Henry Drummond and The Greatest Thing

Henry Drummond died, on March 11, 1897. Professor Henry Drummond was no friend of Biblical Fundamentalism.

Drummond was born in Scotland in 1851 and became a man of varied talents. He was at various times an evangelist, lecturer in natural science, ordained minister, Professor of Theology, explorer, geologist and author. He did not receive an academic degree, yet he ascended to academic posts.

His 1883 book, “Natural Law in the Spiritual World”, sold 70,000 copies in its first five years and made his name famous. After surveying southern and central Africa for the African Lakes Company he produced another popular text, “Tropical Africa”. And his work, “The Ascent of Man” was also widely read. That book helped promote the evolutionary cause as it argued for the survival of the fittest, a thesis previously maintained by Professor John Fiske.

In 1890 Drummond travelled to Australia and in 1893 he was in Chicago, USA.

Drummond was a gifted evangelist who assisted Dwight L Moody’s revival campaigns for two years.

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In Moody‘s early Northfield Bible Conferences he invited Drummond to speak.  “But later he refused to have him back!  Moody was not ashamed to take a stand for theological truth.  Drummond was one of the most effective public speakers of the era, and to cancel him from the Northfield program took genuine courage” (History of Fundamentalism, by E. Dollar, page 80).

Although coming from a godly Presbyterian home and trained “in an evangelical family”, and despite the fact that he was tremendously impressed by Moody and Sankey, he became a leading Liberal theologian, Professor in the Free Church of Scotland, and an ardent defender of the evolutionary hypothesis.

R.E. Day, in his excellent biography of Moody, Bush Aglow, says that “Drummond was one of the vanguard of men, amiable, attractive, to whom no-one could deny the name Christian, who nevertheless helped write ‘Ichabod‘ over 20th century Zion” (page 207). Drummond was particularly influential over the thinking of younger men who looked up to him.

Why, then, did Donald Prout include him in his Christian history notes?  Because in 1874 Drummond wrote a small book that has become a classic in Christian literature – The Greatest Thing in the World, a study of I Corinthians 13.

“So long as time shall last, The Greatest Thing in the World will be a high peak on the skyline of devotional literature” (ibid, page 209). That book sold 12 million copies, dwarfing the success of all his other works put together.

When Drummond died due to poor health at the age of 46, on 11 March, 1897, Moody “cried like a child.  ‘He was the most Christ-like man I ever met.  I never saw a fault in him,’ he said over and over through his sobs” (Moody without Sankey, by J. Pollock, page 258).

(It is to be noted that the Henry Drummond of this article is not to be confused with Henry Drummond (1780-1860), who was founder of the Catholic Apostolic, or Irvingite, Church).

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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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