In transcribing the following material from The Reader, an interesting, unfortunately short-lived intellectual magazine of the 1860s, I have used the Hathi Digital Library Trust web version of a copy in the Princeton University Library. The full-text version is generally accurate, and the one common OCR error here takes the form of turning the letter “e” as “o.” I corrected the scanning errors, and for ease of reading I have added a few paragraph breaks. If you come upon any errors I have missed, please do not hesitate to let the editors of this site know. — George P. Landow

Some of the organs of our higher literary culture have, of late, in their criticisms of Evangelical preaching and its most popular pulpit-representatives, been going on a wrong and unphilosophical, not to say a mean, tack. Tho incessant diatribes of the Saturday Review against Mr. Spurgeon are an example. Vanity, blatancy, and bad taste, wherever thoy do publicly appear, are fair subjects for satire, more especially where they are connected with intellectual dogmas, with general views and theories of things, which the satirist himself repudiates and believes the best intelligence of the time to havo outgrown. But — besides that Mr. Spurgeon seems to have proved, by his behaviour, that his critic has not taken the correct measure of him, even intellectually, and that there is a strength and toughness in him deeper than could consist with more vanity, blatancy, or bad taste — is not the phenomenon of which Spurgeonism is a phase worthy of a more candid and sympathetic study, evon from those who are far off from it in their own private philosophy, than can accord with a merely satirical spirit? What is that phenomenon?

It is the phenomenon of the exceptional social potency at this day amongst us, as for any number of generations back, of what may be called the Pulpit-method, or the method of Popular Preaching, especially, if not exclusively, when that method is conjoined with the body of theological doctrine known generally as the Evangelical, or, within a narrower definition, as the Puritanical. It is impossible, on an accurate survey of contemporary society, not to recognise this phenomenon. Science, philosophy, new views and theories, systematized or unsystematized, are drawing individual minds, by the score and by the hundred, in their train; and the total number of such minds is now vast. Here and there, too, individual clergymen of great personal power, not "Evangelical" in their theology in the current sense of the word, draw after them, as by magnetic attraction, followings of kindred spirits from among our scattered men of culture, or mould to their views the se with whom they are locally in contact. Somehow or other, however, it remains true that the groat masses of British middle-class and poorer society are still so constituted and disposed that no spiritual functionary is so powerful among them, so capable of large collective or of intense individual effects, as the fervid Evangelical preacher.

The fact may be resented, or it may be walked away from without resentment; but it is surely worthy of study. What is the great explanation of it given by Evangelical Christians themselves all know. Those who are not satisfied with that explanation are bound to seek reasons that they can deem sufficient instead. Such questions as theso may occur to them — How much of the cause of the phenomenon lies in the inherent fitness of the matter or doctrine for those among whom it so visibly works; how much in the method in use in such strenuous association with that doctrine — i.e., the Pulpit-method or Preaching method; how much in any natural power, or power acquired by social usage, of the doctrino and method together to draw into their service the temperaments most fitted independently for action on the minds of the multitude? Without entering hero on theso questions, wo may point out how all ecclesiastical history confirms the fact of somo intimate relationship between tho so-called Evangelical system of doctrino and the full uso of the method of popular preaching. During the prevalence of somo systems of theology—as, for example, that of Laud—popular preaching was rather discouraged in comparison with acts of worship; whereas it Vas part of the nature and of the action of Puritanism to value popular preaching highly, to stimulate it, to let it loose at its utmost stretch. And, from that time to this, it has generally .been the samo in England. When Wealeyan Methodism and tho more Calvinistic Evangelism of Whitefield burst reluctantly from the Church of England, it was that there might bo fuller scope for popular preaching; and, at the prosont day, it is chiefly among Evangelical Dissenters and in the Evangelical or Shaftesbury portion of the Church of England that the best-known specimens of the popular preachor are found, and that the greatest attention is paid to training in the preaching art. Hence a peculiar, if a somewhat restricted, interest for the general reader in such lives as this of Mr. Sherman by Mr. Allen, and that excellent one of the late Dr. Leifchild by his son, which we noticed shortly the other week. Nothing strikes one more, in reading these lives, than the amount of matter there is in them about sermons and preaching — about the ways of preaching, the technicalities of preaching, the difficulties and ups-and-downs of preaching; how to-day the proachor was weak and languid, and again, on another occasion, he felt an enlargement of power; and yet how tho real effects did not always correspond with these sensations. Much of this— interesting even as pure matter of psychological and social science, but interesting in a more express manner to the anxious theologian and the ecclesiastic—is to be found in Mr. Allen's life of his friend; in addition to which, however, we have in the same pages information as to the many other modes of activity that, along with preaching, go to make up the laboriousness of a zealous minister in a large city. Under this latter head the following is worth quoting:—

And yet preaching is but a comparatively small part of a minister's work. His spiritual teachings from the pulpit are frequently, perhaps generally, exceeded by his instructions to individuals, who, in almost innumerable ways, seek or demand his counsels or comforts; and often his conversations with anxious souls are of such glad or painful interest that they are moro exhausting than sermons. And then there arc crowded days of Bible-classes, and pastoral duties, and personal interviews, and committees, and boards, and public meetings, and lectures, and special sermons, and enormous correspondence, each involving labour which of itself might almost suffice for his undivided energies. So that reading, and domestic enjoyment, and recreation, save in a most hasty' and incidental way, are almost unknown. The pursuits of the scholar are utterly out of the question;—that is, if these various ministerial duties are to be discharged in any adequate, degree.


“The Life of an Evangelical Preacher.” The Reader: A Journal of Literature, Science, and Art. (23 May 1863): 503-04. London: “Published at 112, Fleet Street,” 1863. Hathi Digital Library Trust web version of a copy in the Princeton University Library. 21 July 2016.

Allen, Henry. Memoir of the Rev, James Sherman; including an Unfinished Autobiography. London: Nisbet & Co., 1863.

Last modified 21 July 2016