Monday, April 23, 2007


William Edwin Sangster

1900 -- 1960

Never taken to a place of worship for the first eight years of his life, Sangster found his way into an inner-city London Methodist mission where he happily attended Sunday School for years. When he was twelve a sensitive teacher gently asked him if he wanted to become a disciple of Jesus Christ. "I spluttered out my little prayer", he wrote years later. "It had one merit. I meant it."

From that moment the gospel of Jesus Christ absorbed Sangster for life. Subordinate only to it was an obsession with recovering Methodist conviction and expression. Never possessed of a sectarian spirit, never a denominational chauvinist, he yet believed ardently that Methodism's uniquenesses were essential to the spiritual health of Britain and to the well-being of the church catholic.

Military service followed, then studies in theology (with distinction in philosophy), and finally ordination. Short-term pastorates in Wales and northern England exposed him as a daring innovator and startling preacher. Never afraid of (apparent) failure, he was willing to try anything to reach the indifferent and the hostile. (Church-attendance in Britain had peaked in 1898, declining every year thereafter.) His first book, God Does Guide Us, paved the way for the second, Methodism Can Be Born Again. Now his alarm, even horror, at the careless squandering of the Wesleyan heritage was evident as he pleaded with his people and sought to draw them to the wellsprings of their denomination.

The outbreak of World War II found him senior minister at Westminster Central Hall, the "cathedral" of Methodism. The sanctuary, seating 3000, was full morning and evening for the next 16 years as Sangster customarily preached 30 to 45 minutes. As deep and sturdy below ground as Central Hall was capacious above, its basement became an air-raid shelter as soon as the German assault began. The first night was indescribable as thousands squeezed in, high-born and low, adult and infant, sober and drunk, clean and lousy. Equally adept at administration and preaching, Sangster quickly laid out the cavernous cellar in sandbagged "streets" so as to afford minimal privacy to those who particularly needed it. Sunday services continued upstairs in the sanctuary. A red light in the pulpit warned that an air-raid was imminent. Usually he chose to ignore it. If it were drawn to his attention he would pause and say quietly, "Those of a nervous disposition may leave now" -- and resume the service. While his wife sought to feed the hordes who appeared nightly, he assisted and comforted them until midnight, then "retired" to work until 2:00 a.m. on his Ph.D thesis for London University. (The degree was awarded in 1943.) As space in the below-ground shelter was scarce, he and his family lived at great risk -- a Times reporter interviewed him for his obituary! -- for five years on the hazardous ground floor. They slept nightly in the men's washroom amidst the sound of incessant drips and the malodorous smells. By war's end 450,000 people had found refuge in the church-basement.

In 1949 Sangster was elected president of the Methodist Conference of Great Britain. The denomination's leader now, he announced the twofold agenda he would drive relentlessly: evangelism and spiritual deepening. He knew that while the Spirit alone ultimately brings people to faith in Jesus Christ, the witness of men and women is always the context of the Spirit's activity. By means of addresses, workshops and books he strove to equip his people for the simple yet crucial task of inviting others to join them on the Way. The second item of his agenda was not new for him, but certainly new to Methodist church-members who had never been exposed to Wesleyan distinctives. He longed to see lukewarm pew-sitters aflame with that oceanic Love which bleaches sin's allure and breaks sin's grip and therefore scorches and saves in the same instant. He coveted for his people a whole-soulled, self-oblivious, horizon-filling immersion in the depths of God and in the suffering of their neighbours.

In all of this he continued to help both lay preachers and ordained as books poured from his pen: The Craft of the Sermon, The Approach to Preaching, Power in Preaching. Newspapers delighted in his quotableness: "a nation of pilferers", "tinselled harlots", "the pus-point of sin". Yet his popularity was never won at the expense of intellectual profundity. The ablest student in philosophy his seminary had seen, he yet modestly lamented that Methodism lacked a world-class exponent of philosophical theology -- even as he himself appeared on an American "phone-in" television program where questions on the philosophy of religion had to be answered without prior preparation. Ever the evangelist at heart, he rejoiced to learn that two million viewers had seen the show.

