October 26, 2020

D. L. Moody and the Holy Spirit

By Chaplain Mike

Over the years, I have had intermittent contact with teachers, staff, students, and alumni from Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. MBI has been known as a conservative evangelical/fundamentalist school, with dispensational theology and an emphasis on missions. The school, of course, is named after the great American evangelist D.L. Moody (1837-1899).

Moody’s school shied away from the charismatic renewal and its teachings in the years when it was going strong. But in my view, they always had a problem, a “dirty little secret” as it were. For D. L. Moody himself testified to having a personal “baptism of the Holy Spirit” that changed his life and ministry.

In his small book, Why God Used D.L. Moody, (which you can read in its entirety online here), R.A. Torrey writes about “the definite enduement from on high” that empowered Moody’s preaching.

We present that portion from Torrey’s book today for your consideration and discussion on this week of Pentecost.

BTW, I’d love to hear from anyone who has attended or been part of Moody Bible Institute to get their insights about how the school has handled this teaching over the years.

The seventh thing that was the secret of why God used D. L. Moody was that, he had a very definite enduement with power from on High, a very clear and definite baptism with the Holy Ghost. Mr. Moody knew he had “the baptism with the Holy Ghost,” he had no doubt about it. In his early days he was a great hustler, he had a tremendous desire to do something, but he had no real power. He worked very largely in the energy of the flesh. But there were two humble Free Methodist women who used to come over [51] to his meetings in the Y. M. C. A. One was “Auntie Cook” and the other, Mrs. Snow. (I think her name was not Snow at that time.) These two women would come to Mr. Moody at the close of his meetings and say: “We are praying for you.” Finally, Mr. Moody became somewhat nettled and said to them one night: “Why are you praying for me? Why don’t you pray for the unsaved?” They replied: “We are praying that you may get the power.” Mr. Moody did not know what that meant, but he got to thinking about it, and then went to these women and said: “I wish you would tell me what you mean,” and they told him about the definite baptism with the Holy Ghost. Then he asked that he might pray with them and not they merely pray for him.

Auntie Cook once told me of the intense fervor with which Mr. Moody prayed on that occasion. She told me in words that I scarcely dare repeat, though I have never forgotten them. And he not only prayed with them, but he also prayed alone. Not long after, one day on his way to England, he was walking up Wall Street in New York (Mr. Moody very seldom told this and I almost hesitate to tell it) and in the midst of the bustle and hurry of that city his prayer was answered; the power of God fell upon him as he walked up the street and he had to hurry off to the house of a friend and ask that he might have a room by himself, and in that room he stayed alone for hours; and the Holy Ghost came upon him filling his soul with such joy that at last he had to ask God to withhold His hand, lest he die on the spot from very joy. He went out from that place with the power of the Holy Ghost upon him, and when he got to London (partly through the prayers of a bedridden saint in Mr. Lessey’s church), the power of God wrought through him mightily in North London, and hundreds were added to the churches, and that was what led to his being invited over to the wonderful campaign that followed in later years.

Time and again Mr. Moody would come to me and say: “Torrey, I want you to preach on the baptism with the Holy Ghost.” I do not know how many times he asked me to speak on that subject. Once, when I had been invited to preach in the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church, New York (invited at Mr. Moody’s suggestion; had it not been for his suggestion the invitation would never have been extended to me), just before I started for New York, Mr. Moody drove up to my house and said: “Torrey, they want you to preach at the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York. It is a great, big church, cost a million dollars to build it.” Then he continued: “Torrey, I just want to ask one thing of you. I want to tell you what to preach about. You will preach that sermon of yours on ‘Ten Reasons Why I Believe the Bible to be the Word of God’ and your sermon on ‘The Baptism with the Holy Ghost.'” Time and again, when a call came to me to go off to some church, he would come up to me and say: “Now, Torrey, be sure and preach on the baptism with the Holy Ghost.” I do not know how many times he said that to me. Once I asked him: “Mr. Moody, don’t you think I have any sermons but those two: ‘Ten Reasons Why I Believe the Bible to be the Word of God’ and ‘The Baptism with the Holy Ghost’?” “Never mind that,” he replied, “you give them those two sermons.

