In the preaching of the everlasting gospel, the evangelistic sermon is for the sole purpose of making Seventh-day Adventist Christians, thus preparing a people for the coming of Christ and His kingdom. It is one thing to gather a collection of texts, quotations, and clippings, and then read them to an audience, but it is quite another thing to prepare heart-moving sermons on the last warning message to the world, preach them in a way that will stir multitudes, point out transgressions, and cause men to seek a Saviour from sin. As far as the rules of homiletics are concerned, there may be a similarity in the two presentations. But the one is a real sermon, whereas the other is just a hollow echo.
Preparing the Sermon.—What, then, should be the order of preparation and manner of delivery of the evangelistic sermon ? While the introduction should be of such importance as to arouse special interest in what is to follow, it should be short. It is more likely to accomplish its purpose if it is brief. Every preacher has experienced the effect of a long-drawn-out introduction to a narrative ; therefore it should not be difficult for him to understand that the same effect would come from attaching a long introduction to a sermon.
Since the last warning message to the world is based on Scripture, the body of the sermon, or rather the whole sermon—in order to be most effective—should contain no small portion of the Word. There is no substitute for the inspired admonition, "Preach the word." Nothing else in the sermon can give it more power. Nothing else so convinces people of truth. It is the one thing which is desperately lacking in the popular preaching of today, the one thing of which the world is most in need.
The Lord's messenger has made plain what the preaching of the Word will do. "It is the naked truth that like a sharp, two-edged sword cuts both ways. It is this that will arouse those who are dead in trespasses and sins."—"Testimonies," Vol. IX, p. 543. It is by the expounding of the Word that we can expect God's purpose to be accomplished in our preaching, for we read in Isaiah 55:11: "So shall My word be that goeth forth out of My mouth : it shall not return unto Me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereunto I sent it."
Knowing the effect of the Word on its hearers, one should make every effort to arrange the Scriptures, illustrations, and thoughts of the sermon as to make more plain and powerful the theme of the topic to be presented. Scriptures which do not serve to make plainer the truth which the sermon is to reveal should be omitted. Illustrations are of special value in sermons, but if the illustration is thrown in merely to amuse, if it will be remembered instead of the truth which it is designed to enforce, it is better to leave it out.
Some time ago I read of an aged minister who said to a young man who was about to occupy his pulpit, "You will get along well if you will say your best things first." Of course, something should be said in the beginning which will arouse interest, but how can such a procedure lead to a conclusion which would forever settle all controversy over the question under discussion? In the evangelistic sermon the very opposite should be carried into effect. Every text, quotation, illustration, and argument should grow stronger and more powerful, until the final conclusion nails down the truth of the subject so firmly that it can never be pulled loose.
To illustrate the truth as being nailed down is not an inappropriate figure, for we read in Ecclesiastes 12:10,11, "The preacher sought to find out acceptable words : and that which was written was upright, even words of truth. The words of the wise are . . . as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies." If our evangelists would be more free to drive down the nails of Scripture by the power of the Holy Spirit, more people would be convinced of truth. Even infidels would be startled by the accuracy of fulfilled prophecy, opponents would be stirred by the words of truth, backsliders would be reclaimed, and members of our churches would be more firmly established.
Ministers sometimes so emphasize the winning of people by love instead of argument, that some are almost led to conclude that argument has no part in the sermon. This is a mistake. Argument may and should occupy a large place in the preaching of our message to the world. Argument is merely that form of discourse which has for its purpose the proving of the truth or falsity of a proposition. In the preaching of this message there is an abundance to be proved. Therefore, I inquire how one can teach and preach the doctrines of the remnant church without the use of argument. To use it is to heed the admonition of Scripture, which says, "Prove all things ; hold fast that which is good." Thess. 5:21.
But someone may ask, "Does not the method you are advocating interfere with giving Christ His rightful place in the sermon ?" No, for the stronger the argument and proof set forth in love, the more people will see that they are hopeless and lost and must have a Saviour from sin. The evangelist is to herald the gospel, and he is a success to the extent that he can do it in a way that will save people from their sins. But what is the need of preaching the saving power of Christ, unless he has convinced his listeners that they are sinners and therefore in need of a Saviour?
