From Faith Pulpit, Fall 2018.
God has chosen to use human messengers to deliver divine truth. The activity whereby He does this today is called preaching. Those who preach can and must derive their content from God’s Word, the Bible. Peter emphasized the importance of this in 1 Peter 4:10–11. The stated outcome of following his instruction is that God will be glorified. A close look at this text will lead us to a definition and some implications of preaching that glorifies God.
A very simple definition of preaching that comes from the Biblical text we will examine is this: preaching is speaking for God.
The idea of speaking for God is not meant to imply that preachers deliver new revelation. However, the messages that preachers deliver should represent, as accurately and fully as possible, the revelation we already have from God in the written Scriptures.
While guest preaching in a church several years ago I asked the senior pastor how long I should preach. He replied, “Five minutes shorter than you think.” He wasn’t trying to be mean. His advice was tongue-in-cheek. But it was also partly serious. He went on to add that he’d rarely heard a sermon that couldn’t have been better by being five minutes shorter.
Read the series so far.
Now, my brethren, it is sadly true that holy earnestness when we once obtain it may be easily damped; and as a matter of fact it is more frequently chilled in the loneliness of a village pastorate than amid the society of warm-hearted Christian brethren. Adam, the author of “Private Thoughts,” once observed that “a poor country parson, fighting against the devil in his parish, has nobler ideas than Alexander the Great ever had;” and I will add, that he needs more than Alexander’s ardor to enable him to continue victorious in his holy warfare. Sleepy Hollow and Dormer’s Land will be too much for us unless we pray for daily quickening.
Yet town life has its dangers too, and zeal is apt to burn low through numerous engagements, like a fire which is scattered abroad instead of being raked together into a heap. Those incessant knocks at Our door, and perpetual visits from idle persons, are so many buckets of cold water thrown upon our devout zeal. We must by some means secure uninterrupted meditation, or we shall lose power. London is a peculiarly trying sphere on this account.
J.C. Ryle, the great Anglican preacher, continues to explain how to attain simplicity in preaching:1
And now bear in mind that my five points are these—
- If you want to attain simplicity in preaching, you must have a clear knowledge of what you are going to preach.
- If you would attain simplicity in preaching, you must use simple words.
- If you would attain simplicity in preaching, you must seek to acquire a simple style of composition, with short sentences and as few colons and semicolons as possible.
- If you would attain simplicity in preaching, aim at directness.
- If you would attain simplicity in preaching, make abundant use of illustration and anecdote.
Let me add to all this one plain word of APPLICATION. You will never attain simplicity in preaching without plenty of work—pains and trouble, I say emphatically, pains and trouble. When Turner, the great painter, was asked by some one how it was he mixed his colors so well, and what it was that made them so different from those of other artists—”Mix them? mix them? mix them? Why, with brains, sir.” I am persuaded that, in preaching, little can be done except by trouble and by pains.
Read the series so far.
The world also will suffer as well as the church if we are not fervent. We cannot expect a gospel devoid of earnestness to have any mighty effect upon the unconverted around us. One of the excuses most soporific to the conscience of an ungodly generation is that of half-heartedness in the preacher. If the sinner finds the preacher nodding while he talks of judgment to come, he concludes that the judgment is a thing which the preacher is dreaming about, and he resolves to regard it all as mere fiction.
The whole outside world receives serious danger from the cold-hearted preacher, for it draws the same conclusion as the individual sinner: it perseveres in its own listlessness, it gives its strength to its own transient objects, and thinks itself wise for so doing. How can it be otherwise? If the prophet leaves his heart behind hint when he professes to speak in the name of God, what can he expect but that the ungodly around him will persuade themselves that there is nothing in his message, and that his commission is a farce.
Hear how Whitefield preached, and never dare to be lethargic again.
Winter says of him that
Illustrations are important. But, busy preachers sometimes forget to use them. I think a preacher could save himself several minutes of explanation if he can fasten upon a good illustration to drive the point home. I tried this myself a few weeks ago, and it worked very well. It took a few minutes to think of something appropriate, but that illustration was worth 10 minutes of explanation. Here, J.C. Ryle explains why illustrations are so important:1
The fifth and last hint I wish to give you is this: If you would attain simplicity in preaching, you must use plenty of anecdotes and illustrations. You must regard illustrations as windows through which light is let in upon your subject. Upon this point a great deal might be said, but the limits of a small treatise oblige me to touch it very briefly.