Numerous engagements on behalf of international Methodism took him around the world and several times to America. While lecturing in Texas he had difficulty swallowing and walking. The problem was diagnosed as progressive muscular atrophy, an incurable neurological disease. His wife took him to the famous neurological clinic in Freudenstadt, Germany -- but to no avail.

His last public communication was an anguished note scribbled to the chief rabbi as a wave of antisemitism engulfed Britain in January 1960. Toward the end he could do no more than raise the index finger of his right hand. He died on May 24th, "Wesley Day", cherished as the date of Wesley's "heart strangely warmed" at Aldersgate with the subsequent spiritual surge on so many fronts.

Everything about him -- his philosophical rigour, his fervour in preaching, his affinity with saints who had drawn unspeakably near to the heart of God, his homespun writings (Lord,Teach Us To Pray), his genuine affection for all sorts and classes -- it all served one passion and it was all gathered up in one simple line of Charles Wesley, Methodism's incomparable hymn-writer:

"O let me commend my saviour to you."


W. E. Sangster Memories of a Great Leader

Margaret Phippen is a brisk, down-to-earth lady who, one feels, is not someone who suffers fools gladly. She also happens to be the daughter of one of the most loved and admired Christian leaders and preachers this country produced in the 20th century - the Rev Dr William E Sangster, Methodist doyen who walked as easily with kings and princes as he did with the inhabitants of slum areas who flocked to hear him preach.

W E Sangster died 45 years ago, in 1959, absurdly early, just when the full flowering of his preaching and teaching looked set to set an even more lasting stamp on the nation. By that time he had risen from a working-class district of Lancashire to command the pulpit, for 15 years, at Westminster Central Hall, then Methodism's headquarters. There he preached to packed congregations of 3,000 every Sunday, many of whom had queued for up to an hour to get into the auditorium. This has never been equalled since.

His name was revered throughout Methodism and he had – still has – many admirers throughout this country and overseas, many of whom heard him during his many preaching tours and also as President of the Methodist Conference. They can testify to his zest in the pulpit and his general bonhomie, which everyone found very attractive. He was well known as well outside the Methodist Church, becoming a kind of 'Mr Preaching Everyman' at conferences throughout the country, including the Filey Convention, the precursor of Spring Harvest. He was also a contemporary of two other Methodist 'giants' of the time in Dr Leslie Weatherhead (at the City Temple) and Dr Donald Soper (at the West London Mission).

But to those who knew him, Dr Sangster was much more than a larger-than-life pulpit giant whose waves of oratory would sweep over a vast audience, subduing, challenging, enlightening or encouraging as the sermon might dictate. He came out as a strong supporter of Dr Billy Graham when the latter was being constantly sniped at and 'put down' by an assortment of religious leaders, many within the Methodist Church.

Sangster's output of books and pamphlets was prolific, and they are still read to this day. Such titles as The Secret of Radiant Life, Why Jesus Never Wrote a Book, God Does Guide Us, and Let Me Commend have been reprinted many times. Thousands of local preachers were indebted to him for his homiletical works, such as The Approach to Preaching and The Craft of the Sermon.

Margaret Sangster was born in Conway, North Wales, the setting for her father's first appointment as a married man. The family was constantly on the move in those early years, averaging a new circuit every three years initially. She shared with her by-then famous father in the London Blitz, living five years with him, and about a thousand others, in the underground shelter where she and her mother had the dubious delight of sleeping in a men's urinal! Her husband, the Rev. Dennis Phippen, was an ordained missionary to India, and that is where she went after their wedding for many years. Margaret now lives in Worthing, West Sussex, where she and Dennis had moved in 1979 when he was appointed superintendent minister. Here she gives a priceless insight into what he was like as a father, as a wise counsellor and, above all perhaps, an instant friend to all those whom he met.

