Power of the Pulpit


Gardiner Spring (1785-1873) was minister of the Brick Presbyterian Church in New York City from 1810 to 1873, establishing it as a center of powerful evangelical preaching. He was regarded both for his preaching and his writing, and one of his significant works was The Power of the Pulpit. First published in 1848, this volume remains an enduring text on pastoral ministry.

What would New England have been without her pulpit? . . . There is no part of Christendom that has not acknowledged these incidental influences of the pulpit, in forming its habits and character, in elevating and purifying its institutions, in stimulating and extending its literature, in modifying its usages and laws, and in giving more or less of peculiarity to the measures and policy of its government. It necessarily gives a direction to the current of human thought,—men of talent, in every department of human life, feel its influence. It has been felt everywhere;—in the councils of warriors in the field, and of statesmen in the Senate-house. Kings on their thrones have listened to its voice, and the populace has been moved by it. Men of all religious persuasions, and of no religious persuasion, believers and infidels, feel its influence; all orders and combinations are, to a greater or less extent, subjected to its power.

In past ages of the world, few moral causes did more in molding the habits of human thought, than the various forms of scholastic philosophy, but its powerful influence waned, and eventually was eclipsed by the Christian pulpit. Other influences there are which act upon the public mind; the press acts upon it; seminaries of learning act upon it; legislation acts upon it; courts of law act upon it; the theatre and the opera act upon it; the fine arts act upon it; and the exchange acts upon it; and all with prodigious power. Some of these are the immediate and direct antagonists of the pulpit; and its business is to oppose and neutralize them. Some of them are directly auxiliary to it, and some of them indirectly. As such, we honor them. But if we draw a line around any other department of human influence, and compare it with the pulpit, we must do the greater honor to this divine institution. It has no physical force to boast of; it is its moral power which is its glory. Its conflict is not the conflict of rushing bayonets, but of truth with error; nor are its victories those where men are trodden down and trampled on, but where they are lifted up. It has power above the field of battle, above the Forum, above the Senate-house. Yes it has power above them all. Compare them. Inspect them. And then say which has the more important influence upon national character. Inspect them impartially; and whose sway is the widest, and which occupies the largest space? Who has accomplished most for this land, its warriors and statesmen, or the ministers of the Gospel? Who most for England, Edmund Burke and William Pitt, or George Whitefield and Robert Hall? Who for Scotland most, Robert Bruce and William Wallace, or John Knox and Thomas Chalmers?1


1 Gardiner Spring, The Power of the Pulpit (New York: Baker and Scribner, 1848), 55-58.

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