Oratory is an art; preaching is a gift. You may learn to become an orator, but you cannot learn to become a preacher. This being so, to talk about ‘ the art of preaching ‘ is to display ignorance.
Anyone to whom God has not given the gift of preaching and who, in spite of this, attempts to preach, is indulging in busy idleness! He is wasting his own time and the time of his longsuffering hearers. He is helping to empty our places of worship and, what is a far more serious sin, be is occupying tin: place of a man whom God has called to preach. Certainly it is a very debatable point as to which is the greater sinner; the man who attempts to preach when God has bestowed on him no such gift, or the man who booked him to preach.
Are all Christians called to be preachers? Most certainly not I Then how does it come about that so many pulpits are occupied by men who not only cannot preach but never will? Some very plain speaking is needed on this matter. Out badly–attended ser-vices, the sad lack of conversions, and the low state into which so many places of worship have fallen, all indicate that it is high time to awake out of sleep.
One section of the Christian community used to maintain, I don’t know if they still do, that when a, young man was converted he should learn in silence for a number of years. There is, however, another section of the Christian community in which a young man as soon as he is converted, deems it his duty to purchase the largest Bible he can and then start booking preaching–dates!
I have actually heard men occupying the pulpit preface their remarks with some such words as these: ”I am no preacher.” They – why are they on the platform? Re it clearly understood that this remark does not apply to the man who, through default on the part of the preacher booked, finds himself forced to take the service with no notice at all. Let not such a man despair. In such a. state of emergency God will most certainly supply a message.
I have made reference to those who book the preachers; theirs is a very solemn responsibility. It is not just a matter of tilling dates. The merits or demerits of every preacher should by very prayerfully considered, and invitations should only be given to the very best preachers that can be obtained, if it is manifestly clear that a man is gifted by God as a preacher, book him; if he has no gift he is not a preacher, however nice a man he may be. so don’t book him.
None will deny that new converts should bear testimony, but I know of no scripture which encourages them immediately to start conducting public services. The command is: ”Go home and tell thy friends,”
One hears the remark:” Oh, but the young converts must make a start.” Of course they must, but let them start in the scriptural way by praying” Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?”
God in His mercy is still calling certain young men to be preachers, but are they to be let loose on longsuffering congregations without any previous study, without training, without in-struction?
In my younger days, when it seemed dear that God was calling certain of the young men to become preachers, the seniors, realizing their responsibility, held special private meetings for them, allow-ing them to bring then– personal friends. At these services, under the leadership of two or three seniors, the young men tried–out their wings, each speaking for fifteen minutes. After each speaker, one of the seniors would comment on what had been said, point out any errors and give constructive criticism. Thus by the time these young men were ready to take a public service they were thoroughly fitted and able to do so.
From the fact that the apostle exhorted his” son in the faith” to stir up the gift that was in him it is clear that it is possible to have a gift and never make much use of it. Whilst it is not pos-sible to learn to be a preacher, having received the gift of preaching from God we can become better preachers by prayer and study. It will always be true that a man’s gift will make room for him. If he has to make room for what ho calls his gift the chances are that he hasn’t any, or that lie has neglected it and never developed it.
As I have observed, in this our day and generation, for some utterly unknown reason the young preacher is left severely alone. More often than not he forms bad habits, and we all suffer accord-ingly.
Because there is an urgent need, and because with more than forty years of teaching, preaching and lecturing experience behind me, I feel I may be able to help those young men whom God has called to be preachers, I want to deal with the whole subject very briefly.
I know I need not stress the initial and vital need for prayer and study. Without this, you may became an excellent talker but you will never be an acceptable preacher. Study closely the sermons of the Lord and those of the apostles. You must read, and keep on reading, everything which will enlarge your knowledge of Holy Scripture. Do not confine yourself to one particular school of religious thought: remember that there have been great saints and great teachers in every so–called denomination. At the same time the young preacher must be on his guard against books which, whilst they are sound on the whole, contain error; such as, for example, baptismal regeneration. Test all the writings of man by the writings of God, and reject all that are not in accordance with Holy Scripture.
Do not, I beg of you, imagine that sermons, or addresses, if you prefer the word, drop down out of the blue. They don’t, they have to be sought for and thought out, pondered over and prayed over, and real hard work is necessary. There is as much perspiration as inspiration in the preparation of a convincing sermon. Even when the outline of your address is well before you, hours must be spent in running over it in your mind. Sit down and preach it to yourself, and turn up every work of reference you possess in order to discover all you can about your subject. Then, very often when you least expect it, these seemingly hopeless pieces of the jig–saw puzzle which have been tumbling about in your mind will take shape and you will begin to see the completed picture.
Of course, the Lord could save you all this trouble by giving you a complete sermon right down to the last word, but only in cases of real emergency does His ever do so. Remember all your life that it is an unalterable rule in serving God, that He never does for us what we can do for ourselves; He never encourages laziness. At the tomb of Lazarus He could have made things much more spectacular and labour–saving by shouting” Stone, roll away I” but Ht: did not do so. That would have been doing something which the disciples could have done. He told them to roll away the stone, and no doubt it was real hard labour. Then, when they had done what they could. He did what they could not, for He said,” Lazarus, come forth!” Never expect God to bless your ministry if you have not done your part, or have done it half–heartedly.
I heard a so–called preacher say from the platform only a few Sundays ago:” Last night I was wondering what I was going to speak to you good people about.” Now just imagine a man leaving the preparation of his sermon until a few hours before he had to preach it! He boasted that he had been taking services (I will not call it preaching) for over thirty years, and yet with a whole week behind him he had been unable or unwilling to find time to make right and proper preparation. He was a busy man, no doubt, but if he had no time to prepare his sermon then he was a lot busier than God wanted him to be. Having prepared nothing he had nothing to give, and so he just, talked and talked and talked. He wandered from Dan to Beersheba and then wandered back again. His discourse was just a hopeless muddle; a little of everything and precious little of anything. Then, to crown it all, he carried the meeting fifteen minutes over time!
Never under any circumstances get a set address out of one of the far–too–many books which profess to give outlines. Never under any circumstances be afraid to preach the same address over and over again; of course, not to the same congregation, unless specially requested to do so. My life–long friend, the late James McKendrick, one of the greatest, preachers Scotland ever produced, had hundreds of sermons, but he had seven or eight specials. He preached these wherever he went, and must have preached them hundreds of times, but whenever he did preach them souls were saved.
(In our next Issue Mr. Collins will deal with ‘ The Choice of a Subject,’– Eds.)