Few Souls Are Saved After the First Twenty Minutes of a Sermon

Mark Twain? John Wesley? John M. Bartholomew? Arthur Twining Hadley? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Lengthy orations on spiritual topics are unlikely to change the views of resistant audience members. Here are three versions of a pertinent adage:

  • Few sinners are saved after the first 20 minutes of a sermon.
  • Few souls are saved after the first half-hour of a sermon.
  • No souls saved after the first 15 minutes.

This saying has been credited to humorist Mark Twain and 18th-century English evangelist John Wesley. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI occurred in 1864 within “The Monthly Journal of the American Unitarian Association”. No attribution was specified, and the crucial phrase was placed between quotation marks signaling that it was already in circulation. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

The correct view of this subject is contained in the statement, that there should be no indecent haste in disposing of topics so dignified as those of the pulpit, but “few souls are saved after the first half-hour.”

The first known ascriptions to John Wesley and Mark Twain occurred many years after their respective deaths. Thus, the evidence supporting these ascriptions is weak.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Few Souls Are Saved After the First Twenty Minutes of a Sermon

Notes:

  1. 1864 May, The Monthly Journal of the American Unitarian Association, Volume 5, Number 5, Stray Hints Too Parishes, Start Page 215, Quote Page 219, American Unitarian Association, Boston, Massachusetts. (Google Books Full View) link