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Eternal Fulness, overflow to me
Till I, Thy vessel, overflow for Thee;
For sure the streams that make Thy garden grow
Are never fed but by an overflow:
Not till Thy prophets with Thyself run o'er
Are Israel's watercourses full once more.
Again I treat of the sermon. We have looked, my younger Brother and I, at some main secrets and prescriptions for attractive preaching. What shall I more say on the subject of the pulpit? In the first place I will offer a few miscellaneous suggestions, and then come in closing to the deepest theme of the whole matter—Spiritual Power in Preaching.
NOTES FOR A SERMON-LECTURE.
I address myself to write, soon after delivering to my students, in the library adjoining my study, a lecture on Preaching. Let me call it rather, a talk on Sermons, which is a term less grandiose and much more true; for in fact the discourse has been a most informal series of remarks and suggestions on topics suggested by a collection of sermons written for me, and which I now came to give back,276 annotated, to their writers. It occurs to me to offer my kind reader a written version of some of these remarks just made vivâ voce to my friends. They happen to touch on a variety of points which are not unimportant in themselves and also typical of very many more.
For the purposes of the lecture, they have been divided between matters of form and matters of substance; and I report them, or rather some of them, in that order.
I. Remarks on Diction, Style, etc.
(a) Take care to "pull the sentences together," to avoid loose and redundant phrases and words. Why write "grief and sorrow," "fatigued and tired out," "attacks and assaults"? A subtle intellect may see distinctions here, but it is too much for me, and, I am sure, for most plain people in church.
(b) Respect the Queen's English. "The one who lives a Christian life" is scarcely English; say "the man," not "the one." "Like Adam and Eve walked in Paradise"! This is a serious, though common, piece of bad grammar. Say, "Like Adam, when he walked," but "As Adam walked."277
(c) Remember that the genius of English eschews a large use of connecting words, particularly in spoken discourse. Not often is a sentence the better for an "and" at the beginning. Many a "therefore" and "because" are well away, if you would speak with freedom and vigour.
AVOID RHETORICAL DICTION.
(d) Avoid altogether such touches of expression as characterise verse, or rhetorical prose. I find in one sermon the sentence, "Think you St Paul trembled at the prospect?" Please re-write this, and say, "Do you think St Paul was afraid?" For you certainly would not say, speaking however gravely, to your friend, "Think you that we shall have a fine day to-morrow?" Rhetorical phrases rarely give an impression of practical reality.
(e) Do not speak in the pulpit as if you were writing notes for an edition of the Epistles. What does the labourer (and what do many hearers more highly educated than he) think when you say, on Rom. v. 1, that "weighty manuscript authority gives another reading"? And what does he think you mean when you talk about "Sheôl"? By the way, when you278 quote Scripture in the pulpit, passingly, to a general congregation, I would advise you to quote not the Revised Version, but the Authorized, which will surely be "the English Bible" for many long days yet. Unless you have before you some special difference between the two Versions, on which you can stop to speak explicitly, quote the familiar (and inimitable) diction of 1611.
PREACH WHAT CAN BE REPORTED.
(f) Prepare your sermon, and preach it, so that it shall be easy to report. One sermon here before me would be as hard as possible to retail at home. It is on Rom. v. 1, and it says some excellent things upon it. But it brings in holiness of heart where the text speaks only of acceptance of person, and it mingles the two topics so ingeniously together that the impression is seriously complicated. Think of the pious daughter yonder in church, going home to her infirm old mother, and trying to answer the question, "What did the gentleman preach about to-night?" Let us do our best to preach sermons which are not only sound, but portable.
(g) Take care to keep the sermon in tune with the text. Here is a manuscript on279 Psal. v. 12, a verse of exultant joy; but the last passage of the sermon, the passage which ought to concentrate the whole message, is full of solemn warning. Warn by all means; do not forget to sound the watchman's trumpet. But sound it in the right place. [Ezek. xxxiii.]
CUT THE PREFACE SHORT.
