written by: Warren Wiersbe
American evangelist Dwight Lyman Moody and British expositor G. Campbell Morgan were close friends, and it’s one of the ironies of preaching history that Morgan was “discovered” in the United States and Moody in Great Britain! In fact, it was Moody who brought Morgan to the States to minister at the Northfield Conference. At any rate, every preacher should get acquainted with both of these men.
Start with the official biography of Moody by his son Will and published in 1900 by Fleming H. Revell. (By the way, Revell was Moody’s brother-in-law.) Moody died on Dec. 22, 1899, so no time was lost in getting this book before the public. Unlike the interpretative psychobiographies that are popular today, this one gives the facts about his birth and family background (they were poor!), his success in the shoe business, his conversion and call to ministry, and the places he preached and the things that happened. Once you’ve read these 590 pages, get a copy of They Called Him Mr. Moody by Richard K. Curtis (Eerdmans, 1962), one of the most entertaining of the many Moody biographies because it’s seasoned with anecdotes and dozens of interesting people. Curtis has also read Moody’s sermons and makes some interesting observations about them. His sentences averaged seventeen words, and eighty percent of his words were monosyllables. No wonder people understood him!
The latest Moody biography is A Passion for Souls by Lyle W. Dorsett, published (of course) by Moody Press (1997). Dorsett had the advantage of reading all the previous biographies and digging into the literary resources at the Moody Bible Institute and at Northfield, and he gives us a balanced full-length picture of the man. Moody was much more than a preacher of the Gospel; he was a man who influenced the course of Christian history on two continents. He was a man’s man and a leader’s leader, and he knew how to challenge others to serve Christ.
Now that you have somewhat of a background on Moody’s life and ministry, start getting acquainted with his theology. (“Theology!” he would say. “I didn’t know I had any theology!”). The best book on the subject is Love Them In: The Proclamation Theology of D. L. Moody, by Stanley N. Gundry (Moody Press). Moody wasn’t trained in a seminary, but he was taught of God, and Gundry traces the development of his theology and shows how Moody applied what he believed to how he evangelized the cities.
If you want a British scholar’s view of Moody, read Moody Without Sankey by John C. Pollock (Hodder and Stoughton, 1963). It’s available in a recent Baker edition with the simple title Moody.
Now let’s consider George Campbell Morgan, who was called “the prince of expositors.” Like Moody, Morgan had no formal training for the ministry but was used of God to teach the Bible to multitudes, and he even served on the faculties of several Bible schools and colleges. The official biography is by his daughter-in-law Jill Morgan and is called A Man of the Word (London: Pickering and Inglis, 1951; American reprint, Baker, 1972). Morgan once said in a sermon, “If I personally attempted to explain my life by circumstances, apart from the assurance of divine over-ruling, I should be in despair.” But Jill Morgan did a marvelous job of putting the pieces together and showing us the real man, warts and all.
Rejected by the Methodists (they said he couldn’t preach), he identified with the Congregationalists, but his ministry was always across denominational boundaries. Because his preaching majored on the basics of the Christian faith, he refused to get caught up in the theological squabbles of the day. He was too conservative for some liberals and too liberal for some conservatives, but he was a great blessing to everybody who heard him and took his words to heart. If you want to delve further into these things, get a copy of This Was His Faith: The Expository Letters of G. Campbell Morgan, also by Jill Morgan (Revell, 1952). And by all means add to your library The Westminster Pulpit, the definitive collection of Morgan’s sermons, and take time to read them. Revell also published Morgan’s The Ministry of the Word (1919), explaining his own approach to preaching, and The Expository Method of G. Campbell Morgan by Don M. Wagner (1957). The Study and Teaching of the English Bible by Campbell Morgan was published by James Clarke, London, and is a brief explanation of “the Morgan method.” Morgan published more than sixty books, some of them classics, and you should start collecting them.
