Thomas De Witt Talmage was born on January 7, 1832, in New Jersey, USA, the youngest of eleven children, to a farmer.
Converted at the age of 18, he entered the Christian ministry soon afterwards. Three of his brothers did likewise.
Maybe he was not the greatest of American preachers, but certainly one of the most popular. At one stage his sermons appeared weekly in 3,500 newspapers across America and Europe. Spurgeon praised his ministry by saying, “His sermons take hold of my inmost soul. The Lord is with this mighty man….” Indeed he was.
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He gained his education, studying law at the University of the City of New York. He then changed to theology and graduated from the Dutch Reformed Theological Seminary at New Brunswick in 1856. His various pastorates include the Dutch Reformed Church in Belleville, New Jersey, Syracuse, and Philadelphia.
After 13 years of ministering to various congregations, he accepted a call to the Central Presbyterian Church of Brooklyn, New York, with its 19 (!!) members. That was 1869. (Christian Hall of Fame, by E. Towns, page 118). Talmage packed the building for the following 25 years … rebuilding it bigger and bigger after it was destroyed by fire … twice!
After the first fire the structure was re-built in 1873 to hold 5,000 people, but that proved too small.
The fruit of his labour was the winning of thousands to Christ. “In one year alone 6000 professed conversion” (Profiles in Evangelism, by F. Barlow, page 181).
Alexander Gammie, in his great book, Preachers I have Heard, tells of listening to the mighty Talmage … “The largest hall in the city was packed to overflowing. With fervent and dramatic power he poured forth a torrent of oratory, piling up adjectives, heaping metaphor upon metaphor, using a big brush to paint glowing word pictures in vivid colours, now declaiming with tremendous vigour and next moment, on a tender note, touching deep chords of emotion” (page 72).
Despite all this, the Presbyterian Synod tried him for “buffoonery in the pulpit” (he was acquitted!); foes accused him of being responsible for the death of his first wife (she was drowned during a boating accident); and the church fires were apparently the result of arson.
Talmage was married three times. He edited the Christian Herald from 1890, and after 1899 devoted all of his time to it.
Talmage attacked the modern theology that was rearing its ugly head, he lashed out at atheistic lecturers, and he exalted Christ. “The thread of atonement ran all through his preaching. Christ to him was central and the Cross was cardinal.” (C. Macartney, in the Foreword to 500 Selected Sermons, by T. De Witt Talmage.)
From 1895-99 he was associate pastor with Dr Byron Sunderland at Washington’s First Presbyterian Church. In his last years he gave up preaching to concentrate on his writings, including several popular books. It is estimated that 25 million people read his sermons each week.
Don Prout notes that perhaps his pulpit style would be too flowery for this present generation, but, “believe me, he is worth reading”.
Talmage died in Washington, going to his Eternal Reward on 12 April, 1902.
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This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at: www.donaldprout.com
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