(h) Here is a sermon sadly spoiled by a long introduction. It tells us much about the circumstances of the inspired writer, but so as to throw little light on the message of the text. Here is another, on the wonderfully definite hope of blessedness after death given us in Phil. i. 21. This also is ruined by its introduction, which truly begins ab ovo, discussing the genesis of man's belief in immortality! That preface would leave, in the actual delivery of the sermon, about five minutes for the handling of the precious words, "To depart and to be with Christ, which is far better." Generally, be shy of much introduction and preface in the pulpit. I do not mean that we are never to elucidate connexions and contexts. But, remember limits. Your minutes are few, ah, so few, for such a Message,—Christ Jesus in His fulness, for man's need in280 its depth. Pass quickly through the porch into that Church.
BE ACCURATE IN STATEMENT.
(i) When you refer to Scripture facts, be accurate; a slip-shod habit there may fatally prejudice a not quite friendly hearer who knows something of the Bible; and it will certainly do no good to any hearer. Here is a sermon on Phil. i. 21, and it speaks of St Paul as writing to Philippi from his "dark cell." But St Luke says that he was "in his own hired house," [Acts xxviii. 30.] or at worst, "his own hired rooms." Here again I read of David as returning to "Jerusalem, the city of his fathers." But his fathers had lived and died at Bethlehem; and Jerusalem was in heathen hands till David himself took it!
2. Remarks on Points in the Substance of the Sermons.
(a) Are you quite sure that the Patriarchs had no anticipation of a life eternal? Many lecturers, and many editors, now say so. But the Epistle to the Hebrews says that "they desired a better country, that is an heavenly" [Heb. xi. 16.]; and that is better evidence for this purpose than any inferences (or beliefs) of281 modern "scholarship." True, the old saints say little explicitly about their hope. But many things lie deep in a man's faith, and in his experience too, about which, for various reasons, he may say very little.
REVELATION WAS NOT INTUITION.
(b) I do not like this sentence, which says that the later Prophets had a "fuller perception of" the eternal future than their predecessors. Not that I blame the phrase in itself; but I dislike its associations. There runs a strong drift in modern theology, as we all know, towards the explanation of Scripture by "perception" rather than by revelation. "The Lord appeared unto me"; "The Lord spake unto me"; say the Prophets, and they appeal occasionally to supernatural attestation of their assertions. But the modern expository savant, wiser to be sure than the Prophet, assures us that they arrived at their messages by observation, by meditation, by development of thought and character, and practically by nothing different from these things. Accordingly, their "inspiration" was strictly speaking the same in kind as that of a Chrysostom, or a Luther, or a Shakespeare. Do not you say so, or282 imply that it is so. Do not go for mere company's sake with the current of naturalistic thought. Sure I am that you are most unlikely, if you do, to be the instrument of supernatural effects in your preaching.
"WHAT IS JUSTIFICATION?"
(c) "What is Justification? It is, the making man just." Is it indeed? I should read that sentence with alarm, if I did not know the writer! Its sentiment is practically Roman Catholic. Moreover, it puts a meaning on the word in question, contradicted by the common usages of language; an important consideration when we study a Scriptural theological term. When I "justify my opinion" I do not make it right, but vindicate it as already right. When the Hebrew judge "justified the righteous," [Deut. xxv. 1] he did not improve him, but pronounced him satisfactory to the law. And when God, for Christ's sake, justifies you who believe in Jesus, He does not in that act make you good; He pronounces you, for His Son's sake, to be satisfactory to His Law, for purposes of your personal acceptance.
"WHY DOES FAITH JUSTIFY?"
(d) "Why has faith such power to justify? Because, carried out to its fullest extent, it im283plies assimilation to its Object." Here again I should be alarmed, if I did not know the writer's general convictions, which are sound enough. But this particular sentence again is in full harmony with Romanist doctrine. And, as a fact, with the Bible open, and with usages of common language before us, it can easily be exposed as a confusion of words and thought. Faith, carried out ever so fully, is just faith still; personal reliance, personal confidence on God in His Word. That reliance is His appointed (and divinely natural) way for our reception of Jesus Christ. For our Justification, it receives Christ in His merits; it does that, and that only, and always. For our Sanctification, it receives Christ in His inward power, by the Holy Ghost. But faith is just faith, to the end.
