A minister's wife whose custom it was to ask her husband each week end, ."What is the subject of your sermon?" unthinkingly varied her question one morning, playing havoc with her husband's peace of mind. She asked, "What is the object of your sermon?"
That is the main question. What is your objective? What are you trying to do when you preach? What do you hope to accomplish? Are you preaching for a verdict, or are you merely "occupying the hour"?
We are heralds, messengers, not essayists or mere lecturers. We have a practical end in view. Our sermons should be pointed, direct, definite. Let us guard against the danger of becoming so engrossed in a subject that we lose sight of our object. The essay or the lecture has to do with the activity of the intellect, the imagination, or the emotions. But in the expounding of the Scriptures and the proclaiming of divine truth, whatever contributory part may be played by the intellect or emotions, we are dealing with a divine revelation which calls for the activity of the will,' and the conformity of the life.
A true preacher will be like a lawyer pleading before a jury. I have watched brilliant and successful lawyers in the Royal Courts of Justice, London, seeking with all the fervor of their forensic skill to win favorable decisions for their clients. To see a lawyer pleading for the life of one accused of murder is a mighty object lesson for the soul-winning preacher. With logical argument, powerful eloquence, and moving appeal he strives for one thing—the favorable verdict of the jury. Without that he has failed, no matter how wonderful his speeches may be. His success is measured by the number of verdicts he wins.
We should ever regard our preaching as a means to an end, and not an end in itself. We are out for souls. We must not be satisfied with anything short of definite decision for Christ and His truth.
A successful sermon reaches out after a soul. It provokes a crisis in a man's thinking, and calls for a verdict.
A businessman visited a great city church during a business trip. After the service he congratulated the minister on his service and sermon. "But," said the manufacturer, "if you were my salesman, I'd discharge you. You got ray attention by your appearance, voice, and manner ; your prayer, reading, and logical discourse aroused my interest; you warmed my heart with a desire for what you preached; and then you stopped, without asking me to do something about it In business, the important thing is to get men to sign on the dotted line."
It is at this point that so many preachers fail to reap the full harvest. Once a man was wounded by a warrior who "shot a bow at a venture," but more men are wounded when archers and preachers take deliberate aim.
"The words of Christ were as sharp arrows, which went to the mark and wounded the hearts of His hearers. Every time He addressed the people, whether His audience was large or small, His words took saving effect. upon the soul of someone. No message that fell from His lips was lost. Every word He spoke placed a new responsibility upon those who heard. And today the ministers who in sincerity are giving the last message of mercy to the world, relying on God for strength, need not fear that their efforts will be in vain. Although no human eye can see the path of the arrow of truth, who can say that the arrow has not sped to the mark, and pierced the souls of those who listened?"—Gospel Workers, pp. 150, 151.
The sermon that wins a soul for God is, like the Master, "filled with compassion." It will throb with life. It will pulsate with love. It will illumine with light. It will have in it what was in Christ's eyes when He looked on Peter. It will have in it what was in Christ's voice when He stood weeping over Jerusalem. And whether it be warning or entreaty, the terrors of God's judgments or the forgiveness of His mercy, the pathos of a suffering, beseeching, pursuing love will bathe it all. It will be a message from the heart of God through the heart of the preacher to the heart of the hearer.
Let it never be forgotten that souls are before us every time we preach—sinful, unsaved, perishing, lost souls. Brethren of the ministry, "throw out the lifeline"! Preach for a verdict!