STILLPOINT Archive: last updated 04/09/2015

Friends Well Met

By Kevin Belmonte ’90

Some riches lie in unexpected places. Some are moments from older days, stories we might never think to find.

One hundred and one years ago, the Rev. James Franklin discovered this. While touring Asia for a missionary society, he boarded a train in Japan. His attempts to speak Japanese were halting, and he was much relieved when a young man offered help in fluent English.

This was a welcome surprise, but there was more to come.

Franklin said he was from Boston, and saw a sudden light in the young man’s eyes. “I studied science at Boston University,” he said, smiling. Then, he asked quickly: “Do you know the Rev. A. J. Gordon? Have you ever visited Northfield? I heard Dr. Gordon there, and D. L. Moody, and Henry Drummond.” For some moments, the young man spoke of them, and everything Northfield (a Christian conference center) meant to him. It was something Franklin would never forget.

Researching A. J. Gordon’s friendship with the famous evangelist D. L. Moody, I never thought to find a story like this: showing so clearly how Gordon and Moody’s work traveled the world. But there it was, in a 1914 issue of The Missionary Review.

A Mosaic Comes to Light

This story hearkens to a remarkable friendship, and the kindred legacies that A. J. Gordon and D. L. Moody left us. And the more I delved into old letters, books, and articles, more pieces of a compelling mosaic came to light. Gordon and Moody worked together often, and constantly relied on each other. I found much more than I ever thought to find.

D. L. Moody’s eldest son Will saw first hand that A. J. Gordon was a “confidential advisor” to his father. Gordon, Will wrote, gave “assistance at the Northfield Conferences . . . of inestimable value.”

Will Moody’s writings explain why D. L. Moody “relied much” on Gordon. For constantly, he showed a “readiness to do any service, to take any place, to stand in any gap.”

One summer, Gordon had “the whole charge” of the Northfield Conference while Moody was overseas. Moody said after: “I cannot thank you enough 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?’

This was Moody’s declaration that Gordon should take leadership of the famous Northfield Summer Conferences, in the event of Moody’s death. I’d no idea his respect for Gordon, and his trust, ran so deep.

Remembering Round Top

Nor did I know how closely associated Gordon’s name was with the most hallowed place in Northfield: the high hill called “Round Top.” For many years, hundreds of students—from places like Harvard, Yale, and Brown—knew Round Top well. A. J. Gordon spoke often there.

“Round Top,” wrote J. Wilbur Chapman, “has ever been a place of blessing. . . . Each evening, when the conferences are in session, as the day is dying out of the sky . . . students gather to talk of the things concerning the Kingdom. . . . The old haystack at Williamstown figures no more conspicuously in the history of missions than Round Top figures in the lives of a countless number of Christians throughout the whole world.”

Chapman continued: “A. J. Gordon, of sainted memory, delivered some of his most telling addresses” from the crest of Round Top, which overlooks the beautiful Pioneer Valley—further on to mountains that edge the horizon.

One evening, said Chapman, Dr. Gordon “spoke of the Lord’s return, and just as he finished, he stood for a moment with his kindly face all aglow with the power of his theme, and said: ‘I wish He might come now,’ as we looked towards the west.”

Partnership Cut Short

D. L. Moody remembered this too, after Gordon’s death in 1895.

As biographer Lyle W. Dorsett has written, Moody “was markedly saddened by the unexpected death of his dear friend A. J. Gordon, who was only fifty-eight.” Moody was traveling in Texas, and couldn’t return to Boston for the funeral.

The two friends had shared so much. “Both men,” Dorsett writes, “were passionate about reaching the lost, especially the poor and those broken by alcohol, drugs and other abuses. Both preachers burned with a desire to educate young people.” Both cared deeply about foreign missions.

After Gordon’s death, Moody wrote of him to A. T. Pierson: “Dear man, he has got home & left a bright light behind him.” Then Moody remembered Gordon’s talks on Round Top—when sunset fringed the mountains. He told Pierson: “We will have a memorial service this summer, in the same place where he spoke on the Resurrection.”


A Key Location

(third photo) This plaque marks the spot of D. L. Moody’s conversion: Court Street in downtown Boston. Nearby are Park Street Church, Boston Common, Old South Meetinghouse, Tremont Temple Baptist Church and the site of the Clarendon Street Church, which A. J. Gordon pastored from 1870 until his death in 1895.

Moody Bible Institute

(fourth photo) Established in 1886 in Chicago (where it continues to operate today), in its early years Moody Bible Institute shared a common purpose with A. J. Gordon’s fledgling Boston Missionary Training Institute: to equip for Christian service “gap men [and women]” who were too poor, too old, or too lacking in schooling to go to traditional colleges.


Kevin Belmonte is the author of three biographies of prominent Christians; the most recent is D. L. Moody—A Life (2014, Moody Publishers). His William Wilberforce: A Hero for Humanity (2002, NavPress) received the John Pollock Award for Christian Biography. He followed Defiant Joy: The Remarkable Life & Impact of G. K. Chesterton (2011, Thomas Nelson) with a volume of excerpts from Chesterton’s writing, A Year with G. K. Chesterton: 365 Days of Wisdom, Wit and Wonder (2012, Thomas Nelson). He is also the author of Miraculous: A Fascinating History of Signs, Wonders and Miracles (2012, Thomas Nelson).

Kevin blogs at the Huffington Post, and was the lead historical and script consultant for the film Amazing Grace. He holds master’s degrees in church history and in American and New England studies. He and his wife, Kelly, live in Maine with their young son.