Preaching God’s Grace to Human Need
Morgan believed that there were two realities in preaching: the need of people and the grace of God. He defined preaching as “the declaration of the grace of God to human need.” Morgan realized that grace in his own life. He lacked many of the credentials expected of clergy in his day and was rejected by the Wesleyan Methodists when he failed his preaching exam. Later, one of his favorite texts that connected with his own story came from Paul: “By the grace of God, I am what I am.” (1 Cor. 15:10). That grace sustained him and became the dominant theme of his preaching.
Like the title of our new book, In the Shadow of Grace (Baker Books, 2007), Morgan knew dark shadows in his own life and yet always found the grace of God was sufficient for every need. One of his greatest sorrows was the sudden deaths of his sister and his youngest daughter. He called their deaths “the sacrament of sorrow.”
His 12-year-old sister and only childhood playmate, Lizzie, died suddenly in 1873. Overcome with grief, the 10-year-old boy ran from the house to lie weeping on her grave, desiring nothing more than to join her in death. Jill Morgan wrote, “Pneumonia was difficult to fight in those days, and aided by physical frailty and will to survive, almost claimed another victim. But God has a special mission for this child . . . .”
That loss was exacerbated 23 years later when his first-born daughter, Gwennie, then only 5 years of age, died suddenly in 1896. These were losses he felt throughout the rest of his life. In an early sermon, Death Abolished, preached in 1911 at Westminster Chapel, he alluded to Gwennie’s death: “I pass no day when I am not conscious of the nearness of at least one who entered the veil 16 years ago. I know the touch of her spirit upon mine . . . .”
Because Campbell Morgan had known the pain of grief, he could relate to all who walk through the shadow of death. His belief in a Resurrection to a better world must have brought comfort to those who heard this gospel of grace. Morgan’s sermons were timeless because they spoke to the emptiness where grace belongs.
In delivering the Sprunt Lectures at Union Theological Seminary in 1919, Morgan described the task of the minister as, “He [the minister)] will turn to the Word, burdened with the needs, the problems, and the agonies of men, in order to seek its light upon these things, so that his ministry may be the service of direction, of healing, of help.”
God’s Grace became the guiding theme of his ministry. In an oft-repeated sermon he said, “‘My grace.’ What is the meaning of this great word? Who shall answer that question? The word runs through the New Testament. We see it everywhere, first shining and flashing in revealed glory in the face of Jesus Christ. . . Grace is the fact of the heart of God.”