January 7: Rev. Thomas Dewitt Talmage

This Day in Presbyterian History :  

What was Meant for Harm Turned Out for Good

Reared into a family of twelve children on a farm in New Jersey, Thomas Dewitt Talmage had the blessings of Christian parents.  Four of the children in this family, as a result, would become ministers and missionaries of the gospel, including Thomas, who was born on this day on January 7, 1832.  Graduating from what is present day New York University, Thomas at first studied law, but eventually received the calling in becoming a minister of the gospel. Graduating from a Dutch Reformed seminary, he pastored three churches in what is now the Reformed Church in America. In 1869 however, he transferred into the Presbyterian Church and was called to serve as pastor of the Central Presbyterian Church of Brooklyn, New York.

Dutch Reform Church, Philadelphia. This picture shows the church where Dr. Talmage was pastor previous to his call to Brooklyn »]

Preaching without notes, without a pulpit to hold him in place, with the fervor of a George Whitefield, and the rhetoric of Shakespeare and Milton, the church congregation began to grow with the faithful preaching of the Bible,  with the result that  many were turned away.  Building a larger building brought them masses of additional people, which only caused more to be turned away because of lack of space.  Eventually, area ministers in Brooklyn, jealous at his success, began to spread rumors, which were in turn picked up by the news media.  These sinful slurs upon his ministry and person became hot news for the reading public.

The following Sunday after the slanderous remarks hit the front pages, reporters showed up for the worship service, expecting Rev. Talmage to respond publicly to the personal attacks.  That hope would make great news copy.  But Talmage didn’t respond at all to the verbal attacks. In fact, he didn’t say one word about the newsy stories of the previous week.   He chose instead to proclaim the unadulterated gospel.  That one sermon was printed word for word in countless newspapers in New York. and even around the world.  In fact, this policy of printing his sermons by the public media became the standard practice, as some 3000 newspapers eventually came to be used by the Lord in this way to deliver the good news of eternal life.

It is estimated that twenty five million people read his biblical sermons around the world, with thirty thousand souls won to Christ as a result.  He was faithful in word and practice to the calling of Christ to be an ambassador, representing King Jesus to the world of lost men and women.

Words to Live By: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21 NIV)  It is always easier to respond in kind to those who attack by their words and actions, but God demands of us a different response.  In fact, it is often that “softer word” which is used by the Lord to convict both the one who attacks our character, as well as a tremendous example to those outside the immediate situation.  Jesus told us to bless those who say all kinds of evil against you.  Let us be faithful to do that, and leave the outcome to God.

Through the Scriptures: Genesis 20 – 22

Through the Standards: Three witnesses to Scripture

WCF 1:5
“We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the Church to an high and reverend esteem of the Holy Scripture. And the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is, to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man’s salvation, the many other incomparable excellencies, and the entire perfection thereof, are arguments whereby it doth abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God; yet, notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible true and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts.”

WLC 4 “How doth it appear that the scriptures are of the word of God?
A. The Scriptures manifest themselves to be the word of God, by their majesty and purity; by the consent of all the parts, and the scope of the whole, which is to give all glory to God; by their light and power to convince and convert sinners, to comfort and build up believers unto salvation: but the Spirit of God bearing witness by and with the scriptures in the heart of man, is alone able fully to persuade it that they are the very word of God.

All of the above images are taken from a saleman’s display copy of The Authentic Life of T. De Witt Talmage (1902); all scans by the staff of the PCA Historical Center.

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  1. Ken Erickson’s avatar

    Your report on Dr. Talmadge is precious. What a tremendous spiritual heritage that family wrought. The printing of sermons in newspapers could create quite a commotion in this present culture and could possibly save some courageous newspapers from near insolvency as is happening now frequently. Just 60 years ago in the town where my family then lived sermons were printed in the local paper of evangelistic gospel services. How times have changed.

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