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Heralds of God 



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KANSASCITY, MO PUBLIC LIBRARY 




D QQD1 0213SbO S 



HERALDS OF GOD 



tty the same Author 
A MAN IN CHRIST : Vital Elements of St. Paul's Religion 

THE LIFE AND TEACHING OF JESUS CHRIST 
THE GATES OF NEW LIFE 

THE STRONG NAME 



HE R ALDS 
OF GOD 

By 

JAMES S. STEWART, 
D.IX 



How are they to believe in One of whom. 
they have not heard ? And how are they 
ever to hear, -without a herald ? And how- 
can men be heralds, unless they are sent 
by God ? 

St. Paul to the Romans. 



NEW YORK 
CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS 



COPYRIGHT, 1946, BY 
CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS 

Printed in the United States of Ameiica 
G-s.6o[MHJ 

All nghts reserved. No part of this book 
may be reproduced in any form without 
the permission of Charles Scribner's Sons 



ROSAMUND 
ROBIN and JACK 



PREFACE 

I HAVE chosen the title of this book to stress one 
fundamental fact, namely, that preaching exists, 
not for the propagating of views, opinions and ideals, 
but for the proclamation of the mighty acts of God. 
This is demonstrably the New Testament conception 
of the preacher's task; and it is this that will always 
give preaching a basic and essential place at the very 
heart of Christian worship. 

To write about preaching is therefore to deal with 
an enterprise with which not only the man in the pulpit 
but the whole worshipping community is vitally and 
intimately concerned: a fact which emboldens me to 
hope that the pages which follow, addressed originally 
as Lectures in the Universities of Edinburgh and 
St. Andrews to Divinity students and ministers, will 
have something to say to the wider circle of those who 
Sunday by Sunday are hearers of the Word of God, 
"loving the habitation of His house and the place 
where His honour dwelleth," and perhaps even to 
the critic in the back pew. 

I desire here to record my thanks to the Trustees 
of the Warrack Lectureship, for their invitation to 

5 



HERALDS OF GOD 

me to undertake this task ? and to my friend^ the Rev. 
Graham W. Hardy, B.D., who has revised the proofs. 

James S. Stewart, 

NORTH MORNINGSIDE CHURCH, 
EDINBURGH. 



CONTENTS 

PAGE 

PREFACE 5 

CHAPTER 

I. THE PREACHER'S WORLD 9 

II. THE PREACHER'S THEME . . . . 58 

III. THE PREACHER'S STUDY . 100 

IV. THE PREACHER'S TECHNIQUE ... 141 
V. THE PREACHER'S INNER LIFE . . .190 



CHAPTER I 
THE PREACHER'S WORLD 

There shall always be the Church and the World 

And the Heart of Man 

Shivering and fluttering between them, choosing and chosen, 

Valiant, ignoble, dark, and full of light 

Swinging between Hell Gate and Heaven Gate. 

And the Gates of Hell shall not prevail. 

Darkness now, then 

Light. T. S. ELIOT, The Rock. 

MONG the tributes paid to the memory of Sir 
Walford Davies, one of the noblest was that of 
a brother musician. Dr. Vaughan Williams. He dwelt 
on the sacrifice which Walford Davies had chosen to 
make quite deliberately the sacrifice of the more 
aloof, self-centred life of the composer, for that of the 
organizer, the advocate, the musical propagandist, the 
educator of popular taste and opinion; and then he 
added: "It is an eternal problem that confronts all 
those who feel they have the creative impulse 'shall 
I shut myself up from the world and follow the dic- 
tates of my artistic conscience, or shall I go down to 
the world of men and show them what I have learnt 
about eternity and beauty?' Walford Davies had no 
doubts he was a born preacher and he determined 
to go and preach to the Gentiles. This decision," 
declared Vaughan Williams, "was probably right/' I 

9 



HERALDS OF GOD 

fancy that no one who knows what Walford Davles 
did for music in this generation will dispute that 
verdict. 

Now the same problem, the same critical decision 
to which Vaughan Williams called attention in the 
realm of creative art, reappears even more forcibly in 
religion; and here it is a problem, not for the few 
who possess the elusive quality of genius, but for the 
whole company of believers. " Shall I, as a Chris- 
tian, be content to pursue the religious quest as a 
private hobby, and to develop my own spiritual life; 
or shall I concern myself personally for those outside, 
and take upon my heart deliberately the whole world's 
need for Christ ? M No man, with the New Testament 
in his hand, can have a moment's hesitation about the 
answer. "What I live by," declared St. Augustine, 
"I impart." 

You have decided this matter in the most emphatic 
way of all, putting your life itself into the decision. Or 
rather, it has been decided for you, by the constraint 
of a higher will. For you the issue has been settled, 
To bring men face to face with Christ has seemed to 
you a matter of such immense and overruling urgency 
that you propose to devote your whole life to doing 
nothing else. You are determined, God helping 
you, to go down to the world of men, and show 
them what you have learnt what indeed you shall 
go on learning more clearly every day you live 
about the eternity of redeeming love and the beauty 
of the Lord. 

1C 



THE PREACHER'S WORLD 

It is a thrilling, noble enterprise. It demands and 
deserves every atom of a man's being in uttermost 
self-commitment. 

"To go down to the world of men. 7 ' That thrusts 
upon us this crucial fact that our work as preachers 
has to be done in the actual setting of a contemporary 
situation. 

The Gospel, it is true, stands unchanged from age 
to age. It remains yesterday, to-day, and for ever 
the same. In the twentieth century, it is the identical 
message which was sent by the Lord to former genera- 
tions through the mouths of His servants Spurgeon 
and Wesley and Latimer and Xavier and Chrysostom 
and the apostles. No protean fashions of thought 
can alter it. No ebb and flow of the tides of history 
can prevail to modify it. It is as immutable as God 
Himself. 

But while the basic message thus remains constant 
and invariable, our presentation of it must take account 
of, and be largely conditioned by, the actual world on 
which our eyes look out to-day. The Gospel is not 
for an age, but for all time: yet it is precisely the 
particular age this historic hour and none other 
to which we are commissioned by God to speak. It is 
against the background of the contemporary situation 
that we have to reinterpret the Gospel once for all 
delivered to the saints; and it is within the framework 
of current hopes and fears that we have to show the 
commanding relevance of Jesus, 

1 1 



HERALDS OF GOB 

This is not a plea for so-called "topical" sermons, 
It is deplorable that God's hungry sheep, hoping for 
the pasture of the living Word, should be fed on 
disquisitions on the themes of the latest headlines. It 
is calamitous that men and women, coming up to the 
church on a Sunday with God only knows what 
cares and sorrows, what hopes and shadowed memories, 
what heroic aspirations and moods of shame burdening 
their hearts should be offered nothing better for their 
sustenance than one more dreary diagnosis of the 
crisis of the hour. 

But this is not to say that the preacher must stand 
aloof, cultivating a spirit of detachment from the 
march of events. "What is history," cried Cromwell, 
"but God's unfolding of Himself?" and the real 
work of the ministry in this generation will not be done 
by any man who shuts himself in with his academic 
interests and doctrinal theorizings, as though there 
were no surge and thunder of world-shattering events 
beating at his door. Surely in this immensely critical 
hour, when millions of human hearts are besieged by 
fierce perplexities; when so many established land- 
marks of the spirit are gone, old securities wrecked, 
familiar ways and habits, plans and preconceptions, 
banished never to return; when the soul is destined 
to meet, amid the crash of old beliefs, the ruthless 
challenge and assault of doubt and disillusionment; 
when history itself is being cleft in twain, and no man 
can forecast the shape of things to come the Church 
needs men who, knowing the world around them, and 

12 



THE PREACHER'S WORLD 

knowing the Christ above them and within, will set 
the trumpet of the Gospel to their lips, and proclaim 
His sovereignty and all-sufficiency. 

The question, therefore, is this : If the Gospel, in 
itself unchanging, must always be set forth in the 
nexus of a particular historical situation, what are the 
characteristic moods and tendencies which must in- 
fluence the presentation of the message to-day ? 

Attempts are sometimes made to define the spirit 
of the age in a single phrase to call it, for example, 
"an age of doubt, " "an age of rationalism, " "an age 
of revolt," and so on. But all such generalizations are 
misleading. The reality cannot be thus simplified. 
We have to reckon with a mental and spiritual climate 
full of the most baffling contradictions. It would 
indeed be true to say that tLe most characteristic 
feature of the modern mood is precisely the unresolved 
tension between opposing forces. Here we touch the 
very nerve of the preacher's problem. There are three 
directions in which this element of tension, of radical 
paradox and spiritual conflict, of thrust and counter- 
thrust, is manifesting itself dramatically in the world 
we face to-day. 



First, there is the tension between Disillusionment 
and Hofe. 

You are going out with the evangel into a world 
which has reacted strongly and even violently against 
the bland humanistic optimism which dominated the 



HERALDS OF GOD 

opening decade of the century. Then the great watch- 
words were the adequacy of materialism, the inevit- 
ability of progress, and the sufficiency of man. Science, 
having finally broken through the bondage of ignor- 
ance, and having shattered the tyranny of superstition, 
was hailed as the New Messiah, the supreme disposer 
of human destiny. Indeed, so startling and spectacular 
were the boons and bestowals of this new Messianic 
age, so strange and exciting the faculties put at man's 
disposal, that one sinister fact went almost unobserved: 
all its gifts were double-edged. The dazzling splen- 
dours of its achievements masked only too effectively 
the grim truth later to be learnt at an immeasurable 
cost of blood and tears that science (to quote the 
words of Reinhold Niebuhr) "can sharpen the fangs 
of ferocity as much as it can alleviate human pain/' 
That aspect was conveniently ignored. With this new 
Messiah leading the way, it was argued, was there any 
limit to what humanity might accomplish ? It was an 
intoxicating prospect. Would not social effort, rein- 
forced by all the resources of technology, speedily 
bring the New Jerusalem down to earth from heaven ? 
Surely the wilderness wanderings of the children of 
men were over, and the path of progress must now 
lead straight and unbroken to the shining Utopia of 
their dreams. The Renaissance humanists and the 
ancient sophists had been perfectly right: man was 
indeed the measure of all things. His will was the 
architect of destiny. His intelligence, storming the 
secrets of the universe, had occupied the throne of God. 

H 



THE PREACHER'S WORLD 

"Thou art smitten, thou God/' shouted Swinburne 
vociferously, 

thou art smitten; thy death is upon thee, O Lord. 
And the love-song of earth as thou diest resounds through 

the wind of her wings 
Glory to Man in the highest! for Man is the master of 

things. 

Now it was hardly to be expected that in the heyday 
of this confident utopianism religion could remain 
uninfluenced and immune. The Bible might insist 
that "your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, 
walketh about, seeking whom he may devour," but 
theological liberalism smiled to itself in a superior and 
even contemptuous way : it was not going to take such 
rhetoric too seriously. The conceptions of the world 
as fallen, of human nature as infected with a radical 
taint, of sin as a vicious circle which could be broken 
through only by supernatural action from outside 
these were classed as outmoded fictions, and relegated 
to the scrap-heap of an antiquated theology. The 
evolutionary hypothesis, so fruitful in other fields, 
began to invade the deepest sanctities of the soul: it 
now appeared that all man had to do for his redemption 

was to 

Move upward, working out the beast. 
And let the ape and tiger die. 

The Kingdom of Heaven was not, as Jesus and the 
apostles had proclaimed it, a gift of God breaking into 
history from the beyond: it was a human achievement, 

15 



HERALDS OF GOD 

the product of social amelioration, culture and scien- 
tific planning. Jesus Himself according to this view, 
was the Pioneer of progress, the supreme Leader, the 
apex of the vanguard of the pilgrim host of humanity 
not a terrific Being shattering history with the 
explosive word, " Before Abraham was, I am/' Chris- 
tianity sounded in men's ears as good advice, rather 
than good news: an exhortation to be up and doing, 
to fight the good fight and follow the gleam, not the 
announcement of something which God had already 
done, decisively and for ever. There was accordingly 
an inclination to regard the preacher as the purveyor 
of religious homilies and ethical uplift, not the herald 
of the mighty acts of God. So far did the prevailing 
mood push the tendency to " change the glory of the 
uncorruptible God into the image of corruptible man" 
that there actually appeared a plagiarizing hymn, 
"Nearer, Mankind, to thee, Nearer to thee"; a senti- 
ment, said G. K, Chesterton tersely if somewhat 
scurrilously, which " always suggested to me the 
sensations of a strap-hanger during a crush on the 
Tube," Characteristic of this whole attitude was the 
reduced emphasis upon a theology of atonement and 
redemption. Why should man, conscious as never 
before in history of his own vast potential resources, 
grovel as a miserable sinner, or confess himself im- 
measurably indebted to sheer unmerited grace ? 

Every virtue we possess, 

And every victory won, 
And every thought of holiness 
16 



THE PREACHER'S WORLD 

were not "His alone," emphatically not that our 
personal meritorious achievement, the praiseworthy 
product of our innate spirituality. It was a mood 
which came dangerously near to making religion itself 
the handmaid and confederate of that pride which is 
the final blasphemy and the basic sin of man. 

To-day the scene is changed. When you go forth 
as preachers bearing Christ's commission, it is to a 
generation which has very largely repudiated the con- 
fident optimism of its predecessors. The great tower 
of Babel collective man's monumentum aere perennius 
has crashed, and the world is littered with the 
wreckage of disillusionment. 

Back in 1918, a few days after the signing of the 
Armistice, Lord Curzon, moving the Address in the 
House of Lords, quoted the chorus from Shelley's 

Hellas: 

The world's great age begins anew. 
The golden years return. 

Such sanguine words sound almost sardonic now. 
"We are living," confessed Aldous Huxley, "in a 
rather grisly morning-after." The shining dream has 
proved to be a mirage. Of what profit is man's creative 
power, theme of his proudest boasts, if it is to become 
by a strange irony of fate the very instrument of his 
self-destruction ? The old, ruthless dilemma, to which 
St. Paul gave classic expression in the seventh of 
Romans, has man in its torturing grip. And across the 
human scene to-day there echoes the haunting, un- 
bearably poignant cry of Jeremiah long ago: "The 



HERA L D S OP GOD 

harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not 
saved," 

Along with this, there has crept a deeper note into 
theology. We are no longer inclined to underestimate 
the radical stubbornness of sin. It has been borne in 
upon us that human wisdom cannot solve the dark 
enigma, nor can human action break the fast-bound 
fetters of the world. If there is any healing for 
humanity's hurt, it must come, not from man's side, 
but from God's. 

There is, however, a danger here. It is possible for 
the reaction from the creed of human self-reliance to 
be so violent that the disillusioned spirit is carried by 
it right across into pessimism and despair. Dark 
suspicions rear their heads. Has faith been a ghastly 
mistake? Is there perhaps no rationality anywhere? 
What if the spiritual interpretation of life is nothing 
more than the creation of pious sentiment, muddled 
thinking and credulity? How can the Christian 
evangel be relevant in a blatantly non-Christian world? 
Do not its basic axioms look frightfully incongruous 
and inapposite? Never forget as preachers that all 
around you to-day are men baffled and tormented by 
the assault of that fierce ultimate doubt. 

I would have you notice, moreover, that theology 
itself, in certain of its aspects, has shared in the pessi- 
mistic reaction. There are those, for example, whose 
reflections on the contemporary scene have landed them 
in hopeless dualism. The world, as they see it, is the 
battleground where dark demonic forces wage war 

18 



THE PREACHER'S WORLD 

unceasingly with the hosts of heaven. By this conflict 
God Himself is limited, thwarted in His purposes, 
constrained to strive and struggle indecisively for the 
realization of His holy will. It is a recrudescence of 
the Manichaean heresy. It is quite oblivious of the re- 
peated trumpet-note of the New Testament that at the 
Cross once for all Christ raided the dark empire of evil, 
and vanquished the demons, and led captivity captive. 

With others, again, the pessimistic mood expresses 
itself in religious quietism. They have carried their 
distrust of human nature to the point of denying the 
worth of any social action. Confronted with the 
collapse of the humanist gospel of man's self-redeem- 
ability, they seek refuge in the unethical mysticism of 
a thoroughgoing otherworldliness : "Oh that I had 
wings like a dove! for then would I fly away, and 
be at rest.*' 

Once again, there are those for whom the pressure 
of disillusionment has resulted in theological irration- 
alism. Man, according to this view, is so radically 
corrupt that there is no point of his nature left at which 
the living God can take hold. If ever he was made in 
the divine image, so completely has that image been 
obliterated that to talk of fellowship between man and 
his Creator is downright sophistry and self-deception. 
The light of reason itself is treacherous and perfidious. 
He that would frame dogmas, let him abjure the aid 
of logic. He that glorieth, let him glory in his irra- 
tionalism! It is hard to believe that this position, 
supported though it is by great and honoured names, 

19 



HERALDS OF GOD 

can maintain itself indefinitely. God intends His 
pilgrims to struggle through the Slough of Despond, 
not to make it their theological home. 

Here let me interpolate a quite personal remark. If 
you as preachers would speak a bracing, reinforcing 
word to the need of the age, there must be no place for 
the disillusioned mood in your own life. Like your 
Master, you will have meat to eat that the world knows 
not of; and that spiritual sustenance, in so far as you 
partake of it daily, will strengthen your powers of 
resistance to the dangerous infection. Surely there 
are few figures so pitiable as the disillusioned minister 
of the Gospel. High hopes once cheered him on his 
way: but now the indifference and the recalcitrance of 
the world, the lack of striking visible results, the dis- 
covery of the appalling pettiness and spite and touchi- 
ness and complacency which can lodge in narrow 
hearts, the feeling of personal futility all these have 
seared his soul. No longer does the zeal of God's 
House devour him. No longer does he mount the 
pulpit steps in thrilled expectancy that Jesus Christ 
will come amongst His folk that day, travelling in the 
greatness of His strength, mighty to save. Dully and 
drearily he speaks now about what once seemed to 
him the most dramatic tidings in the world. The edge 
and verve and passion of the message of divine forgive- 
ness, the exultant, lyrical assurance of the presence of 
the risen Lord, the amazement of supernatural grace, 
the urge to cry " Woe is me if I preach not the Gospel" 
all have gone. The man has lost heart. He is 



20 



THE PREACHER'S WORLD 

disillusioned. And that, for an ambassador of Christ, 
is tragedy. 

How to maintain yourselves against the menace of 
this mood that I shall speak of more specifically when 
we come to consider the preacher's inner life. But 
maintain yourselves you must: or else don't try to 
speak to men in the name of God ! For your task is 
to confront the rampant disillusionment of the day, 
and smash it with the Cross of Christ and shame it 
with the splendour of the Resurrection. What makes 
your calling in the Church so urgent and so critical is 
the fact that human hearts, bombarded with grim 
perplexities and damaging shadows of despair, are 
crying as never before, "Is there any word from the 
Lord?" Men who have seen war's scourge let loose 
twice in a generation are not going to be put off with 
polite trivialities and polished essays and pulpit dia- 
lectic. They don't want our views, opinions, advice 
or arguments. Is there any word from the Lord? Tell 
us that, they demand. Has Christianity failed? Must 
God's hopes be wrecked for ever on the rock of man's 
anarchic nature? Are we mad to pray "Thy kingdom 
come" ? These demonic forces of evil in the universe, 
mocking all our dreams and best endeavours are they 
fated to have the last word ? It is all very well to stand 
up in church and sing : 

So be it. Lord! Thy throne shall never, 
Like earth's proud empires, pass away; 

Thy Kingdom stands and grows for ever, 
Till all Thy creatures own Thy sway. 

21 



HERALD S OF GOD 

But is that true ? What if it is only a pose, the silly 
pretence of the self-deceiving? Was Thomas Hardy 
perhaps right when he recommended Christianity to 
" throw up the sponge and say '1 am beaten, 5 and let 
another religion take its place"? There is the vast, 
intolerable mystery of suffering. Is there any word 
from the Lord about that ? There is the more intimate 
and personal disillusionment, the monotonous misery 
of defeat in a man's own soul : "the good that I would, 
I do not; but the evil which I would not, that I do, 
O wretched man that I am!" Is there any word from 
the Lord about that? Such is the demand which 
thrusts itself clamorously and uncompromisingly upon 
the Church to-day. And to that demand, you please 
God shall have a right to speak. 

Let me at this point remind you, for your encourage- 
ment, that if there is a vast amount of disillusionment 
going about in the world to-day, there is also an 
immense stirring of eager and passionate hope. The 
tension between these two attitudes is indeed one of 
the cardinal factors in the situation. Nor is this 
strange blending of disillusionment and hope in the 
minds of men so paradoxical as at first sight it may 
appear, For a complete breakdown of humanist self- 
confidence is a true praeparatio evangelical it makes 
straight through the desert a highway for our God. 
Preach to a soul strong in untroubled egotism, mem 
sibi conscia recti and it will be like hammering at 
granite. But bring the Gospel to bear upon a soul 



22 



THE PREACHER'S WORLD 

whose self-trust has been broken, and there before 
your very eyes the ancient miracle may be renewed, 
and the glory of the Lord be revealed. Complacence 
of any kind whether it be national or social, intel- 
lectual or moral, humanitarian or religious is God's 
greatest enemy. But when the foundations are under- 
mined, and the edifice of man's vaunted achievements 
comes down with a crash, then is the time, declared 
Jesus, to "look up, and lift up your heads; for re- 
demption draweth nigh/ 7 

Thus the very disillusionment of to-day is the raw 
material of the Christian hope. Men are beginning to 
suspect that no new order which seeks to erect itself 
on the ruins of the old can have one atom of survival- 
value, or be other than a patchwork and a sham, unless 
it has direct and deliberate reference to the mind and 
programme of God for humanity. Consider in this 
connection the following verdict, which comes signi- 
ficantly from Dr, C. E. M. Joad: "There is in many 
Englishmen to-day, and especially in young people 
newly come to maturity, a renewed interest in the 
religious view of the world, and a disposition to examine 
afresh, in the light of it, the traditional answers to 
fundamental questions which Christianity has pro- 
vided. . . That the seeds of a spiritual revival are 
germinating in the minds of the people of this country, 
I, for one, do not doubt," The fact is that to-day, as 
so often in past history, the very complexity of the 
human predicament becomes in Christ's hands a 
weapon for the further advance of His Kingdom. And 



HERALDS OF GOD 

if your calling as preachers in this generation is one of 
immense difficulty, you will be strong in hope, giving 
glory to God, not in spite of the difficulties, but pre- 
cisely because of them. For still to-day, as at the first, 
it is when the doors are shut, in the bitter hour of dis- 
illusionment, that Christ is apt to break in, and stand 
in the midst, and say "Peace be unto you." And then, 
out of the dark misery of self-despair, men begin to 
arise and shine, knowing that their light is come! 