Mrs Phippen recalls that her father's overwhelming characteristic was his zest for life. She says that his personality so glowed that for those near him, including his children, 'he lit up the whole world'. 'In my early days he was already becoming famous as a preacher and a pastor – incidentally, he used to test his sermons out on my mother. He loved God with the whole of his passionate nature and he longed only that others should love him, too. He worked away all day but was always ready in time of real need to drop everything and take one of his children in his arms. He was all love and all compassion'.

'Saturday afternoons were the one time in the week when we could be sure of our father for ourselves. On that afternoon, then, we were all together – my parents, who adored each other and lived a love story every day of their life, my brother (Paul) and I. As I look back, I seem to have spent much of my childhood padding wearily after his tireless form to look at an old abbey or castle, or just the scenery'.

In September, 1939, when he was just 39, Dr Sangster was moved from his Leeds church to London, where he took over the Central Hall, Westminster. It was the month that war broke out and his first announcement to his new congregation was that Britain had declared war on Germany. Mrs Phippen recalls that during the first year of the so-called 'phoney' war, her father turned the Central Hall into a family church. Hundreds and then thousands flocked to hear him, a prince of preachers indeed.

'Most of all, though, his influence was felt in personal lives. Everyone mattered to him, everyone was loved by him. He never forgot a name or a face'.

In 1940 the bombing of London began. Homeless people from the slums of nearby Pimlico needed accommodation, and Dr Sangster threw open the Central Hall's reinforced basement, which became one of the biggest air-raid shelters in the country, the permanent home for up to a thousand people every night.

'He and his family moved in to share it with them, modestly taking one small room in which we were to eat, sleep and live for five years. My mother hastily organized a canteen and provided cheap, good food every night. "Service before services", said my father as he moved among the people, his fund of funny stories, his interest and his love charming all suspicion away. Determined to offer no religion until it was asked for, he was soon begged to take evening prayers, and it became a permanent institution, along with a weekly lecture on current affairs and a Saturday concert. He welded the whole into one huge, happy family. A suspicion even grew up that if he were in the shelter it would not be bombed!'

'And the work in the church above grew and grew. To keep himself sane in crowded days and more crowded nights, my father snatched minutes from his bed to study Christian perfection and wrote a thesis for which London University awarded him a doctorate in philosophy'.

With peace in 1945 the work blossomed with a crowded, glowing church, spiritually at ease. Book followed book, with lecture tours to many parts of the world. In 1950 Dr Sangster became the youngest-ever President of the Methodist Conference and he was genuinely surprised at the honour.

'Travelling home in the train afterwards, his robes on the luggage rack, he met a lonely young naval cadet and together they played at train-spotting, the boy and the President racing from window to window with equal enjoyment!' - revealing a man utterly at home with himself and possessed of an impish delight in simple things.

'“Let's dance", he would whisper on a lonely road, and the two of us would gambol gaily along the pavement, his grey curls on end, and his clerical collar jumping about to his shouts of laughter. You see, he never knew a waltz from a fox-trot!'

In 1955 Dr Sangster was asked to take charge of the Home Mission Department for the whole of British Methodism. He plunged into his new work, administering a great department and travelling continuously – a new bed, a new sermon, nearly every night. He prayed and sweated for a new awakening of the Christian faith. Three years later he was conscious of uneasiness in his throat and dragging in his leg. He went on with his work but soon he could not avoid seeing a doctor and was diagnosed with incurable muscular atrophy. The muscles would gradually waste, the voice go, the throat be unable to swallow. He had thought there would be years of hard work ahead.

In Mrs Phippen's words: 'From dark despair he battled through to triumphant assent. He could still write. He would have more time for prayer. "Let me stay in the struggle, Lord", he pleaded. "I don't mind if I can no longer be a general, but just give me a regiment to lead". Against increasing limitations he forced himself to work. "Why, I'm only in the kindergarten of suffering", he answered sympathizers with his infectious gaiety.

'Gradually his legs became useless and his voice – that melodious organ that had thrilled thousands – went completely. Speechless and helpless, he could still hold a pen. He was radiant. On and on he wrote. Utter suffering, utter acceptance. His delight in my mother never faltered, nor she in her great courage. "You are wonderful" her would write to her with shaking hand, his pen now his only means of communication'.

