John Holt Rice, the Preacher

William Maxwell (1784-1857), president of Hampden-Sydney College, had this to say about John Holt Rice (1777-1831):

"He had judgment, strong and discriminating, to seize his subject by the right handle, and set it before you in its proper point of view. He had knowledge, ample and various, to inform, and learning, beyond that of almost any one of his contemporaries, to enlighten you; and, what was of great importance, he was the master of it, and not its slave. He was, therefore, always instructive without being ever pedantic, and gave you the light of the lamp without its smell. At the same time, he was always strictly and purely evangelical, and, of course, remarkably practical. His style of preaching, indeed, naturally partook of the character of his personal religion, to which we have already adverted. Accordingly, he could not, or would not separate Faith and Duty for a moment from each other, in his public ministrations, any more than in his private conduct" (An Oration Commemorative of the late John Holt Rice, D. D.)

How are the Nations to be Subdued to the Obedience of Faith?

By whom we have received grace and apostleship, for obedience to the faith among all nations, for his name:...But now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith...." -- The Apostle Paul, Romans 1:5, 16:26

In an 1822 sermon delivered before the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions in New Haven, Connecticut, Alexander Proudfit, Associate Reformed minister, explained what is the key to the success of worldwide missionary endeavors. The sermon was titled The Universal Extension of Messiah's Kingdom, and throughout, he emphasizes the promises of God for the success of this endeavor through the means appointed. And the key means that God has appointed for the Great Commission is, simply put, faithful preaching.

"But there is another and still more powerful means, by which the Gospel is to be diffused among the nations; -- the preaching of the word of reconciliation. The Scriptures, translated and distributed, will probably remain a dead letter, unless accompanied with the ministrations of the living teacher. Far be it from me to detract from the importance of Bible Societies, or to utter a remark, which might tend to relax the exertions of those who are engaged in the honorable work of diffusing the Scriptures. Let associations of this character be formed; let copies of the sacred volume be multiplied; let them be dispersed through every country; let them be conveyed into every house, and placed on the shelf of every habitation of mankind. Let all this be done with a zeal answerable to the unutterable importance of the work; yet I venture to assert, that it is by the preaching of men, enlightened, ardent, self-denied, disinterested men; by the preaching of such in a pre-eminent degree, that the nations are ultimately to be subdued to the obedience of faith" (p. 15). 

Letters of Gold for the Presbyterian Ministry

In the concluding chapter of The Westminster Symbols: A Commentary Historical, Doctrinal, Practical on the Confession of Faith and Catechisms and the Related Formularies of the Presbyterian Churches (1900), Edward Dafydd Morris gives an overview of the Westminster Assembly and its work. He further concludes his magnum opus (p. 840) with a quote from the Westminster Directory of Public Worship that is worthy of remembrance. 

"The original Directory for Worship, springing from the heart as well as brain of the Assembly, happily describes that attitude in language which might well be written in letters of gold for the guidance of the Presbyterian ministry in all lands and times:

It is presupposed that the minister of Christ is in some good measure gifted for so weighty a service, by his skill in the original languages, and in such arts and sciences as are handmaids unto divinity; by his knowledge in the whole body of theology, but most of all in the holy Scriptures; having his senses and heart exercised in them above the common sort of believers; and by the illumination of the Spirit of God, and other gifts of edification which (together with reading and studying of the Word) he ought still to seek by prayer and an humble heart, —resolving to admit and receive any truth not yet attained, whenever God shall make it known unto him."

The World Was His Audience

Thomas De Witt Talmage (1832-1902), the son of a missionary to China, began his pastoral career in (what is currently) the Reformed Church of America before joining the Presbyterian Church. He went on to become world-famous as a preacher, with newspapers reprinting his sermons and numerous volumes published all of which were read by an estimated 30 million readers in his day. His sermons were commended by Charles Spurgeon, and his ministry was compared to that of both Spurgeon and George Whitefield. 

