Henry Moorhouse (1840-1880) is called “the man that moved the man that moved the millions” referring to his influence with Dwight Lyman Moody. Who was the man they familiarly called “Harry”? Born in Manchester, his father was a kind, hardworking Christian who taught classes for the Methodist Sunday School. At twelve years of age, Henry went to work in a shop where he gravitated to the most mischievous of the young people. He was daring, and loved to do daredevil feats. As a young man, he was sent to jail on several occasions.
At sixteen he was on his own, a gambler and gang leader. He carried a pistol–for the purpose of killing himself should the need arise. He was reckless, devious, thieving, and often suicidal.
It was during the 1859 Revival that Lord Radstock, Reginald Radcliffe, and Richard Weaver preached in Manchester and one of Henry Moorhouse’s friends was converted. He went and spoke to Henry. Then, passing the Alhambra Circus in Manchester, where Richard Weaver was preaching, Henry heard a commotion, and thinking a fight was on, rushed in, expecting to join a brawl. Instead he was arrested by one word–“Jesus!” It was a voice to his conscience. After a hard struggle of weeks of abject misery, he also came to the Saviour.
To illustrate how he had served his infernal master before his conversion, Henry would tell of a man who bet on dog fights. His bulldog was one of the best. But after a bad night at the fights he was carrying his torn-up dog under his arm.
Disgusted at the dog’s poor showing, as he passed the zoo that night, he threw the creature over the gate into the lion’s den to get rid of it. Later as he passed the zoo, he spied a strange sight. There was his fighting dog, recuperating from his wounds as he rested under the lazy paw of a great lion. Realizing his mistake, he went to the zoo-keeper to report his lost property and demanded his dog back. The zoo-keeper responded, “Go and get him.” Henry would add, “I had served Satan well, but one day the old devil lost me, and I found myself at the feet of the King of kings and Lord of lords. Every once in a while the devil comes back to reclaim me, but when he does I just nestle close to the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, and say to the devil, “Come and get me.” Then he would break into Thomas Kelly’s hymn,
Happy they who trust in Jesus,
Sweet their portion is, and sure;
When the foe on others seizes,
He will keep His own secure.
John Hambleton, a converted actor, appreciated the earnestness of the young man, and became a mentor and co-worker to Henry. And Henry needed mentoring. His conversion was dramatic, but so had been his former life of sin.
The 1850s and 60s were a time of fearless evangelism. By comparison to his fellow-workers, Henry Moorhouse was not a powerful orator, or a brilliant organizer. A small man, in his thirties he was still called “the boy preacher.” He must have been an oddity standing among specimens such as Richard Weaver, otherwise known as Undaunted Dick, the boxer from the coalpits, whose style Moorhouse largely followed. Other fellow preachers included Edward Usher, a dockyard laborer, Henry Varley, the butcher, Reginald Radcliffe, the Liverpool lawyer; Brownlow North, the converted highroller; and Joshua Poole, known as Fiddler Joss.
Henry’s call to devote all his time to evangelism came through a man known as “the hatless preacher.” One evening when Henry was engaged in crying his wares as “auctioneer of notions,” and rapping for bids, the man appeared in the crowd and shouted, “Thou oughtest to have thy Bible in thy hand out amongst the people, and not that hammer for the devil,” and immediately left. That abrupt speech was a thunderbolt to Henry. He dropped the auctioneer’s hammer, went to Liverpool looking for John Hambleton, and entered with him on an evangelistic tour. Henry labored as an evangelist without a fixed salary, or human promise of support.
In Dublin, Henry Bewley erected a large building to be used for the gospel of Jesus Christ. The auditorium built on Lower Merrion Street could seat 2,500 persons. Merrion Hall was opened in 1863. Throngs came to hear Denham Smith, Henry Moorhouse, George Mueller, F. C. Bland, and Richard Weaver. “Eternity alone will reveal the numbers of whom it may truly be said that ‘this and that man was born there.’ From this assembly many have gone forth to various parts of the world, serving God as evangelists and missionaries who owe their salvation to the Word they heard preached in Merrion Hall.”
