G. Campbell Morgan (Great Preachers Series)

(Here’s part of a series that has already included Charles Spurgeon and Alexander MacLaren ).

He was the envy of the preachers of his day. The great F.B. Meyer once confessed as much! Morgan joins Moody and Spurgeon in never having any Bible college training. He was discovered by Moody and many feel the Lord sent him to teach the Bible to the massive amount of converts that came from the great revivals of that time period.

You might have had your doubts about him earlier on as after preaching a trial sermon to enter the ministry as an ordained Methodist preacher, he bombed out. A dejected Morgan wired his Dad to tell of his failure. His wise father wired back: “Rejected on earth–accepted in Heaven.” That was a close call to losing a mighty preacher that over time just became something hard for the Methodists to live down! He rose to fame just after Spurgeon and others of that golden age of preaching passed off the scene. Still, he was of their ilk.

Though he didn’t have formal training, he decided that to be the preacher he should be he should master the English Bible. Of course in his studies he referred to language works, but the task that lay heavy on his heart was opening up the Bible in the English language. His laser focus reaped huge dividends as he opened up God’s Word for the masses. Like the other great masters his work ethic in the Word would shock most of us who preach the Word today. He didn’t just look for a sermon to fill his given slots, he was compelled to get at what the Lord was saying. Likely, this is the exact point where his success and our failure meet.

His great strength was synthesis–how the thing before us fits the larger context of God’s Revelation to us. Frankly, he would see obvious things that everyone else would miss. I don’t mean forced points designed to make the speaker appear exceptionally intellectual and brilliant, but things that upon reading we can’t imagine why we hadn’t already noticed it.

He was a man on the go. Some have criticized him for a “nomad ministry.” Perhaps he won’t go down as one of the greatest pastors ever, but the harshest critic would be hard pressed to deny his amazing and God-blessed preaching skills.  He could literally mesmerize an audience with nothing but the Bible. Strangely, he almost never used an illustration. We don’t have to ditch illustrations like him, but that might suggest that the Bible carries more punch on its own than most think. He was at his best in the Gospels, preached less on doctrine and more on Bible stories and passages. He, like a few others, shows us the latent power of expository preaching. If only we could catch a little of what he had.

There’s a few biographies on him like the one by Harries. Jill Morgan’s “A Man of the Word” gives us the best impressions of his method. Don Wagner’s “The Expository Method of G. Campbell Morgan” teaches well as does Morgan’s own “Preaching”. He is at his best in the volumes on each Gospel, Acts, the Corinthian letters, and Jeremiah. The best of his sermons to read are in the 5 combined volumes, or 10 volume set called “The Westminister Pulpit.” Any of his books are worth having. In a word, I’d call G. Campbell Morgan spellbinding!

Alexander MacLaren (Great Preachers Series)