But his first sermon almost didn't happen after the manuscript he had written for it slipped under a sofa just at the appointed time for him to deliver it. He recounts the story in his autobiography T. De Witt Talmage As I Knew Him (this volume was edited with concluding chapters and published posthumously by his third wife), pp. 19-21:

But the first sermon with any considerable responsibility resting upon it was the sermon preached as a candidate for a pastoral call in the Reformed Church at Belleville, N.J. I was about to graduate from the New Brunswick Theological Seminary, and wanted a Gospel field in which to work. I had already written to my brother John, a missionary at Amoy, China, telling him that I expected to come out there.

I was met by Dr. Ward at Newark, New Jersey, and taken to his house. Sabbath morning came. With one of my two sermons, which made up my entire stock of pulpit resources, I tremblingly entered the pulpit of that brown stone village church, which stands in my memory as one of the most sacred places of all the earth, where I formed associations which I expect to resume in Heaven.

The sermon was fully written, and was on the weird battle between the Gideonites and Midianites, my text being in Judges vii. 20, 21: 'The three companies blew the trumpets, and brake the pitchers, and held the lamps in their left hands, and the trumpets in their right hands to blow withal; and they cried. The sword of the Lord, and of Gideon. And they stood every man in his place round about the camp; and all the host ran, and cried, and fled.' A brave text, but a very timid man to handle it. I did not feel at all that hour either like blowing Gideon's trumpet, or holding up the Gospel lamp; but if I had, like any of the Gideonites, held a pitcher, I think I would have dropped it and broken that lamp. I felt as the moment approached for delivering my sermon more like the Midianites, who, according to my text, 'ran, and cried, and fled.' I had placed the manuscript of my sermon on the pulpit sofa beside where I sat. Looking around to put my hand on the manuscript, lo! it was gone. But where had it gone? My excitement knew no bound. Within three minutes of the greatest ordeal of my life, and the sermon on which so much depended mysteriously vanished! How much disquietude and catastrophe were crowded into those three minutes it would be impossible to depict. Then I noticed for the first time that between the upper and lower parts of the sofa there was an opening about the width of three finger-breadths, and I immediately suspected that through that opening the manuscript of my sermon had disappeared. But how could I recover it, and in so short a time? I bent over and reached under as far as I could. But the sofa was low, and I could not touch the lost discourse. The congregation were singing the last verse of the hymn, and I was reduced to a desperate effort. I got down on my hands and knees, and then down flat, and crawled under the sofa and clutched the prize. Fortunately, the pulpit front was wide, and hid the sprawling attitude I was compelled to take. When I arose to preach a moment after, the fugitive manuscript before me on the Bible, it is easy to understand why I felt more like the Midianites than I did like Gideon.

Besides an exercise in humility, what lesson did Talmage learn? 

"This and other mishaps with manuscripts helped me after a while to strike for entire  emancipation from such bondage, and for about a quarter of a century I have preached without notes—only a sketch of the sermon pinned in my Bible, and that sketch seldom referred to." 

A taste of his eloquence is found in the story above. Among his numerous published sermons, many can now be found on his author page and our Preaching page at Log College Press. Of Talmage, Spurgeon said: "His sermons take hold of my inmost soul. The Lord is with the mighty man. I am astonished when God blesses me but not surprised when He blesses him."

The Pastor in the Mirror

“Take heed to yourselves, lest your example contradict your doctrine, and lest you lay such stumbling-blocks before the blind, as may be the occasion of their ruin...Take heed to yourselves, lest you live in those sins which you preach against in others, and lest you be guilty of that which daily you condemn” (Richard Baxter, The Reformed Pastor, pp. 63, 67.

