An inquiry into disability treatment and images in the revival sermons of Dwight L. Moody


(Full information will be found in the bibliography)

FDM James F. Findlay, Jr., Dwight L. Moody: American Evangelist 1837-1899.

GFH E. J. Goodspeed, A Full History of the Wonderful Career of Moody and Sankey.

MGA Dwight L. Moody, The Gospel Awakening.

MGR Dwight L. Moody, The Great Redemption.

SEM M. Laird Simmons, Evenings with Moody and Sankey.

The search that lies behind this paper is the reaction of the church to human suffering. This reaction is examined as an indication of what the church believes about the concept of theodicy and how it values people. It is particularly oriented toward the church’s view of physical and mental disabilities: how has the church asked the question “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” It also asks how the answer, “neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God's works might be revealed in him” has been interpreted.1

The interpretation offered herein is based on the idea that persons with disabilities should be equal members of society, and it evaluates the material covered with that assumption. There are many theological justifications for this stance, which have been the subject of other inquiries. These arguments will not be covered here, but are mentioned as so the reader may be aware of the lens through which the material has been filtered.


Walter Rauschenbusch wrote that the hymns popular in his day were “individualistic.” They called one to serve Christ, but did so “without, however, connecting such service with service to our fellowmen.” He also complained that they were oriented to “personal gains of bliss or heavenly reward,” and teach “resignation or defer all hope of correction to the future life.”3 These comments could be used to evaluate the revival movements of the last half of the nineteenth century, such as those led by Dwight L. Moody and Ira D. Sankey. These two were the leading revival team of their day, and it would be difficult to deny that the hymns associated with them proclaim such a message. But what of the sermons of Moody? How do they compare?

Rauschenbusch’s critique is a good entrance point to the attitudes expressed by Moody during his peak revival years, 1875-1879, when he conducted massive campaigns in Brooklyn, Philadelphia, New York, Chicago, Boston, and Cleveland. This was the time of the “Gilded Age,” when many people were focused on their own acquisitions, and were insensitive to the sufferings of others until violence forced attention.

This inquiry will attempt to understand the presumptions that lie behind Moody’s views on disabilities, as well as the treatment of people with disabilities. Aside from statements that touch directly on disabilities, topics in this area are the nature of heaven and the resurrection body, the nature of healing, the cause and effect of injuries, disease, and accidents, attitudes toward gender, and attitudes toward the disadvantaged. “Disability” is taken in a wide sense of any bodily characteristic that impedes or inhibits full participation in society. Today this generally means mobility obstacles, but through much of history, being female has been a serious disability.

There are extensive biographies surveying Moody and his work, and most of his revival sermons are readily available. This study draws primarily on the sermons from the peak revival years (it is important to keep in mind that Moody’s later years would produce some striking differences). It makes use of the biographers, for they are useful for providing a foundation, although they tend to focus on such areas as his organizational methods and his general theology. They touch on his social views in general, but none consider his attitude toward disabilities.


God’s proclamations are to all sinners. Everybody can get out of prison that wants to. The trouble is they don’t want to go. They had rather be captives to some darling sin like lust, appetite, covetousness, than to be liberated. You need not be stumbling over election. The proclamation is “Whosoever will, let him come and drink of the water of life freely.”4

A formative area for this study is an outline of certain areas of Moody’s theology. Moody was a layman, without formal ministerial or theological training.5 Therefore, it is not surprising that he did not make formal theological statements, nor is it surprising that many of his statements lack refinement. There are, however, theological presumptions, lying underneath his statements, which one may discern. These include not only concepts of God, but patterns which indicate values that speak of God’s ordering of human society, values that rank some areas as more important than others, and values that affect his other thoughts.

In broad terms, Moody was an Arminian. This places him within a general nineteenth- century theological shift away from Calvinism. Moody believed that humans have the ability to freely make a choice about their salvation. Concomitant with this ability is that salvation is available to all. Moody’s revivalist system presumes this freedom and ability; and the offer is open to all who will come.6

Findlay characterizes Moody’s theory of atonement as a theory of “moral influence,” and thus one which was in tune with the emerging liberalism of the day. This is correct insofar as Moody focuses on the atonement as an act that breaks down human resistance to God, rather than appeasing divine wrath or justice, but Moody’s is not the language of “moral influence” writers.7 Most importantly, Moody expresses a strong sense of individual sin and depravity. Moody spoke clearly of the need for regeneration: there “must be a new creation” which is the work of God alone.8 In one sermon, he told a crowd that even God cannot “mend this old erring nature”—the point being that human effort would be even less effective. What humans need, Moody says, is the new birth—regeneration—and only that.9 Although education has a place, that place is not within the sphere of religious conversion, where it is completely ineffective.10 This is contrary to a primary underlying tenet of moral influence atonement theories. For Moody, humans have a choice, but the work is God’s alone. This is significant to any view of disabilities: if there is not a strong sense of sin, the question of John 9 may be answered in a completely different way.

