The Fire of D.L. Moody Ablaze in the Iversons
Who has performed and done this, calling the generations from the beginning? I, the Lord, the first, and with the last; I am he.
My grandfather, William Iverson, always taught me that a worldview will stand or fall in its relation to God, the universe, society, and the self. He said that the truest truth, as Francis Schaeffer would call it, is that which manifests the excellencies of beauty and goodness and is practical for life in a fallen world. He taught me that to truly know myself, and actually become a human being who manifests beauty and goodness on this planet through my life, it is imperative that I understand my story, in the context of world in which I live, by understanding the heritage from which I came. By tracing the thread of my existence in the tapestry of humanity being woven even now, and critically examining and digging through the stories and lives of those who came before me in my family line, I have found for myself a great treasure of beauty and goodness, leading me closer to the true truth my heart so desperately longs to increasingly find, to know and pass on to my own children – that they too, as heirs to the promise, may know the truth of the Gospel. A Gospel that God has not only revealed through the special revelation of His word, contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament and fully revealed in the incarnate Christ, but also revealed through his Spirit’s beautiful and good work in the lives of our ancestors. It is to that end and for the Glory of Christ and healing of all nations that I humbly attempt to discover and transmit the life and ministry of my family’s patriarchs. The Sovereignty of God may have been the watershed of Calvin’s worldview, while the righteousness of Christ the center point for Luther. Wesley would look from the heights of sanctification, and Jack Miller through the intimacy of sonship in the Gospel. In the Iverson family, providence and the covenant promises of God are the twin pillars of our reality. This is the story of how in the providence of God, the life of Dwight Lyman Moody (1837-1899) intersected with a seven-year old Iverson and began a covenant line of preachers who are impacting the nations with the Gospel even today.
In the 1850’s a teen-aged Dwight Lyman Moody, while working as a shoe clerk, came to Christ after his Sunday school teacher Edward Kimball had told him that he was “concerned for his soul.” Moody responded right away by going down into the basement, kneeling behind some empty boxes, and repenting of his sins and trusting Jesus as his Savior (1). I grew up hearing these stories about D.L. Moody from the time my grandfather bounced me on his knees. Moody was one of his heroes, and he let everyone know it. My grandfather loved talking about Moody, and one night when he was visiting my family in Japan and leading us in family worship, he told us about a young Moody who had overheard some older gentleman speaking on the other side of a hedge in a garden (2). While Moody couldn’t see their faces, and didn’t know who they were, he could clearly hear their voices. One of them said, “The world has yet to see what God can do with a fully consecrated man,” Young Moody thought, “I want to be that man!” and a great work was begun in his heart through the power of the Spirit that day, a work that led to multitudes entering into the Kingdom of God, and a work that is still impacting the Iverson family over 150 years later.
When Moody moved to Chicago in 1856 he had no plans of seeking lost souls but was more interested in seeking his fortune through business. But God had his hand on Moody and something changed in him (3). After seeing the poverty of the city, he began ministering to the poor and needy of Market Hall, a Chicago slum, and started figuring out creative ways to preach the gospel to those who were uneducated and often marginalized even by the church. One history record tells a story of Chicago’s Plymouth Congregation Church, where the elite middle-upper class congregation received a surprise as a nineteen-year-old Moody led into the Church a motley group of tramps, slum people and alcoholics he had been ministering to. In those days you had to rent pews if you wanted to have seats, and Moody had used his own hard earned money as a shoe sales man to rent four pews for his “riff-raff” friends so that they could be in worship (4). He continued to do this “outrageous ministry” each week until he started his own mission house in 1858 because the churches refused to make room for those Moody was reaching. He primarily drew the children of the German and Scandinavian immigrant underclass with candy, pony rides, and best of all: Bible stories. As a result of his work with the kids, he met their parents too, and impacted them through evening prayer meetings and English classes. He loved people, and never knew a stranger, being convinced that: “If you can really make a man believe you love him, you have won him”(5). While doing “inner city ministry” he had met and married Emma C. Revell, who had become one of his Sunday school teachers at Illinois Street Independent Church, which he planted in 1864 (6). Together with their three children they continued to serve their community as Moody attempted to mix effective social work with evangelism.
