S.J. Wilson on "the truest eloquence earth ever heard"

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For his inaugural address delivered on April 27, 1858 at Western Theological Seminary (now Pittsburgh Theological Seminary), where he was to fill the chair on History and Homiletics, Samuel Jennings Wilson chose to speak on “The History of Preaching.” His address is a fascinating survey of preachers and preaching from Bible times up through the early 19th century. He concludes with a stirring reminder of the importance of faithful seminaries as places where Biblical piety is wedded to thorough training in the Scriptures and other areas of knowledge for those who are called to fill the pulpit.

Shall we have preachers whose hearts are all aglow with love to Christ ? The Church needs them — the world demands them. No amount of natural or acquired ability can compensate for the lack of fervent piety. Intellectual sermons may be as clear and sparkling as icicles, and as cold. The moonlight is beautiful, but it is the heat of the sun that brings the verdure from the soil and ripens the fruit in its clusters. The truest eloquence earth ever heard is the unrestrained utterance of a heart full to overflowing of love to God. Evermore give us that eloquence!

And shall we have preachers mighty in the Scriptures? There was an intimate connection between the eloquence of Apollos and his knowledge of the Bible. In all ages, in proportion as the pulpit has been biblical, it has been powerful. There is no danger that the Bible will be exhausted. Its subjects never wear out. All other subjects do. Christ crucified is a theme that will never grow old.

And we want men who shall not only know the truth, but who shall not be afraid to speak it. He who preaches any doctrine of the Bible in an apologizing, compromising way, is a coward. Those doctrines, when faithfully uttered, never fail to find a response in the hearts and experience of men. Let the Gospel be preached just as it is — and woe to the man who trims or temporizes for the sake of an ephemeral popularity!

Great responsibilities, therefore, devolve upon our theological seminaries. They must necessarily give tone to the pulpit. Most of all, it is expected and desired of them that they send out from their halls and lecture-rooms a re-enforcement of good preachers — men trained more for active service than for abstract speculation and scholastic theorizing — men in communion with their God, and in sympathy with their fellow-men; whose ministrations shall not be cold, perfunctory task-work, but the earnest utterances of living truths, the power of which they have felt upon their own hearts, and are thus enabled to speak that "which they do know."

The full address by Wilson on the history of preaching may be found here (Occasional Addresses and Sermons, beginning at p. 113).

Francis J. Grimké on the great honor of preaching the gospel anywhere

On November 19, 1916, Francis James Grimké delivered a 75th Anniversary Address to the Fifteenth Street Presbyterian Church of Washington, D.C., of which he was the pastor. In this address he took note of a former pastor of the same congregation, Henry Highland Garnet, who had the honor in 1865 to become the first African-American pastor to preach a sermon before the U.S. Congress. Grimké’s words on the subject, in which he addresses considerations of race and the preaching of the gospel, are profound (The Works of Francis J. Grimké, Vol. 1, pp. 541-543).

At a meeting held March 2, 1864, Rev. Henry Highland Garnet, of New York City, was nominated and unanimously elected pastor. His salary was fixed at $800. The call was accepted by Dr. Garnet, and he entered upon his duties in July of the same year, and continued to serve the church until October, 1866, covering a period of a little over two years. Dr. Garnet at that time was at the height of his fame as a pulpit orator and anti-slavery lecturer. His ministry here attracted, therefore, many of both races to hear him. He was a man of commanding presence and had a magnificent voice. It was while here that he preached in the National House of Representatives. It was the first time, and the only time, I believe, that that honor, if it be an honor, has been accorded to a colored man. I say, if it be an honor, and I mean just that. According to my notion the honor lies in being permitted to preach the Gospel, and not in the place where it is preached or to whom it is preached. It is just as great an honor — no more, no less, in my estimation — to preach to the humblest as to the greatest; for, in the sight of God, there is no difference. They are all sinners, standing alike in need of the Gospel. I know we are prone to think otherwise — to think that it is a great honor to be invited to preach before distinguished people. I have never been able to bring myself to look at it that way. The honor in preaching is, as the Apostle Paul expresses it, in being entrusted with the Gospel by Jesus Christ, and in giving the message. Unless we recognize this and lose sight of these earthly distinctions — unless we get out of our minds entirely the thought of great and small, high and low — we won't be able to give the message effectively. I remember some time ago hearing a member of our race say : Such and such a man, calling him by name, was invited to preach in a certain white church. It was a great honor, he said. It was the first time a colored man had ever occupied that pulpit. A great honor to preach in a white church! Is that so? Is it any more of an honor to preach in a white church than in a colored church? Any more of an honor to preach to white people than to colored people? Are white people any better than colored people? Are they not all sinners alike? To my way of thinking, it is just as great an honor to preach in a colored church as it is to preach in a white church; just as great an honor to preach to colored people as it is to preach to white people. I can't see that the color of the audience can possibly have anything to do with it. I remember when Mr. J. Pierpont Morgan died, the colored papers spoke of the great honor that was conferred upon Mr. Burleigh in that he was permitted to sing at Mr. Morgan's funeral. In my judgment — and I said so at the time — it was no more of an honor for Mr. Burleigh to have sung at the funeral of J. Pierpont Morgan than for him to have sung at the funeral of the humblest member of his own race, or of any other race. If there was any honor in it, it was the splendid manner in which Mr. Burleigh acquitted himself. The fact that Mr. Morgan was rich and that he was white did not make it any more of an honor to sing at his funeral than at the funeral of anybody else, and the sooner we come to see it in that light, the better it will be for all. The Rev. Henry Highland Garnet, as I was saying, was invited to preach in the National House of Representatives, and had among his auditors Senators and Representatives. Well, what of that? Those Senators and Representatives were sinners, just as we are, and there was no more honor in speaking in that hall, and to that audience, than in speaking from this pulpit, and to the audiences that greeted Dr. Garnet here Sabbath after Sabbath.