Few remember that Joseph Ruggles Wilson, the father of President Woodrow Wilson, was a Presbyterian pastor in 19th century America. In an article in The Southern Presbyterian Review entitled "In What Sense Are Preachers To Preach Themselves," he discusses the power and importance of the individual in the act and ethos of preaching. A snippet:

"[The agency of preaching] is, so far as it possesses visibility, entrusted to men, who are to wield it, in God's name, each according to his own idiosyncracies of mental and moral character. The preacher's power over those to whom he addresses the word of salvation,(whilst, indeed, it could be nothing—certainly nothing very valuable—were he not sent and sustained by the Almighty, whose servant he is yet,) greatly depends upon what he himself is. That is, there is a sense in which the preacher preaches himself. He is more than a mere instructor. His work does not terminate in the mere act of imparting information, of opening up truth, and causing people to know what they were before ignorant of. If he stopped here, there might be no necessity for his office; books could convey instruction as well, or better, and a general distribution amongst men of plain treatises upon religious subjects, might probably take the place of the living teacher. Indeed, the inquiry has been started in certain quarters, where now is the use of so much public preaching, seeing that the press is so active in sending forth ever-increasing multitudes of cheap printed volumes, whose pages teem with all the knowledge of Scripture that is needed by the reading masses? The answer to this query is not alone to be found in the fact that there are many who cannot read, and therefore must be orally taught; or in the very different fact that God having instituted preaching as the means for drawing souls to himself, will own only his own ordinance in effecting this great result. The truer and profounder answer is, that they who favor this suggestion altogether mistake the nature of a preaching office; regarding it as nothing more than a teaching office. They leave this entirely out of the account, viz.: that the preacher is a man who employs sacred truth as a vehicle through which he brings his own peculiar distinctive self to bear upon his fellow-men. That truth is with him not mere knowledge, but this knowledge woven into his own experiences, and it is these experiences which he seeks to impress upon others in a way that shall make them their experiences as well. He publishes salvation as he himself understands it, and as he has come to understand it thoroughly by having imbibed it into his own soul. Hence he says, "I believe, therefore I speak.'' From the storehouse of his own convictions he strives to convince. It is these convictions that constitute him a preacher at all; and in proportion to their warmth and strength is he a mighty preacher."

You can read the entire article here.

(You will also see on Wilson's page an unfortunate sermon advocating the righteousness of American slavery; as with many of our Presbyterian forefathers, Wilson believed that slavery was a Biblical institution. Log College Press in no way affirms or advocates these views, but includes these writings in an attempt to collect on our site all the 18th-19th century American Presbyterian writings that are available digitally, for historical reference, and as a humbling reminder that all men have feet of clay.)

[The majority of this post was first published on July 29, 2017.]

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.

The Southern Presbyterian Pulpit - a Collection of Sermons from Known and Unknown 19th Century Leaders

In 1896, the Presbyterian Church in the United States (the Southern Presbyterian Church) published a compilation of sermons of some of its leading ministers, entitled Southern Presbyterian Pulpit. The sermon by John Lafayette Girardeau is of particular note. 

  • The Transforming Power of the Gospel, Benjamin Morgan Palmer
  • The Changing World and the Unchanging God, Moses Hoge
  • "One Jesus," J. Henry Smith
  • The Gospel Call, George D. Armstrong
  • "What Is the Chaff to the Wheat?" J. W. Lupton
  • Christ's Pastoral Presence with his Dying People, John L. Girardeau,
  • The Pitilessness of Sin, J. R. Stratton
  • The Happy Service, Robert L. Dabney
  • Seeking The Lord, J. W. Rosebro
  • Our Redeemer's Prayer for Christian Unity, Neander M. Woods,
  • The Divineness of the Family Bond, W. U. Murkland
  • Why Believers Should Not Fear, A. W. Pitzer
  • The Ruler's Question, J. H. Bryson
  • Children of the Covenant, S. W. Davies
  • Man Inspired of God, G. R. Brackett
  • "How Long Halt Ye Between Two Opinions,"J. R. Burgett
  • Consecration, Givens B. Strickler
  • Personal Work for the Master, W. N. Scott
  • Joseph of Arimathea, John A. Preston
  • The Striving Spirit, Robert P. Kerr
  • Applied Christianity, R. K. Smoot
  • The Three Causes Of Salvation, W. W. Moore
  • The Necessity of Christ's Resurrection, J. F. Cannon
  • Natural Law and Divine Providence, Peyton H. Hoge
  • Take Hold of God, James I. Vance
  • "To Me To Live Is Christ," J. R. Howerton

What does the preacher need as he prepares to preach Sunday by Sunday? Gardiner Spring answers.