But then the fire came…
In October 1871, the Great Chicago Fire changed D.L. Moody’s life, and helped him increasingly become the consecrated man used for God’s eternal purposes that he longed to be. Among the many things the Chicago fire consumed, were Moody’s mission church, his home, and the YMCA where he had become chairman. His entire ministry, which he had labored so hard to build, was destroyed in a night (or so he thought). In an attempt to see his world rebuilt, Moody traveled to New York City to raise funds, something he had apparently been good at doing in Chicago (7). He had always “relentlessly sought and received financial support for all his projects in Chicago from rich Christian businessmen, such as Cyrus McCormick and John Wanamaker”(8), but God, in his providence was planning to raise up something far greater than mere funds, or church buildings, and social work centers – God planned on lighting a fire in Moody’s soul for evangelism.
On Wall Street one day, the Spirit of the living God fell on Moody in such a way he had never known. He describes this “presence and power” of the Lord, which he felt, as so intense that he screamed aloud in response: “Hold Lord, it is enough!” But the wick was lit, and a flame began to burn in his heart, a fiery passion to see souls of normal, everyday people and their families, converted and consumed with knowledge and love of God. Filled with vigor and vision, Moody returned to Chicago with a fresh purpose and passion to preach the eternal Kingdom of God as the solution for the fallen kingdoms of man. Being convinced that it was the gospel message, not social work, or man’s government that would change the world, he began pouring all of his energy solely into the “evangelization of the world in this generation.” It has been said that after this hinge point in his life, Moody preached an average of six sermons a day up until a month before he died at their Northfield, Massachusetts farm in 1899 (9). Moody’s prayer for his life was: “Use me then, my Savior, for whatever purpose and in whatever way Thou mayest require. Here is my poor heart an empty vessel; fill it with Thy grace”(10). And God did indeed use him. In a time before radio or television, it is estimated that over one-hundred million people in Europe and America were exposed to the clear and simple gospel message through Moody and his campaigns (11).
By the providence of God, D.L. Moody happened to come through Savannah, Georgia, and with his 300-pound frame of boundless energy he preached everywhere, sacred and profane, including my great-great-grandfather Halvor Iverson’s, Seamen’s Bethel. Halvor, a descendent from the Vikings, had come over to the United States from Norway in 1885 to practice his construction trade, raise his family, and preach the Gospel message. As a business and ministry, he ran the Seamen’s Bethel, a boarding home for sailors passing through, that charged fair rates, and fed his residents with both good food for their stomachs and the Word of God for their souls. He preached in six different languages to the diverse (mostly European) crowd boarding with him, and visited over four hundred harbored ships a year, to pray and proclaim the gospel to sailors and connect them to Christ’s Church. Bethel quickly grew and rose to being one of the best places to stay in Savannah. One story that has been passed down through my family is about a local entrepreneur who invested all of his money to open up an upscale bar right next door, hoping to prey on the numerous sailors lodging there. In response, Halvor and his wife began doing a different type of praying as they continued to faithfully proclaim the gospel to their residents. They began praying that God would protect their sailors from evil and they prayed for the bar to close down. Despite the entrepreneur’s strategic and well-calculated business plan, and much to his surprise, none of the sailors, out of obedience to God or respect for Halvor, would patronize his establishment. He went out of business quickly, and his family began going hungry. The Iverson’s immediately welcomed them to their table at Bethel, and helped them until they were able to get back on their feet.
The year was 1895, and Moody was fifty-eight years old, when he came through Savannah on a particular campaign that crossed paths with Iversons. Moody was known for his ecumenical approach of uniting together all the evangelical churches in a city were he campaigned with the simple goal of exposing mass amounts of people to the Gospel message. He networked with Halvor’s ministry, stayed in his home, and had great interaction with seven year old Daniel Iverson the 1st, who had the privilege of shadowing Moody with his father as he preached all over town. It was an impactful time in the lives of Iversons, but the greatest impact came when Moody stepped into the John Knox pulpit, towering 16 feet above all contradiction, at the great Independent Presbyterian Church of Savannah, to preach on the prophet Daniel. With his massive head and beard he looked like a mighty bear to all the children sitting in the front. He said: “Tonight I am speaking about a man in the Bible named Daniel. There is a little boy here with that name,” and looking fully in the face of my great-grandfather, he exhorted, “And young man, I want you to be a Daniel just like the one in the Bible. Dare to be a Daniel!” (12). As best as he could recollect, it was then and there that my great-grandfather believed he was called into the Gospel ministry.
