The sermon is the foundation of all ministerial approach and appeal to the group mind. Hence, its paramount place in the study and labor of the gospel ministry. We are ordained, charged, and commissioned to preach. How, then, shall we preach, and when and where? What are the requisites, the limitations, and the dangers? The suggestions which follow are not exhaustive, but are exceedingly practical, and represent the sincere convictions of successful ministers.
L. E. F.
The Foundation of the Sermon
By M.L. Andreasen
The ministry is such a high calling and the privilege of standing before a congregation such an exalted one, that no minister should be content merely to " occupy the time," or " occupy the pulpit." If he has no message from God, he should not attempt to deliver one. If he has a message, he should BO present it that there will be no doubt in the minds of the audience as to what the message is, nor as to his call from God to deliver it.
A true sermon calls for thorough preparation of heart and mind. A man may deliver a beautiful oration after having studied the art of elocution; he may give a finished address after having gathered and arranged his material; he may lecture convincingly if he has an intellectual grasp of his subject; but no man can preach until he has first lived his 'sermon. The warp and woof of the sermon must be woven into the life of the preacher before he can speak effectively. This constitutes the difference between the ordinary address and the sermon.
Witnessing is one essential element in preaching. " Ye are My witnesses," says the Lord. Isa. 43: 10. " Ye shall receive power, . . . and ye shall be My witnesses." Acts 1:8, A. R. V. The apostles witnessed. Acts 4:33. They were In fact ordained to be witnesses.
A witness is one who testifies to that of which he has personal knowledge. He does not report hearsay, or what he has read, or what he thinks. His testimony consists of that which he has seen with his own eyes or heard with his own ears. All other evidence is ruled out. Hence we find in the Bible the record of " that which we have seen and heard." 1 John 1:1, 3. Christ, who is Himself the faithful and true Witness, testifies: " We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen." Rev. 3:14; John 3:11.
So the minister is called to be a witness, and his preaching must largely consist of witnessing. If his subject is prayer, it should be more than a theoretical discourse on the need and possibilities of communion with God. It must have a background in the speaker's own life, or it " abideth alone." If it is conversion, or sanctification, or preparation to meet the Lord, or faith, or love, or any other virtue, let the preacher first live it, then preach it. Let not the glutton speak on health reform, the penurious on liberality, or the licentious on purity, until he has had demonstrated in his own life the power of God. Let him live his sermon first, then he can witness to divine power provided to transform lives. We would therefore repeat that the first requisite in a sermon is the preparation of the speaker's heart and life for witnessing.
The second requisite which must not be neglected is a thorough intellectual preparation. Even as the heart and life must be prepared, so the mind must gather, classify, evaluate, arrange, and assimilate all the facts and factors affecting the subject. A preacher is a teacher as well as a witness, and should be an authority on the subject he attempts to treat. He must have available all the facts necessary to a clear understanding of the subject. These facts he must classify in orderly array, putting each one in the group where it belongs, and seeing to it that there is no discrepancy between it and all the other acquired facts. Then they must be evaluated, and those that are not of importance for the subject in hand be relegated to the rear. Having thus in hand all the important facts, he must arrange them in logical order and sequence for the most effective presentation, giving due attention to unity, coherence, emphasis, transitions, and climax. And last of all, he must assimilate all these facts, make them a part of himself, and live in and with them.
Before taking up in detail the method of preparing a sermon and its different parts, it may be well to consider what a sermon is not.
A sermon is not the recital of a series of unrelated facts. One man may dump a load of bricks on the street, another a load of sand, a third a load of cement. This is the kind of material of which a house is built; but a pile of bricks is not a house. There must be a. plan, there must be organization, and each brick must be put in its place, before a structure is realized. The difference between a mob and an army lies in organization. The difference between a rambling talk and a sermon also lies in its organization.
A sermon is not the reading of a series of quotations. This is good in itself, if the quotations are appropriate and the person a good reader, and we would not be understood to disparage this practice; but such reading is not preaching. Let it be done at times, but do not let it constitute the major part of the public work.
Preaching is not " sermonizing." Have clearly in mind the difference between the two. There is altogether too much sermonizing done to-day, and altogether too little real preaching.
A sermon is not an exhibition of the speaker's ability as an orator, a logician, a debater, an entertainer, a clown, or a performer. The preacher is not an actor, nor the rostrum a stage.
