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Leslie Weatherhead: Surgeon of the Soul

By John Bishop
He was born in London on October 14, 1893. When he first began to preach, at the age of 17, he was so nervous that he twisted off the cord around the cushion on the pulpit desk. His text was: "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."

His second sermon was on the text: "And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name." The first sermon was an expression of the poetic side of his nature, while the second illustrated his conviction that religion is an adventure.

Leslie Weatherhead's ambition was to be a missionary. In 1916 he was sent to the Georgetown Church in Madras, the oldest Wesleyan Church in India. Then he became a chaplain in the Indian Army and for two years served in Mesopotamia.

In 1922 Weatherhead returned to England. After three years at Oxford Road Church in Manchester, he went to Brunswick Church in Leeds, and there began a happy and successful ministry which lasted for 11 years.

For more than a decade the church remained full, and Weatherhead became well-known and in great demand as a preacher. He published ten books in that period, all of which became best-sellers.

In 1936 he became minister of the City Temple in London, a Congregational Church which had many famous ministers, including Joseph Parker, R. J. Campbell and Joseph Fort Newton. On April 17, 1941, the Church was destroyed by bombs, and the congregation had to worship in eight different buildings until the new City Temple was opened in 1958. He retired in 1960.

Weatherhead was a preacher of the first order. His sermons have sound homiletical form, logical progression of thought, and illuminating illustrations. He had a remarkable gift for taking familiar incidents of Scripture and putting them in a new light. He was an expert in the art of communicating the Gospel.

His personality was winsome and magnetic. His voice was quiet, except when he was aroused by great feeling. His eyes fascinated the hearer and his facile hands played a great part in his delivery.

For Weatherhead, the pulpit always came first. He described his pulpit work in an article, "Behind the Scenes," which appeared in The City Temple Tidings:

"When people gather to worship and listen, a minister must have a message fresh, timely, and, if topical, yet also part of the eternal truth about God. He must balance theological teaching, evangelical appeal, and biblical exposition, and also try to interpret modern events in the light of God's purposes. He must know what is being said and done in the world. He must read the important books and keep in touch with the movement of religious thought.

"Above all, he must try to live so close to God that having brooded on what men are saying and doing, he can go to his people and say, 'Thus saith the Lord'.

"Some who think preaching is easy will not understand me when I say that the preparation of two sermons a Sunday might well be a full-time occupation. I can only tell them that before one Sunday is over I begin to prepare for the next. The Sunday services are of great importance to me. I long to make them so beautiful and significant that no one can fail to be brought nearer to God by them."

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