The American Pulpit—Its Ends, Its Means, And Its Motives -- By: W. A. Stearns

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 004:14 (May 1847)
Article: The American Pulpit—Its Ends, Its Means, And Its Motives
Author: W. A. Stearns


The American Pulpit—Its Ends, Its Means, And Its Motives

Rev. W. A. Stearns

In no part of the world is the business of preaching so arduous, or so powerful in its effects, as in the United States. We deal with shrewd, intelligent minds, with men who are not to be imposed upon by ceremony, sophistry, or mere declamation, with thinkers, free thinkers in a good sense of the term, whose understandings however are capable of being enlightened, and whose hearts can be moved to noble impulses, purposes and exertions. It cannot therefore be amiss to devote a few pages to a consideration of the American pulpit,—its ends, its means, and its motives.

Its ends are the highest present and eternal welfare of man.
Its means are truth eloquently enforced, or Christian eloquence.
Its motives are to be found in the truth, in its author and in its objects.

The first and last of these topics will be briefly discussed, but more time allowed to the consideration of the second.

We use the word American, because while most of our remarks will apply to the pulpit generally, they have reference emphatically, and some of them almost exclusively, to the pulpit in the United States. On such a subject, and for such readers, when one voluntarily selects excellence of speech for his theme, it is not necessarily false modesty which confesses some embarrassment. But let us bespeak indulgence, by the remark, that opinions may not be without their value nor suggestions wholly worthless, even when practical skill is unable to approximate the ideal which it conceives and attempts to shadow. We are also encouraged by the thought, that those whom we address have made sufficient attainments to appreciate the difficulty, the almost impossibility of speaking well, and because in the words of a distinguished French rhetorician, we know that mediocrity alone is severe while genius like virtue is indulgent Je scais que la mediocrité seule est sévère, et que la génie est indulgent comme la vertu.1

The ends of the pulpit are the highest present and eternal welfare of man. It is intended primarily to announce and enforce the doctrines of grace. It is the echo of inspiration; the voice of God which having reached a human heart is borne from it, with all the power of a living experience, into the hearts of other men.

The New Testament presupposes, while it declares, man fallen. It depicts human nature as radically corrupt, guilty, disabled, condemned, momentarily exposed to destruction. It describes and presents a Saviour, “the brightness of the Father’s glory,” absolute virtue impersonated, divinity incarnate, humanit...

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