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A Little Ocean Ambiance
Homiletics Lecture on:
Biblical Philosophy and Theory of Preaching
Dr. Richard C. Weeks
I. The Biblical Philosophy and Theory of Preaching
"Woe is me if I preach not the gospel of Christ."
I Cor. 9:16
1. Websters Third International Dictionary defines homiletics as the art of preaching or a branch of theology that treats of sermons. The word comes from the Greek homiletike, the art of conversation.
2. We will further limit our definition of homiletics in the light and scope of this course to the study of the structure and content of a biblical sermon or message. While we shall concern ourselves with the mechanics of delivery of the message to a limited extent and will most assuredly make that a prominent concern during the second semester practice preaching from a critical point of view, it is not the purpose of this course to major in that area.
Our stated objective presents itself because we feel that structure and content are foundational, and while pulpit mechanics is very important, it is not only secondary but to a certain extent can be assimilated by simple observation and practice. This is not so readily true of the art of homiletics. The latter is studied in theory and design, the component parts of which are not so simply observable from their externals.
3. Occasionally we shall in this lecture use the terms "homiletics" and "preaching" interchangeably. It is not that technically there is no difference; as we have defined above, there is. Preaching includes the delivery of the sermon as well as its composition and, as has been stated, we are most interested in this course in the composition factor. However, our scope does extend to the finished product which includes delivery. Consequently, we cannot think of the objectives of homiletics apart from the fufillment of such in the actual delivery of the message through preaching. This will occupy our attention during the second semester preaching clinic in which each student will participate.
B. Technical Objectives
Our technical objective is to learn to communicate truth so effectively through the sermon that regardless of whether people accept what is said or violently object, they will all agree that it was in statement:
1. Lucid and vivid.
2. Logical and stimulating mentally.
3. Attractive and arresting.
4. Persuasive and determining.
1. Lucid and vivid. There is nothing quite so exasperating to a congregation than to listen to a preacher take 30 minutes of time multiplied by every person present and to harangue or converse about something that is as cloudy as January in Chicago or as mixed up as the contents of a second hand store or Grandma Snazzie's attic.
If on the other hand the preacher presents his subject and design with such clarity and picturesqueness as to form vivid mental images in the minds of the hearers, he will have not only opened the door of receptivity and entered the sanctuary of their mental laboratory but will have also created an intangible, but real atmosphere of spiritual interest that will lift the heavy laden boat of people from slowly ploughing through the water to an experience of gliding over the waves as in a hydroplane.
2. Logical and stimulating. God is a God of truth (John 14:6) and while His providential ways and dealings are not infrequently inscrutible to us (Is. 55:8) yet His plan and purpose of redemption with its many facets are intelligible, logical and reasonable. Thus we should aim to communicate His redemptive plan and purpose to others in a most logical way. While some people are creatures mainly motivated by emotions, most never become profitable adherents to the truth unless they have been mentally convinced that logic and reason are on their side. So we seek to present Christ and His redemption; with logic so forceful and stimulating that moved by the Spirit of God, our listeners will find no other alternative but to accept the truth as presented.
3. Attractive and Arresting. A few speakers are by virtue of appearance and voice, attractive and arresting, especially for the initial moments. Most do not have this plus factor to any overwhelming degree. Consequently it must be what we say and the way in which we say it that becomes attractive and arresting for attention purposes, not how we look.
As preachers we will face keen and formidible competition by virtue of the easy accessibility of radio and entertainment and especially television. However, we have one advantage, most people prefer to experience something not only "live'' but "in person." If we will make the preaching of the Gospel attractive and arresting we will sooner or later command an audience, other things being equal. This can be done without compromising the Gospel message and is an objective which should enthusiastically engage our energies.
4. Persuasive and determining. To inform lucidly, stimulate and grip the interest of our hearers is not enough. All preaching should be climaxed by moving people to both decisions and action.
The question arises whether or not some preachers have the natural gift of being persuasive and of challenging their hearers to a decision. The answer is that if they do not then they may well be teachers, but they lack that which would make them, properly speaking, preachers. A preacher should bring his hearers to some type of decision, whether oral or silent. He may not have the refined gifts of an evangelist and be overwhelmingly persuasive, but on the other hand if he does not sense the compulsion of the Holy Spirit to move men's hearts to action, he is not a real preacher in the Biblical sense. One does not have to be a master of pulpit delivery and gesturing to become persuasive. If one's own soul is captivated by the message content and there is a real sense of urgency to deliver one's soul, there should naturally emanate a desire to bring others to the same position.
