James Denney

He was an outstanding preacher who influenced all who heard his ministry in Glasgow. Equally effective with his students who sat on the benches at the Glasgow College in his time, and, who along with congregations were forever quoting “As Denney said”. His ministry and spirit entered into the student’s heart and mind, into the warp and woof of their preaching. He taught them to speak clearly and lucidly from the pulpit. No muttering and murmuring – “Can you hear me at the back.” nonsense. Speak to be heard. 

Dr James Denney touched people across the nation. He made the truth of the Bible a talking point to many people. He taught them to speak clearly and lucidly from the pulpit as he did. It is the content of his preaching ministry that today is so much valued by serious believers. The great decision of his life was to preach the Atoning Death of the Lord Jesus Christ; to preach the Cross – on the one hand its power to save, and on the other its sharpness and sternness. Its call to dedication of life and witness. He fired others with his own resolve 

His wife used to tell him to keep his hand down in the pulpit, and gently asked for more colour in his sermons (I like that!) His contempt for the use of illustrations was a weakness.

Scholar that he was, he knew the necessity of adapting his message to the minds of his hearers. His advise was: “Don’t preach above people’s heads; the man who shoots above the target does not prove thereby that he has superior ammunition. He just proves that he can’t shoot.” He believed in the structure of a sermon and said, “Keep something of a gallop for the avenue” Conclude your message on a firm loving and positive note.

It was characteristic of Dr James Denney that, with all his love of learning, he wrote to a friend saying: ” It is my business to teach, but the one thing I covert to do is the work of an evangelist,” and that he said more than once he “didn’t care anything for a theology that did not help a man to preach.

James Denney had a deep burning passion for the Lord Jesus Christ and an intense belief in the power of the Cross. His theology helped him to preach and it made him the preacher he was. His rather stern personality was softened by the warm glow of his devotion to Jesus Christ. He was deeply reverent, yet always so calm, and his confident handling of the mysteries of the life giving truths of the Faith, the Cross, the Blood caused his many hearers to leave the powerful services and meetings with uplifted heads, taking to their souls the things which are for ever sure though the heavens should fall.

For many years I have treasured the classical book written by Dr James Denney ‘The Death of Christ’ which recognizes the ‘centrality, the gravity, the inevitableness and the glory of the death of Jesus Christ,’ wherein the unity not only of the New Testament but also of the entire Bible is to found. May I recommend this book to believer and preacher alike, indeed to all who are called to bear witness to Jesus Christ in our own day and generation.

May the Cross of Christ be once again elevated to highest and most central place in our preaching ministries.

Back