The Choice ofWords. Always use a very direct style. Say “I," never “we.” Why not say “I" when you mean “I"? Why not say “I have something to say to you" instead of same empty phrase such as “we would suggest.”
Now, generally, as to the choice of words; those in most frequent use are usually the best to use in your preaching. Beware of long words which rarely leave the dictionary, and avoid all high-sounding, vague words. The celebrated Dr. Gee has given some good examples in Iris well-known book Our Sermons. He says: “Talk of happinessrather than felicity, of Almighty rather than Omnipotent, lessen rather than diminish, forbidden rather than proscribed, hateful rather than noxious, afterwards rather than subsequently.”
Never use long sentences without a pause. Use plenty of proverbs and good sayings; this is very important. Here are some examples: You do what you can, and God will do what you cannot. Meddle with no man’s person, hut spare no man’s sins. Don’t carry your wishbone where your backbone ought to be. One thief was savedon the crows that none should despair, but only tine that none should presume. These are just a few examples. Ryle uses sayings of this type mostly at the end of a paragraph, with masterly effect.
Expression. This is a most important point, and many are the preachers who go wrong here. They either go to one extreme and deliver dull, monotonous sermons, or they go to the other, shout, wave their arms about and become little better than tub-thumpers.
Your expression should be governed by the nature of your subject. Many a good point fails utterly to find its mark owing to lack of proper expression. “Do not stand up with your armsstraight down and deliver your address in a dull, even voice unbroken by emotion. If it is apparent that your address is making no impression on you, it will certainly make no impression on your hearers. Never under any circumstances put on a false voice. I remember a young preacher whose voice in conversation was most pleasing, but when he got up to preach or pray, he began “Ouu Gard" (Oh God)! Speak in your natural voice, but speak up and let the meaning of the words you are uttering govern the expression you put into them.
If you are telling an anecdote, tell it feelingly. I have heard pathetic stories told in some addresses which would bring tears to the eyes of the hardest hearer. I have heard other stories told in such a manner that they leave one absolutely cold.
There is one point I must touch on, and that is with reference to the use of the hands and eyes in preaching. Sir William Ramsay, in his truly great book St. Paul, the Traveller and Roman Citizen, writing on the personality of the great apostle, says: “As an orator he evidently used a good deal of gesture with his hands; for example, he enforced a point to the Ephesian elders by showing them ‘these hands.’ When he addressed the audience at Pisidian Antioch, or the excited throng of Jews at Jerusalem, he ‘beckoned with his hand ‘; when he addressed Agrippa he ‘stretched forth his hand.’ Again, on the other hand, when in a moment of extreme excitement at Lystra, we read, ‘he rent his garments.” The same great writer goes on to show that the markedfeature of the apostle’s personality was evidently his fixed, steady gaze, for we read Paul ‘fixed his eyes on the man.’ Luke frequently notices this and remarks on it.
It is not for me to say to what extent the eye and the hand should be used in preaching, but that both can be used to enforce a point 1 verily believe. Donot, however, become a windmill!
Brevity. I strongly dislike long sermons, long prayers, long faces and long bills. Let your prayers in private be as long as you like, hut in public as short as possible. Don’t pray a ‘ locust’ prayer, which eats up every green thing and leaves nothing for anyone else. Don’t pray all round the world. Pray for the service, sincerely but briefly. Study quality and not quantityin your preaching and praying. Quality inspires, but quantity tires. The Lord offered up strong prayers, not long prayers.
The question of brevity in preaching is one on which I must speak very plainly indeed, for we are all more or less suffering from the lengthy discourse. Many preachers remember that there is a time to start but seem to forget that there is a time to stop. For many years, it has been customary in some Halls to place a notice on the reading-desk asking the preacher to finish to time and to ignore such a notice is, to say the least of it, very bad manners. Ascertain the exact time the service starts, and start on the tick of the clock. Ascertain the exact time the service finishes, and finish on the stroke. To be unpunctual either in beginning or finishing a service is to be guilty of a grave offence. Many folk will never come to listen to certain preachers, because they never finish to time. It is far better for folk to go away and say they wished the sermon had been longer, then [or them to say they wished it had been shorter. Obviously, if a preacher cannot keep to time, he is demonstrating that he is not a preacher called of God, for God says "To everything there is a time.”
Simplicity. The most simple sermons that were ever preached were those preached by the Lord Jesus Christ, and He was the One who could have preached sermons that would have staggered angels! Aim at simplicity. I do not for a moment suggest that you should preach childish sermons; far from it. No one will stand being preached at as if they were children.
