Jacksonian Miscellanies, #16: April 29, 1997

Topic: The Arminianization of Granville Moody

Copyright by the editor, Hal Morris, Secaucus, NJ 1997. Permission is granted to copy, but not for sale, nor in multiple copies, except by permission.

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Here is another story of the making of a preacher - a Methodist in this case - Granville Moody (1812-1887), who does not appear in the Dictionary of American Biography. The material comes from

A Life's Retrospect
Rev. Granville Moody,D.D.
(Brigadier General by Brevet)
edited by
Rev. Sylvester Weeks, A.M., D.D.
Curts & Jennings.
New York:
Eaton and Mains
(Copyright by Cranston & Stowe, 1890)

The facts of Moody's life, in brief, are that his family were New Englanders, but in his teens they lived in or near Baltimore. In 1830 (or 1831?) he followed his brother to Norwich, Ohio. He was converted from a nominal Presbyterian to a fervent Methodist in 1831, and soon after, became a minister, and served in that capacity the rest of his life.

For reasons I don't understand yet, he was also commissioned a Colonel on the Union side in the Civil War, and, apparently at one point a brevet (temporary or acting) General.

The chapter presented here begins with an apparent close call with cancer, and the cutting out of the tumor from his arm without (of course) anaesthetic.

Soon afterwards, the decision is made to follow his brother to the west. On taking leave of "Aunt Violet", and old slave with whom he had struck up a friendship, she kindly informs him that he is a dreadful sinner and that she prays that he will get right with God, and not make it "necessary for Aunt Violet to come out against you there as a witness in that great day". She will not let go of his hand, and goes on at length, telling how the illiterate woman had often had him read to her from the Bible for his own good, seeing how it moved him.

In Norwich Ohio, where he joins his brother in 1830, he attends the Presbyterian church, in which he was raised, and finds it cold and inhospitable. The next Sunday he attends the Methodist church where he is made to feel at home and put to work teaching Sunday School immediately. For some weeks he attends the church, attracted to the people, but sure, from his past teaching that their doctrine is all wrong. At a social gathering, he has a long debate with the junior minister of that church, in which he "had the advantage of the preacher, who had not been trained Calvinistically or polemically". Neither convinced the other, but soon after, "Brother Miller" said to him

To Moody's surprise, he finds the work absolutely convincing. He concludes "That man is right in his views on all the five points of Calvinism, and I now believe with him in conditional election of believers in Christ to salvation; universal atonement in Christ for every child of man; a graciously alleviated depravity; grace resistible, but not resisted by the saved; the amissibility of grace."

In the following chapter (which I will only excerpt here), he nicely summarizes the shift in attitude from Calvinist to the "Arminian" doctrine of Methodism:


IN the summer of 1829 my mother, putting her hand on my right shoulder as I sat on the porch, discovered there a tumor about the size of an acorn.

In the fall I noticed that it was enlarging with great rapidity. We called in a physician, who pronounced it "osteo­sarcoma;" and Dr. Smith, professor of surgery in the University of Maryland, advised a surgical operation, to which I was very averse. Treatment, internal and local, failed to arrest its development, and in two months it doubled in size. The doctor advised me to call on a gentleman of Baltimore similarly affected, and be governed by what he said in the case.

He had consulted surgeons in Philadelphia, New York, Boston, London, Paris, and Berlin, all of whom had advised the knife; but he, disregarding their advice, was now beyond that help. Failing to see him, I consented to follow the advice of his wife, who had, with motherly tenderness and delicacy, examined my shoulder and pronounced the trouble the same as that of her husband. In his case surgery was hopeless, and he was undergoing sleepless nights and agonies inexpressible. The surgeon was pleased with my decision, and appointed the following Thursday as the time for the operation. He brought with him several physicians and the senior class from the university. I saw the preparation; an old carpet spread above the center of the room, a tub of warm water, a roll of towels, lint, bandages, and the polished instruments. There were no anaesthetics in use at that time; so that, as I was seated on a chair, naked to my waist, a doctor knelt on each side of me, with one arm about my waist and the other holding one of my arms. The cutting was as if the surgeon was using a red­hot instrument, and the sawing of the bone was torture, indeed. When the wound was dressed Dr. Smith showed me what he had removed, and congratulated me on being a sound man. In two months I was well, and I have had no trouble with that shoulder since.

