Moody and Sankey – Their Legacy

By | January 14, 2018

Copyright (c) 2010 Robert Hinchliffe

Times of spiritual revival have always coincided with outpourings of new church music. It was true at the time of the Protestant Reformation and with the burst of religious fervour which surrounded the founding of the Methodist church. The beginnings of the Salvation Army generated a new interest in fresh worship music following General Booth’s much reported comment, “Why should the devil have all the best tunes?” The work of Moody and Sankey dates from very much the same era as General Booth.

In 1870 American Evangelist Dwight Moody (1837 – 1899) teamed up with composer and hymn writer Ira Sankey (1840 – 1908) to form one of the most powerful evangelical partnerships in the second half of the 19th century. Working as a team, the two men evolved their very own style of ‘Gospel Hymns’ which their congregations found attractive to listen to, easy to sing and which carried a clear message.

Ira Sankey produced a book of music for worship, “Sacred Songs and Solos” which is still in print today. This book, which contains 1200 pieces of worship music, sold an astonishing 80 million copies in its first 50 years of publication. Neither Moody nor Sankey pocketed so much as one penny in royalties. All the money raised went towards the work of Christian charities. The book contains many hymns widely known today including that gem of congregational singing:

“It passeth knowledge, that dear love of mine”

Apart from their work in the USA, they twice made evangelical missions to the UK with great effect. In their missionary work Moody was the speaker, a very powerful speaker by all accounts, whilst Sankey provided the musical content sitting at a small reed organ to lead the singing of his great new hymns.

The hymns which Moody and Sankey brought over to the UK became widely sung long after their missions were over. The great Baptist preacher, Charles Spurgeon (1834 – 1892), continued to use their hymns in his work and was largely responsible for establishing them as popular worship music for many years afterwards. Even today, I have heard of church events featuring a “Moody and Sankey” evening from time to time.

The legacy of great hymn writing from Victorian times owes a great deal to the work of Moody and Sankey. Their attractive and singable hymns with a strong theologically basis inspired many other writers to produce a rich repertoire of church music. Even today their work is enthusiastically sung in acts of traditional worship all around the world.

Robert Hinchliffe is a professional musician and Methodist local preacher. He is an oboist and composer; – also a writer of worship songs. This article is a result of his recent research into the history of music in Christian worship. For more details visit and find out how you can access a FREE copy of Robert’s new Christmas song, “The Greatest Gift”


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