James Stalker


A Study of James Stalker (1848-1927)


James Stalker was a minister, lecturer and preacher for the Free Church of Scotland (United Free Church). He was born in Crieff in Perthshire, and educated at the University of Edinburgh, “where he had a career of remarkable distinction, winning prizes in every class. He did especially well in philosophy, and gained the third place in English literature.”[1] He went on to New College to study for the ministry. “Amongst his fellow students were Henry Drummond, John Watson, Elmslie, Ewing and Harper … at the end of his course Dr Stalker won the Cunningham Fellowship.”[2] Stalker also spent two summers in Germany where he attended Berlin and Halle, where he studied under Tholuck, Dorner, Weiss, Kostlin, Dillmann and Riehm. “He wrote a paper on ‘Inspiration’, which won the warm praise of Dorner, who frequently mentioned it to his classes. His admirable article on Tholuck appeared in the British and Foreign Evangelical Review for April 1878.”[3]


He was involved in the Moody and Sankey Mission to Scotland in 1873, as was Henry Drummond, and Stalker was second only to Drummond as the most active of the youthful enthusiasts of the time. This had a lasting effect on him, and he supported and encouraged the revival movement that followed the Mission. “Dr Stalker threw himself heartily into the movement, and under his influence, almost every Free Church student gave his support and help to Mr Moody. In after years Mr Moody gratefully acknowledged the debt he owed to the enthusiastic co-operation of James Stalker.”[4]


He was ordained and served as a minister at St Brycedale, Kirkcaldy (1874) and St Matthew’s, Glasgow (1887). “Some can still recall how he made St Matthew’s resound with preaching which, in it boldness in regard to social and other questions, caused some douce [Scottish meaning ‘quiet, steady’] hearers to become uneasy. In the pulpit in those days he was in the fullness of his strength and glorying in his work.”[5] He was described in those days: “A smallish figure, with a squareness of shoulder underneath the draping gown, comes from a side door, and immediately, above red pulpit cushions, appears a face that carries out the suggestion already given. Man and manner, there is a sturdiness and seriousness, painstaking, absorbed, with some brusquerie, and again some nervousness. The face strikes you. It is oblong, divided by two dark lines – the straight and marked eyebrows, the moustache turning iron-grey. The dark hair, also greying, lies flat upon and away from the head. Ill-hung, but vigorous, are the mouth and jaw, and the voice corresponds. It is weighty, but not sweet; nothing lingers in the ear, captivating you in spite of yourself. This man takes you as a man, more than an artist, although he is not without touches of the latter.”[6] Has Gammie goes on to say himself, “That voice of his had something of a bark in it; it was brusque as his manner often was. The sort of shout with which he would begin a service was somewhat disconcerting to those hearing him for the first time.”

“In the pulpit he never had his full manuscript; he contented himself with half a sheet of notepaper which he lifted up to consult openly at the beginning of each of his ‘heads’. To al intents he was an extempore preacher, facing his hearers and enjoying perfect freedom in manner and delivery. As a preacher he was once compared to a blacksmith. ‘The dark, strong energy of the moderate figure’, said Deas Cromarty, ‘was like that of a man at the anvil, using force but measuring it, driving at a point but guarding the blow.’ I never heard Stalker preach without being impressed by his lucidity. He was, indeed, so lucid that he did not always get credit for the ability that was behind it all. There was ‘body’ in his preaching; his diction could often be vivid and picturesque; but, above all, there was that orderly march of argument, to what seemed the inevitable conclusion. He was a great believer in the practice of ‘heads’ or divisions – a practice which many of us regret is not so common today as it once was.”[7]


From 1902-1924(6?) he was Professor of Church History at the United Free Church College in Aberdeen, where he also added the Chair of Christian Ethics in 1905. He maintained these until his retirement in 1924(6?).


He was a frequent visitor to America, where he preached and lectured at various colleges and seminaries. It was said that he became more widely known in America than any other Scottish preacher of his day.


Though he wrote much, he is best remembered as a preacher of some considerable power. “He had a high conception of the ministry. In an induction charge he once said: ‘I like to think of the minister as only one of the congregation set apart by the rest for a particular purpose. They say to him: Look brother, we are busy with our daily toils, and confused with cares, but we eagerly long for peace and light to illuminate our life, and we have heard there is a land where these are to be found, a land of repose and joy, full of thoughts that breathe and words that burn, but we cannot go thither ourselves. We are too embroiled in daily cares. Come, we will elect you, and set you free from toil, and you shall go thither for us, and week by week trade with that land and bring us its treasures and its spoils.”[8] Stalker was widely read, and he tended to concentrate on devotional expositions of Scripture, which was characterised by its Evangelical orthodoxy. He was aware of contemporary issues but preferred to write on a less scholarly level. He developed a great sense of social concern, and was known to express his mind frankly. “Powerful in the pulpit, he could at times be thrilling on the platform, as Glasgow had reason to know on many a memorable occasion. Once he even surpassed Lord Rosebery. It was at a great gathering held in Glasgow in connection with social work. ‘The speakers on that occasion … were carefully chosen, but the two speeches of the evening were those of Lord Rosebery and Dr Stalker. There were deep notes of passion and of pathos in the address of the statesman which were absent from that of the minister, but there was no speech that reached the great audience and roused it as Stalker’s did.”[9] He was fearless, untroubled by personal ambition (he declined both a principalship of his College [on the ground of age, and gladly worked under a younger man] and the moderatorial chair), and sought to encourage every movement that carried the Gospel to the people.