About this time I began to feel a deeper interest in family devotions, which were observed with regularity by my father. His precision of expression, devout manner and spirit, and his spotless life, gave emphasis to the worship, at which I was always present. Father's table devotions were very impressive and instructive, well calculated to keep alive a sense of God and religious obligation. His bland and courteous manners, and all the sweet civilities of life, tended to make religion appear attractive and to be a reasonable service.

On Sabbath afternoons he seemed to enjoy the sacred rest of God's holy day, calling "the Sabbath a delight," and practically honoring it by turning his feet away from the paths of those who desecrated the hours of this clay of the Lord. I think no one ever came nearer fulfilling the description of acceptable worshipers, as described in Isaiah lviii, 13, 14, than my honored parents. My father had a melodious voice, and I often hear echoes of his Sabbath afternoon soliloquies, uttered in intoned and measured notes, the originals of which I can not find. He was a Puritan of the Puritans by constitution and by education, in manner and in habits. In 1834, in autumn's somber hours, he passed away peacefully and expectantly, responding to mother's query when he neared his mortal hour: "Mr. Moody, what are your feelings and prospects now ?" "O Harriet, it is all well with me now. I have trusted Christ; I must trust Christ; I can trust Christ; and I do trust Christ; and I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he its able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that clay. But O, Harriet, what will you do? I leave you and your fatherless children to God. A Judge of the widow and a Father to the fatherless is God in his holy habitation."

Some fifty rods south­west from my father's house, in a very humble cabin, situated on a portion of land of fifteen acres, belonging to Ned Griffen, there lived two superannuated negro slaves, named Uncle Jim and Aunt Violet, whom we all visited in leisure hours. Uncle Jim was a ''tooth­ache doctor," a burly, cranky old man. He used to interest us children with stories of slavery and slave-holders, and how he suffered; and he accounted for the loss of his front teeth, above and below, by saying that they were knocked out by his master's blows with his heavy hickory cane. "He would have his plantation­bell rung before sunrise," thus he went on, " and then come out on his porch, and clear his throat three times; then woe to the man or woman who was not up and at work. 'Come here,' he would say; and he followed his words with blows right in your face or mouth, and the teeth would fly or go down your throat. O, he was a bad man! He would work his slaves on Sunday. One time, on turning the mule­teams out of a wheat­field which he had sown on Sunday, he said, with oaths, that he would have the best yield off that field of any in the county; and, sure enough, he had the biggest crop I ever saw-thirty­five bushels to the acre. Wasn't that strange?" Jim was a good farmer. He made every edge cut. He would buy a horse for five to ten dollars, work him hard, feed him nine ears of corn a day, and when he died, as he soon did, Jim made his complaint to his neighbors, who would make up a similar sum for him, and he would reinvest.

His wife, Aunt Violet, was a jewel. She was seventy or seventy­five years old. She had been the body.servant of Madame Hollingsworth, of whom she had no complaints to make, and of whom she was proud to speak in the highest terms of commendation. The mistress died, and the younger members of the family, who were wild and careless, "quit­claimed" their interests in her, and she married Uncle Jim, and Ned Griffen gave the old couple those fifteen acres during their life­time. Aunt Violet always washed for my mother on Monday. She was a Methodist, and at her work sang Methodist hymns with a charming voice. Her conduct was such that everybody said she was a Christian. I heard her say one Monday morning, on looking at the big basket of clothes: "Massa Jesus and I has got a big job before us, but we'll be good for it;" and she sang:

Blessed Jesus! He is here. He makes me happy now. Jesus and I can get through it, sure. Glory ! Hallelujah!''

