Chapter 4 - His Mother

Table of Contents

A Picture Never To Be Forgotten - His Mother's Blessing - Her Puritan Ancestry - Her Conversion - D. L. Moody's Tribute to His Mother - Verses She Had Marked.

Devotion to his mother was a duty and a privilege second only to devotion to his God, in the mind of Mr. Moody. When at home in Northfield, he never failed to look in upon his mother in her cottage early every morning, to give her a hearty greeting, and to see that she was provided with every comfort and many luxuries.

When away, no matter how many times a day he preached, nor how many informal meetings he personally conducted, a letter was posted to his mother at frequent intervals in which she was told at length of the success of the meetings.


During the last years of her life, when failing health prevented her from attending public worship, the devoted son never forgot tile aged mother, and he often arranged for her to hear the noted speakers and singers of the conferences.

There is one picture associated with Northfield I can never forget It had to do with one of the summer conferences. Some one had been asking about Mr. Moody's mother, and he had spoken to a few of those who gathered about him and said, "We might have a little service just at her house on the lawn, for she is not able to be out; "and so a number of distinguished Christian workers gathered just outside her window, sang the hymn she loved, prayed Gods special blessing upon her and her distinguished son, and then one after the other spoke some word of appreciation of their visit to Northfield. I was standing just by Mr. Moody's side, and I heard him say to one of his friends, "I always thought she. had such a beautiful face," and as he looked at her the tears started in his own eyes, rolled down his cheeks, and he said with much emotion to a distinguished English Christian standing by his side, " I think she has been the best mother in the world."


Once again when many young men were gathered from all over the eastern part of our country in the World's Students' Conference, Mr. Moody said:

"You know my mother is an old lady. She is too feeble to attend these meetings. She is deeply interested in this work, and she has prayed earnestly for its success. I want her to hear some of you speak and sing. We are going up the mountain this afternoon to pray for the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Meet me at my house at three o'clock. We will have a little service there and then I want you to go on to my mother's home, and I want some of you to speak, and we will all sing.

"I want you to receive my mother's blessing before we go to the mountains to pray, for next to the blessing of God I place that of my mother."

The three hundred anxious pilgrims who gathered on Mr. Moody's spacious lawn that afternoon, and who, after a brief service of song and prayer, journeyed on to the mother's cottage and later to the mountain top, presented a picture never to be forgotten by the members of that company.

Much that is here written is his own words concerning her. I have an Old mother away down in the Connecticut Mountains," Mr. Moody used to say, "and I have been in the habit of going to see her ever year for twenty years. Suppose I go there and say, ' Mother, you were very kind to me when I was young-- you were very good to me; when father died you worked hard for us all to keep us together, and so I have come to see you, because it is my duty. Then she would say to me, 'Well, my son, if you only come to see me, because it is your duty, you need not come again. And that is the way with a great many servants of God. They work for Him, because it is their duty - not for love. Let us abolish this word duty, and feel that it is only a privilege to work for God, and let us try to remember that what is done merely from a sense of duty is not acceptable to God."

And so it was. Year after year, in the very heat of those spiritual campaigns which brought him prominently before the people of the two continents, Mr. Moody would slip away regularly to the spot where, amid the serene surroundings of the Northfield hills, his mother sat with her thoughts upon him and his work, praising God who had permitted her boy to become the instrument of so much blessing.


Betsey Holton, the mother of Dwight L. Moody, was a descendant in the fifth generation of William Holton, one of the first settlers of Northfield. In fact, this ancestor was one of that committee of the General Council of Massachusetts which laid out the plantation of Northfield, after it had been purchased from the Indians in 1673. The marriage of Betsey Holton to Edwin Moody united two strains of old Puritan blood. Doubtless this lineage accounts in no slight degree for the restless energy and dogged earnestness of the son, Dwight.

"I always thought that Dwight would be one thing or the other," the dear old woman once remarked. Where others had failed to see, she had early recognised the hardiness of the boy's character, - hardiness which she must have seen through its very kinship with her own. For her schooling had not been easy. Left a widow with nine children, a small house, and an acre or so of heavily mortgaged land, she had taken upon her womanly shoulders the full responsibility of bringing up her family. Tilling the ground, and doing odd jobs for the neighbours, she continued to scrape together enough to keep her children fed and clothed, although the margin between plenty and want was frequently so slim as to bar out comfort. There were times when no food seemed forthcoming; but a Providence whose care extends even to the sparrows did not permit the burden to become too heavy for this widowed mother, although her resources were often taxed to the utmost.


