Every thoughtful preacher gives painstaking care to the plan of his sermon, whether it be held in the mind or placed in written form. However, unless the sermon is worked out into a written outline before it is given in the desk, there is a tendency toward careless preparation, which soon degenerates into wandering, pointless preaching. Therefore the preacher who wishes to maintain a high standard of pulpit work should give thorough, specific attention to his sermon outlines.
Outlines visualize the construction, or organization, of the sermon material; and organization makes for clarity and effectiveness in preaching. However excellent the material gathered for the sermon, unless it is given form, it may not be helpful to the congregation. An accumulation of cement, brick, and lumber on a vacant lot may awaken curiosity as to what is to be erected; but not until the architect draws his plans, and the building materials take the form of an edifice, do the passers-by see that there is a church, a residence, or a bank. The preacher should have a "blue print" of the sermon to be delivered, and he should build his materials into a sermon which will be readily understood and long remembered for its clarity and beauty.
Another requisite to good preaching is effectiveness. Here again organization is essential. There is a vast difference between the effectiveness of an organized army and an unorganized mob. The wise preacher marshals and organizes his materials for the greatest effectiveness. This largely accounts for the results of our best preachers. The successful evangelist also looks ahead, and plans his entire series of meetings, and each sermon is made to serve effectively in that series.
Since the topical sermon is the simplest to organize, let us begin with this class of discourses. In organizing a sermon, how true the old adage, "Divide and conquer!" Most subjects readily divide into from two to four general divisions. Let us take, for example, the subject, "The Second Coming of Christ." It may be divided thus:
I Will Christ Return to Earth?
II What Will Be the Manner of His Coming?
III What Is the Purpose of His Coming?
Obviously the first division is the best one for opening a discussion of the subject. There are persons in the congregation who are not convinced concerning the event. They must have Scriptural evidence, and this evidence must first be given. But after the proof has been presented, the concepts of Christ's coming are not formed, or are often greatly distorted by previous false teaching on the subject.
To have a right conception of this supremely important event, the manner of Christ's coming must be clearly set forth, with convincing evidence. Much depends upon the way in which this phase of the subject is presented. This division also affords the opportunity to picture to the audience the grandeur, the glory, of this crowning event of redemption. Furthermore, the present is an intensely practical generation. The preacher must touch motives that will move materialistic men and women to see that this subject is vitally practical.
The purpose of Christ's coming, the third and final division, affords the basis for a stirring appeal, which will touch just such motives. The character fitness, the reward of the saints, the deliverance from this world's sorrows and sufferings, the resurrection of loved ones, the glad reunion, the crowning day, the joy of seeing the Redeemer-these touch the vibrant chords of human hearts. On the other hand, a portrayal of the destruction of the wicked, sounds a warning which will not fall lightly on the ears of the sinner.
Attention is either gained or lost in the introductory remarks; and the sermon is made either fruitful or fruitless by the appeal at the close; therefore special thought should be given to the introduction and conclusion to this appealing subject.
Not only are main divisions essential, but the careful preacher will work out his subdivisions-his line of reasoning, his proofs, his illustrations, and the application of his texts. The following suggestive outline of divisions and subdivisions of the subject under consideration will suggest how this may be done:
The Second Coming of Christ
1. Widespread interest in the subject.
2. Large place it occupies in the Scriptures.
I. Will Christ Return to This Earth ?
1. Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied. Jude 14, 15.
2. Job looked forward to the event. Job 19 : 25.
3. The psalmist declares that our God will come. Ps. 50 : 3-5.
4. Our Saviour said, "I will come again." John 14 : 1-3.
5. Angels confirmed the promise. Acts 1 : 9-11.
6. Paul writes that He will appear the second time. Heb. 9 : 28.
II. What Will Be the Manner of His Coming?
1. This same Jesus will so come as ye have seen. Acts 1: 9-11.
a.The same personal Jesus.
b. He was raised a literal, material being. Luke 24 : 36-43.
c. He will come in like manner as He went.
2. He will come visibly in the clouds of heaven. Rev. 1: 7.
3. The righteous and the wicked will see Him come. Rev. 1 : 7 ; Matt. 24 : 30.
4. He will come in glory. Matt. 24 30; Matt. 25 : 31. (Illustrate by the glory of the angel that came to the tomb of Christ.)
III. What Will Be the Purpose of Christ's Coming?
1. He will reward His saints. Rev. 22 : 12.
2. He will bestow the crowns of reward. 2 Tim. 4 : 8 ; 1 Peter 5 : 4. (Compare with the temporal crowns of monarchs.)
3. His coming will be the resurrection day. 1 Thess. 4: 16, 17.
4. It will be the reunion day. 1 Thess. 4: 17. (Caught up together.)
5. The saints will be taken to the mansions prepared for them. John 14 : 2, 3.
6. The wicked will be destroyed by the brightness. 2 Thess. 2 : 8. (Luke 17 : 26-30 ; Rev. 6 : 15-17.)
1. Shall we hear the glad welcome into His presence? or,
2. Will we join the scoffers now, and then join in that wail because of Him ?
"A mere skeleton," someone says. But as the human skeleton prevents the body from sinking down into a mass of helpless flesh and sinews, so the sermon outline gives form and direction to the discourse. It is the preacher's task to cover the sermon skeleton with a comely body. There must be proper amplification-giving the setting of the text used, making the points seem reasonable, illustrating for impressiveness, applying the lesson for edification. There must also be connectives in passing from division to division, from point to point, so that the auditors may easily follow. Above all, the Master must breathe into this body, the sermon, the breath of life, the Holy Spirit, that it may become a living, vibrant message that will turn souls from darkness to light, from the way of death to the pathway of life.