Note from Rowland Croucher: Dear friends, Here’s a list of preachers who have inspired more preaching-pastors than any others in the 20th century. I’ve read sermons from all of them – and adapted quite a few for my own preaching…
[If you’re interested in listening to James Stewart (‘The Wind of the Spirit’) and W E Sangster (‘The Church’), I have an MP3 with these two famous sermons on it, plus a lot of John Mark Ministries’ seminars/preaching/powerpoints. It also has a few rare F W Boreham sermons and radio talks. Just $30 AUD including airmail postage anywhere. Email me c/- the contact button at the top of this page, or directly via [email protected]].
Michael Duduit, Editor, Preaching
The past year (1999?) has produced an avalanche of “best of the century” and “best of the millennium” stories and listings in the media. From the 100 most important events of the century to the 50 best entertainers to the 25 best athletes, it seems that there is a list for every interest.
Such listings are more than speculative fancies. A historical rarity such as the event we are about to face on December 31 offers a prime opportunity to look back and consider those persons who have made such a difference in our lives and in our world.
Thus it is with preaching. As a way to celebrate the end of a century and the start of a new millennium — and to celebrate the committed Christian preachers who have so influenced our calling and our faith communities — Preaching magazine undertook an effort to identify the great preachers of our century and of the past thousand years. The search began with a request to our readers to nominate their own favorites. The result was hundreds of nominations of preachers who have made an impact beyond the lives of their own churches. Among the outstanding preachers who were nominated were names like F.W. Boreham, Oswald Hoffman, Walter Maier, John Maxwell, Harold John Ockenga, Fulton Sheen, and many more.
Based on those nominations, a list of 27 names was prepared and sent to Preaching’s Board of Contributing Editors. That group was invited to identify and rank (1-10) their own list of the century’s great preachers; they also had an opportunity to suggest names which had not been included on the original list. Their rankings were then tallied according to the rankings made by the contributing editors (giving increased weight based on the higher rankings) and the number of times a person was listed in each editor’s “top ten.” The result is in the list provided below.
For those who are interested in the names that didn’t quite make the top ten, here’s the “second ten” in the order they were ranked:
11. Leslie Weatherhead
12. George W. Truett
13. R.G. Lee
14. Norman Vincent Peale
15. Peter Marshall
16. E. Stanley Jones
17. Donald Grey Barnhouse
18. Ralph Sockman
19. W.A. Criswell
20. Gardner C. Taylor
What makes a preacher “great”? For purposes of this listing, the primary characteristic seems to be the influence that preacher had on the church and on the wider society. For example, while several persons commented that they would not be supportive of many of his theological positions, they could not deny the powerful influence Harry Emerson Fosdick exerted on the character of preaching in the modern era.
It is almost certain that no reader would identify the exact same ten preachers in making his or her own list; even given the same list of names, the order in which they appeared would vary widely from person to person. Yet one thing cannot be denied: every person on the list below has made a significant impact on countless lives, on the church, and on their fellow preachers.
1. James S. Stewart (1896-1990)
Most readers will be surprised that Stewart’s name appears at the top of such a list, though few would deny he belongs in this distinguished company. The gifted Scottish preacher taught New Testament at the University of Edinburgh, was Chaplain to the Queen in Scotland, and served in 1963-1964 as Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.
Stewart was committed to expository preaching, and preached with an earnestness and energy that was warmly received by his listeners. Much of Stewart’s influence on American preaching was through his writing and lectures. His books such as Heralds of God (the published version of his Warrack Lectures at Edinburgh) and A Faith to Proclaim (the published version of his Lyman Beecher Lectures on Preaching at Yale) have inspired tens of thousands of preachers to strive for greater effectiveness in their proclamation of God’s Word. As Stewart challenged in A Faith to Proclaim:
“‘I, yet not I, but Christ.’ To be thus taken command of, so that our testimony, when we go out to speak of Christ, is not ours at all, but Christ’s self-testimony — this is our vocation and the hope of our ministry. It is God’s great promise and demand to every preacher of the Word. Here, in all reverence and humility, the disciple may take upon his lips the saying of his Lord: ‘To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world.'”
