Preeminent Expositor: Donald Grey Barnhouse


Originally published in Pulpit Helps, February 2003.

As a child, precocious Donald Grey Barnhouse wanted a book that would tell "everything about anything." When he discovered the Encyclopedia Britannica, he was "a bit disappointed that someone had beaten him to (writing these volumes)." Nevertheless, he plunged eagerly into them, soaking up facts wholesale which would much later return as sermon illustrations.

He deserves to be remembered as one of the greatest Bible teachers of the twentieth century, gifted with a special ability to make scriptural truth crystal clear. Highlights include: a 33-year pastorate of the Tenth Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia, from which hundreds of young people were called to the mission field or other service; a 33-year radio ministry on the Bible Study Hour (when he bought air time from CBS in 1928, he was said to be the "first fundamentalist to broadcast over a major network"); authorship of some 30 books, as well as innumerable articles; production of films and TV-again, he was an early pioneer in these fields; itinerant ministry which reached every state and many other parts of the world.

A native of California, where he was born in 1895, Barnhouse attended the Bible Institute of Los Angeles (now Biola University). There he came under the influence of such outstanding leaders as Dr. R. A. Torrey. Then he studied at the University of Chicago and other famous institutions in the U.S. and abroad.

In 1919 he joined the Belgian Gospel Mission, serving as pastor of French Protestant churches. Upon his return to the U.S. in 1927, he began his historic ministry at Tenth Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia, the base for all his later work and travels.

In 1931 he founded Revelation (later Eternity) Magazine. In the first issue, he listed "20 trends he felt Scripture indicated as signs of the last times before the return of Christ." Barnhouse built Eternity into a leading periodical of the day. In its pages he discussed the shortcomings of Roman Catholic theology; commented perceptively on major current events; and of course wrote numerous Bible study articles. The magazine continued in print until 1988.

Ralph Keiper, a long-time colleague, recalled how Dr. Barnhouse on summer trips "visit[ed] mission stations and recharge[d] the missionaries. One of them told me it is so easy for them to get stale on the field and so refreshing to hear that kind of doctrinal teaching. This is one of his greatest works."

More than 6 feet tall, Barnhouse was described as "cocky, sometimes brusque, full of boyish enthusiasm." His authoritative preaching of the Word of God was powerfully persuasive and unforgettable. Every broadcast closed with a fervent prayer for the Lord to give the unsaved "restlessness" (until they come to faith), and for grace, mercy, and peace to abide upon "all Thy believing own."

Somewhat like a modern day circuit rider, for years Dr. Barnhouse traveled to various cities over the country for meetings, reaching college students, business and professional leaders, and many others. His church granted him six months a year to be on the road.

One outstanding example was the richest man in Grand Rapids, Mich., whom Barnhouse led to the Lord after dealing extensively with him. Later he presented the largest gift to the Evangelical Foundation (Barnhouse's organization).

Dr. C. Everett Koop, former U.S. surgeon general, who attended Tenth Presbyterian Church for about two decades, testified that he was saved through Barnhouse's ministry. From him he learned "a deeper understanding of the Word of God." He went on to serve as a church elder and president of the Evangelical Foundation.

Titles by Dr. Barnhouse available today include The Invisible War: an exploration of the great spiritual conflict between good and evil, Illustrating Great Themes of Scripture,Revelation, and Romans (4 volumes). Many videos and booklets are also available from the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals.

After the death of his first wife, Ruth, Barnhouse married Margaret Bell, a widow whose life had been transformed as a result of his ministry in Florida. She became not only his companion but also an invaluable assistant. When he was diagnosed with diabetes, she carefully and strictly regulated his diet, enabling him to travel and minister with a minimum of disruption.

But, alas, a massive brain tumor struck this giant, and after a short illness he triumphantly went to be with the Lord in 1960, at only 65.

His life verse was: "That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death" (Phil. 3:10). How wonderfully it was fulfilled in all his dedicated life and fruitful, unique ministry.

Bernard R. DeRemer chronicled the lives of dozens of heroes of the faith in more than a decade of writing for Pulpit Helps Magazine, and continued to serve in this capacity as a volunteer contributor toDisciple. He joined those he had written about so faithfully in the Lord's presence in 2014.

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