A Text Should Not Be a Pretext

In the vein of Charles Spurgeon's Lectures to My Students, the 1875 Lyman Beecher lectures on preaching at Yale College given by John Hall (1808-1898), as well as the 1870 volume of addresses to theological students on Successful Preaching by Hall, Theodore Cuyler and Henry Ward Beecher, contain much practical wisdom for students of the ministry. 

Born in County Armagh, Ireland, John Hall began in his own theological studies in 1845, and was ordained in 1850 to missionary labors in predominantly Catholic western Ireland. He went on to serve as pastor or associate pastor in Armagh and Dublin, before attending the 1867 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America. He was quickly offered a pastorate at the vacant pulpit of the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York City. After moving his family to New York, he would go on to serve this congregation with great success until his death in 1898. Although he died on a trip abroad to Ireland, he was buried in New York. 

In God's Word Through Preaching, Hall expounds on many topics of importance to ministers and their flocks: the importance of preaching Christ, illustrations and controversies handled from the pulpit, the personal godliness of ministers, the question of whether sermons should be read, remarks on James Waddel Alexander's Thoughts on Preaching -- Hall was among those who preached at the memorial services for Alexander after his death in 1859 -- and many other interesting topics are worth perusing in Hall lectures. Following his remarks, an appendix includes real questions from Yale theology students to Hall and his succinct responses. 

To give but one example of this exchange: 

Question: What relation should the text bear to the sermon?

The text should sustain, suggest, and give tone to the sermon. The main thought of the text should usually be the main thought of the sermon. A text must not be made a pretext.

Pilgrim, Be of Good Cheer

The English Puritan John Trapp once wrote: "One Son God hath without sin, but none without sorrow." The American Presbyterian clergyman Theodore Ledyard Cuyler (1822-1909) was also, like his Savior, "a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief" (Isa. 53:3). 

Cuyler lost two infant children, as well as a daughter who was 21 when she died. In the midst of the deepest bereavement, he began to write God's Light on Dark Clouds (1882). Later, he would go on to write Beulah-Land; or, Words of Cheer for Christian Pilgrims (1896); and Help and Good Cheer (1902). These devotionals for weary, hurting and discouraged Christian pilgrims were all written by one who understood the hurt and anguish of loss, and had tasted of the sweet comfort of Christ, who tells his disciples to be of good cheer, for he has overcome the world (John 16:33). Cuyler also wrote Pointed Papers for the Christian Life (1879), a guide for the Christian along the journey, through all its vale of tears (Ps. 23:4; 84:6). 

These volumes of encouragement have helped many pilgrims from the 19th century to the 21st. Dear Reader, if you have need of such encouragement, take note of them and may you find comfort there.