“Born in 1893, the son of a popular Bible teacher in the YMCA movement, James Stewart was an acclaimed preacher both in his native Scotland and also in America. He served as Pastor of three Church of Scotland congregations, and then joined the faculty of New College, the divinity school of the University of Edinburgh.
Though I never had the privilege of hearing Stewart preach in person, I have listened, spell-bound, to some taped sermons, and have underlined many a memorable statement in those I have read in my library. He was a preacher’s preacher, possessing gifts most of us can only dream of.
I appreciate his ministry for many reasons — his sermons were thorough-ly biblical (he argued persuasively for expository preaching), erudite without being stuffy, eloquent though not ornate, moving but not cheaply emotional, eminently practical, often conscience-piercing, and above all, God-exalting.
Yet the thing I appreciate most is his commitment to the mandate of world evangelization. In his own preaching he did not hesitate to call men and women to personal faith in Christ, and he challenged his students and others to do the work of the evangelist. In his Beecher Lectures in 1953 he declared with characteristic directness, that there is “no place today for a Church that is not aflame with the Spirit who is the Lord and Giver of life, nor any value in a theology which is not passionately missionary” (A Faith to Proclaim, p.12). In an earlier book consisting of lectures on preaching originally given to his students, he wrote that “no Church is anything more than a pathetic pietistic backwater unless it is first and fundamentally and all the time a world missionary Church” (Heralds of God, p. 30). (William Hogan, Professor Emeritus of Preaching, Reformed Theological Seminary, Jackson, MS)
2. Billy Graham (1918- )
A dynamic preacher and evangelist, Billy Graham — through the televising of mass crusades — has proclaimed the gospel to more persons than any other preacher in history. In the process, Graham has become a “national chaplain” for Americans and a world citizen and ambassador for Christ.
Graham’s preaching is simple and straightforward, filled with illustrations drawn from the day’s headlines. And each sermon is focused intently on a single purpose: to draw men and women to saving faith in Jesus Christ. Over a ministry about to enter its seventh decade, God has blessed Graham’s preaching and has used his faithfulness and integrity to draw hundreds of thousands to respond to the call of Christ.
Through his long life and ministry, Graham has built a remarkable organization which today reaches far beyond sponsoring mass evangelistic crusades. Through television and movies, radio, books and magazines, and a network of related activities, this anointed preacher has faithfully proclaimed Christ across America and around the globe.
“The numbers speak of greatness and complexity. He has preached in person to more people than any human being who has ever lived. While his pulpit started in white-frame churches, trailer parks, and circus tents it rapidly moved to cathedrals, stadiums, and other arenas which are among the world’s largest public gathering places.
He’s been called “America’s Pastor” and has ministered personally to several American presidents. Over 100 million people have listened to his sermons. Almost 3 million of those people have responded to his famous “invitations.” But when all is said and done, Billy Graham is just a simple man with a simple message.
Raised on a North Carolina dairy farm, Graham’s pious parents were old-fashioned enough to believe in corporal punishment, mandatory daily Bible readings, and regular lectures on clean living. And while numerous icons of morality have come and gone, for 50 years Graham has endured both criticism and applause with humility, integrity, and genuineness.
Simplicity truly characterizes his message. Through all the accolades he has presented a strong Christianity with a big God, a loving Savior, a hot hell, and a glorious heaven. Yet his message has remained incredibly simple: every person is sinful before God, a predicament that can turn to forgiveness only through faith in Jesus Christ. He has communicated it through simple phrases like “The Bible says . . .” and “You must be born again” that have riveted themselves into our hearts and minds. His delivery has been even more simple, characterized by crispness and clarity that even the youngest of listeners is able to grasp.