Don't listen to the lugubrious voices that incessantly 
deplore the deadness of the age, and groan about the 
thankless uphill task of the Christian ministry and the 
desolating lack of response. It is a thrilling hour in 
which to bear the commission of your Lord. 

I find certain words of St. Paul to the Romans 
dramatically relevant here, The eighth chapter is one 
of the most lyrical and triumphant things that ever 
came from the heart of man; but the note of dis- 
illusionment is there. "To this day/ 1 wrote the 
apostle, "the entire creation sighs and throbs with 
pain." For none knew better than he that the shining 
civilization was demon-ridden, and that ruthless forces 
held the souls of men in bitter thraldom* But what 
his piercing insight saw was this, that the mood of 
tragic desperation was itself the harbinger of hope, 
Just because this sighing, groaning creation was racked 
with pain, it was also tense with a breathless ex- 
pectancy: 

Still nursing the unconquerable hope, 
Still clutching the inviolable shade. 
24 



THE PREACHER'S WORLD 

"The whole creation/' wrote Paul, "waits with eager 
longing for the sons of God to be revealed. " It is 
listening for the sound of a distant pilgrim chorus, 
the march of a great consecrated brotherhood in 
Christ, the decisive emergence of a new race, the true 
sons of God, sealed with the Cross, It is scanning the 
roads down which that ransomed host, that nobler 
breed of saints, shall come at destiny's hour to bring 
history to its fulfilment. 

"Src~4s- a daring, magnificent conception. Are we 
wrong to see in it a parable of that thrust and counter- 
thrust of disillusionment and hope upon which we look 
out to-day, and with which as preachers we have to 
reckon ? When a generation has been robbed of its 
familiar gods of material security, progress, human 
self-sufficiency, or when the individual soul has found 
its conventional religion stolen away by the marauding 
forces of agnosticism, trouble and despair, then strikes 
God's hour to break in with His salvation. Must we 
not say that any weariness, unsettlement or consterna- 
tion is in the last resort a blessed thing if it makes a 
man or an age in the mood to welcome God? It is 
a. great thing to be brought right down to the depths, 
if so be that there at last we strike that bedrock which 
is the Rock of ages; a great thing that life itself should 
break up even violently the hard core of our proud 
self-reliance, if so be that the human spirit may be 
ready then to cast itself upon its ultimate resource in 
Jesus Christ. 

Therefore I counsel you let no fog of spiritual 

25 



HERALDS OF GOD 

defeatism chill your ministry. Refuse to listen to the 
lying voices which insinuate that this is an unpro- 
pitious hour for the proclamation of the faith. You 
are to be the heralds of a religion which once saw the 
blackest, most desperately unpropitious hour in history 
the hour of the crucifying of Jesus turned into 
history's crowning glory and mankind's brightest hope. 
Go forth, then, in the heartening assurance that this 
present cataclysmic hour is alive with spiritual poten- 
tialities. 

To take but one striking line of evidence, there is 
the new demand, particularly amongst youth, for a 
cause worthy of sacrifice or devotion, the new urge 
towards complete self-commitment. It will be tragic 
if the Church cannot take that generous impu|se and 
baptize it into Christ. If you are wise, you will not 
in your preaching mask or minimize the overwhelming, 
absolute nature of Christ's demand. Men are ready 
for a Leader who will unhesitatingly claim the last 
ounce of His followers' courage and fidelity. Field- 
Marshal Wavell has told, in his notable lectures 
entitled Generals and Generalship^ the story of how 
Napoleon, when an artillery officer at the siege of 
Toulon, built a battery in such an exposed position 
that he was told he would never find men to man it, 
But Napoleon had a sure instinct for what was required. 
He put up a placard **The battery of men without 
fear": and it was always manned. This is no time 
to be offering a reduced, milk-and-water religion. Far 
too often the world has been presented with a mild 

26 



THE PREACHER'S WORLD 

and undemanding half-Christianity. The Gospel has 
been emasculated long enough. Preach Christ to-day 
in the total challenge of His high 3 imperious claim. 
Some will be scared, and some offended: but some, 
and they the most worth winning, will kneel in homage 
at His feet. 



ii 



I pass on now to a second form in which the fact of 
tension, of paradox and conflict so characteristic, as 
we have remarked, of the mental and spiritual climate 
of to-day thrusts itself upon the preacher of the 
Word. This is the radical tension between Escapism 
and Realism. You will encounter nothing more 
baffling than the way in which an urgent quest for 
reality and an intense desire to avoid reality at all costs 
can apparently consort together. 

Consider the latter tendency first. Some of you will 
know St. John Adcock's striking poem The Divine 
Tragedy. It is an imaginative attempt to conceive 
what would happen if Jesus of Nazareth were to come 
back to the modern world ; if some of those who profess 
our holy religion, and remain safe and snug behind a 
facade of second-hand dogma and devotion, were 
suddenly confronted with the blazing reality of Christ 
Himself. Hear the poet's conclusion ; 

When a blithe infant, lapt in careless joy. 
Sports with a woollen lion if the toy 
Should come to life, the child, so direly crost, 
Faced with this Actuality were lost. . . . 
27 



HERALDS OF GOD 

Leave us our toys 5 then 5 happier we shall stay 

While they remain but toys, and we can play 

With them and do with them as suits us best; 

Reality would add to our unrest. . . . 

We want no living Christ 5 whose truth intense 

Pretends to no belief in our pretence 

And ? flashing on all folly and deceit, 

Would blast our world to ashes at our feet, . . . 

We do but ask to see 

No more of Him below than is displayed 

In the dead plaything our own hands have made 

To lull our fears and comfort us in loss 

The wooden Christ upon a wooden Cross ! 

Who will dare to say that the poet's imagination has 
misled him? Men have always been ready, in sheer 
self-defence, to erect some vague idealistic image of 
Jesus in the temple of their spirits. But that is the 
image which we have to break, that the living Christ 
may reign. 

" Reality would add to our unrest." Indeed it 
would. Hence the familiar hiatus between piety and 
practice, the scandal of the divorce between sacred and 
secular, between religion and the common life. Hence 
the intent debating of theological controversies totally 
irrelevant to human need. Hence the cult of a religion 
that is garrulous about minutiae of form and procedure, 
and dumb about social injustice: ''straining at a gnat 
and swallowing a camel/' Of all such obfuscations of 
the flaming challenge of Christ, John Oman once 
pungently declared: "A minister who can do it will 

28 



THE PREACHER'S WORLD 

go far; but the Church that does it is in its grave- 
clothes. People want to have everything in them 
spoken to except their consciences/* Or in the blunt 
words of the late Bishop Gore, " We do like to lie to 
ourselves about ourselves!" 

In every age the preaching of the Word has had to 
reckon with this perverse, tenacious mood. From the 
days of Amos and Isaiah to the present, * 'Prophesy 
unto us smooth things" has been an ever-recurring 
demand; and Gore, to quote him again, once averred 
that "the disease of modern preaching is its search after 
popularity." But it is the false prophet who plays 
down to men's craving for security when he ought to 
be showing them the lightnings of God flashing about 
their sins. "When God commands to take the 
trumpet, " wrote John Milton in a famous passage, 
"and blow a dolorous or jarring blast, it lies not in 
man's will what he shall say, or what he shall conceal." 
The true prophets have never been pious dreamers and 
idealists, with their heads in the clouds. They have 
dealt with concrete situations and urgent realities : in 
the name of their God they have set up their banners 
against every wrecking force in the life of the world 
around them, and "Thus saith the Lord" has been 
their clarion cry. 

The trouble is that there is something deep in human 
nature which objects to God, and will use even religion 
as a defence-mechanism against the thrust of reality. 
"The way to be successful," wrote Dr. W. R. Inge 
with a characteristically caustic touch, "is to give the 

29 



HERALDS OF GOD 

public exactly what it wants, and about ten per cent, 
more of it than it expects." "Don't go out for popu- 
larity/' Spurgeon used to implore his students, 
" preach nothing down but the devil, and nothing up 
but Christ I" 

It is quite impossible to preach Christ faithfully 
without saying many things which will sting the natural 
heart of man into opposition and rebellion. You will 
have to declare, for example, that to imagine one can 
receive God's forgiveness while refusing oneself to be 
forgiving to others is sophistry and deceit: a hard 
saying that for many. Or take the doctrine of the 
divine Fatherhood. There are still those who accept 
that doctrine and sun themselves in its warm and 
comforting glow, but resent being confronted with its 
disconcerting and inexorable implications in the realm 
of practical brotherhood and social ethics. "Give us 
the simple Gospel," they cry: escapism rationalizing 
itself again. Take even the missionary challenge and 
the conception of a universal Church, We believe 
that, just as no man is truly awake to-day who has not 
developed a supra-national horizon to his thinking, 
so no Church is anything more than a pathetic pietistic 
backwater unless it is first and fundamentally and all 
the time a world missionary Church. But there are 
stubborn strongholds into which that truth has yet to 
penetrate minds which, for one reason or another, 
persistently regard the missionary enterprise as the 
province of a few enthusiasts, a side-show., an extra: 
not realizing that here is something which every pro- 

30 



THE PREACHER'S WORLD 

fessing Christian must espouse with all his heart and 
soul, or else surrender his right to march beneath the 
banners of Christ. It is your task as preachers to 
summon men to share with Jesus in the great crusade 
which began at Calvary and Pentecost, and shall never 
cease until the whole earth is filled with the glory of 
the Lord; and where the narrower view prevails, you 
must at all costs disturb its contentment and bid it 
reflect what it will feel like for any disciple to stand 
before Christ at last and say, "The world mission of 
Your religion had no help from me I" 

Therefore resist all temptations to dilute your Gospel 
Your task is not to send people away from church 
saying, "That was a lovely sermon" or "What an 
eloquent appeal! 77 The one question is: Did they, 
or did they not, meet God to-day? There will always 
be some who have no desire for that, some who rather 
than be confronted with the living Christ would 
actually prefer what G. K. Chesterton described as 
"one solid and polished cataract of platitudes flowing 
for ever and ever," But when St. Peter finished his 
first great sermon in Jerusalem, reported in the Book 
of Acts, I do not read that "when they heard this, they 
were intrigued by his eloquence/' or "politely inter- 
ested in his literary allusions," or "critical of his logic 
and his accent," or "bored and impassive and con- 
temptuous"; what I do read is: "When they heard 
this, they were pierced to the heart." The heart of 
man has a whole armour of escapist devices to hold off 
the danger when reality comes too near. But I would 

3 1 



HERALDS OF GOD 

remind you that Peter's theme that day Jesus cruci- 
fied and risen is your basic message still: still as 
dynamic, as " mighty through God to the pulling down 
of strongholds," as moving and heart-piercing, as when 
men heard it preached in Jerusalem long ago. 

There is, however, another side to the matter. Just 
as we noted how profoundly the modern mind is 
dominated by the tension between disillusionment and 
hope, so now we have to observe that over against the 
escapist attitude, countering it and setting up a further 
tension, there exists a strange passion for reality. 
Illogical ? Undoubtedly. But there is the fact govern- 
ing the relationship of multitudes at this moment to 
the religion of Christ what repels, attracts; what 
disturbs and disconcerts, haunts and convinces. In 
the very moment of the headlong flight from reality, 
the drive towards reality makes itself felt; and " Depart 
from me, for I am a sinful man" becomes " Nearer, 
my God, to Thee!" 

It is one of the mightiest safeguards of a man's 
ministry to be aware of that hungry demand for 
reality breaking inarticulately from the hearts of those 
to whom he ministers. For that cry puts everything 
shoddy, second-hand or artificial utterly to shame. 

You do not need to be eloquent, or clever, or 
sensational, or skilled in dialectic: you must be real. 
To fail there is to fail abysmally and tragically. It is 
to damage incalculably the cause you represent. 

Anything savouring of unreality in the pulpit is a 

3* 



THE PREACHER'S WORLD 

double offence. Let me urge upon you two con- 
siderations. 

On the one hand, you will be preaching to people 
who have been grappling all the week with stern 
realities. Behind a congregation assembling for wor- 
ship there are stories of heavy anxiety and fierce 
temptation, of loneliness and heroism, of overwork 
and lack of work, of physical strain and mental wear 
and tear. We wrong them and we mock their struggles 
if we preach our Gospel in abstraction from the hard 
facts of their experience. It is not only that they can 
detect at once the hollowness of such a performance, 
though that is true: there is also this that to offer 
pedantic theorizings and academic irrelevances to souls 
wrestling in the dark is to sin against the Lord who 
died for them and yearns for their redeeming. 

But there is a further indictment of unreality in 
preaching. This is rooted not so much in the hard 
problems men and women are facing what Whittier 
called this " maddening maze of things" as in the 
very nature of the Christian faith itself. The Gospel 
is quite shattering in its realism. It shirks nothing. 
It never seeks to gloss over the dark perplexities of 
fate, frustration, sin and death, or to gild unpalatable 
facts with a coating of pious verbiage or facile consola- 
tion. It never side-tracks uncomfortable questions 
with some naive and cheerful cliche about providence 
or progress. It gazes open-eyed at the most menacing 
and savage circumstance that life can show. It is 
utterly courageous. Its strength is the complete 

33 



HERALDS OF GOD 

absence of Utopian illusions. It thrusts Golgotha 
upon men's vision and bids them look at that. The 
very last charge which can be brought against the 
Gospel is that of sentimentality, of blinking the facts. 
It is devastating in its veracity, and its realism is a 
consuming fire. 

This is the message with which we are charged. 
How grievous the fault if in our hands it becomes 
tainted with unreality! 

Of course, this is an issue which concerns the whole 
Church, and not only the individual minister. Nothing 
so gravely compromises the Christian witness as the 
suspicion that organized religion is failing to practise 
what it preaches. There are at least three directions 
in which the Church to-day is having to meet and to 
answer the challenge of the craving for reality. The 
first relates to worship. Do our forms of worship 
convey at every point the ringing note of entire sin- 
cerity and truth ? The second has to do with the social 
implications of the Gospel. Has it not happened all 
too frequently that men of generous and noble nature, 
tormented by the spectacle of the wrongs of society 
and the sufferings of humanity, and on fire to help 
their brethren "bound in affliction and iron/' have 
cried out against what seemed to them the appalling 
torpor and inaction of the Church, dragging its slow 
ponderous length along, with leisurely, lumbering 
organization, and have flung away from it in impatience 
and despair ? The third challenge concerns Christian 
unity. Is it legitimate, is it convincing, for a Church 

34 



THE PREACHER'S WORLD 

to summon men to brotherhood and solidarity, while 
its own ruinous divisions are manifest to all ? Is it 
real in a day when the thrust and pressure of anti- 
Christian forces ought to be driving all believers to 
close their ranks and march together, in a day moreover 
when the reaction from the hyper-individualism of a 
bygone age is leading the younger generation to new 
experiments in the realm of community is it real to 
maintain and perpetuate the partisan loyalties which 
disrupt true fellowship and drive Christians asunder? 
"Physician, heal thyself!" 

In these ways, then, the demand for reality impinges 
upon the witness of the Church at large. But what 
mainly concerns us here is the more personal issue. 
If you are wise you will register a vow, at the very- 
outset of your ministry, to make reality your constant 
quest. In the fine language of Scripture, "Her 
merchandise is better than silver, and the gain thereof 
than fine gold. She is more precious than rubies: 
and all the things thou canst desire are not to be 
compared unto her/' Richard Baxter, who after three 
hundred years is still so sure a guide, has some plain- 
spoken words on this matter. " It is a lamentable case, 
that in a message from the God of heaven, of ever- 
lasting consequences to the souls of men, we should 
behave ourselves so weakly, so unhandsomely, so 
imprudently, or so slightly, that the whole business 
should miscarry in our hands, and God be dishonoured, 
and His work disgraced, and sinners rather hardened 
than converted." By way of contrast, take this signi- 

35 



HERALDS OF GOD 

ficant account of the effect produced by a great 
nineteenth-century preacher on two of the most acute 
and discriminating minds of his day. " We have just 
been to hear Spurgeon," wrote Principal Tulloch, 
describing a visit paid by Professor Ferrier the meta- 
physician and himself to the Surrey Gardens Music 
Hall one Sunday morning in 1858, "and have been 
both so much impressed that I wish to give you my 
impressions while they are fresh. As we came out we 
both confessed, 'There is no doubt about that? and I 
was struck with Perrier's remarkable expression, *I 
feel it would do me good to hear the like of that; it 
sat so close to reality/ The sermon is about the most 
real thing I have come in contact with for a long time." 
That focuses the basic element of the true preacher's 
power. " It sat so close to reality/ 7 si sic omnes! 

To make this quite concrete, let me urge upon you 
the following maxims. 

Be real in worship. If you are to lead others in 
worship, you must be truly sharing in the act of worship 
yourself. No doubt this sounds self-evident: yet it 
does need to be emphasized. It means, for instance, 
that you are not to occupy the time of hymn-singing 
conning the Scripture lessons or fidgeting with a sheaf 
of intimations or moving restlessly about the pulpit or 
scanning the congregation for absentees. It is un- 
natural to bid your people lift up their hearts to the 
Lord and then fail to join your voice with theirs in the 
common act of praise. Moreover, it is by realizing 
the attitude of worship in your own spirit that you will 

36 



THE PREACHER'S WORLD 

best find deliverance from awkward mannerisms, from 
the blight of self-consciousness, and even from that 
deadly menace, the " pulpit voice, " than which nothing 
is more infallibly destructive of the atmosphere of 
reality. And if you will remember that the sermon 
itself should be an act of worship, a sacramental show- 
ing forth of Christ, will not that save you from a 
multitude of pitfalls? You are not likely to become 
pompous or pretentious or pontifical if you are truly 
seeing Jesus and helping others to see Him. You will 
not scold or rate or lecture when God's Word is on 
your mouth. "Have you ever heard me preach?" 
Coleridge asked Charles Lamb one day; to which 
Lamb replied, "I never heard you do anything else.** 
But it is a different preaching which creates the hush 
that tells when Christ is in the midst. There is nothing 
like worship, when it is real, for destroying every shred 
and atom of a man's self-importance. A minister of 
God who carries a sense of his importance about with 
him, even into the pulpit, is a dreadful and pathetic 
sight : but who will say it is unknown ? 

There are a sort of men whose visages 
Do cream and mantle like a standing pond, 
And do a wilful stillness entertain, 
With purpose to be dress'd in an opinion 
Of wisdom, gravity, profound conceit; 
As who should say, "I am Sir Oracle, 
And when I ope my lips let no dog bark!" 

Not that the corrective of a stiff and ostentatious for- 

37 



HERALDS OF GOD 

mality is to be a slovenly and casual informality! 
4 * Some people imagine/' declared the late Bernard 
Manning of Cambridge, "that informality in the pulpit 
in itself induces a belief in their sincerity or genius. 
It induces only a belief in their bad taste, and makes us 
want to get under the seats. Do not behave with a 
triviality, a casualness, a haphazardness, as if not 
merely God were absent, but as if all decent people 
were absent too/' There is one thing, and one thing 
only, which can rescue the preacher from the immense 
besetting dangers of his position, and that is to have 
his own spirit bathed in the atmosphere of worship, 
awed and subdued and thrilled that Christ should 
come so near. In the words of a great tribute once 
paid to John Brown of Haddington by no less a 
critic than David Hume, " That's the man for me, 
he means what he says: he speaks as if Jesus was at 
his elbow/' 

Be real in language. Shun everything stilted, 
grandiose, insipid or pedantic. Do not be like the 
learned preacher who in the course of a sermon in a 
village church remarked, "Perhaps some of you at 
this point are suspecting me of Eutychianism." In your 
business of bringing the Christian religion decisively 
to bear upon the needs and problems of a twentieth- 
century congregation, the language of Nicaea, or even 
of the Westminster Divines, may be a hindrance rather 
than a help. It is sheer slackness to fling at your 
people great slabs of religious phraseology derived 
from a bygone age, and leave them the task of re- 

38 



THE PREACHER'S WORLD 

translation Into terms of their own experience : that is 
your task, not theirs. Beware lest with facile platitudes 
and prosy commonplaces you cheapen the glorious 
Gospel of the blessed God. Eliminate everything 
which does not ring true. Be chary of indulging in 
oratory. "If a learned brother/' said Spurgeon, " fires 
over the heads of his congregation with a grand 
oration, he may trace his elocution, if he likes, to 
Cicero and Demosthenes, but do not let him ascribe it 
to the Holy Spirit." If you have a tendency towards 
purple passages, suppress it sternly. A generation 
which is suspicious and impatient of high-sounding 
declamatory language in Parliament and press and on 
the public platform is not likely to be impressed by it 
in the pulpit ; and if you once give men the idea that 
you are indulging in self-conscious artistry, they will 
hardly believe that the things of which you speak are 
overmastering realities. John Bunyan declares, In the 
Preface to Grace Abounding^ "I could have stepped into 
a style much higher than this, and could have adorned 
all things more than here I have seemed to do." But 
he is quite candid about his reason for refusing such 
tricks of elegance and ornament: "I dare not. God 
did not play in tempting of me; neither did I play, 
when the pangs of hell caught hold upon me ; where- 
fore I may not play in relating of them, but be plain 
and simple, and lay down the thing as it was." You 
are to be dealing in your preaching with real things: 
temptation, crushing grief, the fear of death, the grace 
of Christ. On such themes, you cannot indulge in 

39 



HERALDS OF GOD 

florid writing and preciosity without seeming to deny 
their reality. "We talk now/' exclaimed Joseph 
Parker, "about sermons being polished, and finished, 
and exquisite, with many a delicate little touch artistic. 
The Lord send fire upon all such abortions and burn 
them up, till their white ashes cannot any more be 
found!" 

