“D.L. Moody and his son Will boarded the ocean liner Spree at Southampton, England, on November 23, 1892. Moody had just finished revival meetings in London, including eight days of services in Spurgeon’s Tabernacle, and now he was bound for New York. Foremost in his mind, besides seeing his family and students again, was the great campaign he was planning for the Chicago World’s Exhibition the following year.
On the third morning of the trip, passengers were startled by a loud crash and a shock going through the ship. Will hurried out to the deck. He quickly returned to say that the shaft of the vessel was broken. “The ship’s sinking, Father,” he said. The disabled ship, carrying hundreds of passengers, drifted helplessly away from the sea lanes. The vessel was taking on so much water that its pumps were useless. The crew prepared lifeboats and provisions, but they realized the small boats would soon perish in the rough seas. So they mustered passengers into a main saloon and waited, hoping to be discovered by a passing vessel.
On the second evening of their torturous wait, Moody led a prayer service that calmed many of the passengers, including himself. Although he was sure of heaven, the thought of his work ending and of never again seeing his family had unsettled him.
One biographer includes another angle to the incident.
Prior to the trip, a doctor had found irregularities in Moody’s heart and urged him to ease his schedule; if Moody did not, he would die early. Moody determined to slow down, and while sailing homeward, decided to scale down plans for the World’s Fair campaign.
During the crisis at sea, however, Moody perceived that God confronted him with a decision: Would Moody press on with all his might to deliver the gospel or would he be cautious, allowing fear to diminish his fervor?
Facing death, Moody decided that if God would spare his life, he would work with “all the power that He would give me.” And if he should die this year or next, that was in God’s hands. The following morning, however, the steamer Lake Huron discovered the stranded ship and towed it one thousand miles to safety.
D.L. Moody pressed on with his World’s Fair campaign, six months of unceasing labor, from which, in Moody’s estimate, “millions … heard the simple gospel” and “thousands [were] genuinely converted to Christ.” Moody died in the midst of his work-seven years later.
— Vinita Hampton, in Christian History, no. 25.