Once he had some teachers at Northfield–fine men, all of them, but they did not believe in a definite baptism with the Holy Ghost for the individual. They believed that every child of God was baptized with the Holy Ghost, and they did not believe in any special baptism with the Holy Ghost for the individual. Mr. Moody came to me and said: “Torrey, will you come up to my house after the meeting tonight and I will get those men to come, and I want you to talk this thing out with them.” Of course, I very readily consented, and Mr. Moody and I talked for a long time, but they did not altogether see eye to eye with us. And when they went, Mr. Moody signaled me to remain for a few moments. Mr. Moody sat there with his chin on his breast, as he so often sat when he was in deep thought; then he looked up and said: “Oh, why will they split hairs? Why don’t they see that this is just the one thing that they themselves need? They are good teachers, they are wonderful teachers, and I am so glad to have them here, but why will they not see that the baptism with the Holy Ghost is just the one touch that they themselves need?”

I shall never forget the eighth of July, 1894, to my dying day. It was the closing day of the Northfield Students’ Conference–the gathering of the students from the eastern colleges. Mr. Moody had asked me to preach on Saturday night and Sunday morning on the baptism with the Holy Ghost. On Saturday night I had spoken about, “The Baptism with the Holy Ghost, What it is, What it does, the Need of it and the Possibility of it.” On Sunday morning I spoke on “The Baptism with the Holy Spirit, How to Get It.” It was just exactly twelve o’clock when I finished my morning sermon, and I took out my watch and said: “Mr. Moody has invited us all to go up to the mountain at three o’clock this afternoon to pray for the power of the Holy Spirit. It is three hours to three o’clock. Some of you cannot wait three hours. You do not need to wait. Go to your rooms, go out into the woods, go to your tent, go anywhere where you can get alone with God and have this matter out with Him.” At three o’clock we all gathered in front of Mr. Moody’s mother’s house (she was then still living), and then began to pass down the lane, through the gate, up on the mountainside. There were four hundred and fifty-six of us in all; I know the number because Paul Moody counted us as we passed through the gate.

After a while Mr. Moody said: “I don’t think we need to go any further; let us sit down here.” We sat down on stumps and logs and on the ground. Mr. Moody said: “Have any of you students anything to say?” I think about seventy-five of them arose, one after the other, and said: “Mr. Moody, I could not wait till three o’clock; I have been alone with God since the morning service, and I believe I have a right to say that I have been baptized with the Holy Spirit.” When these testimonies were over, Mr. Moody said: “Young men, I can’t see any reason why we shouldn’t kneel down here right now and ask God that the Holy Ghost may fall upon us just as definitely as He fell upon the apostles on the Day of Pentecost. Let us pray.” And we did pray, there on the mountainside. As we had gone up the mountainside heavy clouds had been gathering, and just as we began to pray those clouds broke and the raindrops began to fall through the overhanging pines. But there was another cloud that had been gathering over Northfield for ten days, a cloud big with the mercy and grace and power of God, and as we began to pray our prayers seemed to pierce that cloud and the Holy Ghost fell upon us. Men and women, that is what we all need–the Baptism with the Holy Ghost.


  1. I attended a Christian school in Florida that was affiliated with MBI (although I believe that affiliation has since ended). In our Bible classes back then (early 1980s), anything having to do with the Baptism of the Holy Ghost or speaking in tongues in particular was heavily frowned on.

  2. I love that testimony of Moody’s. I remember first reading it in this book, IIRC:


    Deeper Experiences of Famous Christians by James G. Lawson.