Every day she taught the children a little Bible lesson, and on Sundays accompanied them to the Unitarian Sunday school. They were sent, too, to the village school. Dwight was as loth as the average young boy to endure the discipline of the school-room. It is not hard to picture him "with shining morning face, creeping like snail unwillingly to school." But the wise mother knew. Seeds were being scattered in the fertile heart and mind of the boy: and if they did not seem to sprout at once, perhaps it was for the very reason that they had not been sown in a shallow soil.

The Rev. Dr. Theodore Cuyler, when he first met Mrs. Moody, turned to her son, and said, "I see now where you got your vim and your hard sense!" Others remarked the same resemblance of the son to his mother. I speak of this merely to make it evident how much he owed her.

However completely she came into sympathy with her son's work in later years, at the outset of his labours his mother did not give him her sanction. She herself was a member of a non-evangelical church. For a long time she did not even hear her son preach. How he finally not only convinced her of his fitness for his work, but also became the means of leading her into the higher life has been related by a close friend of the family in the following words


In 1875 he returned to his home in Northfield to preach, shortly after coining back to America from one or his great London successes. The family still lived on the Old farm, and still drove to town to Sunday meeting in the Old farm wagon, just as they used to in the days gone by. Most of the members of the family Were going to drive to town that morning to hear Dwight preach. The mother startled a daughter by saying to her:

"I don't suppose there would be room in the wagon for me this Morning, would there? "

No one had ever thought of the mother unbending and going to hear her son.

"Of course there will be room, mother," said the daughter.

And the mother was taken down to the church with the rest. Mr. Moody preached from the fifty - first Psalm, and preached with a fervor that was probably inspired by the presence of his mother. When those who wished prayer were asked to arise, old Mrs. Moody stood up.

The son was completely overcome, and, turning to B. F. Jacobs, now of Chicago, said with emotion, "You pray, Jacobs, I can't. "

When he returned to Northfield after some evangelical tour, Mr. Moody would invariably drive directly to see his mother, to receive her welcome, even before joining his immediate family. Sitting in her sunny room the kindly, keen, Old lady would give to her son kernels of sound wisdom with the blessing of her approval.

She was permitted to remain in this world until her ninety-first year. When at the last she began to sink, it was not thought by those about her that there was any immediate danger, and Mr. Moody, who was at the time conducting services in a distant city, was not informed as to the state of her health. But toward the close of a week of meetings the evangelist grew restless. He felt a strange intuition that his presence was needed at home, and, for no other reason, he cancelled his engagement and started for Northfield. He arrived in time to receive her blessing.

At his mother's funeral, acting upon an impulse, Mr. Moody delivered a touching tribute to her memory. Mrs. William R. Moody had concluded her song "Crossing the Bar," when the evangelist rose from his place with the family, and, bearing in his hands the old family Bible, and a worn book of devotions, came forward. Standing by the body of his mother, he said:


"It is not the custom, perhaps, for a son to take part in such an occasion. If I can control myself I would like to say a few words. It is a great honor to be the son of such a mother. I do not know where to begin; I could not praise her enough. In the first place my mother was a very wise woman. In one sense she was wiser than Solomon' she knew how to bring up her children. She had nine children and they all loved their home. She won their hearts, their affections, she could do anything with them.

"Whenever I wanted real sound counsel I used to go to my mother. I have travelled a good deal and seen a good many mothers, but I never saw one who had such tact as she had. She so bound her children to her that it was a great calamity to have to leave home. I had two brothers that lived in Kansas and died there. Their great longing was to get back to their mother. My brother who died in Kansas a short time ago had been looking over the Greenfield papers for some time to see if he could not buy a farm in this locality. He had a good farm there, but he was never satisfied; he wanted to get back to mother. That is the way she won them to herself. I have heard something within the last forty-eight hours that nearly broke my heart. I merely mention it to show what a character she was. My eldest sister, her oldest daughter, told me that the first year after my father died she wept herself to sleep every night. Yet, she was always bright and cheerful in the presence of her children, and they never knew anything about it. Her sorrows drove her to Him, and in her own room , after we were asleep, I would wake up and hear her praying, and sometimes I would hear her weeping. She would be sure her children were all asleep before she would pour out her tears.


