Who Was Rev. Dr. John N. Gladstone?
The Rev Dr. John N. Gladstone (1921-2005) was recognized by contemporaries, members of his congregation, and the wider Christian community as a preacher of note. The centerpiece of his preaching ministry was undoubtedly his years as the Minister of the Congregation at Yorkminster Park Baptist Church in Toronto (1965-1991). It was there he would consolidate his reputation, which would result in many invitations to preach in various churches, conventions, and on the radio.
I am currently carrying out a rhetorical analysis of several of Gladstone’s sermons. From that research, I want to highlight one feature of Gladstone’s sermons. This feature will be evident from the recent listing of audio sermons on the ACBAS website. This feature is the thematic nature of his sermons.
Thematic Nature of Sermons
The thematic nature of Gladstone’s sermons can be related to what he saw as a vital purpose of his preaching. Thus, in a newspaper article published in The Spectator on Saturday 11 November 1978, Gladstone spoke of his weekly excitement at the opportunity “to say something helpful.” To put that slightly differently, as stated in the same article, Gladstone saw “a great need to put iron into people’s faith.” This purpose required addressing such concerns as “Anxiety, suffering, pain, grief, loneliness, friendship, and the need for stronger faith among them.” Consequently, as Gladstone would later state in the “Preface” to his book Living with Style (1986), preaching involved heralding the unchanging gospel of Jesus Christ; teaching its implications “for personal conduct, business life, politics, race, war, relationships, marriage;” and comforting those who were “fighting a hard battle.” Gladstone, therefore, directed his preaching towards enabling the congregation to believe correctly and live faithfully in the contexts of their lives.
It certainly seems that Gladstone achieved this goal regarding those attracted to and attended Yorkminster Park Baptist Church. The Spectator claimed that Gladstone’s preaching drew “many people who come to this church seeking answers to their particular questions, doubts, and concerns.” In turn, years later, when in 1991 the deacons at Yorkminster Park proposed to the congregation that Gladstone becomes Minister Emeritus, they highlighted among other things the fact that his sermons had been “an unfailing source of comfort, strength, and inspiration to the Members of the Church and Congregation, especially those perplexed by doubts for whom he illumined the way and those beleaguered in hopeless struggle to whom he brought the strength to prevail.”
Therefore, Gladstone’s thematic approach appears to have indeed helpfully supported people in living out their faith in their everyday contexts.
There is something important to note for those who would listen to Gladstone’s sermons today. Not only did Gladstone’s preaching present the all-sufficient Christ as the one who could meet all human needs, but according to the late Dr. Clifford C. Pitt, a member of Yorkminster Park, he did so in a “thoroughly contemporary spirit.” However, the spirit of Gladstone’s contemporary age and our own are different. Consequently, we may find some of his specific arguments and advice somewhat dated and disputable. This comment is not necessarily a criticism of Gladstone’s preaching but a recognition of its contextual nature.
Gladstone’s thematic preaching demonstrates that he sought to be “helpful” to his listeners in his day. However, the wider significance of this is not only, as Pitt put it, that Gladstone’s preaching addressed listeners in their “everyday world.” But perhaps more importantly, it also reminded them that “there is not an area of life that does not belong to Christ.”
Interested in listening to Dr. Gladstone’s sermons? You can listen here.
Submitted by Dr. Stuart M Blythe, John Gladstone Professor in Preaching and Worship at Acadia Divinity College.