C. Spiritual Objectives
We concluded our technical objectives of the study of homiletics by pointing out that preaching should be persuasive and determining, that is men should be brought by our preaching to decisions. This, of course, implies spiritual objectives as the real fulfillment of the study of homiletics. This is most certainly true, and, while not every accomplishment in the realm of preaching necessarily by any means involves a public expression of a "decision", preaching does have a variety of spiritual objectives fully calculated to make substantial changes and improvements in the lives of the hearers. These changes will not come about without there being inward volitional action on the part of the hearers concerning spiritual truths with which they are confronted in a personal way.
Arbitrarily we have designated those main spiritual objectives of preaching into four categories as:
1. To Indoctrinate the truth.
2. To Convince of sin.
3. To Win to Christ.
4. To Enlist Workers.
1. To Indoctrinate the truth. Some may impetuously say that the first objective of preaching is to win souls. That this is a primary objective of preaching no Biblically oriented Christian should doubt. However, the Apostle Paul said, "Preach the Word", (II Tim 4:2) and "I have not shunned to declare unto you the whole counsel of God". (Acts 20:27) Jesus said, "Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free." (John 8: 32) It is not a case of "either, or". It is that we first of all must determine that the basis of all preaching is to be the Word of God.
We are called upon to preach the Scriptures not ourselves; (II Cor. 4:5) not our ideas; not the schemes of others; not the facts of history or science; but the uncorruptible Word of God (I Pet. 1: 23). We must have ingrained so deeply in the thinking of our minds this truth that like the marks of an agate rock, the more it is polished, the more perfectly does that embedded beauty precept assert itself.
To besure souls have been won when the preaching was very insipid, Biblically speaking, when the broth was mostly water and had simply been waved in the direction of a piece of meat. To be sure some souls have been won when only a testimony of someone else has been related. To be sure, some souls have been won when the preacher simply told a bunch of unverified, tear jerking stories strung together. The Spirit of God usually because of good seed sowing in the heart is able to culminate action to trust Christ on very weak content, spiritually speaking. That is, however, no reason for us to limit Him from a much more fruitful working which could be obtained by a thoroughly Bibliocentric ministry of preaching; one that majors in expounding the Word of God.
The foundation necessary for God the Holy Spirit to do His greatest work will be that which is a doctrinal one enunciated by a "Thus saith the Lord. " "We speak because that we do know. " It is the matter of supreme final authority. We have the voice from Heaven. We must so declare that God has spoken and when His message is understood, that ends all arguments and determines both our belief and practice. The minds of our hearers need to be saturated, whether Christians or unsaved, with an overwhelming sense that we have a message from God that is not simply in competition with some other relatively good religious options, but is the only and exclusive Revelation of God. This, every soul must heed in the light of the certain coming personal judgment by God and with the peril of eternal consequences.
It is not only that we seek to indoctrinate by laying the most firm foundation Scripturally for our hearers in preaching, but also to recognize that if we are to build solid superstructures whether it is that of a local church or of individual believers, it will only be on the basis of a thorough impregnation of the Word of God. In a few great soul winning churches there seems to be a pathetic lack of a Biblical ministry which thoroughly roots the Christian in the truth of the Word of God, building stately and solidly like a tree that can stand the most severe tornadic type winds of heresy, discouragement, tribulation or other adversity, and building a life that can, contrariwise, be used of God to instruct and strengthen others.
2. Convince of sin. Again we list what we feel is the second most important spiritual objective in preaching. It is to preach (content wise homiletics) with a view to a conviction of sin.
Some might feel that if a preacher only gets passionately red enough in the face, shouts loud enough, shakes his finger at the people violently enough, crashes his fist against the pulpit and the Bible hard enough, stamps his feet against the floor resounding enough and insults enough with crudeness his audience, that automatically there will be great conviction of sin. Alas, it is not so! The Holy Spirit is not tied to the mechanical fleshly gestures of men.