This is not to ban emotion from preaching. Any 
such advice would be supremely foolish. No man who 
realizes what is at stake the depth of the human 
plight and the wonder of the divine remedy will lack 
the authentic touch of passion. The preacher, said 
Lacordaire, is like Mount Horeb: "before God strikes 
him he is but a barren rock, but as soon as the divine 
hand has touched him, as it were with a finger, there 
burst forth streams that water the desert/' What I 
would warn you against is not the genuine note of feel- 
ing that will carry your words like winged things into 
many a heart : it is that self-conscious straining after 
effect which may be legitimate in the schools of the 
sophists but is totally out of place at the mercy-seat 
of God. "Great sermons/* declared Henry Ward 
Beecher, "are nuisances. Show-sermons are the tempta- 
tion of the devil." Life and death issues are in your 
mouth when you preach the Gospel of Christ; and it is 
simply tragic trifling to make the sermon a declamatory 
firework show, or a garish display of the flowers of 
rhetoric. Have you ever marvelled at the Bible's 
sublime economy of words? Take a story like the 
coming of Ruth and Naomi. There is no striving 

40 



THE PREACHER'S WORLD 

after literary effect; the whole thing is told in short, 
quiet, almost staccato sentences; not a word is wasted, 
Yet how packed with emotion it is, how truly and pro- 
foundly moving! Or take the chapter which describes 
how David in the unguarded hour broke faith with 
his own soul and with God. Could any flamboyant 
eloquence of denunciation have equalled the over- 
whelming effect of those quiet words at the close: 
"But the thing that David had done displeased the 
Lord"? Above all, take the Passion narratives in the 
Gospels. How their restraint rebukes our vain em- 
bellishments ! How crude and turgid those cherished 
purple passages begin to look in the light of the Word 
of God! Christ's messengers are sent forth armed 
with a Word able to break men's hearts and heal 
them. But remember as Richard Baxter told the 
preachers of his day " you cannot break men's 
hearts by patching up a gaudy oration." Be real in 
language ! 

Finally, I would say this : Be real in your total attitude 
to the message. There is something wrong if a man, 
charged with the greatest news in the world, can be 
listless and frigid and feckless and dull Who is going 
to believe that the tidings brought by the preacher 
matter literally more than anything else on earth if 
they are presented with no sort of verve or fire or 
attack, and if the man himself is apathetic and un- 
inspired, afflicted with spiritual coma, and unsaying 
by his attitude what he says in words? There is no 
prayer that ought to be more constantly on your lips 

41 



HERALDS OF GOD 

than those lines of Charles Wesley, surely the most 
characteristic he ever wrote: 

O Thou who earnest from above, 
The pure celestial fire to impart, 

Kindle a flame of sacred love 
On the mean altar of my heart. 

There let it for Thy glory burn. 

Think of the news you are ordained to declare. 
That God has invaded history with power and great 
glory; that in the day of man's terrible need a second 
Adam has come forth to the fight and to the rescue; 
that in the Cross the supreme triumph of naked evil 
has been turned once for all to irrevocable defeat; that 
Christ is alive now and present through His Spirit; 
that through the risen Christ there has been let loose 
into the world a force which can transform life beyond 
recognition this is the most momentous message 
human lips were ever charged to speak. It dwarfs all 
other truths into insignificance. It is electrifying in 
its power, shattering in its wonder. Surely i't is 
desperately unreal to talk of themes like these in a voice 
deadened by routine, or in the maddeningly offhand 
and impassive manner which is all too familiar. It 
ought not to be possible to conduct a Church service 
in a way which leaves a stranger with the impression 
that nothing particular is happening and that no 
important business is on hand, "Went to Church 
to-day/' wrote Robert Louis Stevenson in his journal, 
"and was not greatly depressed/' If that is the best 

42 



THE PREACHER'S WORLD 

we can do for people, is it worth doing? "Certainly I 
must confess/' cried Sir Philip Sidney, "I never heard 
the old song of Percy and Douglas, that I found not 
my heart moved more than with a trumpet/' And to 
you has been committed the infinitely more heart- 
moving story of the Word made flesh : " that incredible 
interruption/' wrote G. K. Chesterton, "as a blow that 
broke the very backbone of history/' "It were better/' 
he declared, "to rend our robes with a great cry against 
blasphemy, like Caiaphas in the judgment, rather than 
to stand stupidly debating fine shades of pantheism, in 
the presence of so catastrophic a claim." 

What strikes you about the preachers of the New 
Testament is that they had been swept off their feet 
and carried away by the glory of the great revelation. 
They went to men who had sinned disastrously, and 
they cried, "Listen! We can tell you of reconciliation 
and a new beginning/' They went to others who had 
nothing but the vaguest fatalism for a religion, and 
they proclaimed exultingly the love of the eternal 
Father. They went to desolate and weak and lonely 
souls, and with shouts of confidence exclaimed, "Lift 
up your heads ! You can do all things through Christ 
who strengthens you/' They went to others shivering 
in cold terror at the thought of death's onward in- 
exorable march, and they bade them "Rejoice! Christ 
has conquered. Death lies dead!" It is the same 
tremendous tidings for which the world is hungry yet. 
To discover, after a hundred defeats, that it is still 
possible in Christ to make a fresh beginning ; to have 

43 



HERALDS OF GOD 

distrusted God for half a lifetime of prayerless years, 
and then to be told that He cares intensely, and that 
the way to His heart lies open now; to have felt 
utterly inadequate for life's demands and for the wear 
and tear of worrying days, and then to learn of vast 
incalculable reserves of power just waiting to be used; 
to have had nothing to look forward to but the snapping 
of the ties that matter most, and then to find that death 
has ceased to count, because victory and immortality 
belong to love this is the glorious news, too often, 
alas, made dull and commonplace by our poor bung- 
ling, and desupernaturalised by our stolidity and 
ineptitude. 

Suppose the apostles were to come back to earth 
to-day, and watch us at our weekly worship. Would 
they recognize the religion in whose dawn they had 
found it such bliss to be alive ? Might they not have 
to say, "What has happened? Is this the faith that 
once stirred the world like a thousand trumpets? Is 
this the miraculous religion that burnt us with its 
flame ? How can these our descendants repeat with the 
chill of lackadaisical boredom words that once awak- 
ened the dead? 'God was incarnate': can they say 
that, and not be thrilled and dazzled by the amazement 
of it? 'The Son of God was crucified, dead, and 
buried' : can they think of that and not be overwhelmed 
by its awful meaning? ' Christ is risen': can they tell 
that, and not want to shout for the glory of it ? Why 
have they allowed these breathlessly exciting facts to 
be written in the dull catalogue of common things and 

44 



THE PREACHER'S WORLD 

suffocated by the formalities of a routine religion? 
Why seek ye the living among the dead? 7 ' 

" Were there but such clear and deep impressions 
upon our souls/' wrote Richard Baxter, "of the 
glorious things that we daily preach, O what a change 
it would make in our sermons and in our private 
course. I marvel how I can preach of them slightly 
and coldly. I seldom come out of the pulpit but my 
conscience smiteth me that I have been no more 
serious and fervent. 'How could'st thou speak of life 
and death with such a heart ?'" The fact is that all 
our assiduous planning for increased efficiency in 
organized religion will lead to nothing unless we have 
a Church which is tingling and vibrating with the 
wonder of its own evangel. Then, only then, will the 
Christian forces make their God-intended impact on 
the world ; and then we shall begin to understand the 
saying that is written: "The zeal of Thy house hath 
eaten me up/' 

I am not suggesting that you should simulate a 
warmth and passion which you do not feel. Such 
"synthetic unction/' as Dr. W. R. Maltby has called 
it, "may impress simple souls, but it corrupts the 
preacher. Emotion arises out of the truth: emotion- 
alism is poured on to it." That is the great difference. 
But you will need no cheap substitute for the real 
thing if you are living close to Christ. Your heart will 
burn within you as He talks with you by the way; and 
something of that inner glow will communicate itself 
to your preaching, and kindle a flame in other lives. 

45 



HERALDS OF GOD 

This will be true, not only of sermons belonging to 
what is sometimes called the prophetic function of the 
ministry, but also of those in which the teaching note 
predominates, A ministry extending over many years 
in one place can be effective and fruitful only if much 
of its strength is given to systematic exposition of the 
Bible and regularly planned instruction on the great 
doctrines of the Christian faith. But what I am con- 
cerned to insist on at the moment is that even your 
teaching sermons ought to have in them, and can have, 
something of the authentic thrill of the evangel. Do 
not believe the defeatist moan that the production of 
two vital sermons each week is neither mentally nor 
spiritually possible. For if there are indeed " un- 
searchable riches" in Christ, you will always be 
pioneering and exploring, always discovering new 
depths in the Gospel, and the streams of the river of 
life will never for you run dry. The longest ministry 
is too short by far to exhaust the treasures of the Word 
of God. Certainly if you preach your own theories and 
ideas, using Scripture texts merely as pegs to hang 
them on, you will soon be at the end of your resources 
and the sooner the better. But if you will let the 
Scriptures speak their own message, if you will realize 
that every passage or text has its own quite distinctive 
meaning, you will begin to feel that the problem is not 
lack of fresh material, but the very embarrassment of 
riches; and with the Psalmist you will cry, "I rejoice 
at Thy Word, as one that findeth great spoil/' Thus 
in teaching and exposition no less than in direct 

46 



THE PREACHER'S WORLD 

evangelism, in your continual task of instructing your 
people in the whole counsel of God no less than in the 
act of appealing for decision, the message will be alive, 
throbbing with vital force, imbued with the redeeming 
energy of the Holy Spirit: " quick and powerful, and 
sharper than any two-edged sword. 7 ' No one will 
doubt or question its reality. 

It was this characteristic which R. W. Dale of 
Birmingham noted in the work of D. L. Moody. "He 
preached in a manner which produced the sort of effect 
produced by Luther. He exulted in the free grace of 
God. His joy was contagious. Men leaped out of 
darkness into light, and lived a Christian life after- 
wards." There is no reason why your ministry, in its 
own degree, should not achieve visible results, provided 
you keep alive within you a sense of the wonder of the 
facts you preach and of the urgency of the issues with 
which you deal. Every Sunday morning when it comes 
ought to find you awed and thrilled by the reflection 
"God is to be in action to-day, through me, for these 
people: this day may be crucial, this service decisive, 
for someone now ripe for the vision of Jesus." Re- 
member that every soul before you has its own story 
of need, and that if the Gospel of Christ does not meet 
such need nothing on earth can. Aim at results. 
Expect mighty works to happen. Realize that, al- 
though your congregation may be small, every soul is 
infinitely precious. Never forget that Christ Himself, 
according to His promise, is in the midst, making the 
plainest and most ordinary church building into the 

47 



HERALDS OF GOD 

house of God and the gate of heaven. Hear His voice 
saying, "This day is the Scripture fulfilled in your ears. 
This day is salvation come to this house." Then 
preaching, which might otherwise be a dead formality 
and a barren routine, an implicit denial of its own high 
claim, will become a power and a passion; and the 
note of strong, decisive reality, like a trumpet, will 
awaken the souls of men. 



in 



Up to this point, we have been considering the 
preacher's task as influenced by two crucial factors in 
the contemporary scene: the tension between dis- 
illusionment and hope, and the tension between 
escapism and realism. We turn now finally to a third 
characteristic mood with which we have to reckon in 
our presentation of the Gospel to this age. This is the 
critical tension between Scepticism and Faith. You are 
going out to a world which is literally "in a strait 
betwixt two/' torn by an inner conflict between the 
spirit of denial and the spirit of affirmation, between 
the loud self-confident dogmatism of the thorough- 
going sceptic and the deep wistfulness of the seeker 
after God. "Poore intricated soule!" cried John 
Donne long ago, contemplating the unresolved ten- 
sions of man's nature, "Riddling, perplexed, laby- 
rinthicall soule!" 

That there has been, on the one hand, a widespread 
failure of belief is all too apparent. Evidences of it 



THE PREACHER'S WORLD 

can be found In the neglect of public worship; in the 
indifference to the Bible; in the astounding ignorance 
even amongst well-educated people as to what Chris- 
tianity really is; and in the prevalence of the type of 
humanism we have already referred to, which dethrones 
God and sets man in the centre of the picture. The 
causes of the sceptical mood are various. Some have 
been driven from the citadel of faith by the formidable 
assaults of science. Others have found their religious 
beliefs crumbling away before the ruthless, terrifying 
aspect of a world at war. Others have felt the desolat- 
ing stab of doubt and misgiving as they grappled with 
the mystery of suffering. Many have lost the vision 
through failure to maintain a disciplined devotional 
life. Many have lacked the necessary powers of 
resistance to ward off the infection of a predominantly 
secularist society. 

There, then, is the challenge you are called upon to 
meet. I am not thinking now of that flippant, super- 
ficial type of scepticism which will stand in the presence 
of the profoundest mysteries without a trace of awe or 
wonder, which will talk jauntily of its emancipation 
from the ethics of Christ, and smile patronizingly at 
the prayers of the saints, and look with pity upon those 
who still frequent the worship and ordinances of the 
Church. Nor am I thinking of the intellectually half- 
baked scepticism which has a naturalistic explanation 
for every phenomenon of the religious life, which 
calls prayer auto-suggestion, and conscience a utili- 
tarian social contract, and immortality flagrant wishful- 

49 



HERALDS OF GOD 

thinking, and God a projection of the human mind: 
as if such a travesty of the facts, such a "weary, stale, 
flat, and unprofitable" jargon, compounded of bad 
psychology and unintelligent rationalism, could cancel 
out the witness of the Christian centuries, or be the 
dynamite to blast and to destroy the Rock of ages! 
I am thinking rather of the deeper and more serious 
challenge which accosts our ministry in this age when 
beliefs which once seemed inviolable are fighting for 
their very life, and when the faith of multitudes of our 
fellow-men has gone down defeated before the wild 
surge and onset of militant doubt. Have you, as 
Chtrist's ambassadors, the word of the Lord for such a 
situation? Can you confront it with the decisive 
testimony of an irrefragable first-hand experience? 
"I believe/' cried the psalmist, "therefore have I 
spoken." It is a great thing to be able, like the 
apostle, to add: "We also believe, and therefore 
speak." 

To be aware, however, of the prevalent mood of 
scepticism and of the widespread failure of belief is 
not enough. For beneath the surface there is an acute 
tension: the thesis and antithesis of doubt and faith, 
the drive of the spirit of denial, and the urge of the 
quest for God. Do not allow the drift away from the 
Church, and the apparent indifference and even hostil- 
ity to organized religion, to deceive you. Everywhere 
to-day, even in the least likely places, there are men 
dimly seeking the Lord, "if haply they might feel after 

So 



THE PREACHER'S WORLD 

Him, and find Him." You will remember how the 
invincible wistfulness of faith kept glimmering even 
through the scepticism of Thomas Hardy; 

That with this bright believing band 

I have no claim to be. 
That faiths by which my comrades stand 

Seem fantasies to me, 
And mirage-mist their Shining Land, 

Is a strange destiny. 

Surely if we had ears to hear and eyes to see, we should 
recognize the same deep ache and yearning to-day even 
in lives apparently devoid of Christian convictions, 
lacking any conscious background of God for their 
thinking and activity, with no flame of prayer on the 
altar of their spirits, and no conception of a risen, 
regnant Christ who has overcome the sharpness of 
death and opened the Kingdom of Heaven to all 
believers. To all intents and purposes, the sceptical 
mood and the assault of doubt and denial have choked 
their spiritual life, as the Philistines choked the wells 
of Abraham in the valley of Gerar long ago; but you 
will find, as Isaac did, that the underground wells are 
still there, buried but undestroyed, and needing only 
the touch of faith and love to set them flowing free 
again. That is the measure of your opportunity. 

Signs are indeed not wanting that the sceptical mood 
is less sure of itself to-day than a generation ago. Its 
armour has been pierced. Its self-confidence has been 
badly shaken. You will not be handicapped, as were 

5* 



HERALDS OF GOD 

some of your predecessors, by having to preach a 
spiritual view of the world to an age drugged with the 
narcotic of a thoroughgoing materialism. " We are no 
longer tempted/' wrote Eddington in Science and the 
Unseen World^ "to condemn the spiritual aspects of 
our nature as illusory because of their lack of concrete- 
ness. We have travelled far from the standpoint which 
identifies the real with the concrete. " Many who in 
the heyday of revolt and emancipation threw over the 
trammels of orthodoxy are beginning to suspect that 
the Christian interpretation of life may after all be 
more credible, more intellectually respectable, than any 
of the alternatives. Robert Browning's dramatic 
defence of the faith in Bishop Blougram is doubly 
cogent now. What the poet saw with piercing clear- 
ness was that, if the difficulties facing belief are bad 
enough, those confronting unbelief are much worse; 
and that all that scepticism does is to land the mind in 
problems far more intractable and embarrassing than 
those it is seeking to escape. This is the fact which is 
forcing itself into recognition again at the present hour. 
Hence you start your ministry with an immense 
advantage. Multitudes of people to-day are haunted 
by the suspicion that the world is perfectly meaningless 
apart from God. That is a good atmosphere in which 
to have to preach the Gospel. If you can bring to 
troubled hearts the assurance that the Christian faith 
does make sense of the universe and give a credible 
interpretation of life, if you can show them God at the 
heart of their experience, you need never fear that your 

52 



THE PREACHER'S WORLD 

word will return unto you void, nor that your ministry 
will be suggestive of the sounding brass and the 
tinkling cymbal. The sceptical mood has had its 
innings, and has failed to satisfy. Therefore "lift up 
thy voice with strength ; lift it up, be not afraid ; say 
unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God!" 

You will do well to remember that, whenever you 
speak to men in the name of Jesus Christ, unseen 
instincts deep within them are reinforcing your words. 

Thou hast great allies; 
Thy friends are exultations, agonies, 
And love, and man's unconquerable mind. 

"The belief in God," said Rabbi Duncan, " presses 
multifariously upon man." Let that be your con- 
fidence ! 

You do not preach in a vacuum. Those secret 
allies of God are always there, working in the hearts of 
those to whom you are sent. One of the greatest is the 
sense of sin. However much men may romanticize 
the guilty conscience, or rationalize with clever casu- 
istry the restless misery of the disintegrated and 
dishevelled soul, there are stubborn questions which 
refuse to be silenced: How shall I make my peace with 
God? Can the damage be atoned for? Can the 
frightful dilemma be resolved? 

O how shall I, whose native sphere 
Is dark, whose mind is dim. 

Before the Ineffable appear. 

And on my naked spirit bear 
The uncreated beam? 

S3 



HERALDS OF GOD 

Another of those secret allies on which you can 
count in your ministry is the human heart's need of 
comfort. Was it not Ian Maclaren who, near the end, 
declared that if he could begin his life-work over again 
he would strike the note of comfort far oftener than he 
had done? The amount of trouble in the average 
congregation is far greater than any unimaginative 
onlooker would ever guess. So many who face the 
world gallantly and uncomplainingly are wearing 
hidden sackcloth next their hearts: "men of sorrows, 
and acquainted with grief." "Who but my selfe," 
cried John Donne in a sermon in London in 1626, 
"can conceive the sweetnesse of that salutation when 
the Spirit of God sayes to me in a morning. Go forth 
to-day and preach, and preach consolation, preach 
peace, preach mercy?*' And when the Spirit of God 
thrusts you forth on that same compassionate errand, 
your words if you are careful to avoid all senti- 
mentality, and to offer only the strong, bracing com- 
fort of the New Testament, the authentic faraklesis 
will make a highroad to many hearts. 

But best of all God's secret allies in the souls to 
whom you preach is the eternity God Himself has 
planted there, the hunger for the bread of heaven. 
Often only an inarticulate craving, concealed deliber- 
ately sometimes behind a mask of apathy and irreligion, 
it is nevertheless the decisive element in the situation 
and the supremely hopeful factor of your ministry. 
No man's soul can be satisfied indefinitely with the 
wretched husks of a materialist philosophy. It begins 

54 



THE PREACHER'S WORLD 

to starve for something better than such poor earthly 
stuff. Sooner or later, the famine grips it. It grows 
homesick. Try as it may, it can never quite delude 
itself into believing that the atmosphere of a secular 
society is its native air. It wants to fling its windows 
open towards Jerusalem. It cries aloud for the God 
who is its home. The blank space in the modern 
heart, said Julian Huxley, is a "God-shaped blank/* 
How can preaching ever die out while these things are 
so? Do not listen to the foolish talk which suggests 
that, for this twentieth century, the preaching of the 
Word is an anachronism, and that the pulpit, having 
served its purpose, must now be displaced by press or 
radio, discussion group or Brains Trust, and finally 
vanish from the scene. As long as God sets His image 
on the soul, and men are restless till they rest in Him, 
so long will the preacher's task persist, and his voice 
be heard through all the clamour of the world. 

It ought to fill you with something of the glad fear- 
lessness of the apostolic preachers, the farresia of the 
New Testament, to know that, even before you open 
your mouth to speak, God's secret allies have been at 
work in the hearts of those now waiting for the Word. 
It will save you from the false diffidence of misplaced 
apologetic. Shame on our apologizing for the truth 
of Christ! Shame on our timid offering of some pith- 
less Gospel denuded of the supernatural, dull un- 
kindled ethics with a Christian tinge, views and 
impressions of current events with a smattering of the 
Sermon on the Mount, tame humanistic exhortations 

55 



HERALDS OF GOD 

to brotherhood and neighbourliness and the observance 
of the Golden Rule! Cannot we hear the hearts of 
men crying for the living God? Do we think Christ 
purchased the Church with His blood that it should 
be only a depository of doctrine, only a social con- 
science, only a glorified discussion group? Nothing 
about a Church no culture or enlightenment, no 
assiduous attention to the details of organization, no 
elaborate machinery of good works can avail any- 
thing or compensate one atom for the radical defect, 
if it is not a place where men and women can come 
quite sure that their hungry hearts will find the living 
bread. 

