Best Sermons

Edited with Introduction and Biographical Notes by
Joseph Fort Newton
(Litt.D., D.H.L.)

Memorial Church of St. Paul, Overbrook, Philadelphia

Author of “Some Living Masters of the Pulpit,”
“Preaching in London,” “Preaching in New
York,” “The Truth and the Life,” etc.

visits since 2005-07-23 (and some before that)


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O Priest, O Expositor, O Doctor, if the Divine gift hath made thee fit by genius, training and learning, be thou a Bazaleel of the spiritual tabernacle; engrave precious gems of Divine doctrine; faithfully fit them together; adorn them wisely; add splendor, grace, loveliness. Let that which was formerly believed darkly, be understood clearly by thy exposi­tion. Let posterity by thy aid rejoice in truths understood, which antiquity venerated without understanding them. Yet teach still the same things which thou didst learn, so that although thou speakest in a new fashion, thou speakest not new things.

St. Vincent.

It is gratifying to know that the annual book of Best Sermons is now well established as a kind of index to the reach and range of American preaching, alike in its character and its catholicity. Widely read by laymen, it is also used in many Seminaries as a text-book on sermon structure, as well as a token of the tendency of the mind of the Church. In the first two volumes it was deemed best to select an entirely new list of preachers, in order to make plain that it is not a forum of a few famous men; but here­after there is no need to draw any line or limit. One misses in our American pulpit a certain deep, brood­ing, mystical note, but there are signs to show that a profounder impulse is moving underneath the clatter and clutter of our time.

Unless all signs fail, we are on the eve of a new era of assured and all-pervading religious faith, and its flowing tide will bring us a new race of great preachers. Not for long will man be content with dim glimpses of a God who sits weaving mystery on the far away hills of silence and wonder. We are wit­nessing the collapse of agnosticism and the bank­ruptcy of rationalism, at the bidding of the soul of man in quest of a more satisfying sense of Divine reality. In philosophy, in literature, in the restless life round about us a tendency toward God is every­where evident. In the Church there is an undertone of unity, of fellowship, of solemn high resolve, which will make the temple vocal with a new and appealing eloquence in times not far away. The high themes are here; the holy day is here; the human heart is here. Today, as in all the yesterdays, sin stains, sorrow wounds, and death smites with tender, ter­rible stroke, and man seeks an ultimate solace. Never has there been a greater opportunity for an authentic leadership by force of spiritual insight, and it will be met by the preacher whose heart God has touched with prophetic light and priestly love.

Who is the preacher and what manner of man is he? He is a man born to religion, to whom spiritual cares and interests are what secular cares and inter­ests are to other men; one who sees in our brief, broken, mortal life immortal meanings, and proclaims those meanings to his fellows. He is a man who has taken into his heart the visions of the loftiest souls, who believes those visions to be the truth, and who tries to make them vivid to others. Above all, he is a man who has beheld a vision of “the Human life of God,” knows it to be the ultimate version of reality, and seeks to interpret it to men through a refined and devout intellect, illumined by a pure and aspiring soul. Such is the ideal of the preacher, and while our frail reality is dwarfed by it, as King David would be should he stand beside the statue of him by Angelo, we dare not lower it by one jot.

For such a life of ministry no endowment or train­ing is too high. Religion is primarily a spirit and way of living, but it is also an outlook upon life and the world; and its teacher must be able to expound it in the porch of philosophy. He must walk up to the front door of the most searching intellect of his age and interpret the truths that make us men, never content to enter by the back door of a mere emotionalism. It can be done, but to do it the preacher must know his age, love it, live in it, and not give way to denunciatory scolding of it. He must know something of the spirit and facts of science, the propositions of philosophy, the definitions and dis­tinctions of historic theology, the great ethnic religions of the race; the lives of saints and skeptics; the currents of history and the disclosures of soci­ology; the riches of literature, art, and song. How­ever far he may fall below such an intellectual ideal, he must at least be widely and deeply read in the best that has been thought and achieved by man. Take intellect out of religion, give it over to the care of half-educated, narrow men, out of sympathy with their times, and it will be reduced to a superstition.

Yet the most perfect intellectual equipment is not sufficient to make a preacher. There is in every true minister a tender, sympathetic faculty, akin to what we feel in the poems of Burns—a faculty which brings out the color in gray human lives, as sunlight evokes beauty from the brown earth. This loving genius has been the central and inviting charm of every historic pulpit. In the voices of the great preachers one hears “the still sad music of humanity,” its shout of joy and its sob of grief—blended notes of the passion of the lover, the yearn­ing of the father, and the wooing tones of the mother. It is sympathy that softens the human heart and makes it susceptible to the impress of heavenly truth. The preacher must be a lover of folk, despite their petty ways of thinking and often ugly ways of doing; he must love them for what they are, and for what they are to be, knowing the hidden, unguessed good­ness that is in them. No tale of Divine Love was ever yet believed from lips unmoved by human pity.

Above all, the preacher must have, in some degree, the seer-like quality of soul, which is the rarest and most precious gift of God to man. One finds it in minds as far apart as Newman and Emerson—a power of insight which is the endowment of those who are born close to the veil which enfolds our human life, and which can see a little way through it. The sermons of such men are visions into which are gathered up our ideals and longings, our aspira­tions with their sweet torment of discontent, our dreams with their certain triumph. They see the invisible; they dream dreams, fight battles, and some­times perceive afar off the day when society shall camp on the heights and hang out the banner of victory. This faculty is indispensable to the preacher. By it he strips off the hull of dogma and finds the kernel of truth; with it he explains riddles. It helps him to interpret the Divine suggestiveness of the commonplace, and to make the kingdom of heaven something more than a visionary City in the sky. Intellect, sympathy, insight, these three; but the greatest of these is the gift of vision which casts a white light over a dull, gray world.

