Commending the Faith: The Preaching of D. L. Moody Edited by Garth Rosell (Hendrickson, 1999).

Garth Rosell, professor of church history at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, has compiled (and edited) this set of sermons, talks, and prayers by Dwight L. Moody with the intention of having that familiar voice of the last two decades of the 19th century be heard again in another millennium.

The fifteen works that comprise this collection are grouped in clusters: sermons on conversion, sermons on the person and work of Christ, sermons on Christian service, talks on Scripture and prayer, and sermons on heaven.  Though the span of this volume is broad and, as such, makes for a good introduction to the public ministry of Moody, the homiletician would probably have been better served with an exclusive focus upon what was clearly Moody’s forte—evangelistic preaching.  Such a concentration would have been appropriate in these days when there is both a need for preaching of that genre and a corresponding dearth of easily available material exemplifying that style.  Nonetheless, there is much in this book that to delight and edify any preacher.

Not all of the sermons on conversion take the listener all the way to the point of trusting Christ as Savior: most move the hearer one step closer—creating a need for forgiveness or acceptance, clarifying the divinity of Jesus Christ, convicting of sin, explaining the atonement, etc.  If one wonders why this is so, the answer might lie in Moody’s modus operandi: rarely were these (or any of his other) sermons preached in isolation; evangelistic campaigns extended several days, and preachers, for the most part, were assured of a consistent audience.  The evangelist could take his time developing and shaping his points, homiletically and rhetorically bringing his audience, step by step, to the saving knowledge of Christ, Deo volente.  Yet, it would have been more profitable for the reader to have had, in one volume, a complete series of such messages, rather than a selection from various crusades that necessarily left some sermons open-ended.  One wonders how Moody gave his “altar calls.”  How did he cast his final appeal for his audience to place their trust in Christ?  What was the verbal style of his Spirit-directed persuasion?

The reader cannot but be amazed at the storytelling prowess of this master narrator.  Moody moves the emotions, thrills the heart, warns with poignancy, and exhilarates the imagination, all the while edifying the listener with spiritual truth.  With pencil in hand, I tallied at least sixty stories from just eight sermons—and some of them were quite detailed in their telling!  There is a masterful recounting of the last hours of Christ in “The Death of Christ,” from Moody’s The Way Home.  “I wish I could bring before you in living colors the sufferings and death of Christ,” Moody rues, even as he proceeds, from the pulpit, to do exactly that—precisely what Mel Gibson so powerfully achieves with the camera in his The Passion of the Christ. 

One must note that Moody’s homiletical technique is somewhat “topical”—he is not expounding the text, giving full weight to its context, literary and rhetorical style, or to the theology behind the particular narrative text he is handling; instead, for the most part, his is an existential take-off from a single verse, that often fails to do justice to the complexities of the text.  Though one might carp at this style, for his audience and for his evangelistic purpose Moody does a remarkable job.  One wishes, however, that the sermons directed to believers would have plumbed the depths of the texts he was preaching from—giving the listener the whole counsel of God.

Rosell does us a great service not only in this compilation of sermons—some of which are hard to come by—but also by penning a thorough introduction (24 pages): a synopsis of Moody’s life and times are given, but I was more taken by the Rosell’s brief essay on the “Reasons for Moody’s Appeal;”  those interested in rhetoric will profit from this depiction of the Aristotelian ethos of this great pulpiteer of yesteryear, Dwight Lyman Moody.

Journal of the Evangelical Homiletics Society 4 (2004): 76–78

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