“He was full of bankrupt enthusiasms,” said Carlyle of Thomas De Quincy.

The disparagement of the sermon—what it does or what it can do—has brought the contemporary Protestant pulpit to so low an estate that preaching might almost be called one of its “bankrupt enthusiasms.” Conrad Massa, writing in The Pulpit, says grimly: “In the history of the church preaching has been neglected, ignored, debased, even almost totally forgotten, but never has its place been as seriously questioned by those who are genuinely concerned with the vitality of the church’s witness as has been done repeatedly in this century.”

Not single but multiple are the reasons for this unhappy state. Let us here fix on only one: the quality of preaching always declines when the conception of preaching is removed from primacy to some stage—be it second or twenty-second—of inferiority. If the ordained man places the crown of primacy on any other head in the cabinet of his interests—visitation, group therapy, counseling, liturgy, administration, or whatever—it will be reflected in what he does in his study, with his Bible, on his knees, and in his pulpit.

Strong and effective preachers, though they differ widely in mold and manner, have this in common: they believe greatly in preaching.

Take the late W. E. Sangster, of London, as a case in point. True, the criteria we use for establishing pulpit greatness will vary from person to person. Yet I doubt if there is one knowledgeable judge of the homiletical arena who would be willing to omit Sangster’s name from any list of the twelve most distinguished preachers of the English-speaking world in the 1950’s.

With what sort of eyes, we may ask, did “Sangster of Westminster” look upon the excellence of his calling and ...

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