Critics and Criticism

By Evangelist Billy Sunday (1862-1935)

(An excerpt from Billy Sunday's biography by William T. Ellis titled, “Billy Sunday: The Man And His Message”)

Some preachers need the cushions of their chairs upholstered oftener than they need their shoes half-soled.Billy Sunday.

       It is only when the bull's eye is hit that the bell rings. The preacher who never gets a roar out of the forces of unrighteousness may well question whether he is shooting straight. One of the most significant tributes to the Evangelist Sunday is the storm of criticism which rages about his head. It is clear that at least he and his message are not a negligible quantity.

This book certainly holds no brief for the impeccability and invulnerability of Billy Sunday. Yet we cannot be blind to the fact he has created more commotion in the camp of evil than any other preacher of his generation. Christians are bound to say "We love him for the enemies he has made." He hits harder at all the forces that hurt humanity and hinder godliness than any other living warrior of God.

The forces of evil pay Billy Sunday the compliment of an elaborately organized and abundantly financed assault upon him. He is usually preceded and followed in his campaigns by systematic attacks which aim to undermine and discredit him. A weekly paper, issued in Chicago, appears to be devoted wholly to the disparaging of Billy Sunday.

In rather startling juxtaposition to that statement is the other that many ministers have publicly attacked Sunday. This is clearly within their right. He is a public issue and fairly in controversy. As he claims the right of free speech for himself he cannot deny it to others. Some of his critics among the clergy object to evangelism in general, some to his particular methods, some to his forms of speech, some to his theology; but nobody apparently objects to his results.

During the past year there has arisen a tendency to abate this storm of clerical criticism, for it has been found that it is primarily serving the enemies of the Church. Whatever Billy Sunday's shortcomings, he is unquestionably an ally of the Kingdom of Heaven and an enemy of sin. His motives and his achievements are both aligned on the side of Christ and his Church. A host of ministers of fine judgment who are grieved by some of the evangelist's forms of speech and some of his methods, have yet withheld their voices from criticism because they do not want to fire upon the Kingdom's warriors from the rear. Sunday gets results for God; therefore, reason they, why should we attack him?

There is another side to this shield of criticism. There is no religious leader of our day who has such a host of ardent defenders and supporters as Billy Sunday. The enthusiasm of myriads for this man is second only to their devotion to Christ. Wherever he goes he leaves behind him a militant body of protagonists. He is championed valiantly and fearlessly.

So vigorous is this spirit which follows in the wake of a Sunday campaign that in a certain large city where the ministers of one denomination had publicly issued a statement disapproving of Mr. Sunday, their denomination has since suffered seriously in public estimation.

Some anonymous supporter of Billy Sunday has issued a pamphlet made up exclusively of quotations from Scripture justifying Sunday and his message. He quotes such pertinent words as these:

And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God.

For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.

And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.

And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power;

That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.

For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.

For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.

For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.

Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?

For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.

For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom:

But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness;

But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.

Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called:

But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty;

And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are.

A great marvel is that this unconventional preacher has enlisted among his supporters a host of intellectual and spiritual leaders of our time. The churches of the country, broadly speaking, are for him, and so are their pastors. This might be attributed to partisanship, for certainly Sunday is promoting the work of the Church; but what is to be said when Provost Edgar F. Smith of the University of Pennsylvania comes out in an unqualified endorsement of the man and his work; or such an acute lawyer and distinguished churchman as George Wharton Pepper of Philadelphia, well known in the councils of the Protestant Episcopal Church, gives his hearty approval to Sunday?

Consider the letter which Secretary of State Bryan wrote to Sunday after hearing him at the Pittsburgh Tabernacle:

The Secretary of State.

Washington, January 12, 1914.

My dear Sunday: Having about four hours in Pittsburgh last night, my wife and I attended your meeting and so we heard and felt the powerful sermon which you delivered. We noted the attention of that vast audience and watched the people, men and women, old and young, who thronged about you in response to your appeal. Mrs. Bryan had never heard you, and I had heard only a short afternoon address. Last night you were at your best. I cannot conceive of your surpassing that effort in effectiveness.