Jonathan Edwards who preached what is the best known single message in all of American preaching, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God", read the sermon and it is said read in a somewhat unlively fashion. Nevertheless, before he was finished people in that staid Congregational church were crying out audibly for God to save them and some were grabbing the supporting pillars and crying out for Christ to have mercy and spare them from the wrath of God to come. This is not an argument against animation. We believe that preachers ought to seek to some degree for animation in delivery. We are simply emphasizing that animation will. not of itself produce conviction of sin. It may only entertain with the unmoved congregation saying, "Boy isn't he a great preacher?", or "My, didn't you enjoy that message? ", or even a large altar call response that was mechanical and perfunctory but had no lasting results.
When real conviction of sin comes, it will not be necessary for the preacher to get contrite hearts in a visible response by acting in the manner of a dentist yanking a stubborn tooth. Anyone who has ever been under the conviction of sin in a service knows that when God begins dealing with the conscience there is no miserableness that can compare width it.
There is a great dearth of conviction of sin in the service of the usual Bible preaching church today. Many reasons might be briefly listed. First, in respect to the unsaved, very few unsaved are in our services. But as the unsaved are not commanded to go to church, we cannot condemn them for that. However, those that are there often seem little moved. It could be that the Holy Spirit does not move because the preacher is not a clean vessel, and, of course, the Holy Spirit is never deceived. We suspect that this reason is perhaps a major factor in many churches. When a man of God has any number of areas where he lacks victory in his daily living, the Holy Spirit is not going to do much of a work on Sunday.
There may be another reason, however. It may be that there are a good number of Christians in the congregation hardened in their own rebellion to God and who are so satisfied and ingrained in the sinfulness and compromise that they are not about to entertain any change. In that case what can be done? Nothing is impossible with God and we have heard of such a church not too long ago that did experience a great revival and outpouring of God. If the preacher is fully yielded to Christ, who can say what God could do with a dead or dying church that is still at least orthodox in doctrine. A patient, continuous unrelenting preaching against sin by expounding the Bible could have no limits of possiblity. However, we are also convinced that some churches may well have collectively sinned away their day of grace. By this we mean so steeled their hearts in resistance to the Holy Spirit that even the Apostle Paul if he were to come would find himself like Jesus in the synagogue at Nazareth led to the brow of the hill for the purpose of casting him over.
We believe all great preachers of the past whose ministries have resulted in great conviction of sin upon their hearers are agreed that one must first preach the "Law of God" for there to be a fertile ground in which the Spirit of God can work. By this we do not mean an isolated Ten Commandments but preaching of all of God's eternal laws against sin; not preaching that self-motivated obedience could bring salvation but rather displaying how the human heart is contrary to and how human actions violate the immutable laws of God. With that as a back drop then to preach the immeasurable grace of God in Christ for salvation. This almost invariably has been the pattern of great Biblical revival preachers of the past. It stands to reason, if there is no conviction of sin there is no reason to preach the grace of God in Christ for forgiveness, and only to the degree that there is conviction of sin will there be an outpouring of the wonderful work of God in redemptive healing in lives' whether for saved or unsaved people .
3. Win to Christ. Now we are ready to speak a few things about the importance of gearing preaching towards winning men to Christ. This is without doubt the greatest single objective of preaching as Great Commission indicates. However, it is predicated upon the prior two objectives treated, a preaching of the Bible, God's Word, and a preaching for conviction of sin.
Some of the most popular evangelism of today concerns itself with "commitments for Christ" and adherents relate statistics of huge numbers who made "decisions" of "commitment to Christ" which from our viewpoint seems to be with little conviction of sin. This is not the Biblical pattern. The Biblical pattern is like Acts 2:37 when smitten by conviction of sin against God, Peter's hearers cried out, "Men and brethren what shall we do.... " And they did it then!
It stands to reason that to preach evangelistic messages service after service to a congregation in which only Christians are present can become rather discouraging both to the congregation and to the preacher. Preaching to win men to Christ presupposes that there are unsaved people in the congregation. The presupposes that the church has a vigorous program that brings the unsaved into the church to hear the preaching of the Gospel. Such a work relates to personal evangelism which is beyond the scope of our treatment of homiletics and preaching. We should like to believe that every Bible believing Baptist preacher will so conduct an outreach program that he will continually find in his services unsaved people to whom to preach.
