Chapter 13 - The Spiritual Side of Northfield

Table of Contents

A Blessed Town - Northfield Dear to Mr. Moody - Mr. Moody's Love of Nature - Dr. A. J. Gordon - Rev. F. B. Meyer at Northfield - A Star In the Midnight Darkness.

Northfield is beautiful for situation, and the words of the Psalmist in Psalm xlviii:2, "Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is Mount Zion," in the judgement of many people could be applied to this center of influence in the Christian world of to-day.

It is impossible to think of Northfield without thinking of Mr. Moody, and equally impossible to consider for a moment the work of D. L. Moody, without being compelled to give much consideration to his native town, the place he loved as few men love the place of their birth.


Independent of its spiritual attractions, there are few more beautiful places; the Connecticut River, bending here and there between hill and vale, is more than interesting. The poet speaks of "rivers singing their way to the sea;" one can quite understand how this expression could be used in this connection, for we quite believe that it would be true of the Connecticut. And if the river itself could speak it would tell many a story of lives that from Northfield have sung their way on up to Heaven, and have started the melody of song in many other lives as well. It is said that Mr. Moody loved the view from his own house better than from almost any other point of observation, and well he might. Dr. Gordon once wrote of him, "Moody cannot endure the seashore; his green fields and ever shadowy hills and deep-rolling Connecticut are his paradise."

Northfield is a typical New England town. It consists practically of one long stretch, on either side of which stand stately elms, their branches meeting overhead and forming an arch, which has ever increasing beauty for the lovers of the quaint old town. It has ever been a very winsome place both because of the fact that it is so far removed from the busy hum of cities as to make it restful, and also because here within the boundaries of the town so many people have seen themselves to be out of touch with God and have come to know Him in all His fulness, and thus have entered the life of blessing.


But Northfield was dear to Mr. Moody for more reasons than one, and I am quite sure that he never thought of it, that there were not more than a hundred reasons why it should be much to him. He used to say that when the train left Greenfield, which was not far away from his own home, he found himself so impatient to be with his loved ones that it was impossible to sit still, and so he would frequently walk up and down the aisle of the car until he was safely home.

The center of Northfield, to the pilgrim journeying thither from all parts of the world, was the home of Mr. Moody himself, and the visit to that home, and a vision of it, both within and without, furnished one of the best comments on his life. Here dwelt a man through whose hands millions of dollars had passed, and practically none of it, though he had the best of right to a portion of it, both legally and morally was turned aside to give him what the world would count luxuries. Tens of thousands of homes are more beautifully and expensively furnished, but there was an air about this heart of Northfield which one detected the moment he crossed the threshold of the home - an air not of necessity associated with tapestries or pictures or paintings or furnishings ordinarily found in the homes of the rich, but which ever comes, when Christ is the unseen guest and the head of the house.


The old home was much to the Great Evangelist because it was his home. It was associated with his early struggles with poverty, with his father and mother, so dear to him, with his own immediate household, bound to him, it would seem, with ties stronger than those that ordinarily unite the members of the family; with the students whom he loved and whom it was his delight to help to gain an education. It was the scene of the beginning and the growth of the Bible Conferences, which have yearly increased in influence and power until the whole Christian world acknowledges its indebtedness to God for this fountain of blessing. There, at Mt. Hermon, the site of the boys' school, was started the Student Volunteer movement, which has been used of God to send hundreds of young men and women to foreign fields, and influenced hundreds more who now stand waiting for an opportunity to go. Is it any wonder that Mr. Moody loved Northfield? We love it too because it is associated with his triumphs. "Triumphs over the obstacles which stood in the way of his buying back his old home which had been lost by his father's failure in business. Triumphs over the discouragements that stood in the way of his giving an education to boys and girls who were poor, as he once had been; discouragements that would have defeated any other man, and at last the scene of the triumphant and victorious ending of his life and his glorious entrance into Heaven when he said, "Earth is receding, Heaven is opening, God is calling, and I must go."

