20 Quotes from Francis Grimké on Preaching

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Francis Grimké (1850–1937), the son of a slave owner and a slave, faithfully pastored 15th Street Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C., until 1928. The following 20 quotes caught my attention as I read Meditations on Preaching, a recently released collection of preaching advice drawn from his various writings.


My constant prayer to God is that he would help me to preach, not great sermons, but helpful sermons—sermons that will appeal, not mainly to the intellect, but to the heart, sermons that will tend to strengthen and develop the good within us, to inspire us with right desires and fortify the will. (4)

In our troubles, anxieties, perplexities, the longer I live the more am I impressed with the wisdom of speaking more to God and less to man. He can do more in the way of helping through all our difficulties than all others put together. Talk more with God, less with man. (10)

The greatest source of power for good in a church is the pulpit, if it is properly filled—if it is occupied by a God-fearing man, a man who is qualified to teach the people, and who makes it his business, mainly, to feed the flock on the sincere milk of the word instead of on the husks of current happenings in newspapers and magazines. A pulpit well manned is always a source of power—is always an uplifting and ennobling influence. The more ministers themselves realize this, the more earnestly will they endeavor to qualify themselves to meet its great responsibilities and opportunities. (17)

No man’s ministry is a failure, however meager the results, if he has been faithfully and earnestly preaching the gospel of the grace of God, holding up to dying, sinful men God’s message of redeeming love. Such a ministry is not, could not be, a failure. (18)

[A church’s] value to the community does not depend upon the size of its membership but upon the quality of the men and women that make up its membership. . . . I have very little sympathy with the craze that is now taking hold of so many churches: merely to increase in numbers. Numbers count for nothing unless the constituent elements are of the right character. It is quality not quantity that tells in the work of the Lord. (25)

If a man doesn’t intend, as far as he is able by hard study and dint of perseverance, to feed his people on the best of the wheat, he has no business in the ministry and the people should be so educated as to make him feel it and as to shut him out of every pulpit. (29)

The business of the preacher is to state the truth of God, clearly, fully, simply; the rest the Spirit will take care of. We need not trouble ourselves about the survival of Christianity. God will take care of that. (33)

A man who is always thinking of himself in his pulpit ministrations is a failure before he begins. How little, how contemptible it is to be thinking about ourselves in the presence of the great and all-important issues that make up the themes of the pulpit! . . . The pulpit, the sacred desk, is no place for the man who wants to boom himself, to center attention upon himself instead of the Lord Jesus Christ and the truth of God. (38)

I believe that the most important part of public worship is the preaching of the Word, and that everything should be made subservient to it, that nothing should be allowed to enter that would lessen in any way the effect of it. (47)

The minister must be a man of prayer, and he must be a close student of the Word of God. Without these two things, he may be able to preach interesting and eloquent sermons, but they will carry no saving weight with them. It is only as he lives in close, vital touch with God that he can hope to speak with convicting and converting power. (58)

There are no difficulties in this modern, scientific age which cannot be met, and fully met, in this way. The plain, simple, faithful preaching of the gospel with power from on high is adequate to the needs of this age and of every age. It is foolish for us to be concerning and worrying ourselves about a matter which has already been settled by God. (65)

As preachers we are so apt to neglect our own souls, to allow the well of water within us to dry up or to become clogged up by too many cares of the world. We have got to disentangle ourselves from such things and give ourselves more to the things of the Spirit if we are to increase our effectiveness as ministers of the gospel. (67)

It is God’s Word that the people need to hear, whether they wish to hear it or not, and it is the special mission of the minister to see that they hear it. It is not what he thinks but what God has to say that is important. And the man who doesn’t realize that has no right in the ministry. (70)

It is a mistake to crowd too many things into a sermon and to have too many heads and sub-heads. Let it be simple in its structure and development. The thing particularly that you wish to have the hearers remember, stress. Let everything else go. To overburden the memory is to defeat the purpose which you have in mind. Little or nothing will be remembered, and what is remembered, if anything, will be the least important. (73–74)

One of the things we should be on our guard against, is the desire for praise, the wish to be complimented for our pulpit ministrations. After we have preached what we regard as a good sermon, how we like to be complimented, to be praised for it. So much so, that if we preach a sermon and no one speaks of it, we are apt to feel that the effort was a failure. In other words, we come to measure the worth of a sermon by the compliments it elicits. And so, we soon find ourselves preaching with a view of getting compliments, and so debasing the ministry, prostituting it to the unworthy purpose of self-laudation. If people praise our efforts, all right, but let us beware of making that the end of our preaching and looking for it as the test or evidence of our efficiency and worth as ministers. The man who puts himself in the forefront instead of Jesus Christ, thereby discredits himself, proves his unworthiness of the sacred office. (77–78)

In the preparation of our sermons, let us buckle down to hard work and not be seeking the easiest way of meeting a grave responsibility. (81)

Unless we are trying to be what we preach, we had better not preach at all. (90)

When we speak, we should remember that the message which we bring is a message of life and death, and that those who are listening to us may be listening for the last time, and that we who bring the message may be speaking for the last time. Before we speak again, we may be in eternity; before they hear again the message, they may be in eternity. Into every effort, therefore, we should put our best, we should enter with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength. (94)

No cowardly minister who is afraid to declare the whole Word of God lest he give offense, or interfere with his popularity, has any right in any Christian pulpit. He is simply a disgrace to it and a stench in the nostrils of Jehovah. The seeking of popularity in the pulpit is a fatal defect and the surest way of not achieving true success. (99)

In preaching, I am not speaking for God, but God is speaking through me. (102)


Previously in the “20 Quotes” series:

  • Sam Alberry, Why Bother with Church? (Good Book, 2016)
  • Jen Wilkin, In His Image (Crossway, 2018)
  • Trevor Laurence, The Story of the Word (Wipf and Stock, 2017)
  • Jonathan Leeman, How the Nations Rage (Thomas Nelson, 2018)
  • Andy Johnson, Missions (Crossway, 2017)
  • Alan Jacobs, How to Think (Currency, 2017)
  • Tony Reinke, 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You (Crossway, 2017)
  • Erik Raymond, Chasing Contentment (Crossway, 2017)
  • Sinclair Ferguson, Devoted to God (Banner of Truth, 2016)
  • Tim Keller, Hidden Christmas (Viking, 2016)
  • Scott Sauls, Befriend (Tyndale House, 2016)
  • Ray Ortlund, Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel (Crossway, 2016)
  • Jen Wilkin, None Like Him (Crossway, 2016)
  • Tim Keller, Making Sense of God (Viking, 2016)
  • Mark Dever, Understanding the Great Commission (B&H, 2016)
  • Sinclair Ferguson, The Whole Christ (Crossway, 2016)
  • Albert Mohler, We Cannot Be Silent (Thomas Nelson, 2015)
  • Mark Dever and Jamie Dunlop, The Compelling Community (Crossway, 2015)
  • Russell Moore, Onward (B&H, 2015)
  • Rosaria Butterfield, Openness Unhindered (Crown & Covenant, 2015)
  • Tim Keller, Preaching (Viking, 2015)
  • Tim Keller, Prayer (Dutton, 2014)
  • Kevin DeYoung, Taking God at His Word (Crossway, 2014)

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