Pulpit Oratory

I Corinthians 2:1,4,5
       And I brethren, when I came unto you, came not with excellency of speech, or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God…And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom but in demonstration of Spirit and of power: that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.

JOHN GILL (1697-1771): The apostle signifies he was not sent with, or to preach, with words of man’s wisdom, with human eloquence and oratory, with great swelling words of vanity, but in a plain, humble, modest manner…the witness of God, which is greater than that of men, needed no art nor oratory of men to recommend it: it was enough in plain words, and easy language, to declare it, with the evidence by which it was supported―and for this reason, that faith in Christ, and in the doctrines of His Gospel, which comes by hearing, might not be attributed to the force of human eloquence and oratory; or stand upon so sandy a foundation, as that which might, if that was the case, be puffed away by a superior flow and force of words; but that it might be ascribed, as it ought to be, to almighty power―stand in it, be supported by it, and at last be finished and fulfilled with it.

C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892): The way of salvation is far too important a matter to be the theme of oratorical displays. The cross is far too sacred to be made a pole on which to hoist the flags of our fine language.

WILLIAM GURNALL (1617-1679): Preach simply. The Word of God is too sacred a thing, and preaching too a solemn a work, to be toyed and played with, as is the usage of some, who make a sermon but a matter of wit and fine oratory.

MARTYN LLOYD-JONES (1899-1981): It is most interesting and instructive in this connection to note the attitude of the great Puritan Thomas Goodwin who was himself a great preacher—one of the greatest of them all. Thomas Goodwin tells us that as a young man he greatly admired the preaching of a certain Dr. Senhouse in Cambridge; but he found it to be “distinguished rather for its ostentatious display of rhetoric than for its clear statement of evangelical truth.” He said it was characterized primarily by “literary distinction.” Goodwin contrasted the “solemnity of preaching” with these “fine sermons” and this “vainglorious eloquence.” Poor Thomas Goodwin! He was a man born with a gift of natural eloquence, and in his early days he greatly admired these oratorical eloquent preachers in Cambridge. It was his ambition to emulate them and to become such a preacher himself. He said that the greatest fight of his life was to conquer this “master lust.” His “master lust” was nothing physical or moral; it was the desire to obtain distinction and honour by eloquent preaching.

JOHN FLAVEL (1630-1691): In all my observation I have not found, that ever God hath made much use of laboured periods, rhetorical flowers, and elegancies to improve the power of religion in the world.

JOHN CALVIN (1509-1564): The kingdom of heaven does not consist in fine rhetoric, but in the power of God.

WILLIAM GURNALL: If we mean to do good, we must come not only in word, but with power. Satan budges not for a thousand such squibs and witcracks.

D. L. MOODY (1837-1899): I am tired and sick of your “silver-tongued orators.” I used to mourn because I couldn’t be an orator. I thought, “Oh, if I could only have the gift of speech like some men!” I have heard men with a smooth flow of language take the audience captive, but they came and they went, their voice was like air, there wasn’t any power back of it; they trusted in their eloquence and their fine speeches.

MARTYN LLOYD-JONES: [Those men] were called “the great pulpiteers,” especially in the second half of the [19th] century. They were to be found in great numbers in England and also in the USA. I always feel that the man who was most typical in this respect in the USA was Henry Ward Beecher. He illustrates perfectly the chief characteristics of the ‘pulpiteer.’ The term itself is very interesting, and I believe it is a very accurate one. These men were pulpiteers rather than preachers. I mean that they were men who could occupy a pulpit and dominate it, and dominate the people. They were professionals. There was a good deal of showmanship in them, and they were experts at handling congregations and playing on their emotions. In the end they could do almost what they liked with them. These pulpiteers were to me—with my view of preaching—a great abomination…You see, the form became more important than the substance, the oratory and eloquence became things in and of themselves, and ultimately preaching became a form of entertainment. The Truth was noticed, they paid a passing respect to it, but the great thing was the form.

ROBERT HALL (1764-1831): A consummate orator is a character which we despair of ever seeing perfectly associated with that of a Christian teacher. The minister of the Gospel is called to declare the testimony of God, which is always weakened by a profuse employment of the ornaments of secular eloquence. The imagination is too much excited and employed by those exquisite paintings and nice touches of art, not interfere with the awful functions of conscience—the hearer is absorbed in admiration, and the exercise, which ought to be the instrument of conviction, becomes a feast of taste.

C. H. SPURGEON: If you aim at the exhibition of rhetorical talent, you will not be fit for the Master’s use. God would not have us entangled with subordinate designs. You do not keep a servant to go to the door so that people may say, “What a fine girl she is, and how charmingly she dresses!”

AUGUSTUS TOPLADY (1713-1778): Seek rather to profit than to be admired.

D. L. MOODY: It is said of Cicero, the great Roman orator, that when he had spoken every one would go out of the building saying, “What a magnificent address! What an orator!” But when Demosthenes, the Greek orator, had finished, the people would say, “Let us go and fight Philip!” He had fired them up with the cause; and what we want is to get the attention of the people away from ourselves and on to the subject.

ARCHIBALD ALEXANDER (1772-1851): There is indeed a sort of pulpit fire which is rhetorical—proceeds from no warmth within, and diffuses no warmth without; the less of it the better. But genuine ardour must arise from the habitual thought and temper of the life. He with whom the ministry is a secondary thing, may be a correct, a learned, an elegant, even an oratorical [preacher], but he will never be a powerful preacher.

ROBERT MURRAY M’CHEYNE (1813-1843): It is not so much great talents that God blesses, as great likeness to Christ.

C. H. SPURGEON: There is a something in the very tone of the man who has been with Jesus which has more power to touch the heart than the most perfect oratory: remember this and maintain an unbroken walk with God.

THOMAS BROOKS (1608-1680): He is the best preacher, not that tickles the ear, but that breaks the heart.


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