Do not allow yourself to be disturbed by criticism. God is giving you souls for your hire and that is a sufficient answer. Christ called attention to the fact that both he and John the Baptist had to meet criticism because they were so much unlike in manner. No man can do good without making enemies, but yours as a rule will be among those who do not hear you. Go on, and may the Heavenly Father use you for many years to come, as he has for many years past, and bring multitudes to know Christ as he presented himself when he said, "I am the way, the truth and the life."

Am sorry we could not see you personally, but we left because we found that we were discovered. Some insisted upon shaking hands and I was afraid I might become a cause of disturbance. Mrs. Bryan joins me in regards to Mrs. Sunday and yourself.

Yours truly,

W. J. Bryan   

One need be surprised at nothing in connection with such a personality as Billy Sunday, yet surely there is no precedent for this resolution, adopted by the Pittsburgh City Council, while he was in that city:

Whereas, The Rev. William A. Sunday and his party have been in the city of Pittsburgh for the past eight weeks, conducting evangelistic services, and the Council of the city being convinced of the immense good which has been accomplished through his work for morality, good citizenship and religion, therefore be it

Resolved, That the Council of the city of Pittsburgh express its utmost confidence in Mr. Sunday and all of the members of his party; and be it further

Resolved, That it does hereby express to them its appreciation of all the work that has been done, and extends to Mr. Sunday its most cordial wishes for his future success.

While the adverse critics are doing all in their power to discredit him as he goes from place to place, Sunday's friends also are not idle. In Scranton, for instance, before the campaign opened, men in nearly all walks of life received letters from men in corresponding callings in Pittsburgh bearing tribute to Billy Sunday. Thus, bankers would inclose in their correspondence from Pittsburgh an earnest recommendation of Sunday and a suggestion that the bankers of Scranton stand squarely to his support. The local Scranton plumber heard from a plumbers' supply house; labor union men heard from their fellows in Pittsburgh; lawyers and doctors, and a host of business men, had letters from personal friends in Pittsburgh, telling what Sunday had done for that community, and in many cases bearing personal testimony to what his message had meant to the writers.

This is nearer to effective organization than the Christian forces of the country commonly get. This form of propaganda did not bulk large in the public eye, but it created a splendid undercurrent of sentiment; for Banker Jones could say: "I have it straight from Banker Smith of Pittsburgh, whom I know to be a level-headed man, that Sunday is all right, and that he does nothing but good for the city."

Still more novel than this was the expedition sent by a great daily newspaper to hear the evangelist in Scranton. There is no parallel in the history of Christian work for the deputation of more than two hundred pastors who went to Scranton from Philadelphia. These went entirely at the charges of the Philadelphia North American, being carried in special trains. The railroad company recognized the significance of this unusual occasion, and both ways the train broke records for speed.

While in the city of Scranton the ministers were the guests of the Scranton churches. They had special space reserved for them in the Tabernacle and their presence drew the greatest crowds that were experienced during the Scranton campaign. Of course thousands were turned away. Nobody who saw and heard it will ever forget the way that solid block of Philadelphia pastors stood up and sang in mighty chorus "I Love to Tell the Story."

Between sessions these Philadelphia ministers were visiting their brethren in Scranton, learning in most detailed fashion what the effects of the Sunday campaign had been. Whenever they gathered in public assemblies they sounded the refrain, which grew in significance from day to day: "I Love to Tell the Story." Billy Sunday fired the evangelistic purpose of these pastors.

When this unique excursion was ended, and the company had de-trained at the Reading Terminal, the ministers, without pre-arrangement, gathered in a body in the train shed and lifted their voices in the refrain "I Love to Tell the Story," while hundreds and thousands of hurrying city folk, attracted by the unwonted music, gathered to learn what this could possibly mean.

A new militancy was put into the preaching of these clergymen by their Scranton visit; and many of them later reported that the largest congregations of all their ministerial experience were those which gathered to hear them report on the Sunday evangelistic campaign. Not a few of the preachers had to repeat their Billy Sunday sermons. Needless to say, an enthusiastic and urgent invitation to Sunday to come to Philadelphia to conduct a campaign, followed this demonstration on the part of the daily newspaper.