She would stand in the center of the gallery in Hookstown church, at love­feast, and narrate her experience; profess that she had had her heart cleansed and perfected in love, and then she would sing:

My mother believed in Aunt Violet's deep and consistent piety, and being a member of the Bible Society, and charged with seeing that every house that would receive it should have a copy of the Bible she procured a large Bible and presented it to Aunt Violet. She kept it wrapped in a snowy towel, and deposited in her ample chest. When young or old would visit her she would take out the Bible, and, with a sweet smile, say: "My Heavenly Father has sent Aunt Violet a big letter, but she can not read a word of all this letter; now won't you read a portion for me, that I may hear what Great Master says to me?" Who could refuse a request so uttered by the holy, woman? She was as polite as she was pious. Every time I Visited her, she would briny out her Bible. While I was reading she would sit and pray and praise the Lord She would draw in her breath, hearing as if by inspiration. I would feel strangely affected, so that I dreaded this ordeal. My lips would quiver and my tears flow. I would be so filled with emotion that I would have to stop reading. I would then select some historical or genealogical portion; but before I knew it I would feel the strange emotions again, produced by the sacred Word. By the fervent prayers of Aunt Violet, the Holy Spirit would take of the things of Christ, and show them unto me.

Now came the crucial test. My brother John had married and moved to Norwich, Muskingum County, Ohio, and entered into merchandising. He wrote to me and my parents, inviting me to spend a year in his store; that he would start a good store in the country at an eligible site, make me a partner, and we would both do well.

It was so arranged, and I was to start on Monday, August 31, 1831 . The morning came; breakfast was over; family prayers followed, in which my father led, and asked God's blessing upon the enterprise, and implored his blessing upon me in particular, praying that God would say unto me: "Wilt thou not say unto me at this time, My Father, thou art the guide of my youth?" Then, pronouncing his blessing upon me, we all arose. Mother kissed me good­bye, and my sisters, Harriet, Louisa, Ellen, and Sarah, gave me the sweet parting kiss. Josiah Chew and all the servants bade me good­bye, whilst "Kitty," a smart gray mare, stood chewing her bit and stamping her feet, anxious to be released. I went out and adjusted my saddle­bags, and was about to mount, when I remembered Uncle Jim and Aunt Violet. I said: "I must not forget them; I'll run up and say good­bye."

I found them at the table, eating their breakfast. Everything was in perfect neatness and order. I broke in, saying: "Well, Uncle Jim and Aunt Violet, I am just starting to go to Ohio, and I came up to bid you good­bye." "Good­bye, young Massa Granville," said Uncle Jim. Aunt Violet rose from the table, and I extended my hand and said: "Good­bye, Aunt Violet; good­bye."

She took my hand in hers, and held it. I backed out of the cabin door, and she followed me into the yard, and we stopped. Holding on to my hand, she said: "Young Master, I must speak to you. I hope you will kindly receive what I am going to say to you now. You is going far, far away, and this may be the last chance to speak to you. You has been well raised. Your father and mother are good Christian people. They have set you a good example; have prayed for and with you every night and morning; have taken you to Church and Sabbath­school, and taught you the catechism of your people's Church; and yet, notwithstanding all this, you has steadily gone on in your wicked ways; and now I fear you is worse and further from God and salvation and hope than ever you was before. And now you is going to leave all these good influences, and going away out to de West, 'way beyond de mountains and among a people that don't care for God nor for your soul. O, what will become of you, young master? Besides all this, God's Holy Spirit has done his office on your heart powerfully, I know. When I used to ask you to read my Bible, which your precious mother gave me for my own, while you read I prayed that it might do you good as well as me, and I often saw how the truth of Jesus would affect you, and your voice would fail you, and your lips would tremble, and your eyes overflow with tears. I was praying that God would use his own word by his present Spirit to convince you of sin, and to give you conviction in order to your conversion. But you resisted de Holy Spirit; and oftentimes, when you was swearing at the hands or the horses, I has drapped right down upon my knees wherever I mought have been, and prayed for you, dat de Lord would not lay these things to your charge, but give you repentance unto life not to be repented of. But you have grown worse and worse, and now you are further off from God than ever you was before, and are going away, like the prodigal son, into a far­off country. O yes, young master; the Holy Spirit has done his duty with you, and called you to repentance and I have felt his presence with the word you so often read for me. I did hope it might do you good, and cause you to turn to de Lord and seek salvation from de reigning power of sin to newness of a holy life."