Have you that gift to offer? In the last resort, 
everything depends on the inner certainty of your own 
soul. Two hundred years ago, George Whitefield 
preached a sermon in Glasgow on The Duty of a Gospel 
Minister. "You will never preach," he said, "with 
power feelingly, while you deal in a false commerce 
with truths unfelt. It will be but poor, dry, sapless 
stuff your people will go away out of the church as 
cold as they came in. For my own part," he cried, 
"I would not preach an unknown Christ for ten 
thousand worlds. Such offer God strange fire, and 
their sermons will but increase their own damnation." 
Izaak Walton has described John Donne in the pulpit 
of St. Paul's, "preaching the Word so, as shewed his 
own heart was possest with those very thoughts and 
joyes that he labored to distill into others." Does not 
that lay bare our deepest need ? We want something 

56 



THE PREACHER'S WORLD 

better than second-hand religion and borrowed theo- 
logy, and stolid unkindled Churches which are merely 
efficient and competent machines, dealing with reality 
at a distance and sending earnest seekers away with an 
aching, disappointed sense that something vital is 
lacking. We want that thrilling sense of immediacy, 
that directness of touch, that spiritual drive and 
momentum, which only a personal encounter with God 
can ever impart. "It is good," declared Phillips 
Brooks, "to be a Herschel who describes the sun; but 
it is better to be a Prometheus who brings the sun's 
fire to the earth. " "I came into the town," wrote 
John Wesley in his Journal^ "and offered them Christ." 
To spend your days doing that not just describing 
Christianity or arguing for a creed, not apologizing for 
the faith or debating fine shades of religious meaning, 
but actually offering and giving men Christ could 
any life-work be more thrilling or momentous ? 



57 



CHAPTER II 
THE PREACHER'S THEME 

" From the beginning of time until now, this is the only 
thing that has ever really happened. When you understand 
this you will understand all prophecies, and all history." 

DOROTHY L. SAYERS, The Man Born to be King. 

IN that profoundly moving book, Tolstoy's War and 
Peace^ one of the most memorable scenes describes 
the night at Russian Headquarters when a messenger 
brought to Koutouzow, the old Commander-in-Chief 3 
the first news of Napoleon's retreat from Moscow. 
After the years of terrific strain and agony to which the 
soul of Russia had been subjected, the tidings sounded 
incredible. The envoy finished his report and then 
waited for orders in silence. A Staff Officer was about 
to speak, but Koutouzow checked him with his hand, 
and tried to say something himself. Not a word would 
come. Finally the old man turned away to where the 
sacred images stood against the wall. And then sud- 
denly and unrestrainedly, "Great God/' he cried, "my 
Lord and Creator! Thou hast heard my prayer! 
Russia is saved! " And then he burst into tears. 

To-day the envoy of the Gospel is charged with 
tidings more moving and more wonderful by far. If 
this message is fantasy, there is no hope for humanity 
anywhere. If this is true, the whole world is saved. 

We proceed, therefore, to a consideration of the 

58 



THE PREACHER'S THEME 

content of the message. What is the preacher's 
theme ? 

Some years ago there appeared a composite volume 
with the intriguing title If I Had Only One Sermon to 
Preach. It was an interesting experiment: yet one 
suspects that upon most of the contributors the neces- 
sity of including the whole of revelation within the 
narrow limits of one all-comprehensive sermon must 
have exercised a somewhat depressing influence and 
imposed a considerable handicap. It would prove too 
much even for an apostle. You will find that your best 
sermons best in the sense of being most truly charged 
with spiritual power are not those you compose when 
the mood seizes you to write something outstanding 
and exceptional and definitive; in all probability^ not 
even those you construct with special occasions in view; 
on the contrary, your best sermons will get themselves 
made in the ordinary course of your ministry week by 
week. You are likely in the good providence of God 
to have not only one sermon to preach but hundreds, 
and you must order your methods accordingly: so 
that over a course of months and years your sermons 
will balance and correct one another in their emphasis 
on different aspects of what the apostle called the 
' * many-coloured " wisdom of God. You will soon 
discover that one of the most important arts you have 
to learn is the art of omission. You have apostolic 
authority for endeavouring to "become all things to 
all men" ; but Paul never suggested that the right way 
to do it was to pack a little of everything into every 

59 



HERALDS OF GOD 

sermon, mixing your ingredients in order to have 
something in the dish for every palate! There is a 
cautionary recipe in an eighteenth-century book for the 
making of a salad. It specifies scores of different 
delicacies, and bids the ingenuous cook add a little of 
this, a touch of that, a flavour of something else, until 
every imaginable ingredient has been included; then 
somewhat sardonically it goes on to say, " After mixing 
well, open a large window and throw out the whole 
mess." To concentrate too much into one miscellane- 
ous masterpiece whether it be a salad or a sermon 
is the surest way to fail All sermons should indeed be 
crammed with the Gospel, and it is nothing less than 
" the whole counsel of God" that you are commissioned 
to declare; but to say that all sermons should comprise 
every facet of Christian doctrine is absurd. " There 
are those highly illuminated beings," complained 
Joseph Parker, "who expect a whole scheme of 
theology in every discourse, I trust," he added, 
"they will be starved to death," 

There is, however, another sense in which the 
thought behind the title Iff Had Only One Sermon to 
Preach may prove salutary; and Richard Baxter's 
injunction "preach as a dying man to dying men 1 ' 
is not simply to be discounted as morbid hyperbole. 
For every gathering of God's people for worship is a 
quite distinctive event; and though a congregation 
may meet twice a Sunday all the year round, no such 
event ever exactly repeats itself. Always there are 
differentiating circumstances; always "Now is the 

60 



THE PREACHER'S THEME 

accepted time/' One thing at least is clear: we have 
no right in our preaching to waste time on side-issues 
and irrelevances. In other words, if we are not 
determined that in every sermon Christ is to be 
preached, it were better that we should resign our 
commission forthwith and seek some other vocation. 
Alexander Whyte, describing his Saturday walks and 
talks with Marcus Dods, declared: " Whatever we 
started off with in our conversations, we soon made 
across country, somehow, to Jesus of Nazareth, to His 
death, and His resurrection, and His indwelling''; 
and unless our sermons make for the same goal, and 
arrive at the same mark, they are simply beating the 
air. It was a favourite dictum of the preachers of a 
bygone day that, just as from every village in Britain 
there was a road which, linking on to other roads, 
would bring you to London at last, so from every text 
in the Bible, even the remotest and least likely, there 
was a road to Christ. Possibly there were occasions 
when strange turns of exegesis and dubious allegor- 
izings were pressed into service for the making of that 
road; but the instinct was entirely sound which de- 
clared that no preaching which failed to exalt Christ 
was worthy to be called Christian preaching. This is 
our great master-theme. In the expressive, forthright 
language of John Donne: "All knowledge that begins 
not, and ends not with His glory, is but a giddy, but 
a vertiginous circle, but an elaborate and exquisite 
ignorance." 

61 



HERALDS OF GOD 



But what does it mean to " preach Christ"? The 
phrase calls for definition. I suggest that you should 
go, for the true touchstone in this matter, to the preach- 
ing of the early Church. When Henry Ward Beecher 
began his ministry, he was baffled by a disappointing 
absence of results and an almost total lack of response. 
The chariot wheels dragged; there were no signs of an 
awakening; the indifferent remained sunk in their 
indifference. But one day the thought gripped him: 
"There was a reason why, when the apostles preached, 
they succeeded, and I will find it out if it is to be found 
out." That was sound strategy, and it had an im- 
mediate reward. It would be well for us if a similar 
experience should drive us back to the New Testament, 
to search for the secret of the first generation of 
preachers of the Word. What was this message which 
consumed these men like a flame, and through them 
kindled the world ? 

It is worth noticing, to begin with, what it was not. 
It was not a theory or an idea. It was not something 
they had arrived at by the processes of their own 
thought and research. It was neither an argument 
with paganism, nor a panegyric on brotherhood; 
neither ethical exhortation, nor religious edification; 
neither mystical experience, nor spiritual uplift. It 
was not even a reproduction of the Sermon on the 
Mount; nor was it an account of their subjective 
reaction to the teaching and example of their Lord, 

62 



THE PREACHER'S THEME 

In Its essence, it was none of these things. Doubt- 
less it included some of them, but basically it was quite 
different. It was the announcement of certain con- 
crete facts of history, the heralding of real, objective 
events. Its keynote was, "That which we have seen 
and heard declare we unto you." Declaration, not 
debate, was its characteristic attitude. The driving- 
force of the early Christian mission was not 
propaganda of beautiful ideals of the brotherhood 
of man; it was proclamation of the mighty acts 
of God. 

What were these historic events thus heralded far 
and wide? There were two events, which in reality 
were not two but one. "Christ died for our sins." 
That was fundamental. At the very heart of the 
apostles' message stood the divine redemptive deed on 
Calvary. But this literally crucial event was never in 
their preaching isolated from the other which crowned 
and completed it, forming as it were the keystone of 
the arch. In the terse language of the Book of Acts, 
they preached "Jesus and the Resurrection." "So we 
preach," wrote Paul summarily to the Corinthians, 
"and so ye believed/' It is worth remembering that 
when towards the end he was indicted before Festus 
and Agrippa, it was this unceasing witness to the 
Resurrection which formed the major count in the 
charge his accusers brought against him. All the 
trouble centred in "one Jesus, which was dead, whom 
Paul affirmed to be alive." In other words, the 
Resurrection so far from being dragged in or tacked 

63 



HERALDS OF GOD 

on to the Gospel of the Cross was implicit in every 
word the preachers spoke. 

But they went further. For they declared that in 
these two shattering events, now seen to be one, the 
Kingdom of God had broken in with power. Its con- 
summation still lay out of sight, waiting for the fulness 
of the time and the completion of the purposes of God; 
but the new epoch foretold by the prophets had actually 
dawned. From the realm of the invisible beyond, the 
one far-off divine event had suddenly projected itself 
into history. What had formerly been pure eschat- 
ology was there before their eyes: the supernatural 
made visible, the Word made flesh. No longer were 
they dreaming of the Kingdom age : they were living 
in it. It had arrived. This was the essential crisis 
of the hour. 

They went still further. The death and the resur- 
rection of Jesus, they said, were nothing less than God 
in omnipotent action. What assailed the crowds in the 
streets of Jerusalem at Pentecost was no abstract 
scheme of salvation ; nor was it the story of a spiritual 
genius who had gone about continually doing good, 
uttering beautiful thoughts about the divine Father- 
hood and the whole duty of man, and founding a new 
religion. It was the stupendous tidings, dwarfing all 
other facts whatever, that the sovereign Power of the 
universe had cleft history asunder, travelling in the 
greatness of His strength, mighty to save, "We do 
hear them speak in our tongues," they cried, "the 
wonderful works of God/' This was the apostolic 



THE PREACHER'S THEME 

theme. This was the characteristic kerygma of the 
Church. And its power was irresistible. 

I have dwelt on this, because it bears so directly on 
the contemporary situation and on our own work as 
preachers. There is an extraordinary amount of vague- 
ness, even among enlightened people, as to what 
Christianity really is. One recalls a striking passage in 
Galsworthy where Jolyon and his son are discussing 
things together and the talk turns to religion. " 4 Do 
you believe in God, Dad? I've never known/ * What 
do you mean by God?' he said; 'there are two irre- 
concilable ideas of God. There's the Unknowable 
Creative Principle one believes in That. And there's 
the Sum of altruism in man naturally one believes in 
That.' 'I see. That leaves out Christ, doesn't it?' 
Jolyon stared. Christ, the link between those two 
ideas! Out of the mouths of babes!" But you will 
find to-day that, even where Christ is brought in, the 
vagueness is apt to persist; and in many quarters there 
are only the haziest notions of what it means to be a 
Christian, The Gospel is regarded as a codification of 
human ideals and aspirations; religious instruction 
means teaching the ethic of the Sermon on the Mount; 
Jesus is the noblest pattern of the good life. This, it 
is assumed, is basic Christianity: anything which goes 
beyond it is " sectarian theology," mere debatable 
theory. What this view fails utterly to realize is that 
the Christian religion is not primarily a discussion of 
desirable human virtues and qualities not that at all 
but a message about God: not a summary of the 

65 



HERALDS OF GOD 

ways men ought to act in an Ideal society, but an 
account of the way in which God has acted in history 
decisively and for ever. 

There can be no doubt that for this prevalent vague- 
ness the Church itself must accept some share of the 
blame. Too often we have wandered away from our 
true centre. Perhaps almost unconsciously we have 
shifted the emphasis from where the apostles put it. 
We have become entangled in side-issues. We have 
concentrated too little on the primal verities of the 
faith, too much on what Phillips Brooks once called 
44 the bric-k-brac of theology/' Do not misunderstand 
me. I am not arguing against detailed instruction in 
the implications of our holy religion for life and char- 
acter and conduct. On the contrary, I believe that an 
interpretation of the Gospel in terms of its ethical, 
social and economic challenge is to-day an urgent 
necessity. Dr. L. P. Jacks was entirely right to remind 
us that "every truth that religion announces passes 
insensibly into a command. Its indicatives are veiled 
imperatives." But what I am concerned to assert is 
that in the Christian religion the indicatives are basic 
and fundamental And nothing could be more marrow- 
less and stultified and futile than the preaching which 
is for ever exhorting "Thus and thus you must act/' 
and neglecting the one thing which essentially makes 
Christianity: "Thus has God acted, once and for all." 
Glorious more glorious, is the crown 
Of Him that brought salvation down, 
By meekness called thy Son: 
66 



THE PREACHER'S THEME 

Thou that stupendous truth believed 5 
And now the matchless deed's achieved, 

DETERMINED, DARED, and DONE. 

Surely it is a great thing to realize that, just as the 
early Church knew itself commissioned for something 
far more vital and incisive than vague talk about topical 
problems, far more dynamic and explosive than the 
propagating of interesting ideas or the fostering of a 
new type of piety, so you are being sent forth to-day to 
thrust God upon men, to announce that in the fact of 
Christ God has bridged the gulf between two worlds, 
has shattered the massive tyranny of the powers of 
darkness, has changed radically and for ever the human 
prospect and the total aspect of the world, and brought 
life and immortality to light! Here is no academic 
speculation or cold, insipid moralizing ; here is no dull 
collection of views and impressions, schemes and 
theories ; here is a Gospel, able to bind up the broken- 
hearted, proclaim deliverance to the captives, and bid 
a distracted world stand still and see the glory of the 
coming of the Lord. 

How foolish, then, the clamour for non-doctrinal 
preaching ! And how desperately you will impoverish 
your ministry if you yield to that demand ! The under- 
lying assumption is, of course, that doctrine is dull : a 
perfectly absurd misapprehension. It is indeed lament- 
ably true that the sublimest doctrine can be treated in 
a way that will reduce the average congregation to 
leaden apathy and boredom. "Buy a theological 
barrel-organ, brethren," growled Spurgeon scathingly, 

67 



HERALDS OF GOD 

"with five tunes accurately adjusted! 1 ' John Keats 
complained that " Philosophy will clip an angel's wings, 
unweave a rainbow''; and he might have added that 
there is a formal type of preaching which all too 
successfully clips the wings of wonder and unweaves 
the rainbow arch of the salvation of God. But to 
maintain that doctrine, as such, is necessarily a dull 
affair is simply a confession of ignorance or downright 
spiritual deficiency. Only a crass blindness could fail 
to see that such a truth as that presented in the sentence 
"The Word was made flesh" is overpoweringly 
dramatic in itself and utterly revolutionary in its 
consequences. "If this is dull/' exclaims Dorothy 
Sayers, "then what, in Heaven's name, is worthy to 
be called exciting? " 

This, I believe, is the true answer to the anxiety 
which haunts many a young minister at the outset of 
his work, the anxiety lest he may exhaust the subject- 
matter of the faith he has to preach long before his 
course is run. Take comfort! Enshrined at the heart 
of the faith are facts of such perennial vitality and 
incalculable force that you will never, to your dying 
day, tell more than a fraction of the truth that God has 
blazed across your sky. "We preach always Him," 
declared Luther, "the true God and man. This may 
seem a limited and monotonous subject, likely to be 
soon exhausted, but we are never at the end of it." 
Why should you imagine that the stimulating atmo- 
sphere of expectation which surrounds you at the 
opening of your ministry must inevitably give way 

68 



THE PREACHER'S THEME 

sooner or later to a sultry air of tedious disenchant- 
ment ? Does spring, regularly returning year by year, 
ever become monotonous ? Is not its wonder as fresh 
and unspoilt still as when the morning stars sang 
together and the sons of God shouted for joy? And 
are God's mighty acts in history and redemption less 
enthralling than His mighty acts in nature? Drop 
dogma from your preaching, and for a brief time you 
may titillate the fancy of the superficial, and have them 
talking about your cleverness ; but that type of ministry 
wears out speedily, and garners no spiritual harvest 
in the end. Therefore settle it with your own souls 
now that, whatever else you may do or leave undone, 
you will preach in season and out of season God's 
redemptive deed in Christ. This is the one inexhaust- 
ible theme. " We may call that doctrine exhilarating," 
writes Dorothy Sayers again, "or we may call it 
devastating; we may call it revelation or we may call 
it rubbish ; but if we call it dull, then words have no 
meaning at all." I am not counselling you to keep 
harping on one string, for variety is the very breath of 
life in preaching. I am insisting on what is para- 
doxical but true that the more resolutely and stub- 
bornly you refuse to be deflected from the one decisive 
theme, the greater the variety you will achieve ; while 
the more you seek variety by wandering from your 
centre, the faster the descent to bathos and monotony. 
God's deed in Christ touches life at every point. It 
speaks to every aspect of the human predicament. It 
stretches all horizons inimitably. It bursts through 



HERALDS OF GOD 

the narrow orbit of habitual thought-forms, hackneyed 
social attitudes, doctrinal predilections. There is no 
plummet that can sound this ocean's depth, no yard- 
stick that can measure the length and breadth of this 
Jerusalem. And the surest way to keep your ministry 
living and vigorous and immune from the blight of 
spiritual lassitude and drudgery is to draw continually 
upon the unsearchable riches which in Christian doc- 
trine are lying to your hand; and to remember that 
you no less than the New Testament preachers are 
commissioned for the purpose of kerygma^ the pro- 
clamation of news, the heralding of the wonderful 
works of God. 

ii 

Now here we come in sight of that much-debated 
question : What is the relationship between preaching 
and worship? You are doubtless aware that there 
exists to-day a tendency to set preaching and worship 
in opposition. According to this view, the prayers 
and praises of the sanctuary, and the celebration of the 
Sacraments, are divine, in the sense that there we have 
direct touch with God; whereas preaching is merely 
human, as representing reflections, appeals and ex- 
hortations issuing from the mind of man. It is 
characteristic of this attitude to disparage preaching, 
to regret that the sermon should ever have come to 
hold so important a place in the services of the House 
of Prayer, and even to hint that the position it occupies 
is a subtle form of selfishness, detracting from the 

70 



THE PREACHER'S THEME 

glory of GocL No doubt this view is largely to be 
explained as a reaction from the disgraceful custom of 
regarding prayers and praises as mere "preliminaries" 
to something more important to follow: a horrid 
caricature of true worship, which to-day would be 
almost universally repudiated. But surely it is deplor- 
able that some, going to the opposite extreme, should 
deny to preaching any integral place in the context 
of the act of worship, or at best should tolerate it as 
an intrusion, regrettable but inevitable, of the human 
element into what is essentially divine. The ominous 
thing about such an attitude is the complete misunder- 
standing it betrays, not only of the preacher's function, 
but even of the nature of the Christian faith. If 
Christianity were the formulation of a body of human 
ideals; if the pulpit were a public platform for the 
dissemination of personal opinions or the propagation 
of a party programme ; if the preacher were a kind of 
religious commentator on current events; if his main 
function were to explore the contemporary situation 
and to diagnose the malady of society; if the sermon 
were a literary lecture, a medicinal dose of psychological 
uplift, or a vehicle for the giving of good advice the 
distinction between preaching and worship would be 
justified. But, in fact, that distinction is based either 
on a seriously defective understanding of the Gospel 
itself, or on a refusal to realize what happens when the 
Gospel is truly preached. If Christianity is indeed the 
revelation of God, and not the research of man; if 
preaching is the proclamation of a message which has 

7* 



HERALDS OF GOD 

come not merely through human lips, but out from the 
deeps of the eternal ; if the preacher is sent (in St. 
Paul's expressive phrase) to "placard" Christ, to 
declare a Word which is not his own, because it Is the 
Word of God Incarnate it follows that the attempt 
to segregate preaching from worship is fundamentally 
false. The fact is that the sermon is divinely intended 
to be one of those high places of the spirit where men 
and women grow piercingly aware of the eternal, and 
where a worshipping congregation forgetting all 
about the preacher sees "no man, save Jesus only," 
And ours must have been a singularly barren and un- 
fortunate experience if we have never, when sitting in 
church listening to the preaching of the Word, been 
moved to adoration, never seen the angels ascending 
and descending on the ladder linking Bethel to the 
world unseen, and never whispered to ourselves, "This 
is none other but the house of God, this is the gate of 
heaven/ 7 

In this connection, I would recall to your minds the 
famous passage in Robert Wodrow's Anakcta^ where 
an English merchant of three hundred years ago 
describes to his friends in London certain preachers 
he had heard during a business visit to Scotland. At 
St. Andrews he had listened to Robert Blair. "That 
man," he said, "showed me the majesty of God." 
Afterwards he had heard "a little fair man" preach 
this was Samuel Rutherford: "and that man showed 
me the loveliness of Christ." Then at Irvine he had 
heard a discourse by "a well-favoured, proper old 

72 



THE PREACHER'S THEME 

man" David Dickson: "and that man showed me 
all my heart. " These, surely, are the supreme func- 
tions of preaching in every age. And if these things 
are happening, if in a congregation one soul here and 
another there may be receiving, as the sermon pro- 
ceeds, some vision of the majesty of God, some glimpse 
of the loveliness of Christ, some revelation of personal 
need beneath the searchlight of the Spirit, is the 
ministry of the Word to be minimized, or regarded as 
less divine, more doubtfully devotional, than other 
parts of the service ? Is not such preaching worship ? 
The late Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. William 
Temple, once propounded a thesis which, he admitted, 
many people would feel to be outrageous and fantastic. 
"This world, " he said, "can be saved from political 
chaos and collapse by one thing only, and that is 
worship." Certainly, as it stands, that dictum may 
look eccentric and absurd. But Dr. Temple proceeded 
to define what worship is, (Notice how significantly 
the three elements enshrined in Wodrow's story make 
here their reappearance.) "To worship is to quicken 
the conscience by the holiness of God, to feed the mind 
with the truth of God, to purge the imagination by the 
beauty of God, to open the heart to the love of God, 
to devote the will to the purpose of God." But are 
not these precisely the aims and ends of all genuine 
preaching? And that being so, is not the supposed 
antithesis between the sermon and the devotions of 
the sanctuary again discovered to be thoroughly mis- 
leading and untenable ? Is not true preaching worship ? 