I have referred to this incident in this anniversary address, not because I attach any personal importance to it, but simply because it was regarded, at the time, and is still regarded, as a great honor that a member of our race should have had such a courtesy extended to him, and because this man so honored happened to be the pastor of this church at the time. It was not, of course, because he was the pastor of this church that he was invited, though it occupied a conspicuous place in the community, but it was because of his prominence as a national character. He was a man that stood side by side with Frederick Douglass, in the popular estimation, and was almost as widely known.

Give attendance to reading the Scriptures: J.W. Alexander & Thomas Murphy

Wise words to pastors especially to improve their preaching, but also to all Christians, from James W. Alexander (Thoughts on Preaching) and repeated by Thomas Murphy as well (“Incessant Study of the Bible,” Pastoral Theology):

§ 43. Study of the Scripture.— Constant perusal and re-perusal of Scripture is the great preparation for preaching. You get good even when you know it not. This is one of the most observable differences between old and young theologians. "Give attendance to reading."

And a further thought on this matter:

The liveliest preachers are those who are most familiar with the Bible, without note or comment ; and we frequently find them among men who have had no education better than that of the common school. It was this which gave such animation to the vivid books and discourses of the Puritans. As there is no poetry so rich and bold as that of the Bible, so he who daily makes this his study, will even on human principles be awakened, and acquire a striking manner of conveying his thoughts. The sacred books are full of fact, example, and illustration, which with copiousness and variety will cluster around the truths which the man of God derives from the same source. One preacher gives us naked heads of theology; they are true, Scriptural, and important, but they are uninteresting, especially when reiterated for the thousandth time in the same naked manner. Another gives us the same truths, but each of them brings in its train a retinue of Scriptural example, history, a figure by way of illustration; and a variety hence arises which is perpetually becoming richer as the preacher goes more deeply into the mine of Scripture. There are some great preachers who, like Whitefield, do not appear to bestow great labour on the preparation of particular discourses; but it may be observed, that these are always persons whose life is a study of the Word. Each sermon is an outflowing from a fountain which is constantly full. The Bible is, after all, the one book of the preacher. He who is most familiar with it, will become most like it; and this in respect to every one of its wonderful qualities; and will bring forth from his treasury things new and old.

A golden maxim from R.L. Dabney

Counsel from Robert Lewis Dabney on the need for preaching to be both doctrinal and practical:

It is the duty of the preacher so to establish the dogmas of the faith in the understandings of the people, that they shall not remain abstract dogmas, but shall reveal their close bearing upon the life. It was a golden maxim of the Protestant fathers, that “doctrines must be preached practically and duties doctrinally.”