'On Easter Day he wrote to me, "It is terrible to wake up on Easter morning and have no voice with which to shout, 'He is risen!' but it would be still more terrible to have a voice and not to want to shout".'

W E Sangster died in May 1959, on Wesley Day. He died before his right hand had completely failed, still in the fight for his faith. Perhaps Dr Sangster's Christian ethos may be summed in a sentence he wrote for the preface of his book, The Secret of Radiant Life: 'Men and women were made for God; all parts of our personality are drawn to health when he is resident within'. This great Methodist leader was a shining example of just that.


Many Witnesses, One Lord by William Barclay

William Barclay has also written A New Testament Wordbook, More New Testament Words, Letters To The Seven Churches, The Master’s Men, and Flesh and Spirit, The Mind Of Jesus, Crucified and Crowned, and Jesus As They Saw Him. This material prepared for Religion-Online by Paul Mobley.

Chapter 12: Preaching The New Testament Today

In any engagement it is always wise to see just what we are up against. What then is the situation which meets us when we try to preach the NT today? To put it in another way, what is the situation which faces us when we try to communicate the gospel, not so much to the people inside the Church as to the people outside the visible Christian fellowship?

(a) Unquestionably, we face ignorance of the basic facts of the Christian story. W. E. Sangster tells how in 1947 Admiral Sir Geoffrey Layton carried out an experiment with regard to the lads who in that year joined the Navy, and who, it must be assumed, must have been rather above the average in intelligence. Only 15 per cent could repeat the Lord's Prayer accurately; 28 per cent knew it in part; 49 per cent knew no more than the opening words. Although 72 per cent knew who Jesus Christ was, only 39 per cent knew where he was born. What happened on Good Friday was known to 62 per cent, but only 45 per cent knew the meaning of Easter, and only a little more than 2 per cent could explain Whitsuntide. From one point of view this ignorance is a handicap, because it means that we can assume little or nothing in our approach to people outside the Church. From another point of view it is an advantage, for it means that what we have to tell them is for them a new discovery.

(b) Equally unquestionably, we have to face a situation in which the Christian message and the Church have become to many a complete irrelevance. Fairly recently the Sunday Post, a newspaper which is entirely well-disposed to the Church and to religion, conducted an investigation into the reaction of young people to religion and to the Church. A nineteen-year-old clerk said: "I don't believe in God. I don't believe in religion whatsoever." A nineteen-year-old apprentice accountant said: "Christianity is a thing of the past. It's dying out rapidly. 1 won't be sorry to see it go. Church? Nor for me." A nineteen-year-old science student said: "Religion has no place in modern society. They repeat the same things over and over again." The conviction of the irrelevance of the Church was equally marked. A twenty-year-old student said: "The ideals the Church preaches are all right, but you don't need a Church to know how to behave." A twenty-year-old art student said: "I believe I can stay in contact with God without doing it publicly." A lad of sixteen said: "Church drives me up the wall. It's not worth getting out of bed for. None of my pals go to Church either."

It has to be noted that in no case is there any particular hostility to the Church. There is complete indifference to an institution and a belief which has simply ceased to have any relevance.

Clearly, the next question is: What has the Christian preacher to offer to meet this situation?

He has his preaching, and it has been pointed out that there are four kinds of preaching. There is kerugma, which is the uncompromising statement of the facts of the Christian faith. This is proclamation without argument. There is didache, which is the explanation of these facts, both as they are problems for the mind, and as they are matter of practical life and conduct. In other words, there is the development of the kerugma into Christian theology and Christian ethics. There is paraklesis, which is exhortation to accept the Christian faith and to live the Christian life. There is homilia, which is the treatment of any subject in the light of the Christian message. Somewhere within these different spheres the Christian preacher will move.

Clearly, the next question is: What has gone wrong? Why is it that Christian preaching in so many cases is no longer effective? Certain causes are almost immediately identifiable even if we go no further than look at these four different kinds of Christian preaching.