73 



HERALDS OF GOD 

I grant you that such a conception of the preacher's 
task may well overwhelm us with a sense of personal 
inadequacy and unworthiness. But no lower concep- 
tion can do justice to the stupendous theme of which 
we are the heralds. Moreover, the very recognition 
of preaching as an integral part of worship will save 
us from many errors. It will restrain us from using 
the pulpit for the expression of views, preferences and 
prejudices which are purely personal and subjective. 
"The pulpit/' wrote Bernard Manning, "is no more 
the minister's than the communion table is his." It 
will make us resolute to eliminate from our preaching 
everything that is cheap and showy and meretricious. 
It will give us a salutary horror of flashy rhetoric, 
slovenly informality and elegant frippery. It will arm 
us against the vulgarity of a self-conscious exhibition- 
ism. "No man," declared James Denney, "can give 
at once the impressions that he himself is clever and 
that Jesus Christ is mighty to save." Above all, it will 
inspire us to make our preaching "a living sacrifice, 
which is our reasonable service." It will drive us to 
our knees. It will baptize every sermon in the spirit 
of importunate prayer. Then preaching will be 
worship indeed. 

in 

We have seen that the apostolic kerygma which at 
the first carried the Gospel like fire across the world 
centred in two historic events. To the supreme facts 
of the Cross and the Resurrection, which are really not 

74 



THE PREACHER'S THEME 

two but one, our preaching must ever return, and from 
them it must continually derive fresh strength and 
urgency and inspiration. 

** I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men 
unto Me/' There is no magnetism like that. Show 
men Calvary "towering o'er the wrecks of time," and 
you will not preach in vain. Incomparably the greatest 
service you can ever perform for those committed to 
your charge is to thrust the Cross before their eyes. 
Leave this out, and all your other appeals and exhorta- 
tions will be as nothing: empty, useless, unsubstantial 
words. Set this at the centre, and it will prove itself 
to be, in the twentieth century as in the first, the power 
of God unto salvation. 

Now the herald of the Cross has a twofold task. He 
must present his theme in a double setting. On the 
one hand, he must preach the Cross in the context of the 
world's suffering. Your own congregation will be a 
microcosm of humanity; and for many of those to 
whom you minister, the dark mystery which has 
haunted the sons of men from the dawn of time will be 
no abstract, impersonal problem to be academically 
explained, but a grim reality to be faced and fought. 
Be very clear about this, that what men and women 
need, face to face with the mystery of pain and trouble 
and tragedy, is not a solution that will satisfy the 
intellect, not that primarily at any rate, but a force that 
will stabilize the soul; not a convincing and coercive 
argument as to the origins of evil or the reasons why 
such suffering is permitted on the earth, but a power 

75 



HERALDS OF GOD 

that will enable them to "stand in the evil day, and 
having done all, to stand": in short, not an explana- 
tion, but a victory. 

Right down in the heart of this situation you are to 
set the Cross. You may, indeed, lead up to the great 
light that breaks from Calvary by calling attention to 
certain gleams that pierce the darkness of the way. 
For example, you will surely be constrained to show 
that much of what men suffer is but the other side, the 
necessary correlative, of the immense gain and privilege 
of living in a world where law and not caprice holds sway ; 
that those who accept the assets of corporate member- 
ship in the human family must also be prepared to accept 
its liabilities ; that any system which guaranteed pre- 
ferential treatment to the righteous and immunity from 
trouble to the unoffending would in point of fact 
corrupt the very ethic that it seemed to stablish and 
support; that in any case man demands danger, and 
thrives on hazard, and wants no lotus-land of ghastly 
ease; above all, that it is possible to use trouble 
creatively, transmuting pain into power and sorrow 
into love, so that in the end such trouble positively 
adds on to life's total experience, instead of negatively 
subtracting from it. All this may rightly enter 
into the message by which you seek to reinforce 
faith and to rally the courage in the depths of sorely 
burdened hearts. Nor will you lack vivid illustra- 
tion of the thrilling truth that the worst sufferings 
may be the raw material of character and Christlike 
loveliness of soul. 



THE PREACHER'S THEME 

Yet I should pity the man who has to stand and face 
a congregation with no surer word than that. And I 
would implore you not to mock the bitterness of human 
hearts with facile phrases about the nobility of pain, 
nor to invade with well-meaning platitudes the holy 
ground where angels fear to tread. There are experi- 
ences desolating experiences of calamity, of wrecked 
homes and shattered dreams, of frantic pain, of the 
tragic and apparently senseless waste of precious lives 
in the face of which the most rational and philo- 
sophical interpretation and even the best theistic 
theories must sound hollow and irrelevant. It were 
better, if there is no clearer light to give, to be silent 
altogether in the presence of the ultimate mystery; or 
else to leave with those who suffer the immeasurably 
poignant message of one who died some twenty years 
before Christ was born: "O passi graviora, dabit deus 
his quoque finem." 

But the least in the Kingdom of God is greater than 
Vergil when he penned that mighty line. For we have 
seen the Cross. We have found the clue to the enigma. 
Long ago there was a prophet who, bewildered by the 
ways of Providence and appalled by the grim and 
harrowing aspect of the world, took counsel with his 
soul and made a high resolve: "I will stand upon my 
watch-tower, and set me upon the outlook-turret, and 
will watch to see what He will say unto me/' And a 
great part of our task as preachers is to help others, 
battered and besieged by the assaults of doubt, to 
climb to that high rampart above the dust and smoke 

77 



HERALDS OF GOD 

and tumult, the watch-tower of Mount Calvary. For 
there the new perspective is given which makes men 
more than conquerors. None of our poor human 
explanations of life's dark mystery can heal the hurt of 
baffled and tormented souls. Nothing can suffice but 
this to see Love Incarnate taking upon itself the very 
worst that suffering and evil can do upon the earth, 
God going into action once for all against the powers 
of darkness, Christ reigning from the deadly tree, and 
making His victory there the pledge and the assurance 
for all the sons of men. 

Preach the Cross in the context of the world's suffer- 
ing, and men will learn, not only that Christ is with 
them in the dark valley, God "afflicted in all their 
affliction/' gathering up their distress and desolation 
into His own eternal heart not only that, though that 
indeed, even if there were no more to be said, would be 
a mighty reinforcement: they will learn this other 
great thing, that God in His sovereign love still leads 
captivity captive, still transforms the wrecking circum- 
stances of life into means of grace, the dark places into 
a Holy of Holies, and the thorns that pierce into a 
crown of glory. For the Cross means that even when 
things are at their worst, even when life does not bear 
thinking about, God is master of the situation still, 
and nothing can spoil His final pattern or defeat His 
purpose of love. 

I would point out that this is a Gospel you can preach 
without any fear of sentimentalism. There is always 
a danger that the longing to help the troubled and to 



THE PKKACHER'S THEME 

bind up the broken-hearted may lead to a preaching 
of the wrong kind of comfort. There is a type of 
consolation which tends to romanticize the burden of 
the mystery, and to interpose religion as a cushion 
against the blows of fate. Beware of all such expedi- 
ents : they are far removed from what the New Testa- 
ment means by comfort. They serve only to hypnotize 
the troubled mind and to enervate the soul ; and in the 
end they reduce efficiency for the battle of life. "The 
noblest specimen in existence/' according to Principal 
W. M. Macgregor, "of the preaching of consolation 
is found in the First Epistle of Peter/ 7 True Gospel 
comfort never plays down to natural weakness : it lifts 
up to supernatural strength. There is nothing en- 
feebling or demoralizing about it, no flying to the drug 
of fantasy: it is essentially virile, bracing, reinforcing. 
And what gives it this character, preserving it from the 
risk of sentimentalism, is the Cross at the centre of it. 
In the last resort, the human heart is too big to find its 
comfort in any soothing anodyne of consolatory words. 
There is no comfort short of victory. And it is this, 
nothing less, that the preacher of the Gospel is em- 
powered to offer to all who turn their faces to the Cross 
the comfort of mastering every dark situation, and 
triumphing in every tribulation, through the grace of 
Him who conquered there. 

IV 

But the herald of the Cross has a further task. He 
must present his theme, not only in the setting of 

79 



HERALDS OF GOD 

human suffering, but also in the context of the world's 
sin. He will not allow any superficial appearances of 
complacence to deceive him. For he knows that all 
history is the record of man's age-long desperate en- 
deavour to answer the dilemma of moral failure and 
defeat. He knows that God is sending him to people 
wrestling with the same stubborn predicament. He 
knows the secret struggles, frustrations and contradic- 
tions of his own soul. He dare not on this matter be 
hesitant or ambiguous. His preaching will never 
really touch a single heart unless it brings some sure 
word about sin and its forgiveness. 

There have been, indeed, certain classical answers 
to the dilemma, to which men cling pathetically even 
to-day. There is the answer of the Jew : over against 
the guilt and power of sin, the Jew sets the sacrificial 
system and the efficacy of an elaborate cult. There is 
the answer of the Greek : it was characteristic of the 
Greek mind, with its double allegiance to art and 
philosophy, that it believed man could work out his 
own salvation aesthetically and intellectually. There 
is the answer of the Roman: law and order would 
redeem the race from disintegration, moralism and 
disciplined conduct would guarantee the soul. These 
three historic answers to the human dilemma have 
made their way right down the centuries, resurrecting 
themselves in every new generation. Multitudes of 
our fellow-men and some of those to whom you will 
preach have no other creed to-day. Religious ob- 
servance and the due performance of ritual acts, the 

80 



THE PREACHER'S THEME 

development of culture and the application of logic and 
intelligence, the natural virtues of the human heart 
and the attention to good works what more, it is 
asked, does man require for his deliverance? But our 
age, perhaps more than any of its predecessors, is being 
visited by doubts. It suspects that the malady is too 
radical to yield to any of these expedients. It has had 
such an appalling insight into what the apostle called 
"the mystery of iniquity" that its poise and confidence 
have been irreparably disturbed. It dare not face a 
future in which man is his own redeemer. 

Wherefore God be thanked that right down in the 
heart of that situation you can set the Cross ! Rising 
out of the midnight of man's despair, smiting the 
darkness like a sudden dawn, comes the solving word, 
the divine decisive deed; and all the classic answers 
of Jew and Greek and Roman fade away before the 
glory of it. 

Now when you set the Cross in the context of the 
world's sin, there will be three main notes in your 
preaching. 

You will preach the Cross, first, as Revelation. 
Where else does the terrible truth about sin stand so 
nakedly revealed as at the place where it crucifies the 
Son of God? All the habitual rationalizations which 
reduce sin to ignorance, or biological maladjustment, 
a thing to be cured by education, social planning or 
psychological suggestion, are seen at Calvary to be 
bland distortions of the truth. Let your preaching of 
the Cross drive home the fact that the same sins which 

81 



HERALDS OF GOD 

put Christ there are rampant in the world to-day; that 
it was no monstrous eruption of iniquity that per- 
petrated the deed of Calvary, but familiar, common 
things like pride and cowardice and apathy and self- 
seeking which make their dwelling in the hearts of 
all; and that these things, rooted in our own lives, 
working themselves out eventually on the scale of 
society and gathering themselves up into the collective 
evil of the world, still crucify the Lord of glory. 
''Why persecutest thou Me?" 

Moreover, you will hold up the Cross as a revelation, 
not only of the hatefulness of sin, but also of the divine 
judgment upon it. For on the day when Christ died at 
its hands, rather than submit or come to terms, He 
showed once for all what God's mind is about sin to 
all eternity. Here the divine uncompromising antag- 
onism was irrevocably proclaimed. No way of dealing 
with sin which blurred the moral issue could be 
tolerated ; for otherwise the chaos on the earth, so far 
from being removed, would have been intensified, and 
there would now have been added to it chaos in heaven 
as well. Before sin could be overcome, it must be 
judged. And Christ, by resisting it unto blood, has 
pronounced its utter condemnation. God has judged 
it for ever. 

But greatest of all the paradoxes you will have to 
preach is this that the same event which unveils evil 
in its terrifying, demonic malignity reveals also in- 
vincible love. That God should have taken the most 
awful triumph of naked, unmitigated iniquity, and 

82 



THE PREACHER'S THEME 

made precisely that the vehicle for the supreme revela- 
tion of Himself here surely is a marvel that beggars 
description: here is the ultimate hope of our sin- 
tormented world. You do not preach the Cross aright 
until you make men hear, on the lips of the Crucified, 
such words as Joseph spoke to his betrayers: "So 
now it was not you who sent me hither, but God." 
Call the Cross the nefarious deed of Annas, Caiaphas 
and Pilate, call it the supreme revelation of the inmost 
essence of sin, call it the act of our own contemporary 
society or (in Pauline phrase) of "the potentates of the 
dark present, the spirit-forces of evil" and you will 
tell the truth, but not the whole truth, not the final and 
decisive truth. Call it the act of God, call it the 
mightiest of all His mighty acts, call it the point in 
history where love divine was supremely master of the 
situation and the deeper truth will begin to emerge. 
You will be helping men to realize that the most 
desperate chaos sin can perpetrate to-day is not too 
grim for this amazing love to handle and transform. 
And through your preaching please God they will 
understand in a new and living way the magnificent 
outburst of the apostle: " He that spared not His own 
Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He 
not with Him also freely give us all things?" 

This leads me to the second note in your preaching 
of the Cross. Preach it as Victory. If you speak of 
Calvary only in terms of revelation, you may be gain- 
ing the approval of the opponents of a " transactional 
theology," but you are certainly diluting disastrously 

83 



HERALDS OF GOD 

the faith of the New Testament. No Pentecost will 
ever attend a ministry which boggles at the implications 
of Christ's cry upon the Cross, "It is finished!" For 
something happened then which settled the issue 
for ever. "Once and for all" that is the authentic 
trumpet-note of apostolic religion. "I beheld Satan 
as lightning fall from heaven." That is decisive, 
After Calvary, it can never be midnight again. Long 
and hard may be the campaign: for "we wrestle 
against principalities and powers." But we know now 
that we are fighting a defeated enemy. "Christ died 
for our sins," says Peter in his epistle, "the just for the 
unjust, once for all." "In that He died," writes Paul 
to the Romans, "He died for sin, once for all." "He 
has appeared," declares the epistle to the Hebrews, 
"once for all to abolish sin by the sacrifice of Himself." 
By all means, drop the word "transaction" if you 
please: no doubt the term has been abused. But do 
not mutilate the Gospel of the Cross by reducing it to 
a doctrine of subjective influence. Preach the Cross 
as victory. Here where the very greatness of the 
apparent triumph of iniquity was its own irrevocable 
defeat; here where evil once for all has shot its bolt, 
and its deadly weapon s turned against itself; here 
where eternal love is see i asserting its sovereignty, not 
just in spite of the tragi : mystery of sin, but as by a 
master-stroke of divim strategy precisely through 
that mystery here is the ground of all our hope. 
Here the human prospc ct has been transfigured radi- 
cally and for ever. 



THE PREACHER'S THEME 

Preach the Cross, then, as God's all-sufficient answer 
to man's perpetual question, "How can I win salva- 
tion? How can I achieve self-conquest?" There are 
people in all our congregations to-day asking that 
question, just as Saul of Tarsus asked it in the lecture- 
room of Gamaliel, as Luther asked it in the monastery 
at Erfurt, as John Wesley asked it in the Holy Club 
at Oxford. Laboriously these men hewed out (to use 
Jeremiah's figure) their broken cisterns, toiling to store 
up their good works and creditable achievements, their 
charities, austerities and penances. But for Saul and 
Luther and Wesley the day came when their question 
"How shall I win salvation?" was answered from the 
throne of God. And the answer was, "You can't! 
Take it at the Cross for nothing, or not at all" "I 
have gotten me Christ," cried Donald Cargill in the 
hour of his execution, "and Christ hath gotten me 
the victory!" 

But it is the whole human situation, not simply the 
plight of the individual, which the Cross transforms. 
Let no one, listening to your preaching, have any 
doubt that when we Christians say that the dark 
demonic powers which leave their dreadful trail of 
devastation across the world are ultimately less power- 
ful than Jesus, we really mean it just as the early 
disciples meant it when they declared that Christ had 
raided the realm of Satan and broken the fast-bound 
chains of hell. If there are professing Christians to-day 
who do not see the relevance of the Gospel to the 
desperate situation of this tortured world, it can only 

85 



HERALDS OF GOD 

be because there is still a veil upon their hearts when 
they stand at Calvary. It is for you to show them the 
Cross as it truly is Christ in action, victor over death, 
vanquisher of the demons, going forth conquering 
and to conquer. 

Finally, your preaching of the Cross, having struck 
the notes of Revelation and Victory, will include the 
note of Challenge. Our own hearts bear witness that 
there is nothing like the Cross of Jesus to shame our 
selfishness, to abase our pride of intellect, to rebuke 
our false ambitions, and to bring to birth within us a 
passionate longing that our lives might reveal some- 
thing of the spirit which shone so gloriously in His, 
No doubt, as Bernard Manning has argued, it is a 
weakness of Cardinal Newman's great hymn " Praise 
to the Holiest in the height" that after the strong, 
pungent theology of the earlier verses the penultimate 
stanza descends to anti-climax " humanitarian tink- 
ling/' Manning calls it: 

And in the garden secretly, 
And on the Cross on high. 

Should teach His brethren, and inspire 
To suffer and to die. 

The sacrifice of the God-Man was infinitely more, as 
we have seen, than an example of gallantry and forti- 
tude, a lesson to humanity how to suffer and die. 
Nevertheless, the element of challenge persists: and 
in every soul out of which the sense of honour and 
chivalry has not died the Cross lets loose a cleansing 
tide of penitence and hope, and creates a motive 

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THE PREACHER'S THEME 

stronger even than the instinct of self-preservation. 
Lead men straight to Calvary, if you would bind them 
to Christ's allegiance with the unbreakable fetters 
which alone give perfect freedom. "He died for us 
that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together 
with Him." 

v 

But now let me raise a question. What is the most 
characteristic word of the Christian religion ? Suppose 
you were asked to single out one word to carry and 
convey the cardinal truth of the Gospel, what word 
would you choose ? I suggest it would have to be the 
word Resurrection, That is what Christianity essenti- 
ally is a religion of Resurrection. Go back and listen 
to the preachers of the early Church. They never 
pointed men to the Cross without showing them the 
Resurrection light breaking behind it. Even when, 
like Paul, they "determined to know nothing save 
Jesus Christ and Him crucified/' what gave their 
preaching such grip and converting power was the 
testimony, implicit in every word, that this same Jesus 
was alive, and present, and at work in the world. That 
was the tremendous truth that coloured and con- 
ditioned all their thinking. It did not merely give a 
distinctive accent to their preaching: it throbbed 
through every word they said. How could it be other- 
wise? Christ risen and alive was for them the one 
dominating reality of life and the very centre of the 
universe. Paul might have put things even more 
strongly than he did to the Corinthians. "If Christ 



HERALDS OF GOD 

be not risen," he declared, "then is our preaching 
vain." He might have added that, without the 
Resurrection, the voice of the Christian preacher would 
never have been heard in the land. There was no 
Christian congregation in that early age which did not 
recognize itself to be a community of the Resurrection : 
and there is no hope of revival in the Church to-day 
until that basic, glorious truth is reasserted and comes 
back into its own. Far too often we have been inclined 
to regard the Resurrection as an epilogue to the 
Gospel, an addendum to the scheme of salvation, a 
codicil to the divine last will and testament: thereby 
betraying not only a deficient historic perspective and 
a singular disregard of the whole tenor of the New 
Testament, but also a failure in spiritual understanding 
and an insufficient hold upon the great verities of the 
faith. This is no appendix to the faith. This is the 
faith. He is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. To 
preach this is your life-work: and there is no Gospel 
without it. 

Now here let me stress the urgency of showing forth 
the Resurrection in its dynamic relevance to world- 
history. The trouble is that many good, devout people 
have not yet begun to grasp the full range and sweep 
of the Easter Gospel. Their conception of it is much 
too narrow and individualistic, too remote from the 
struggles of humanity. To them the Resurrection 
means only the escape of Jesus from the grave, the 
return of the Master to His disciples, the lovely stories 
of His meetings with Mary, with Peter, with Thomas, 

88 



THE PREACHER'S THEME 

with the two men on the Emmaus road. They have 
not gone beyond that, nor seen this event related to the 
perpetual conflict of which history is the arena the 
conflict between good and evil, light and darkness, God 
and the demons. Therefore I would urge you to 
preach the Resurrection as the one fact above all others 
which vitally concerns, not only the life of the in- 
dividual Christian, but the entire human scene and 
the destiny of the race. It is the break-through of the 
eternal order into this world of suffering and confusion 
and sin and death. It is much more than the dramatic 
reanimation of One who had died: it is the vindication 
of eternal righteousness, the declaration that the heart 
of the universe is spiritual. It is the Kingdom of God 
made visible. No wonder Paul, meeting the risen 
Christ outside Damascus, suddenly fell blinded to the 
earth! It was no glare of Syrian sunshine that had 
dazzled him. The man had seen, for one tremendous, 
piercing moment, the unveiled purpose of God. 

