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Man of the Word: The ministry of G. Campbell Morgan

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Archives / 2000 / May

 

 

Man of the Word: The ministry of G. Campbell Morgan

Alfred S. Jorgensen
Alfred S. Jorgensen is field secretary for the South Pacific Division, New South Wales, Australia.

 

Though the name Campbell Morgan is not really a household word even in ministers' homes, he is well known as one of the most revered and competent English-speaking biblical preachers of his time the early twentieth century.

Wilbur Smith, for instance, tells how his attendance at Morgan's meetings in Baltimore affected him. "Still vivid in my mind are those winter afternoons in Baltimore... when I heard Dr. Morgan unfold the opening chapters of Luke's Gospel: we felt a tenseness, a magnetic pull, an atmosphere saturated with terrific intensity; our souls were confronted with eternal and transforming truths that sent us out of that sanctuary cleansed, ennobled, and determined to go back to the Book."

Evangelist Carlyle B. Haynes refers to an occasion when he heard Morgan in New York City at the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church. "When I finally managed to crowd my way into the gallery at the opening meeting, I found 2,500 people had gathered. Most of them had Bibles and notebooks, which deeply impressed me. Dr. Morgan was given a simple introduction by the pas tor and came to the pulpit.

"He had no graces of gesture, no showy eloquence, no spectacular delivery. He was lank, lean, angular, and wholly unprepossessing. He used no charts or blackboard, no pictures, no screen, no gadgets of any kind, his dress was simple nothing to attract or to divert attention. His tremendous power was what he did with the Word of God.

"In five minutes I was in another world, and not because of any elocution or charm of speech, ... I forgot the people around me, forgot the speaker, forgot everything but the wonders of the world into which I had been led. I went home dazed with wonder and the effectiveness of the Bible alone as the source of convincing preaching."

Campbell Morgan certainly was a phenomenon. Not academically trained, he even failed in his "trial sermon" (he was told he showed "no promise"). Yet he was, eventually, acclaimed "the most outstanding preacher this country (the United States) has heard." 1 Between 1886 and his Diamond Jubilee, he preached some 23,390 times and wrote over seventy books. He was an ideal husband and father, whose four sons followed him into the ministry (what higher tribute could be paid to a preacher?). No breath of scandal ever touched his life. He loved children and was loved by them. He dressed with sartorial propriety and was a sparing eater who followed certain rules of health.

How are we to explain such a man? As Wilbur Smith has rightly asked: "During the active ministry of Campbell Morgan [more than 60 years] ... there were certainly well over one hundred thousand ministers in Great Britain and America, standing in pulpits fifty-two Sundays out of the year, preaching from the Bible, and we cannot but help ask ourselves: how can you account for the fact that this one man would be recognized on both sides of the Atlantic as the peer of all Bible expositors over that period of time?"

Accordingly, what can we anticipate would have been the nature, character, and style of his ministry if he were with us today? What can we learn from him and his ministry?

Commitment to Scripture

Campbell Morgan was always a man of one Book. He knew his Bible and gave himself to its study, day and night. John G. Mitchell, who taught Bible at the Multmonah School of the Bible, tells how Dr. Morgan responded when asked, "How do you go about studying your Bible?"

"If I tell you," Morgan replied, "the chances are you would not do it."

After further prompting by Dr. Mitchell, Campbell disclosed, "I read a book through 40 to 50 times before I even start to study it." It was obvious that he saturated his mind with the Word of God. He could therefore justifiably affirm in his Introduction to The Campbell Morgan Analyzed Bible: "I can and do claim that in the work [of preparing the outlines of the Bible books in The Analyzed Bible] there has been no careless haste...."

"I am to preach only what is revealed there," he declared. His approach was that of a reverent believer in Holy Scripture as the inspired Oracle of God. His primary concern was to discover and expound what the Bible actually said, not to fit it into any system of theology. His tremendous power was what he could do with the Word to express the truth; he was not there to impress the people (though he certainly did that).

Concentration on fundamentals

In his preaching Dr. Morgan concentrated on the fundamentals.

He avoided topics of the day and seldom made use of controversial subjects. A survey of his sermons in the ten volumes of The Westminster Pulpit reveal that he stripped sin of its veneer and ever sought in a practical way to apply the message of Scripture to the contemporary situation.