The reasons for doctrinal preaching thus defined, may be all traced to the principle that truth is in order to godliness. Sanctification is by the truth. Man is a reasoning creature, and the word and Spirit of God deal with him in conformity with this rational nature. All those emotions and volitions, which have right moral character, are prompted in man by intelligent motives. To say that one has no reason for his volitions, is to describe them as either criminal or merely animal. In the things of God man only feels as he sees, and because he sees with his mind. A moment’s consideration of these obvious facts will convince you that there cannot be, in the nature of the case, any other instrumentality to be used by creatures for inculcating religion and procuring right feeling and action, than that which begins by informing the understanding. The truth, as seen in the light of evidence, is the only possible object of rational emotions. From this point of view, we easily understand how unreasonable are the notions and demands of those good people who decry didactic preaching. “Such discourses,” they say, “are dry and repulsive. They give us merely theology in its bare bones. They inflate the head with conceit without warming the heart. The aim of Christianity is but to make men feel and act right. Let the preacher then aim directly at the heart, producing right feeling, all will be accomplished.” Now, I might assent to the latter statements, and yet raise the question, How shall the heart be reached, except through the head? How can a rational creature be made to feel intelligently, unless we cause his reason to apprehend that which may be the object of rational feeling? If any affection is produced otherwise, it must be merely animal or else evil. Heat without light is blind, as light without heat is cold. The Sun of Righteousness, like the natural luminary, becomes the fountain of life in his appropriate realm by given heat through light. (Sacred Rhetoric, pp. 52-53)

Hughes Oliphant Old on Log College Press Men

Hughes Oliphant Old (1933-2016) is widely regarded as a preeminent church historian of the 20th century. He was the focus of the 2017 issue of The Confessional Presbyterian Journal. One of his greatest works is the 7-volume set titled The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures in the Worship of the Christian Church. It consists of biographical sketches and analyses of the preaching of important figures throughout the span of international Christian church history.

Volumes 5 & 6 contain important references to some of the men highlighted here at Log College Press. We commend to you the study of this resource as a method of better understanding the lives and preaching of select American ministers of the gospel.

Volume 5 (Modernism, Pietism, and Awakening, 2004):

Volume 6 (The Modern Age, 2007):

Some additional American Presbyterian ministers are highlighted in Old’s set, but the men referenced above are all to be found here at Log College Press. Old’s analyses of particular, noteworthy sermons by these men constitute very valuable studies of Presbyterian and Reformed preaching of an era that we here at Log College Press aim to remember.

One instance of Old’s analysis of particular sermons comes from Archibald Alexander’s Practical Sermons. He looks at “Obedience to Christ Gives Assurance of the Truth of His Doctrine”; “The Incarnation”; and “Christ’s Gift of Himself For Our Redemption.” As to the whole collection of sermons, Old explains what Alexander means when Alexander wrote that “The sermons contain what the author believes to be evangelical truth.” Old elaborates: “The phrase ‘evangelical truth,’ probably meant to Alexander the truth of the gospel, the faith of classical Protestantism. ‘Evangelical’ did not yet mean a particular party in the Church, but rather the central thrust of the Christian message.”

Old gives context to the former sermon by explaining Alexander’s familiarity with the Enlightment message so popular in Philadelphia at the time when he preached and which the sermon opposed. Old describes “The Incarnation” as a “doxological hymn” of praise to Christ. He highlights Alexander’s notable opening lines: “There are two memorable occasions, in time past, on which the angels are represented as joining in chorus to praise God in relation to our world. The first was when the corner-stone of the fabric of the universe was laid, and its foundations were fastened. Then ‘the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy.’ The other was at the birth of a Saviour; which is referred to in our text” (Luke 2:13-14). Finally, Old takes note of Alexander’s sermon which so clearly affirms the divinity of Christ and opposes the Universalism prevalent in his day. As Old says, “This is a very rich sermon. Not brief summary could do it justice.” It is a powerful witness to the Christ of the Scriptures, and though the summary is brief, it is worth reading, as is, of course, the sermon itself.

These are men that Old thought worthy of inclusion and reflection in his valuable study of preaching in the Christian church. Take note of what he wrote as you study these ministers and their writings for yourself using primary and secondary sources. May these resources be a blessing to all ministers, students of the ministry and laymen for whom “the past is not dead.”

Sermon Illustrations by an American 'Prince of the Pulpit'

Like Charles Spurgeon in his Lectures to My Students, Thomas De Witt Talmage (1832-1902), dubbed 'The American Spurgeon' by the newspapers, has left us a remarkable resource on the topic of sermon illustrations. 

"Points;" or, Suggestive Passages, Incidents, and Illustrations, From the Writings of T. De Witt Talmage, D.D. was published in 1874 and its contents reveal the preacher's remarkable ability to paint a picture with words and give his hearers substance to ponder. 

BIBLE ILLUSTRATIONS. -- There is hardly a beast, or bird, or insect, which has not been called to illustrate divine truth. The ox's patience, the ant's industry, the spider's skill, the hind's sure-footedness, the eagle's speed, the dove's gentleness, and even the sparrow's meanness and insignificance.

