Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887) was probably the most popular American preacher of his day, so I’m reading three of his sermons for my American Preaching seminar this week. Beecher is not, in my opinion, a model Christian preacher. He seemed to draw his huge crowds more by his tremendous oratorical skill than by his faithful exposition of Scripture. I disagree with much of his theology, and it seems he had some serious character issues, as well. But the following selection is an eloquent reflection on God’s Providence and our sanctification, and a little sampling of what made Beecher so fun to listen to:
How is it, brother? I do not ask you whether you like the cup which you are now drinking; but look back twenty years. Almost every one of you can think of some trouble which you experienced twenty, or ten, or five years ago, and which at the time seemed to you like midnight. It bowed you down; and you felt as though your heart was bursting in twain.
Now it is all over, and it has wrought out its effect on you; and I ask you, would you give out of your education those twists and twirls which you suffered under?
Would you have removed the experience of that burden which you thought would crush you, but which you fought in such a way that you came out a strong man?
What has made you so versatile?
What has made you so patient?
What has made you so broad, so deep, so rich?
God put pickaxes into you, though you did not like it. He dug wells of salvation in you. He took you in his strong hand, and shook you by his north wind, and rolled you in his snows, and fed you with the coarsest food, and clothed you in the coarsest raiment, and beat you as a flail beats grain till the straw is gone and the what is left.
And you are what you are by the grace of God’s providence, many of you. By fire, by anvil-strokes, by the hammer that breaks the flinty rock, you are made what you are. You were gold in the rock; and God played miner, and blasted you out of the rock; and then he played stamper, and crushed you; and then he played smelter, and melted you; and now you are gold free from the rock by the grace of God’s severity to you.
And as you look back upon those experiences of five, or ten, or twenty years ago, and see what they have done for you, and what you are now, you say, “I would not exchange what I learned from these things for all the world.”