Northfield is known throughout the world also because of the celebrated people whose names and words are interwoven in its latter day history. But whoever has visited Northfield in the past, or whoever may turn his face thither in the future, no name, however great it may be, can ever outshine his of whom we write. He was the gentlest, the kindest, the noblest Christian man it has ever been our good fortune to meet. One of the most familiar Northfield pictures was D. L. Moody sitting on the little porch in front of his house early in the morning hailing passers-by in whom he might have some special interest, directing this one, giving an order to another one, until he would have transacted half a day's business when others were just rising from their beds. I can hear his voice now as I write, as it sounded out one morning not later than 5.30 o'clock, when I heard him calling, "Chapman, Chapman," and, looking out of my window of Weston Hall, saw him sitting in his buggy ready for a drive, and then for an hour and a half we rode up through his favorite glen past Dr. Pierson's summer home, and the site where later Drs. Mabie and Torrey were to build.


His love of nature was manifest in every turn of the road. "Look at that," he would say, and before us was a beautiful picture of a running stream and bending boughs of trees, through which the morning sun was breaking. " Listen," he would exclaim again, and the whole of the forest on either side of the road seemed vocal with the song of birds. "Isn't it beautiful," he would say over and over. To take a morning ride with D. L. Moody was to see God in all nature, but most of all was to feel His presence in the remarkable personality of the man who sat beside you, impressing you by his every word and gesture with the fact that he was absolutely surrendered to God.

It always seemed to me that his favorite meal for guests was breakfast. Happy that man who had an invitation to this feast of the day, for he could then see D. L. Moody at his best in his home life, and bow with him about his family altar, forth from which streams of blessing had gone to the very ends of the earth.

Northfield is associated with certain other people whom Mr. Moody was wise enough to call to his assistance and help. First and foremost would be Major D. W. Whittle; for next to Mr. Moody, as a preaching evangelist, stands Major Whittle, a man of plain speech and solid piety, whose words have been already owned of God to the awakening of thousands of souls.

Major Whittle is a native of Vermont, is about sixty-three years of age, and when Mr. Moody first met him was a resident of Chicago, where he was converted, and united with the First Congregational Church, under the pastorate of Rev. W. W. Patton, D.D. Major Whittle was employed in the office of Fargo & Co.'s Express until the breaking out of the war, when he enlisted a company in Chicago and joined the army as a captain of infantry.

During his army life he maintained his Christian profession, and for a long time kept up a company prayer meeting. At the close of the war he returned with the brevet rank of major, and soon after was offered a situation as business manager of the Elgin Watch Company, with a salary of five thousand dollars a year, which he accepted.

His work as superintendent of the West Side Tabernacle Sunday School, a mission opened by the first Congregational Church, was greatly blessed, and for some time before his entrance upon the work of an evangelist his services were in considerable demand as a Bible reader and helper in revivals of religion.

At length feeling called of God to a wider field of Christian labor, he resigned his position, with its ample salary, and gave himself wholly up to Christ, trusting in Him for direction and support.

Major Whittle is laid aside at Northfield now, his very presence in the old town meaning a blessing to many. His ministry too has been a benediction to all with whom he has come in contact. I question if a more godly man lives to-day than this honored servant.


Next in importance, possibly, would be Dr. A. J. Gordon, the honored pastor for so many years of the Clarendon Street Baptist Church in Boston. Mr. Moody relied much upon him, often did the great evangelist dwell upon his readiness to do any service, to take any place, to stand in any gap. " I cannot thank you enough," he wrote one summer, when his absence had thrown the whole charge of the Conference upon Dr. Gordon, "for your great help at Northfield. All the letters I have got from there speak in the highest terms of your generalship.

"I know of no one who could have taken your place.

"It will now answer the question, 'What is going to become of the work when I am gone?'"

The presence of such men as these made Northfield a heavenly place in its atmosphere. Mr. Moody never displayed greater wisdom than in his selection of men to aid him in his Conferences.

"One of the interesting features of Dr. Gordon's later ministry at Northfield was the evening baptism in the lake which has, since his death, been called after his name. These services were of great solemnity. The assembled people, the soft singing in the eventide air, the majestic baptismal formula 'Know ye not that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?' the face as it had been the face of an angel, the broken waters, and the resurrection chant at the end - these things can never be forgotten by those who stood by the water's edge."