Can it be right, then, when our people come up to 
God's House on Easter morning, that we should treat 
them to reflections on the reawakening of the earth in 
springtime, or to a rechauffe of the arguments for 
immortality? It is a desolating corruption of the 
Resurrection Gospel to regard it merely as one more 
argument for individual survival. The human heart 
indeed cries out for light beyond the grave. All 
through your ministry you will hear that cry; and you 
will seek, God helping you, to answer it. Nor can you 
ever point to any light more clear or steady or reassur- 



HERALDS OF GOD 

ing than that which shines from the empty tomb of 
Jesus. But I do beseech you to let men see the Easter 
hope destroying not only the fear of death, but every 
other fear besides, and very specially the fear of the 
principalities and powers and wicked forces that corrupt 
human nature and fill the earth with ruin. I beg you 
to swing the Resurrection light not only over the dim 
shadows of the narrow grave, but over the thick dark- 
ness of the whole wide world. For the Resurrection 
was, and is, the sign of God's unshakable determination 
to make Christ Lord of all. The concentrated might 
of arrogant iniquity is puny and pathetic and impotent 
against the power that took Jesus out of the grave, 
This was the conviction which at the first launched 
Christianity like a thunderbolt upon the world, and 
made its ambassadors superbly fearless. This is the 
certainty which burns undimmed in every truly Chris- 
tian heart to-day. The power which went into action 
in the raising again of Jesus will never, through the 
darkest of dark ages, fail nor be discouraged : one day 
it will resurrect the world. "This is the Lord's doing, 
and it is marvellous in our eyes." 

But there is a further fact which makes the high 
calling of the preacher of the Resurrection immeasur- 
ably thrilling and momentous, and it is this. Christ, 
being raised from the dead, is an abiding presence for 
ever; and you, the preachers of the Resurrection, are 
not only the heralds of a historic event, but also the 
mediators of a living presence. This is no exaggerated 
clich^ of a nebulous mysticism : it is a strictly accurate, 

90 



THE PREACHER'S THEME 

unrhetorical statement of fact. You remember Words- 
worth's plaintive cry to the shade of Milton, whose 
mighty voice had long since ceased to speak : 

Milton! thou shouldst be living at this hour: 
England hath need of thee: she is a fen 
Of stagnant waters. 

But if men, looking out upon the stricken human scene 
to-day, are fain to cry, u Christ, Thou shouldst be 
living at this hour: the world hath need of Thee!" 
back comes the answer with a thousand trumpets in it, 
"Should be? He is!" "I am He that liveth, and 
was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore." 
And you, the commissioned servants of the Lord of 
the Resurrection, are to tell men that the same Jesus 
who was with Larimer and Ridley in the fire, with 
Margaret Wilson tied to a stake on the Solway Sands, 
with Bunyan in prison, with Gordon in Khartoum, 
with Shackleton on the great ice-barrier, with Paul in 
the wilds of Asia, with John in the convict-mines of 
Patmos, with Peter in the Roman arena that this 
same Jesus still travels through the world in the great- 
ness of His strength, mighty to save, still meets the 
troubled heart with the divine promise, "Lo, as I was 
with all those others, so will I be with thee! " Nothing 
else your ministry may achieve will be of much account 
unless you show men that Christ, and get their eyes 
open to the real presence of the risen Lord. If in the 
grace of God you can do that, they will bless you for it, 
and the power of the Spirit will go through the Church 
again; and hearts will burn with that authentic fire 

91 



HERALDS OF GOD 

without which all altars are cold and all worship 
dead. 

Need I add that the first essential is that your 
own life should be possessed utterly by the truth and 
the glory of the Resurrection Gospel? Perhaps the 
vitalizing of many a ministry waits upon some such 
experience as that which came to R. W. Dale. The 
story is familiar how one day when he was engaged 
upon writing an Easter sermon for his people the 
reality of the all-but-incredible fact broke in upon him 
as it had never done before. "Christ is alive/* he 
found himself crying, "alive! Living as really as I 
myself am! It came upon me as a burst .of sudden 
glory. Christ is living! My people shall know it." 
It may not come to us the great heart-piercing con- 
viction in any such dramatic way: but if not, then 
come in some more secret way it must, or we have no 
awakening Gospel to preach. Pray God that the truth 
of the Resurrection may smite you with its glory, and 
go through your mind and spirit with its consuming 
flame! Only so will you be able to lead others out of 
the torpor of vague half-belief to the vitality of passion- 
ate conviction. John Keats said of his poem Lamia 
that it had "that sort of fire in it that must take hold 
of people some way"; and of Christian preaching the 
same claim should be true. Too often in our churches 
we are still on the wrong side of Easter. We are like 
the groping, fumbling disciples between Good Friday 
and the Resurrection, How our congregations would 
worship, with what joy and eagerness and abandon the 

92 



THE PREACHER'S THEME 

sacrifice of praise would rise to God, if all worshippers 
knew themselves in very truth to be sons and daughters 
of the Resurrection ! 

Alfred Noyes has a striking poem. The Lord of 
Misrule^ which confronts us with the challenging 
thought that if the facts of our holy religion and our 
supernatural faith no longer move us to exultation, 
then the pagan world itself will rise up and condemn 
us that pagan world which revels in the lesser gifts 
of nature. The poem is based on the tradition reported 
by an old Puritan writer that "on May-days the wild 
heads of the parish would choose a Lord of Misrule, 
whom they would follow even into the Church, though 
the minister were at prayer or preaching, dancing and 
swinging their may-boughs about.' 1 

Come up, come in with streamers ! 

Come in, with boughs of may! 
Now by the gold upon your toe 

You walked the primrose way. 
Come up, with white and crimson! 

O, shake your bells and sing; 
Let the porch bend, the pillars bow, 

Before our Lord, the Spring! 

Then into the pulpit itself, where a few moments before 
the preacher had been droning his drowsy flock to 
sleep, the Lord of Misrule pushes his way, and faces 
the congregation: 

"You chatter in Church like jackdaws, 
Words that would wake the dead, 

Were there one breath of life in you, 
One drop of blood," he said. 

93 



HERALDS OF GOB 

Finally, the organ itself takes up the challenge : 
'Come up with blood-red streamers.' 

The reeds began the strain. 
The vox humana pealed on high, 

'The spring is risen again!' 

The vox angelica replied 'The shadows flee away! 
Our house-beams were of cedar. Come in, with boughs 

of may!' 

The diapason deepened it ' Before the darkness fall, 
We tell you He is risen again! 
Our God hath burst His prison again ! 
The Lord of Life is risen again; and Love is Lord of all.' 

So out of the mouth of paganism itself our dull loss of 
wonder is judged and our half-belief stands condemned. 
For if the rebirth of nature is a theme for shouts of joy, 
how much more the rising from the dead of a Saviour 
God! And if we, the children of the Resurrection, 
should hold our peace, would not the stones immedi- 
ately cry out ? 

Make it, then, the goal of your endeavour to help 
others to discover, or to rediscover, the magnificence 
of their Christian heritage. The splendour of the Re- 
surrection Gospel baffles speech, and breaks through 
language and escapes. But there is a Spirit who will 
take our poor, faltering, stammering words, and will 
work even through these to smite men with the glory 
of Christ's rising. 

vi 

One point remains. Apostolic preaching, as we 
have already noted, set forth the facts of the Cross and 

94 



THE PREACHER'S THEME 

the Resurrection in their organic relationship to the 
Kingdom of God. In these supreme events, it declared, 
the Kingdom, long dreamt of and foretold, had now 
appeared. By this invasion of the supernatural into 
human experience all life's issues were immeasurably 
deepened, and the sense of urgency and crisis dramatic- 
ally intensified. The new era of the Spirit had broken 
in with power. Until we recapture and restore this 
apostolic perspective and emphasis, our preaching will 
be maimed and crippled. 

If the trumpet give an uncertain sound on this 
matter, the whole cause of the Kingdom will suffer. 
And at no point has there been greater confusion, even 
amongst Christians. Some have thought of the King- 
dom of God as a New Jerusalem for man to build. 
Some have postponed it to an indefinite future, a far-off 
divine event in which man has no part. Thus two 
opposing attitudes have emerged and come into colli- 
sion : the activism of a thoroughgoing thisworldliness, 
and the quietism of a thoroughgoing otherworldliness. 
Your Gospel of the Kingdom must act as a corrective 
of both these distorted views. To those who stand for 
the former, it will say: "You are right to bear the 
world's injustices and oppressions upon your souls, 
and to go forth against these with the passion of 
crusaders. You are right to denounce a piety that 
talks incessantly to men about the bread of heaven, 
and never stirs a finger to give them bread for their 
bodies or employment for their energies or decent 
housing for their families. You are right to insist that 

95 



HERALDS OF GOD 

if Christianity once turned the world upside down, it 
can do the same to-day. But you are wrong to dis- 
regard the one true source of all strong action and 
effective power. You are wrong to think the human 
demand can ever be satisfied with improved communi- 
ties and garden cities. You are wrong to think that 
the best economic Paradise will ever still the tumult 
of a heart that goes crying out for ever for ' a city which 
hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God V 
On the other hand, to those who stand for a pre- 
dominantly otherworldly quietism, your Gospel of the 
Kingdom will declare: "You are right to dwell in the 
secret place of the Most High. You are right to walk 
with God as pilgrims and sojourners here, looking 
beyond this transitory scene to the bliss of life eternal. 
You are right to believe that to God alone belong the 
Kingdom, the power, and the glory. But you are 
wrong to lock yourselves up in that secret place of 
devotion. You are wrong to reduce religion to an 
unethical, sentimental irrelevance. You are wrong if, 
in the presence of social misery and injustice, you do 
not see Christ's eyes blazing like a flame of fire, nor 
hear His voice, like a trumpet, crying 'I will have 
mercy, and not sacrifice !'" 

It is not within the scope of these Lectures to discuss 
Christianity and the social order. This only I will say. 
Carlyle once wrote a letter to Emerson, warning him 
against a philosophy of spiritual aloofness. " Alas, it 
is so easy to screw one's self up into high and ever 
higher altitudes of Transcendentalism, and see nothing 



THE PREACHER'S THEME 

under one but the everlasting snows of Himmalayah, 
the Earth shrinking to a Planet, and the indigo firma- 
ment sowing itself with daylight stars; easy for you y 
for me: but whither does it lead? Well, I do believe, 
for one thing, a man has no right to say to his own 
generation, turning quite away from it, * Be damned ! ' 
It is the whole Past and the whole Future, this same 
cotton-spinning, dollar-hunting, canting and shrieking, 
very wretched generation of ours. Come back into it, 
I tell you/' So too, in your presentation of the great 
facts of faith, you must resolutely work out the ethical 
implications of the doctrines you preach. The sus- 
picion that the Church of Christ lacks zeal for social 
righteousness can be terribly damaging. Nor can it 
be denied that too often in the past organized religion 
has tended to play for safety. As Phillips Brooks once 
put it: "The pillars of the Church are apt to be like 
the Pillars of Hercules, beyond which no man might 
sail." It is the function of economists, not of the 
pulpit, to work out plans of reconstruction. But it is 
emphatically the function of the pulpit to stab men 
broad awake to the terrible pity of Jesus, to expose 
their hearts to the constraint of that divine compassion 
which haloes the oppressed and the suffering and 
flames in judgment against every social wrong. Dr. 
]. S. Whale has put it forcefully and well: "Any 
present-day theology which has not a revolutionary 
sociology as part of its implicit logic is not truly 
Christian/' There is no room for a preaching devoid 
of ethical directness and social passion, in a day when 

97 



HERALDS OF GOD 

heaven's trumpets sound and the Son of God goes 
forth to war. 

The conclusion of the matter, then, is this, that if 
you would keep your emphasis right, avoiding extremes 
on either side, you must continually be returning, in 
your preaching of the Kingdom, to the insight of the 
New Testament preachers. In, Jesus Christ, they 
declared, the great new age had broken through into 
history. It was really and actively present. Those 
who had tasted its power were living in a transformed 
world. But not yet was the divine purpose completely 
fulfilled. Not yet was the human burden of bodily 
weakness, frustration and death removed. And so, 
beyond the mighty acts of the Cross and the Resur- 
rection, these men awaited the crowning verification. 
The drama of history would have a climax and a goal. 
God Himself would bring in His perfect Kingdom, 
and make Christ Lord of all. 

These things are true. These we believe, and these 
we preach. We do not minimize the present, when 
we say Christ is coming again. On the contrary, It is 
just because we know the divine will must at last be 
regnant and supreme that we are passionately con- 
cerned that it should rule upon the earth here and now. 
Just because the future belongs to Christ, we preach 
that now is the accepted time, now is the critical hour 
for the assertion of His sovereignty in all the affairs of 
men, now is the day of salvation. 

I have spoken to you of our theme as Christian 
ministers. Who can measure the responsibility of 

98 



THE PREACHER'S THEME 

those who are heralds of such tidings? The late 
Bishop Gore used to give his final charge to candidates 
on the eve of their ordination in these impressive 
words: "To-morrow I shall say to you, wilt thou, 
wilt thou, wilt thou? But there will come a day to you 
when Another will say to you, hast thou, hast thou, 
hast thou?" God grant us unwavering fidelity to our 
high theme, lest we be ashamed to stand at last before 
the face of the Son of Man. 



99 



CHAPTER III 
THE PREACHER'S STUDY 

" This excuses no man's ignorance, that is not able to preach 
seasonably, and to break, and distribute the bread of life according 
to the emergent necessities of that Congregation, at that time ; 
Nor it excuses no man's lazinesse, that will not employ his whole 
time upon his calling 5 Nor any man's vain-glory, and ostentation, 
who having made a Pye of Plums, without meat, offers it to sale 
in every Market, and having made an Oration of Flowres, and 
Figures, and Phrases without strength, sings it over in every 
Pulpit." JOHN DONNE. 

ERNEST RAYMOND, novelist and essayist, has 
described the most impressive sermon he ever 
heard. In itself, he relates, the sermon was ordinary 
enough: intellectually negligible, aesthetically ragged. 
Its construction was faulty, its delivery abominable. 
Yet its effect was overwhelming. It was during the 
war of 1914-18. A group of men had gathered in a 
cellar to hear an Anglo-Catholic father. They went 
expecting some dry-as-dust theology or perfervid moral 
exhortation. But what actually happened was quite 
different. The preacher, sitting down, and staring at 
the floor or ceiling in search of words so halting was 
his speech spoke of the text, "Come unto Me, all 
ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you 
rest.'' "I think," wrote Raymond, "he spoke for an 
hour, and not a man of us moved, and most of us were 
very quiet all that night." 



100 



THE PREACHER'S STUDY 

There you have a striking testimony to the power 
of preaching to mediate the Real Presence of Christ. 
What matter though all the rules be broken, as long 
as men are made piercingly aware of Jesus in the 
midst? It is one thing to learn the technique and 
mechanics of preaching : it is quite another to prtach 
a sermon which will draw back the veil and make the 
barriers fall that hide the face of God. If that is not 
achieved the most careful craftsmanship is worthless; 
while on the other hand, all mannerisms can be forgiven, 
all violent infringing of the rules condoned, if there 
comes as through the sermon which so moved Ray- 
mond and the others that night some authentic touch 
of the unseen, some deep subduing sense of the eternal* 

"Can I ever forget," wrote Joseph Parker, "the 
sermon Gilfillan delivered in my pulpit in Manchester ? 
Nothing like it was ever seen under the sun. He took 
the sermon out of his trouser pocket and laid it in 
little heaps on the pulpit Bible, and took it up scrap 
by scrap, and read each at the pulpit lamp as if he were 
announcing a bazaar or a tea-meeting. 77 You would 
scarce credit it that any message could survive the 
handicap of a delivery so execrable. But listen to the 
words in which Parker goes on to describe the effect 
produced. "First the shock, then the almost-laugh, 
then the wonder, then the prayer, then the heart-felt 
thanks. It was very wonderful, and often beautiful 
exceedingly. " When preaching impels the hearers to 
prayer, you may be sure that, whatever its defiance of 
the accepted canons of the art, it is preaching Indeed. 

101 



HERALDS OF GOD 

The great Thomas Chalmers, as Professor Hugh Watt 
in a recent study has reminded us, preached with a 
disconcertingly provincial accent ("the bruising bar- 
barism of his pronunciation," to use Professor Masson's 
phrase), with an almost total lack of dramatic gesture, 
tied rigidly to his manuscript, with his finger following 
the written lines as he read. Yet vast congregations 
hung breathlessly upon that preaching, and those 
sermons went like fire through the land. In that very 
striking account of a spiritual pilgrimage, A Wan- 
derer's Way^ Dr. Charles Raven has described an 
incident which occurred during his student days at 
Cambridge. It was the visit of a well-known preacher 
at whose methods and message some were inclined to 
scoff. "The sermon was as an argument puerile," 
writes Raven, "but the man was aflame, radiating a 
power of loving that filled his simple words with mean- 
ing and with an atmosphere of worship. Here was a 
man not only passionately convinced of his gospel, but, 
for whatever the words mean. God-possessed. . . . 
Here surely was the real Christianity, that had changed 
the course of human history : if this man were deluded, 
I should almost be content to share this delusion. The 
scoffer stayed to pray," Is it not manifest that the 
ultimate secret of true preaching the preaching which 
begets worship and mediates a Presence and wields 
converting power is something quite apart from any 
rules of logical structure or artistic form ? "The wind 
bloweth where it listeth: and thou canst not tell 
whence and whither." 

1 02 



THE PREACHER'S STUDY 

This is not to say, however, that the craftsmanship of 
preaching is to be belittled or despised. That would 
be quite a false deduction from our premises. To 
argue that, because the message in itself is so all- 
important, we can afford to ignore the mere form of 
its presentation, would be arbitrary and wrong-headed. 
On the contrary, it is precisely because the message 
entrusted to us is of such paramount importance that 
we should labour at it night and day, sparing no pains 
to become skilled in our craft and to make the earthen 
vessel as worthy as we can of the treasure it contains. 
St. Paul thanked God for the Corinthians, that they 
were " enriched in all utterance, 'and in all knowledge," 
for it is essential that those who know the truth of 
Christ should also learn how to set it forth convincingly 
for others. In this regard, congregations to-day are 
much more exacting than they were a generation ago. 
Probably in no small measure this is due as a recent 
writer in the Spectator suggested to the influence of 
Broadcasting House, "If people listen to competent 
speaking on all kinds of subjects during the week, they 
will ask for equal competence from the pulpit on Sun- 
day." Slovenly work, careless technique, faulty construc- 
tion and inarticulate delivery have had their day : they 
will pass muster no longer. And surely the preacher's 
task, undertaken at God's command for Christ's dear 
sake, demands the very best that unremitting toil and 
care and disciplined technical training can bring to 
it. "Neither will I offer burnt offerings unto the Lord 
my God of that which doth cost me nothing." 

103 



HERALDS OF GOD 

Beware, however, of any lecturer who on the 
Warrack foundation or any other should announce 
a course on "How to Preach: By One who Knows/' 
The creature is an impostor! No man knows how to 
preach. You will have to reckon with this significant, 
disconcerting fact, that the greatest preachers who 
have ever lived have confessed themselves poor 
bunglers to the end, groping after an ideal which has 
eluded them for ever. When you have been preaching 
for twenty years, you will be beginning to realize how 
incalculably much there is to learn. There will be 
days when the Socratic knowledge of your ignorance 
will desolate and overwhelm you. Even if Providence 
should spare you to this work for fifty years, your 
thought will be, as the gloaming closes in around 
you, "If only I could start all over again now!" 
There is no vocation in all the world which has 
such rewards to offer of deep and satisfying joy. 
But it is also true that there is no vocation so per- 
petually humbling to a good man, no task in which 
failure is so inescapably the fate appointed. How, 
indeed, could it be otherwise ? 

I who have giv'n to Thee my best 
Rejoice Thy word is unexpressed 5 
And inexpressible must be 
On this side of Eternity j 
And I with all my travail vast 
Am glad that I must fail at last. 
If I had found the Word complete, 
No glory could I march to meet: 
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THE PREACHER'S STUDY 

A pilgrim home from pilgrimage! 
A soldier with no fight to wage ! 
But now my powers I still must spend, 
And go on failing to the end. 
But failing I shall leave behind 
Some hints of the Eternal Mind, 
And hungry pilgrims, where I went, 
May find a broken Sacrament. 



In any case, take courage! It is right that the vast 
difficulty of the task should humble you. It is wrong 
that it should paralyse you. When you sit down in 
your study to write a sermon, you are not without vijtal 
resources behind you. All your experience of God, all 
your acquaintance with life, all your knowledge of 
men, all your fellowship with the great minds of the 
centuries, will come in then to your aid. 

I do not dwell here on the fundamental resource 
your personal, first-hand communion with God. Of 
that I hope to speak in a subsequent lecture. But what 
of your acquaintance with the world, your knowledge 
of your fellows, your understanding of the problems 
and vexations that besiege the souls of men ? To be 
merely bookish and academic is quite fatal. It is a 
damaging criticism of any preacher, that he is out of 
touch with the actualities of other men's lives, ignorant 
of the conditions with which they have to grapple, and 
therefore incompetent to speak to their needs or to give 
them counsel and guidance for their struggle. There 

105 



HERALDS OF GOD 

is no reason why any man's ministry should be crippled 
by such aloofness and inhumanity. There is every 
reason why the ambassador of Christ, more than anyone 
else, should be alert and sensitive to men's difficulties, 
aspirations, conflicts, bafflements, to their social and 
economic strains and stresses and insecurities, to their 
dreams and defeats, heroisms and tragic blunders. 
Everything that can help you there all first-hand 
acquaintance with contemporary conditions, all work- 
ing knowledge of psychology, all practical experience 
of living in community will bring an indispensable 
contribution to the resources of insight, understanding 
and sympathy out of which you are to preach. In this 
connection, let me urge upon you the immense import- 
ance of the preacher's work as pastor. Have nothing 
to do with the foolish suggestion that the two offices 
might advantageously be severed. Let no specious 
arguments about the necessity of conserving your 
energies, or of concentrating on other tasks, organiza- 
tion, committees, and the like, deflect you from your 
primary duty of knowing the people whom you are 
sent to serve for Jesus' sake. Above all, I would ask 
you to consider this paradox. Would you know men 
better ? Then get closer to God ! For indeed the only 
way to understand your brother truly is to see him as 
God sees him, to look out upon him through the eyes 
of the great Father of us all. 