It is no easy matter to attain simplicity in preaching. An infinite amount of time and patience must be expended in the preparation of a sermon which is both simple and powerful. Never jump at the first thought that enters your mind. Ponder over it, pray over it, and do your utmost to simplify it. Make sure you have got all you can out of your subject. Sift the wheat from the chaff; cut out the padding and reduce the whole thing to a clear concise discourse that has some grip in it.
Reverence. The conduct before, during and after the services inso many Malls is little short of an affront to Almighty God, and the preacher has a responsibility so to behave as to encourage a reverent spirit in others. Pious nonsense is talked about our buildings not being consecrated. They are consecrated, consecrated by the real presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. If a building in which the Lord Jesus Christ meets His people around His Table, a building where the gospel is preached and souls are saved is not consecrated, then the word has no meaning at all. Let there be no levity or chattering before or after the service. Let the ‘solemn evening hour’ about which we sing so often become a reality and not a mere pious phrase.
Closing Prayer. At the close of your address and after the final hymn, do not indulge in a lengthy prayer. A very few simple words commending the message to God is all that is necessary and this might well be followed by one of the many beautiful benedictions to be found in Scripture. A benediction is Scriptural and if we cannot ask God’s blessing on ourselves and our hearers in the words of Scripture, we shall find no better words.
Suitable Hymns. Finally a word in closing on a subject which, while it may not actually affect our preaching, will most certainly affect the service – the selection of suitable hymns. Do not, I beg of you, pick out your hymns as you would pick out parcels from a bran-tab. Be most careful in their choice. Be on the look out for the mutilated hymn, for many of our most beautiful hymnshave been altered in their wording by some compiler or other, just to suit his particular fancy. A man has no more right to alter an author’s words without his permis-sion then he has to go into his house and rearrange his furniture. If there is anything in a hymn you don’t happen to like, then leave it alone; there are plenty of others.
We should always give our very best to God, and this applies to our hymns. Some hymns are utterly unscriptural, whilst a great many are just sentimental nonsense which conveys absolutely nothing to the unconverted. Take for example the hymn “Work for the night is coming.” There is no mention of the name of God, no suggestion of sin nor statement as to the way of salvation. In fact this hymn could very well form the anthem of the Communists or Atheists!
Avoid, as you would the plague, all noisy and jazzy hymns. Their name is legion, and most of them – both as regards the quality of the poetry and music – are just potboilers. The way some people positively roar-out hymns about the sufferings of Christ and, more especially, His Precious Blood, is enough to make any intelligent Christian shudder.
With very few exceptions I advise you to avoid all hymns with a chorus; you will then be on fairly safe ground. As a preacher you cannot, of course, select your hymnbook, but, even in the poorest hymnbook with its welter of noisy, jazzy hymns, one may still find some of the older hymns written by poets and with tunes composed by musicians.
I know that in many places it is the custom to have a lot of hymn-singing before the evening service starts. This, in my humble opinion, is most exhausting and, what is far worse, it entirely prevents any prayer or quiet meditation, before the service.
There is one more point, and I would like to impress it on all preachers. Never disgrace yourself in the pulpit by finding fault with, or picking to pieces, the denominations with which you may not agree. The best way toget a hone away from a hungry dog is not by findingfault with hisbone; remember it is all he has. Offer him a bone with more meat on it, and see what happens!
In conclusion, always remember that however muchprogress you make as a preacher you will still only be a sower.
Let us take an illustration from the past, before agriculture was mechanized as it is today, remembering as we do so that, although agriculture has become mechan-ized, the work of the gospel can never be. The young farmer is off to sow a field, and his tiny son wants to coma and help Mm. So the father, from a big hag of seed slung over his shoulder fills a little satchel for his son. They reach the field and away goes the farmer flinging his seed left and right, while behind him comes the little chap doing exactly the same.
Now no one in their right minds would say that had the field been left to the child only, the crop would have been as heavy or as regular as it would have been had the father done all the sowing. Obviously the child would have left bare patches here and sown much too thickly there, but the whole point is this: when the time of harvest comes, will the seeds sown by that tiny child come up as well as those sown by the father? Of course they will, but why? Because the power is in the seed and not in the sower.
The service of God, as all will agree, is worthy of our very best, but here is a message from America which reminds us that God’s idea of ‘our best’ might not co-incide with the tastes of the fastidious.
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