(a) It is clear that somewhere the balance has gone wrong. There is any amount of homilia, the general treatment of almost any subject in the form of a kind of Christian and moral essay. There is an equally large, if not still greater, amount of paraklesis, of the kind of exhortation which is a kind of Christian pep-talk. There is not a great deal of kerugma, for it is a strange feature of the Christian message today that it has become apologetic -- in both senses of the word -- rather than dogmatic -- again in both senses of the term. But the real disaster of the situation is the absence of didache, the neglect of the teaching ministry of the Church. One of the main faults of so much modern preaching is that it lives from day to day, looking each week for a "good text", instead of being a systematic and planned exposition of the Christian faith and of the Bible. There is little good in exhorting people to be Christian, when they have no clear idea of what being Christian means.

(b) There is the use of religious jargon, or, to put it in another way, the use of conventional religious words and expressions without any definition of them. W. E. Sangster told how Dr William D. White carried out an experiment in which he asked twenty-five intelligent people in his congregation to make a list of words and phrases, commonly used in preaching, which they did not understand. The list included such words as dayspring, logos, husbandman, washed in the blood of the Lamb, cherubim and seraphim, throne of mercy, heir of salvation, alpha and omega, things of the flesh, balm in Gilead, the bosom of Abraham, in Christ. It may well he that there are many who fail to understand still greater phrases like the Kingdom of Heaven, justification by faith, sanctification, atonement, eternal life, simply because they are so often used but so seldom expounded and explained.

The great characteristic of the language and the thought of the NT is that it was completely contemporary. It is the simple linguistic fact that, apart from the papyri, the NT is the supreme monument of Hellenistic Greek, Greek as the ordinary man spoke it in the first century AD. And further, it is the supreme characteristic of the NT that it uses categories of thought which were completely familiar to the people to whom it spoke. And the problem which faces us today is precisely the problem of persuading ourselves to admit that these categories of thought are quite alien and strange to the mind of the twentieth century and have to be reminded and restated in the language and the thought of today. It may well be that it is a basic mistake of a great deal of the presentation of the Christian message that it is offered in first-century categories of Jewish and Hellenistic thought expressed in Elizabethan English.

(c) However much we may hesitate to say it, it has to be said that a great deal of modern preaching is essentially trivial in its nature. W. E. Sangster said that "a great deal of Protestant preaching for a generation past has been on marginal things". Bishop Kulandram, looking with oriental eyes on western preaching, said that what struck him most was "its astonishing silence on deep theological issues". When that famous preacher Leslie J. Tizard was dying, and when he was thinking of what preaching had to say to a man with incurable and inoperable cancer, he quoted a saying of J. B. Priestley that people get a bit sick of having the front of their minds tickled, when they want something "which goes deeper". A group of intelligent people deeply regretted that the older didactic and exegetical sermon has so much given place to the topical address.

Clearly, the next and the last question must be: In what direction lies the cure? It lies in three directions.

(a) It lies in a revival of expository preaching. To put it very bluntly, it is the fact that people are not very interested, at least they are not interested for long, in hearing any man's opinions about all kinds of things political, social and economic; they are interested in trying to find out what the Bible has to say. And it is there that the preacher can help them. He has been deliberately trained in linguistic, historical, archaeological, theological study in a way which enables him to discover the meaning of, and thus to expound, scripture in a way that is simply not open to the layman. The whole aim of his training is to do precisely that. It is in fact the one thing that he can do better than the layman. The first thing that is needed from all pulpits is systematic exposition of scripture and systematic explanation of Christian doctrine, with the application of both to the human situation of the particular sphere of the hearers in the twentieth century.

(b) It lies in an approach of sheer honesty. This will involve the abandonment of conventional religious language which has ceased to be meaningful even to the preacher. It will involve the refusal to mutter pious platitudes. It will involve the frank admission by the preacher that there are problems before which he can only stand silent and go on seeking. A reverent agnosticism can be on occasion a better evangelism than a religion which knows all the answers.

