Avoiding Overdoing Details
By W.A. Spicer
Many years ago I got a lesson as I listened while a brother presented that thrilling theme of Daniel two. I saw where he made a mistake, which I suppose he has never made since. He got into the details of describing the city of Babylon until he found himself left with time all too scant to press home the lesson of the theme that to this day stirs the hearts of the hearers.
We have all had similar experiences, perhaps. It is good, yes, essential, to have for ourselves this background of detail. Babylon ought to be a real place to us, as pictured in all possible sources, from the ancient Greek writers to the story of the latest excavations. We ought to be able to shut our eyes any moment, and summon the ancient scenes before us — the two-leaved gates, the chariots driving on the tops of the broad walls, the great processions marching in from Borsippa and along the high Procession Street to the central shrine of Babylonian worship. But all these things we cannot tell. We need the background in order to give in fewest words to the hearers one flash-light picture of the ancient capital.
So on through history, it must be just a thumb-nail sketch, as it were, and all the time a pressing in of the gospel truth which is the one great theme in setting forth the lesson of the prophecy. But we need the background for our own satisfaction, and in order to make the descriptions brief and pointed.
Surely we will study the details. Personally, I love to do it. In leisure moments over a period of I think twenty years, for instance, I used to turn to my notes on the Lombards for my own satisfaction, wishing to trace the sure footprints of their trail into the empire in time to be among the ten kingdoms of Daniel seven — in a time earlier than the heaviest modern historical writers allow. What of it? Of course in preaching or writing on Daniel seven I could never attempt to go into the details of the evidence, the last link of which I never clinched to my own satisfaction until a new translation of Procopius was brought out eight or ten years ago. But when I say Lombards and pass on, I like to have in the background of my own conviction the footprints of those tribal wanderers; but not for detail use, unless perhaps at some time when chatting with a history teacher or a worker who has gone over similar ground.
For the background of our own experience, let us study, study, study, as we find opportunity; but in telling the message, let us avoid overburdening the minds of the hearers with details that they can never carry in their memory, to such an extent as really to divert their minds from the great main-line theme that must be supreme in all the preaching of the message.
But how much detail? Well, individual judgment and temperament and good sense and the experience of the audience must be the guides, with none of us sitting by being critical as we listen to the speaker. However, it is a fact that by overloading the sermon with too much historical detail and introducing a great variety of points in one address, we may easily impress people with the idea that we thoroughly know the subject, when really we are not teaching them very much. That is a mistake that some of us have made, doubtless, more than once in our lives. We do want to use every sermon or Bible study hour to give the people meat in due season, that will feed their souls.
Washington, D. C.
The True Preacher
By Frederick Griggs
The rightful objective in public speaking is to move the mind of the hearers in such a way as to induce them to understand and act in accordance with the message given. In order for this to be possible, the preacher must believe his message; he must feel that what he is saying is, first of all, a matter of intense vital import to him. There must be not only mental conviction and assent to the theme presented, but the heart itself must be so consumed with the message as to send forth that silent heart appeal which will cause the hearers to think, to be convinced, and to respond.
No sermon becomes effective without a fresh baptism of the Holy Spirit. It matters not how many times a preacher may present the same theme, it should always be made new and fresh by prayer and study. It is a wise plan to prepare new notes for each sermon. This preparation calls for study to adapt the sermon to the needs of the audience.
Some years ago, when I was connected with Union College, a prominent platform speaker came to the college to fill an appointment in our lecture course. We were talking together in my office a short time before the lecture was to begin, and he asked me many questions about the school, the students, and his prospective audience. In the midst of the conversation I was called out of the office for a few moments, and on my return I found this man so deeply engrossed in thought that, for some time, he did not notice me. When he did observe that I had entered the room, he apologized for his silence, saying that he had been intent on studying what he was to say to the audience. He further stated that, while he had given that same lecture more than thirteen hundred times, he always found it necessary to give study to the subject before presenting it, in order that he himself might have a fresh inspiration, and that what he said might be of special value to his audience.
A lasting impression was made on my mind by this incident; far if those who are termed " popular lecturers " find it worth while to remake each lecture, so that it becomes new and applicable to the occasion, how much more necessary is it for the preacher of the gospel to study to show himself approved unto God in the application of principles which lead to success!
When I was a boy, a dear old Seventh-day Adventist preacher came to our home. I well remember the time when this minister showed me his sermon notes, and how nearly worn out those pieces of paper were. Evidently, he had preached those same sermons that he was giving in our church, from those same notes, until they had become so thumbed and torn as to be almost beyond use. One of Solomon's comparisons of a slothful man is that of a door turning upon its hinges. The door always turns in precisely the same way. It can move in no other manner. Now it is possible for the preacher to become a slothful preacher, and the sameness of his messages may well be compared to a door turning upon its hinges. The same sermons, preached in the same way, from the same notes, for so long a time as to wear the notes out, might be rendered as effectively by a phonograph as by the living preacher. God could employ mechanical means for proclaiming His messages. He could make the stones speak; He could have preaching trees by the side of the road or in the town square. But He does not employ this method. He in-trusts His messages to living human beings, that the messages themselves may be filled with life and power.
The preacher who is not intensely stirred by the message which he is to deliver, is not the kind of preacher that God wants. Jeremiah was so stirred by the message which he was called to deliver, that he said, " His word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was wearied with forbearing, and I could not stay." Concerning the passion of soul which Christ experienced, we read, " The zeal of Thine house hath eaten me up; " and Paul said, " Woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel! " Such is the strong emotion, the impelling force, which attends true preaching, and leads the hearers to cry out, " What shall we do? "
It is to be noted that powerful speakers have been not only deep students, but constant students of that about which they speak. They know the facts, and have an absorbing appreciation of their importance; and they also have the spirit of these facts. Facts are important, but without the spirit they are as dead as is the body when the spirit has departed. It is through much prayer and continuous study of each sermon that the true preacher is enabled to achieve results.