That there is a strategic value in rallying all the churches about one man was demonstrated by the Methodists of Philadelphia on this occasion. Bishop Joseph F. Berry had heartily indorsed the project, and had urged all of the Methodist pastors who could possibly do so to accept the North American's invitation. The Methodist delegation was an enthusiastic unit. When they returned to Philadelphia a special issue of the local Methodist paper was issued, and in this thirty-two articles appeared, each written by an aroused pastor who had been a member of the delegation. Incidentally, all of the city papers, as well as the religious press of a very wide region, reported this extraordinary pilgrimage of more than two hundred pastors to a distant city to hear an evangelist preach the gospel. A reflex of this was the return visit, some months later, of a thousand "trail-hitters" to speak in Philadelphia pulpits.

Before leaving the subject of the criticism of Sunday, pro and con, it should be insisted that no public man or institution should be free from the corrective power of public opinion, openly expressed. This is one of the wholesome agencies of democracy. Mr. Sunday himself is not slow to express his candid opinion of the Church, the ministry, and of society at large. It would be a sad day for him should all critical judgment upon his work give way to unreasoning adulation.

The best rule to follow in observing the evangelist's ministry is, "Never judge unfinished work." Only a completed campaign should pass in review before the critics; only the whole substance of the man's message; only the entire effect of his work upon the public. Partial judgments are sure to be incorrect judgments.

Billy Sunday succeeds in making clear to all his hearers—indeed he impresses them so deeply that the whole city talks of little else for weeks—that God has dealings with every man; and that God cares enough about man to provide for him a way of escape from the terrible reality of sin, that way being Jesus Christ.

When a preacher succeeds in lodging that conviction in the minds of the multitudes, he is heaven's messenger. Whether he speak in Choctaw, Yiddish, Bostonese or in the slang of Chicago, is too trivial a matter to discuss. We do not inspect the wardrobe or the vocabulary of the hero who rides before the flood, urging the people to safety in the hills.


The hour is come; come for something else. It has come for plainness of speech on the part of the preacher. If you have anything to antagonize, out with it; specify sins and sinners. You can always count on a decent public to right a wrong, and any public that won't right a wrong is a good one to get out of.

Charles Finney went to Europe to preach, and in London a famous free-thinker's wife went to hear him. The free-thinker's wife noticed a great change in him; he was more kind, more affectionate, more affable, less abusive and she said, "I know what is the matter with you; you have been to hear that man from America preach." And he said, "Wife, that is an insult; that man Finney don't preach; he just makes plain what the other fellows preach." Now the foremost preacher of his day was Paul. What he preached of his day was not so much idealism as practicality; not so much theology, homiletics, exegesis or didactics, but a manner of life. I tell you there was no small fuss about his way of teaching. When Paul was on the job the devil was awake. There is a kind of preaching that will never arouse the devil.

"He that believeth not is condemned already." He that has not believed in Jesus Christ, the only begotten son of God, is condemned where he sits.

Too much of the preaching of today is too nice; too pretty; too dainty; it does not kill. Too many sermons are just given for literary excellence of the production. They get a nice adjective or noun, or pronoun—you cannot be saved by grammar. A little bit of grammar is all right, but don't be a big fool and sit around and criticize because the preacher gets a word wrong—if you do that your head is filled with buck oysters and sawdust, if that is all that you can use it for.

They've been crying peace. There is no peace. Some people won't come to hear me because they are afraid to hear the truth. They want deodorized, disinfected sermons. They are afraid to be stuck over the edge of the pit and get a smell of the brimstone. You can't get rid of sin as long as you treat it as a cream puff instead of a rattlesnake. You can't brush sin away with a feather duster. Go ask the drunkard who has been made sober whether he likes "Bill." Go ask the girl who was dragged from the quagmire of shame and restored to her mother's arms whether she likes "Bill." Go ask the happy housewife who gets the pay envelope every Saturday night instead of its going to the filthy saloon-keeper whether she's for "Bill." Some people say, "Oh, he's sensational." Nothing would be more sensational than if some of you were suddenly to become decent. I would rather be a guide-post than a tombstone.

I repeat that everybody who is decent or wants to be decent, will admire you when you preach the truth, although you riddle them when you do it. The hour is come, my friend. The hour is come to believe in a revival. Some people do not believe in revivals; neither does the devil; so you are like your daddy.

