(Taken from American Preachers of To-Day by Edgar DeWitt Jones, 1933)
Dr. Buttrick was born in Northumberland, England, and educated in Independent College, Manchester, and Victoria University. He began as a Congregationalist in Quincy, Illinois, going from there to First Congregational Church, Rutland, Vermont, and thence to First Presbyterian Church, Buffalo, New York. In 1927 he succeeded Henry Sloane Coffin in the ministry at Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, one of the largest ad most influential of New York congregations. Rapidly this minister, Englishborn, has forged his way to the front, and in New York City, once described as teh graveyard of preachers, he is the wise administrator of a church that is like a city set upon a hill, the patient shepherd of a strangely varied and visioned preacher whose pulpit rings witha clear high note of victorious faith.
Buttrick is a preacher who combines artistry with sound interpretations; the expositer who uses freely the garlands of literature and the freshest of illustrative material. It is profitable to study his sermons as they appear in The Weekly, published by his church. These sermons have not received final revision according to Dr. Buttrick. They are printed as prepared for immediate delivery, yet very little polishing would be necessary. The workmanship is excellent and the phrasing unhackneyed, often stricking. The quality that most impresses me in the preaching of Dr. Buttrick is what I would call “aliveness.” His sermons suggest both the midnight study lamp and something of the freshness of the morning dew. Rooted in the Scriptures they partake freely of current history, literature, drama; if they begin away back in ancient days, they end in the all-absorbing present.
I questioned Dr. Buttrick on aspects of his ministry such as interest every aspiring preacher. When a master craftsman arrives, we all wish to know how he prepares his sermons, what are his habits of study, pastoral visitation and views on things ministerial. Sermonic shop talk never fails to delight the comrades of the high calling. The answers reveal a great deal of this man who, just turned forty, has climbed to far heights in the Christian ministry.
“My method of sermonizing is described in chapter six of my Lyman Beecher Lectures, entitled Jesus Came Preaching. The specific title is The Craftsmanship of the Preacher. That chapter in particular is autobiographical though the book itself makes no such admission.
“I carry a full manuscript into the pulpit, but refer to it only infrequently. For years I have written out every sermon in full. The manuscript is read several times on Saturday night and Sunday morning. In the pulpit I trust it to ‘come again.’ There is no attempt to memorize, but I find that the crucial passages (as for instance the all-important ‘transistions’) return almost word for word as they were written.
“I try to keep the morning hours for study. Latterly the needs of the tremendous program of relief that this church is conducting have broken the rule. But somehow I manage to keep my four hours a day.
“I try to make from twenty to twenty-five pastoral calls a week. Usually they are made in the afternoon, but some of them necessarily fall in the evening.
“I do not know what is the besetting sin of the ministry. I do not think I would wish to talk about it even if I knew. But I could tell you a good many besetting sins of my own!”
Perhaps I could not close this appraisal of a mighty prophet of our times better than to submit a passage from his last chapter in his Yale Lectures on “The Preaching of the Cross.” It is shot through and through with the vital stuff of the best preaching, the kind that lifts human beings out of their lower self to the highest things.
"The Cross--God's power! But power for what? If God's purpose is to make men and women kind and true, then removing mountains into the sea and plucking stars from the sky (such wonders as the world has always required of its Messiahs) are a waste of time. New battle-ships are worse than a waste of time. What will make people Christlike? The Cross, for instance! There is always the Cross! Love laying down its life--parents for their children, patriots for their country, laborers doing it for us at what seems the price of tehir nobler growth, poets scorning surface gains and living deep, philanthropists pouring forth their gifts, doctors and prophets and teachers. On all these there is the mark of the Cross--love laying down its life. To make people Christlike there is no other power--only the power of loving life laid down. If that is God's purpose then the truest sign of God's strength will be the sign of God's own life laid down. Therefore we preach Christ crucified the power of God."
2ProphetU is an online magazine/website, started by Warren Wiersbe and Michael Catt, to build up the church, seek revival, and encourage pastors.