Inspired preaching is the greatest power known among men—that of a kindled, consecrated personal­ity. It is more compelling than literature, more inti­mate than architecture, more vivid than music. No­where else can speech be so clothed with power to awaken, rebuke, exalt, and heal. The Church must not smother its sweetest voices; she must give them time to brood their dreams—time to think and pray and fashion their winged prophecies. Between a domineering dogmatism and an illusive, erratic lib­eralism, there is room for a pulpit wise with the wis­dom of insight, free as the air, and in many keys and tones eloquent for God and the life of the spirit. Never since the dawn of our era has there been such a need as today for a virile, seer-like pulpit, aglow with that love which in covering a multitude of sins reveals them more radically and redeemingly than the most searching exposure.

Preachers shape Churches—that is one half of the truth: Churches also mold preachers—that is the other side; and when the Church honors the pulpit the pulpit will honor it. Think of the pulpit in a petty way, take all dignity out of it, betray a low estimate of its service, and you will fill it with weak and ineffective men. Honor bombast, showy claptrap, and the antics of the sensationalist in the spot-light, and verily you will have your reward. By the same token, ask for insight, sympathy, and the speech of the heart, for noble thought and clear vision in the service of the ideal, and the true preacher will ap­pear. Ask for the seer, the thinker, the leader with a sense of the mountain paths of life and faith, and he will come in answer to your need, with a voice to stir the old, forgotten memories of the soul.

Glorious is the history of the pulpit. One who has ears can hear the far off thunder of Savonarola, the deep bass voice of Luther, the fiery speech of Knox—men mighty in the spirit, before whom princes trembled. One who has eyes can see, behind the desk in a country meeting-house, the fine face of Robertson, made luminous by the outshining of a sensitive, sorrowful soul; the refined and scholarly Stanley, the embodiment of a century of English culture; and the lonely, pilgrim soul of Newman. Nearer by one sees Phillips Brooks standing beside the huge pillar in Trinity Church, pouring forth his impetuous eloquence, now in rapid appeal, now in rapt soliloquy; Beecher, the Shakespeare of the pul­pit, facile, fertile, fascinating, his voice like an or­chestra; and the gentle, meditative David Swing, the one mighty preacher of Beauty, who came to the new, uprising Chicago prophesying of liberty of faith and of a Christianity which is also a civilization. From Maurice to Martineau, from Maclaren to Gunsaulus, from Spurgeon to Chapin, Broadus, and Quayle—was ever a roll call more thrilling or a cloud of wit­nesses more inspiring!

No young man need falter at the steps of the pulpit, consecrated as it is by so much of genius, power, and beauty. If he would touch the souls of his fellow men, refine and exalt their faith, enable sorrowful eyes to see majestic meanings in life, and turn the thoughts of youth from the glittering sem­blance of life to homage for truth, beauty, character, and the service of humanity: if he have such hopes and dreams, let him enter the pulpit humbly and rev­erently, in love of God and love of man, speak the truth as God gives him to see it in a spirit and form worthy of the truth; and his voice will echo in the hearts of men long after he has fallen asleep.

Joseph Fort Newton.

 Memorial Church of St. Paul,
  Overbrook, Philadelphia.

Publisher’s Note

This volume represents the church year 1925-1926: from annual conference to an­nual conference.


Christianity and War Harry Emerson Fosdick
Matthew 26:52

The Outlook for Peace Harry P. Dewey
Isaiah 2:4

The Gospel in the Present Age Carl S. Patton
I Thessalonians 3:1

The Prophet Jonah Leon Harrison
Jonah 1:3

Can We Be Sure of God? Harris E. Kirk
John 7:17

The Commanding Certitude John M. Moore
II Timothy 1:12

The Authority of Christ Charles Henry Brent
Matthew 28:18-20

Prophets False and True J. Gresham Machen
I Kings 22:14

The Indifferentists Bertrand L. Conway
Acts 17:18

Faith and Science E. Y. Mullins
I Corinthians 2:9; Mark 9:23

Everybody’s Christ Henry Sloane Coffin
John 8:48

The Foolishness of Preach­ing Reinhold Niebuhr
I Corinthians 1:21

The House of God J. M. Vander Meulen
Psalm 84:1

The Child in the Midst Edwin H. Hughes
Matthew 18:2, 18:20

The Things That Remain Raymond Calkins
Hebrews 12:27

Our Dual Personality Harold B. Kerschner
Romans 7:24-25

Where Do We Go from Here? Charles R. Brown
Genesis 13:12; Hebrews 11:8

Religion As Experience J. T. Sunderland
Psalms 46:1; 68:5; 9:9; 90:1

The Great Temptation Willard L. Sperry
Luke 4:12

The Garden and the Wil­derness E. L. Powell
Genesis 3:23-24

The Law of God H. Adye Prichard
Galatians 3:21

Transfigured Moments Vernon Johns
Matthew 17:4

The Increasing Purpose Marion D. Shutter
Matthew 6:10

“Ye Shall Live” Ernest M. Stires
John 14:19

The Departed Felix Adler