Thank God for a preacher who takes Jesus at His Word. Thank God for a simple preacher. Thank God for Billy Graham.” (Jim Shaddix, Professor of Preaching, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary)
3. George Buttrick (1892-1980)
An English-born Congregational preacher who served nearly thirty years as pastor of New York’s Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, Buttrick succeeded Henry Sloane Coffin. From that distinguished pulpit Buttrick began a teaching career at Union Theological Seminary, then as Preacher to the University at Harvard.
Buttrick exerted a profound influence on a generation of American preachers. He wrote many books and articles, and twice delivered the prestigious Lyman Beecher Lectures on Preaching at Yale. In his preaching, Buttrick sought to lift up Christ, and he believed only that preaching which was centered on the cross would impact eternity. As he said in his Yale lectures:
“In a Cathedral at Lucca there is a crucifix said to have been carved by Nicodemus — so clumsily carved that he left it in despair. But (says the story) in that despair an angel came while he slept and made the crucifix true both to the eye of the craftsman and the eye of the worshipper. A Spirit can thus redeem our poor preaching of the Cross. To such preaching we must pledge ourselves. Let the history of the Church be for a witness that power has visited the Church in such preaching, and that power has ebbed when the Cross has been forgotten. In any event love compels us to cry — it is all such preaching need hope or wish to say — ‘Behold the Man!'”
“During his lifetime, three generations of seminarians sought Buttrick out not only as a man who knew homiletics, but more than that one who could really preach. He served brief congregational pastorates in Vermont and Illinois before he moved to Buffalo, NY, to serve the First Presbyterian Church. From there he moved to the Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York City, which was to be his most prominent pulpit. In the mid-fifties he began his teaching career, first at Union Theological Seminary and later Harvard.
His brilliant career in homiletics was not free of all handicaps. He was considered not to have the dramatic sort of voice that generated pulpit electricity. In fact, he said of himself that he had an “odd sandy voice, the voice of an old nurse” (Alphabet of Grace, 1970, p. 44). Nonetheless he was forceful in the pulpit and became a master at sermon construction and orderly, powerful discourse. His discipline and talent came in time to be ranked alongside Harry Emerson Fosdick and Paul Scherer. His teaching influenced all sorts of notable pulpiteers, including Frederick Buechner.
His most popular courses had to do with the outlining of sermons. He believed that a sermon’s architecture should render the sermon pleasing, beautiful, orderly and useful. His love of literature and the arts informed his clean, simple sermon outlines that intersected all of life. His sermons abounded with literary quotations.
Buttrick believed a sermon should always bear the kind of truth that saves. Once, when his church members asked him to preach more like a fundamentalist, with fundamentalist truth, he replied, “A telephone directory is literally true, and the parable of the prodigal son is not; but the telephone book is not salvation, whereas that story of human folly and divine mercy is like a daybreak on our darkness.” (The Sign of a Savior, Dec. 23, 1928). His poignant love of communication and his devotion to Biblical truth, was his gift to preaching in the 20th century. (Calvin Miller, Professor of Preaching, Beeson Divinity School, Birmingham, AL)
4. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968)
King was a gifted African-American preacher and civil rights leader whose sermonic appeals for justice and personal activism helped change the course of American life. His prophetic words and actions resulted in his recognition as a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. He was tragically assassinated in 1968.
Though his theological training was provided in a context of theological liberalism, as King’s ministry progressed — as pastor of Montgomery’s Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, then Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church — his preaching grew increasingly more evangelical and biblical. His sermons became more Christ-centered, with a growing emphasis on the cross.
Steeped in the rhetorical traditions of the African-American church, King displayed gifts in the pulpit and the political arena that made him one of the most compelling speakers of the century. It is important to remember that the leader of the most profound American social movement of this century described himself as “fundamentally a clergyman, a Baptist preacher.”
“Martin Luther King, Jr. was a man of great passion, devotion, and humor. His humorous side is not frequently discussed, and though often portrayed by the media to be a rather serious, no nonsense individual, in reality he was the epitome of humor. However, while he could greatly amuse a select group of friends in private, it was his passion and devotion that caught the international spotlight.
From his family he inherited a sense of mission that encompassed him as a preacher and a Civil Rights leader. A major source of King’s theology was the African-American church. Perhaps the greatest gift willed to King from the African-American church was that of an indomitable faith in God which reverberated through his sermons and speeches.
Of the many career opportunities King could have pursued, he chose to take a full time pastorate. Above everything else, Martin King considered himself a preacher of the gospel. Apparently King was often disappointed that he was not primarily seen as a preacher.
King was a poet and an artist in the pulpit. He saw no incompatibility between biblical preaching and preaching on relevant social issues. That is only part of his legacy to modern preachers. King has helped ministers to recover the relevance of preaching for our day, to motivate Christians to blend their theology with their ethics, and to translate their faith in God in the social, economic and political struggle, while not being afraid to use philosophy and formal reasoning.
Ultimately King breathed life back into many preachers simply through his profound approach of addressing the audience cardiologically and colonially. Just as his passion, devotion, and humor sprang from his head as well as his mind, so he directed them and his message to the head and minds of others. (Robert Smith, Professor of Preaching, Beeson Divinity School, Birmingham, AL)
5. Harry Emerson Fosdick (1878-1969)
One of the most influential preachers of the century, Fosdick’s ministry coincided with the growth of radio, contributing to his national prominence. As pastor of New York’s Riverside Church, he was minister to the Rockefellers and other prominent business and civic leaders, yet he was known as an advocate of social change.
Considered by many to be the finest pulpit orator of his generation, Fosdick has had a continuing influence on the shape of American preaching into the present day. He was a practitioner of what he called “life situation preaching,” a homiletical model which focused the sermon on human need and climaxed in a call to human action. Though his homiletical approach grew out of his own liberal theological views, his model gave a new shape to American preaching, including much evangelical preaching.
“My first introduction to Harry Emerson Fosdick was at Stetson University in Deland, Florida, while a student there. That was back in the days when chapel was required of students. Preachers from around the area were invited to speak. This was a good education for a young man preparing for the ministry because we heard many sermon styles and many forms of delivery. On one particular Wednesday morning, I was arrested out of my boredom during chapel by a particularly stimulating sermon brought to us by one of the leading “Fundamentalists” in our area. This sermon was thoughtful, incisive, communicated quite well, and used scripture in an unusually intelligent way. It was not like so many sermons I had endured in which the preacher had laboriously beaten us over the head with unexamined propositions, but rather it was focused directly upon our needs, took us by the hand and led us in to the scriptures as the answer to the needs the pastor was discussing.
After chapel, I was discussing the sermon with one of my professors. He acknowledged that it was an exceptionally good sermon. But he commented to me that it was unusual to hear that sermon coming from that preacher because the preacher had spent a great deal of his ministery fighting “modernism.” Then he went on to tell me the other reason the sermon was so unusual; it was one of Harry Emerson Fosdick’s sermons, and Fosdick was the leading “modernist” of the time. He proceeded to go to his library, pulled out a book by Fosdick and opened it to the exact page and showed me the sermon. I had trouble putting all this together but I did know there was something about this sermon that was different.
Later in seminary as we began to study great preachers, I discovered Fosdick as an oasis in a dry desert. I read everything by Fosdick I could get my hands on. I saw in Fosdick, not a source of sermons but a dimension of preaching that had been withheld from me in my early development. Here were delightful subjects, well researched, magnificently focused and artistically presented, from an obvious preacher who was profoundly committed to the Christian gospel and to the church of Jesus Christ.
Like other preachers, I have stolen my share of Fosdick’s sermons. I’ll admit it, but so has every other preacher, whatever his theological stripe may be. But there comes a time when you can’t live off another person’s work. You can’t be David in Saul’s armor. Fosdick taught me to lighten up, not to take myself too seriously, but to take the gospel and the preaching of the gospel very seriously, and to communicate. For this, each time I step into the pulpit, I know that in one way or another, my congregation owes a great debt to him. (William L. Self, Pastor, Johns Creek Baptist Church, Alpharetta, GA)
6. G. Campbell Morgan (1863-1945)
Called by many “the prince of expositors,” G. Campbell Morgan helped influence the shape of evangelical preaching on both sides of the Atlantic. Born in England, raised in Wales, Morgan lacked formal education but his absolute confidence in scripture made him an avid student and interpreter of the Word.
This skilled expository preacher served several English congregations before an itinerant ministry in the U.S. (1901-1904). From 1904 to 1917 he served as pastor of London’s Westminster Chapel, a church which experienced unparalleled growth under his leadership. Following more years in America, Morgan returned to Westminister Chapel in 1933 (at age 69) and served for a decade during one of the most dangerous periods of Britain’s history.
Morgan’s love of the Bible shone through his sermons, which were carefully prepared and then presented with an anointed intensity. His successor as pastor of Westminster Chapel, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, said of Morgan that “preaching was the supreme passion of his life.”
“The first and best advise I ever received on the subject of preparing a sermon recalled the fundamental design of G. Campbell Morgan’s expository method: “Read the text. Read it again and again. Read it 25 to 50 times. The whole book. In context. Only then will you understand the text and be ready to preach it.” Though I didn’t know it then, that recommendation expressed the expositional approach to preaching the Bible that Morgan practiced, a model that has influenced thousands of theologically conservative Bible teachers and preachers.
Campbell died four years before I was born. I never heard him preach. Yet because the influence of his popular preaching, extensive itinerant teaching, and prolific writing still lives, I feel as if I have heard him time and again in the sermons of others. They have studied the text in context, analyzed, synthesized, and expounded the truth of Scripture with clear and compelling arguments. That’s the model of preaching I grew up on and have tried to master.
Two stories about Morgan have especially influenced me. The first was how he was rejected for formal ministry because his preaching showed so little potential. In the dark days that followed his father reminded him, “rejected on earth . . . accepted in heaven.” God will be the final judge of our gift. What a relief. What a challenge. Second, when his studies in theology and science led to doubts about the truth of the Scriptures, Campbell put away all his books except The Book. His primary text and tool became the Bible. The Bible, first and foremost, gives authority to what we proclaim. God’s ideas, not mine. What a relief. What a challenge.
While changing times demand changing styles of preaching, the first and best advise to any preacher remains, “read the text.” (Timothy S. Warren, Professor of Pastoral Ministries, Dallas Theological Seminary)
7. William Edwin Sangster (1900-1960)
A strongly evangelical Methodist preacher, he served for sixteen years as pastor of London’s Westminster Central Hall, where he preached weekly to 3,000 souls. During World War II he had the largest Sunday-evening congregation in London, filling the 2,500-seat hall, and he opened the large basement as a bomb shelter for those in need.
At different points in his ministry he succeeded two of the most popular Methodist preachers in Britain (Leslie Weatherhead and Dinsdale T. Young). He concluded his ministry as head of the home mission department of the Methodist Church, before his deterioration and death because of progressive muscular atrophy.
Sangster combined evangelical intensity with a brilliant mind and gifted use of language. As Leslie Weatherhead once described one of Sangster’s books of sermons, “No chapter finishes by making you say, ‘What a clever writer Sangster is.’ They all make you say, ‘What a wonderful Savior Jesus is.'”
“It isn’t easy to say how much the ethos of British Methodism shaped W. E. Sangster and how much he shaped it. Suffice it to say that his sermons exemplify the best of that strand of homiletics in the 20th century. Though Sangster died many years before I became a minister in the Manchester and Salford Methodist Mission, I immediately recognized characteristics of his method in the sermons I heard others preach, and in the values and lifestyle of fellow clergy.
