A Primer on the Legacy of Preaching: Volume Two (Enlightenment to the Present Day)
What do Charles Spurgeon and Charles Finney, D. L. Moody and D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Billy Graham and Martin Luther King Jr. all have in common?
They embody the rich legacy of preaching through the ages, inspired by the central ministry component of Jesus Christ, whose very purpose and mission on earth was to preach. As Jesus himself made clear in Luke 4:43:44: “‘I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.’ And he kept on preaching . . .”
Now that legacy is collected into two new volumes that are perfect for students, preachers, and interested Christians alike who want to learn from and carry forward that legacy.
A Legacy of Preaching: Volume Two explores the history and development of preaching from the Enlightenment to the present day through a biographical and theological examination of its most important preachers. Instead of teaching the history of preaching from the perspective of movements and eras, each contributor in this series tells the story of a particular preacher in history, allowing the preachers from the past to come alive and instruct us through their lives, theologies, and methods of preaching. As the editors explain:
This book is about the seasons of preaching history and the preachers who proclaimed the eternal riches of God’s grace and truth. Our goal is to present a historical, theological, and methodological introduction to the history of preaching. This approach to the history of preaching is one of this volume’s unique markers. (29)
Each chapter includes the following as it engages the legacy preachers from the past:
- An introduction to a key figure in the history of preaching
- An analysis of the theological views that shaped their preaching
- An engagement with their methodology of sermon preparation and delivery
- An appraisal of the significant contributions they have made to the history of preaching
This diverse collection of familiar and lesser-known individuals provides a detailed and fascinating look at what it has meant to communicate the gospel over the past two thousand years. Further, the intent “is not to focus only on the history of preaching as a past event, but to consider how to best move forward in our own pulpits and in the training of future preachers” (29).
Below is a primer of sorts to the rich legacy of preaching you will find in volume two. Continue reading to better understand this legacy and how you and your devotional life can benefit from sitting at the feet of these legacy preachers. If you teach preaching or homiletics, we also welcome you to request an exam copy to see how it could benefit your course and students.
Telling the Story of Preaching
(Here is John Woodbridge’s complete foreword to volume two.)
For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
Hebrews 4:12 KJV
From the Protestant Reformers to the evangelist Billy Graham, evangelical preachers have often affirmed their belief that Holy Scripture, the infallible Word of God, possesses great power and bears great and glorious spiritual fruit. Martin Luther was one such preacher. In his Exhortation to the Clergy of Augsburg (1530), Luther crafted a “Reformation report card” of sorts (our term). It described the advance of the Evangelical Gospel from 1517, when he had posted his epochal “Ninety-Five Theses,” until 1530.  But in the latter year, Luther was concerned that “people have forgotten what the world was like before my teaching began.”  Luther wanted them for their comfort sake to see “what great and glorious fruit the Word of God has produced.” 
Before 1517, Luther lamented that the “best work” of doctors at the universities “was in despising Holy Scriptures and letting them lie under the bench. ‘Bible, Bible,’ said they. ‘The Bible is a heretics’ book! You must read the doctors! There you find what is what!’ I know that I am not lying about this, for I grew up among them and have heard and seen all this from them.”  By contrast, Luther and other Reformers extolled the mighty spiritual power of Scripture alone (sola scriptura). Said Luther about Scripture: “The Bible is alive, it speaks to me; it has feet, it runs after me; it has hands, it lays hold of me.” 
In his “Reformation report card,” Luther observed he would begin “where my doctrine began, that is, with the indulgences.”  Luther humbly confessed that it was the decisive power of the Word of God and not his own personal efforts that had “released” people from that spiritually deadening system:
If our Gospel had done nothing else than release men’s consciences from the shameful abomination and idolatry of the indulgences, that alone would be enough to show that it was the Word and power of God. For the whole world must admit that no human wisdom could have done this, since no bishop, no chapter, no monastery, no doctor, no university, not I myself, in short, no human reason, understood or knew this abomination; still less did any know how to check or attack it; everyone had to approve it and let it pass as good and wholesome doctrine and the dear bishops and the pope got money out of it, and let it go on richly. 
Luther wanted the truth to be known that he had been incapable of attacking the indulgence system in a successful fashion. By contrast, he also wanted people to remember that the power of the preached Word of God was fully up to the task. On another occasion, Luther observed that even while he slept or drank beer with a colleague, the Word of God did everything in advancing the gospel.
The Reformer John Calvin also believed that the power of the Word of God brought forth “great and glorious” fruit. Calvin worried, however, that some preachers did not seek in their preaching to see the Word of God do this. Rather, they tried to induce compliments from parishioners regarding how well they had preached. Quite simply, they failed to preach with the import of Hebrews 4:12 framing their sermons.
