I have been preaching for over sixty years and have never missed an opportunity of hearing great preachers in Britain and in America. The two who have made the most lasting impression on me are W. E. Sangster, the subject of an earlier study, and James Stewart, both of whom I would have gone any distance to hear because of their passionate intensity and evangelical fervor.
Stewart was born in Dundee in 1896. He served for twenty-two years as a pastor at Auchterarder in Perthshire, Beechgrove Church in Aberdeen, and the last ten years at North Morningside Church in Edinburgh.
From 1946-1966 he was Professor of New Testament at New College, Edinburgh. In 1945 he delivered the Warrack Lectures on preaching, Heralds of God. He dealt with the preacher’s world, his theme, his study, his technique, and his inner life.
In 1952 Stewart gave the Beecher Lectures at yale, entitled A Faith to Proclaim. This was concerned with the content of preaching. The five lectures were on proclaiming the Incarnation, forgiveness, the Cross, the Resurrection and Christ.
In the Warrack Lectures his first concern is to insist on expository preaching. “There are rich rewards of human gratitude waiting for the man who can make the Bible come alive.”
His second plea is for a due observance of the Christian Year. The great festivals set our course and compel us to keep close to the fundamental doctrines of the faith. They summon us from the bypaths to the great highway of redemption.
His third plea is that the preacher puts into the making of a sermon the very best he has. “Stint no toil to achieve clear thought, fit language, true construction, decisive appeal.”
If the preacher visualizes his congregation as he prepares his sermon this will provide the essentials of “directness, liveliness, verve and immediacy.” To this end he urges his hearers to prepare a full manuscript for the pulpit, but to learn it so well that they can be independent of it.
On the construction of sermons Stewart advises that introductions be short, that divisions should be flexible in number, and that endings should clinch the entire purpose of the sermon and should never hesitate to use a direct personal appeal.
He stresses the value of the freshness and fertility of illustrations, arguing that “truth made concrete will find a way past many a door when abstractions knock in vain.” He warns against the use of the threadbare anecdote or the hackneyed quotation.
Finally, he suggests that too much Andante with never a touch of Allegro or even Presto can be fatal. His own preaching has exactly the pace and verve to excite and hold the interest of any listener.
The intensity and authority with which Stewart prays, reads the lessons and preaches, are an index of the urgency of the herald’s task. He proclaims the mighty acts of God culminating in the Incarnation, the Cross and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and in his stirring appeals to commitment.
Dr. Horton Davies says: “So much modern preaching is hesitant where Stewart is assured, so vague where he is definite, moralistic where he announces good news. He is direct where others are devious, exhilarating where others are dull.”
His first two books of sermons — The Gates of New Life and The Strong Name — appeared in a series of books published by T. & T. Clark of Edinburgh under the title The Scholar As Preacher. They were the fruit of his twenty-two years in the pastoral ministry, and reveal the clarity of the teacher, the research of the scholar, the concern of the pastor, and the urgency of the preacher.
1. The scholar’s preaching from the Bible. All his pulpit work is biblical. He always uses a text, and sometimes more than one. “The simplicity that is in Christ” and “the simplicity that is toward Christ” are two versions of the same text.
“Have mercy upon me, O Lord, for I am in trouble” is linked with “Now is my soul troubled and what shall I say?” He takes three passages containing the word “nevertheless” (Luke 12:11, Luke 5:5 and 2 Corinthians 7:5-6). In another sermon he takes six passages in the New Testament with the words, “He is able.”
Almost every text he chooses appeals to the eye of the soul. There is something for the hearer to see, to feel, to do, at least in his imagination.
Whenever he goes into the pulpit he tries to leave in his hearer’s soul an illuminated text. In choosing these passages he employs both skill and care. He ranges over the entire Scriptures, with a preference for the New Testament. Whether the text is a familiar one or a strange one, it soon becomes radiant with life and beauty.
2. The scholar’s use of doctrine. Stewart believes that the time has come for the preaching of doctrine. Among the twenty-five sermons in The Gates of New Life, fifteen seem to be indirectly doctrinal and several others directly so.
In The Strong Name, almost every one of the twenty-four sermons are doctrinal. He deals with the old truths in a fashion all his own. He never gets far away from God and man, sin and salvation, Christ and the Cross, the resurrection and the Christian hope.
Whatever the truth with which he is dealing, Stewart brings it close to the individual hearer. Here is a passage from an Advent message on comfort:
“God does not deal with man in the mass. To talk about God comforting the world may sound remote and leave us cold. It is the individual message of Advent we want to capture. What does the deep saying of Isaiah (40:7) mean for me? There are souls by the ten thousand needing comfort today. Has Advent anything for them?”
3. The scholar’s mastery of homiletics. Study the topics Stewart deals with: The Romance of Orthodoxy, Signposts to Immortality, Hearsay or Experience?, The Magnetism of the Unseen, When God’s Peace Guards the Door.
He always has a sturdy framework for his biblical message. He has a sermon “Why be a Christian?” His answer is because the Christian life is happier than any other, harder, holier and more hopeful. Notice the use of apt alliteration’s artful aid.