PEARLS FROM GREAT DEPTHS. -- I have been told that the deeper the water the larger the pearl. I don't know how that is, but I do know that from the greatest depths of sin the Lord Jesus Christ sometimes gathers up His brightest jewels. Paul was a persecutor, Bunyan was a blasphemer, John Newton a libertine, the Earl of Rochester was an infidel; and yet the grace of God went plunging down through the fathoms of their abomination, until it found them and brought them up to the light. 

JEWELS OF GOD'S GRACE. -- The geologist tells you that the brightest diamond is only crystallized carbon, or, as I might call it, charcoal glorified; and so it is with souls that were coal black in the defilements of sin - by the power of God's grace they are made God's jewels for ever.

DON'T WORRY. -- Don't worry because God made you different from others. Don't worry because you don't have the faith of that man, or the praying qualities of this, or the singing qualities of another. It were as unwise as for a carnelian to blush deeper because it is not a diamond, or a japonica to fret all the colour out of its cheek because it is not a rose. God intended you to be different.

THE BEAUTY OF GOD'S CARE FOR US. -- More beautiful than any flower I ever saw are the hues of a bird's plumage. Did you ever examine it? The blackbird, floating like a flake of darkness through the sunlight; the meadow-lark, with head of fawn, and throat of velvet, and breast of gold; the red flamingo flying over the Southern swamps, like sparks from the forge of the setting sun; the pelican white and black - morning and night tangled in its wings - give but a very faint idea of the beauty that comes down over the soul when on it drop the feathers of the Almighty.

There are many other "talking points" for ministers to be studied and considered. They may serve as inspiration for more. Rather utilizing a table of contents in the front of the book, look instead for the index of topics at the back of the book. It is a resource that can benefit 21st century pastors as it did their counterparts in the 19th century. 

Daniel Baker’s Prayer on the Eve of His Being Licensed to Preach the Gospel

Daniel Baker wrote this prayer in his journal on October 12, 1816, during the week preceding his licensure. He was twenty-five years old and had been studying for the ministry under William Hill of Winchester, Virginia, after graduating from Princeton College. These words ought to express the heart of every gospel minister:

“In the prospect of my being licensed in the coming week, I have set apart this day, by fasting and prayer, to draw near unto the Lord  I am now about to go forth to preach the everlasting gospel to poor, perishing sinners; to proclaim liberty to the captive, and the opening of the prison to those that are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord. O, may I go forth in the strength of the mighty One of Jacob, and lift my banner in the name of the Captain of my salvation! I know that my duties will be arduous, and I am sensible that I am not sufficient for these things; but I know in whom I trust; it is not in myself, it is not in any atm of flesh - it is in the living God, the merciful and covenant-keeping God, who has been pleased to say, ‘My grace is sufficient for thee; my strength shall be made perfect in weakness.’ To thee, O my God, do I commit myself, and again would I solemnly renew the dedication of myself and my all to thy service.  O condescend to accept the unworthy offering, and lay me out for thy glory. I ask not to be rich in silver and gold, and to be admired and caressed; I ask to be rich in faith and good works, and to be blessed and owned in my labors of love. I ask not to be exempted from grievous trials and persecutions, but I ask grace to glorify thee in the hour of trial; grace to be useful, grace to be triumphant in death, and grace to reach, at length, the Mount Zion above, where I may forever sing the triumphs of my dearest Lord. To thee, O my God, do I now commit my way; be pleased to direct my paths, for the Redeemer’s sake. Amen.” 

Life and Labors of Daniel Baker, by William M. Baker, Pages 91-92


The Type of Preacher Daniel Baker Desired to Be

“Dry, logical sermons, with rounded periods, delivered in a cold, formal, and heartless manner, I can never relish, however beautified by the superficial elegances of composition; and I question if the good effects which flow from such preaching will be sufficient to compensate the minister for all his care, labor, & refinement. I love warm, animating, lively, evanggelominos  Preaching, full of fire, breathing love and compassion. I may I never, become a cold, lifeless, sentimental preacher, but may I imitate the zeal of a Whitefield, the tenderness of a Hervey, the affection of a Baxter, and blend all with the pure, sound, evangelical principles of a Doddridge.”

Daniel Baker, Life & Labors , p. 62

James Waddel Alexander on Earnest Preaching

"The reason why we have so little good preaching is that we have so little piety. To be eloquent one must be in earnest; he must not only act as if he were in earnest, or try to be in earnest, but be in earnest, or he cannot be effective. We have loud and vehement, we have smooth and graceful, we have splendid and elaborate preaching, but very little that is earnest. One man who so feels for the souls of his hearers as to be ready to weep over them, will assuredly make himself felt. This is what makes [preaching] effective; he really feels what he says."

-- Thoughts on Preaching, page 6.