Moody was also clear on the centrality of the Bible read literally. In a New York sermon, he said churches had become weak because preachers, preferring eloquence, did not preach from the Bible. Moody claimed that people had become tired of eloquence without substance.11 Goodspeed says that this attitude accounts for Moody’s success, for people were seeking a “simple and easily-to-be-understood” presentation. Goodspeed adds that the “plan of salvation and the promises and mercies of the Father are often so mysteriously clouded, that people do not really understand what is required of them.”12

These kind of statements not only tell about the place of the Bible in Moody’s thought, they locate him squarely in a camp that distrusted intellectuals and valued pragmatic results. Not only did he de-emphasize the role of human knowledge in salvation, he saw such knowledge as a menace. Moody classified intellectual objections or questions that keep one from making the decision for Christ as sin.13

We can also see that this distrust of education became valued, and thus a continuing part of the revival movement. For example, Goodspeed praises Moody’s lack of polish, saying that “to Mr. Moody blunders are nothing, provided he gains the end of his ministry and wins souls. Efficiency is the only thing he cares about.”14 This overwhelming desire for efficiency leaves behind anything that does not function well. This subtle pragmatic acceptance of Darwinism is an important aspect of Moody’s social thought. It has significant consequences, to which we shall turn later.

Goodspeed further says, commenting on one of Moody’s sermons, that “theological critics might have said there was nothing in it; but only eternity will reveal how much there came out of it.15 This gives us an insight on Moody’s overall views: what really matters is conversion—souls saved for heaven. In the light of that, little else that happens on earth is important. This is a crucial point for our overall query. In the end, Moody does not care about disabilities: they will, for those who choose Christ, ultimately be gone. Furthermore, whatever we know about them will not prepare us for that day. This is another powerful influence on his views, one that feeds back into his explanations of the miracle stories, and one that remains a strong influence today.

All of this plays into the first of what one survey refers to as Moody’s “grand themes”: a direct approach, with no room for pretense, that seeks “real” people.16 These real people are not only thoroughly converted, they also work with the “efficiency” that was the watch-word of the times, making the most of their God-given abilities to bring about conversion, the only thing that really mattered to them in the long term.

A second of these “grand themes” found in Moody’s work is God’s love. Unlike some revivalists, Moody did not preach the terrors of hell.17 Fear would not bring repentance, which is necessary for true conversions that endure.18 The love of God is important because it reflects into the believer’s life, and changes him. Having love of others is sign of the new birth, and a source of assurance. Further, it is a witness to the world when one can love as God does, for loving even those who hate one cannot be done by human power.19

Moody sought conversion out of love as a desire for what is best in the long term. Here is where we begin to see the strains at the seams of his thought. We should expect such strains, for Moody was not systematically trained. As we shall see, there is a strong individualistic component to his thought, one that seems to undermine the purpose of the “grand themes.” The result of this individualism lays a foundation for a strain of thought that persists to the present day and is highly damaging to people with disabilities.


Another thing I have noticed, that no man who has any standing in his church has ever come to want. People talk of the church not being benevolent, but I say they take care of their poor. It is the people whom the church has not reached that come to want. Some of you say you cannot afford to join the church—that you cannot afford to pay $10 a year for a pew. If you give up your cigars and go less to the theatre, you will find it quite easy to do it.20

Moody’s life is often portrayed in an Horatio Alger-style tale of the self-determined overcoming of great obstacles. For example, Goodspeed sees the death of his father four years after Dwight’s birth as divine providence, weaning him from earthly desires and forcing “physical labor” which would bring about the “corporal vigor” that made Moody’s exhausting schedule possible.21 This is the classic story of success through hard work, one that, not incidentally, overcomes great poverty. Findlay notes, though, that there was undoubtedly a great amount of assistance offered by the extended family. While undoubtedly not wealthy, the young Moody was reasonably comfortable.22 It would appear that in the formative years, he never had to face the overwhelming despair of the ghetto, life with an alcoholic, or inability to work. Therefore it is hardly surprising that he was able to glibly proclaim that faith and hard work that are capable of overcoming all obstacles, and would invariably result in success. The result, as Findlay says, is that Moody “had a ready explanation for poverty that made it appear as though it was the inevitable outcome of laziness and wasteful habits.”23 It is clear from his sermons that one of Moody’s presumptions is that a Christian, as a person who has made the right choices, spiritually and economically, would never suffer serious economic distress.24 We are well on the way to a system that links wealth and faith, and sees the lack of either indicating a lack of the other.