All this time she held me by my right hand, and became wonderfully earnest. She swayed her person up and down, right and left, while streams of tears attested her holy agony for my welfare. Her arm was bare to her shoulder, and a neat little white band, an inch wide, contrasted strangely with the jet­black skin of her sinewy arms with large veins, which seemed leaping with the excitement she felt and showed, as she pleaded with me to submit myself to God and begin a new life. At length she let go of my hand, and raised her long black arm toward the skies, and said: "Young master, I has done my duty for the last time. And now," she said, standing with that long black arm extended, "and now let me charge you, Master Granville, do n't you meet me at the judgment­seat of Christ in an unconverted state; for if you do, Aunt Violet must there appear as a swift witness against you. The Holy Ghost has done his work on your heart a many a time; and now I say to you, Don't, O do n't go on in sin.

Do n't live and die in your sins; for if you do, you will make it necessary for Aunt Violet to come out against you there as a witness in that great day. De Lord lead you to repentance and salvation, and no one will be more glad than Old Aunt Violet will be to hear of your choosing the good part, which shall not be taken away from you Farewell, young master, farewell."

There I stood like a culprit before this Nemesis, this voice of God. As sentence followed sentence, and appeal followed appeal, and my conscience attested the truth of every charge, my mouth was stopped. I was appalled, and shrank from her earnestness. Her most eloquent appeal convinced me that God was speaking through her to me. How I got away from the breezy shade of the peach­tree, beneath which we both stood while sunlight struggled through the leaves, I can never tell; but I was most powerfully convinced of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment to come and, like Felix, I trembled with dismay, and went along that string of fencing with far different feelings than when I went up half an hour before. I said nothing to my parents of what had occurred, but mounted my horse and left, with my parents' benison and my sisters' weeping faces and utterances of good­bye. As I rode along the pike to Hookstown, I cast weary, longing, lingering looks behind. The arrows of the Almighty were sticking fast within me, and tall, gaunt, gesturing warning Aunt Violet stood before my vision. Her closing words, "Do n't meet me at the judgement seat of Christ, or Aunt Violet will be compelled to appear as a swift witness against you there," rung like the knell of destiny in my ears. I tried to reason away the spell that rested upon me; but that tall, gaunt, figure, and that lifted and extended black arm pointing upward "would not down." Aunt Violet was a Christian; her character was her own, and her reputation was coincident with it. There was a gentleness and gentility in her mien, and a pathos, a power of persuasion and eloquence and point in her, that was admirable and potent; presence of the same preaching to Lydia and the jailer and Felix and Agrippa. My conscience echoing her words of truth and soberness, I could not reason away the feelings that swayed my bosom.

I arrived at my destination on the ninth day from home, September 8th. My trip across the Alleghany Mountains was delightful. What altitudes! What ranges of vision, mountain slopes, gurgling rills, rivulets, and rivers! The National Road has been superseded by the railroads, the great wagons and stage­coaches as well. The taverns, with their six­foot long grates; rooms filled with wagoners and travelers; their vast table comforts of mountain­mutton, corn­bread, hominy, venison, bear­meat, pheasants, partridges, and wild turkeys; stables brimming with mountain­oats, these are all of the past.

Norwich, O., was the Mecca of my hopes. It was a town of less than a thousand inhabitants. My brother welcomed me, and I set to work at once with a will to learn the business. The first Sabbath came, and I went to the Presbyterian Church A great crowd of people was there, and the regular pastor conducted services in an austere dogmatic, and self­sufficient manner. He preached a rigid Calvinistic sermon. Intermission for an hour was announced, and then followed another sermon. The membership partook of the austerity of their pastor; and, stranger though I was, no one spoke to me. I felt like a stranger among strangers, and fastening to them seemed like anchoring to the north side of an iceberg where gloom and shadow abide.

In my awakened state of alarm and concern I had, before coming to Norwich, settled down upon a purpose to forsake a sinful life, and "cease to do evil and learn to do well." Under all my previous training, and especially under the close personal exhortation of Aunt Violet, I was among the class of persons who are said to be "prepared for the Lord." My morality was unexceptionable to the people of Norwich, and I was looking for the open door.