Yet ye does not always preach that way. His pulpit work shows endless variety. It is easy to remember the points he makes in a sermon.
He is skillful in his transitions from one division to the next, and in his use of repetition. He is not afraid sometimes to retrace the steps already taken, so that we are never allowed to forget either whence we have come or whither we are going.
The appeals throughout are to the imagination. In 1962 I heard Dr. Stewart lecture at Princeton Seminary on “Imagination in Preaching,” in which he said: “Imagination is one of the preacher’s essential weapons. Put yourself and your people into the heart of what you are preaching about. Imagination is a living quality. Its place is among the attributes of God. ‘If your soul were in my soul’s stead,’ says Job. That is the heart of our priesthood. Can’t we learn from the lover, the poet, the musician? What imagination apprehends is truth. One main function of our preaching is to do for our age what Elisha did for his servant at Dothan — open the eyes of men, and help them to see the invisible.”
4. The scholar’s use of illustration. Some preachers have never learned to cut channels between their reading and their sermons: the reservoir is there, but the fertilizing waters never reach the fields. Others again, because they do not know how to check and regulate the flow, ruin all by a wasteful excess.
Stewart avoids both extremes. His pages abound in apt illustrations and quotations but they are not overloaded with them. They are not there for their own sake but in order to light up an argument or make fast a truth in the mind.
There are many references to the writers of our own day. It is not only literature that he lays under tribute; history and biography are made to yield up their treasures, and all for this one end, that the preacher may be able the better to adorn and commend the Gospel of Christ.
Francis Bacon, says Dean Church, “was a great maker of notes and notebooks. Everything was collected that might turn out useful in his writing or speaking. He never threw away and never forgot what could be turned to account.”
Stewart is not unlike Bacon in this respect. He has learned to cultivate what Marcus Dods called “a pen-and-ink memory.” He reads, pencil and notebook in hand, mindful of the hour when he will stand in the pulpit. The apt saying, the picturesque image, the telling incident — all are to be noted since all, some day, may stand him in good stead.
Nor will he forget the flowers whose beauty and fragrance appeal to him as well as to others, yet always remembering that his business is not to delight and still less to dazzle, but to teach men the truth of God and to lead them into the life of God.
Stewart believes, “The outspoken demand that the Christian preacher hears from a congregation gathering in church for worship is, ‘Sir, we would see Jesus’!”
His sermons center about the central things. He believes, as James Denney used to say, that the Gospel wins by its magnitude, that the church does nothing unless it does the deep things.
A simple, unaffected style makes the reading of his sermons a pleasure. He knows the popular religious problems and he knows the human heart, its special needs in these troubled times. He addresses himself to these needs, “to what is going on in your soul and mine,” and the substance and burden of the sermons is evangelical.
The earnestness and the appeal is as tender as it is prophetic. There is a notable eloquence to which again and again he rises, the eloquence of real passion and a sense of urgency that brings Dr. Stewart into line with the best traditions of the pulpit.
All his sermons are bristling with suggestions. There is enough material for half a dozen sermons in each of them. Scholarship, thought, toil — all have gone to the making of these sermons. Yet they are all the work of a man who cares nothing for the sermon as an end in itself, but only for what it may do to press home the truth of God on the mind, the heart, the conscience of the hearer.
After his retirement Stewart published three more books of sermons; the first, The Wind of the Spirit (1968), was dedicated to his former students. The note of Christian certainty that reverberates through these sixteen sermons reminds one of the words: “Thus saith the Lord.”
There is a wonderful sermon on “Why go to church?” based on Hebrews 12:22-25, in which he finds five things about the fellowship of worship in the church. It is a spiritual fellowship, a universal fellowship, an immortal fellowship, a divine fellowship, and a redeeming fellowship.
Another memorable sermon is “The Strengthening Angel,” based on Luke 22:43. He addresses the question, In what form do the angels come today? 1) The strengthening angel is often some shining word out of the book of God. 2) Sometimes he is a fellow-creature. 3) Sometimes it is the Lord Himself. He gives many examples from Scripture and refers to Augustine, Bishop John Fisher, Francis Thompson, Matthew Arnold, Bunyan, Browning, George Eliot and Dr. John Duncan.
The other two books of sermons are River of Life (1972) and King For Ever (1975). They are full of gusto, full of intellectual grasp and application to present circumstance. In each of them the reader is conscious of the preacher’s deep-rooted exultancy in the Gospel he is declaring. They make us grateful to God for a preacher who combines so much of the wisdom of the scholar and the skill of an artist with the fervor of the evangelist.
In re-reading the last lecture in Heralds of God on “The Preacher’s Inner Life,” we find the secret of Stewart’s power as a preacher.
The true preacher, he says, must be a man utterly dedicated to his work, a man of prayer, a man marked by a great humility of heart, a man of authority, and a man on fire for Christ. This is a true portrait of Dr. Stewart.
The underlying message of his books is that preaching is costly or it is nothing. Sermon preparation is vain without self-preparation. The message cannot be separated from the man: its moral springs are in his own soul.

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