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).