Almost everybody who preaches about “faith” or writes a book on the subject will eventually get around to telling a story about George Muller. He was a humble servant of God in Bristol, England, who provided homes for orphans who would have ended up in workhouses or prisons, and he “prayed in” the food and finances that were needed to care for them. A. T. Pierson wrote the official biography, George Muller of Bristol (London: J. Nisbet, 1901), and we also have a more modern biography George Muller: Delighted in God by Roger Steer (Harold Shaw: 1975). Reading his life story will do more than supply illustrations for your sermons; it might increase your own faith and change the way you do some things! Roger Steer has also written Spiritual Secrets of George Muller (Shaw, 1987) and compiled The George Muller Treasury (Crossway, 1987).
He started out an ardent dispensationalist who found types and symbols on every page of his Bible but gradually moved into the Reformed camp, extolling Jonathan Edwards and John Owen. By faith, from 1922 to 1953, he mailed out his Bible studies called “Studies in Scripture” and trusted God to meet the bills, and later they were reprinted in the many books that bear the name Arthur W. Pink.
Pink was somewhat of a loner and an eccentric, and at times even a rebel, and he admitted that he carried on his ministry “outside the churches.” He preached in America and Australia, returned to America, “gave up in despair” and moved to England. He faithfully answered his mail but he discouraged visitors, and he had no telephone in his home. You will enjoy reading The Life of Arthur W. Pink by Ian H. Murray (Banner of Truth, 1981), and when you finish it, read The Letters of A. W. Pink (Banner of Truth, 1978). Pink was not a Bible commentator of the caliber of writers like Hendriksen, Morris, Carson and Boice, but he had insights into the Word that are refreshing and practical.
I wish the new generation of preachers would get acquainted with Frederick W. Robertson, “Robertson of Brighton,” who lived from 1816 to 1853. It was a short life but a full one, and he left behind volumes of sermons and lectures and the example of a difficult life lived for the glory of God and the good of His church. The Life and Letters of F. W. Robertson by Stopford A. Brooke, is the official biography, and used copies are available in a number of editions, both British and American. True to the Gospel but broader in his thinking than some of the Anglican ministers of his day, Robertson was attacked in the religious press and shunned by some fellow ministers. He lived with physical pain for which medical science in that day had no relief.
Five volumes of sermons were printed after his death and used copies are still available. There are also one-volume editions of The Sermons of F. W. Robertson available, as well as miscellaneous collections of his various lectures, including those on 1 Corinthians. Robertson was the master of the two-point sermon. In reviewing Robertson’s book of expository lectures on 1 Corinthians, Charles Spurgeon wrote: “Robertson’s doctrinal vagaries are well known; yet he is a great thinker and a prompter of thought in other men.”
For an introduction to his life and preaching, find a copy of The Preaching of F. W. Robertson, edited by Gilbert E. Doan, Jr. (Fortress: 1964). The Soul of Frederick W. Robertson, by James R. Blackwood (Harper: 1947) is a sympathetic but insightful study of his life, ministry and preaching.
Charles Simeon pastored Holy Trinity Church in Cambridge, England, for nearly sixty years and was a powerful force for God, but when he began his ministry there, he was despised, criticized and even locked out of his own church. He believed the Gospel, preached the Word systematically and exercised a steadying spiritual influence in that university town that touched many students, including Henry Martyn, who yielded his life for missionary service in India and Persia. Simeon prepared expository outlines on the entire Bible, published as Horae Homileticae in twenty-one volumes. This set was reprinted by Zondervan years ago with the title Expository Outlines on the Whole Bible.
The biography to read is Charles Simeon of Cambridge by Hugh Evan Hopkins (Eerdmans: 1977). You will meet a galaxy of famous people and get involved in a multitude of important events. Best of all, you will meet a dedicated and disciplined minister who impacted a denomination, a nation and a world from one university town.
One of the finest biographies of a Christian minister is Paul Sangster’s life of his father, Doctor Sangster (London: Epworth Press, 1962). William Sangster was a modern John Wesley who influenced his beloved Methodist Church in England as well as ministers and churches of all denominations. When I read sentences like “He was hopeless in the house and garden as far as help was concerned” – or, “Impatience was his greatest blemish, a sin with which he continually reproached himself” – or, “He had a passion for books” – I find myself shouting, “Comrade!”