Because he saw poverty as the result of disobedient choices, Moody felt little obligation to offer assistance to those who suffered from it. Not only that, it was contrary to the Christian’s charge to love his neighbor to give help to such persons, for it would not be loving to give help that would only be turned into drink. Moody was even, at one point, bold enough to say that it would be good if beggars should die, for they “are of no good.” He claimed that many of the stories of need were “sham cases” of those who refuse to work. Finally, he said that suffering is good, because it will force people to work.25

Poverty is one result of disobeying God, but Moody did not stop there. He repeatedly stated, not unlike the New England Puritans, that large-scale troubles result from disobedience.26 Moody has thereby created a system that, if one has faith, ensures that his affirmations will not fail—and that anyone who challenges him is not a person of faith. Individual problems result from individual choices. If there is systemic unrest or distress, such as unemployment at a level that makes finding a job impossible, it is still the result of disobedience.

Findlay says that Moody “never questioned in any ultimate sense the values of the ruthlessly acquisitive society” of his day.27 The correctness of this statement depends on how one reads “ultimate.” Moody did not challenge the underlying presumption of this attitude, but he did speak out against various aspects of this attitude. He also limited this attitude; for the gospel is ultimate, and he did challenge those who acquired wealth without regard for God.28 Too many Christians were “conformed” to the world, he said to one audience, adding that a real Christian would lose their taste for fashionable society.29 We should also note that, when confronted by individual cases that did not fit his pattern, Moody could change his view of that case, although he held fast to his blanket statements in the sermons. For example, in an address to workers at a revival, he said that the wealthy should direct their efforts to making “investments for the Lord” as much as for themselves. Included in this investment would be orphans, who were trapped in a life of poverty, struggling against “odds that you know nothing about.”30

A particularly revealing incident in this area comes in the course of a sermon on the Ten Commandments that evaluated their observance in the society of his day. In his discussion of the fourth commandment, there is a prediction of a blood bath far worse than the war if Sabbath desecration would not be ended. Sabbath-breaking, Moody said, is a worse scourge than was slavery. He then pleaded with working men not to give up the Sabbath, for if they should, “these capitalists will take your Sabbath and make you work seven days a week, and you will not earn a dollar more than you now do in six days.”31 His implication that working men could influence capitalists is interesting in itself. Of immediate importance is that Moody took the group “capitalists” to task for encouraging a relaxation of Sabbath-keeping. So there was a limit to acquisitiveness, which separates Moody from many of his era.

Moody’s challenges to the system are muted, however, by his (mis-)use of metaphor. He was fond of saying that a Christian’s real treasure lies in the heavenly realm. No one is truly poor if they have accepted Christ.32 One comes to God as a beggar and leaves as a prince.33 Salvation is worth more than any earthly treasure.34 This is true if one understands that there is a metaphorical comparison being drawn between the most lavish earthly riches conceivable and the far surpassing, but very different, riches of life with God (and as we shall see when Moody discusses heaven, he is aware of this difference). But Moody’s statement that one is poor because he is too lazy to accept Christ encourages literalization of such metaphors.35 This becomes a problem when we turn to Moody’s statements that speak of sin in terms of disabilities.

Moody’s challenge is further muted because he limited the role of the system. If there was an economic or social problem, it was a problem of personal faith and effort. With these revival sermons falling close on the heels of the Civil War, there was certainly much involuntary poverty, such as war widows trying to support families. So it was not hard for Moody to pull on the emotional strings with stories of miraculous deliverance, such as a widow who was provided with a house when her daughter prayed to God in distress.36 The point Moody is after is trust in God, but, as we shall see with stories of disabilities, he makes unfortunate links and examples. The house was provided, but nothing was said about the possibility of personal duty of Christians to be engaged in making such provisions.

The shape of our problem is, then, that Moody made broad stereotypes, and the implications of these stereotypes undermine some of his expressed desires. For example, Moody said, “thank God that his gospel is for the poor as well as for the rich” and “the gospel is to be preached to all classes.”37 But as Findlay notes, Moody’s meetings attracted the middle class, not the poor. He also gives us a clue as to why this was: Moody’s messages, with their individualism, were comfortable to the middle class.38 But it needs to be added that Moody had little to offer the poor. In a question-and-answer session, Moody called for “plainer churches” without debts, because asking for money drives people off. But he then made it clear that this is not a reference to the poor. He said that “many can’t come” to church, and have “nothing to wear.” The response of the church should be “go down to their rooms” and hold prayer meetings.39 There is nothing here about making the churches more accessible to these people, or making them feel more comfortable in the church. The obligation remains on the well-to-do to share their bounty, but it is by going to the poor—not by bringing the poor to be among them. This reinforced the prevalent idea of charity as a gracious gift from a superior to an inferior, rather than it being a serious attempt to improve the lot of another.