Campbell Morgan was basically a devotional, rather than a doctrinal, preacher. As Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones pointed out, Morgan preached more frequently on the gospel than on the Epistles, which (Lloyd-Jones said) Morgan left for him!

Considering the audience

Even in his day Campbell Morgan's style of preaching was considered old-fashioned. His sermons were usually long sometimes an hour and a half. They were far too full, and they certainly did not put the introduction and conclusion as close together as they might have been. Furthermore, he was sparing in illustration, and his messages usually consisted of close-fit ting, elaborate argument. Yet he was blessed with an enthralling voice, a remarkable gift for clear, direct speech (often seasoned with humor) with which he proclaimed the ageless truth of the gospel in simple language that stimulated scholar and unlearned alike. He spoke extemporaneously from a carefully prepared brief. Besides this he trusted to a phenomenal memory. He never resorted to gimmickry or oratory, nor did he use unworthy or sensational tactics.

Campbell Morgan was no preacher of melancholy; his was a gospel of hope. As John Harries declared: "Campbell Morgan [took] down the Bible from the shelf to which it had been relegated by schools of modern thought, [dusted] off the cobwebs of doubt, and lo! under his keen and subtle intellect Its truths [glowed] with a new fire."

Casting bread upon the waters

Morgan extended his ministry through his books. His first, Discipleship, was published in 1897. Perhaps his greatest work was The Crises of the Christ (1903), a monumental study of the life of Jesus. The Westminster Pulpit, now available in a series of ten volumes, features the sermons he preached in Westminster Chapel, London, between 1906 and 1919. These sermons were first published in forty weekly issues of The Westminster Record each year.

Most of Dr. Morgan's published books, which appeared written in a compact manner, were stenographic reports of his sermons, with no revision beyond the simplest elimination of repetitions and asides. (One could wish that not all of these asides had been eliminated!) Readers who may wish to get a taste of Morgan's lecture style should read The Birth of the Church—An Exposition of the Second Chapter of Acts, a series of lectures given by Dr. Morgan during a two-week period. According to Jill Morgan, "these lectures exemplify Dr. Morgan at his teaching best" and indirectly they "reveal the careful and painstaking preparation which issues in a seemingly effortless result."

One cannot but reflect how wonderful it would be if Campbell Morgan's "masterly, moving, Biblical, passion-born messages" were once again given to inspire ministers to "give themselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the Word."

"Campbell Morgan did not survive into our frightening space . . . ! But were he with us today, he would certainly still find his messages in the Word of God. He would still be 'The Prince of Expositors.' He would still find his satisfaction in unfolding the inexhaustible treasures of Holy Writ."

Learning from Morgan

What can we learn today from Campbell Morgan?

First, great sermons don't just happen. They take work. Second, great sermons need to come from one source, the Bible. Third, great sermons need to be about the basics, about the things that matter; in other words, they need meat, meat, and more meat. Fourth, great sermons are not dependent upon gimmicks, ploys, tricks, and fancy electronics. Finally, great sermons need to give hope, the hope that only the gospel can give.

Campbell Morgan might not be a household name, even in preachers' homes.

But he should be.

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Resources

Harries, John, G. Campbell Morgan: The Man and His Ministry (New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1930).

Morgan, Jill, A Man of the Word: Life of G. Campbell Morgan (London: Pickering and lnglis, 1951).

Murray, Harold, Campbell Morgan: Bible Teacher (London: Marshall, Morgan and Scott, Ltd., 1999).

Smith, Wilbur M., "The Life and Writings of G. Campbell Morgan," in A Treasury of Books for Bible Study (Natick, Mass.: W. A. Wilde Company, I960), Ch. 10.

Wiersbe, Warren W., "G. Campbell Morgan (1863-1945)," in Living with the Giants: The Lives of Great Men of the Faith (Grand Rapids, Baker Book House, 1993).

Compiled by Ralph G. Turnbull, A Treasury of G. Campbell Morgan (Grand Rapids, Baker Book House, 1972).

Articles

Haynes, Carlyle B., review of The Westminster Pulpit, Vols. 1-7, in The Ministry, November 1955.

Pitt, John, "G. Campbell Morgan: The Prince of Expositors," in Christianity Today, June 7, 1963.

Wiersbe, Warren W., "G. Campbell Morgan: Prince of Expositors," in Moody Monthly, December 1974.

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