There is nothing in the world that will so move a church collectively as to witness continually, people going forward at the invitation to accept Christ or to make a public confession of the fact that they have recently trusted Christ. Does any Baptist pastor desire a healing balm for many of the church's difficulties? If by the grace of God he can see a movement in the services of his church of the Spirit of God prompting unsaved people to confess Christ openly, many of the usual dufficulties besetting the average Bible believing Baptist church will be swallowed up by the greater enthusiasm in winning souls.
The above is one reason why we cannot go along with some sincere brethren who have eliminated an invitation at the close of a message. They claim such an invitation is a relatively modern innovation. We doubt this and believe that when Christians were permitted to preach without duress that the whole point of climax to a message or preaching as distinguished from teaching is to give the hearers an opportunity to do something about the message appeal while the Spirit of God is working in conviction. This we believe has been the main pattern of all preaching to unsaved in the past when there was civil freedom to preach without restriction.
That some Biblical preaching in America in the past did not include public invitations, we do not doubt. However, most Pedobaptist churches found their preachers preaching to a church full of baptized (sprinkled) people who because they had had water sprinkled on their heads as babies were assumed to be Christians. They could hardly be consistent with their regeneration idea of pedo-baptism and urge their audience as intelligent hearers of the Gospel to become regenerate again.
One thing is certain; to preach Christ and urge unsaved people to receive Christ and then not to climax it with an open opportunity to decide while the Spirit of God is producing conviction in the heart would be quite illogical and unreasonable. We do not mean that some inordinant human pressure should be applied, but anyone who deals with human psychology whatsoever recognizes that if the climax of any persuasive appeal whether in line of merchandizing sales, or an attempt to convince of a philosophical position is always climaxed on the part of the offerer with an urging to accept the offer now if the offerer senses that there might be the slightest possibility of this being done.
We repeat, there is no more thrilling response that can come to a church than that which results from witnessing individuals come forward to confess Christ for the first time at the invitation at the close of a Gospel message.
Thus a Gospel message should be calculated in the direction of winning people to Christ now. Even if the occasion and constituency of the congregation indicates that only born-again people are present, the preacher can include an evangelistic application of his subject that inspires his hearers to a greater fervency for Christ in reaching the unsaved. If there is any possibility that some of the hearers are not saved, there should be a pointed appeal at the close of any message.
In preaching to win souls to Christ we caution the preacher against crudeness in his speech. It is not merely a matter of not being in good taste, it is a matter of offending the Holy Spirit. Jesus was never crude in His speech. We do not say that there is no place for informality in preaching the Gospel. But even here one has to be careful not to get out of character. A Billy Sunday can be very effective with informality and not be out of character. However, such revivalists as Charles Finney or R. A. Torrey would have looked ridiculous had they tried to assume such a stance. To each his own. Even Billy Sunday was not crude. And if he was, then to that extent his ministry was hampered. Most who were offended in Billy Sunday's meetings were people who disliked the informality of his preaching or his hard hitting against sin. That is vastly different than being crude and offensive in language. "How to decide where the line of division comes?", one asks. The answer is that when in any doubt about the properness of speech, don't say it and you will be on the safe side.
4. Enlist Workers. This brings us to the last of the four main spiritual objectives in preaching.
In preaching the whole counsel of God there must be a burden upon us as was upon the Apostle Paul to see the host of nominal Christians yield their lives fully to Christ. We ought to be exhorting in our preaching so that we cry out as Paul did in Romans 12:1-2 "I beseech ye brethren by the mercies of God that you present your bodies a living sacrifice .... "
This may take the nature of an appeal to "full time" Christian service, or it may simply be to consecrate one's life to make the cause of Christ first place in every aspect of that life, so the individual views his main responsibility serving Christ and his "tent making" the means of defraying expenses.
Let us make no mistake; the overwhelming mass of professing born-again Christians today are very complacent and a great many seem to worship Mammon on the side. Today, pastors of Baptist churches who are known as pastors to have a fervent soulwinning ministry are appalled at the way some of their best members are inactive for Christ. One inquires as to how to cope with it in preaching. We believe several factors are important.
