Some time ago I posted Benjamin Franklin’s impression of meeting and hearing Alexander Campbell in person for the first time.
In a similar vein comes David Lipscomb’s estimation of Jesse Londerman Sewell’s preaching. This from Life and Sermons of Jesse L. Sewell (Nashville: Gospel Advocate Publishing Company, 1891), pp. 118-119:
As a preacher he was a man of one book, he preached the word of God in a meek, earnest, faithful manner and kind spirit. He spoke with ease to himself, and his style was pleasant to his hearers. His power was in an earnest and sincere presentation of the truth, remarkable for its simplicity, conciseness and clearness. He was familiar with the Bible as but few men are. His discourses did not cover a wide range of thought, but were finished and complete, eminently pointed and instructive. They showed he had viewed his subject from every standpoint and that the bearing of every passage of scripture on a position, taken, had been carefully considered. I have heard Alexander Campbell, with his clear thoughts, reverential manner, noble bearing, and profuseness of imagery, Tolbert Fanning with his Websterian clearness and force of statement, and majestic mien, and forceful manner, Moses E. Lard with his close and clear analysis and elucidation of his subject and his power to touch the sympathy and to stir the feelings with his tender pathos, I have heard Dr. [p. 119] Brents with his well laid premises and strong and convincing logic, but for a well-rounded, finished, completed sermon, stating the full truth on his subject in manner so simple that the humblest could understand it, and guarding at every point, against possible misconception or objection, my conviction has been for years, that Jesse Sewell in his prime, was the superior of any man I ever heard. He lacked the aggressive force and self-asserting power that belonged to these other men. He was lacking in both the mental and physical activity and vigor that make a great leader, but for clearness of perception, the ability to look on all sides of a question, and to view it in all its lights and to form just and sound conclusions, then to state them with clearness and critical precision, he had few superiors. He was one of the safest and soundest scripture teachers to be found.
My conviction is, the hold the Christian religion has upon the people of Middle Tennessee, is due under God to Jesse Sewell, more than any other one man. His singleness of purpose and devotion to the work explains the reason. Brother Sewell’s whole life was one of quiet, earnest simplicity, industry and genuine honesty. He had no taste for show or display of any kind. …
David Lipscomb, Life and Sermons of Jesse L. Sewell (Nashville: Gospel Advocate Publishing Company, 1891), pp. 118-119.
It is a revealing analysis for in it we see:
–Lipscomb’s description Campbell, Fanning, Lard and Brents are from first-hand direct experience. Lipscomb heard Campbell in Nashville in the midst of the Ferguson fiasco; he was formed by Fanning’s teaching at Franklin College and in the Nashville congregations; he could have heard Lard at several places but Nashville seems the likeliest (although I do not have a date at hand, but rely on memory); and what is true of Fanning is nearly true of Brents, who preached in many places.
–Lipscomb’s evaluation which reveals what impressed him about each man’s preaching, and from it we could triangulate those qualities of homiletic purpose, style, function, and content that most commended themselves to David Lipscomb.
–Lipscomb’s knowledge of the churches of Christ in Middle Tennessee and of Sewell’s work among them over a period of time. That final analysis is striking for I would assumed Fanning’s activity (directly through his papers and through the influence of his school and students) would have been uppermost in Lipscomb’s mind. Lipscomb may have assessed Fanning’s formative role in similar or approaching terms (I cannot recall off-hand). In light of this from Lipscomb about Sewell, we should hold loosely to any assumption that Fanning was the dominant actor among these congregations. At least we should in the absence of other evidence. I am happy to learn more.
–Lipscomb also was known for his simplicity of lifestyle, although through Margaret’s innovative spirit they eventually lived at a standard quite above the Sewell’s two-rooms-and-a-lean-to (see p. 120 against Hooper’s biography). E. G. Sewell certainly lived above this standard in his neat brick home in East Nashville. But the point is that Lipscomb highly esteems simplicity, plainness, forthrightness, industry, devotion, and the like. We see this from Lipscomb’s taste for personal attire to his preferred manner of ministry and mission work to his comments about church architecture.
–In these paragraphs we see something about Jesse Sewell, also Campbell, Fanning, Lard, and Brents. And we something about D. Lipscomb, too.