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I am reminded of Herman Melville’s description of the pulpit in Moby Dick. It’s actually a description of a real pulpit in the Whaler’s Chapel that a Jewish friend went out of his way to show me in New Bedford, Massachusetts. It reads:


Its paneled front was in the likeness of a ship’s bluff bows, and the Holy Bible rested on a projecting piece of scroll work, fashioned after a ship’s fiddle-headed beak. What could be more full of meaning?—for the pulpit is ever this earth’s foremost part; all the rest comes in its rear; the pulpit leads the world. From thence it is that the storm of God’s quick wrath is first descried, and the bow must bear the earliest brunt. From thence it is that the God of breezes fair or foul is first invoked for favourable winds. Yes, the world’s a ship on its passage out, and not a voyage complete; and the pulpit is its prow. (Great Books of the Western World, Volume 48: Moby Dick; or The Whale (Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 1952 (original, 1851)), pp. 29-30.)


Why is that significant? It is significant because the pulpit was named after a spot at the front of a sailing vessel where a linesman could drop a line to test the depth of the water or watch out for reefs when sailing in foggy or stormy weather. The pulpit was the position of a humble sailor (not even the captain) who served a life and death purpose by calling out potential dangers as opposed to safe sailing. Is there any better description of the preacher today, getting his (or her) sailing orders from God and striving to keep churches and people from ripping out their hulls on the reefs of sin or striking aground in the shallows of arrogance and irresponsibility? God’s people need a real pulpit presence to stand in the prow if they intend to take that passage out into authentic service and a Christian lifestyle. The great British theologian, P. T. Forsyth wrote in Positive Preaching and the Modern Mind (p. 5) that Christianity would stand or fall with preaching.

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