These ideas hold several implications for an evaluation of Moody’s treatment of disabilities. He thinks that faith alone will bring an end to one’s problems—an idea that will return when we examine his reading of miracle stories. Disabilities have typically meant poverty, or at least lower income, so statements that poverty results from laziness are troubling, as is the idea that charity is not an effort to bring real improvement. We may also note Moody’s fondness for making blanket generalizations that even he realizes do not hold up. While these generalizations are easy to find and analyze, his exceptions make it difficult to state what he would do in any given situation. A second aspect of these generalizations is his emphasis on self-determination. Moody does understand that some people would not have equal opportunity for self-determination. But considering that typically, the generalizations are stated publicly, and the exceptions in private or in other subsidiary ways, he has laid the foundation for many abusive attitudes. One of the most frightening (to today’s vision) is the wish that the beggar would just die off. What would Moody say today in the debate over assisted suicide? (It should be noted that most disability groups oppose this idea, because they see it as opening the door to forced euthanasia of those whose medical costs are seen to outweigh their “contribution value” to society). When “efficiency” is the watchword, only those who can perform well are contributors. If it is acceptable to allow the poor who do not contribute to die, why not those who are not efficient or costly? In this, Moody stands in distinct contrast to Augustine, who places a high value on life, and calls for all lives to be preserved and honored, for they come from God.40 He also stands in contrast to Buddhism, which strongly affirms the inherent value of all life, and teaches compassionate action in favor of the disadvantaged.41

We might also examine a story that Moody told about an engaged man who enlisted during the Civil War. His fiancee received a letter from a comrade, explaining that he had lost both of his arms in a battle. Because he “would be dependent on the charities of a cold world,” he broke off the engagement. Her response was to refuse that break, “and now they are living a happy life.”42 It would seem (at least to this writer) that such a sermon would be a good place for a prophetic voice to say something about the “cold world” in which a disabled soldier becomes dependent on a pittance of charity. Here is where we see an important distinction: Moody was, as Findlay’s title says, an “evangelist.” His goal was single-minded, the acquisition of souls. He is a clear example of how enterprise had taken over the church and shaped its goal. Anything that might be an obstacle to the mission of acquisition fell to the side in pursuit of that goal—such as the critical voice of the prophet that has historically challenged presumptions.

This is, at least from the evangelist’s viewpoint, all to his benefit. Moody created a situation where he could not lose or be subjected to serious criticism by anyone who was faithful. Social standing or physical nature is irrelevant. If one is poor, he can still be rich in Christ. If one is blind, he can still see in Christ. If one should express dissatisfaction with some part of his status, such as mistreatment by others or involuntary poverty, he is, at best complaining and worldly-minded, and obviously not to be listened to. At worst he is ignorant of how God orders the world.43 It is this kind of spiritualization and misreading of metaphor that makes Moody’s inner message so dangerous to persons with disabilities.


We are told that there are 3,000,000 people in the world who are called blind. Every one calls them blind because they haven’t their natural sight. But do you ever think how many are spiritually blind in this world? . . . you should pity yourself if you are spiritually blind.44

At the outset of this paper, I mentioned that being female is one of the oldest disabilities in human existence. Women have long been excluded from various church activities, not because of a lack of gifts, but because of their gender. When gender is viewed in this light (one of the many which are possible), we begin to get a grip on how Moody viewed disability more closely. At a meeting in New York, he was asked about the role of women. He replied that this “is a controverted point” which he would not discuss, but noted that he did not care to see his wife preach.45 Moody’s policy of not discussing controversial issues, such as this, would appear to be an attempt to preserve unity among various churches (he also refused to discuss his thoughts on members clapping during services). But the question would not go away. Asked what he would do if there were 20 or 30 women, and 2 or 3 men present, he replied that he would call it a “woman’s meeting” and let the women participate. Asked about the role of women in a general prayer meeting, he again refused to answer.46 At another point he allowed that women could work in inquiry rooms with other women, for “no one can visit so well as a woman.” Furthermore, he saw great use for women as missionaries, because a woman can always talk to another woman.47 He gave women a direct, personal role in Christian work, but kept them in place: they may visit, having sufficient leisure time for that, and most of all, they need to train children to be religious.48 This is not at all ground-breaking—Moody is not allowing a new role, but reinforcing tradition. Much of what Moody has to say runs in this vein of affirming the existing order. This understanding is significant as we turn to the area of disabilities and the miracle stories of the gospels.

The miracle stories seem to have been favorites of Moody. They are concrete illustrations, and there are immediate, radical changes described in them. Miracle stories are always an area of special interest to those with disabilities, for they hold a promise of healing. This promise sometimes results in unrealistic expectations, not only on the part of one who desires healing, but also by those outside the story who view the stories as prescriptive. In such a view, the miracles are not examples of God’s grace, but descriptions of actions which can be emulated by anyone: if you have faith as these people did, you too will be healed. And here, where Moody makes most of his references to physical disabilities, he leaves us with this idea.