    Yes, it appears to have been “covered up” by Fundamentalist/Evangelical Christians. Perhaps the fallout from Azusa Street and other Pentecostal excesses and the creation/arising of a dispensational theology of cessationism led to relegating both Moody’s (and others’) personal testimony/ies and the doctrine/teaching itself to a footlocker in the basement where it hopefully wouldn’t be found.

  3. MBI alumnus here, and to make matters more interesting I’m an MBI alumnus with a decidedly non-cessationist slant (a position I’ve held since before I went to the Institute). Looks like today’s my day to de-lurk.

    I’m not aware of any official MBI position against the charismatic gifts, though of course they’re not particularly emphasized or encouraged. In my first year (2000) I did find a statement in the Student Life Guide against “the modern tongues-speaking movement” which clearly hadn’t been updated since 1924 or so. It’s finally been removed in more recent revisions. As a continuationist I found no objections to signing the MBI doctrinal statement.

    Many of my Bible & Theology professors were products of Dallas Theological Seminary, so they were pretty much hardline cessationists by default, though some took a more relaxed view. I personally never felt uncomfortable in my views and had several friends who agreed with me, several even from Charismatic or Pentecostal denominations. All the professors I studied with welcomed disagreement and discussion in the classroom, at least as far as I experienced. (However, my degree was in music so theology classes were more of an unofficial required minor.) I wrote a paper on Spirit Baptism for one of my Sys Theo classes, taking Moody’s/Torrey’s view, and my cessationist prof interacted with it quite fairly, IMO.

    I’d describe the MBI attitude toward Moody’s own position as more of a “dirty little open secret.” For instance, it’s forthrightly discussed in the excellent biography by Lyle Dorsett (A Passion for Souls) that’s required reading for all freshmen (and published by Moody Press). I only once heard a speaker at an MBI function reference it as positive and normative; he was a graduate student who shared my views. On the other hand, one of my more vigorously cessationist professors flat-out said to the class (in answer to a student’s question), “I think Moody was wrong about that.”

    Moody also wrote a full-length book on the subject, Secret Power, which is quite good, and of course Torrey’s many works on the Holy Spirit are well worth studying for many reasons. (Try the R. A. Torrey Archive.)

    Any questions, feel free to fire away!

  4. I love this story. Does it matter to the Holy Spirit that we try to hide it? It will blow where it will blow regardless of any logical “proof” that it no longer acts in our lives. God can’t be put in a box, even a book-shaped box.

    If the Holy Spirit moves someone personally it cannot be resisted, so telling that person what they’re experiencing isn’t really God would seem to be at best pointless and at worse working counter to the will of God.

    What is it the Calvinists are always asking someone who has felt the Spirit? Something about why did God share this insight with you but not the rest of us? Well, really God is in the best position to answer that question – not me; and if you don’t believe in the Spirit working then of course you aren’t going to accept that it’s at work – even if it is.

    • What is it the Calvinists are always asking someone who has felt the Spirit? Something about why did God share this insight with you but not the rest of us? Well, really God is in the best position to answer that question – not me; and if you don’t believe in the Spirit working then of course you aren’t going to accept that it’s at work – even if it is.

      I’ve only heard that question asked when the other party was attempting to play the role of the Holy Spirit in someone else’s life.

      An example: Suppose the Spirit directed me to go to England. Suppose, then, that my best friend said the Spirit told her I wasn’t supposed to go, and that if I did go I was outside the bounds of God’s will.

      Basically, while the Spirit may well direct my best friend to tell me that, my best friend (and I) need to be very careful she’s not imposing her desires and doing so in the name of God.

      It’s a discernment thing.

      At any rate, thought I’d toss that in there. I’m not a Calvinist, myself.

      • The real issue in question.Are the gifts of the Spirit for the present-day church? If your answer is no then the bible is a lie or Jesus Christ the son of God is not the head of this present-day church.So since the Word of God is not a lie the answer would have no choice but to be yes.