Everyone has his or her favorite, and here is mine–Alexander MacLaren. He is another of the great Victorian Age preachers. He pastored for many years, most notably in Manchester, England and died in 1910. He was no where near the pastor Spurgeon was, and perhaps Spurgeon outranked him in a simple Gospel message, but otherwise he is without peer. When it comes to preaching what the Bible actually says, which I hope you would agree is the actual job of the preacher, MacLaren stands at the head of the class among preachers in the English language.
Alexander Maclaren
Looking at his awesome sermons you will find them pretty evenly divided between textual and expository and always with faithfulness to the text. The text never suggests some subject to him where he feels the need to imbibe us with his soapbox opinions. It’s just the Bible. You always feel a “Thus saith the Lord” when reading him. That is not to say they lack creativity. In fact, they overflow with imagination. His artistry, though, always stayed within the confines of what the text said. You might say his preaching was the perfect marriage of the science of exegeting the passage and the art of preaching it.
His colleagues readily admitted that he was a master craftsman. W. Robertson Nicoll, a prolific editor of his day, said: “A man who reads one of MacLaren’s sermons must either take his outline or take another text”. He further said, “MacLaren touched every text with a silver hammer and it broke up into three natural and memorable divisions.”
We might learn from MacLaren. When asked the secret of his success, he would reply in a word: work. Not that he denied the divine enabling by the Holy Spirit, he just admitted that it is work to dig out sermons. A lack of hard work in preparing a message likely means you don’t have much of a sermon. He so believed this that he always wore work boots to his study. To read his sermons is to believe he lived what he advised. He never followed fads in preaching, or concerned himself with a message for the times, as he felt the Bible carried a message for the ages. When speaking of power in preaching he said personal godliness was the first and greatest criteria. He put preaching at the top of his ministry. He saw it as the answer to every conceivable issue we might face in the ministry. You might say that is taking it too far, but could you admit our emphasis on the power of preaching is lacking today? As one writer described it, MacLaren’s motto of ministry could be summed as “This one thing I do.” This could be a powerful corrective to  the trends of our day of pastors often working on the most trivial things while the greatest thing lies languishing under the weight of their busy schedules.
He shared a trait with most of those I would put in my greatest preacher category–an unusual personality. I don’t know why but they all have the most distinct peculiarities. Those who would try to interview him would be bewildered by its end and would likely learn nothing. He leaned heavily on his wife and would agonize over his sermons and often think them pitiful failures even when others were greatly blessed by them. Still, his sermons were phenomenal. David Larsen in his delightful The Company of the Preachers tells of one of his most memorable sermons. It was entitled “Mahanaim: Two Camps” on Genesis 32. Here’s the outline:
I. The angels of God meet us on the dusty road of common life
II. The angels of God meet us punctually at the hour of need
III. The angels of God come in the shape we need.
Look at the text–it’s there. I don’t know about you, but I call that an outline.
His messages collected in a set called Expositions of Holy Scripture (in either 11 or 17 volumes) contain the full set of his sermons. His sermons were originally given in various volumes, but this collection conveniently gathers them all in scriptural order. He also wrote great commentaries on Psalms and Colossians printed in The Expositor’s Bible and the helpful The Life of David Reflected in the Psalms. His sermons are as moving in print as they must have been when he delivered them.
For further study you could look for Life of Alexander MacLaren by David Williamson and Dr. McLaren of Manchester by E. T. McLaren (there is debate about the spelling of his last name). Warren Wiersbe’s Walking With The Giants, Ernest Jeffs’ Princes Of The Modern Pulpit, and W. Robertson Nicoll’s Princes of The Church all contain a great chapter on MacLaren.
To let you know how much I admire this man. Three years ago (2009) when my wife, Alicia, became paralyzed while carrying a child and we realized he would be our last one, I talked her into letting me name him. His first name would be Elisha for one of my favorite Bible characters. His middle name? You guessed it. MacLaren. Here’s a namesake for the man who in my opinion is the greatest preacher you could ever read.
Jimmy and Elisha Reagan

Charles Spurgeon (Great Preachers Series)

That Charles Haddon Spurgeon is a legend is beyond dispute. Any pastor would have to be amazed by his pastorate and overall ministry. The crowds, the conversions, the influence stagger the imagination. Were we to know the depths of his suffering both physically and at the hands of other religious leaders, we might not want his ministry after all.

Perhaps the most amazing thing of all is that after 120 years his books and written sermons are as fresh as ever. There’s some phrasing peculiar to his day, but his sermons still grab the heart. His sermons come in 2 sets. There’s the 6 volume set called New Park Street Pulpit that were from the first years of his pastorate and are available reasonably priced used. Then there’s the 57 volume set published by Pilgrim Publications called Metropolitan Tabernacle Sermons that retails for $2000 (occasionally used sets come up for $1000-$1200). I was blessed to finally get an almost complete set! There’s some older used volumes, but these Pilgrim volumes have nice bindings that will last for generations. There are several other sets with various names (I have a few myself), but remember they are all taken from these 2 sets.