(e) "We are not forced to receive salvation." Most true. "He enforceth not the will." But do not forget on the other hand to magnify the necessity of grace, "preventing grace," [Act. x.] that is to say, God Himself "working in us to will" [Phil. ii. 13.] to receive our salvation. The two sides of truth are both divine. Do not284 neglect either, whether you can harmonize them or not here below.
END OF THE LECTURE.
Such are some specimens of a Saturday morning's talk in our library. They are taken, just as they come, from notes constructed after the study of a set of some twenty sermons, written, and then commented upon, without the slightest thought that any public or permanent use would be made of the materials thus given. But perhaps the remarks may be in point to some of my readers all the more because of the unstudied nature of the materials.
Let me say, before I quite leave this part of my subject, that adverse criticism was by no means my only work this morning in the lecture-room. It was my happiness, on the other hand, to commend thankfully many a clear setting of living truth, and many a sentence of forcible point and of true beauty, happy omens for future years, in which, if it please God, "the torch shall be carried on," bright and clear, when we elders shall be heard no more.3434 Ungracious as it may seem, I must betray one less pleasant confidence of such occasions. Sometimes I have had to note in sermon MSS. a strange neglect of punctuation, and, here and there, a little aberration from received usages of spelling! No Clergyman ought to think such matters beneath his notice. His people, some, if not many of them, will from time to time receive letters or other written messages from him; these ought to be unmistakably the writing of the educated gentleman. Is it too much to say also that the handwriting ought to be clear and easy? It is distressing, certainly to one who has many letters to read daily, to see how rare such handwriting is now.[Pg 285]
"MY CASES OF OLD SERMONS."
But now let me return from this discursive report of a sermon-lecture to some more central thoughts about the Preaching of the Word. Sacred, solemn theme! I was made to realize its character in a peculiar way quite lately, when reading a heart-searching and most instructive essay, by the Rev. R. Glover, Vicar of St Luke's, West Holloway, entitled, My Cases of Old Sermons.3535 In The Churchman of August, 1891. The essay was simply an experienced preacher's review of many years of pulpit labour, in the light of the collected and ordered manuscripts which silently represented it. The writer had much to say, to my great profit, about his methods of preparation and delivery, and about the pains taken to distribute the choice of texts widely and impartially over the field of Scripture.286 Then he went on to speak of the ascertained spiritual history of some of those many sermons; the messages to souls which in this or that instance they had carried; the savour of life unto life, or perhaps, alas, of death unto death, which had to his knowledge breathed from them. The impressions left on my mind were, above all others, two; first, the call to thorough diligence in preparation, if the preacher is to give his account with joy; and then, the indescribable solemnity and greatness of the work of a true pastor-preacher.
*BE A PREACHER INDEED.
I may seem to reiterate too much, but I must say again, with new emphasis, to my younger Brother, resolve to be a preacher indeed, by the grace of God. Do not let secondary things, however good, distort your attention from that supremely sacred commission, "Preach the Word; be instant, in season, out of season3636 That is, irrespective of your own convenience. [2 Tim. iv. 2.]; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all long-suffering and doctrine. For," the Apostle significantly proceeds, "the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine."287 Therefore, an age impatient of thorough Scriptural preaching is the very age in which to seek, in wisdom and courage, to make much of it. Do not let organization spoil your preaching-work. Do not let current events spoil it. Do not let elaboration of ritual spoil it. Do not let organist and choir rule over you, and claim for music the precious moments called for by the Word.