I can see those disciples praying, and talking and having a big time. There are many fool short-sighted ministers who are satisfied if they can only draw a large crowd. Some are as crazy after sensations as the yellowest newspaper that ever came off the press. That's the reason we have these sermons on "The Hobble Skirt" and "The Merry Widow Hat" and other such nonsensical tommyrot. If there were not so many March-hare sort of fellows breaking into pulpits you would have to sweat more and work harder. There are some of you that have the devil in you. Maybe you don't treat your wife square. Maybe you cheat in your weights. Get rid of the devil. What does it matter if you pack a church to the roof if nothing happens to turn the devil pale? What is the use of putting chairs in the aisles and out the doors?

The object of the Church is to cast out devils.

The devil has more sense than lots of little preachers. I have been unfortunate enough to know D.D.'s and LL.D.'s sitting around whittling down the doctrine of the personality of the devil to as fine a point as they know how. You are a fool to listen to them. The devil is no fool, he is no four-flusher. He said to Christ: "If you are a God, act like it; if you are a man, and believe the Scriptures, act as one who believes."

John the Baptist wasn't that kind of a preacher. Jesus Christ wasn't that kind of a preacher. The apostles weren't that kind of preachers—except old Judas. John the Baptist opened the Bible right in the middle and preached the word of God just as he found it, and he didn't care whether the people liked it or not. That wasn't his business. I tell you, John the Baptist stirred up the devil. If any minister doesn't believe in a personal devil it's because he has never preached a sermon on repentance, or he'd have heard him roar. Yes, sir. If there's anything that will make the devil roar it is a sermon on repentance.

You can preach sociology, or psychology, or any other kind of ology, but if you leave Jesus Christ out of it you hit the toboggan slide to hell.

I'll preach against any minister who is preaching false doctrines. I don't give a rap who he is. I'll turn my guns loose against him, and don't you forget that. Any man who is preaching false doctrines to the people and vomiting out false doctrines to them will hear from me. I want to say that the responsibility for no revivals in our cities and towns has got to be laid at the doors of the ministry. Preachers sit fighting their sham battles of different denominations, through their cussedness, inquiring into fol-da-rol and tommyrot, and there sits in the pews of the church that miserable old scoundrel who rents his property out for a saloon and is going to hell; and that other old scoundrel who rents his houses for houses of ill fame and is living directly on the proceeds of prostitution, and he doesn't preach against it. He is afraid he will turn the men against him. He is afraid of his job. They are a lot of backsliders and the whole bunch will go to hell together. They are afraid to come out against it.

I'll tell you what's the matter. Listen to me. The Church of God has lost the spirit of concern today largely because of the ministry—that's what's the matter with them. I'll allow no man or woman to go beyond me in paying tribute to culture. I don't mean this miserable "dog" business, shaking hands with two fingers. The less brains some people have the harder they try to show you that they have some, or think they have. I allow no man to go beyond me in paying tribute to real, genuine culture, a tribute to intellectual greatness; but when a man stands in the pulpit to preach he has got to be a man of God. He has got to speak with the passion for souls. If you sleep in the time of a revival God Almighty will wake you up.

There are lots of preachers who don't know Jesus. They know about him, but they don't know him. Experience will do more than forty million theories. I can experiment with religion just the same as I can with water. No two knew Him exactly alike, but all loved Him. All would have something to say.

Now for you preachers. When a man prays "Thy Kingdom Come" he will read the Bible to find out the way to make it come. The preacher who prays "Thy Kingdom Come" will not get all his reading from the new books or from the magazines. He will not try to please the highbrows and in pleasing them miss the masses. He will not try to tickle the palates of the giraffes and then let the sheep starve. He will put his cookies on the lower shelf. He will preach in a language that the commonest laborer can understand.

One of the prolific sources of unbelief and backsliding today is a bottle-fed church, where the whole membership lets the preacher do the studying of the Bible for them. He will go to the pulpit with his mind full of his sermon and they will come to the church with their minds filled with society and last night's card-playing, beer-and-wine-drinking and novel-reading party and will sit there half asleep. Many a preacher reminds me of a great big nursing bottle, and there are two hundred or three hundred rubber tubes, with nipples on the end, running into the mouths of two hundred or three hundred or four hundred great big old babies with whiskers and breeches on, and hair pins stuck in their heads and rats in their hair, sitting there, and they suck and draw from the preacher. Some old sister gets the "Amusement" nipple in her mouth and it sours her stomach, and up go her heels and she yells. Then the preacher has to go around and sing psalms to that big two-hundred-and-fifty-pound baby and get her good-natured so that she will go back to church some day.