        • Trae: I’m not sure what part of my comment (assuming it was mine) you’re referring to, but, yes, easy answer, I believe the gifts of the Spirit are still active and relevant in the Church. I just think there’s a right and wrong way to use them.

    • “Why did God share this insight with you but not the rest of us?”

      What’s funny about that objection is that it works as an objection to the idea of special revelation in general. As Jesus himself said, “No one has seen the father except the one who is from God.” Why did God share his nature and identity with Jesus and not with the rest of us? Why did God reveal himself to Abraham and not to the rest of humanity? Why did God reveal his plan to Moses, and not the rest of the Israelites?

  5. Steve Skinner says

    Great reading about the reality of the Spirit’s ministry today. However, let’s honor Him by not referring to Him as it! He is worthy of just as much honor and adoration as is the Father and the blessed Son! Just sayin.

    • Quixotequest says

      How about “she” as a pronoun to help shake up our expectations and reactions to the Spirit? Just sayin’.

      • “She” is reserved for Lilith.

        • Quixotequest says

          This has nothing to do with the Lilith myths.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            More like the Hebrew word for breath — “ruach” — used to refer to the Holy Spirit is feminine.

      • Shack fan, ehhh ???

        • Quixotequest says

          Actually, I’ve personally used such “righteous imagination” as spiritual discipline well before The Shack.

          I’m not dogmatic over avoiding masculine-specific pronouns — in other words I’m comfortable with calling the Spirit “he” around those who care — but I prefer to conscientiously use Spirit without gender-specific pronouns or deliberately with one or the other at times just to keep myself open to the Otherness of God. It also helps keep my practical expectations, as well as more abstract awe, over what fruits of the Spirit — love, joy, comfort, gentleness, meekness, etc. — look and feel like if I deliberately consider that God — and for this point specifically, the Spirit — encompasses what we consider both “masculine” and “feminine” in quality. Man and Woman both reflect the stamp/impression/image of God.

          But again, tweaking pronouns is more a personal point of worship and spiritual discipline. And to bring my comment closer to topic, I find when I nurture awe, imagination and submission by deliberately trying to reboot my pragmatic “real-life” expectations that I think I am more open to the spiritual Otherness I glimpse when I perceive that the Spirit moves on me.

          • Lukas db says

            I find it unfortunate that, in English, the only gender-neutral pronoun we have only refers to sub-persons.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            That’s been one of the big problems with English — the neuter pronoun “it” refers to inanimate objects.

            Several SF writers as well as activists have tried to create an animate neuter pronoun in English, but they have either failed to catch on (“Sahn”, “S/he”, “Hir”) or sounded too stilted (global replace string “man” by string “person”) with a distinct aroma of Soviet-era Newspeak enforced from the top down.

      • There are places in the Bible where the Holy Spirit is referred to as “Wisdom” and that “Wisdom” is referred to in a feminine way. (If you really demand it, I will go looking for the passages.) So, to respond to someone who said on this post or another one about the Holy Spirit that we don’t really have a NAME for the Holy Spirit like Father or Jesus…I will call the Holy Spirit…..Betty.


        • not Rozie (the riveter River) ?? C’mon, the posters are already made 🙂 …..

        • 🙂 good answer.

        • Lukas db says

          The only place I know of is in the Wisdom of Solomon, an apocryphal book for protestants. This hardly makes the reference irrelevant, but it should be noted, in arguing this point, that most protestants pretty much ignore the apocrypha.

  6. I don’t fully undersand why this post is important. Am I supposed to look upon the Moody Bible Institution as a hypocritical organization? Is this a dirt-dishing post on an evangelical school, another example of why the evangelical church in America is to be distrusted?

    • MWPeak, no, just another look at how complicated things can get with regard to our understanding of how the Holy Spirit works, and various ways that has played out in the evangelical church.

      I am especially highlighting stories of friends and teachers with whom I’ve had contact, and how the Biblical teaching on the Spirit as well as movements such as Pentecostalism and the charismatic movement have been received, processed, and dealt with among God’s people.