A sermon is not an occasion for public exposure of private wrong. It is not for the purpose of ventilating private interpretations of accepted doctrines. It must never be degraded by making it serve partisan ends.
What, then, is a sermon? It is a presentation of divine truth, spoken with a view of persuasion. It is the message of God to a dying world. It is a voice from heaven calling sinners to repentance. It is God's trumpet call to duty. It is the announcement of the Most High that there is pardon, peace, and power for every troubled soul. It is the proclamation that the debt is paid and reconciliation has been effected. It is the good news of righteousness, holiness, sanctification, redemption, translation, glorification. It is the revelation of God Himself through His own Son, Christ Jesus. Surely the ministry is a high calling, and the privilege of speaking for God an exalted one.
St. Paul, Minn.
By M.H. Schuster
In the preparation and delivery of the sermon, seven cardinal requisites should be kept in mind:
1. Textual Fidelity.— This, as we commonly express it, is " sticking to one's text." Have you not had the experience of hearing a minister speak for a whole hour, and when some one asked, " What was his subject? " you were obliged to say, " I really do not know: he touched on so many things "? A word of caution at this point is also appropriate, and that is that great care should be exercised never to put upon a text a construction or forced meaning. which Inspiration never intended to convey.
2. Unity.— What is this quality? First, note that it is not sameness or, singleness of idea; it does not forbid variety, diversity, or contrast in the subordinate parts. Nature's unity is full of variety. Neither is it that singleness which the dialectician expresses by unicity. Unity is the combination of parts properly related into one whole. Unity of discourse requires not only singleness of a dominant subject, but also singleness of practical impression. All subject matter presented should have a direct relationship to the main thought, and should serve only to illuminate or illustrate it. Too many explanatory topics mar the beauty of unity.
3. Evangelical Tone.— This is a very essential element for the effective proclamation of the gospel in which " mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other." Evangelical tone qualifies both the matter and the manner of the sermon. It would be difficult to define this quality in better terms than those of the apostles, when they so frequently refer to " preaching Christ " or " preaching Christ crucified." By these terms we do not understand that the disciples meant to declare that the only facts they ever recited were those that took place on Calvary, nor that they limited themselves exclusively to the one doctrine of vicarious atonement for sin. The abstracts of their sermons, as recorded in the New Testament, show that this was not the intent. But we do find that the facts and the doctrine form the central theme of their teaching, the focal point in which all beams of divine light and truth converge. The law must be preached as a rule of conviction, that leads to the cross, and also as a rule of obedience, which derives from the cross the power to obey. On the authority of the spirit of prophecy we are admonished to " lift up Jesus . . . in sermon, in song, in prayer. . . . Let the science of salvation be the burden of every sermon."—" Gospel Workers," page 160.
Evangelical tone embraces that quality which we may denote as unction.
Unction does not expel intellectual activity, authority, or will, but it superfuses these elements of force with love, pity, tenderness, zeal, and seriousness, such as the theme of redemption should shed upon the soul of a ransomed sinner. To affect unction artificially is manifestly impossible. It is a quality not merely intellectual or sentimental, but pre-eminently spiritual. It cannot be acquired by the study of sacred rhetoric, or by imitation of others who seem to have it. Stage artistry should be avoided. Story telling is not unction, and concerning this there is positive instruction: " Ministers should not bring amusing stories into their preaching. . . . The minister who mixes story telling with his discourses is using strange fire."—" Testimonies to Ministers," p. 318. Evangelical tone, or unction, can be acquired only by prayer, sanctification, and dedication.
4. Instructiveness.— Not necessarily instructive in the sense of• preparing the sermon in the affected style of the day, but a sermon which is full of thought-producing statements and rich in the information imparted. Arduous and continuous study and preparation are essential in order to acquire this cardinal requisite. One cannot depend simply upon the inspiration of the hour, but must give heed to the injunction of Paul to Timothy: " Give attendance to reading. . - . Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all." 1 Tim. 4:13-15. If any group of ministers need to be well informed, cultured, and mighty in the Scriptures, it is the Seventh-day Adventist ministers.
5. Movement,— The sermon should be characterized by proper movement. There is no work of the mind which so clearly possesses the attributes of life as the sermon, for the living soul pours its own energies directly into it.
