They shook nations and changed history. They touched lives and built great churches. Though they lived long ago -- centuries ago in the case of some - their influence for Christ is still felt among us. And they did it all with words -- words from God, words anointed by the Holy Spirit.
They are the great preachers of our millennium. Actually, they represent the first nine hundred years of this millennium; we featured the great preachers of the twentieth century in the November-December 1999 issue. Their names were submitted by Preaching readers; from those recommendations a list of nearly 30 names was developed. Then that list was submitted to the Contributing Editors of Preaching, and each ranked his or her own "top ten." What makes a "great" preacher was left to their judgement.
Many other names were frequently cited: Henry Ward Beecher, John A. Broadus, Charles G. Finney, F.B. Meyer, Frederick W. Robertson, and more. Though each of us can think of names we might add to such a list, there can be little doubt that the ten names represented here are men whose preaching made an impact for eternity.
1. Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892)
Charles H. Spurgeon was the pre-eminent figure in an age of pulpit princes. As pastor of London's great Metropolitan Tabernacle, Spurgeon's masterful preaching reached thousands and influenced the birth of some two hundred additional churches. Perhaps nothing is greater testimony to the remarkable impact of his preaching than the fact that some 300 million copies of his published works (primarily sermons) have been in print. A hundred years later and several thousand miles away, one of the most common sights on the bookshelf of an American pastor is a series of volumes of Spurgeon's sermons.
A compelling speaker, Spurgeon was thoroughly biblical in his preaching. He was dramatic in his presentation yet simple in his use of language and illustration. He spoke out of a deep understanding of the needs of people, yet with a solid doctrinal foundation and a commitment to Scripture. Troubled by ill health and depression, Spurgeon nevertheless exerted a profound influence on the religious life of Britain, and continues to influence the life and work of preachers a century later.
2. Martin Luther (1483-1546)
Not only does Luther stand out in any list of great preachers, he also is a prominent part of most lists of the most influential persons of the millennium. As the first major leader of the Protestant Reformation, Luther reshaped the course of western history as well as the Christian church.
Luther's discovery of the truth of divine grace in the scriptures -- combined with his commitment to the centrality of the biblical text -- set the tone for Protestant theology and preaching for future generations. He believed that the preaching of the Bible (along with the sacraments) was one of the primary evidences of the true church.
A dynamic personality, a clear yet profound message, and a love of Christ and the Word made Martin Luther a prophetic leader and one of the most powerful preachers in the history of the church.