Let me present to my reader, in this last chapter, an extract from an old book which however may be new to him. The book is not one which as a whole I greatly love; how could I? It is that sternly-imposed substitute for the Book of Common Prayer, commonly known as the Parliamentary Directory of 1645; the exact title is, A Directory for the Publique Worship of God in the Three Kingdomes.3737 It is printed in W.K. Clay's Book of Common Prayer Illustrated. Parker, 1841. Its associations are altogether with an unhappy time, in which it was a seriously penal offence, at least in theory, to use the Prayer Book even at a sick friend's bedside. Yet great men of God288 had a hand in the making of the Directory; and their words are well worth the reading. In particular, I find in the volume one passage, full of golden wisdom, a precious message to all Christian preachers. It is the section which I now quote exactly as it first appeared, and which is entitled
"Of the Preaching of the Word.
*THE DIRECTORY ON PREACHING.
"Preaching of the Word, being the power of God unto Salvation, and one of the greatest and most excellent Works belonging to the Ministry of the Gospell, should bee so performed, that the Workman need not bee ashamed, but may save himself, and those that heare him.
"It is presupposed (according to the Rules for Ordination) that the Minister of Christ is in some good measure gifted for so weighty a service, by his skill in the Originall Languages, and in such Arts and Sciences as are handmaids unto Divinity, by his knowledge in the whole Body of Theology, but most of all in the holy Scriptures, having his senses and heart exercised in them above the common sort of289 Beleevers; and by the illumination of Gods Spirit, and other gifts of edification, which (together with reading and studying of the Word) he ought still to seek by Prayer, and an humble heart, resolving to admit and receive any truth not yet attained, when ever God shall make it known unto him. All which hee is to make use of, and improve, in his private preparations, before hee deliver in publike what he hath provided.
CHOICE OF THE TEXT.
"Ordinarily, the subject of his Sermon is to be some Text of Scripture, holding forth some principle or head of Religion; or suitable to some speciall occasion emergent; or hee may goe on in some Chapter, Psalme, or Booke of the holy Scripture, as hee shall see fit.
"Let the Introduction to his Text be brief and perspicuous, drawn from the Text itself, or context, or some parallel place, or generall sentence of Scripture.
"If the Text be long (as in Histories and Parables it sometimes must be) let him give a briefe summe of it; if short, a Paraphrase thereof, if need be: In both, looking diligently to the scope of the Text, and pointing at the290 chief heads and grounds of Doctrine, which he is to raise from it.
HOW THE TEXT IS TO BE HANDLED.
"In Analysing and dividing his Text, he is to regard more the order of matter, then of words; and neither to burden the memory of the hearers in the beginning with too many members of Division, nor to trouble their minds with obscure terms of Art.
"In raising Doctrines from the Text, his care ought to bee, First, that the matter be the truth of God. Secondly, that it be a truth contained in or grounded on that Text, that the hearers may discern how God teacheth it from thence. Thirdly, that he chiefly insist upon those Doctrines which are principally intended, and make most for the edification of the hearers.
"The Doctrine is to be expressed in plaine termes; or if any thing in it need explication, is to bee opened, and the consequence also from the Text cleared. The parallel places of Scripture confirming the Doctrine are rather to bee plaine and pertinent, then many, and (if need bee) somewhat insisted upon, and applyed to the purpose in hand.291
"The Arguments or Reasons are to bee solid; and, as much as may bee, convincing. The illustrations, of what kind soever, ought to bee full of light, and such as may convey the truth into the Hearers heart with spirituall delight.
"If any doubt, obvious from Scripture, Reason, or Prejudice of the Hearers, seem to arise, it is very requisite to remove it, by reconciling the seeming differences, answering the reasons, and discovering and taking away the causes of prejudice and mistake. Otherwise, it is not fit to detain the hearers with propounding or answering vaine or wicked Cavils, which as they are endlesse, so the propounding and answering of them doth more hinder than promote edification.
"Hee is not to rest in generall Doctrine, although never so much cleared and confirmed, but to bring it home to speciall use, by application to his hearers: Which albeit it prove a worke of great difficulty to himselfe, requiring much prudence, zeale, and meditation, and to the naturall and corrupt man will bee very unpleasant; yet hee is to endeavour to perform it292 in such a manner that his auditors may feele the Word of God to be quick and powerfull, and a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart; and that if any unbeleever or ignorant person bee present, hee may have the secrets of his heart made manifest, and give glory to God.