There is another resource which will come in power- 
fully to your aid in the preparation of your messages 
week by week: your fellowship with the great minds 

1 06 



THE PREACHER'S STUDY 

of the centuries. No minister of the Gospel has any 
right to cease to be a student when his College days 
are done* However burdened he may be in after years 
with the crowding cares of a large city congregation, 
however wearing to body, brain and spirit the toils of 
his twelve hours' day, he must and he can by resolu- 
tion, self-discipline, and the grace of God remain a 
student to the end. The preacher who closed down 
his mind ten, twenty, thirty years ago is a tragic figure. 
Keep alert to what theology is saying. Refresh your 
soul with the living waters of the spiritual classics. 
Augustine's Confessions, Baxter's Reformed Pastor, 
Pascal's Thoughts, William Law's Serious Call, Wesley's 
Journal, von Hiigel's Letters all these and many more 
are your rightful heritage: and who could dwell with 
these and not be "strengthened with might by God's 
Spirit in the inner man"? Enlarge your range some- 
times to include the great enemies of the faith. Be 
debtor both to the Greeks and to the barbarians. Know 
what men have said against our holy religion. See 
how even there God turns the wrath of man to His 
praise, and the damaging arguments of the sceptics to 
the greater glory of Christ. Nor will you, if you are 
wise, neglect literature of a more general kind. You 
will find that history and biography, science and 
literary criticism, drama, fiction, poetry all have some 
gift to bring for the preparation of your message. Not 
that you are to direct your reading with a deliberate 
eye to the garnering of sermon material ! That makes 
for homiletical professionalism. But to have com- 

107 



HERALDS OF GOD 

panied with Shakespeare and Plutarch, Tolstoy and 
Dickens, Robert Bridges, Chesterton, Eddington, 
T. S. Eliot, is to find all your horizons stretched and 
widened. Such intercourse will impart new qualities 
of breadth, insight, dignity and precision to all your 
work. Therefore, in the words of the apostolic injunc- 
tion, "give attendance to reading," 

Need I remind you that when Paul laid that charge 
upon Timothy he was thinking supremely of Scripture 
reading? "I do not know/' exclaimed Spurgeon, 
"how my soul would have been kept alive if it had not 
been for the searching of Scripture which preaching 
has involved." It is your immense privilege that the 
very nature of your calling compels you to live daily in 
the pages of the Bible. But do not, I beg you, debase 
the Word of God by regarding it as a mere hunting- 
ground for texts and subjects. Let there be a deeper 
constraint behind your Bible study than the feverish 
question, "Now what am I going to preach about next 
Sunday?" If all our people need the devotional use of 
the Bible for their spiritual nourishment and growth in 
grace, how much more do we, who have to speak to 
them in the Name which is above every name ! Nothing 
can atone for slackness and indiscipline at this point. 
Let us give ourselves day by day to prayerful and 
meditative study of the Word, listening to hear what 
God the Lord will speak: lest, when we seek to inter- 
pret the Scriptures to others, it should have to be said 
of us, in the words of the Samaritan which were once 
applied to Robert Southey's attempt to interpret the 

1 08 



THE PREACHER'S STUDY 

life and character of Wesley, "Thou hast nothing to 
draw with, and the well is deep!" 



ii 

Now before proceeding to discuss the practical 
questions of sermon construction, there are three pleas 
I wish to make. 

The first is a plea for expository preaching. This is 
one of the greatest needs of the hour. There are rich 
rewards of human gratitude waiting fof the man who 
can make the Bible come alive. Congregations are 
sick of dissertations on problems, and essays on aspects 
of the religious situation : such sermons are indeed no 
true preaching at all. Men are not wanting to be told 
our poor views and arguments and ideals. They are 
emphatically wanting to be told what God has said, 
and is saying, in His Word. There is no durable 
satisfaction in anything less than that. Therefore we 
do wrong when we take a text and read our message 
into it. Let the Bible speak its own message. Inci- 
dentally, this will deliver us from the peril of monotony. 
The preacher who expounds his own limited stock of 
ideas becomes deadly wearisome at last. The preacher 
who expounds the Bible has endless variety at his dis- 
posal. For no two texts say exactly the same thing. 
Every passage has a quite distinctive meaning. It is 
not the Holy Spirit's way to repeat Himself. If you 
can write a sermon, and then attach it to any one of 
half a dozen texts indiscriminately, you would do well 

109 



HERALDS OF GOD 

to be suspicious of that sermon ! Do not be like the 
preachers Spurgeon describes, who, having announced 
their text, " touch their hats, as it were, to that part of 
Scripture, and pass on to fresh woods and pastures new." 
Open up the riches that the particular text contains. 
Remember there is something there which occurs 
nowhere else. Bring to light its buried treasure. Why 
should we so often find ourselves racking our brains 
and cudgelling our souls, and producing in the end 
only some poor disquisition lamentably devoid of any 
qualities of vivid interest or grip or appeal? It is 
because we will persist in driving along the path of our 
own thoughts and preconceptions instead of following 
where the Bible leads. Give the strength of your 
ministry to expository preaching, and not only will you 
always have a hearing, not only will you keep your 
message fresh and varied, but, in the truest sense, you 
will be doing the work of an evangelist; and from 
many of those quiet words of grateful acknowledg- 
ment which are amongst the most precious and sacred 
rewards of any man's ministry, you will know that 
through the Scriptures God has spoken again, as He 
spoke to the fathers by the prophets. 

The second plea is for a due observance of the 
Christian Year. Your own personal devotional life 
stands to gain much, in discipline, vividness and 
vitality, by active celebration of the great Christian 
festivals. Moreover, such observance has no small 
ecumenical value : it is one way of asserting, through 
all differences and divisions, our essential unity in 

no 



THE PREACHER'S STUDY 

Christ. But what mainly concerns us here is its place 
in preaching. The great landmarks of the Christian 
Year Advent, Christmas, Lent, Good Friday, Easter, 
Whitsunday, Trinity set us our course, and suggest 
our basic themes. They compel us to keep close to the 
fundamental doctrines of the faith. They summon 
us back from the bypaths where we might be prone to 
linger, to the great highway of redemption. They 
ensure that in our preaching we shall constantly be 
returning to those mighty acts of God which the 
Church exists to declare. In passing, I would remind 
you that the true meaning of Christmas can unfold 
itself only to those who have climbed the slopes of 
Advent, that the joy of Easter in all its splendour of 
victory can lay hold only upon those who have watched 
through Lent and have been with Christ in His passion, 
and that the power of Pentecost can be fully revealed 
only to those who, "with one accord in one place, " 
have waited expectantly for the gift from heaven. 
Throughout these periods of the year, therefore, our 
preaching ought to be specifically directed, Sunday by 
Sunday, towards preparing our people in mind and 
heart for the fresh disclosure of Himself which it is 
God's will to send. Then indeed the great triumphant 
festivals of universal Christendom will become high 
places of the spirit: a mighty means of grace to a 
people prepared for the Lord. 

My third plea is this. Put into your sermon-making 
the very best you have in you. Stint no toil to achieve 
clear thought, fit language, true construction, decisive 

in 



HERALDS OF GOD 

appeal. The late Viscount Grey once confessed to 
Lord Bryce the difficulty he experienced in composing 
speeches. ''You need not be disturbed/' was the 
answer, "as long as you feel like that. The time to 
become alarmed is when you find that you can speak 
quite easily without having anything to say/' If you 
are gifted with facility of utterance, what Coleridge 
once shrewdly described as "a premature and unnatural 
dexterity in the combination of words/' beware! If 
it is your lot to stand on "the slippery floor of a 
popular pulpit" to use a phrase of Alexander Whyte's 
be doubly on your guard. There will be subtle 
temptations to scamp the work of preparation. You 
will be tempted to rationalize your other crowding 
duties into a justification for relaxing the inexorable 
discipline of your study-desk. If you are not resolute, 
the very constitution of the Church itself its intricate 
machinery of meetings, committees, conferences, organ- 
izations will seem to aid and abet that weaker, slacker 
self within which is only too glad to escape the travail 
of lonely wrestling with the Word of God. If the 
Church cannot, or will not, break through that vicious 
circle, you must do it for yourself. You are called to 
speak to men in the name of God. Dare you think 
lightly of such an undertaking, or of the stern discipline 
of heart and mind which it involves? "I earnestly 
beseech you all," wrote Richard Baxter well-nigh three 
hundred years ago to his brethren in the ministry, "in 
the name of God, and for the sake of your peoples' 
souls, that you will not slightly slubber over this work, 

112 



THE PREACHER'S STUDY 

but do it vigorously and with all your might and make 
it your great and serious business." 

The preparation of two sermons a week, to say 
nothing of other talks and addresses, is indeed a 
tremendous task. I would urge you, for your own 
peace of mind, to systematize your days. Aim at 
having one sermon finished by Wednesday night, the 
other by Friday. As far as lies in your power, guard 
your mornings from interruption. God, says Jeremiah, 
"rises up early/' to send His prophets: on which John 
Oman comments pithily, "Naturally His prophets 
should follow His example/* " A man in his study in 
his bedroom slippers, unshaved and in his dressing- 
gown, is in about as perilous a state for his soul as a 
man who takes to secret drinking." "These," says 
Phillips Brooks, "are the race of clerical visionaries 
who think vast, dim, vague thoughts, and do no work." 
A lifelike picture! It would probably be agreed that 
a sermon which cannot be prayed over before it is 
preached is hardly likely to set the heather on fire, or 
to bring to any seeking soul "the fulness of the blessing 
of the gospel of Christ." And can we honestly pray 
over a bit of scamped work, or any sermon into which 
we have not cared to put our best ? Dr. Sloane Coffin 
once declared that "the recipe for compounding many 
a current sermon might be written ; ' Take a teaspoon- 
ful of weak thought, add water, and serve.' The fact 
that it is frequently served hot, may enable the con- 
coction to warm the hearers; but it cannot be called 
nourishing," You will remember how mercilessly 

"3 



HERALDS OF GOD 

William Cowper pilloried certain preachers of his day 
whose shoddy sermons belied the dignity of the 
prophetic vocation and brought it into contempt: 

The things that mount the rostrum with a skip, 
And then skip down again; pronounce a text; 
Cry hem! and reading what they never wrote, 
Just fifteen minutes, huddle up their work, 
And with a well-bred whisper close the scene ! 

Overdrawn? No doubt. Yet the race of " clerical 
visionaries" is not extinct. 

Yours is a task, I repeat, which demands and 
deserves sheer hard work, sweat of brain and discipline 
of soul. You must not, for example, allow your week's 
sermon preparation to be at the mercy of moods. You 
must not wait for the inspired hour before getting 
under way. Spurgeon indeed urged his students, when 
deliberating on the right text to choose, to "wait for 
that elect word, even if you wait till within an hour of 
the service." It may have been the wise policy for a 
Spurgeon; but then Spurgeons are few and far be- 
tween. Ordinary creatures like ourselves will be well 
advised to follow the less spectacular and dramatic 
path of plodding diligence and patience. In any case, 
you will often find it is as you pursue that hard and 
apparently thankless way that quite suddenly the fire 
from heaven begins to fall. Speaking of the art of 
writing, Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch roundly declared 
that "solid daily practice is the prescription and 'wait- 
ing upon inspiration' a lure. These crests only rise 
' 04 



THE PREACHER'S STUDY 

on the back of constant labour. " If that is true of 
writing in general, it is certainly true of sermon pre- 
paration in particular. "Only out of long preparation 
can come the truly triumphant flash/ 1 If you persist 
in waiting for the divine afflatus, you will waste valu- 
able hours which might have been more profitably 
spent in making dogged progress with the work, "line 
upon line, here a little, and there a little." Anthony 
Trollope, in the Autobiography^ described his own 
methods of work. "It had at this time become my 
custom to write with my watch before me, and to 
require from myself 250 words every quarter of an 
hour. I have found that my 250 words have been 
forthcoming as regularly as my watch went." We 
may feel disposed to deride such a practice as hope- 
lessly mechanical. What we regard as our artistic 
temperament cries out against it. But let us not be 
blind to the wisdom it contains. Certainly we have 
little right to preach to others about conquering the 
power of moods if our own sermon preparation is 
swayed by that tyranny! 

Nor must we presume upon the text which runs, 
"Take no thought how or what ye shall speak; for it 
shall be given you in that same hour," Only textual 
vivisection of the worst kind could twist that passage 
into meaning that it is a meritorious action to enter the 
pulpit unprepared. It is quite a false antithesis which 
would set the toil and premeditation of the study over 
against guidance by the Holy Spirit. Jesus was refer- 
ring to the special grace which would be ministered to 

115 



HERALDS OF GOD 

His followers when the hour of emergency leapt upon 
them, and they were dragged before rulers and 
governors. The sudden crisis. He assured them, 
would bring with it a sudden reinforcement. " As thy 
days, so shall thy strength be/' That is manifestly 
true, in the twentieth century no less than in the first. 
But when we as preachers count upon the aid of the 
Holy Spirit to give us utterance, we would do well to 
reflect that the promise is conditional upon the loyalty 
of common days. The Spirit of the Lord will be upon 
us in proportion as our work has been earnest and 
faithful and ungrudging. 

There are, of course, those who would argue that the 
place of preaching has long been grossly exaggerated. 
They minimize its value. Long hours of preparation 
they regard as waste of energy and effort. They are 
particularly scornful of anything which may be called 
"popular preaching." This they would exclude as 
incompatible with the worship of God. Moreover, 
they say, its very popularity proves that it is riddled 
with insincerity. Preaching "mere" preaching, as 
the derogatory phrase expresses it has had its day: 
let us be finished with the cult of preaching, or at least 
reduce it to a quite subsidiary place. Let those hours 
in the study be devoted to more profitable and practical 
ends! But the pulpit need not fear the battery of such 
superior critics. It is likely to outlive them all. 
William Cowper, speaking of the pulpit in that same 
poem, The Task,, from which I have already quoted, 
confesses : 

116 



THE PREACHER'S STUDY 

I name it filled 

With solemn awe, that bids me well beware 
With what intent I touch that holy thing; 

and he prophesies that it 

Must stand acknowledged, while the world shall stand. 

Indeed, as I pointed out in an earlier lecture, the 
fashion of disparaging preaching is simply due to 
muddled thinking. It represents a failure to under- 
stand what preaching essentially is the heralding of 
the eternal Word of God and a consequent inability 
to grasp its integral place in all true worship. Nor 
should we be misled by any strictures on " popular " 
preaching. To aim at a cheap popularity would indeed 
be a despicable disloyalty. But does it not stand 
written of our Lord that "the common people heard 
Him gladly"? John Kelman was a popular preacher: 
and there are scores of men to-day who would confess 
that it was to Kelman, under God, that they owe their 
souls, Studdert-Kennedy was a popular preacher: 
and Studdert-Kennedy did far more to stir the social 
conscience of the country than any of the critics who 
label popular preaching as dope. This disparaging of 
preaching is a passing phase. Do not be misled by it. 
Resist the suggestion that to sweat blood over your 
sermon preparation is a subtle form of pride and selfish- 
ness, or at the least a reprehensible misdirection of time 
and energy. Long after all such pontifical utterances 
of a one-eyed dogmatism have passed away, it will still 

117 



HERALDS OF GOD 

be pleasing God by the foolishness of preaching to save 
them that believe. 

There is no short-cut to escape the burden and the 
toil. Any evasion of the cost will inevitably rob a 
man's ministry of power. Any refusal to accept the 
relentless, implacable discipline will result in dimin- 
ished spiritual influence. Put into your sermons your 
unstinting best. When Carlyle was toiling at his 
French Revolution, he wrote to Emerson: "That 
beggardly Book hampers me every way. To fling it 
once for all into the fire were perhaps the best; yet I 
grudge to do that. It is impossible for you to figure 
what mood I am in. One sole thought. That Book! 
that weary Book! occupies me continually. For the 
present, really, it is like a Nessus* shirt, burning you 
into madness; nay, it is also like a kind of Panoply, 
rendering you invulnerable, insensible, to all other 
mischiefs." Surely we, who have to wrestle with the 
Word of truth for the immortal souls of men, must ask 
no easier way. "What," cries Richard Baxter, "have 
we our time and strength for, but to lay both out for 
God? What is a candle made for, but to be burnt?" 



in 

It may be well at this point to underline two guiding 
principles which the preacher must constantly keep 
in sight. 

Remember, first, that what you are hoping to pro- 
duce is a sermon not an essay, not a lecture, not a 

118 



THE PREACHER'S STUDY 

College exegesis, but a sermon. That is to say, when 
you sit down to write in your study, you must visualize 
a gathered congregation. This will give your work 
those qualities of directness, liveliness, verve and 
immediacy which are so essential. It will prune 
drastically your involved, elaborate periods, and sternly 
repress any addiction to purple passages. It will 
eliminate irrelevances. It will constrain you to clarify 
your own ideas. It will urge you to translate abstrac- 
tions into concrete terms. It will embolden you to use 
personal forms of address. It will banish the dull 
stilted tediousness of the sermon-essay. It will keep 
the dominant notes of urgency and reality, of appeal 
for a verdict, sounding unmistakably. Roman oratory 
of the classical age had three rules: placere, docere^ 
movere. To please, in the sense of gripping the hearers* 
minds and keeping interest alert; to teach and in- 
struct, as distinct from the purveying merely of ex- 
hortation and uplift, and the recital of pious platitudes ; 
to move the heart, and sting the will into action is not 
this the Christian preacher's task? And where is the 
possibility of its accomplishment unless there stands 
vividly before his consciousness, as he prepares his 
sermon in his study, the vision of his waiting congrega- 
tion, the thought of the men and women, with all their 
crowding, clamorous needs, to whom as Christ's 
ambassador he is to speak ? 

In this connection, let me draw your attention to a 
striking passage in Jebb's Lectures on The Growth and 
Influence of Classical Greek Poetry^ in which the Greek 

119 



HERALDS OF GOD 

poet and the Christian preacher are compared. The 
paragraph is well worth pondering. "In every pro- 
vince of intellectual activity, and in that of poetry 
among the rest, the Greeks of the classical age de- 
manded a living sympathy of mind with mind. What 
they felt in regard to the poet can be best understood 
by comparing it with the feeling which not they alone, 
but all people, have in regard to the orator and the 
preacher. The true orator, the great preacher, speaks 
out of the fulness of genuine conviction and emotion 
to the minds and hearts of those who hear him; 
through all variations of mood and tone, he keeps in 
mental touch with them. The excellence of the class- 
ical Greek poet was tried by the same test. No elabora- 
tion of art could sustain the poet through his ordeal, if 
he failed in truth to nature. False sentiment may pass 
muster in the study, but it is inevitably betrayed by its 
own unveracity when it is spoken aloud before listeners 
whose minds are sane, as those of the Greeks pre- 
eminently were; the hollow ring is detected; it 
offends; and the exemption of the best Greek poetry 
from false sentiment is a merit secured by the very 
conditions under which that poetry was produced." 
Remember, therefore, to keep your congregation 
before you as you write. For no array of literary 
merits can possibly redeem a discourse which lacks 
the living sympathy of mind with mind. 

The other basic principle is this. Make sure that 
every sermon you preach has a definite aim. To say 
this is indeed simply to apply in one particular and 

120 



THE PREACHER'S STUDY 

very important direction a truth which ought to govern 
a man's whole ministry. Why are we in this work at 
all? To bring men to God through Jesus Christ. 
That is the ultimate goal of all our striving, the purpose 
of our commission. It ought to be our one consuming 
ambition to help men and women, through the services 
of the sanctuary, to meet the living God. And if ever 
we lose sight of that commanding goal, if we grow hazy 
and uncertain about our aim, if we eventually reach a 
point where we have ceased expecting the Holy Spirit 
to act mightily amongst our people with convincing 
and converting power, the Lord have mercy on our 
souls! "Why should it be thought a thing incredible 
that God should raise the dead" yes, even through 
our poor preaching ? Therefore, as our whole ministry 
must press toward that mark, as it can have meaning 
and value and momentum only by keeping that goal 
in sight, so every sermon must have its own quite 
definite aim. " A sermon," said Beecher, "is not like 
a Chinese fire-cracker to be fired off for the noise which 
it makes. It is the hunter's gun, and at every discharge 
he should look to see his game fall." There is some- 
thing wrong with a preacher who sends people away 
with the bemused and puzzled feeling, "Now what 
was all that about? What was the fellow driving at 
to-day?" The artist in Don Quixote, on being inter- 
rogated what precisely he was painting, replied, "That 
is as it may turn out." Who has not suffered under 
sermons evolved in the same deplorably haphazard 
way? The acid test is to confront yourself, before ever 

121 



HERALDS OF GOD 

you put pen to paper, with the question: "What is 
the aim and intention of this sermon ? What is the 
central truth it is to convey? Can I concentrate that 
into a single sentence?" It is true, no doubt, that 
when Dickens first invented Pickwick there were only 
the haziest outlines of an idea in the author's mind 
what to do with the character he had created, true that 
the early instalments of the story were launched upon 
the world in serial numbers before any course had been 
charted or any plot conceived. But for the preacher it 
is imperative to see the end from the beginning. In 
every sermon, he must know exactly what truth it is 
that he is proposing to drive home to the hearer's 
minds. He must see clearly the objective to which he 
hopes to lead them. He ought to be able to define it 
to himself in a dozen words. Without such definite- 
ness of aim, preaching remains self-stultified and in- 
effectual, and may never touch a single life. With it, 
the simplest words, taking wings from the Spirit of 
God, may reach the hidden depths of many hearts. 



IV 



I am reserving to a later point in our discussion the 
crucial matter of the choice of texts and subjects. In 
the meantime let us come to grips with the more 
technical questions of construction. Let us assume 
that a particular theme has laid hold upon your mind, 
so that you feel constrained to preach on it. You have 
prayed about it, and your main objective is clear. 

122 



THE PREACHER'S STUDY 

What next? The immediate step is to set down on 
paper without any regard at this stage for logical 
sequence all the thoughts, suggestions, illustrations 
which your chosen theme brings clustering into your 
mind. Do not let the resultant disarray and confusion 
unduly daunt you! However chaotic that page, go 
ahead: get everything down. That done, your next 
undertaking is to reduce the chaos to order. Out of 
that jumbled mass of material you are to hammer a 
coherent shape. Now here 1 would urge you to spare 
no pains. Clarity, logical progression, natural transi- 
tions, closely riveted connections these are duties you 
owe to your hearers. The preacher who stints toil at 
this point, being disinclined for the strenuous mental 
discipline involved, is laying upon his congregation the 
onus of a task which is really his, not theirs. He is 
transferring to them a burden he ought to have taken 
on himself. Is it surprising that their acceptance of it 
should, to put it mildly, lack enthusiasm? Never 
grudge the labour which clear thinking and methodical 
construction demand. A sermon which has some 
symmetry about it, built to an orderly plan and showing 
evidence of carefully chiselled thought, is likely to have 
far more thrust and grip and attack upon the hearers' 
minds than any amorphous collection of fine ideas. 
There is a story of a young minister who, concerned 
about the apparent failure of his preaching, consulted 
Dr. Joseph Parker in the vestry of the City Temple. 
His sermons, he complained, were encountering only 
apathy. Could Dr. Parker frankly tell him what was 

123 



HERALDS OF GOD 

lacking? "Suppose you preach me one of your 
sermons here and now/' said Parker; and his visitor, 
not without some trepidation, complied. When it was 
over, the Doctor told him to sit down. ''Young man," 
he said, "you asked me to be frank, I think I can tell 
you what is the matter. For the last half-hour you 
have been trying to get something out of your head 
instead of something into mine!" That distinction is 
crucial Wrestle with your subject in the study, that 
there may be clarity in the pulpit. "For if the trumpet 
give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to 
the battle?" 

