By: Rev. Charles G. Finney
From: Revivals. How To Promote
The great end of preaching is to glorify God in the salvation of men.
But the very end for which preaching is appointed is one against which is arrayed the most powerful opposition of the very sinners themselves, who are in perishing need of salvation. Hence they are often ingenious in their efforts for defeating the means employed to save their souls.
And yet, in the very face of such dire infatuation and depravity, and of such formidable obstacles to the work to be achieved, God has ordained that the work of conversion and sanctification shall be mainly promoted by appropriate and forcible preaching.
For this reason, the wise and successful laborer in winning souls cannot ordinarily be indifferent and careless in the matter and manner of proclaiming saving truth to his hearers. He may not reasonably expect the divine blessing to crown his labors with great success, unless he aims definitely to awaken the careless, convict the sinful, and direct them in the shortest way to Christ, for salvation.
And under our first general division, let us consider the matter of preaching which is especially adapted to saving men.
In the first place, all preaching should be practical.
The proper end of all doctrine is practice. Anything brought forward as doctrine, which cannot be made use of as practical, is not preaching the gospel. To preach doctrines in an abstract way, and not in reference to practice, is absurd. God always brings in doctrine to regulate practice.
What can a minister preach, who preaches no doctrine? All preaching should be doctrinal, and all preaching should be practical.
2d. Preaching should be direct. The gospel should be preached to men, and not about them.
The minister must address his hearers. He must preach to them about themselves, and not leave the impression that he is preaching to them about others. He will never do them much good, farther than he succeeds in convincing each individual that he means him.
He must preach in reference to the sins of the congregation, in order to reform their lives and save their souls.
3d. He should hunt after sinners and Christians, wherever they may have entrenched themselves in inaction. It is not the design of preaching to make men easy and quiet, but to make them act rightly.
4th. The sinner should be made to feel his guilt, and not be left to the impression that he is merely unfortunate. He should be made to blame and condemn himself, in order that he may seek pardon.
5th. A prime object with the preacher must be to make present obligation felt. Very few, indeed, in ordinary times, in ordinary congregations, feel the pressure of immediate obligation to repent.
Very few ministers make the impression upon sinners that they are expected to repent now. And until the sinner’s conscience is reached, on this point, the preaching affects him but little.
6th. Sinners should be made to feel that they have something to do, and that is to repent, and that this something they must do for themselves, because neither God nor any one else can do it for them. They should obey God, and not wait for anything. For religion is something to do, and not something to wait for.
7th. All the excuses of sinners should be annihilated. They should be shown that the plea of inability to love and obey God, is the worst of all excuses, because it is a wicked disinclination. It charges God with tyranny in commanding men to serve Him, when He has given them no capacity to strive to please Him. Hence sinners should be shown that all pleas in excuse for continuing in impenitence and unbelief a single moment, are acts of rebellion against God.
8th. Sinners should be made to feel the danger of grieving the spirit of God. They should be made to understand that unless they yield, and are made willing in the day of God’s power, the Holy Ghost may leave them forever, and their damnation may be sealed long before death.
Let us now consider the manner of preaching effectively.
In the first place, preaching should be conversational. In order to be clearly understood it should be colloquial in style.
In manner, a minister should preach more as he talks in earnest, familiar conversation, if he wishes to deeply impress and interest his hearers.
2d. Preaching should be in the plain language of common life. It should be intelligible to the hearers. It should be like the language of the gospels, easily understood by the common people.
3d. It should be parabolical in style. Illustrations should be frequently drawn from incidents, real or supposed.
Jesus Christ constantly illustrated his instructions in this way. He would either advance a principle, and then illustrate it by a parable, that is, a short story of some event, real or imaginary, or else he would bring out the principle in the parable. “And the common people heard him gladly.”
He frequently drew his illustrations from the affairs of common life. He illustrated his instructions by things that were taking place among the people, – with which their minds were familiar. He talked about hens and chickens, and children in the market places, and sheep and lambs, shepherds and farmers, husbands and merchants.
He often referred to historical facts, well known to the people at the time.
4th. Preaching should be moderately repetitious. A minister should repeat his main points, and whatever he perceives is not perfectly understood by his hearers.
Said an eminent lawyer: “In addressing a jury, I always expect that whatever I wish to impress upon their minds, I must repeat, in the same or different language. Otherwise I do not carry their minds along with me, so that they can deeply feel the force of the subsequent arguments or considerations.”
5th. In order to be deeply impressive, a minister should deeply feel his subject. Then he will suit the action to the word, and the word to the action, so as to make the full impression which the truth is calculated to make. He should be in solemn earnest in what he says, and he will be effective.
6th. He should avoid monotony in delivery. If he preaches in a monotonous way, he will be very liable to preach the people to sleep. Any monotonous sound, loud or faint, if continued long, disposes people to sleep. You never hear this monotonous manner from people in earnest conversation.
7th. He should address the feelings enough to secure attention, and then deal with the conscience, and probe it to the quick. The only way to secure sound conversions is to deal faithfully with the conscience.
8th. In order to be natural and impressive in delivery, preaching must be in some degree extemporaneous; especially should this be done briefly at the termination of the main points, and at the conclusion.
9th. In order to success in winning souls, the minister must anticipate the objections and difficulties of sinners and answer them.
What does the lawyer do, when pleading before a jury?
He anticipates every objection which may be made by his antagonist, and carefully removes or explains them.
10th. A minister should aim definitely at the conversion of his congregation.
But you may ask, “does not all preaching aim at this?” No. A minister always has some aim in preaching, but many sermons do not seem to be aimed at the conversion of sinners. And if sinners were converted under them, the preacher himself would be amazed.
11th. And hence, if ministers are wise in winning souls, such preaching will be revival fire preaching – it will be blessed “to the sanctification of Christians and the conversion of sinners.”
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