As an example, Moody spoke at one point about the inability of the church to cast out devils. He made it clear that he believes in demons of drinking and infidelity. Then, he turned to Mark 5, saying that it tells of three “incurable cases” healed by Jesus. When Christ is present, there is no such thing as an “incurable hospital.” He then spoke of the woman healed of her bleeding, saying that when one goes to “earthly physicians they grow worse all the time,” for this is an attempt to work out one’s own salvation without regeneration. Lunacy, alcoholism, and debilitation are all diseases, and God can heal any disease, Moody affirms.49 Speaking at another point about the healing in John 5, he made a similar claim about homelessness and physical disease.50 This points to a significant difference: Augustine affirmed the value of medical treatment,51 and the teachings of Buddhism resulted in the establishment of hospitals, and even a modern encouragement to practice medicine.52 But Moody will have none of that: medicine is a waste of effort.

Not only does Moody seem to affirm that one can be healed if he has faith, his language strongly equates sin with disability. (It should be kept in mind that the hymns of the day also use this kind of language, and at one of his revival meetings, such an image would therefore be even stronger than from the sermon alone). He told of his conversion experience: “when the Holy Ghost first opened my eyes, I thought how blind I had been!” He added that the world is blind, and that Christ “came into the world that the blind might see and recover.”53 In another sermon, Moody says that the world “is just one large blind asylum,” and that “Satan makes us blind.”54 In the first and third cases, Moody is certainly speaking of a sense of spiritual unawareness. In the second, it is difficult to tell, for the gospels speak of healing physical blindness. The danger here is the same as with Moody’s earlier-noted uses of metaphor. He was not careful with his imagery, thereby laying the ground for literalization. He was also insensitive to any blind person who might have been present at his meetings,55 which adds to the understanding of why he could not reach the lower classes.

Moody’s use of the miracle stories reinforces an understanding that anyone who suffers is feeling the results of sin. In one sermon, Moody referred to Luke 13, to discuss the woman whom Jesus healed from an eighteen-year illness. He was quick to note that the gospel records that the woman had been ill because she was bound by Satan. He then stated that she was freed from disease because “Christ delivered her,” and that she walked home.56 It cannot be denied that the gospel does provide this link of Satan and illness. Nor would one would expect Moody to read the “spirit” of Luke 13.11 as anything but a demonic force. But even at this level, he does not explore the idea that such a possession might be involuntary. His exposition equates the illness with voluntary sinfulness; for if one chooses Jesus, he can be delivered from vulgar language or alcoholism, as well as paralysis. There is no indication in Moody’s individualistic language that one might ever be in some binding, gripping condition that cannot be overcome by a decision to give up sin—a decision that one only has to make by his own choice. This view reinforces the self-made, success-oriented milieu of Moody’s day. With attitudes such as this that obscured people’s view of the nature of social problems, it is small wonder that violence had to erupt before social conditions were taken as a serious problem beyond the reach of secular platitudes about education or religious ones about conversion.

Moody made a similar equivalence of sin and human troubles in an exposition of the healing story of Mark 2 and Luke 5. His exposition starts with the faith of the four who brought a paralyzed man in through the roof. This gives Moody an opportunity for an excursus: these four were working in faith while philosophers tried to reason out what was happening. This anti-intellectual remark is an interesting reading of an account that simply notes the presence of a crowd, but one that certainly fits Moody’s overall purpose. But now, suddenly, as Moody tells the story, the man who was let through the roof has leprosy, which must be “cleansed.” As Moody returns to his exposition, the man reverts to suffering from paralysis: “My friends, you can’t take palsied souls to a better place than to the feet of Jesus.” Moody continues that the point of the story is to teach us that God honors faith. He does, in its course, distinguish the forgiveness of sin which the man received from the healing.57

Moody’s reading here is problematic. He introduces a twist: this time, he does not directly equate the man’s disease with sin. The acts of forgiveness and healing are separated in his exposition. However, Moody’s mid-course change of the man’s ailment from paralysis to leprosy raises questions. Is this a confusion that results from ignorance of the difference of the two? Or is this a statement that seeks to link paralysis, whose physical cure is readily visible—requiring only that one get up and walk to display it—to a condition that requires the examination of a priest before it is resolved? By referring to the need for cleansing, Moody seems to be leaning in the latter direction. This creates an image that links the man’s paralysis to a sinful condition. As with his talk about blindness, Moody also gives one cause to think this way, for he says elsewhere that “the leprosy of sin is a thousand times worse than the Eastern leprosy.”58

Moody’s bluntness in saying that it would be just as well with him beggars were to die off has an equivalent in his direct speech about disabilities. He spoke of a story he read about a shipwreck, where there was an insufficient number of lifeboats. One man, quite determined, tried to climb into one boat. Someone cut off his right hand. He tried again to get in, and his left hand was cut off. He then grasped the boat with his teeth. At this point, he was taken into the boat. Moody said that the man lived “because he was in earnest,” adding “if it is the right hand off with it, if it is the right eye out with it. The kingdom of God is worth more than all the world.”59 Moody’s illustration would seem to indicate that he believes Matthew 5.29-30 should be taken literally, which furthers concerns that his image of sin and physical ailments is not metaphorical.

