The usefulness of a planned yearly cycle of sermons is based on the necessity of completeness in preaching. It is our task to proclaim the complete divine message. "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, . . . teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you" (Matt. 28: 19, 20).
When taking leave of the elders of the church in Ephesus, the apostle Paul stated that he had neglected no significant part of the gospel in his preaching: "Ye know, . . . how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you" (Acts 20:18-20).
As human beings we have the tendency to cover the subjects we prefer, those with which we are best acquainted. This natural tendency can, however, have the inconvenient result of incomplete preaching, for we may, without realizing it, neglect those subjects that do not engage our immediate interest. These neglected subjects may, however, be useful for the edification of the church.The danger of partial preaching is more easily avoided in churches where several preachers follow one another in the pulpit. Those parts of the teaching aspect of preaching that are lacking or weak in one minister will be presented effectively by one of the other speakers, and in this way the church receives more complete spiritual nourishment. However, when it is necessary for the same minister to hold forth in the same pulpit Sabbath after Sabbath, then it becomes necessary for him to give greater attention to undertaking a broad program of teaching in his preaching, in order to meet the various needs of his congregation. In order to accomplish this comprehensiveness, it is wise to follow a monthly and yearly program of sermons, which, when applied to the various and changing needs of the church, will make it possible for the preacher to cover every phase of spiritual instruction that might be useful for the edification of his parishioners.
In this article we will examine three fundamental types of sermons, which, after due consideration has been given to the immediate needs of the church, should always be included in the monthly cycles of sermons. We will not try to classify these types in a formal theoretical way, but rather according to their intimate relation to our innermost beings. Whatever we consciously do as human beings, we still remain ourselves in the completeness of our person and therefore in the sum total of our faculties. However, our various activities differ in origin one from another because of the predominance in our person of one of our faculties over the others. Thus, we see for example, when we examine a Bible text historically and critically, our intellect predominates; however, when we engage in missionary work, the will has the upper hand, and when we share the sorrows of one who is suffering, our hearts control our person. It is nevertheless more than true that the prevalence of anyone of these different aspects of our personality does in no way exclude the presence of the other faculties, which remain for the time being in the background.
In accordance with what has just been written, in our preaching we have three fundamental types of sermons, each based on the predominance of one of our different spiritual faculties. These three types should alternate with one another, in order that together they might encompass the completeness of the gospel message.
Intellectual Activity: Teaching
Teaching is a fundamental part of the work of the preacher. Speaking to Timothy concerning this aspect of the minister's activity, Paul says: "The servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach" (2 Tim. 2:24).
Teaching is a typical intellectual activity that takes place through the communication of clear and distinct concepts. The activity of teaching by the preacher has as its aim to give a firm foundation to a person's religious experience and to enable him to defend it from the attacks of error and give it the faculty of transmission to others.
The teaching of Bible doctrines together with the exposition of erroneous doctrines that may have appeared in the local community, will be an integral part of this type of sermon. The study of Bible prophecies, especially those regarding our present time, will also be included. Ellen G. White recommends a systematic study of the books of Daniel and the Revelation (Gospel Workers, p. 148). To this we might add the exegetical studies of several books of the Bible. The General Conference has also recommended the study of the Church Manual with the local church boards. This is certainly good counsel, because it is better to substitute the teaching of the denomination on fundamental positions of the church for what may be individual teachings and ideas of one preacher or group of members.
There is one danger, however, that awaits this particular type of sermons, and that is abstractness, which is the substitution of generalizations for particular facts. This may lead to aridity or pseudointellectualism, for few of us can effectively engage in real profound intellectual activity.
Volitive Activity: Exhortation
Besides being called to teach, the pastor is also called to exhort: "Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine" (2 Tim. 4:2).
Exhortation is an activity typical of the will, for it aims at convincing others and influencing them to do that which we want them to do. Before speaking more concretely concerning this type of sermon, I shall mention briefly two different methods of exhortation. The first method consists in directly urging others to undertake certain actions. The member almost feels he must do a certain thing, because his pastor wants him to do it. Such a direct manner of exhortation may have temporary success with persons who have complete confidence in the preacher and have not yet developed a critical sense of judgment or a marked autonomy of conscience. However, it may irritate more mature persons.
The second method of exhortation, less direct than the first, obtains much better results in the long run and shows more respect for the dignity of the individual. This method consists in showing others what is right. If the congregation understands what is right and good, it will try to produce it, because men in general, and especially believers, are ready to do that which they think is right.
The monthly missionary Sabbath sermons, in which the will has such an important part, are typical hortative sermons. These aim at producing an organized missionary action on the part of the church. Sermons that invite the church to greater generosity, when a special offering is being taken up or when the Ingathering campaign is being launched, should also be hortative in nature.
It is a good thing to speak from time to time concerning the tithe, making it, however, clearly understood that giving to the Lord is not so much a duty as it is a privilege. The church that gives solely because it feels it must is in a sad state of lukewarmness, which approaches decadence. "It is more blessed to give than to receive." These words of Jesus should constantly be uppermost in our minds when we invite others to give.
Effective Activity: Feel With Passion
If our activity is to be effective, heart dedication will be a predominant factor. It is the predominance of feeling that represents the typical distinguishing mark of a calling in contrast to a profession. Teaching and exhortation is a work that can be accomplished with a certain amount of technical skill by him who is not an apostle. But, feeling with passion, with a complete dedication of body and soul to our mission, to our church, to our brother, is the true, clear sign of a divine calling. This burning passion for souls made the apostle
Paul exclaim: "For now we live, if ye stand fast in the Lord" (1 Thess. 3:8). Writing brokenheartedly to the brethren of Galatia who had gone astray, Paul again says: "My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you" (Gal. 4:19).
Thus the prime factor in being ministers of the gospel should never be financial gain or search for honors, but solely a passion or love for souls. This should be the fundamental element of all activities of the preacher. There are sermons in which the passion of the heart prevails over all other activities of man. This profound feeling transforms itself in a mystical experience of personal relationship with God, in which the soul contemplates and exults in the vision of God's love. The preacher expresses to others the richness of his world and evokes in his listeners sentiments similar to his own, which transcend the need of using rational arguments. In this way a conviction is brought about that passes beyond the purely logical level and produces conversion of hearts.
From this way of feeling emerge those fundamental sermons that deal with God's love for man, the work of Christ, the necessity of repentance and faith, and conversion to God. Included also in this category are those other types of sermons that introduce prayers, testimonies, altar calls, and public consecration to God.
As Ellen G. White well says, that which must occur above all else in our preaching is a stronger emphasis upon these fundamental values of love and of the heart.
"Many of our ministers have merely sermonized, presenting subjects in an argumentative way, and scarcely mentioning the saving power of the Redeemer."—Gospel Workers, p. 156.
Speak about Jesus, you who teach the people. Speak of Him in every sermon, in every hymn, in every prayer. With your concerted efforts lead troubled, despondent souls to the Lamb of God. Speak about a risen Saviour and say to all those who listen to you: "Walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us" (Eph. 5:2).