q  The Life of Christ (1879: revised edition 1896).

q  The New Song and other Sermons for the children’s Hour (1882).

q  The Gate of Heaven [Memorials of Margaret M White] (1883).

q  Richard Baxter [A Biography] (1883).

q  The Life of St Paul (1884).

q  Francis Brown Douglas (1886).

q  Imago Christi [The Example of Christ] (1890).

q  The Preacher and his Models (Yale Lectures on Preaching: 1891).

q  The Four Men, and other Chapters (1892).

q  The Trial and Death of Jesus Christ (1894).

q  The Two Saint Johns of the New Testament (1895).

q  The Christology of Jesus (Cunningham Lectures 1899).

q  The Union of the Churches (1900).

q  The Seven Deadly Sins (1901).

q  The Seven Cardinal Virtues (1902).

q   John Knox his ideas and ideals (1904).

q  The Atonement (1908).

q  The Ethics of Jesus (1909).

q  The Teaching of Jesus concerning Himself (1912).

q  The Psalm of Psalms: being an exposition of the Twenty-third Psalm (1912).

q  How to read Shakespeare. A guide for the general reader (1913).

q  Christian Psychology (1914).

q  The Luther Celebrations of 1917.

q  The Beauty of the Bible, a study of its poets and poetry (1918).




In his lectures to students at Yale, Stalker sought to explain the basis of the preacher’s power. “It is true of every appearance which a minister makes before a congregation. Unless he has spent the week with God and received Divine communication, it would be better not to enter the pulpit or open his mouth on Sunday at all. There ought to be on the spirit, and even on the face of a minister, as he comes forth before men, a ray of the glory which was seen on the face of Moses when he came down among the people with God’s message from the mount.”[10]

“Valuable as an initial call may be, it will not do to trade too long on such a memory. A ministry of growing power must be one of growing experience. The soul must be in touch with God and enjoy golden hours of fresh revelation. The truth must come to the minister as the satisfaction of his own needs and the answer to his own perplexities; and he must be able to use the language of religion, not as the nearest equivalent he can find for that which he believes others to be passing through, but as the exact equivalent of that which he has passed through himself. There are many rules for praying in public, and a competent minister will not neglect them; but there is one rule worth all the rest put together, and it is this: Be a man of prayer yourself; and then the congregation will feel, as you are entering an accustomed presence and speaking to a well-known Friend … Perhaps of all causes of ministerial failure the commonest lies here; and of all ministerial qualifications this, although the simplest, is the most trying. Either we have never had a spiritual experience deep and thorough enough to lay bare to us the Mysteries of the soul; or our experience is too old, and we have repeated it so often that it has become stale to ourselves; or we have made reading a substitute for thinking; or we have allowed the number and the pressure of the duties of our office to curtail our prayers and shut us out of our studies; or we have learned the professional tone in which things ought to be said, and we can fall into it without present feeling. Power for work like ours is to be acquired in secret; it is only the man who has a large, varied and original life with God who can go on speaking about the things of God with fresh interest; but a thousand things happen to interfere with such a prayerful and meditative life. It is not because our arguments for religion are not strong enough that we fail to convince, but because the argument is wanting which never fails to tell; and this is religion itself. People everywhere can appreciate this, and nothing can supply the lack of it. The hearers may not know why their minister, with all his gifts, does not make a religious impression on them; but it is because he is not himself a spiritual power.”[11]



[1] N.B. [?]: ‘The Rev James Stalker DD – An Appreciation and Biography’, British Weekly, May 16 1901.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Gammie, Alexander: ‘Professor James Stalker’ [April 23 1938], in Preachers I have heard (Pickering & Inglis Ltd, London N/D 1930s?) 42.

[6] Unknown description, cited in Gammie, Alexander: ibid 42.

[7] Ibid 43

[8] Ibid 44-

[9] Ibid 45.

[10] Stalker, James: The Preacher and his Models (Hodder & Stoughton, London 1892) 52-3.

[11] Ibid 53-5.


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