The nature of the resurrection body plays a significant role in the writings of antiquity and medieval ages. Moody, however discusses eschatology only once in these sources. The main purpose of that discussion is to affirm the Bible as the literal Word of God. He says that there is a real heaven with a location: it is “as much a place as Cleveland is.”60 In the same sermon, Moody makes a distinction that shows some understanding of metaphor: the images of gold and other riches refer to the presence of Jesus, the angels, and the saints.61 One has to wonder why he can make this distinction here, but speak literally about disfigurement as punishment for sin. It would certainly concern him that people should be converted by the love of God, rather than a desire for riches, requiring that he make this distinction. But his language of sin and disability could lead to false conversions out of a hope for healing. If that healing did not occur, it would show a lack of real faith, for if there was real faith, healing would occur.62 Moody has again constructed a system wherein his pronouncements cannot fail. Furthermore, his link of free choice with poverty, faith, and healing creates a situation that demeans anyone who suffers from a disabling condition.

For all this, Moody was willing to admit that at least some disabilities come naturally. It is not surprising that these are the ones he might have expected to befall him. Discussing the choice of a Bible, he said that “it is a good thing to get a good-sized Bible, because you will grow old by and by, and your sight may grow poor and you won’t want to give up the one you have been to reading in after it has come to seem like a sort of life-long companion.”63 Perhaps, like many other people, he realized that there is a natural change in the body with age. But he did not want to admit that whatever might befall him could be classed with ailments resulting from sin.64


I believe the reason we do not have better work in this country is because there is so much sham. We do not go down to the bottom of things. O may God give us a revival of honesty! downright, upright honesty! that is what we want — right living! If it costs the right eye, out with it!65

Gundry’s remaining “grand theme” of Moody is unity among all Christians—providing they are “evangelical.”66 As a counterpart to Christian unity, Moody called for separation of Christians from the world. Only this will bring “true reformation.” Moody said that a Christian would not want to participate in many of the activities of the world anyway. To remain unseparated from the world would be like Northern soldiers in the Civil War deciding to make their homes in the South. Christians are like soldiers in an enemy land, traveling as pilgrims and strangers.67

Here we find indications of Moody’s ultimate statement about disability. The body is only a vehicle in which one passes through life. We have no business complaining about whatever else does not satisfy us about earth. We are on a mission in enemy country, with no time to rest. Our task is to accept the role we have been given and seek conversions.68 Furthermore, insofar as social change is needed, it will come from individual conversion.69 Moody also said that one should accept the place in which God has placed him. It is the person who knows his place and tells what he knows that gives eloquent testimony, not the person who has tried to polish himself.70 What is all-important to Moody is the conversion decision (and then one’s own effort in getting others to make that decision). One should be focused on that, not on anything having to do with our perceived earthly needs.

For all this, it is important to keep in mind that Moody’s repeated insistence that God’s love is for all means that he would not deny anyone who will come.71 The man born blind in John 9 would not be excluded (at least if he could get into Moody’s building). The problem parallels that of Moody and the lower classes: he was certainly interested in having them come, but did very little to make sure that they could come or would have a reason to come.

Details of the years after those great revival tours are beyond the scope of this paper. But it is worth noting that after these tours, Moody changed his style greatly. He would stay in a city for some time, dividing it into small districts and putting more effort into smaller groups or individual meetings.72 He also put much effort into educational institutions, which included work programs that enabled anyone to attend, if they would work.73 The old attitude of self-help remained strong, but Moody seemed to realize that more than platitudes would be needed. Someone would have to provide a structure that would make it possible for change to occur. It seems that when Moody got out of the large-scale meetings, and worked at a more individual level, he realized (consciously or not) that many of his ideas were insufficient to the challenges which he confronted. Examples of this change may be seen in particular in the death of two of his young grandchildren, which brought a much more pastoral response than those revival sermons presented.74

In all of this, the spirit of an evangelist shows through. The goal of decisions for Christ was Moody’s overarching desire. Unfortunately, from our point of view, this desire allowed Moody to play off commonly held ideas, but not to speak out against them too much. His life is an example of American results-oriented pragmatism. And it is that pragmatism that prevents him from reaching beyond the spirit of the times. He is a symbol of the age, an age that does not have much of a positive nature to offer the person inquiring about the treatment of persons with disabilities. He is complex, and there will never be space to do more than attempt to deal with a few threads of his thought, and for that reason he still has, despite this problem, a great contribution to make.