HOW THE MESSAGE IS TO BE APPLIED.
"In the Use of Instruction or information in the knowledge of some truth, which is a consequence from his Doctrine, he may (when convenient) confirm it by a few firm arguments from the Text in hand, and other places in Scripture, or from the nature of that Common place in Divinity, whereof that truth is a branch.
"In Confutation of false Doctrines, he is neither to raise an old Heresie from the grave, nor to mention a blasphemous opinion unnecessarily; but if the people be in danger of an errour, he is to confute it soundly, and endeavour to satisfie their judgements and consciences against all objections.
"In exhorting to Duties, he is, as he seeth cause, to teach also the meanes that help to the performance of them.293
"In Dehortation, Reprehension, and publique Admonition (which require speciall wisdome) let him, as there shall be cause, not only discover the nature and greatnesse of the sin, with the misery attending it, but also shew the danger his hearers are in to be overtaken and surprised by it, together with the remedies and best way to avoyd it.
"In applying Comfort, whether generall against all tentations, or particular against some speciall troubles or terrours, he is carefully to answer such objections, as a troubled heart and afflicted spirit may suggest to the contrary.
"It is also sometimes requisite to give some Notes of tryal (which is very profitable, especially when performed by able and experienced Ministers, with circumspection and prudence, and the Signes cleerely grounded on the Holy Scripture) whereby the Hearers may be able to examine themselves, whether they have attained those Graces, and performed those duties to which he Exhorteth, or be guilty of the sin Reprehended, and in danger of the judgments Threatened, or are such to whom294 the Consolations propounded doe belong; that accordingly they may be quickened and excited to Duty, humbled for their Wants and Sins, affected with their Danger, and strengthened with Comfort, as their condition upon examination shall require.
"And, as he needeth not alwayes to prosecute every Doctrine which lies in his Text, so is he wisely to make choice of such Uses, as by his residence and conversing with his flocke, he findeth most needfull and seasonable: and, amongst these, such as may most draw their soules to Christ, the Fountaine of light, holinesse and comfort.
"This method is not prescribed as necessary for every man, or upon every Text; but only recommended, as being found by experience to be very much blessed of God, and very helpful for the people's understandings and memories.
IN WHAT SPIRIT THE PREACHER IS TO WORK.
"But the Servant of Christ, whatever his Method be, is to perform his whole Ministery;
"1. Painfully, not doing the work of the Lord negligently.
"2. Plainly, that the meanest may under295stand, delivering the truth, not in the entising words of mans wisdome, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, least the Crosse of Christ should be made of none effect: abstaining also from an unprofitable use of unknown Tongues, strange phrases, and cadences of sounds and words, sparingly citing sentences of Ecclesiasticall, or other humane Writers, ancient or moderne, be they never so elegant.
"3. Faithfully, looking at the honour of Christ, the conversion, edification and salvation of the people, not at his own gains or glory: keeping nothing back which may promote those holy ends, giving to every one his own portion, and bearing indifferent respect unto all, without neglecting the meanest, or sparing the greatest in their sins.
"4. Wisely, framing all his Doctrines, Exhortations, and especially his Reproofs, in such a manner as may be most likely to prevaile, shewing all due respect to each mans person and place, and not mixing his own passion or bitternesse.
"5. Gravely, as becometh the Word of God,296 shunning all such gesture, voice and expressions as may occasion the corruptions of men to despise him and his Ministry.
"6. With loving affection, that the people may see all coming from his Godly zeale, and hearty desire to doe them good. And
DOCTRINE AND LIFE.
