So we’re not giving up. Since though on the outside it looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by, without his unfolding grace. (2 Cor. 4:16, The Message)
It has been over 60 years since G. Campbell Morgan stood in the pulpit of Westminster Chapel,
In the summer of 2005, three grandsons of G. Campbell Morgan made a pilgrimage to
We journeyed to the villages where Morgan had been pastor and spent time at Westminster Chapel, where he had two long pastorates. Our pilgrimage took us to the very house on Cutwell Street, Tetbury, where he was born, and the room where he preached his first sermon at the Wesleyan Methodist Church, Monmouth, Wales, in 1876.
We had heard many stories in the family circle about our illustrious grandfather, named one of the Ten Greatest Preachers of the Twentieth Century by Preaching Magazine. In that article, Dr. Timothy Warren wrote of him, “G. Campbell Morgan helped influence the shape of evangelical preaching on both sides of the Atlantic.” We heard many times that our British grandfather had crossed the Atlantic Ocean 54 times and was one of the greatest expository preachers of his generation. Yet he remained a man on a pedestal or a distant grandfather across the sea.
It was during our journey that Campbell Morgan became more real to us. We began to see that while he was a famous preacher, he was also a human being who had the same struggles that others experienced. We found Campbell Morgan as a living, struggling human being, whose faith endured when he was in the midst of loss, rejection, sickness, and death.
While at Tintern Abbey in Wales, we came to see that no biography or published works centered on his life crises or the faith that sustained him. There was born the idea of a new book of Campbell Morgan’s writings, many drawn from unpublished sermons or letters. In revisiting the life and writing of our grandfather, we found his voice speaking again.
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.”
In one of his last letters, written in 1938, Campbell Morgan wrote, “I have found through all the 60 years that grace is sufficient, and I am quite sure it’s never-failing grace, whatever life may bring, until earthly service merges into that of the life of the life Beyond.”
Three words characterized his preaching: truth, clarity and passion. Whatever need he found among his congregation or in his world, Campbell Morgan knew the appropriate biblical story or text. He said, “We shall have never come to, or we shall never come to any occasion demanding a special message, but that we shall find in our Bible exactly what is needed to touch that particular situation.”
Campbell Morgan was always soaked in the Scriptures; and when he discovered the power of the Bible, after his eclipse of faith in 1888, the Scriptures became a living Word. Whether it was the death of a child, or a close friend’s death, disappointed hopes or conflicts in the churches, he always knew a biblical story or text that would speak to the moment.
The same was true for social or national issues. Although a lifelong pacifist, and holding beliefs almost identical with Quakerism, Campbell Morgan had to wrestle with those views when war broke out with Germany in 1914. In the first of five sermons preached on World War I, later published in a book, God, War and Humanity, he deplored the evils of war. “We are gathered together under the shadow which is almost more than a shadow; the deep darkness of approaching and most inevitable calamity of war . . . .”
This time shadows were more than his own personal crises; this was an international crisis which plunged Europe into the horrors of war. Although it was a contradiction of all he believed and held dear, he became convinced that to have remained neutral would be tantamount to disregarding the obligations of national morality. When the end of the war drew near, Morgan once again reiterated his love of peace and urged the nation to devote itself to Christ’s principle of peace-making.
Morgan also spoke out against unemployment, unfair child labor laws, and political corruption. He urged the clergy to speak out from the pulpit when civil authorities “transgressed the moral realm.”
Campbell Morgan’s messages still speak to this century so vastly different than his own. Ours is a world burdened with terror attacks, tsuanamis and wars. Morgan would still be a prophetic voice, bringing God’s Word to meet every situation. He believed, “No situation has arisen or can arise in human life, individual, social, or national, which is outside the Divine interest.”
Human need is always constant in any century, and God’s grace is eternally available. When preaching to pastoral needs, when the choice of a text was an intentional relating of Scripture to human need, Morgan was in his element.
The Word Stands Above Theological Controversy
Campbell Morgan’s ministry in America took place in the throes of bitter theological controversies in the 1920s. While serving as pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, Athens, Ga., he was criticized for not aligning himself with any theological stance. Morgan was not just a denominational proponent, and reached people of many religious persuasions. His words to one critic may well speak to the contemporary controversies that are dividing mainline Protestantism:
I am resolutely going on with positive teaching and refusing to be involved in the fight. It is not easy, and I am not sure that the hour will not come when an open cleavage, cutting across all denominations, will compel everyone to move distinctly to the right or left . .. Wherever I go, I find a multitude of souls hungry for the Word of God.
Morgan believed the Word stood above all theological controversies, and adamantly refused to become embroiled in them. In a letter to his son, Frank Crossley in 1925, he referred to the “theological controversies blighting our age,” and added, “The mass of men are waiting for preaching of the New Testament kind, with a great message of grace to meet human need.”
The ancient builder of the walls of Jerusalem was confronted by forces that would distract him from God’s work. He replied to them, “I am doing a great work! I cannot stop to come and meet with you” (Neh. 6:3, NLT). History has proved that the Eternal Word remains when human systems have had their day and departed.
There was one moment, however, when Campbell Morgan took a stand. His friend and colleague Dr. James Murdock MacInnis, Dean of the Bible Institute of Los Angeles (later Biola University), had been falsely accused of heresy. Some of the Board charged MacInnis with being a “Modernist,” but an investigative committee found him innocent of the charges. Because this attack threatened the institution, MacInnis was forced to resign. On Nov. 16, 1928, Morgan also resigned, citing his reason: “this action is an unjust and cruel practice of expediency.”
Morgan took no sides in the theological storms of the 1920s. In 1931, he wrote, “I dislike the word Fundamentalist as much as I dislike the word Modernist. I always decline to be labeled by either designation. My position is that of holding the Evangelical faith in its fullness.”
In the Shadow of Grace Campbell Morgan knew the shadows of life, and yet walked courageously and faithfully in the light, toward the Greater Light. At times his journey on that road was marked by detours and difficulties. But always he walked in the light.
A few years before his death, he wrote these words in a letter to his family: “It is a great thing that, even though vigor decreases, the light on the road abides, and though earthly shadows may be lengthening, one does not feel one is going down the hill, but up.”
Writer John Morgan sums up the reason that Campbell Morgan still is known and read in our time. “Faith is not living in the sunshine all the time but learning that life’s troubles can also be occasions for God’s presence as well. . . .Grace reminds us that shadows are not possible without the sun, without the light of grace. Grace is God’s promise of light which is always there, even if we are not aware of it. Campbell Morgan experienced that grace in the shadows of his life, and so may we.”