Augustine of Hippo. Concerning the City of God against the Pagans. Translated by Henry Bettenson. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1972.

Birnbaum, Raoul. The Healing Buddha. Boulder: Shambhala Publications, 1989.

Findlay, James F., Jr. Dwight L. Moody: American Evangelist 1837-1899. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1969.

Goodspeed, E. J. A Full History of the Wonderful Career of Moody and Sankey in Great Britain and America. New York: Henry Goodspeed & Company, 1876.

Gundry, Stanley N. “Grand Themes of D. L. Moody,” Christianity Today 19 (December 20, 1974): 4-6.

Miles, M. “Disability in an Eastern Religious Context: Historical Perspectives,” Disability and Society 10 (1995) 49-69.

Moody, Dwight L. The Gospel Awakening: comprising the sermons and addresses, prayer meeting talks and Bible readings of the great revival meetings conducted by Moody and Sankey. Chicago: J. Fairbanks, 1878; reprint, ATLA monograph preservation program, ATLA fiche 1991-2356, 1993.

Moody, Dwight L. The Great Redemption: or Gospel light, under the labors of Moody and Sankey. Chicago: Century Book and Paper Co., 1889; reprint, ATLA Revivalism and revival preachers in America fiche F3013, 1978.

Richardson, Alan, and John Bowden, eds. Westminister Dictionary of Christian Theology. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1983.

Simons, M. Laird. Evenings with Moody and Sankey: Comprising Sermons and Addresses at Their Great Revival Meetings. Philadelphia: Porter & Coates, 1877.

Soskice, Janet Martin. Metaphor and Religious Language. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1985.

Spencer, Jon Michael. “Hymns of the Social Awakening: Walter Rauschenbusch and Social Gospel Hymnody,” The Hymn 40 (April 1989): 18-24.

Stiteler, Valerie C. Jones. “Singing without a voice: using disability images in the language of public worship,” Liturgical Ministry 1: 140-142.

Thomas, Owen C. Introduction to Theology. Wilton: Morehouse Publishing, 1983.

United Methodist Hymnal: Book of United Methodist Worship, The. Nashville: The United Methodist Publishing House, 1989.

Walshe, Maurice (translator). Thus Have I Heard: A New Translation of the Dīgha Nikāya, The Long Discourses of the Buddha. London: Wisdom Publications, 1987.


This paper started with the intention of dealing with both Moody and Sankey, and considering Sankey’s contribution along these lines in the field of gospel song. This is an important area, for many of the images that equate disability and sin come to us today from hymnody. However, as the study progressed, it became apparent that to keep the paper to a manageable size, it would be necessary to concentrate on one or the other. The following bibliographic information is included to indicate the lines along which a study of Sankey on his own could (and some day, undoubtedly will) proceed.

Hicks, Roger W. “The Story of a Hymnbook,” The Hymn 40 (April 1989): 15-17.

Sankey, Ira D. My Life and the Story of the Gospel Hymns. New York and London: Harper & Brothers, 1906.

Sankey, Ira D., James McGranahan, George C. Stebbins, and Philip P. Bliss. Gospel Hymns Nos. 1 to 6 Complete (Excelsior Edition). New York and Chicago: Biglow & Main and Cincinnati, New York and Chicago: John Church Co, 1895. Reprint: Earlier American Music, Volume 5. New York: DaCapo Press, 1972.

Stevenson, Robert Murrell. “Ira D. Sankey and ‘Gospel Hymnody’,” Religion in Life 20 (1950): 81-88.

Wilhoit, Melvin Ross. “Sing me a Sankey: Ira D. Sankey and congregational Song,” The Hymn 42 (January 1991): 13-19.

1John 9.2-3, New Revised Standard Version.

2John Newton, “Amazing Grace,” in The United Methodist Hymnal: Book of United Methodist Worship (Nashville: The United Methodist Publishing House, 1989), 378.

3“Comments,” p. 3, typescript in Walter Rauschenbusch papers, American Baptist Society, Colgate Rochester Divinity School, Rochester NY; quoted in Jon Michael Spencer, “Hymns of the Social Awakening: Walter Rauschenbusch and Social Gospel Hymnody,” The Hymn 40 (April 1989): 18-24.

4“Christ as Deliverer,” SEM, 180.

5FDM, 236 note says that Moody’s method was to read his Bible, which is clear from his sermons; then he would ask questions of seminary-educated ministers. On the whole, Moody avoided theological works.

6FDM, 232-234; 242-243. As a revivalist, Moody’s central goal was conversion, and this emphasis remained with him. Late in life, Moody’s chief response to higher criticism was that the developing furor over it obscured the need for conversion, FDM 410.