"7. As taught of God, and perswaded in his own heart, that all that he teacheth, is the truth of Christ; and walking before his flock as an example to them in it; earnestly, both in private and publique, recommending his labours to the blessing of God, and watchfully looking to himselfe and the flock whereof the Lord hath made him overseer. So shall the Doctrine of truth be preserved uncorrupt, many soules converted, and built up, and himselfe receive manifold comforts of his labours even in this life, and afterward the Crown of Glory laid up for him in the world to come.
"Where there are more Ministers in a Congregation than one, and they of different guifts, each may more especially apply himselfe to Doctrine or Exhortation, according to the guift wherein he most excelleth, and as they agree between themselves."297
SPIRITUAL POWER IN PREACHING.
I have little to say after the recitation of this passage of pregnant and solemn counsel. That little shall be given to a supreme aspect of the whole subject; I mean, Spiritual Power in Preaching. Who that knows the Lord, and contemplates the preacher's work, does not long for Spiritual Power? By that longing he means no ambitious wish to be remarkable, nor any unwholesome craving to be a leader in scenes of religious excitement. He means the deep desire to be an effectual messenger of his Master; to be the living channel of the Holy Spirit's energy in His converting, sanctifying, strengthening, perfecting work. He knows that it is possible to be truly orthodox, and yet not to be this; to be eloquent, to be impressive, to be impassioned, and yet not to be this; to be unimpeachably truthful, reasonable, intellectually convincing, and yet all the while not to be this. How shall he be a vehicle of spiritual power?
THE OPEN SECRET.
The Scriptural answer is very simple, but it goes deep. If a man would have spiritual power with men, and prevail, he must be real with his Lord. What he says, he must first298 know, he must first live. As regards Him who is at once his Master and his Gospel, he must indeed "know whom he has"If a man believed," [2 Tim. i. 10.] and, in calm but entire simplicity, "submit himself under His hands." Granted a true creed, and a humble faith in its Subject, he must, in quiet reality, "yield himself unto God," if he would be used by Him. Observe the Apostle's phrase; "Yield yourselves," παραστήσατε ἑαυτούς: not, "yield to God" (though that is implied), but, "yield yourselves, hand yourselves over, to God," as you would hand over a tool, a weapon [Rom. vi. 13.]. And another aspect of the same thing appears in the same Apostle's later words: purge himself of these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified (to), and meet for, the Master's use," ἡγιασμένον εὔχρηστον τῷ Δεσπότῃ. [2 Tim. ii. 21.]
The deepest secret of spiritual power, in God's sense of the phrase, lies there. Let the man be watchful over his Scriptural creed, and let him discipline his life, and let him toil in his study, and among his people. None of these things can be spared; they are all vital. But299 the central secret, which they as it were enclose and protect, lies in the words Surrender in faith. And the Christian man's heart must be its own inquisitor, before God, in the inquiry after the point, or points, where you, where I, need to make that surrender for ourselves.
In the void thus left, in the chasm thus cut deep into our ambitions, into our self-love, the mighty Spirit in His tranquil fulness will spring up. And then, whether we know it or not, we Ministers of the Word shall assuredly be vehicles of spiritual power, to our Lord's praise.
So let me close these fragmentary words spoken "to my younger Brethren." May God's mercy be upon the writer. Upon the readers, whom he loves in the Lord, may grace and peace come every hour and day, in secret, in society, in holy ministration of Word and Ordinance. And in due time, when they are no longer juniors but, if the Lord will, veterans and leaders in the work, may they in turn pass on the message to those who follow, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.300
"Christianity is so great and surprising in its nature that, in preaching it to others, I have no encouragement but in the belief of a continued divine operation. It is no difficult thing to change a man's opinions. It is no difficult thing to attach a man to my person and notions. It is no difficult thing to convert a proud man to spiritual pride, or a passionate man to passionate zeal for some religious party. But to bring a man to love God, to love the law of God while it condemns him, to loathe himself before God, to tread the earth under his feet, to hunger and thirst after God in Christ, and after the mind that was in Christ, this is impossible. But God has said it shall be done; and bids me go forth and preach, that by me, as His instrument, He may effect these great ends; and therefore I go."
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