By and by some old whisky-voting church member gets the "Temperance" nipple in his mouth and it sours his stomach and up go his heels and he lets out a yell, throws his hands across his abdominal region, and the preacher says, "Whatever is the matter? If I hit you any place but the heart or the head I apologize." The preacher has to be wet nurse to about two hundred and fifty big babies that haven't grown an inch since they came into the church.

One reason why some preachers are not able to bring many sinners to repentance is because they preach of a God so impotent that he can only throw down card houses when all the signs are right! They decline to magnify his power for fear they will overdo it! And if they accidentally make a strong assertion as to his power, they immediately neutralize it by "as it were," or "in a measure, perhaps!"

There are lots of preachers who don't know Jesus. They know about him, but they don't know him.
—Billy Sunday, “Critics and Criticism” (chapter 18), from his biography by William T. Ellis titled, “Billy Sunday: The Man And His Message.”

We've Got a Bunch of Preachers Breaking Their Necks to Please a Lot of Old Society Dames!

You make a man feel as though God was stuck on him and you'll be a thirty-third degree sort of a preacher with that fellow.

If some preachers were as true to their trust as John the Baptist, they might be turned out to grass, but they'd lay up treasures for themselves in heaven.

Clergymen will find their authority for out-of-the-ordinary methods in the lowering of a paralytic through a roof, as told of in the Bible. If that isn't sensationalism, then trot some out.

If God could convert the preachers the world would be saved. Most of them are a lot of evolutionary hot-air merchants.

We've got churches, lots of them. We've got preachers, seminaries, and they are turning out preachers and putting them into little theological molds and keeping them there until they get cold enough to practice preaching.

The reason some ministers are not more interested in their work is because they fail to realize that theirs is a God-given mission.

We've got a bunch of preachers breaking their necks to please a lot of old society dames.

Some ministers say, "If you don't repent, you'll die and go to a place, the name of which I can't pronounce." I can. You'll go to hell.

There is not a preacher on earth that can preach a better gospel than "Bill." I'm willing to die for the Church. I'm giving my life for the Church.

Your preachers would fight for Christ if some of you fossilated, antiquated old hypocrites didn't snort and snarl and whine.

A godless cowboy once went to a brown-stone church—with a high-toned preacher—I am a half-way house between the brown-stone church and the Salvation Army. They are both needed and so is the half-way house. Well, this fellow went to one of these brown-stone churches and after the preacher had finished the cowboy thought he had to go up and compliment the preacher, as he saw others doing, and so he sauntered down the aisle with his sombrero under his arm, his breeches stuck in his boots, a bandana handkerchief around his neck, his gun and bowie knife in his belt, and he walked over and said: "Hanged if I didn't fight shy of you fellows—but I'll tell you I sat here and listened to you for an hour and you monkeyed less with religion than any fellow I ever heard in my life." They have taken away the Lord and don't know where to find him.

You must remember that Jesus tells us to shine for God. The trouble with some people and preachers is that they try to shine rather than letting their light shine. Some preachers put such a big capital "I" in front of the cross that the sinner can't see Jesus. They want the glory. They would rather be a comet than stars of Bethlehem.

“We've got churches, lots of them. We've got preachers, seminaries, and they are turning out preachers and putting them into little theological molds and keeping them there until they get cold enough to practice preaching.” —Billy Sunday, “Critics and Criticism” (chapter 18), from his biography by William T. Ellis titled, “Billy Sunday: The Man And His Message.”

You Can Still Do What You Always Could Do
(MP3, Dr. Jack Hyles; A pastor is a position, not a calling. You can forfeit a position, but never your calling to preach!)

“Beware of false knowledge; it is more dangerous than ignorance.” —George Bernard Shaw

Souls Are Dying!

Precious Christian Testimonies

How Permanent Is Your Salvation?
(an excellent MP3 sermon by Pastor Hank Lindstrom, 1940-2008)

“The mark of the child of God is that he loves everybody!”
(a quote from Pastor Jack Hyles' classic MP3 sermon, “FORGIVENESS”)

Ye Must Be Born Again! | You Need HIS Righteousness!