Calvin bemoaned the vacuous nature of the preaching of contemporary preachers who evinced this mindset:
What preaching is it, I beseech you, that they would have? They wish that the doctrine might hang in suspense, and be like a flint, as Ezekiel makes the comparison, so that we might hear no other words but these. “Oh, he preached very well. Oh, that was a good sermon.” And how? Without any profit or edifying the hearers. And yet this is what a great number seek nowadays. And this proverb, “To preach according to the text,” means nothing else but this: that the Word of God no longer has any use nor virtue among us, that we be there as if in hiding, and that God would no longer enlighten us (Heb 4:12). But on the contrary, it is said let the Word of God be a two-edged sword, let there be neither marrow nor bone nor thoughts nor affections that are undiscovered or fail to be sought and searched by God as if he were taking our souls apart. And moreover, as it is said in another text, that the office of the Word of God is to feel us even to the bottom, and to bring to light the things that we want to keep hidden (Luke 8:17), as it is also said, that as it is God who searches the hearts (Acts 1:24; 1 Cor 2:15), and that matter belongs to him, so also he wants virtue “to be in his word.” 
Nearly half a millennium after the Reformation, the evangelist Billy Graham (1918–2018) clearly indicated he too embraced the full authority of Scripture as the infallible Word of God. Moreover, he counted on the power of the Word of God under the influence of the Holy Spirit to energize and impact his preaching. But in 1949, just before his famous Los Angeles Revival tent meetings, he experienced serious doubts about the authority of Scripture. At Forest Home campground in the mountains surrounding Los Angeles, Graham walked into the woods and put his open Bible on a stump. He later recalled that he began to pray: “The exact wording of my prayer is beyond recall, but it must have echoed my thoughts: ‘O God! There are many things in this book I do not understand’ . . . I was trying to be on the level with God, but something remained unspoken. At last the Holy Spirit freed me to say it: ‘Father, I am going to accept this as Thy Word—by faith!’ . . . I sensed the presence and power of God as I had not sensed it in months.” 
Billy Graham indicated that his embrace of the authority of Holy Scripture was the very “secret” of his ministry. Over and over again during his lengthy preaching career he would declare: “The Bible says.” Moreover, he likewise referenced Hebrews 4:12 in describing Scripture’s power to penetrate even the hardened hearts of unbelieving listeners: “The people were not coming to hear great oratory, nor were they interested in my ideas. I found they were desperately hungry to hear what God had to say through His Holy Word. I felt as though I had a rapier in my hand, and through the power of the Bible was slashing deeply into men’s consciences, leading them to surrender to God. Does not the Bible say of itself, ‘For the word of God is quick, and powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart’ (Heb. 4:12 KJV). I found that the Bible became a flame in my hands. That flame melted away unbelief in the hearts of people and moved them to decide for Christ. The word became a hammer breaking up stony hearts and shaping them into the likeness of God. Did not God say, ‘I will make my words in thy mouth fire’ (Jer. 5:14 KJV) and ‘is not my word like as a fire? . . . and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?’” (Jer 23:29 KJV). 
In today’s spiritually starved world, the need is patent for preachers of unimpeachable integrity who preach with full confidence in the authority and power of the Word of God and who desire to witness Scripture’s “great and glorious fruit” poured out. May we be encouraged and inspired in this regard by reading the stories and counsel of the leading preachers recounted in this volume. May we likewise remember that those preachers who were blessed of the Lord often humbly confessed that it was the power of Scripture, God’s Word, that produced the “good and glorious fruit” in their ministries, and not they themselves. Rather, as Dr. J. I. Packer observed so wisely, preaching is God’s work: “Holy Scripture, the inspired Word (message) of the living God may truly be described as God preaching . . . Only as God himself is perceived to be preaching in our sermons can they have genuine spiritual significance and God will be perceived to speak through us [preachers] only as we are enabled to make plain the fact that it is really the Bible that is doing the talking.” 
—John D. Woodbridge, Research Professor of Church History and the History of Christian Thought at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois.
Introduction to A Legacy of Preaching, Volume Two
(Here is the complete introduction to volume one, written by series editors Benjamin K. Forrest, Kevin L. King, Bill Curtis, Dwayne Milioni.)
"Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season" (2 Tim 4:2). This book is about the seasons of preaching history and the preachers who proclaimed the eternal riches of God’s grace and truth. Our goal is to present a historical, theological, and methodological introduction to the history of preaching. This approach to the history of preaching is one of this volume’s unique markers. Instead of teaching the history of preaching from a perspective of movements and eras, our goal is to aid the reader in the exploration of preaching history, with a biographical and theological examination of its most important preachers. Therefore, each contributing author will tell the story of a preacher in history, allowing these preachers from the past to come alive and instruct us about their lives, theologies, and methods of preaching.