(c) It will involve a total approach to the New Testament. One of the worst of all mistakes is to standardize one religious experience, and to speak and to preach as if there were no other. The NT has its John and James as well as its Paul. The amazing thing about the NT is its frank ad-mission that there are many ways to God, and the mistake which so many of us make, which maybe we all make, is to limit our preaching to that which specially appeals to ourselves. It is necessary to expound the full-orbed teaching of the New Testament, to remember that, while there is one Lord, there are many witnesses, and, when we set ourselves to do that we will undoubtedly find that parts of scripture which we thought had nothing to say to us become strangely and amazingly eloquent.

W. E. Sangster tells somewhere of the preacher who read himself full, thought himself clear, and prayed himself hot; and to read, to think and to pray is the only way to become a preacher in any century.


Why the Church Needs Saints, Part I
by W.E. Sangster, 1954
It cannot seriously be questioned that it is a matter of major importance that the admiration of people be directed towards those who are worthy of the admiration. We grow like the people we admire. If the longing for holiness is to be quickened in people they must see, not only its perfection in the Savior, but approximations to it in the saints. Indeed, there are ways in which it could be perilous to see it only in the Savior and never in the saints.
To quicken the quest for holiness in people - which is the end of all religious nurture - four steps are necessary.

First, to convince people that it is God’s intention that man should be holy; that nothing less can satisfy His ambitions for His earthly children and that, keeping this fact in mind, a devout man may often murmur to himself, ‘He wills that I should holy be’. Secondly, to nourish in the people faith in the possibility of holiness. The difficult question of ultimate and ineffable perfection can be left aside if only because it involves questions of completeness as well as of purity, and stretches the mind into the vast aeons of eternity. But if the promises of the New Testament are kept in mind, and there are no mental reservations about the power of the Holy Spirit, the life of constant victory over sin by the might of God can be held before the people as a possibility in this life. We can say of all the powers of hell,

They cannot keep a blessing back
By heaven designed for me.

Thirdly, to hold perfection before the people in all its fulness in Jesus. In Him every virtue is balanced with its complementary virtue! The vices of good men are often shadows cast by their virtues. Because they are so morally strong, they lack tenderness. Because they are so generous, a proper prudence is wanting. But in Jesus the balance and harmony are all there. This is perfection - the uttermost that can appear in a sinful world.

They were actions of the perfect if we recognize that our Lord was acting all the time under the motive of perfect love. To startle and recall the recalcitrant in the case of the Pharisees: to defend the Gentiles from the desecration of their Court of the Temple, and to impose discipline on the shabby traders, in the case of that illicit commerce. Love in conflict with sin must hurt to save. His life reveals an utter perfection - i.e. a life moved always by a perfect motive even though it was moving in an imperfect world.
And it is just because he is himself in that world that the plain man finds Jesus’ example completely beyond him, and the need for the witness of the saint appears. Gazing on perfection in Jesus, sinful man is both abashed and abased. He hears the hammer strokes through the prayer of his Savior as they nail the suffering Son of God to the wood: ‘Father! ...Forgive them!...They know not what they do!’...and he knows he is looking on the holy and feels profane. Indeed, he feels the oneness of the human race and that his own fist swings the hammer which transfixes the hand that moved only to bless.

A voice awakens in his soul. ‘I could never be like that. It is blasphemy to think it. This is God and I am a sinner. I was conceived in sin, and the seed was tainted before I was conceived. I was shaped in iniquity, born into a wicked world, and I have drawn in sin with every breath. The whole mental and moral atmosphere of humanity is heavy with decay. And to this foul earth I belong, and within this body of death I am imprisoned, and I am ashamed even to lift my gaze to the One who is of “purer eyes than to behold iniquity”‘.

By a strange contortion of the human mind the very perfection of Our Lord’s example is used to excuse men from following it. His Person is extolled to explain the majesty of His pattern - and then pleaded to excuse human sin. God incarnate could live like that but not sinful man. Need sinful man try? Need sinful man admit the obligation?

Sinful man is glad not to admit the obligation and praises the perfection of his Lord the more heartily now that he has excused himself to himself - and accepted the excuse!
So we come to the fourth step and see disclosed the great ministry of the saints. Their holinesss is all derived. It is begotten in them of God - begotten in that very human nature which man in self-despair had recognized as hopeless and corrupt.

