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The Ten Greatest Preachers of the Millennium
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.
3. John Wesley (1703-1791)
John Wesley was a preacher whose evangelistic fervor and biblical preaching helped launch the Great Awakening and gave birth to a major Christian movement.
The image of Wesley atop his horse, travelling from village to village to preach the gospel, symbolizes his dedication to the proclamation of the gospel. Whitefield teached him to preach in the open air, and over his long ministry he preached to hundreds of thousands, offering new life in Christ.
Less demonstrative than Whitefield, yet no less intense, Wesley was -- by his own testimony -- "a man of one book" and one who "took on all the world as my parish."
4. George Whitefield (1714-1770)
A powerful evangelist whose preaching helped drive the Great Awakening in both America and Britain, George Whitefield was once described (by Martyn Lloyd-Jones) as "the greatest preacher England ever produced."
An emotional, passionate preacher, Whitefield would preach more than 40 hours a week, preaching more than a thousand times every year for three decades. It is no wonder he died at the age of 56 -- he literally preached himself to death!
Whitefield's powerful voice enabled him to preach effectively to more than 30,000 at one time. His dramatic delivery, however, did not overshadow a love of God's Word and a hunger to see men and women won to faith in Christ.
5. John Calvin (1509-1564)
John Calvin is one of the preeminent biblical expositors in the history of preaching. A gifted scholar and remarkable theologian, Calvin's insights (through his Institutes, sermons and other writings) continue to impact the life and work of the church nearly half a millennium later.
Reflecting his intense study of scripture and his work in writing commentaries, Calvin preached progressively through books of the Bible. Despite the profound intellectual resources at his command, Calvin's preaching was simple, phrased in the language of the common people.
Calvin's focus was the meaning and application of God's Word. What his sermons lacked in decoration (no introductions, little in the way of illustration) was more than compensated for by his interpretation of the biblical text.
6. Alexander Maclaren (1826-1910)
Alexander Maclaren became known in his own era as a "prince of expositors," and those expositions remain in print today as a model of gifted preaching.
A Baptist born and raised in Scotland, Maclaren spent 45 years as a pastor in Manchester, where he regularly preached to congregations of two thousand. His sermons -- transcribed during delivery, since he preached without notes -- were published in the Manchester Guardian each Monday, then compiled into books such as the more than thirty volumes of his Expositions of Holy Scripture.
His published sermons are not the only means by which his ministry reached beyond the walls of his own church. Twice he served as president of the Baptist Union in Britain, and in 1905 he became the first president of the Baptist World Alliance.
7. Philips Brooks (1835-1893)
Reading the sermons of Philips Brooks is like reading fine literature. He was a masterful writer who created homiletical gems. His delivery did not have the power of most great preachers: he was low-key, read from a manuscript, and even took lessons from a vocal coach at one point to improve his presentation. Yet people flocked to Boston's Trinity Church to hear him preach.
Brooks is perhaps best known to other preachers through his famous series of lectures in the Beecher Lectures at Yale. In those, he offered what has become one of the most popular definitions of preaching: "Preaching is the bringing of truth through personality."
Unlike most of the preachers on this list, his preaching was not deeply rooted in the biblical text. He preached topically, and though he discussed the importance of preaching doctrine, this sermons were not strongly theological.
8. Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758)
Jonathan Edwards has been called the greatest philosopher ever produced in America. Yet this towering intellect was also a committed pastor and preacher who stood in the great Puritan tradition of Christ-centered preaching.
For 23 years, Edwards pastored the congregation in Northampton, Masachusetts, which became the spark for the Great Awakening in the American colonies. He emphasized the sermon as the means by which God produced conversion in the lives of men and women.
His sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" may be the most famous sermon ever preached -- at least since the days of Christ. Yet it is not necessarily typical of Edward's preaching. What is found in all of Edward's sermons is an emphasis on the glory of God and the necessity of grace.
9. John Knox (1523-1572)
"Give me Scotland or I die!" was the anthem of the thundering Scottish preacher John Knox. God used his preaching to transform the church in Scotland.
A student of John Calvin, Knox returned to Scotland with a commitment to the principles of the Reformation and a heart for biblical preaching. As pastor of St. Giles in Edinburgh, he daily presented expositions on scripture, and also represented Scottish Protestants in their confrontation with the Catholic Queen Mary.
Knox was a courageous leader and a powerful preacher. His sermons were rooted in scripture and spoke to the needs and burdens of everyday men and women.
10. Richard Baxter (1615-1691)
The best known of the great English Puritan preachers, Richard Baxter was both a powerful preacher and a gifted theologian and author.
Baxter's thirteen years as pastor at Kidderminster provided a model of bringing new life and energy to a moribund congregation. His preaching was an earnest appeal to faith in Christ; as he proclaimed, "I preach as never sure to preach again, and as a dying man to dying men."
His faith led to more than a year's imprisonment in the Tower of London. Though he stood firmly on Puritan principles, he also sought unity among the churches of England. His influence would touch the lives of countless great preachers, from Wesley to Spurgeon.
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