Daniel grew into a young man with an adventurous and sometimes mischievous demeanor. In celebrating a football win while a student at the University of Georgia, he stole a trolley, rode it all through town, then climbed up on a water tower and commenced to graffiti it. He was caught and kicked out of school, and was also kicked out of his home. Halvor wouldn’t tolerate his mischief, and though I am sure he loved and was praying for his son, he disciplined him by sending him away on his own to figure out how to be a man and apply, in the reality of a fallen world, the things his parents had taught him.
It was in this time of brokenness and confusion that God started a fire in Daniel’s heart… He remembered when D.L. Moody dared him to be a Daniel, and since he had nowhere to go or live, he sojourned up to Chicago and enrolled in the Moody Bible Institute (Originally established by Moody in 1886 under the name The Bible-Work Institute of the Chicago Evangelization Society). There he sat under the Gospel-rich teachings of R.A. Torrey, an up and coming scholar and pastor who had been personally trained on Moody’s evangelism team since 1889, and was the Senior Pastor of the Chicago Avenue Church (now called the Moody Church). His heart began to melt as he increasingly understood and experienced God’s word and the Gospel, and the Spirit of the Living God began molding him through the education and training he was receiving. He became roommates with Torrey’s son, R.A. Torrey, Jr., and they began a daily habit of praying not only with one another, but also for one another in the deepest areas of their lives. They began taking Psalm 78 seriously, and started praying covenant prayers – prayers for their children’s children, the generations yet to be born, though neither were even married at the time. The Spirit filled him as he matured and continued his training after Moody at Columbia Theological Seminary, and his call to Gospel ministry was confirmed.
As life’s tapestry continued its providential weave, Daniel fell in love and married Vivian, a vivacious woman with a passion for people to know Jesus. Together they embarked into the adventures of pastoral ministry, an adventure that would also be taken up by his posterity for generations to come. During World War I, he became the religious director for over 60,000 troops, and it was there that he noticed that the ministers who preached the simple Bible sermons captivated the crowds and accomplished more definite effects in the hearts of men. He wrote:
The truth of this forced itself upon me that I determined I would never try to defend God, Christ, or the Bible anymore, but would teach the truths concerning them in a positive way. I also began to pray that God would give me what I began to call in my mind “a Bible Church”(13).
After the war he accepted a pastorate at Tenth Avenue Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. Within the course of three years, over eight hundred people came to Christ, and Daniel felt his call as a preacher of the Gospel confirmed, as did everyone else who affectionately began calling him “Preacher.” But he felt the religious atmosphere of Charlotte to be shallow, and being drawn toward adventure and challenge, like his Viking ancestors of old, he took on a pastorate in another Presbyterian church in Tarboro, North Carolina that only had ten members and was about to be closed down. He writes the following about the amazing work of the Holy Spirit he saw happen through the simple preaching of the Gospel.
“As I preached the Bible, sin, grace, judgment, and justification as in Charlotte, I called for decisions, and after three months, something changed. The church filled with people under conviction. There were one hundred seventy-five persons who came to Christ in the next ninety days, and we had eight missions throughout the countryside” (14).
In 1925, after a visit to the booming city of Miami Florida, Preacher felt a call to plant a church there, because he “[understood] the human nature to some extent, [and] knew that the Church of Jesus Christ would not measure up to the growth of the city” (15). But as he prayed, he felt the time was not right, and waited for God to give him clarification of when he was to begin this vision he felt was indeed from the Lord. He writes quite insightfully:
“It seemed it wasn’t a good time to begin the sort of work I dreamed of. It may have been the wrong way to look at it, but I felt that if such a venture were to begin at the time that people had money, they would have taken some of the credit for such a church to themselves” (16).
When the horrendous hurricane of 1926 ravished Miami and left the city with many deaths, mass destruction, and sudden poverty, it also left a spiritual vacuum that needed to be filled. The day Preacher read about the story in the newspapers, he decided to go to Miami to begin ministering the gospel to the city for which God had burdened his heart. He said goodbye to Vivian and their four children on October 1st 1926, and began the trek south to see what God might be doing. He wrote: “I felt that even if I failed (to plant a church), I could at least be a comfort to the sorrowing and discouraged people of Miami” (17).