"And there was another thing remarkable about my mother. If she loved one child more than another, no one ever found it out. Isaiah, he was her first boy; she could not get along without Isaiah. And Cornelia, she was her first girl; she could not get along without Cornelia, for she had to take care of the twins. And George, she couldn't live without George. What could she ever have done without George? He staid right by her through thick and thin. She couldn't live without George. And Edwin, he bore the name of her husband. And Dwight, I don't know what she thought of him. And Luther, he was the dearest of all, because he had to go away to live. He was always homesick to get back to mother. And Warren, he was the youngest when father died; it seemed as if he was dearer than all the rest. And Sam and Lizzie, the twins, they were the light of her great sorrow.

She never complained of her children. It is a great thing to have such a mother, and I feel like standing up here to-day to praise her. And just here I want to say before I forget it, you don't know how she appreciated the kindness which was shown her in those days of early struggle. Sometimes I would come home and say, such a man did so and so, and she would say, "Don't say that, Dwight; he was kind to me"


My father died a bankrupt, and the creditors came and swept everything we had. They took everything, even the kindling wood; and there came on a snowstorm, and the next morning mother said we would have to stay in bed until school-time, because there was no wood to make a fire. Then, all at once, I heard some one chopping wood, and it was my Uncle Sam. I tell you I have always had a warm heart for that uncle for that act. And that night there came the biggest load of wood I ever saw in my life. It took two yoke of oxen to draw it. It was that uncle that brought it. That act followed me all through life, and a good many acts, in fact. Mr. Everett, the pastor of the Unitarian Church, I remember how kind he was in those days. I want to testify to-day how my mother appreciated that.

"I remember the first thing I did to earn money was to turn the neighbour's cows up on Strowbridge Mountain. I got a cent a week for it. I never thought of spending it on myself. It was to go to mother. It went into the common treasury. And I remember when George got work we asked who was going to mill the cows. Mother said she would milk. She also made our clothes and wove the cloth, and spun the yarn, and darned our stockings and there was never any complaining.

I thought so much of my mother I cannot say half enough. That dear face! There was no sweeter face on earth. Fifty years I have been coming back and was always glad to get back. When I got within fifty miles of home I always grew restless and walked up and down the car. It seemed to me as if the train would never get to Northfield. For sixty-eight years she has lived on that hill, and when I came back after dark, I always looked to see the light in mother's window.


When I got home last Sunday night I was going to take the four o'clock train from New York and get here at twelve I had some business to do; but I suppose it was the good Lord that sent me; I took the twelve o'clock train and got here at five - I went in to my mother. I was so glad I got back in time to be recognised. I said, ' Mother, do you know me? She said, 'I guess I do.' I like that word, that Yankee word 'guess. 'The children were all with her when she was taking her departure. At last I called, Mother, mother. No answer. She had fallen asleep; but I shall call her again by-and-by. Friends, it is not a time of morning. I want you to understand we do not mourn. We are proud that we had such a mother. We have a wonderful legacy left us.

One day mother sent for me. I went to see what she wanted, and she said she wanted to divide her things. I said, 'Well, mother, we don't want anything you've got; we want you. We have got you, and that's all we want.' 'Yes, but I want to do something.' I said to her, ' Then write out what you want, and I will carry it out.' That didn't satisfy her. Finally she said, Dwight, I want them all to have something.' That was my mother, and that was the way she bound us to her.

Now, I have brought the old Bible, the family Bible, for it all came from that book. That is about the only book we had in the house when father died, and out of the book she taught us. And if my mother has been a blessing to this world, it is because she drank at this fountain. I have read twice at family worship, and will read here a few verses which she has marked.


"'Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies. The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her.'

"She has been a widow for fifty-four years, and yet she loved her husband the day she died as much as she ever did. I never heard one word, and she never taught her children to do anything but just reverence our father. She loved him right up to the last.

"'She seeketh wool and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands.'

"That is my mother.

"She considereth a field and buyeth it; with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard. She girdeth her loins with strength and strengtheneth her arms. She perceiveth that her merchandise is good, her candle goeth not out by night.'

Widow Moody's light had burned on that hill for fifty-four years, in that one room. We built a room for her, where she could be more comfortable, but she was not often there. There was just one room where she wanted to be. Her children were born there, her first sorrow came there, and that was where God had met her. That is the place she liked to stay, where her children liked to meet her, where she worked and toiled and wept.

