What Constitutes A Sermon?
By T. T. Eaton, 1886
In the brief limits of the present article I can give only a few suggestions on a single point, but it is a point, I am persuaded, of the greatest importance to ministers and to the public.
Soon after entering the ministry I heard a very powerful and eloquent sermon on the responsibilities of parents who were rearing children in the midst of the corruptions of a great city. It seemed to me a grand sermon, brilliant, full of far-reaching thought and of wise suggestions. It was evidently the product of clear and vigorous thinking and of profound scholarship. The congregation were delighted, while I was quite carried away. O, if I could ever live to preach like that! As we passed out of the church a young man remarked very enthusiastically to a gray-headed woman, "Was not that a grand sermon?" With a slow shake of the head she answered: "It was brilliant, beautiful, eloquent, full of deep thought, and every word was true and valuable, but it was not a sermon at all, because there was no God in it."
As I thought over the thrilling words I had heard, I saw that whether the old woman was right or wrong in her idea of what was necessary to constitute a sermon, she was correct in saying that there was nothing about God in the one to which we had just listened. And it seemed strange that so pious and devout a man as I knew that preacher to be could have preached so vigorous a sermon on that subject and yet said nothing about God. The responsibility of parents to Him and the impossibility of rearing their children to noble manhood and womanhood without His aid, were thoughts which should have been made prominent throughout the entire discourse.
Whatever else a sermon should be, it should be filled with God. It is only as His ambassadors that we have authority to speak to the people. It is God's word we are to preach to His creatures. Their great sin is forgetting Him and disobeying Him. To make them feel His presence and their responsibility to Him, to show them His character and their guilt against Him, and to win them to repentance, faith, love, obedience to Him—this is the work to which as preachers we are called. Whenever ministers preach sermons in which nothing, or very little, is said of God we will find men denying most freely the existence of a personal God.
The best way to meet the materialistic tendencies of the time is for pastors to set God continually before the people. No matter what is the topic discussed nor what is the duty enforced, the thought of God's presence and man's responsibility to Him should be the background. If we are urging our hearers to speak the truth every man to his neighbor, the motive most earnestly, though not necessarily at greatest length, pressed upon them should be that God is truth and has forbidden us to be guilty of falsehood.
The central theme of our preaching must be God as manifested in Jesus Christ, but even in Christ and Him crucified must God be all in all. The apostle sounds the keynote of all gospel preaching when he says: "But all things are of God who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave unto us the ministry of reconciliation: to wit that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not reckoning unto them their trespasses."
I once heard from a minister whom I know to be as sound in the faith as he is able in the pulpit a beautiful and touching sermon on Jesus in Gethsemane, in which God was left out entirely, except that the preacher did say casually "God sent an angel to strengthen the Saviour." There was not in the entire discourse a sentence which a Unitarian might not have spoken. Brethren, put God in your sermons.
[From The Baptist Quarterly Review, Volume 8, 1886, pp. 102-103. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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