Kind of an odd thing to read, eh? Volume 4 of a collection of sermons. As it turns out, this was for a book group interested in 19th century preaching and particularly the sermons of Lyman Beecher, William Ellery Channing, Alexander Campbell, and Horace Bushnell, who were among the giants of the American pulpit in the 19th century. This is actually part of a 10 volume series published in 1908 by Funk & Wagnells and digitized and available for the measly price of .99 cents. The volume also includes sermons of Thomas Chalmers, Edward Irving, Thomas Arnold, Francis Wayland, Alexander Vinet, John Summerfield, and John Henry Newman.
One is struck as you read of the insight of Philip Brooks that preaching is “communication of truth through personality.” We see the contrast between the rigorous, propositional preaching of Lyman Beecher and the elegant prose of a William Ellery Channing and we understand why the Calvinists had such problems with Unitarians like Channing. We see the plain spoken character of frontier preacher Alexander Campbell as he speaks of the missionary cause and the deep insights into the affections of a Thomas Chalmers. John Henry Newman’s lush prose contrasts with Horace Bushnell’s spare but eloquent argument for the unconscious influence each of us has on the lives of others.
I think it is always helpful to read sermons aloud when I can. This is especially true in this period, where language is often prosier than most of our current preaching. Often when one does so, you begin to sense the rhythms and cadences of these preachers. My favorites? Probably Chalmers’ “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection” for its exploration of how the love of Christ transforms our affections, Alexander Vinet’s “The Mysteries of Christianity” for its unabashed assertion that mystery is an indispensable part of Christian belief, and Horace Bushnell’s “Unconscious Influence” for its telling reminder that the ways we often influence the most are the ways of which we may be least conscious.
Each sermon is preceded by a brief biographical sketch of the preacher. One thing that would have been helpful would be to have information on the occasion of the sermon.