Biographies of preachers are always interesting, but none that we have read are more challenging than the most recent account of the life of Dr. G. Campbell Morgan, entitled Man of the Word. This great expository teacher and preacher was truly a man of the Word. From his first sermon, preached when he was but thirteen years of age, right on to the end of his pilgrim journey at eighty-one, he built his congregations by the power latent in the Word of God—not in gadgets, but in God. He was a great preacher, but in many ways he was also the ideal pastor.
In this special issue of THE MINISTRY we are considering the varied phases of the pastor's work. But nothing is more vital than preaching. When Paul admonished Timothy to "preach the word," when Peter wrote to the overseers of God's house and told them to "feed the flock of God," these apostles were emphasizing a principle which, if carried out, will do more to strengthen the church and solve its problems than anything else. When a man says that he has so much to do in trying to solve the problems of his parish that he has no time to study, he is thereby revealing the reason why he continues to have problems. C. H. Spurgeon used to say, "Hungry animals fight." When the flock is properly fed, every phase of church responsibility is better cared for.
We heard Dr. Campbell Morgan expound the Word many times in his latter years, and under differing circumstances. But at the conclusion of his message the effect was always the same. Under his skillful guidance the congregation, having been lifted into the heights of spiritual perception or led along the way of divine suffering, as he unfolded the mystery of the cross, left with the sense of having met with God. There was no haste to the aisles. Instead the people lingered as if loath to leave.
This man preached from the whole Bible. His study was not a chase for proof texts to support an argument, but instead, it was a revelation of God brought in a prophetic setting, not from some isolated text or chapter, not necessarily from some special book, but rather from the whole Word. His messages came not alone from bright patches in the heights, but also from the dark valleys where men struggled and God suffered with them.
An Indefatigable Student
He was an indefatigable student himself, and his appreciation of others' study and research gave him the respect and love of all who came to know him. The very first time we met him, in company with a fellow worker, something happened that endeared him to us. We had introduced ourselves as Adventist ministers. "So you're Adventist ministers," he said. "I am pleased to meet you, for you belong to that group with whom my esteemed friend and brother in Christ is connected—Dr. McCready Price. What a wonderful contribution that man has made to the church! He surely is God's gift to this generation." At once we were at home with him. And ever afterward a bond of interest held us in true fellowship.
There was nothing small or cramped in his thinking or his actions. His messages were timely, but also timeless. His sermon on the ordination of the apostles taken from Mark 3, was a challenge to every pastor and every congregation. He read verse 14 and then reminded the congregation that Christ called the twelve and ordained them, "that they should be with him." "A pastor's first responsibility is to be with God," he said. "Only then is he qualified to preach or do anything else for the church. When the church rediscovers the purpose of the ordination of its ministers, it may well be the beginning of a great revival. You members of church boards, how often you will tie up your pastor, requiring that he give direction to every detail of organization and sit on all your church committees! Things which you could do, and do perhaps even better, you expect your pastor to do. Shame on you! 'Loose him and let him go.' Give your pastor a chance to live with God. Encourage him to do a more thorough work in the study of the Word and you will discover he will be a better pastor." Then directing his remarks briefly to the ministers scattered throughout the congregation, he said, "And my brethren in the ministry, when the church adjusts itself to such a plan, don't feel hurt. Instead, make it the occasion for doing a more thorough work as a pastor, in teaching the Word and visiting the flock."
Dr. Morgan was a teacher of teachers. To unfold the beauties of the Word of God was his life. And all over the world there are those who caught the inspiration from his classes. -Westminster Chapel, in the heart of London, does not have a large resident church membership. In recent years, most of the members have moved out to the suburbs. But while the actual congregation was not even seven hundred, the church itself seated four times that number, and it was usually packed to the doors when Dr. Morgan was there. His large Bible class, conducted each Friday evening, was filled with teachers and preachers from many other communions, each with some kind of notebook and pencil, ready for solid work. These messages were made real by the aid of a large blackboard 5' x 16'. They were not Bible lectures, but rather Bible studies conducted in a true system of analysis. Varied courses were given over the years, the whole Bible being his textbook. The themes were many, but as Dr. Milton Nichols declared, his messages could be listed under the words "God and Christ; sin, suffering, and salvation; the Saviour, the cross, redemption; the resurrection and life eternal." Never did we hear him presenting something merely argumentative or trivial. He had a genuine sense of humor, but he scorned folly in the pulpit.
The Bible Lived in His Heart
On one occasion he came to a church where the pastor, a brilliant young man, was drawing large audiences. The titles of his sermons were more intriguing than compelling—such as "The Price of a Haircut," "Two Lumps of Sugar, Please," "Popping the Question." The following Sunday's service was entitled "That's My Weakness Now," and by some mistake that title was attached to Dr. Morgan's name. An explanation, of course, was necessary. So this rather flashy young preacher in introducing the guest speaker drew attention to the typographical error. "The subject announced was not the one Dr. Morgan had chosen," he said, and closed with a few quips and a good deal of laughter. Then the expositor stood up. His tall frame was the very expression of dignity, and looking over the audience he said with vibrant reverence, "Hear the Word of God!" The effect was tremendous. It was an unspoken rebuke to flippancy, and no one present was ever likely to forget it.
The Bible was more than a divine library to this teacher. It was a real world of men, women, and children with whom he lived. The personalities of the Book he seemed to know intimately. Isaiah, Hosea, Amos, John, Paul, Peter, Jeremiah, Moses, were not just writers of another age, they were people with whom he fellowshiped. The Bible lived in the heart of this man because he lived in the heart of the Book.