I am of the opinion that many misunderstand the expression that we are to make Christ the central theme of every sermon. To mention the name of Christ or set forth some of His teachings throughout a sermon, is not my understanding of what is meant by preaching Christ. I might not know how to make Christ the center of every sermon, but it is easy, even natural, to make Him the end, the object, the purpose, of many of my sermons. He should be, and must be, pointed to as the only possibility of putting into practice the instruction imparted by the evangelistic sermon.
Evidently this was Paul's understanding when he wrote in Romans 10:4, "Christ is the end of the law." We read in "Gospel Workers," "Those who preach the last message of mercy should bear in mind that Christ is to be exalted as the sinner's refuge."—Page 158. Regardless of all the arguments that might produce incontestable proof for the binding claims of the law of God, if Christ is not revealed as the only hope of man's obeying the law, preaching is less than worthless, for it has pointed out man's lost condition without giving him any hope.
Pointers on Delivery of the Sermon
The effect of the sermon upon the congregation may depend as much, or more, upon how the sermon is delivered as upon its contents and logical preparation. Therefore how should it be preached?
No matter how skillfully the sermon may have been outlined and written, do not read it, for that will most certainly cause it to lose much of its force. The present tendency of Seventh-day Adventist ministers to read their sermons is to be deplored. I would go a step further and say, If there is any temptation to depend on your outline while preaching, do not take it into the pulpit.
My pastoral training teacher, W. R. French, who has a keen knowledge of the Scriptures and the ability to quote them, taught his students to prepare an outline, but not to use it while delivering the message. Some of the students asked, 'Suppose we should forget the outline ?" Elder French's ready reply was, "You will not forget it a second time." I have put this advice into practice, and for ten years I have not laid out an outline while preaching a sermon. I believe this has given me a degree of freedom in preaching that I would not otherwise have had. Of course it is better to go on a crutch than not to go at all, but those who have no need of a crutch can make faster progress than those who have to use one.
The sermon should generally range from thirty to forty-five minutes in length. It is better that it be too short than too long.
The evangelistic sermon should have in it the fire of the Holy Spirit. One has remarked that if the pulpit is on fire, people will come out to see it burn. I truly believe that many whose hearts are melted by this type of preaching will be caused to walk in the light which shines from the burning pulpit. We do not have a tame message to bear to the world. It is really pitiful to see a dead preacher giving a powerful message to people who are dead in sins. Mrs. E. G. White was moved to write :
"My heart is filled with anguish when I think of the tame messages borne by some of our ministers, when they have a message of life and death to bear. The ministers are asleep ; the lay members are asleep; and a world is perishing in sin."—"Testimonies," Vol. VIII, p. 37.
As in the preparation of the sermon, so with its delivery. Every effort should be put forth to make the truth simple and plain. Do not feel complimented when people listen to your sermon and say, "That was certainly a deep sermon." But when they say, "That was the plainest sermon I have ever heard," you may feel that you have attained to at least a degree of success as an evangelist. The words of a well-known writer among us will make forceful the value of making plain the message the sermon is to carry :
"It is the very highest eloquenCe to make things plain. It takes very little learning to make easy things appear hard, but to make hard things easy is the very highest art of good preaching. The most forceful preacher or the very best orator is the one who can make himself best understood. Even if we spoke 'with the tongues . . . of angels,' we could do no more than make ourselves intelligible. I am inclined to believe that the greatest learning will manifest itself in the greatest plainness."—"The Divine Art of Preaching," Carlyle B. Haynes, pp. 134, 135.
Some appeals to the lost may dart out all through the discourse, but these should not be made to the extent that the mighty appeal, the application of the conclusion, will be weakened, for it should come at the close of the sermon.
An evangelist may be able to prepare and deliver a single sermon to perfection, but he is not likely to be a great success as an evangelist until he has the entire series of doctrinal topics organized in his mind as one great, mighty sermon, with Christ as the end, purpose, and object.