"Two things you will find indispensable to profitable preparations for the pulpit: prayer and
toil. You must be a man of prayer. Prayer will give you thought, tenderness, and a power of feeling which nothing else can give. Sermons are heartless, lifeless things that are not elaborate with prayer. The difficulties of your work, and your own weakness invite you to your closet. If you look to yourself only, all is darkness, discouragement and despair. We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be all of God. There is no substitute for Prayer. And you must consent to labour. There is no severer toil than the labours of the sacred ministry. Other men may rest; may retire from business and enjoy the fruits of their acquisitions; but there is no rest, no retirement for the minister of the gospel. The very Day of Rest of others, is a day of labour and solicitude with him. The duties of one Sabbath are scarcely fulfilled, and his thoughts are upon his preparations for another. And when he looks forward through life, he sees no end to his toil but in the grave. There is rest not until the battle is fought and the victory won."

-- Gardiner Spring, "Letter to a Young Clergyman," in Fragments from the Study of a Pastor (1838)

"There is a sense in which the preacher preaches himself" -- Joseph Ruggles Wilson

Few remember that Joseph Ruggles Wilson, the father of President Woodrow Wilson, was a Presbyterian pastor in 19th century America. In an article in The Southern Presbyterian Review entitled "In What Sense Are Preachers To Preach Themselves," he discusses the power and importance of the individual in the act and ethos of preaching. A snippet:

"[The agency of preaching] is, so far as it possesses visibility, entrusted to men, who are to wield it, in God's name, each according to his own idiosyncracies of mental and moral character. The preacher's power over those to whom he addresses the word of salvation,(whilst, indeed, it could be nothing—certainly nothing very valuable—were he not sent and sustained by the Almighty, whose servant he is yet,) greatly depends upon what he himself is. That is, there is a sense in which the preacher preaches himself. He is more than a mere instructor. His work does not terminate in the mere act of imparting information, of opening up truth, and causing people to know what they were before ignorant of. If he stopped here, there might be no necessity for his office; books could convey instruction as well, or better, and a general distribution amongst men of plain treatises upon religious subjects, might probably take the place of the living teacher. Indeed, the inquiry has been started in certain quarters, where now is the use of so much public preaching, seeing that the press is so active in sending forth ever-increasing multitudes of cheap printed volumes, whose pages teem with all the knowledge of Scripture that is needed by the reading masses? The answer to this query is not alone to be found in the fact that there are many who cannot read, and therefore must be orally taught; or in the very different fact that God having instituted preaching as the means for drawing souls to himself, will own only his own ordinance in effecting this great result. The truer and profounder answer is, that they who favor this suggestion altogether mistake the nature of a preaching office; regarding it as nothing more than a teaching office. They leave this entirely out of the account, viz.: that the preacher is a man who employs sacred truth as a vehicle through which he brings his own peculiar distinctive self to bear upon his fellow-men. That truth is with him not mere knowledge, but this knowledge woven into his own experiences, and it is these experiences which he seeks to impress upon others in a way that shall make them their experiences as well. He publishes salvation as he himself understands it, and as he has come to understand it thoroughly by having imbibed it into his own soul. Hence he says, "I believe, therefore I speak.'' From the storehouse of his own convictions he strives to convince. It is these convictions that constitute him a preacher at all; and in proportion to their warmth and strength is he a mighty preacher."

You can read the entire article here.

(You will also see on Wilson's page an unfortunate sermon advocating the righteousness of American slavery; as with many of our Presbyterian forefathers, Wilson believed that slavery was a Biblical institution. Log College Press in no way affirms or advocates these views, but includes these writings in an attempt to collect on our site all the 18th-19th century American Presbyterian writings that are available digitally, for historical reference, and as a humbling reminder that all men have feet of clay.)