The book is loaded with anecdotes that only a preacher (or preacher’s wife) can fully appreciate. But there’s also pain and pathos. Sangster supervised a bomb shelter during World War 2 and in the years that followed literally worked himself to death. He died in 1960 of progressive muscular atrophy. He wrote in his 1957 Christmas greeting, “Slow me down, Lord.” A man of boundless energy, the time came when he could no longer travel, so he devoted himself to writing books for preachers and compiling and publishing some of his sermons. If I had to name the best ten ministerial biographies, this book would be on that list.
James Hudson Taylor by Dr. and Mrs. Howard Taylor (China Inland Mission – Overseas Missionary Fellowship, 1965) is an abridgment of the original two-volume biography also written by his son and daughter-in-law. Start with the abridgement and then read the two-volume work. You will learn not only about the origin and growth of the China Inland Mission (now OMF), but also how God calls and builds a man of God and a Christian leader. In this day of media promotion, when an unknown can be “puffed” into a hero in a short time, it’s good to read about “the growth of a soul” under the loving disciplining hand of the Lord. This one-volume biography was also issued by Moody press as God’s Man In China. For a more popular biography that still has depth, see J. Hudson Taylor: A Man in Christ by Roger Steer (OMF Publ., 1990).
After you’ve read the biography, read Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret, also by Dr. and Mrs. Taylor, one of the finest volumes on “the victorious Christian life” ever published. As a medical student in England, Taylor determined to live by faith just as he would have to do on the mission field, and the results were remarkable. His discovery of “the exchanged life” transformed him and his ministry. The book is must reading for anyone who wants to move forward in Christian discipline and service.
Let me list without extensive comment three biographies of twentieth-century Christian leaders that you ought to know better. Uncle Cam by James and Marti Hefley (Word, 1974) is the story of W. Cameron Townsend, the founder of the Wycliffe Bible Translators and the Summer Institute of Linguistics. Man With A Mission by Leona Hertel (Kregel, 2000), is the story of Mel Trotter and the rescue mission movement in America. It’s also the story of a remarkable era in American religious history. In Pursuit of God: The Life of A. W. Tozer by James L. Snyder (Christian Publications, 1991), is a combination of biography and anthology, a perfect companion to the earlier biography A. W. Tozer: A Twentieth Century Prophet by David J. Fant, Jr. (Christian Publications, 1964).
Finally, one of the best religious biographies of the twentieth century is the two-volume work George Whitefield by Arnold A. Dallimore (Banner of Truth, 1970; Cornerstone U.S. edition 1979). Yes, it may take you months to read these two large volumes, but in so doing, you will have a course in British and American church history and revivalism as you get acquainted with this great man of God. It’s an open secret that both Charles Haddon Spurgeon and Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones looked to Whitefield as their model for ministry, and there’s no reason why he can’t inspire us as well.
Happy reading – and growing!
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Dr. Warren Wiersbe (1929-2019) was an internationally known Bible teacher, author, and conference speaker. He graduated in 1953 from Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lombard, Illinois. While attending seminary, he was ordained as pastor of Central Baptist Church in 1951 and served until 1957. From September 1957 to 1961, Wiersbe served as Director of The Literature Division for Youth for Christ International. From 1961 to 1971 he pastored Calvary Baptist Church of Covington, Kentucky south of Cincinnati, Ohio. His sermons were broadcast as the “Calvary Hour” on a local Cincinnati radio station. From 1971 to 1978, He served as the pastor of Moody Church in Chicago 1971 to 1978. While at Moody Church he continued in radio ministry. Between August 1979 and March 1982, he wrote bi-weekly for Christianity Today as “Eutychus X”, taught practical theology classes at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and wrote the course material and taught a Doctor of Ministry course at Trinity and Dallas Seminary. In 1980 he transitioned to Back to the Bible radio broadcasting network where he worked until 1990. Dr. Wiersbe became Writer in Residence at Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids and Distinguished Professor of Preaching at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. In his lifetime, Dr. Wiersbe wrote over 170 books—including the popular Be series, which has sold over four million copies. Dr. Wiersbe was awarded the Gold Medallion Lifetime Achievement by the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA).