‘The pulpit leads the world.’ Few would dare to advance this claim today, but it would not have sounded an exaggeration in the last century. At the same time, those who discerned the privilege of preaching were distressed by those who did not. One example of this distress was Dr. James W. Alexander, son of Archibald Alexander the first professor in the new Princeton Theological Seminary in 1812, and himself a professor there from 1849 to 1851. For twenty years he had been a pastor, however, for, as Charles Hodge said of him, ‘the pulpit was his appropriate sphere.’
I fear none of us apprehend as we ought to do the value of the preacher’s office. Our young men do not gird themselves for it with the spirit of those who are on the eve of a great conflict; nor do they prepare as those who are to lay hands upon the springs of the mightiest passions, and stir up to their depths the ocean of human feelings. Where this estimate of the work prevails, men even of inferior training accomplish much … The pulpit will still remain the grand means of effecting the mass of men. It is God’s own method, and he will honour it … In every age, great reformers have been great preachers …
Preaching is not only influential in the lives of others, Alexander later argued; it is also very fulfilling for the preacher: é There is happiness in preaching. It may be so performed as to be as dull to the speaker as it is to the hearers; but in favoured instances it furnishes the purest and noblest excitements, and in these is happiness. Nowhere are experienced, more than in the pulpit, the clear, heavenward soaring of the intellect, the daring flight of imagination, or the sweet agitations of holy passion. Because of this power and this pleasure, small wonder that Alexander Whyte of Edinburgh, just after the turn of the century, could admonish a discouraged Methodist minister with these words: ‘Never think of giving up preaching! The angels around the throne envy you your great work. ’That was in 1908. The previous year saw the publication of the Congregational theologian P. T. Forsyth’s book Positive Preaching and the Modern Mind. These are its opening words: ‘It is, perhaps, an overbold beginning, but I will venture to say that with its preaching Christianity stands or falls.’* (Stott, Between Two Worlds, p. 36-38).
Soli Deo Gloria!
For His Glory,
*Stott, John R. W. (1994-01-01). Between Two Worlds: The Challenge of Preaching Today (pp. 36-38). Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. Kindle Edition.