and he thought that this would be the last time that
he would ever see it, and he cried as if his heart
would break. This he continued until he arrived
at Greenfield. There his brother introduced him to
an old man who was so old that he could not milk
his cows and do the chores, and young Dwight was
to run his errands and go to school. Mr. Moody
said that he looked at the old man, and thought
that he was cross, and that he looked at his wife,
and thought that she was crosser than the old man.
He said that when he had stayed there an hour, it
seemed like a week, and then he went around to his
brother and said:
"I am going home."
"What are you going home for?" asked his brother.
"I am homesick," Dwight said.
"Oh, well, you will get over it in a few days."
"I never will, I don't want to," said the boy.
"You will get lost if you start home now, it is getting dark."
Dwight was frightened then, as he was only about ten years old, and he said, "I will go at daybreak to-morrow morning."
His brother then took him to a shop window where they had some jack-kes, and jew's-harps and dolls, and other things that boys are supposed to like, with the idea of diverting his mind, but what did the lonesome boy care for those old jack-kes, or jew's-harps, or dolls? He wanted to get back home to his mother and brothers. It seemed as though his heart was breaking. All at once his brother said:
"Dwight, here comes a man that will give you a cent."
"How do you know he will?" the boy asked.
"Oh, he gives every new boy that comes to town a cent,'' said his brother.
Dwight brushed away his tears, for he would not have him see that he had been crying, and he got right in the middle of the sidewalk, where he could not help but see him, and kept his eyes right upon him. He always remembered how that old man looked as he came tottering down the sidewalk. He remembered the bright, cheerful, sunny face. When the man came opposite to where he was, he stopped, took Dwight's hat off, put his hand on his head and said to his brother:
"This boy is new in town, isn't he?"
"Yes, sir, he has just come to-day," said his brother.
Young Moody watched to see if he would put his hand into his pocket; he was thinking of that cent. The old man began to talk to him so kindly that he soon forgot all about it. He told him the story of God and His only Son, and how wicked men had killed Him, and how He had died for all. He talked only five minutes, but he had him fascinated, and then he put his hand into his pocket, and took out a brand new cent, a copper that looked just like gold. This he gave him, and the boy thought it was gold, and he held it very tight. He never felt so rich before. "I do not know what became of that cent," he said in speaking of the affair. "I have always regretted that I did not keep it, but I can feel the pressure of that old man's hand upon my head to this day. Fifty years have rolled away, and I can hear those kind words ringing yet. I shall never forget the act. He put the cent at usury, and that cent has cost me a great many dollars.''
Mr. Moody used to tell a story in which he related how he and the other boys in the neighborhood, in the spring of the year, when the snow had melted away from the New England hills, would take a piece of glass, and hold it up to the warm rays of the sun, and that these rays would strike through the glass, and set the woods and grass on fire, and that these escapades caused the neighbors much trouble and anxiety.
Mr. Moody said that when he was a boy, his mother used to send him out to get a birch stick to whip him with, when it was necessary that he be punished, which was quite often. He said that at first he used to stand off from the rod as far as he could, but that he soon learned that the whipping hurt him more that way, and so after that he always went as near his' mother as he could, and found that she could not strike him so hard.
He said that among the other things which he did on the farm, was the hoeing of corn, and that he used to hoe it so badly in order to get over as much ground as he could, that at night he had to put down a stick so as to know next morning where he had left off.
Mr. Moody said he had little faith in prayer in his boyhood days, but that faith came to him in the following manner. He was creeping under a heavy c'ence, and it fell down and caught him, so that he xmld not get away. He struggled until he was quite exhausted, and then began to cry for help, but he was so far from any house no one heard him. He then began to think that he should have to die away up there on the mountain all alone, but then he happened to remember that maybe God would help him, and so he asked Him, and he said that he was greatly surprised to see that he could lift the rails so easily.
It was at the earnest entreaty of his mother that in the latter part of his school days, he attempted to do some hard studying. His last term at school was in the winter of his seventeenth year, but his resolution to gain a little knowledge came so late, that although he studied very hard, it availed him little.
Whatever religious impressions he had felt in childhood, seemed to have been covered out of sight, and he grew up to be a young man with no other piety in him than the love of his mother and a sturdy determination to be an honest and successful man. He was endowed with a determination that he would succeed somehow, and his deficiencies in education were over-balanced by a bold push aided by a ready wit, which carried him over many difficulties, before which a wiser but less courageous boy would have quailed in despair.