While poking around in my fire box looking for my passport last year, I found a letter that my wife had written to me while we were dating. It was still folded neatly in the envelope in which it was delivered. The stamp postmarked on the front and the handwritten address taking me back to the late 90’s. As I opened up the letter to read it again, I was reminded of the hard, good years my wife and I spent together in college and then early on in our marriage. There is nothing quite like a personal letter to convey emotion. The act of sitting down to put pen to paper is an expression of intimacy. It implies a desire to communicate one’s mind and heart despite the challenges of time and distance. They are effortful expressions.
When the D.L. Moody Digital Archives launched in late 2019, I was able to take some time to read through many of the documents. I was struck by the ease with which Moody seemed to write theologically. He expressed his faith, particularly in his letters to his family, so naturally and with such authenticity that I spent hours reading and re-reading them considering just how a letter from me to my children might read. There is surely more to the D.L. Moody Archives than Moody’s letters. Yet his letters are uniquely captivating because in them we remember that Mr. Moody was a man from Northfield. He was a husband, father, friend, and neighbor. He took time out of what must have been an exhausting schedule to cultivate relationships…to convey his thoughts and prayers to those he loved.
In the following excerpt, D.L. Moody is writing to his son William after the death of William’s son Dwight. In it Mr. Moody offers comfort to his son reminding William that little Dwight is now with the Lord. The excerpt takes some liberties for ease of reading by adding punctuation where it seems to make sense and correcting spelling errors. The transcription in the archives follows the written letters more precisely.
“I could not wish him [Dwight] back if he could have all earth could give him and then the thought the dear savior will take so good care of him…no going astray, no sickness and no death. Dear, dear little fellow, I love to think of him…and then we can all thank God for the one year we did have and that we all done what we could for his comfort and happiness. And he did what he could in return. His life was not only blameless but faultless and if his life here was so sweet what will it be up there. I believe the only thing he took away from earth was that sweet smile and I have no doubt but when he saw the savior he smiled as he did when he saw you. But I must close and I have let my pen run on as thoughts came in to my mind, but my heart goes up to God often for you and May and the word that keeps running in my mind is this: It is well with the child…only think of his translation and the end of poor Elliot Lyman. Thank God Dwight is safe at home and we will all of us see him soon.”
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In another letter, D.L. Moody writes to his brother George after the death of George’s first wife during the first year of their marriage. Similar liberties have been taken as above for ease of reading.
“My Dear Brother George,
I have just received news from home that you have met with a great affliction, one that was nearer you than any other living person on earth has been called to her rest, but all is well. I have thought often how I should like to have the death messenger come for me. When I think that there is rest on the other side of Jordan for the weary in the sweet fields of Eden where the tree of life is blooming oh what a beautiful thought to contemplate. The world has no charms for me when I look up, but the trouble with God’s children is they do not look up enough. But now you have something to look up for in Heaven. Your sweet wife is beckoning you on to higher and holier life. George, you have my sympathy and prayer and shall continue to pray for you and I hope you will look to Jesus for comfort. Go to your closet in secret prayer and there you will find peace to your soul. It is a beautiful thought to think we have friends in heaven awaiting us…”
What is striking about Moody’s letters is the effortless way he conveys his perspective on God even when dealing with topics as challenging as the death of a loved one. Perhaps even more impressive is that Moody’s words do not seem bold. It does not feel like Moody is mustering up his courage to write from a theological perspective. Instead, his words seem commonplace…normal. His letters are genuine expressions of the way he saw the world. Moody’s letters offer a glimpse into the mind of a man who was overwhelmed by God for the sake of gospel. He was surely not perfect, yet Mr. Moody approached life with a single-minded desire to follow God’s will. In fact, in a letter to his son William, Moody wrote, “I am sure the happiest days of my life have been when I have tried to the the will of God as far as I know it to do his will.”
Lord, may you give us the grace to confront the challenges of life knowing that you have saved us and continue with us. Help us to cultivate and demonstrate a vibrant, compelling faith and hope in you. Give us the desire to share our hearts and minds with those around us. Amen.
JAMES SPENCER, PHD is President the D.L. Moody Center, an independent non-profit organization based in Northfield, MA, and author of Useful to God: Eight Lessons from the Life of D. L. Moody and Thinking Christian: Essays on Testimony, Accountability, and the Christian Mind