Motion is the sign and test of life. The form which moves not, is dead. When we remember that the true object of the sermon is to impel the hearers to action, through the incitement of their own rational emotions, we can see the necessity of movement in the sermon. If the sermon does not succeed in transferring the hearer's mind to a new position, or a new practical conclusion, or at least cause the mind to renew a position once held, it has failed of its purpose. The sermon should be like a river. Sometimes the river flows more rapidly than at other times, but it is never stagnant. Now it glides quietly between grassy banks, again it ripples with cheerful glee over the pebbles, and presently it rushes like an arrow and clothes its mighty waves in foam as it dashes against opposing rock; and at last it sweeps with deep and silent force into the sea.
6. Point.— If the sermon is to be effective, it must have point; and this in turn depends upon the prominence of the cardinal thoughts and the perspicuous subordination of the rest to their support. Many sermons are lacking in point. They possess no valuable and practical truth of cardinal weight, or if these qualities are present to a certain extent, they are not made to stand out so as to reach the apprehension of the listeners. No decided impression is made by such a sermon; no truth finds lodgment in the conscience of the people, and they leave the service with a vague comprehension of aving listened to much good but aimless talk. No rule of rhetoric is needed to enable the distressed child to make the point of his petition yrominent. The minister must be filled with burden and agony for perishing and lost souls; he must have a definite, absorbing purpose, a message to deliver, a, result to obtain, which, if unaccomplished, will cause grief. Only such holy passion will give point to his sermon.
7. Order.— The poet states that " order is heaven's first law; " therefore in the preparation of a sermon attention must be given to placing the component parts each in its proper place. A heap of stone and timber is not an architectural structure of ,beauty, but an unsightly mass of rubbish. The same is true of a heap of thoughts, without proper order and relationship. Order promotes recollection of the discourse, by both the speaker and the hearer. The orderly framing together of the beams of a ship gives strength to its hull and impact to its beak. Let the ideas which ;present themselves in the mind on a given subject be systematized, and arranged accordingly, either in the mind or on paper. As this is done, other connected ideas will speedily rank themselves in their proper line, and soon a complete outline is developed.
The Sermon Outline
The properly organized sermon outline should aim at three divisions: Introduction, Body, Conclusion. The introduction of the sermon should be brief — not over five minutes. Its legitimate scope is to announce the subject and define the terms involved. The introduction should never be such as to arouse expectations which cannot or will not be met in the concluding divisions.
The body of the sermon is the most important of the three divisions. Here the main ideas to be discussed are brought together, co-ordinated in the proper sequence, and explanatory ideas subordinated. This part of the sermon necessarily takes the largest portion of the time, but should be kept within bounds, and permit of five minutes for the third section.
In the conclusion there is a summing up of the arguments and the making of the appeal. Here, if anywhere, the emotions should be touched. The minister's soul must become fired with the force of the truth which he has developed. The quality of unction should suffuse the end of the sermon, and cause the hearers to accept and to act. But this emotion must be genuine, not assumed. It must be spiritual, as the zeal of heavenly love, and disclose itself spontaneously and unannounced, as the gushing forth of a fountain, which will not be suppressed. The true and only source of this glowing emotion to give effectiveness to the sermon is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
Jamaica, N. Y.
Organization of a Sermon*
By A.E. Lickey
In the matter of organizing a sermon, it is well to give attention first of all to the length of the sermon. As a general rule, the forty-five-minute length should be the standard. Most men who pass the forty-five-minute mark, lose by so doing; and there are many men who should not speak forty-five minutes. Special occasions, special audiences, may permit an exception to the rule; but any minister who preaches regularly at one place should be on guard against breaking over this time limit.
Another matter of primary importance in the organization of a sermon is the most effective means for interesting individuals of all ages. I believe we must learn to be more simple and direct in all our preaching, recognizing the principle that what interests the young will also interest those of mature years. Experience has led me to the conclusion that "the corner in every sermon for the children " is better than a special service for the children preceding the sermon. This latter plan, which is in use to some extent, segregates the preaching service as an occasion not suited for chil-
Presented at the Central Union Institute.
dren. The " corner " in the regular sermon leads to anticipation of something just for the children as well as for grown folks. [A full round table on this important question will appear in a later issue.— Editor.]