  7. Gale Ebie says

    For many/most Christians, they cannot accept certain teachings because they have never experienced them. D.L. Moody was blessed to experience the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Without this experience he would probably preach against it. God allows certain Christians to experience certain gifts/blessings. If you have never experienced it, you too will probably argue against it.

    Many years ago I, along with several friends attended a Katheryn Kuhlman service. We were called up on the stage (very long story) and we were all slain in the spirit. I don’t argue in favor of it because I cannot explain it, but I cannot deny it. Most people will argue it away by calling it fraud. The Holy Spirit works in many ways most of us never experienced, and hence, don’t believe.

  8. I can relate with Moody’s testimony about the baptism of the Holy Spirit. It was through experiencing the Spirit that I was able to get past my skeptical, nihilistic tendencies and discover (or rather rediscover) faith in Christ. But since then, my experiences in charismatic and pentecostal circles have made me very skeptical of just about any so-called move of the Spirit that happens within the confines of a church service. I’ve seen extreme pressure placed on people to speak in tongues — so much so that honest Christians grow distrought and doubt their salavation when this gift is not forthcoming, while the not-so-honest just learn to fake it. I’ve seen pastors portray their personal feuds with some other pastor or church group as spiritual warfare. I’ve witnessed people being belittled as lacking in faith when the prayed for result didn’t immediately materialize. And I’ve noticed that some of the people who are seemingly most gifted with spiritual gifts are also the most lacking when it comes to real spiritual fruit in their lives.
    Historically, we Christians have had a real hard time finding and maintaining a sense of balance when it comes to the activities and gifts of the Spirit. We seem to gravitate toward either demoting the Spirit to a desk job or treating Him like a trick pony.

  9. I see no disconnect between MBI’s distance from the Charismatic movements and Moody’s & Torrey’s views & experiences RE the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. Moody & Torrey nowhere mention anything about experiencing or encouraging speaking in tongues. That was the dividing issue between the Pentecostal/Charismatic movements and any other Deeper Life movement in Christianity. Torrey himself vigorously opposed the early Pentecostal movement, going so far as to credit its origins to a “sodomite” (Charles Fox Parham had been charged & acquitted with some sort of same-sex messing about.)

  10. Lukas db says

    It seems as though this sort of thing is being discussed as though experiences such as the one D L Moody describes are either a ‘baptism of the Holy Spirit,’ or they don’t exist – or are irrelevant. Why the strict dichotomy? Many Christian traditions take a middle road on this. The Catholic tradition, especially, often speaks of such things as mystical experiences or ecstasies. They are not irrelevant; they are a real contact or apprehension of God. But they are not ultimate experiences of the divine, and do not necessarily indicate any special calling or holiness. They are gifts; ‘consolations,’ they are often called.

    I read an excellent book by a catholic priest who was also a sociologist. He actually did a series of studies on these experiences – the percentage of the population that had experienced mystical interludes, what was the external stimulus for them (if any), and so on. He concluded that nearly 40% of all people, christian and pagan alike, had had such experiences. Most were quite brief, and relatively small. Powerful experiences such as the one described by Moody were quite rare, but not unheard of. A very few people had them frequently.

    It was a very interesting book. He was careful not to, in exploring the topic, explain away such experiences. Though they seem to have a biological component, he thought (and I agree) that this did not take away from the possibility of a real apprehension or contact with God. But he also did not feel that it was a sign of any special spiritual change in the person, or necessarily a sign of holiness. Many atheists had such experiences. Interestingly, nihilists were far more likely to have negative mystical experiences, though most, even for them, were positive.

    But let me not ramble. I would highly recommend the book, if only I could remember what it was called (I’ve been looking with no success for it). If anyone is interested, i could go to my old academic library and find it; or at least talk more about his results, which I remember fairly well.