Certainly no one has ever visited Northfield who has made a deeper impression by his ministry, than the Rev. F. B. Meyer. He is now the minister of Christ Church, London, having succeeded in that historic pulpit Rev. Newman Hall, D. D., but he is known in this country, because of the fact that he has led, by the direction of the Spirit, thousands of people into the joys of the surrendered life, and Mr. Moody will doubtless hear in Heaven words of appreciation of the fact that he ever secured Mr. Meyer for his Northfield work.

Time does not permit in this connection to mention the names M MacGregor and Morgan, Andrew Murray, Dr. Webb-Peploe and hundreds of others of the real leaders in the Christian world to-day. They have counted it an honor to visit Northfield and give the very best of their thought to help carry on a movement which was manifestly of God.

There are many special incidents which have made Northfield blessed in its memory. One is related by Mr. George C. Neech ham, of the sainted A. J. Gordon of Clarendon Street Church.

"Dr. Gordon, unlike some Christians, believed there was something always beyond. This he ever sought to attain. Some years ago, during the first Northheld convention, he was desirous to secure what he yet needed as a saint and servant of Christ. Toward the close of those memorable ten days, spent more in prayer than in preaching, my beloved friend joined me in a midnight hour of great heart-searching and in-filling of the Spirit. He read with peculiar tenderness our Lord's intercessory prayer of John xvii. The union of the believer with Christ and the Father, as taught by our Lord in that chapter, called out fervent exclamations, while with deep pathos he continued reading. During united prayer which followed, the holy man poured his soul with a freedom and unction indescribable. I never heard him boast of any spiritual attainment reached during that midnight hour. Soul experiences were to him very sacred, and not to be rehearsed on every ordinary occasion. But I have no doubt that he received then a divine touch which further ennobled his personal life and made his ministry of ever-increasing spirituality and of ever-widening breadth of sympathy."


One incident connected with my own Christian experience can never be effaced from my memory. I was seated in my country home reading the accounts of the Northfield conferences, before I had ever thought of attending the same, when one sentence in an Address delivered by Mr. Meyer arrested my attention. It was concerning the life of surrender, and the sentence was as follows: "If you are not willing to give up everything to God, then can you say, I am willing to be made willing?" It was like a star in the midnight darkness of my life and led to a definite surrender of myself in October 1892. But after that there were still some discouragements and times of depression, and one morning very early in front of Mr. Moody's house with the Rev. F. B. Meyer, I said to him, " Mr Meyer, what is my difficulty?" I told him of my definite surrender and pointed out to him my times of weakness and discouragement, and in a way which is peculiar to himself he made answer, ''My brother, your difficulty is doubtless the same as the one I met. Have you ever tried to breathe out six times without breathing in once?" Thoughtlessly I tried to do it and then learned that one never breathes out until he breathes in, that his breathing out is in proportion to his breathing in; that he makes his effort to breathe in and none to breathe out. Taking my hand in his, my distinguished friend said, "it is just so in one's Christian life, we must be constantly breathing in of God, or we shall fail," and he turned to make his way to Mr. Moody's house for breakfast while I hastened up to my room in Weston Hall thanking God that I had had a message better to me than any sermon I had ever heard.

Such incidents as these in the lives of thousands of ministers make Northfield a place delightful to visit and Northfield meetings a benediction.

A very wealthy family, the father and mother of which had been frequent visitors at Northfield, could never induce the young ladies of their home to go with them, their idea of a Bible conference being such that they considered it a poor way to spend a vacation; but one summer, because of the description of the beauty of the scenery, they consented to go. They were seated one morning on the piazza of the Northfield Hotel with Mr. Meyer, when something in his conversation led them to say that they would hear him preach that morning. The power of God came upon one of the young ladies and she returned to her room only to fall upon her knees and definitely yield herself to God. She returned to her home to engage most actively in Christian service. Shortly after her return she was taken ill and died, and before her death she called her mother to her room to say to her that she wanted her to call to her room, before the funeral, every girl whom she had ever known intimately and socially and to tell them that in the little time she had known Christ fully she had had more joy than in all her social life put together.

This is but one incident among thousands that could be related concerning the influence of Northfield. Is it strange, therefore, that many who love it can say as the Psalmist said of Zion, "Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is Northfield."

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