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.
C.H. Spurgeon’s Lectures to My Students, Second Series, Lecture 8. (Editor’s note: Paragraph breaks have been added to ease reading.)
If I were asked—What in a Christian minister is the most essential quality for securing success in winning souls for Christ? I should reply, “earnestness”: and if I were asked a second or a third time, I should not vary the answer, for personal observation drives me to the conclusion that, as a rule, real success is proportionate to the preacher’s earnestness.
Both great men and little men succeed if they are thoroughly alive unto God, and fail if they are not so. We know men of eminence who have gained a high reputation, who attract large audiences, and obtain much admiration, who nevertheless are very low in the scale as soul-winners: for all they do in that direction they might as well have been lecturers on anatomy, or political orators.
J.C. Ryle continues dispensing some advice for preachers:1
The fourth hint I will give is this: If you wish to preach simply—use a DIRECT style. What do I mean by this? I mean the practice and custom of saying “I” and “you.”
When a man takes up this style of preaching, he is often told that he is conceited and egotistical. The result is that many preachers are never direct—and always think it very humble and modest and becoming to say “we.” But I remember good Bishop Villiers saying that “we” was a word kings and corporations should use, and they alone—but that parish clergymen should always talk of “I” and “you.” I endorse that saying with all my heart.
I declare I never can understand what the famous pulpit “we” means. Does the preacher who all through his sermon keeps saying “we” mean himself and the bishop? or himself and the Church? or himself and the congregation? or himself and the early Fathers? or himself and the Reformers? or himself and all the wise men in the world? or, after all, does he only mean myself, plain “John Smith” or “Thomas Jones”?
If he only means himself, what earthly reason can he give for using the plural number, and not saying simply and plainly “I”? When he visits his parishioners, or sits by a sick-bed, or catechises his school, or orders bread at the baker’s, or meat at the butcher’s—he does not say “we,” but “I.” Why, then, I should like to know, can he not say “I” in the pulpit?
Ryle, the great Anglican bishop, offers some more advice for preachers:1
The third hint I would offer, if you wish to attain simplicity in preaching, is this—Take care to aim at a SIMPLE style of composition. I will try to illustrate what I mean.
If you take up the sermons preached by that great and wonderful man Dr. Chalmers, you can hardly fail to see what an enormous number of lines you meet with without coming to a full stop. This I regard as a great mistake. It may suit Scotland, but it will never do for England. If you would attain a simple style of composition, beware of writing many lines without coming to a pause, and so allowing the minds of your hearers to take breath.
Beware of colons and semicolons. Stick to commas and full stops, and take care to write as if you were asthmatical or short of breath. Never write or speak very long sentences or long paragraphs. Use stops frequently, and start again—and the oftener you do this, the more likely you are to attain a simple style of composition. Enormous sentences full of colons, semicolons, and parentheses, with paragraphs of two or three pages’ length, are utterly fatal to simplicity.
Preachers should use simple words. J.C. Ryle explains why:1
The second hint I would give is this—Try to use in all your sermons, as far as you can—simple WORDS. In saying this, however, I must explain myself. When I talk of simple words, I do not mean words of only one syllable, or words which are purely Saxon. I cannot in this matter agree with Archbishop Whately. I think he goes too far in his recommendation of Saxon, though there is much truth in what he says about it. I rather prefer the saying of that wise old heathen Cicero, when he said, that orators should try to use words which are “in daily common use” among the people.
Whether the words are Saxon or not—or of two or three syllables. It does not matter so long as they are words commonly used and understood by the people. Only, whatever you do, beware of what the poor shrewdly call “dictionary” words, that is, of words which are abstract, or scientific, or pedantic, or complicated, or vague, or very long. They may seem very fine, and sound very grand, but they are rarely of any use. The most powerful and forcible words, as a rule, are very short.