Look at the saints! Listen to the first martyr and his magnificent echo of Calvary: ‘Lord, lay not this sin to their charge!’ Pass in review the noble men and women of all ages who have ‘marked the footsteps that He trod’ and come to sanctity.

God did this with tainted seed, shapen in iniquity, and begotten into a polluted world. Can anything be put beyond the power of the Holy Spirit? Alll the saints came of one diseased stock and some of them had brought forth fruit consonant with the stock from which they came. They had been open sinners, sensual, bestial and proud in it. They made a pagentry of their
evil living. Like their precursors in the faith at Corinth, some of them had been fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, effeminate, abusers of themselves, thieves, covetous, drunkards, revilers, extortioners...but now they were washed and sanctified!.

God did it! Now let the heart of man ‘deceitful above all things’ and ‘desperately sick’ deny the challenge of the saint’s example. If God could do this with men and women - and such men and women - might He not do something with me? Even me?

If those who had given hostages to evil, and trebled the carnality of nature by unholy indulgence, could be arrested, converted, washed and sanctified, is anyone beyond the reach of Christ’s redeeming and purifying power?
Augustine said:

‘To Carthage I came where a cauldron of unholy loves bubbled up all around me. I loved not as yet, yet I loved to love; and, with a hidden want, I abhorred myself that I wanted not. I searched about for something to love, in love with loving, and hating security, and a way not beset with snares...For this reason my soul was far from well, and, full of ulcers, it miserably cast itself forth, craving to be excited by contact with objects of sense...To love and to be loved was sweet to me, and all the more when I succeeded in enjoying the person I loved. I befouled, therefore, the spring of friendship with the filth of concupiscence, and I dimmed its luster with the hell of lustfulness; and yet, foul and dishonorable as I was, I craved though and excess of vanity, to be thought elegant and urbane. I fell precipitately then...’

And this was the man whom God made into a saint so mighty that he over- tops the ages, ranks as second figure in the great Evangelical Succession, and spreads the brightness of his sanctity through all the centuries since.

No branch of the church could exist without saints. Indeed, their presence is one proof that it is a true branch of the vine. Only God can make a saint. God, therefore, is in any branch of the church in which they grow. It would be a telling part of the answer of any Christians to those who would unchurch them, simply to say: ‘Look at our saints’. How the saint is defined, and whether or not precision in definition is possible, is a subject which must engage us later. Our present concern is only to stress the church’s need of saints. Not only is their presence in the church proof of God’s presence also, but a chief means in the education of those who come after.

There is that in the soul of man which must respond to the highest in virtue. It may not respond at once. Human nature can easily be over-faced by examples too remote and austere. Moreover, human nature can easily deny God because the whole race has long been in rebellion against Him. Yet there is that in human nature which calls out to the supreme examples of virtue: owns, as it were, the intention of God who made it, and feels the unmistakable homesickness of the soul.
And it is part of the service of the saints to awaken that homesickness of the soul in men and women. It does not exhaust their service to our poor race. Taken in its wholeness, their service is many-faceted. They often bring a revival of religion. It was of revival that Lacordaire was thinking when he said: ‘ O God, give us some saints’. All France went to Ars in the second quarter of the nineteenth century to see the most lowly-born and ill-instructed priest in the country because he was a saint. The church is revived by the power of the Holy Spirit through the saints.

The saints are the most convincing answer to atheism and agnosticism. They do not usually answer them philosophically. In some mystic way they make it impossible for others to live near them and disbelieve. In the mixed character of Voltaire - nobility and cynicism strangely blended - there was much mockery of religion. But a contented atheist he could not be. Asked by a skeptical friend one day if he had ever met anyone like Jesus Christ, he lapsed into silence and then answered with awe-ful seriousness: ‘I once met Fletcher of Madeley’