In presenting the following outline for convenience in sermon organization, I wish to call particular attention to the section on " Conclusion." It is my definite conviction that, as Seventh-day Adventist preachers, when we meet with failure, it is due to a very large extent to not giving the proper attention to the conclusion of the sermon. At the critical point, when we should reach hearts with saving truth in the most definite way, we fail because our planning and organizing of the sermon does not provide the effective point for stopping. Personally, I deeply lament the many otherwise acceptable sermons I have preached, which were a failure because there was no definite point in mind for closing.
a. To secure attention.
b. To prepare hearers to grasp
c. clearly the sermon itself.
2. Source Material.
a. Text, context, setting, etc.
b. Relation of subject to other subjects preceding or to follow,
d. A story to the point.
e. Yourself Beware of making yourself the introductory material. There may be occasion for this at times, but BEWARE! ! It may become a gpli pernicious habit.
f. Apologies — Beware!!
3. Desirable Qualities.
a. Brevity— The introduction must not be long. An audience sighs when informed twenty minutes after the preacher has begun that he is now ready to launch into the subject itself, anticipating a long discourse. Don't make the house all porch.
b. Appropriateness — Do not be too emphatic or bombastic or dramatic. You have often had the experience of meeting a person who at first made a distinct impression as to ability, but in whom you were later disappointed. Too much emphasis at the beginning of a sermon leads your audience to expect too much, and you are unable to rise to meet this expectation. Do not strike too high a note at first.
c. Variety — Don't get in a rut. Be fresh, but not foolish or theatrical.
1. Plan: Logical and Coherent.
a. Analysis — The careless student is apt not to analyze sufficiently; the thorough student is apt to be superanalytical. Analyze, but do not overanalyze so that there is no animation and freedom in your address. Give the Spirit a chance to work.
b. What, Who, Where, When, Why, How, etc.—Interrogatives around which the discussion-can often be built.
c. Narration and Exposition — In sermons where a chapter or certain verses are explained, as in Daniel 2, it is easy to permit the mere narration of the story to consume the time. Select certain outstanding points in the narrative, that the people may take away with them definite ideas.
d. Illustration — Give the audience a few windows to look through. While we are not to be noted as story-tellers, let us remember the parables of the Saviour, and, recognize that a principle of sacred truth carried to the heart on the wings of a story is apt to lodge in the heart for some time.
a. Too Great Exhaustiveness — As myriads of thoughts come to you in study, remember that to have a few good thoughts taken home by your hearers is better than a thousand left at the church. The earnest student is apt to be overexhaustive. Remember that we preach not for the mere pleasure of giving people the results of our study, but we preach to get truth into people's hearts and to connect the soul with God.
1. Plan — Let us definitely plan the conclusion. We grant the Spirit of God right of way at all times, yet we signally fail in our preparation, and consequently in our delivery, when we do not plan the conclusion. As Seventh-day Adventist preachers, we fail here more than at any other point in sermon preparation and delivery. Let us pray and plan for this crisis point in our preaching.
a. Resume — A brief summarizing of the main points in the discourse is often effective. However, take care that you do not preach the sermon over again.
b. Application — The conclusion gives opportunity oftentimes to make more specific personal application of some outstanding point of the sermon than during the regular discussion.
c. Appeal — Certainly the conclusion affords an opportunity of which we should always take advantage to make a definite appeal to the hearts of the listeners. But it is almost a sin to appeal and appeal when your own heart is not moved by the appeal. Look out for the dead, lengthy appeals.
d. Closing words -
(1) Your text.
(2) Leading thought.
(3) Some scripture.
(5) Words of song.
(6) Appropriate illustration.
a. Length In concluding the sermon, especially when the sermon has been effectively given, there seem to appear in the mental heavens many beautiful meteoric thoughts. Take care that you do not give too much attention to them, carrying your audience past the point where they thought you were to stop. You lead them to wish that you would arrive at your destination, as you seem to have passed the• real termination of the sermon.
b. Consistency — If you promise to conclude with " this scripture," then do it. We all have failed along this line. Let us remember that we are preachers of truth; let us tell the truth.
c. Variety — Again, do not get in a rut. Close different sermons in varying ways.
* Presented at the Atlantic Union Ministerial Institute.