The next Sabbath was the regular preaching day in the Methodist Episcopal Church. Rev John W. Gilbert was preacher in charge and Rev. Levi P. Miller junior preacher. The junior preacher was to officiate, and I went to hear him He was as "one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well upon an instrument." His preaching was evangelical, instructive, and consoling He was a Barnabas, a son of consolation, very amiable in spirit and winning in address. At the close of the meeting the people shook hands with me, gave me kind looks, and said, "Come again." The superintendent of the Sunday­school Invited me to attend his school at two P. M., which I did, having been used to Sunday­school from my early childhood. I was assigned to teach a vacant class, and thus was harnessed and put to work at once. A few weeks passed, crowded with business six days and Church­work nearly all day Sunday; yet my heart was burdened and longing for the pardoning voice of a forgiving God-longing for a deliverance of my soul from the burden of condemnation and the bondage of my corruption into the glorious liberty of the sons of the Lord God Almighty.

There was one member for whom I conceived the highest regard. I reverenced his godly character. This was Isaiah Brown. When he spoke in meeting, it was in the demonstration of the Spirit and with power. When he prayed, it seemed to me that he was talking with God. When he sang, he seemed to be making melody in hit heart to the Lord d, whilst he spoke to the people in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. He always became unspeakably happy in singing the hymn beginning,

He was an illiterate man, a cooper by trade, yet he wore Jehovah's seal upon his bow. With tearful eyes and uplifted countenance, all illuminated by the Holy Spirit, he would close the hymn in ecstasies.

About the first week in October my brother's wife, who was a Baltimore Methodist, invited the junior preacher to take tea with her family. After supper was over, my brother attended the store, leaving us three together. Conversation followed about Methodism, to which I was a stranger, having been raised after the straitest sect of New England Congregationalism, with the very highest regard for and deference to the "Saybrook platform," a rigid Calvinistic body of divinity. We both soon had our hands full. Feeling an obligation to the faith of my ancestors, I set my squadrons on the field in the five points of Calvinism,-unconditional election, particular redemption, total depravity, grace irresistible, and perseverance of the saints. I had the answers of the catechism at my tongue's end. I had also in memory the Confession of Faith, with its formulated doctrines and supposed proofs, cited by the Westminster divines; so that I had the advantage of the preacher, who had not been trained Calvinistically or polemically. The disputation lasted till two o'clock in the morning. On his leaving for his lodgings, sister Mary said: "Well, Brother Granville, you need not think to get Brother Miller to adopt your notions, for he has been brought up a Methodist, and has been received into the conference." "Now, sister Mary," said I, "just change the terms and your remarks will apply to me as well, except the conference I do not think he answered one of my arguments; do you ?"

The latter part of the week Brother Miller, with smiling countenance, calling me " Bub," said:

Will you read a book on the subjects we talked about nearly all night, without reaching any conclusions?" "Certainly I will. What is the name of the book?" "'Fletcher's Checks.' They are checks to the system of doctrine you defended so zealously," he replied. Said I: "I should like to see any one attempt to check the faith once delivered to the saints. I will read carefully, and write you a reply." In the evening he handed me a large book marked Vol. I, of four volumes. I thought that "Fletcher's Checks" was a two­penny pamphlet, and I was not prepared to face so formidable a work. The books I had had access to were in favor of Calvinism. I had never heard of Fletcher or any of the representative men of Methodism. I took the book, and read and read, and pondered much, and reasoned as well as I could. I borrowed the remaining volumes, and compared the several teachings with the Bible. I recollect my mental processes as one morning I sat sideways to the counter and closed my eyes, comparing the truth of God with "the hoary faith of my ancestors." Taking up "Fletcher's Checks," I said: "This man is right in his views on all the five points of Calvinism, and I now believe with him in conditional election of believers in Christ to salvation; universal atonement in Christ for every child of man; a graciously alleviated depravity; grace resistible, but not resisted by the saved; the amissibility(sic) of grace." Thus was I brought out of Calvinism by being placed in contact with the master mind of Methodism.

I bless God that I ever read Fletcher's works, so clear, cogent, and conclusive. Rev. Levi P. Miller was always afterwards my warm personal friend. He labored till old age arrested him when he had to retire from the conference. Plowing corn on his little farm, he ran a broken bone into his foot; lockjaw developed then death. We shall meet in heaven.

Some questions I would love to have answered:
* Has anyone out there run across other references to Granville Moody, and if so where?
* Is anyone familiar with Fletcher's Checks, and do you know any works containing accessible commentary on it?
* Any other comments on this or other issues?


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