He never received a conventional education; he had never spent a day in college classes. Yet he sat on the faculty of two colleges and was president of another. He became president of Cheshunt College in 1911. And when it moved from the London area to Cambridge in 1913, he was its president. It then became part of the historic Cambridge University. But even while occupying this key position in Cheshunt College, he was still carrying on his ministry at Westminster. He lived in Cambridge and traveled to London for the Friday night Bible class. He also preached there twice each Sunday, returning on Monday to his duties at Cambridge. Like Joseph Parker and Charles H. Spurgeon, he became world famous without academic training. These spiritual giants were models for all the preachers who should follow them. Their triumphs are no argument against theological and academic training, however. And we can sincerely thank our heavenly Father for what our Theological Seminary is doing to equip our future ministry. But if through the power of God and diligent, self-sacrificing effort these men could rise to such heights of spiritual leadership, then it certainly challenges everyone who has been privileged to receive the kind of training which is our pattern today, to measure up to the possibilities that are ours as co-workers with Christ.
And it is interesting to recall that Campbell Morgan, the prince of expositors, was rejected for the ministry by a Methodist conference in 1887 because it was felt he was not a good enough preacher!
Now what is our reason for this eulogy of Dr. Morgan? Simply to emphasize a tremendously important truth. We repeat that our pastoral work is primarily that of feeding the flock. When the congregation leaves the house of God with a consciousness of having been in the presence of God, then the problems of life, the impatience of the family, the pressing demands of business, seem small indeed. Even the deliberate slights of one's supposed friends become insignificant. Sensing a divine presence, they feel as Jacob felt when he said, "Surely the Lord is in this place. . . . This is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven." But to lead our congregations into such an attitude, we must be willing to pay the price.
Theological and Devotional Ignorance
An advertisment for piano instruction reads: "Why go through the drudgery? Learn to play in ten easy lessons." Yet anybody knows that "ten easy lessons" will never produce a Paderewski. Neither will easy, superficial study produce a Morgan. This man set his own standard for study. He read a book at least fifty times, and usually aloud, before putting pen to paper in making an outline of its message. When he began the study of the book of Exodus, one of his family tells us, he read that book through forty times at a single sitting. Not only would he read it in English but in other languages, and of course in the original languages. Then he would study the various versions, after which he would go to the commentaries to discover what other thinkers have said. It was this kind of diligent, comprehensive work that made him the greatest expositor of his generation. More than once we have heard him say, "It is the preacher that holds the keys that can unlock the prison doors and set people free in their service for God." But the preacher must be willing to put all his heart, his soul, his mind, and his strength into the task. A harp gives forth its music because the strings are taut. And a preacher, to give forth the music of redeeming grace, must be in tune with the Infinite and ready for the touch of the Master.
Wedding divine truth with human need is the true science of a sermon. When a minister stands up to preach, he must do more than make truth plain. He must make it winsome and compelling, something that will bring about changes in attitudes and commitments to a purpose. Our people must be stirred to Christian action. We must help them to become naturalized citizens of the kingdom of God. The language of heaven must not be to them archaic, but something they know and enjoy. That is why we must seek to become giants in the study of the Word.
In this materialistic age of "coins, wires, and motor horns" men need to hear that Word. And its message must be related to life as it is today. Each age calls for its own peculiar emphasis. Apostolic preaching was the announcement of startling news. The next century brought the challenge to relate that message to the Greco-Roman mind. Unfortunately, this trend which should have continued to integrate Christianity into every phase of secular life was arrested by an undue emphasis on church order and ritual. The preaching was more ecclesiastical and rooted in liturgy. It continued that way more or less for centuries. Shorn of its power, the church lapsed into the Dark Ages. But here and there were lights that shone amid the gloom—voices that continued to declare the great truths of the Word.
The fourteenth century, which had seen a widespread commercial, political, and cultural expansion, also witnessed the recapturing of the prophetic vision. The Reformation was the natural result. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the message that should have been unfolded in its fullness was dissipated in the atmosphere of bitter and acrimonious discussions among the theologians. True, the Bible had been given back to the people, but its message was not fully comprehended.
With the coming of the Wesleys came the evangelical revival, and the preachers moved by the Spirit of God again emphasized the glory of the grace of God. Nineteenth-century preaching gave an emphasis to missionary expansion. "The world for Christ!" was the slogan. Today the emphasis has turned to applied Christianity. But for long decades the message of the Book has been emasculated and undermined by "modern theology." Certain schools of critical research have naturally affected the preachers in training, who in those impressive years were not led to revere the Word of God. Consequently, much of the preaching of our day is purely philosophical with an emphasis on ethics. Many preachers, like their congregations, are theologically and devotionally ignorant. Strange as it may seem, the thought trend which for a century was fanatically devoted to reason and scholarly research has now veered to a kind of emotional philosophy. In this unreal atmosphere the task of the preacher is vitally changed.
A modern writer, Henry Nelson Wieman, likens philosophy of religion to the dietitian who prescribes the meals, and theology to the cook who transfers the menu into food for the table. Then he suggests soberly that the hunger of our congregations may be due to the fact that too many preachers are only waiters carrying menus from empty kitchens!
Theology, "the queen of sciences," is essential to provide a steady diet. In all too many pulpits today the "main course" is lacking. The conditions constitute not only a great need but also a great opportunity, the greatest perhaps since apostolic times. The church and the world need men who are teachers sent from God, leaders who are men of the Word.
R. A. A.