His sermons are often textual, sometimes expository, and rarely topical. Their greatest strengths include vividness, imagination, and most of all, gospel. No one can lift up Jesus Christ quite like he can. I’ve heard that Spurgeon’s sermons comprise the largest collection of writings by one person in the English language. Though Spurgeon was a Calvinist, only a handful of sermons really have much Calvinism in them. The truth is Spurgeon was much maligned by more ardent calvinists than himself. Read Iain Murray’s “Spurgeon Vs. Hyper-Calvinism” to learn this history. The truth is that Spurgeon constantly called on men to turn to Jesus for salvation, and he never spoke of being worried if you are elect–no, just flee to Christ. Personally, I think he is at his best in the parables and miracles. Wow, he makes them come alive!

He wrote other things as well. “Lectures To My Students” and “An All-Around Ministry” are still read by those in the ministry. Articles he wrote appreared in several small volumes. His last volume was a commentary on Matthew that I find very useful. His 3 large volumes on the Psalms are my very favorite on the Psalms. I would hate to be without them. He wrote several other volumes like Advice To Seekersetc.

Be sure to read “Commenting and Commentaries” either for book suggestions or laughs. I’ve worked hard to obtain several of his recommendations. He favors the Puritans, and though I’ve read them some, I wish they were better at coming to the point. Spurgeon took good things they offered (especially application), but he in no way reads like them. Listen to some of his comments in this book:

65.”Too small to be of any use. You cannot put the sea into a tea cup.”
100. Thomas Pyle “A pile of paper, valuable to housemaids for lighting fires.”
435. “The author confounds rather than expounds.”
766. “We have frequently characterized this author’s writings. They are clear, cold, and dry, like a fine moonlight night in the middle of winter. A man needs a peculiar mind to enjoy Hengstenberg, but all educated students can profit by him.”

And there are many, many more zingers.

If you come to enjoy and appreciate Spurgeon as I do you will want to secure some of his biographies. I have Spurgeon: Prince of Preachers by Drummond (Kregel), The Life and Works of C. H. Spurgeon in 2 volumes by G. Holden Pike (Banner of Truth), Life of Charles Spurgeon by Russell Conwell (old, written shortly after his death), The Life and Works of C. H. Spurgeon by Henry Northrop (Sword), C. H. Autobiography in 2 volumes (Banner of Truth), From The Pulpit To The Palm-Branch (Solid Ground), The Unforgettable Spurgeon by Eric Hayden (Emerald), and The Shadow of the Broad Brim by Richard Day (Crown Publications). There are a few other small ones I have as well. He has been a popular subject for biographers.

The main thing about Spurgeon is the depth of his love for the Lord. As a preacher, his sermons challenge me. As a Christian, they move me.

Favorite Preachers To Read

great preachers
“Who’s your favorite authors to read ?” came the question across the table from Pastor Scott Hooks. That question took me off guard, strangely enough, for as much as I love to read, to think about all the books I have read or used, it was hard to reduce that to 2 or 3 names. After an awkward pause, I started naming 5 or 6 names. Guess who they all were? Preachers. Men who had not set out to be authors, but whose sermons made it into print.
Books of sermons should be part of every good family or ministry library. For any Christian they have great devotional value. The only downside to it is that you may decide that some of us pastors really don’t know how to preach. For we pastors, reading the best sermons challenges us, shows us what preaching ought to be, and encourages us to work harder. The only downside for us would be that instead of being inspired, we would  just steal them. To present another’s work as our own is an incredible dishonesty shocking to find in someone speaking for Jesus Christ.
Think of the impact the sermons of Jesus had. Even though the Bible likely only records parts of His sermons (We know this because at times He would spend the whole day teaching and preaching), they are so powerful. The parts of Paul’s preaching that we have also make sermon series for us. It wasn’t, however, till after the invention of the printing press that lots of sermons made it into print. Not all of them were great, but some are treasures for all time. It was in the 1800s, in my opinion, that we had the golden age of preaching. Praise the Lord, we can read them today.
I want to blog about them individually. I want to tell of Spurgeon, MacLaren, and a few others that you perhaps haven’t heard as much about. I may do other book reviews and still have guest blogs coming, but I want to start a series of blogs about preachers and their written sermons that have enriched my life and ministry and makes me want to reach to greater heights in the grand work the Lord has called me to do.
Preachers in the series so far:
More to come…