ELLEN G. WHITE declares, "As an educator no part of the Bible is of greater value than are its biographies." --Conflict and Courage, p. 10. This statement introduces us to a fruitful source of sermon material. Biographical sermons can be the most interesting and the most helpful. There are many books available on the lives of the great Bible characters. However, the best source is a personal, intimate familiarity with the Bible itself, combined with the wealth of commentary available in the Spirit of Prophecy writings.
A quick glance at the index to the Spirit of Prophecy writings on any of the great Bible men Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Elijah, David, Daniel, John the Baptist, Paul, and others--reveals a vast number of references. Furthermore, the various headings can be suggestive of different ways in which the subject might be developed.
Spirit of Prophecy Sources
Basic to the study of any of the Bible people would be the section from the Conflict of the Ages Series relating to that person. Old Testament men and women would be included in either Patriarchs and Prophets or Prophets and Kings. The Desire of Ages and The Acts of the Apostles would be the principal sources for the apostles, Paul, and others of the New Testament period.
Mention should be made of the little book The Sanctified Life, in which the characters of Daniel and the apostle John are portrayed and many helpful lessons drawn. Of special interest is the contrast of the life of Judas with that of John. Statements of promise are given as to what God can do in changing our characters if only we relate to Him as did the overcomers of old.
A recent volume that is very helpful in its treatment of Bible characters is the devotional book for the year 1971, --Conflict and Courage. Each of the daily messages relates to a Biblical personage, and the entire book is arranged chronologically, beginning with Adam and continuing through both the Old and the New Testaments. Some of the quotations are from already published works, such as the Conflict Series, but others are added. In this book they are brought together in a way designed to bring out the most important lessons.
We have spoken thus far of the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy writings as the principal sources of information in the preparation of sermons. Next to these we would emphasize the use of The SDA Bible Commentary. These volumes are a must for one who is called to preach. In addition to the regular commentary are the many references from the Spirit of Prophecy writings. Then there are also the many illuminating chapters that give added background to the historical periods and different books of the Bible. The Spirit of Prophecy comments on the various passages of Scripture as they appear in the commentary series are also avail able in separate book form, Volume 7A.
Do we appreciate and utilize the Spirit of Prophecy writings as we should? Recently while reading a new publication on the life of Christ I noticed in the preface of the book the following words of the writer: "It is impossible to produce a psychological study of Jesus. His developing awareness of messianic mission cannot be traced."
How true these words are with out the aid of the Spirit of Prophecy. But with the insight of this gift, Christ's growing awareness as He visited the Temple at the age of twelve and as He continued to study the Scriptures becomes evident.
Don't Do This!
In placing emphasis on the Spirit of Prophecy in the preparation of the sermon, a caution is necessary. There is a danger that the sermon may develop into a mere reading of a series of Spirit of Prophecy quotations. This should not be! No apologies should be made for brief, appropriate statements by Mrs. White; however, most of the study in her writings will serve to give you the rich background you need for the presentation of the subject in your own words according to a definite outline and plan of organization. The reading of a sermon seldom holds the interest of a congregation. This is also true if the reading is from the Spirit of Prophecy. But a private study of the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy ordinarily will suggest a host of ideas far beyond those that can be encompassed in the sermon.
Take the time to develop the most important thoughts, along with appropriate illustrations, into a logical, progressive presentation. But don't take the lazy man's route of settling for a string of quotations with repetitious, ill-planned personal comments, given at the spur of the moment "as the Spirit moves."
As stated previously, the actual mechanics of sermon preparation will be given full treatment in a special series of articles to begin later in the year. We are presently concerned basically with source materials and ideas for sermon topics.