First, there must be a strong call for dedication to both the person and cause of Christ. If there has been a preaching for conviction of sin there should naturally be the next step of remedy which is a renewed love and dedication to the Savior and thus to serve Him. This will include a stress on private and family devotions. We so often hear the exhortation about the need of daily reading of the Word of God and so often of "closet'' prayer that such admonitions can sound exceedingly trite. But they are so true! It may well be doubted if there was ever a Christian who slipped into sin or became lax in his Christian testimony and service who was at the same time daily in the Word and spending time in prayer.
Really, we love Christ, "because He first loved us.'' (I John 4:19). The fullness of the Savior's love to His own must be preached with fervor that it might increase our love for Him. The responsibility of God's people to serve Christ in the light of the judgment seat of Christ (II Cor 5:10) must also be very forcibly impressed. The shortness of time and the temporariness of this life can both be items that are stressed in calling for Christians to dedicate themselves unreservedly for Christ.
Again, in preaching to enlist worleers for the cause of Christ a vision of service must be given. This ought not to be difficult. Of course, the basis of such vision for service is the admonition of the word of God. We are to see as Jesus saw the multitudes as "sheep without a shepherd" (Matt 9: 36) and thus have compassion upon them. But if the Bible pictures of the need of humanity do not stir us, then a little reading of daily papers or news magazines should. Or for that matter if one is neither blind or deaf we ought to begin to realize the vastness of the need of the Gospel today. Thus the preacher can present a vision for the cause of Christ and how the very magnitude of that need requires that every born again Christian give himself to the will of God in the service of the Savior.
Finally in preaching to enlist workers for the cause of Christ there must be transmitted inspiration for action. This again finds its basis in Scripture admonition with the commands "to go" whether it be to win souls, baptize, teach or any of the many facts making such work possible. The fact that service for Christ is not optional, that the time is short, that glorious results can be obtained are all again motives for Christians responding to a preacher's appeal to begin to do something now or to quicken the effort now. In such preaching if the preacher can illustrate his message with examples as to how God has and is helping him in tangible ways to accomplish these results, this can be very effective. One example will be worth a 19,000 words of exhortation.
In preaching to enlist workers the matter of public invitation presents itself. We think very definitely that there ought to be such. However, caution should be exercised in giving invitations to Christians. Not infrequently we hear the criticism, and sometimes rightly so, that some Christians are continually coming forward to rededicate themselves and thus make a mockery out of both the invitation and of what real dedication to Christ should mean. I believe we can say the preacher
should not make any coming forward easy and that when he sees that there is no spontaneous response to the invitation after he has given ample opportunity, he should then close the service rather than try to beg people to come down the aisle. This is all to repeat once more what in essence was stated earlier; when there is real conviction of the Holy Spirit, it will not be difficult to get response to an invitation.
How shall we sum up this presentation of what we have termed the Biblical philosophy and theory of preaching? It was that great English preacher Richard Baxter who said that every time he went into the pulpit "I preached as never sure to preach again; and as a dying man to dying men." There is no question but that if every Gospel preacher went into the pulpit each time with such a burden filling his soul, that the Holy Spirit would give unction and would work in many lives.
The stream rises no higher than its source. It is very unlikely that the people of any congregation will respond to a preacher who himself is noteably lacking in example. A preacher cannot fool the congregation to any extent over any period of time and most assuredly he cannot fool the Spirit of God. What we are saying is this. The most important single factor in being an effective preacher is to be a spirit-filled one. All of the imaginary dreams of people by the thousands melting before your irresistible and unrivaled oratory is so much expending of futile mental energy and the result of nothing but carnal pride and vanity if you do not have as your number one personal requirement as a preacher -- a holy, spirit-filled, spirit-led life whose affections are set primarily on things above.
Yet in all of this we would have to say D. L. Moody was undoubtedly very short. Are you willing to apply yourself to learning the mechanics of homiletics and preaching and thus become all that God would have you to be as a preacher? Who can tell what one yielded clean vessel fully equipped and trained as a preacher might be able to accomplish yet before Jesus comes. A. T. Robertson in his volume, Making Good in the Ministry says, "Many a young preacher balks at the petty details of scholarly pursuits and refuses to pay the price for great attainments by the slavish drudgery of prolonged application to real research. The dust and grime of the mine drive away the charm of the gold and the diamond. " Are you willing to spend drudgery time to become what God would have you to be as a preacher?
May it be so. MARANATHA!