The product of a working-class family, Sangster was educated in London and Birmingham, and served in the army during World War I. He had served several churches before his appointment to Westminster Central Hall in 1939. A man of the people, he literally lived with the people, moving his family into a community bomb shelter created in the church basement during the war. Sangster’s preaching was orthodox, grounded in Scripture but not necessarily expository, and called listeners to action as well as reflection. A gifted storyteller, his sermon illustrations range from accounts of the desolation of war-ravaged cities or observations about drunkenness to quotations from Matthew Arnold and John Bunyan.
His more doctrinal sermons can perhaps be likened to the hymnody of Charles Wesley, about which it has been said that whatever earthly topic they begin with, they end in heaven. Sangster’s sermons look forward to God’s future, encouraging the listener to trust God’s promises.
The timely references in his messages may date him, yet aspects of his method provide a model for preaching in the post-modern world: knowing the world of the listener, taking the listener’s experience seriously, and embodying the hope we have in Christ.” (Carol M. Noren, Professor of Preaching, North Park Theological Seminary, Chicago, IL)
8. John R.W. Stott (1921-2011 )
A favorite preacher among evangelicals around the globe, John Stott was Rector Emeritus of All Souls Church in London and Director of the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity. He served at All Souls Church as assistant curate (1945-50), as Rector (1950-75), and as Rector Emeritus since 1975. He was appointed a Chaplain to the Queen from 1959 to 1991.
Since his retirement, Stott invested much of his ministry in working with pastors, church leaders and students in the Third World. He was the author of over 40 books, including Basic Christianity and The Cross of Christ. In his book I Believe in Preaching, Stott emphasized the place of proclamation in his own ministry:
“Nothing is better calculated to restore health and vitality to the church or to lead its members into maturity in Christ than a recovery of true, biblical, contemporary preaching . . . The task of preaching today is extremely exacting, as we seek to build bridges between the Word and the world, between divine revelation and human experience, and to relate the one to the other with integrity and relevance.”
“When the first International Congress on Preaching was held in London in 1997, one of the most exciting elements for me was the opportunity to meet John Stott.
For so many years I have admired this gifted author and preacher, whose insights about the preaching task have meant so much to so many. His little book, The Preacher’s Portrait, is one of the most meaningful volumes ever written about the nature and calling of the preacher; I cannot count the number of times I have recommended it to young pastors.
At a stage of life and a stature in which he could do whatever he wishes, Dr. Stott is today dedicating his life to helping train and encourage Christian preachers in the Third World. Only God knows the number of lives which will have been influenced for Christ because of the faithful ministry of John Stott.” (Michael Duduit, Editor, Preaching)
9. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981)
This Welsh preacher was a brilliant expositor and fervent Calvinist who succeeded Campbell Morgan as pastor of Westminster Chapel and led the church to even greater growth. An admirer of the great Puritan preachers of an earlier era, Lloyd-Jones demonstrated the power that is possible through the careful and systematic exposition of scripture in the pulpit.
Lloyd-Jones was trained in medicine rather than theology, but abandoned his medical practice in response to his sense of God’s call. After a single 11-year pastorate, in 1938 he was invited by Morgan to come as associate pastor of Westminster Chapel, and there shared the preaching ministry with the aging patriarch. At Morgan’s retirement in 1943, Lloyd-Jones assumed the pastorate and served successfully until his own retirement in 1968.
Even today his sermons are widely published and read on both sides of the Atlantic. Through his preaching in Westminster Chapel and his war-time leadership of Inter-Varsity in Britain, Lloyd-Jones influenced a new generation of British and American evangelicals to stay rooted in scripture.
“A few years ago while walking around London with a friend, I suggested that we take a short walk from Buckingham Palace over to Westminster Chapel, the former parish of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Upon our arrival, my friend informed me that he had never heard nor read a sermon by Lloyd-Jones. In response, I suggested that he remedy the situation! Taking my exhortation, he immersed himself in the Lloyd-Jones preaching legacy. Recently my friend told me how Lloyd-Jones’ God-centered biblical preaching encouraged him in the midst of hard times.