7cf. Alan Richardson and John Bowden, eds., Westminister Dictionary of Christian Theology (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1983), 52-53, 522; Owen C. Thomas, Introduction to Theology (Wilton: Morehouse Publishing, 1983), 165-167.

8“The Second Birth,” MGA, 188.

9“New,” MGA, 86-87.

10“The Way of Life,” SEM, 26.

11 ”New,” MGA, 87; “How to Study the Bible,” SEM, 99.

12GFH, 392. He also says, 434: “Mr. Moody is not a theologian. . . . The Sunday-school and home missionary field have been his theological seminary.”

13“Excused,” MGR, 104.

14GFH, 14.

15GFH, 141.

16Stanley N. Gundry, “Grand Themes of D. L. Moody,” Christianity Today 19 (December 20, 1974): 5.

17Gundry, op. cit., 6.

18“Repentance,” SEM, 128.

19“Bible Readings,” MGR, 394-396.

20“Sowing and Reaping,” SEM, 293.

21GFH, 13.

22FDM, 35-36

23FDM, 275.

24GFH, 588; “Women’s Work,” MGR, 471.

25“Love,” SEM, 170-172.

26“Walking with God,” SEM, 161.

27FDM, 277-278.

28“Address to Christian Workers,” SEM, 223-224.

29“Where Art Thou?,” MGR, 272-273.

30“Address to Christian Workers,” SEM, 223-224.

31“Tekel,” MGR, 158-159.

32“Treasures in Heaven,” SEM, 10.

33GFH, 332.

34“Seek the Lord,” MGA, 210.

35On this phenomenon, see Janet Martin Soskice, Metaphor and Religious Language (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1985), 71-83.

36“Trust,” SEM, 123.

37“Excuses of Men,” SEM, 39.

38FDM, 272-274.

39GFH, 398.

40Augustine of Hippo, Concerning the City of God against the Pagans (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1972), 1.22. One has to wonder if Moody would affirm this statement if asked about it directly: in the sermon “Tekel,” he commented on the sixth commandment, saying that wishing someone to be dead makes one guilty of murder before God. MGR, 163.

41Maurice Walshe (translator), Thus Have I Heard: A New Translation of the Dīgha Nikāya, The Long Discourses of the Buddha (London: Wisdom Publications, 1987), 1.1.14, 20; 28.12; M. Miles, “Disability in an Eastern Religious Context: Historical Perspectives,” Disability and Society 10 (1995): 54-55.

42“No Difference,” MGR, 182-183.

43GFH, 350

44“Spiritual Blindness,” MGA, 411.

45GFH, 565.

46GFH, 567-569.

47GFH, 589.

48“Women’s Work,” MGR, 458-463, 467.

49“Faith,” MGR, 69, 72-74.

50“How to Study the Bible,” SEM, 111.

51Augustine, op. cit., 22.8.

52Raoul Birnbaum, The Healing Buddha (Boulder: Shambhala Publications, 1989), esp. 7, 24-25, 142.

53“The Work of the Holy Ghost,” SEM, 91.

54“Spiritual Blindness,” MGA, 410.

55For an illustration of how painful this language can be to a blind person, see Valerie C. Jones Stiteler, “Singing without a voice: using disability images in the language of public worship,” Liturgical Ministry 1: 140-142.

56“Christ as a Deliverer,” SEM, 183.

57“Their Faith,” MGA, 139-140.

58“Compassion of Christ,” MGA, 236.

59“What Seek Ye,” MGR, 360.

60“Heaven,” MGR, 322.

61“Heaven,” MGR, 327-300.

62Lest anyone think that this is exaggeration, or doubt Moody’s legacy, I and others of my acquaintance have been told this sort of thing very bluntly. And while I was writing this paper, a student suggested that what I really need to do is see Benny Hinn.

63“How to Study the Bible,” SEM, 101.

64In this regard, R. J. Bulman and C. B. Wortman, “Attributions of blame and coping in the real world,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 35 (1977): 351-363, suggests that people are, in general, less likely to consider some disabling accident to be punishment for some wrong act if they can conceive of that condition occurring to themselves. It also notes a change of attitude when one has suffered an accident resulting in a disabling condition.

65“Repentance,” MGR, 98.

66Gundry, op. cit., 6.

67“Treasures in Heaven,” SEM, 14-15. We might note again Moody’s difficulty in keeping the trope within the realm of a figure of speech, for on 16-20 he literalized it.

68“Treasures in Heaven,” SEM, 15-18.

69“The Work of the Holy Ghost,” SEM, 89.

70“Confessing Christ,” MGR, 405-406.

71“God’s Love,” SEM, 58.

72FDM, 303.

73FDM, 306, 311-312.

74FDM, 416-416.


28 March 2011