Our intent is not to focus only on the history of preaching as a past event, but to consider how to best move forward in our own pulpits and in the training of future preachers. To accomplish this goal, we have looked backward in order to explore how theology intersects with and informs the practice of preaching in context. By telling the stories of these preachers, we provide a stage for understanding how their theology informed their practice and how they methodized the task of approaching the Scriptures for the proclamation of the gospel. It will be readily evident that preachers throughout history have approached this differently. Some preachers have a very robust theology of preaching, while others, instead, have a theology for preaching.
This book details how great pulpiteers in history have approached their task of preaching as pastor-theologians. Much of the challenge in teaching students is not just what to know, but how to communicate what they have learned, in a way that is understood by their audience. This book doesn’t teach how biblical preaching is done, but demonstrates how it has been done. Our hope is that this approach will yield fruit for present and future preachers as they formulate their own understanding of how to be a theologian from the pulpit. There has been a great legacy of research in the area of the history of preaching. It is our goal to stand upon the shoulders of this research, much like the figures in this book have stood on the shoulders of the preachers who have gone before them.
Choosing the Preachers
Choosing which preachers to include for a book such as this is an imperfect process, and some readers may be disappointed about who was left out. When this project was birthed over breakfast at Cracker Barrel, we only had a vague notion about whom to include. A later discussion over lunchtime pizza gave our list more clarity, but it was still not perfect. Our final product is still lacking, but it is an attempt to give a voice to those whose impact must certainly be remembered and those with a unique methodology or theological perspective on preaching that we believed was significant enough to include. We hope readers will commit to researching those important preachers who were not included and yet deserve a place among those who have preached from some of history’s most influential pulpits.
Organization of Text
This book follows the great preachers of history. Each chapter has been written by a different author who is a scholar of the particular preacher. We left room for each author to express his own voice while maintaining consistency throughout the book. Each chapter will start with the “historical background” of the preacher. The length and scope of the biographical sections vary based on how much background information is needed to clarify their social and ministerial context. Next, each author will explore theological aspects of the preacher’s approach to preaching. Sectional divisions vary slightly. But the essence of each will articulate what aspects of theology concerned the preacher and will identify either the preacher’s theology of preaching or their theology for preaching. Then there will be an analysis of the preacher’s methodology. Some preachers were very strict in their methodology while others more loose and extemporaneous. The final section will explore the preacher’s overall contribution to the field of preaching along with a sermon excerpt from the preacher, so readers can hear the voice of the preacher in their own words.
Our challenge to readers is threefold, and there is a nuance in our challenge to you, depending on why you have come to this book.
If you are an inquisitive pastor wanting to look back at the pulpiteers of history, then our hope for you is that you will find comradery and encouragement in the strengths of these preachers. We also hope you find solidarity as you recognize (perhaps very intimately) their challenges. As a pastor, at some point in your ministry, you will find yourself in a situation where looking back just may help you to move forward. As you look back on these pulpiteers, we hope you see their resolve, their commitment to the ministry of the Word, and their pursuit for the church. As you see these, we hope you will be refreshed and encouraged to press in and press on in your calling.
If you find yourself reading this book as a student, we hope you will find several heroes, or at least examples to imitate. Just as George Whitefield was inspired by Matthew Henry, and John Piper has been inspired by Jonathan Edwards, we hope you will find an example and hero for yourself. No preacher is perfect and what is written here is not hagiography, but in most cases it is deferential. Do not look to anyone but Christ to find the perfect role model for ministry, but look to these preachers who sought to follow Christ, love his bride—the church—and preach the Word. Let this be how you read this book: recognize your own imperfections and learn from those who have gone before you.
Lastly, if you are reading this book as you prepare to teach in the field of homiletics, history, or practical theology—we hope you will enjoy these chapters and the research your colleagues have provided. For those you disciple in ministry, encourage them to be students of the Word. Inspire them to see the practices of history’s greats and learn from their dedicated study as they approach the task of sermon preparation. Challenge them with the reality that sermon preparation is never done—that life is constantly preparing us for the next sermon. Prod them with examples from your own life about the challenges and joys of drinking the Word personally and sharing it with a thirsty flock. For those you disciple in the classroom, urge them to compare those in history with those we are familiar with today. Embolden them with a vision that places the proclamation of the gospel at the summit of seminary preparation. Share with them stories about your own heroes of the pulpit. Your hero may be in this book, or may be a pastor barely known to history. This is important because you will likely have students who will go on to have ministries that make a visible impact, while others will remain largely unseen until eternity. Let them know both of these epitaphs are to be celebrated. Do not set before students the goal that to be remembered is to leave a legacy, but let them see faithfulness to the gospel through the proclamation of Christ is what counts when considering a legacy of preaching!
Soli Deo Gloria!