Nothing but an increase of saints will make the church powerful in the world. The Holy Spirit is the Lord and Giver of Life. As He comes to sanctify, so He comes in power. The world could not long ignore a holy church. The church is not despised because it is holy: it is despised because it is not holy enough. There is not enough difference between the people inside the church and those outside to be impressive. A church in which saints were as common as now they are rare would convict the world, if only by contrast. Sanctity cannot be ignored. Even a little bit is potent. So far from the gates of hell prevailing against it, it hammers on their triple steel.
The saints are the chief hope of reunion. They link loving hands while mere ecclesiastics eye each other with suspicion and moil for a formula. Deep calleth unto deep. All the saints belong to one communion. That truth is obscured now by church divisions but only in the Church Militant. When the saints meet at the throne in the Church Triumphant they meet with the ardour of love.

Holding up the saints before the people helps them in a dozen different ways. They see the Lord reflected in His servants. They see what God can do with human nature. The saints are not obstructions to Jesus but interpretations of Him. Quoting Newman’s assertion, ‘and if Antichrist is like Christ, Christ, I suppose, is like Antichrist’, G.K. Chesterton says of St Francis of Assisi, ‘If St Francis was like Christ, Christ was to that extent like St Francis’. The overwhelming majesty of our Lord’s example is mediated through His servants and the impulse to deny the obligation to live by that pattern on the grounds of His Deity is thwarted.

‘This you can be!’ Unaware of it themselves, that is what the saints are saying all the time.

It would never occur to them to say it aloud. It is doubtful if they ever think it. One of the most gracious dispensations of God concerning His saints is their lovely unawareness of sanctity. The nearer they move to Him, the more conscious are they of sin. If it were impossible at times not to note their own growth in grace, it were impossible also to forget that it was all by His power. If they could be persuaded to admit their progress and talk of it at all, the language of their heart would be this: “If God could do this in me, He could do it in anyone’.

More than that it would be unreasonable to ask of them.


7. William Edwin Sangster (1900-1960)

A strongly evangelical Methodist preacher, he served for sixteen years as pastor of London's Westminster Central Hall, where he preached weekly to 3,000 souls. During World War II he had the largest Sunday-evening congregation in London, filling the 2,500-seat hall, and he opened the large basement as a bomb shelter for those in need.

At different points in his ministry he succeeded two of the most popular Methodist preachers in Britain (Leslie Weatherhead and Dinsdale T. Young). He concluded his ministry as head of the home mission department of the Methodist Church, before his deterioration and death because of progressive muscular atrophy.

Sangster combined evangelical intensity with a brilliant mind and gifted use of language. As Leslie Weatherhead once described one of Sangster's books of sermons, "No chapter finishes by making you say, 'What a clever writer Sangster is.' They all make you say, 'What a wonderful Savior Jesus is.'"


"It isn't easy to say how much the ethos of British Methodism shaped

W. E. Sangster and how much he shaped it. Suffice it to say that his sermons exemplify the best of that strand of homiletics in the 20th century. Though Sangster died many years before I became a minister in the Manchester and Salford Methodist Mission, I immediately recognized characteristics of his method in the sermons I heard others preach, and in the values and lifestyle of fellow clergy.

The product of a working-class family, Sangster was educated in London and Birmingham, and served in the army during World War I. He had served several churches before his appointment to Westminster Central Hall in 1939. A man of the people, he literally lived with the people, moving his family into a community bomb shelter created in the church basement during the war. Sangster's preaching was orthodox, grounded in Scripture but not necessarily expository, and called listeners to action as well as reflection. A gifted storyteller, his sermon illustrations range from accounts of the desolation of war-ravaged cities or observations about drunkenness to quotations from Matthew Arnold and John Bunyan.

His more doctrinal sermons can perhaps be likened to the hymnody of Charles Wesley, about which it has been said that whatever earthly topic they begin with, they end in heaven. Sangster's sermons look forward to God's future, encouraging the listener to trust God's promises.

The timely references in his messages may date him, yet aspects of his method provide a model for preaching in the post-modern world: knowing the world of the listener, taking the listener's experience seriously, and embodying the hope we have in Christ." (Carol M. Noren, Professor of Preaching, North Park Theological Seminary, Chicago, IL)


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