Essentials of Sermon Building

Never was there such need and demand for the clear, logical, persuasive exposition of the true doctrines of the Bible as exists today.

J. L. Shuler

Never was there such need and demand for the clear, logical, persuasive exposition of the true doctrines of the Bible as exists today. These true teachings of the Word, in the right setting for this hour, are all contained in the special message of Revelation 14. Every Sev­enth-day Adventist minister should be prepared to give that solemn message to this enlightened generation with a power, understanding, and force that will bring conviction to the heart as well as assent to the mind.

I fear that there is much writing, preaching, and teaching in our ranks that fails to "hit the nail on the head," as the expression runs. A hundred blows around the nail will not sink it into the wood. It is the hard blow on the head that drives it in.

Likewise, one minister may labor hard in his preaching, discoursing in a most earnest and ardent manner, yet the hearers be not stirred by his presentation; while another minister, apparently with little effort, is able to move the people toward the desired end. The difference often lies in the sureness with which the effort is directed toward the great objective.

One lawyer will weary the court all day in talking all around the point on which the legal decision rests. Another lawyer spends all day in discovering that point, talks five minutes to the point, and wins the case.

The gist of every really good sermon can be condensed into one sentence. Until you can put your sermon into one complete sentence, you have not mastered your subject; you are lack­ing the essential central idea or main issue. Without this one central idea as the essence of all that you are going to say, you are much like a man beating the air, or like a hunter shooting his gun into the air and still expecting to fill his bag with game.

The man who aims at nothing is almost sure to hit it. A preacher should always know at what he is aiming. Many preachers ramble around in their talk, never making real points stand out in the minds of their hearers.

This matter of presenting and holding to the principal issue is one of the prime requisites of forceful preaching. There is a central point in every subject we are called upon to present. The forceful and successful preacher will focus his effort on that issue.

Without the ability to analyze a given sub­ject and discover the essential central point, a man will waste his energy in blind endeavor, like a fly trying to find escape through the upper half of a raised window. The fly bumps along from pane to pane until, by accident, it discovers the opening—the only direction in which its efforts at escape can be used to some purpose. The aim of analysis is to economize effort. It is like knowing the combination to the safe, and so being able to open it intelli­gently, rather than by some long-drawn-out, hit-and-miss method.

Preaching a sermon without an outline is like trying to build a house without a plan. The former will sound as the latter looks. And before you can have a suitable plan for your house, you must know what kind of house you need and are able to build. Before we plan a sermon on the great subjects contained in the message, we need to consider carefully the most essential points on the subject that the people need to know. We should ask ourselves, What truths from the Bible should I make plain in order to offset wrong notions or erroneous con­ceptions that are commonly entertained on this subject?

For example, if we are planning to preach on the manner of Christ's second coming, care­ful thought will show us at once that among other essential points, (1) we must present pos­itive evidence from the Word as to the literal­ness of that coming, to offset the modernistic idea that would reduce the coming of Christ to a figurative event; (2) we must also show that it will be a universally observed event by both the righteous and the wicked, and thus offset the secret rapture theory, as proclaimed by the majority of Fundamentalist ministers.

Before we prepare a sermon, we should there­fore ask ourselves, Just what do I wish to ac­complish by the presentation of this subject? What proposition do I wish to establish? To what conclusion do I desire to bring my hear­ers? What do I wish to move them to do? Use the clearest, most direct texts and points that will achieve this central purpose or es­tablish your primary idea. We should use in the sermon that which bears directly on the central idea and the main issue, and exclude all else. "The gifted man is he who sees the essential point, and leaves all the rest aside in surplusage."

One reason many sermons fail to accomplish much is because they lose their force in the by-paths. Keep on the main issue highway of your subject. I have never heard of any man's getting lost on a straight road. The bypaths are often so easy, so inviting, that it takes res­olute effort to avoid being sidetracked. But remember, the man who keeps on the main highway is the one who gets to his destination.

In the building of the sermon each successive fact or point bearing on the main issue should be weightier, more conclusive, more persuasive than the preceding, so that all tend toward the vital conclusion. Each additional point thus becomes like the successive blows of the ham­mer that drive home the "nail."

Many sermons are spoiled by the disjointed construction of their respective parts. I have heard some sermons where the preacher tried to put the roof on before the side walls were reared. The well-planned sermon progresses naturally from one point to another, introduc­ing each point in its natural order. Its dif­ferent parts dovetail together, forming one com­plete unit. Its different points should proceed like an easy flight of stairs, by which one can readily pass upward to the higher floor.

Perhaps I might illustrate what I mean about •keeping to the main issue and coming directly to the point. Take a sermon on the prophecy of Daniel 2. Obviously the central idea of a sermon on Daniel 2, is to show that this metal image is a picture of the history of the world, that we are now living in the very last period of this prophecy, and that the call of this hour is for each to prepare for the imminent coming of God's eternal kingdom.

I have heard some of our ministers speak on Daniel 2, who consumed the first fifteen to thirty minutes of the sermon with all the de­tails about the wise men of Babylon and the king's demand regarding his dream. The au­dience was half wearied before the speaker reached the explanation of the image. And the time for the sermon was all but gone before they could make the application of the proph­ecy as to the nearness of the end.

How much better it would have been if they had opened the sermon with something like this: "The course of this world's history for the past twenty-five hundred years, from the days of Nebuchadnezzar, king of ancient Baby­lon, down even to this present year 1933, has been exactly in accordance with prophetic out­line found in the second chapter of Daniel." Then raise the question as to how this outline came to be given. Next read Daniel 2:29, and in a few words tell how the king was wonder­ing what would happen in the future, and God gave him a dream to reveal this to him. Then "immediately raise the question as to what was the dream? Lastly read Daniel 2:31-35, de-Scribe the dream, and probeed with the proph­et's interpretation. In this way we are ex­plaining the image within ten minutes after we have begun speaking, and in thirty or forty minutes we can drive forcefully through to the Main issue—the nearness of God's kingdom, and the call to get ready to meet the King.

Long sermons need to be cut in two. From thirty to forty minutes is long enough as a rule. Merely because our people will listen for an hour or more is no excuse for long sermons. Why cut down the margin of safety? God has made man with such a margin of safety that he can live with one kidney, but no one would choose. to do so unless disease made it neces­sary. It is not for us to see how long we can preach and the people still listen to us, but rather to study so that we can present to them the essential points in thirty or forty minutes. In this nervous age we need to learn to come right to the point and be concise.

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J. L. Shuler

October 1933

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