Practical Hints on Preaching
The Purpose of Preaching
By Professor W. J. McGlothlin, 1917
Stated in general terms, the purpose of preaching is vital. It is designed to produce and build up the life of the individual and of the community, to establish the kingdom of God in the heart of the individual and in the world at large. "Thou shalt call his name Jesus; for it is he that shall save his people from their sins," here in this world as well as in the next (Matthew 1:21). We are to pray, "Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so on earth" (Matthew 6:10). In speaking of his own mission Jesus said: "I came that they may have life, and may have it abundantly" (John 10:10). "As the Father hath sent me, even so send I you" (John 20:21), said Jesus as he sent the disciples forth to the work. We are to carry forward the identical work for which he laid the foundation by his life and death, and of which he made a beginning by his teaching and preaching. Our purpose is the same as that of our Master, that is, the full and complete salvation of men. Preaching is one of the divinely ordained means of doing this.
It may be well to remind ourselves of two false notions of preaching:
(1) It is not merely for the purpose of filling up an hour on Sunday morning. We do not preach because the hour has come and as pastors we are compelled to say something. "Don't preach because you have to say something, but because you have something to say." (2) It is not primarily to defend or propagate a certain type of theology or a certain mode of baptism or a certain form of church government or anything of a similar nature. These and other similar matters will need discussion, but the main consideration to which everything else should contribute, is the salvation of the people in the fullest and broadest sense. Make everything contribute to this.
I. - Instruction.
Preaching should instruct the people. People are amazingly ignorant, especially concerning the vital things of life, such as God, Christ, the Holy Spirit; heaven, hell, the nature and care of their own bodies and souls, their moral condition, their final destiny; the plan of salvation; the nature of the church; the meaning of baptism and the supper; the nature and demands of the moral law, the duties which one owes to God, to his neighbor, to the community in which he lives, to the state, to himself and his own family; the spread and work of the kingdom as revealed in Christian history and in the missionary work of the world today. There is continual need for the most careful teaching. Jesus was more often called a teacher than a preacher. Teaching is a large element of preaching and every preacher must be a teacher. Most preachers probably assume too much knowledge in their hearers. Some sermons should be almost wholly didactic, and almost every sermon should have in it the element of teaching. The preacher who carefully and adequately teaches will have a solid and reliable Christian life in his church.
II. - Exhortation.
People are prone to indifference, neglect, idleness; they are slow to act upon what they know. Hence preaching must move them to action. Some preachers exhort before the people are instructed; this makes shallow and unreliable Christians. Others instruct but do not move the people to act, do not exhort; this makes dry as dust churches and preachers. Preachers must not only instruct the intellect, they must also stir the emotions and move the will; they must lead the people to act out their religion. Dormant religion is little better in this world than no religion. The preacher should therefore study the best methods of appealing to Christian motives, such as love to God and men, duty, desire to serve, Christian steadfastness and heroism, and others. Probably every sermon should have in it some exhortation, though few if any should be composed of exhortation.
III. - Comfort and Encouragement.
The world is full of fear, sorrow, suffering, doubt and anxiety. There are no eyes that are not sometimes wet. One function of preaching is to bring comfort and encouragement to those that need it. The preacher must strengthen faith in God's goodness, love and care for his children, in Christ's power to save from sin and ruin, in the Holy Spirit's presence, and in his sanctifying and helping power. He must clarify and inspire hope in the discouraged and downhearted, making heaven real and attractive, a motive in life.
IV. - Warning.
Men are sinners and the wages of sin is death. Moreover, sin has the power to deaden sensibility to its pollution and its ruin. Men are not fully conscious of their condition nor of their danger. They must be warned, awakened, led to repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. This is a large part of the purpose of preaching. It must be done for the unregenerate of course, but alas! for the church members also, who too often continue in known sin. The preacher must be a prophet revealing to men the evil of their lives and the holiness and righteous demands of God.
V. - Reforms and Public Morals.
The preacher cannot fail to share in efforts for the improvement of public morals. He must fight vice, intemperance, injustice and wrong of every kind. It is his duty to support, as occasion demands, all institutions that bless and build up the community. The gospel is interested in every man and in all the interests of all the people. This part of the preacher's work requires great tact and skill, it must not occupy his whole time nor absorb all his energy, but he cannot ignore it. Before he speaks he should thoroughly inform himself as to the facts, should always scrupulously adhere to the facts and steadily speak from a heart full of love and kindness. It requires courage as well as skill; but when fortified by undoubted facts he need not be afraid.
[From Practical Hints on Preaching, Nine Lectures on Sermon Building - a booklet by Professors of SBTS, via E-Text digital, Adam Winters, Archivist. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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