Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Influence From On High In Preaching

A selection from a letter by J. W. Alexander to his friend, John Hall. These two men carried on personal correspondence for 40 years (1819-1859). Alexander wrote Hall 800 letters which were published after his death. In this letter, written when Alexander was pastor of New York City’s Duane Street Presbyterian Church, which later moved and was known as the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church, he shared his views of what kind of preaching was needed. The letter was written December 31, 1846.

What we seem to want here, is not polish or literature in sermons, but something earnest, real, and affectionate; something to make the people hear as if some truth of transcendent present interest was set forth. Never was I more convinced that in order to this there is nothing so necessary as a direct and specific influence from on High. Rhetorical interest is impotent. There was great interest under the Finneyitish revivals, but it was not evangelical, and I am working among its bitter fruits every day. There is a wonderful vitality and permanency in experience which is built on the preaching of Christ. The style of sermons in the Scottish Free Church seems to be the thing. When the new-divinity converts grow cold, they are colder than ice, nothing but a biting censoriousness. I had no idea, even in Jersey [when professor at Princeton], of the modifications wrought in the religion of this city, by the overwrought revivalism of past years. Some, even of those who were once fiery, have degenerated into pulpit-metaphysicians, subtle and elegant.

The Life of J. W. Alexander: Forty Years of Familiar Letters, volume 2, 1844-1859, by John Hall, first published in 1860, republished by Audubon Press, 2008, p. 62.

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