Preacher had been appointed by the Southern Presbyterian Church as the Superintendent for the East Coast, and in that capacity, he began to visit churches, helping oversee their rehabilitation both physically and spiritually. He visited those injured and the many needing a minister’s services, preached the Gospel everywhere he went, and prayed for the city, which was in such vast disarray that it was nearly impossible to have any type of organized work developed. As he faithfully served for the next six months, he also quietly surveyed the entire Miami area, and his heart began to burn with the vision of the “Bible Church” God had given him. He visited each section and subdivision, located and connected with all the churches, and got an idea of the religious affiliation of the people in the various communities as he tried to determine where such a church could be planted and have the maximum Kingdom impact. He struggled with doubts as to whether God could raise up such a church from the rubble of such a city, but yet stood resolved in his vision, and made himself available and ready to plant the church, under God’s will and guidance, when the opportunity presented itself. This “waiting willingness” reflected his trust in God and his heart to reach the lost of Miami: “After a half year of survey, I decided that Shenandoah in the Southwest section of Miami was the most un-churched and afforded the best opportunity for the Gospel. Now it is God’s turn” (18).
And then God started another fire… In early 1927 Preacher Dan’s family joined him in Miami and the Shenandoah Presbyterian Church (SPC) was birthed in a dance hall with seventeen people (six of them being Iversons). But God was at work, and from that dance hall in Miami he raised up the Spirit-filled “Bible Church” Preacher had envisioned, and SPC began having a significant Gospel impact on Miami and the world. By its twenty-fourth birthday it had grown to 1664 members, with a Sunday school of 1200, which was meticulously run by Preacher’s wife Vivian Iverson (A.K.A “Bibbi”). Over one hundred and fifty laborers trained by Preacher went into full-time Christian ministries out of SPC, and the Church recorded over four-thousand persons who made a public profession of faith and joined SPC in this period. It has been conservatively estimated that around seventy-five churches were planted directly or indirectly through SPC, and nearly 250,000 people’s Christian experience “can be traced through his (Preacher’s) spiritual progeny” (19). Apparently, Preacher was also quite the song-writer and musician. He is most musically known from his prayer-hymn, “Spirit of the Living God, Fall Fresh on me”, which he wrote and first introduced on the organ at First Presbyterian Church in Orlando, Florida. The hymn continues to be sung around the world. Over 1200 voices of Christian leaders representing a hundred nations at The World Congress for Evangelism (The First Lausanne Conference) in 1966 ended their Berlin conference singing this hymn.
The fire of Moody was ablaze in my great-grandfather, and I see it in my grandfather, and father as well – a fiery-passion to see lost people know Jesus. When I was in college, I once asked my grandfather why he had such a passion to share the gospel and he said that, besides the Holy Spirit’s work, it was through his father’s example, which he claimed he caught from Moody. After Preacher passed away in 1977, the year I was born, my grandfather continued to set the example for us all. In college as I began ministering with Campus Crusade for Christ, I found that same fire was lit in my heart, and a desire for lost people to know Jesus as their Lord became and continues to be a passion I can’t explain apart from the Holy Spirit using D.L. Moody to light that evangelistic flame into Iverson hearts way back in 1895. I already see it starting to ignite in my children, and especially in my oldest son Daniel Iverson V, who is seven-years-old. A few months ago, after one of our morning discipleship times, he told me he wanted to figure out a way to get Jesus Story-Book Bibles (a special kid’s Bible we read) for all of his classmates in his 1st grade class in the public school across the street where he was going. He told me that many of the kids didn’t know about Jesus and many of his friends had told him that Mary was God too. He concluded that if we could get God’s word into their hands they would know the truth about Jesus. We figured out that we would have to come up with $300 to get enough Bibles, and he immediately started praying and thinking of ways to get the funds. He sold a bunch of his toys when we did a yard sale, and our family decided to use all the yard sale money for the Bibles, but we were still $200 short. So we prayed, and I watched my son trust God and plead for his friends. The next day, out of the blue someone at our church handed us a check for $200. We hadn’t told anyone about our plan, but God knew, and he put it on someone’s heart to give us that amount. Within a week our shipment on thirty brand new Bibles came and an excited little seven-year-old with the fire of Moody in his heart couldn’t wait to give them to his classmates.