If they could not get them in, they went out to them. The power of the gospel invaded the most vice-ridden haunts. Sometimes fourteen theaters were filled in London on a Sunday night for gospel meetings. These “labors more abundant” are told in John Hambleton’s book, Buds, Blossoms, and Fruits of the Revival.
Around the year 1864 the last public execution at Armley Gaol, Leeds, took place. Two men named Myers and Sarget were hanged. “Henry Moorhouse, one of the best known evangelists of his time, took advantage of the occasion and in company with Gawin Kirkham and William Walker preached the gospel to an immense crowd that had gathered to witness the gruesome spectacle. This work in the gospel, which created some considerable stir in the city, brought about lasting results….”
Through incessant labors in Britain, Henry Moorhouse, never strong at the best, showed fatigue. He set out for the United States, arriving in Philadelphia in 1868. His welcome was so hearty, and his ministry so appreciated, that he paid five visits in the following ten years. How he “moved the man who moved the world” is told by D. L. Moody himself. In 1867, Moody went to Dublin, where he met Henry Moorhouse, “the boy preacher,” who introduced himself and said he would like to come to Chicago and preach.
“I looked at him. He was a beardless boy. Didn’t look as if he was more than seventeen; and I said to myself, ‘He can’t preach!’ He wanted me to let him know what boat I was going on as he would like to return with me. I thought he could not preach, and did not let him know. But I had not been in Chicago a great many weeks before I got a letter which said he had arrived in this country, and that he would come to Chicago and preach for me if I wanted him. I sat down and wrote a very cold letter: ‘If you come West, call on me.’ I thought that would be the last I should hear of him, but soon I got another letter, saying that he was still in this country and would come on if I wanted him. I wrote again, telling him if he happened to come West to drop in on me. In the course of a few days I got a letter stating that next Thursday he would be in Chicago. What to do with him I did not know. I had made up my mind he couldn’t preach. I was going to be out of town Thursday and Friday, and I told some of the officers of the church:
“‘There is a man# coming here Thursday who wants to preach. I don’t know whether he can or not. You had better let him try, and I will be back Saturday.’
“They said there was a good deal of interest in the church, and they did not think they should have him preach then; he was a stranger, and he might do more harm than good.
“‘Well,’ I said, ‘you had better try him. Let him preach two nights.’ They finally let him preach.
“When I got back Saturday morning I was anxious to know how he got on. The first thing I said to my wife when I got in the house was: ‘How is that young Irishman coming along?’ (I had met him in Dublin and took him to be an Irishman, but he happened to be an Englishman.) ‘How do the people like him? Did you like him?’
“‘Yes, very much. He has preached two sermons from John 3:16, and I think you will like him, although he preaches a little different from what you do.’
“‘How is that?’
“‘Well, he tells sinners God loves them.’
“‘Well,’ said I, ‘he is wrong.’
“She said: ‘I think you will agree with him when you hear him because he backs up everything he says with the Word of God.’
“I went down to church that night, and I noticed everyone brought his Bible.’My friends,’ began Moorhouse, ‘If you will turn to the third chapter of John and the sixteenth verse, you will find my text.’
“He preached a most extraordinary sermon from that verse. He did not divide the text into ‘Secondly’ and ‘Thirdly’ and ‘Fourthly.’ He just took it as a whole, and then went though the Bible from Genesis to Revelation to prove that in all ages God loved the world; that He sent prophets and patriarchs and holy men to warn them, and last of all sent His Son. After they murdered Him, He sent the Holy Ghost.
“I never knew up to that time that God loved us so much. This heart of mine began to thaw out, and I could not keep back the tears. It was like news from a far country. I just drank it in.
“The next night there was a great crowd, for the people like to hear that God loves them, and he said, ‘My friends, if you will turn in your Bible to the third chapter of John and the sixteenth verse you will find my text!’ He preached another extraordinary sermon from that wonderful verse, and he went on proving God’s love again from Genesis to Revelation. He could turn to almost any part of the Bible and prove it. I thought that sermon was better than the other one. He struck a higher chord than ever, and it was sweet to my soul to hear it.
