Nothing so palls on the ears and minds of an audience as to have to listen to sermon after sermon that is drab, colorless, and dry. And nothing so pleases a congregation as a preacher who is able to speak each time in a colorful and versatile manner. One is a dry desert ; the other is an oasis with wells, fronded palms, and cooling shade. The opportunities are the same in each case, but the treatment and approach of the subject are different. One confines himself wholly to the subject matter, genuinely believing that decorations in preaching are unessential. The other approaches the subject matter believing that interest and embellishments will greatly enhance the sermon and will paint a roseate picture on the minds of the hearers.
Perhaps the greatest aid to colorful preaching consists in mastering the art of properly illustrating the sermon, with not too few or too many, but just enough, illustrations. These must bear directly on the sermon theme, else they will obstruct the sermon. There can be no doubt that for the purpose of teaching, one illustration is worth a thousand abstractions. They are the windows of speech. Through them truth shines. Ordinary minds fail to perceive truth clearly unless it is presented to them through this medium.
Regarding the value of illustrations in preaching, the late Theodore Cuyler, one of the great preachers of the past century, said: "I have generally found that the most intellectual auditors prefer to hear simple and Scriptural preaching. The late Judge John McLean, of the United States Supreme Court, once said to me, 'I was glad to hear you give that solemn personal incident in your discourse last night. Ministers nowadays are getting above telling a story in a sermon, but I like it.'"
To be effective, the illust ation must be brief, well thought through, and must move along rapidly. A story should be racy, vigorous, and short. The point in question should be arrived at quickly. Then the homily should move on from point to point to the climax and finish. The preacher who has grown adept at illustrating his sermons will seldom have a sleepy clock-watching congregation. His discourses are fresh with dews of interest, and the attention seldom flags.
Colorful preaching calls for versatility. The versatile preacher has a reportoire of many well-rounded sermons on divergent themes. Brilliant speakers wear out rapidly with their hearers if they pursue one theme relentlessly. Such repetition is painful, and the hearers long for something else. Happy the minister who follows a program of diversified preaching, having in his quiver, arrows of doctrine, Bible prophecy, exhortation, and spiritual themes. That servant will endure with his audience and long be in demand. Variety is most restful in preaching, as in all else. The normal mind cfaves it and receives it gladly.
A preacher of my acquaintance follows a unique method with great success. In the front of his church, near the organ, there is a neat and attractive bulletin board which announces "Next Sabbath's Sermon." The benefits of this method are threefold: (I) It builds interest in the sermon. (2) It enhances his ability to formulate attractive sermon titles. (3) It methodically keeps him from repeating himself on favorite themes. His example is worth emulating.
In the magnificent Field Museum on Michigan Avenue in Chicago, a new wing, recently opened, depicts marine life in natural colors of breath-taking vividness. When other corridors of display are empty, this one teems with spectators. The colorful presentations make the difference. In our preaching may we not strive for colorful presentations? Properly illustrating the sermon and being versatile in our preaching will take us a long way toward that end.