I want to close with an excerpt from a letter my grandfather Bill Iverson wrote to Preacher after he died. It embodies the fire that God used Moody to ignite in Preacher, who loved Jesus and longed for the lost to know Him. Bill writes:
When you died, I heard that you had led Charlie Hodges to the Lord on the phone that very day. You chased him for forty years, first in Miami, then when both of you moved to Western Carolina. In Asheville, if you saw Charlie on one side of the street, you would cross, and then Charlie would go to the other side to avoid you. You prayed for him all those years and put those prayers into action. Dad, you taught me to be an evangelist as a lifestyle. Your story about D. L. Moody seems to exemplify your daily life. You said that Moody had a vow to share the Gospel every day. One night he remembered he hadn’t done it yet that day. He told Mrs. Moody he had to go out. It was a blustery Chicago night, and he accosted a man and placed his 300 pound frame under the umbrella with him.
“Are you a Christian?” He asked, with less sophistication than boldness.
“No, I am not a Christian, and furthermore, it is none of your business!”
“Yes indeed, it is my business!” replied Moody.
“Well, who do you think you are, Mr. D. L. Moody?”
“That’s precisely who I am” said Moody, and went on to give the Gospel to the amazed “victim of grace” (20)
The tapestry of God’s providence and covenant faithfulness continues to be displayed in my family, as does the Moody-inspired fire to see lost people repent of their sin and know Jesus as their savior and Lord. God’s providence and covenant promises are real. His Spirit is at work five generations later in Iversons all around the world. The fire has spread through Daniel Iverson III, my father, who with my mother Carol, has been a missionary in Japan for 28 years, and is passionate about preaching the good news in places where history has never seen Christ’s name worshipped. All nine of their children love Jesus and are serving His Kingdom and we praise him for his work and pray that his faithfulness would continue for a thousand generations as we make ourselves available to him and are used for His glory and for the joy and healing of the nations…
Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me.
Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me.
Break me, melt me, mold me, fill me.
Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me (21).
1 Paul Lee Tan, Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations: Signs of the Times (Garland, TX: Bible Communications, Inc., 1996) 2 Note: In 1986, in response to the call of God, my father Daniel Iverson III and Mother Carol Jean (Chase) Iverson moved our family to Japan, with Mission to the World, to plant churches and begin a Presbytery where the Gospel message had never been preached. 3 Note: Maybe this change was the story my grandfather told about when he felt the call to be “fully consecrated to God.” 4 Paul Lee Tan, Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations: Signs of the Times. 5-6 Mark Galli and Ted Olsen, 131 Christians Everyone Should Know, 71 (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000). Note: I vaguely remember hearing as a child my grandfather talk about Moody’s conversion, and so I was thrilled when I found this and could clarify the details. 7 James F. Findlay, “Moody, ‘Gapmen,’ and the Gospel: The Early Days of Moody Bible Institute,” Church History 31, no. 3 (September 1, 1962): 323. 8-9 Mark Galli and Ted Olsen, 131 Christians Everyone Should Know, 71. 10 Paul Lee Tan, Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations: Signs of the Time. 11 Mark Galli and Ted Olsen, 131 Christians Everyone Should Know, 72. 12 Note: Info found in W.T. Iverson, Jr., on the Memoirs of Daniel Iverson, and the Georgia Historical Society, circa 1895.) 13-18 Daniel Iverson I, Prayer, Providence and Proclamation, and Sanctified Wisdom: How Shenandoah Presbyterian Church Was Born in My Heart – An Autobiographical Sketch. This document has not been published but has been passed down though my family since Daniel Iverson III wrote it in 1939. 19 Note: Recorded in an Urban Update article in 1977. 20 Note: This is from a letter my grandfather Bill Iverson wrote to his deceased father (Daniel Iverson I) September 26, 2008 on what would have been Preacher’s 118th birthday. There were some grammatical and spelling errors, and a few words he forgot to include that I added so that it made sense. 21 My great grandfather’s famous chorus was written in the First Presbyterian Church in Orlando, Florida in 1926, located next to a 4000 capacity temporary tabernacle. He presented the hymn before preaching and never got to the sermon. The congregation sung the chorus for forty-five minutes. Helen Leonard, wife of Col. (Chaplain) Bill Leonard was ten years old at that time and distinctly remembers the day. She tells the story of her father, Presbyterian evangelist George Stephens, giving an invitation after the one hymn worship service with four hundred persons responding. The atmosphere was “electric” she said, and this one time in her life she knew the Presence in a unique way. See this link for more details.
*A recent autobiography of Daniel Iverson’s Church plant has recently been published by the PCA History Archives and Daniel Iverso.