"'She stretcheth out her hands to the poor; yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy.'

"Now, there is one thing about my mother, she never turned away any poor from her home. There was one time we got down to less than a loaf of bread. Some one came along hungry, and she says, ' Now, children, shall I cut your slices a little thinner and give some to this person?' And we all voted for her to do it. That is the way she taught us.

"'She is not afraid of the snow for her household; for all her household are clothed with scarlet.'

"She would let the neighbours' boys in all over the house, and track in snow; and when there was going to be a party she would say, 'Who will stay with me? I will be all alone; why don't you ask them to come here?' In that way she kept them all at home, and knew where her children were. The door was never locked at night until she knew they were all in bed, safe and secure. Nothing was too hard for her if she could only spare her children.


"The seven boys were like Hannibal, whose mother took him to the altar and made him swear vengeance on Rome. She took us to the altar and made us swear vengeance on whiskey, and everything that was an enemy to the human family; and we have been fighting it ever since and will to the end of our days.

"My mother used to punish me. I honour her for that. I do not object to punishment. She used to send me out to get a stick. It would take a long time to get it, and then I used to get a dead stick if I could. She would try it and, if it would break easily, then I had to go and get another. She was not in a hurry and did not tell me to hurry, because she knew all the time that I was being punished. I would go out and be gone a long time. When I came in, she would tell me to take off my coat, and then she would put the birch on; and I remember once I said, 'That doesn't hurt.' She put it on all the harder, and I never said that the second time. And once in awhile she would take me and she would say, 'You know I would rather put this on myself than to put it on you.' I would look up and see tears in her eyes. That was enough for me.

"What more can I say? You have lived with her and you know her. I want to give you one verse, her creed. Her creed was very short. Do you know what it was? I will tell you what it was. When everything went against her, this was her stay, 'My trust is in God. My trust is in God.' And when the neighbours would come in and I tell her to bind out her children, she would say, Not as long as I have these two hands.' ' Well,' they would say, 'you know one woman cannot bring up seven boys; they will turn up in jail, or with a rope around their necks.' She toiled on, and none of us went to jail, and none of us has had a rope around his neck. And if every one had a mother like that mother, if the world was mothered by that kind of mothers, there would be no use for jails.

Here is a book (a little book of devotions); this and the Bible were about all the books she had in those days; and every morning she would stand us up and read out of this book. All through the book I find things marked.

"Every Saturday night - we used to begin to observe the Sabbath at sundown Saturday night, and at sundown Sunday night we would run out and throw up our caps and let off our jubilant spirits - this is what she would give us Saturday night, and it has gone with me through life. Not all of it, I could not remember it all:

'How pleasant it is on Saturday night
When I've tried all the week to be good.'

"And on Sunday she always started us off to Sunday school. It was not a debatable question whether we should go or not. All the family attended.

"I do not know, of course, we do not know, whether the departed ones are conscious of what is going on earth. If I knew that she was I would send a message that we are coming after her. If I could, I believe I would send a message after her, not only for the family, and the town, but for the Seminary. She was always so much interested in the young ladies of the Seminary. She seemed to be as young as any of them, and entered into the joys of the young people just as much as any one. I want to say to the young ladies of the Seminary, who acted as maids of honour to escort my mother down to the church this morning, that I want you to trust my mother's Saviour.

"I want to say to the young men of Mt. Hermon, you are going to have a great honour to escort mother to her last resting-place. Her prayers for you ascended daily to the throne of grace. Now, I am going to give you the best I have; I am going to do the best I can; I am going to lay her away with her face toward Hermon


I think she is one of the noblest characters this world has ever seen. She was true as sunlight; I never knew that woman to deceive me.

I want to thank Dr. Scofield for the comforting words he has brought us to-day. It is a day of rejoicing, not of regret. She went without pain, without struggle, just like a person going to sleep. And now we are to lay her body away to await His coming in resurrection power. When I see her in the morning she is to have a glorious body. The body Moses had on the Mount of Transfiguration was a better body than God buried on Pisgah. When we see Elijah he will have a glorious body. 'That dear mother, when I see her again, is going to have a glorified body. (looking at her face) God bless you, mother; we love you still. Death has only increased our love for you. Good-bye for a little while. Mother. Let us pray."

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