May 2, 2014, marked the centennial death of one of Congregationalism’s beloved stars, Charles Silvester Horne (1865-1914). He was best known in America through his series of lectures given at the Lyman Beecher Lectures on Preaching at Yale Divinity School. The princes of American and British preaching delivered these lectures, and among the giants to deliver them were Henry Ward Beecher, Phillips Brooks, R.W. Dale, Matthew Simpson, John Broadus, Andrew Fairbairn, Robert Horton, P.T. Forsyth, Charles Jefferson and J.H. Jowett.1 It would be difficult to overstate the influence these men had on preaching. Standing as jewels in the crown of these lectures were those delivered by Charles Silvester Horne in the spring of 1914. These lectures subsequently were published as The Romance of Preaching.
Charles Brown, Dean of Yale’s Divinity School at the time, described Horne’s as the most stirring of the lectures delivered in the Lyman Beecher Series.2 Horne set out to describe the vocation of the preacher in the most glorious of terms. Lest one dismisses Horne’s lectures as mere sentimentalism, he carefully placed preaching in a historical context with a developed theology of preaching. His final charge to the students was that they would preach faithfully in their generation before their deaths. His words were prophetic of his own sudden death three days later aboard a steamer to Toronto, Canada. His passing punctuated his final contribution to preaching with a mark of exclamation.
Horne was born on April 15, 1865, in the town of Cuckfield, in Sussex, England. Horne’s family instilled in him the Puritan values of faith and education. His father, a Congregational minister, left the pastorate because of health issues and became the editor of the Newport Advertiser. The proofreading of the newspaper became a family activity, and the young Horne strengthened his grasp of language by helping with this endeavor.
Horne’s first sermon was at the age of 16 in a village called the Outwoods. He was so nervous upon the invitation to preach there that he responded to the deacon who invited him, “I will go on the condition that you go as well and stand by me in case I break down.”3 His first sermon was preached from the words, “If the Lord be God, follow Him.”4
He matriculated at Glasgow University in the fall of 1881, where Horne also developed his rhetorical skills. He was one of five students accepted in the fall of 1886 to the newly established Mansfield College at Oxford. The acceptance of Nonconformists into Oxford was historic because they had been excluded from formal theological education at the universities since the Act of Uniformity of 1662.
Horne’s theological education at Mansfield brought him under the direct influence of two prominent leaders of the Free Church: R.W. Dale and Andrew Fairbairn. One could argue that Dale was to the Congregationalists in his time what Charles Spurgeon was to the Baptists. The respected pastor of Carr’s Lane Congregational Church befriended the young Horne and mentored him as he began his first pastorate. The venerable Fairbairn was the leading theologian of the Congregationalists, and it was under his leadership that a generation of ministers received a vigorous theological education. Horne later expressed how something of Fairbairn’s personality and teaching was part of every sermon he delivered.5
Horne served as pastor of Allen Street Church, also known as Kensington Chapel, from 1889 to 1903 and then as pastor of Whitefield’s Chapel from 1903 to 1914. He represented Ipswich, England, as a member of Parliament from 1910 to 1914. Throughout his ministry, he served as the Chairman of the Congregational Union of England and Wales and become a leading voice for Free Churchmen.
His popularity soared early as a magnetic preacher in the tradition of the great oratorical preachers of the Victorian Era. Horne set forth a bold vision for preaching that is best embodied in his The Romance of Preaching, so the following highlights will be drawn from those lectures. At least three foundational truths undergird his high view of preaching; they are sketched briefly here.
Servant of the Spirit: For Horne, the preacher is a servant to the Spirit.6 Horne began His lectures by appealing to the role of the Holy Spirit in preaching because this is the most foundational reality for preaching. There is a transcendent element in the preaching assignment that elevates the task to an eternal plane. The very call of one to preach the Word is through the Spirit. It is also through the Spirit that one is to exercise this spiritual gift. Horne spoke of a soul’s awakening and a soul of flame as necessary to a preaching ministry that exudes the power of God.7 He declared that one is a minister of Christ, not because he is called by a church, but because he is called by Christ.8 Preachers through the ages are part of a majestic fraternity in which the Holy Spirit uses their noble task to help usher in the kingdom of God. The work of preaching is a Spirit-called work and a Spirit-empowered task.
A High View of Scripture: Horne’s high view of preaching also was grounded in his high view of Scripture. One’s confidence in an authoritative text is foundational to an effective preaching ministry. One cannot separate a bold vision for preaching from a high view of Scripture without undermining both. Horne was theologically trained in Hebrew, Greek, exegesis, Old Testament and New Testament theology. Horne’s commitment to biblical authority was against the backdrop of increasing influences of higher criticism and scientific claims. His life is an affirmation for the value of theological education as one prepares for the pastorate.
The Relevance of the Sermon: Horne’s high view of preaching also was built on the foundational belief in the relevance of Scripture. He suggested that Scripture contains a timeless word and a timely word.9 The written revelation of God’s Word never fails, thus it is timeless and eternal. The application of the written Word is where it becomes real to the life of the congregation, thus it is timely.
Horne was the consummate wordsmith and has much to teach when it comes to utilizing rhetorical devices and language for clarity and impact. Horne believed the question is not whether Scripture is relevant, but whether the congregation to whom one is preaching discovers its relevance. The preacher can show its relevance in two ways. First, the pastor must be the ultimate exegete of culture. He must exegete the text for interpretation, but he also must exegete the culture for good application. One must understand the times in which he has been called to minister.
Second, a pastor also should know his congregation. Upon Horne’s acceptance of his pastorate at Whitefield’s Chapel, he walked the streets of London from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. to get a feel for what he described as his new parish.10 He witnessed the drunkenness and lasciviousness of the night that plagued men and women with vices, and it broke his heart. He preached to those who gladly heard him because they knew he understood them.
Horne was a star that illuminated the best ideals of the Free Church. P.T. Forsyth aptly said of him at his graveside service that he was a happy warrior. The romance of preaching never left his life and ministry because the love of Christ never left his heart. May the modern church continue to recover a high view of preaching that is grounded in the Holy Spirit, confident in the authority of Scripture, and committed to showing its relevance to the church.
1 See Edgar DeWitt Jones, The Royalty of the Pulpit (New York: Harper and Brothers Publishing, 1951) and Batsell Barrett Baxter, The Heart of the Yale Lectures (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1947) for a survey of Lyman Beecher Lectures.
2 Charles Silvester Horne, The Romance of Preaching (London: Revell, 1914), 5.
3 W.B. Selbie, The Life of Charles Silvester Horne (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1920), 5-6.
4 Arthur, Porritt, C. Silvester Horne in Memoriam (London: James Clarke and Company, 1914), 3-4.
5 W.B. Selbie, The Life of Andrew Martin Fairbairn (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1914), 445-49.
6 Horne, The Romance of Preaching, 19. This is the title for his first lectures.
7 Ibid., 43-44.
8 Ibid., 124, 179.
9 Ibid., 155.
10 Charles Silvester Horne, Pulpit, Platform, and Parliament (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1913), 53.