Lloyd-Jones’ preaching does that. His was a special theological mind which could take the doctrine of justification by faith and successfully employ it as the solution for the deepest melancholy.
In his book Preaching and Preachers, Lloyd-Jones defined preaching as “logic on fire.” That definition accurately describes his own approach. His preaching was thoroughly biblical, passionate, rational, and theological. Yet what was truly remarkable about Lloyd-Jones is that his preaching exhibited all four of these qualities simultaneously. (For Lloyd-Jones beginners, the place to begin is with his sermon “But God”). In his preaching, Lloyd- Jones excelled at demonstrating the theological framework which binds Scripture together, and he did so for thirty years in the pulpit of Westminster Chapel.
In my library, the collected sermons of Lloyd-Jones bear witness to an “earnest ministry,” as the Puritan John Angell James once put it. They are cause for self-reflection and examination for those of us in ministry at the dawn of a new century. What are our analogues to Lloyd-Jones’ weighty and profound volumes on Romans and Ephesians? What legacy will we leave behind? To such questions Lloyd-Jones would admonish us to “take ourselves in hand” and assess our faithfulness to the Scriptures and the high calling to be ‘stewards of the mysteries of God.'” (Gregory Alan Thornbury, Instructor in Christian Studies, Union University, Jackson, TN)
10. Clarence Macartney (1879-1957)
Clarence Macartney was a lifelong bachelor, avid student of scripture, and champion of theological orthodoxy who stood in opposition to Fosdick’s liberalizing influence. When Fosdick preached his famous sermon, “Will the Fundamentalists Win?” Macartney countered with his own powerful sermon, “Will Unbelief Win?”
Macartney’s ministry took him successively to pastorates of three downtown churches, culminating in the First Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh. His preaching was topical in style, often biographical. His sermons were painstakingly prepared and delivered with directness and evangelical fervor. He was noted for his imaginative illustrations and his keen insights into the human heart. Often preaching in sermon series (many of which are still in print), he was committed to preaching without notes.
A diligent worker and able student, Macartney preached five times weekly yet maintained an active schedule visiting in homes and hospitals three days a week. His preaching reflected a love for people, an urgency about their salvation, and a commitment to Christ and to God’s Word.
“With dramatic titles designed to catch attention and bring the Bible to life, he carefully crafted each sermon so that God’s word spoke for itself. From the neo-gothic stone building where he preached at the heart of Pittsburgh’s Golden Triangle, he touched thousands of lives. His influence was such that many people recall how he had ready access to his rich, famous and politically powerful contemporaries.
Such was the influence of bachelor preacher, Clarence Edward Macartney. Yet he never forgot the humble County Down roots of his heritage. His world travels were often routed through Ulster to visit cousins at the old homestead.
Today I am at once humbled, challenged and privileged to stand in his pulpit. Nearly half a century after he retired as pastor of Pittsburgh’s historic “First Church,” as his fifth successor I still reap the benefits of the ministry of a true homiletical giant. There are yet great saints in the First Presbyterian family of Pittsburgh who sat under his preaching Their numbers are fading but his books still line the shelves of their libraries.
“Preach it again, Doctor!” Come Before Winter, based on Paul’s urgent invitation to young preacher Timothy (see 2 Timothy 4:21), is his best known sermon. It echoes around the world in a variety of forms. Taped copies of it are available from our library as well as from Geneva College, where many of his letters and papers are available in the repository of the Macartney library. The first October of his Pittsburgh ministry he preached it. The church elders asked that he preach it each year thereafter, which he did. It is said that he may have preached it as many as 39 times, both in Pittsburgh and across the country.” (Robert Leslie Holmes, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Pittsburgh, PA)
This article originally appeared in Preaching magazine. Used by permission. For more information visit: www.preaching.com
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