“The next night–it is pretty hard to get a crowd out in Chicago on Monday night, but they came…He said again, ‘My friends, if you will turn to the sixteenth verse of the third chapter of John you will find my text,’ and again he followed it out to prove that God loves us. He just beat it down into our hearts, and I have never doubted it since. I used to preach that God was behind the sinner with a double-edged sword, ready to hew him down. I am done with that. I preach now that God is behind the sinner with love, and he is running from the God of love.
“Tuesday night came, and we thought surely he had exhausted that text and would take another, but he preached the sixth sermon from that wonderful text, ‘God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have’–not going to have when you die, but have it right here, now–everlasting life.’ Although many years have rolled away, his hearers never have forgotten it.
“The seventh night came, and he went into the pulpit. Every eye was upon him. All were anxious to know what he was going to preach about. He said, ‘My friends, I have been hunting all day for a new text, but I cannot find one as good as the old one, so we will go back to the third chapter of John and the sixteenth verse,’ and he preached the seventh sermon from that wonderful text. I remember the close of that sermon. Said he:
“‘My friends, for a whole week I have been trying to tell you how much God loves you, but I cannot do it with this poor stammering tongue. If I could borrow Jacob’s ladder, and climb up into heaven and ask Gabriel, who stands in the presence of the Almighty, if he could tell me how much love the Father has for the world, all he could say would be, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”‘”
It was a revelation to Moody. “I have never forgotten those nights. I have preached a different gospel since, and I have had more power with God and man since then.” Moody had seen the inexhaustibility of Scripture. From that time he became a more diligent student of the Bible. He asked Moorhouse how to study, and invited friends to his Chicago home for “Bible readings.”
This event may have connected Moody with the writings of C. H. Mackintosh, which Moody endorsed and promoted. Thereafter Moody sought out and welcomed the influence of Moorhouse’s friends. For instance, in Chief Men Among the Brethren, we read, “During D. L. Moody’s well-remembered meetings at the Opera House in London, scarcely a day passed that he did not spend an hour with F. C. Bland over the Bible.”
In 1870, Henry wed a Christian woman named Mary who had often witnessed to him in his lost days. They wished for nine children. Years afterward an acquaintance asked, “How about the large family, Henry?” He replied, “My heavenly Father knew what was best for Henry. He has given me one little paralyzed girl, and she has done more to soften my heart for other poor little children… than a crowd of healthy ones could have done.”
Speaking on the promise, “I will help thee; Yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of My righteousness,” he said, “I have a little child at home, seven years old, paralyzed from babyhood, who, seeing me with a parcel I wanted to take upstairs, said, ‘I will carry the parcel for you, father.’ ‘How can you carry the parcel, Minnie?’ I asked. ‘I will carry the parcel, and you will carry me!'”
During the last few years of his life he preached from a mobile book store, a novel idea that Henry introduced, which caught on across Ireland, England and Australia. In two years he sold 150,000 Bibles and Testaments, giving away millions of books and tracts.
In 1876 his service was evidently closing, and his last year of labor was painful. Doctors said his heart was twice the size it ought to be. “If it were the Lord’s will to raise me up again, I should like to preach from the text, ‘God so loved the world,”’ he said. He entered his rest on December 28, 1880.
The bodies of Richard Weaver and Henry Moorhouse lie near each other in Ardwick Cemetery, Manchester. John 3:16 is engraved on Moorhouse’s stone.
John Hambleton’s farewell interview with Henry summed up his life: “Calling to see him on Monday last, before he left us, I grasped his arms, as his face betokened that the enemy death was doing his last work, and said, ‘Harry, we shall soon meet up yonder.’ He replied, while gasping for breath, ‘Sure, sure, sure!’ How plainly visible is the work of God in putting into such a little frail vessel as our brother such a treasure, showing us all that the excellency of the power is of God.”
In Henry’s last letter, he wrote, “Ask prayer for me to suffer for Christ better than ever I preached for Him; I ONLY WANT TO GLORIFY HIM.”
Material in this article was gathered from:
Arthur P. Fitt, Moody Still Lives: Word Pictures by His Son-in-Law and Former Secretary, Fleming H. Revell
David J. Beattie, Brethren: The Story of a Great Recovery, John Ritchie
John Macpherson. Henry Moorhouse: The English Evangelist, Morgan & Scott