—Benjamin K. Forrest, Kevin L. King, Bill Curtis, Dwayne Milioni
Complete List of Legacy Preachers
This second volume of A Legacy of Preaching covers the period from the Enlightenment to present-day preachers, profiling thirty teachers of the Word from Europe and North America—ranging from Charles Spurgeon and Billy Sunday to Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Jerry Falwell. Below is the complete list of legacy preachers covered in volume two, along with their particular homiletical emphasis, and the two eras from both Europe and North America covered in volume two.
Nineteenth-Century European Preaching
- Charles Simeon: Preaching that Humbles the Sinner, Exalts the Savior, and Promotes Holiness
- Robert Murray M’Cheyne: Preaching the Love of God in Jesus Christ
- Alexander Maclaren: The Art of Hermeneutics for the Practice of Homiletics
- Catherine Booth: Preacher of Holiness
- Charles Haddon Spurgeon: The Prince of Preachers
- Rodney “Gipsy” Smith: Forgotten Evangelist
Nineteenth-Century North American Preaching
- George Liele: Former Slave and First American Baptist Missionary
- Charles Finney: Persuading Sinners to Submit Immediately to Christ
- John Jasper: Preaching for Social and Eschatological Freedom
- Henry Ward Beecher: Preaching Action over Theology
- John Albert Broadus: Carefully Expositing the Authoritative Scriptures
- Phillips Brooks: Preaching the Personality of the Preacher
- D. L. Moody: First International Evangelist
- B. H. Carroll: Preaching Sermons Saturated with Scripture
- Billy Sunday: Prohibitionist Preacher and Baseball Evangelist
Twentieth-Century European Preaching
- Karl Barth: Preaching Christ
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Costly Preaching
- D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: Preaching of the Word and Preacher for the Word
- John Stott: Preaching that Listens to the Word and the World
Twentieth-Century North American Preaching
- Harry Emerson Fosdick: Prophet of Modernity
- R. G. Lee: Rhetorical Artistry in the Pulpit
- Aimee Semple McPherson: Preaching to Capture the Imagination
- W. A. Criswell: Expositing the Whole Counsel of God—from Genesis to Revelation
- Gardner C. Taylor: Preacher Laureate
- Billy Graham: Evangelist to the World
- Martin Luther King Jr.: Preaching a Prophetic Dream of Social Justice as Kingdom Work
- Adrian Rogers: Faithfulness to the Word of God
- E. V. Hill: Preaching God’s Word for Spiritual and Social Transformation
- Jerry Falwell: Preaching Dynamic Faith
- J. I. Packer: Teaching Preachers to Preach as Teachers
In some of his final words to his young protégé, Paul urged pastor Timothy to “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2). Such preparation is a lifelong pursuit, and one way to prepare is to learn from the preaching legacy of others. Tony Evans, senior pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship, explains in his endorsement how this resource can shape your preaching:
Discipleship always works best when the Christian life is modeled for others. The same truth also applies in preaching. My advice to preachers young and old is to stay committed to the Word and learn from those who preach well. Sitting at the feet of history’s greatest preachers is a great honor that will enrich your soul, enliven your flock, and enhance your ministry. If this is your desire, then read this book. It tells the tales of history’s greats and relates to you a legacy that will inspire you to, like Paul, “boldly ... proclaim the mysteries of the gospel.”
Covering a broad range of preaching over the centuries, this resource is the definitive reference for experienced preachers who wish to deepen their own preaching, as well as aspiring students who want to learn from the masters of the past.
Add it to your reading list and soak in this legacy of preachers, letting it inform your own legacy of preaching. If you teach preaching or homiletics, we also welcome you to request an exam copy to see how it could benefit your course and students. Learn more in volume one and the two-book set.
You may also like this related post
A Primer on the Legacy of Preaching: Volume One (Apostles to the Revivalists)
Footnotes from Foreword
1. Martin Luther, Works of Martin Luther: The Philadelphia Edition (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1982), 4:329–82.
2. Ibid., 336.
4. Ibid, 347.
5. Mary Ann Jeffreys, “Colorful Sayings of Luther,” Christian History Magazine 34 (Carol Stream, IL: Christianity Today, 1992). https://www.christianitytoday.com/history/issues/issue-34/colorful-sayings-of-colorful-luther.html
6. Luther, Works of Martin Luther, 4:336.
7. Ibid., 336–67.
8. John Calvin, Sermons on 1 Timothy, Volume 2, eds. Ray Van Neste and Brian Denker (Jackson, TN: CreateSpace, 2016), 147–48.
9. Billy Graham, Just as I Am: The Autobiography of Billy Graham (San Francisco: Harper-San Francisco, 1997), 139.
10. Billy Graham, “Biblical Authority in Evangelism,” Christianity Today 1, no. 1 (October 1956).
11. Quoted on page 543 of the present volume.
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