Now comes the actual writing of the sermon. Im- 
mediately the question confronts you, How to begin ? 
It was the almost invariable habit of the preachers of a 
bygone generation, having announced a text, to start 
off by expounding its Scripture setting and historical 
background. Nor is this method by any means to be 
despised to-day. For one thing, it provides a corrective 
of that arbitrary treatment of Scripture which, breaking 
all the canons of exegesis, imports meanings into texts 
in complete disregard of what the original writer meant 
to say. For another thing, the historical setting, if 
briefly and vividly sketched, will illuminate and make 
doubly relevant the message of the text itself. Thus, 
for example, a sermon on Zechariah's young man with 
the measuring-line might well begin with some account 
of the danger which the prophet sensed in the rebuild- 
ing of Jerusalem the danger, namely, that the new 
community might be constructed precisely upon the 

124 



THE PREACHER'S STUDY 

lines of the old, a facsimile of the city that had stood 
there before the divine judgments in history had swept 
it away. Is that not a real peril still, that men should 
have their faces to the past rather than to the future, 
hankering after the social structure or the economic 
security or the ecclesiastical divisions which their 
fathers knew ? Or again, if you have decided to preach 
on Isaiah's " Watchman, what of the night?" you 
might not unfittingly introduce your subject by show- 
ing that the watchman is one of the great figures of 
Scripture, to be descried on page after page, standing 
on the walls of beleaguered cities, peering through the 
darkness infested by foes, scanning the horizons for 
the coming of a deliverer, keeping vigil (as the apostle 
saw him) over troubled hearts like the sentinel peace 
of God. Given the saving grace of brevity, and some 
faculty of historical imagination, much is to be said for 
the recognized tradition of starting from the Scripture 
context, and working on from that to the message for 
to-day. 

There is, however, another method which is better 
adapted to grip your hearers' attention and secure their 
interest at the very outset, especially in these days 
when so many of them have the notion the quite 
erroneous but stubbornly prevalent notion that the 
world of the Bible is remote and alien from their own. 
This is to start from present-day experience. Begin 
where your hearers are. Meet them on their own 
ground. Let us assume, for example, that you are 
going to preach a sermon on the conquest of depres- 

125 



HERALDS OF GOD 

sion, taking for your text the words in I Samuel, 
"David encouraged himself in the Lord his God." 
Instead of starting with a historical introduction based 
on the Biblical incident, go straight to the experience 
of your hearers themselves. Your first sentences will 
arrest their attention, if you speak of the disheartened 
moods which no one quite escapes, and of those difficult 
days when work is a weariness and resilience is low, or 
when life has defeated some cherished hope and dreams 
have died. Then ask them to observe how one brave 
spirit faced this very test and emerged victorious. 
Show them David, as that most moving page of Old 
Testament biography depicts him, girding himself to 
meet a succession of adversities that might well have 
made any man a nervous wreck. Not by the method 
of the Stoic, who lectures his own soul on the matter of 
morale ; not by the way of the wishful thinker, who 
practises a comfortable self-deception; not by these 
did this man triumph, but by letting God in upon the 
situation, by an act of religious realism that smote the 
low mood and brought dawn breaking through the 
midnight of the soul Or again, suppose your subject 
is Handicapped Lives, and your text Paul's thorn in 
the flesh. If you begin with a disquisition on the 
apostle's disability, your hearers may accord you only 
that tepid interest which a doubtfully relevant theme 
elicits. But start off from the fact that almost every 
life is conscious of a handicap of some kind whether 
of health, or talent, or opportunity, or personality, or 
social gift and immediately their attention is engaged : 

126 



THE PREACHER'S STUDY 

: or you will be touching the very nerve of their own 
experience. Then you will go on to show how Paul, 
3y the grace of Christ, turned his limitations to glorious 
*ain, and how any man or woman to-day may do the 
same. 

A useful variant of this method of approach is to 
3egin with some arresting incident or picture from 
ife or literature. Take, for instance, a subject on 
which you are bound to speak to your people not once 
3Ut many times, the immemorial question "Does God 
;are ?" You might prelude your sermon on this theme 
#ith that extraordinarily vivid picture Carlyle gives 
lear the beginning of Sartor the philosopher gazing 
)ut across the city at midnight from his lofty attic, 
mising on the mingled joys and sorrows, hopes and 
niseries of the half-a-million human beings huddled 
ound him there: "But I," he exclaims at last, "I sit 
ibove it all; I am alone with the Stars." Is God like 
hat an aloof, spectator God? Or you might begin 
vith that youthful outburst in one of Hugh Walpole's 
itories. "You know that there can't be a God, 
Vanessa. In your heart you must know it. You are 
L wise woman. You read and think. Well, then, ask 
rourself : How can there be a God and life be as it is ?" 
The great initial advantage of this method is that it 
dvifies the crucial issue with which you are proposing 
o deal. Right at the outset in a couple of sentences 
>r little more as in the vivid strokes of a lightning 
itist it focuses the dramatic relevance of the theme, 
tnd thrusts it compellingly upon mind and heart. 

127 



HERALDS OF GOD 

It will not have escaped your notice, in this connec- 
tion, how often our Lord Himself in His teaching 
found His point of departure in some incident, scene 
or inquiry uppermost in His hearers' minds at the 
moment. Instead of beginning with an exposition of 
the fundamental verities of religious faith. He would 
begin with the concrete stuff of life, the raw material 
of familiar experience; and thence would lead on and 
up to the eternal truth it was His mission to declare. 
Jesus got His texts, time and again, from the con- 
gregations gathered around Him. So, too, with St. 
Paul at Athens. "As I passed by, I found an altar 
'To the Unknown God.'" That arrested attention 
immediately. That nailed down the issue, fastening it 
firmly to contemporary fact. Rightly and wisely, the 
apostle began just where his hearers were, hoping that 
as his argument marched to its climax he would be able 
to lead them through to an acceptance of the ultimate 
revelation in Christ. Let me add that the trouble 
about that Athenian sermon was, not that he began 
there, but that he stayed there too long. The blunder 
was and mark this well, for it is a common fault with 
preachers still that half his discourse that day was 
introduction. Indeed, it was only at the end that the 
trumpet-note of God's mighty act in Christ was heard. 
Perhaps Paul on Mars' Hill was conscious of a latent 
antagonism in his congregation. Perhaps his surpris- 
ing adoption of alien methods rhetoric and phil- 
osophy, classical allusions and bits of poetry was a 
deliberate peace-offering intended to neutralize the 

128 



THE PREACHER'S STUDY 

unspoken criticisms with which the atmosphere seemed 
sultry. At all events, reflecting subsequently on the 
comparative failure of that sermon, he resolved that 
never again would he lengthen out his prologue so 
discursively, nor travel to his goal by so roundabout a 
road. Between Athens and Corinth, the decision was 
reached. He would indeed meet his hearers on their 
own ground, but he would take them straight from 
there to Jesus Christ, crucified and risen. Well for us 
if we have learnt the same lesson, and made the same 
vow in our own souls! If you have a propensity 
towards long and involved introductions, check it ruth- 
lessly. A few vivid sentences can be so much stronger 
and more telling than the most elaborate historical or 
theological approach. "Gentlemen," said Spurgeon 
to his students, " don't go creeping into your subject, 
as some swimmers go into the water, first to the ankles, 
and then to the knees, and then to the waist and 
shoulders: plunge into it at once over head and ears!" 
Before passing from this matter, let me add that 
perhaps the ideal sermon introduction is that which 
consists in a judicious combination of the two main 
methods outlined above. One example must suffice. 
Take the striking incident of Paul's encounter at 
Ephesus with the group of disciples who had never 
"so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost." 
A sermon on this text might begin from the Biblical 
passage itself. You might portray Paul puzzling over 
the lack of vitality and the sense of strain in the religious 
life of those Ephesian converts, until the root of the 

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HERALDS OF GOD 

trouble was disclosed; and then you would draw the 
parallel with that desupernaturalized Christianity so 
familar to-day, which awaits a fresh baptism of power. 
Or alternatively, your sermon might set out from the 
contemporary situation, from the manifest failure of 
the Christian forces to make their God-intended impact 
upon this generation, and from the disturbing question 
haunting so many hearts, "Why has my religion not 
made a more vital difference to me ? ' ' Then you would 
ask your hearers to observe the Word of God con- 
fronting this precise perplexity, diagnosing the trouble 
with sure insight, and dealing with it decisively. But 
better than either of these lines of approach to the 
cardinal truth of the narrative in question would be an 
introduction which combined them both. Here is how 
John Hutton does it note how in three arresting 
sentences we are taken, not only to the crux of the 
problem at Ephesus, but to the heart of our own 
predicament to-day: " Wasn't it too bad of those who 
taught them the rudiments of the Christian faith to 
leave those poor innocents in their little boat with 
nothing but oars! Not telling them that they might 
step a mast and let loose a sail, for there was always a 
favouring breath on the face of those waters ! What a 
fool indeed a man would be who should decide to-day 
to cross the Atlantic, rowing !" 



If I have dwelt at some length upon this question of 
how to begin, it is because it is so essential to gain your 

130 



THE PREACHER'S STUDY 

hearers* interest at the outset. Those first two or three 
minutes are vitally important. But now we pass to the 
main body of the sermon. Is the time-honoured usage 
of divisions " heads," as they are called to be re- 
commended? My advice would be to avoid any 
slavish bondage to tradition at this point. It is 
certainly not necessary that all sermons, like Gaul, 
should be divided into three parts. There is no 
intrinsic sanctity in the tripartite sermon division, nor 
is it (as some appear to hold) a prerequisite of sound 
doctrine and essential to salvation. Sometimes your 
discourse may have six heads, sometimes none. Vary 
your methods deliberately. Cultivate flexibility. .It 
is bad to cast all your sermons in one mould, so that 
people know infallibly in advance what shape they will 
be. Principal Rainy once spoke of sermons to which 
congregations listened "with respectful resignation, 
foreseeing clearly how it was all to be, and conscious 
that mental consuetude had superseded mental life/' 
Refuse to allow any one form of sermon structure to 
dominate your preaching. In any case, a sermon ought 
to be a living thing of flesh and blood: do not, there- 
fore, let the bones of the skeleton obtrude themselves 
unduly. It is the finished building men want to see, 
not the builder's scaffolding. "The well is deep and 
you must have something to draw with. But there is 
no need," says Dr. W. R. Maltby, "to make people 
drink out of the bucket, still less to chew the rope." 

The value of heads is, of course, that they drive 
home to your hearers' minds the truth for whose 



HERALDS OF GOD 

acceptance you are pleading. They focus the issue, 
and so help towards obtaining a verdict* They may 
stick in the memory when all the rest has been for- 
gotten. Some texts indeed supply their own divisions. 
Thus, if you are to preach on "The Church at Wor- 
ship/' from the words "They continued stedfastly in 
the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking 
of bread, and in prayers "; or on "The Fight of 
Faith," from the apostolic injunction "Watch ye, 
stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong"; 
or on "The Four Dimensions of Redeeming Love," 
from the prayer of intercession "That ye may be able 
to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and 
length, and depth, and height" it will hardly be 
necessary to search far for your divisions, for in each 
case they are shouting at you from the text itself. With 
other texts, again, appropriate heads reveal themselves 
on due consideration and reflection. You are going to 
preach, let us say, on the words "Looking unto Jesus." 
What does a steady Christward look involve? It 
means looking outward, and not inward ; upward, and 
not downward; forward, and not backward. There, 
then, are your divisions: and you proceed to show that 
the characteristic trend and direction of our life as 
Christians must be outward to the objective facts of 
revealed religion (though of course you will express 
this differently), not inward to our subjective moods 
and processes; upward to our divine destiny, "the 
measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ/' not 
downward to any earthy origins; forward to the 

132 



THE PREACHER'S STUDY 

greater disclosures Christ has yet to make to us, not 
backward to the record of past attainment. Or suppose 
that one day, feeling constrained as you often will 
to lead your people to the very crux of God's dealings 
with them, you take the texts from Hebrews: "It was 
not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should 
take away sins"; "He hath appeared, to put away sin 
by the sacrifice of Himself." Your theme is man's 
desperate dilemma and God's decisive answer. You 
begin by remarking that the whole history of humanity 
has been the record of the age-long endeavour to 
answer the stubborn question. How to make peace 
with life. How to be right with God. You proceed to 
point to three classic answers to the problem, three 
historic expedients which have been tried: the answer 
of the Jew, the answer of the Greek, the answer of the 
Roman. You show that each of us has in his con- 
stitution something of all three: something of the 
Jew, who hoped to deal with sin by the intricacies of a 
religious cult; something of the Greek, who thought 
to deliver his soul aesthetically and intellectually; 
something of the Roman, who trusted to moralism and 
disciplined conduct. Finally, where all three answers 
break down, through the night of man's despair comes 
God's answer, smiting the darkness like a sudden 
dawn. Every other experiment fails: only Christ's 
the experiment of the Cross triumphantly suc- 
ceeds. 

All for sin could not atone: 
Thou must save, and Thou alone. 
133 



HERALDS OF GOD 

It was quite a common practice with preachers of a 
former generation to announce the main divisions of 
their subject at the very outset of a sermon. Now this 
is bad psychology. It gives everything away. It holds 
no surprises in reserve. It may, indeed, if used on rare 
occasions prove effective enough. But, on the whole, 
It is apt to be destructive of interest if people know in 
advance exactly where you intend to lead them. You 
handicap yourself if you divulge incontinently the 
heads you are proposing to use. But let me repeat, 
whether you formally announce any divisions or not, 
you must have them clear in your own mind. It is 
quite fatal to embark on a sermon without having a 
plainly charted course to follow. How can you hope 
to have any freedom or conviction in delivery if there 
is no connecting-thread running through from start 
to finish, no measured march and progression of 
thought? Far too many sermons wander erratically 
from one thing to another, going off at sudden tangents, 
perpetrating aimless involutions, anon returning upon 
their own tracks, moving in circles, with divisions over- 
lapping, heads leading to anticlimax, transitions muddy 
and blurred. The manuscript of Carlyle's essay on 
Robert Burns went for revision before publication to 
Jeffrey of the Edinburgh Review. When the proof 
sheets came, the author found he complained "the 
first part cut all into shreds the body of a quadruped 
with the head of a bird, a man shortened by cutting out 
his thighs and fixing the knee-caps on the hips 7 '; and 
Carlyle refused to let his work appear " in such a horrid 

*34 



THE PREACHER'S STUDY 

shape/* His words might stand as a description of a 
certain class of sermon misshapen, disjointed, lop- 
sided and ill-proportioned. Make sure that each point 
you are going to include receives due weight. Avoid 
giving so much space to the earlier and perhaps 
subordinate stages of your argument that you have to 
foreshorten and telescope the matters of main import- 
ance. Aim at a cumulative effect. Keep your most 
telling points to the last. Lord Palmerston, whose 
style was apt sometimes to be slipshod and untidy, was 
speaking one day in Parliament. "I think/' he 
declared, "the honourable member's proposals an out- 
rageous violation of constitutional propriety, a daring 
departure from traditional policy, and, in short, a great 
mistake." Bathos, which can play havoc with a 
sentence, can also damage seriously the total structure 
of a sermon. Never forget you are working for a 
verdict. You are hoping and praying to leave your 
people face to face with God in Christ. That goal 
must never fade from sight. Make the whole sermon 
an ascent thither. Construct it with that end in view. 
Fashion it with that deliberate design; and please God, 
it will lead men through the outer and the inner courts 
to the altar of incense, and the Holy Place, and the 
very presence of the Lord. 



VI 



This brings us to the crucial matter of sermon- 
endings. There are preachers who experience the 

135 



HERALDS OF GOD 

greatest difficulty in drawing to a conclusion. " I must 
desist/* exclaims Beecher, taking a sudden grip of 
himself at the close of his great discourse on "Hin- 
drances to Religious Life," and openly and undis- 
guisedly ramming on the brakes, "I must desist! The 
clock gets through before I do, every Sunday. I 
would that it were slower; for, though I often begin 
sorrowfully and heavily, the time for me to stop never 
arrives that I do not feel that I would fain continue till 
the going down of the sun." No doubt, with a Beecher 
in the pulpit, men may listen gladly for hours on end. 
But if you are wise, you will cultivate conciseness. And 
it is no easy art. Someone once asked Woodrow 
Wilson how long he took to prepare a ten-minute 
speech. "Two weeks, " was the answer. "How long 
for a speech lasting an hour?" continued the ques- 
tioner. "One week," declared the President. "How 
long for a two-hour speech?" "I am ready now!" 
Prolixity needs no midnight oil ; but to be concise, to 
achieve compression, to nail down the issue and bring 
the whole matter to a terse and trenchant close hoc 
opus, hie labor est. But such toil and care are never 
wasted. You desire your sermon, under God, to make 
a difference to human lives. You hope that the result 
may be some vow secretly ratified, some bondage 
broken, some cross more resolutely shouldered, some 
song in the night more bravely sung, some area of life 
more thoroughly surrendered to the sovereignty of 
Christ. The weakness of too many sermons is that 
they meander along and beat about the bush; never 



THE PREACHER'S STUDY 

bringing the hearer to the point of saying, "This 
means me"; never leaving him facing Christ and 
asking, "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?" 
They are like the Abana river, making a brave show 
for part of its course, but losing itself eventually and 
dying out and vanishing in the waste. See to it that 
your sermon shall not hirple vaguely to a lame, in- 
effectual close. Why should the Word of the Lord 
peter out in the desert sands ? Clinch your message as 
decisively as you can, and do not hesitate to use the 
note of direct personal appeal. 

In thus urging upon you the crucial importance of 
your final paragraphs and sentences, I am not suggest- 
ing the use of elaborate perorations. Far from it. The 
day of the florid, self-conscious climax is past. People 
are rightly suspicious of, and tend to grow restive 
under, a sermon culminating in a blaze of literary fire- 
works, like a sonata with a noisy coda. Diminuendo, 
not crescendo^ ought to be the rule as you draw near the 
end. Much better conclude quietly and even abruptly 
than indulge in any declamatory pyrotechnics. If you 
wish to see how powerful and effective the abrupt close 
can be, read some of Reinhold Niebuhr's sermons. 
You will never weaken the force of your final appeal by 
keeping it restrained. In nine cases out of ten, quiet 
notes are better there than crashing chords. No doubt 
there are exceptions. One occasion in St. George's, 
Edinburgh, was long spoken of with bated breath by 
those who were present. It was a Communion Sunday, 
and Dr. Alexander Whyte had chosen his text from the 



HERALDS OF GOD 

story of Gethsemane. He took his hearers into the 
darkness of the Garden, and spoke of our Lord's 
prayers, of the anguish of the conflict and the sweat of 
blood; he spoke of the seamless robe with the red 
marks of that agony upon it ; then suddenly he broke 
off into Mark Antony's appeal to the citizens of Rome : 

If you have tears, prepare to shed them now. 
You all do know this mantle: I remember 
The first time ever Caesar put it on; 
'Twas on a summer's evening, in his tent 

and the preacher, having quoted the almost unbearably 
moving passage, added the cry that broke from the 
Roman's lips when the crowd at last caught fire 
"Now let it work." Then back to the Garden, and 
the place of prayer, and the dark betrayal night, and 
the eternal love that agonized for sin; and it is said 
that when the sermon closed that day with a great 
shout "Now let it work!" the spiritual effect was well- 
nigh overwhelming. 

Such occasions, however, are the exceptions which 
prove the rule. Have you noticed how often there 
comes in the greatest literature, after the surge and 
passion of a mighty theme, the contrasted beauty of a 
quiet and measured close ? You have it in the Greek 
tragedians : if Aeschylus and Sophocles sometimes 
bring the dramatic tension near to breaking-point, they 
invariably relax it in the final scene. You have it in 
the closing lines of Paradise Lost, of the Idylls of the 
King, of the Tale of Two Cities, of Sohrab and Rustum, 

138 



THE PREACHFR'S STUDY 

of The Everlasting Mercy. Inexpressibly moving is the 
long falling close of Matthew Arnold's poem, in which 
after the noise and dust of conflict, and the desol- 
ating grief of the father who unwittingly has slain his 
son we are made to see the majestic river Oxus 
flowing on 

Out of the mist and hum of that low land, 

Into the frosty starlight. . . 

A foiPd circuitous wanderer: till at last 

The long'd-for dash of waves is heard, and wide 

His luminous home of waters opens, bright 

And tranquil, from whose floor the new-bath'd stars 

Emerge, and shine upon the Aral Sea. 

You have it superbly in the twenty-ninth Psalm, where 
whirlwind and tempest and thunder give way in the 
last verse to a still small voice: "The Lord will give 
strength unto His people; the Lord will bless His 
people with peace." You have it at the end of St. 
Paul's magnificent description to the Corinthians of 
death and the hereafter, of crashing worlds and tempest 
blasts, of judgment and the resurrection : suddenly 
comes the subduing hush " Therefore, my beloved 
brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abound- 
ing in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know 
that your labour is not in vain in the Lord/' 

Let these things be your pattern. Men are not 
saved by declamation, nor are souls carried on the 
wings of peroration into the Kingdom of Heaven. 
Cultivate the quiet close. Let your last words of 



HERALDS OF GOD 

appeal have in them something of the hush that falls 
when Christ Himself draws near. Remember that, 
even at the best, "we prophesy in part/' and that 
"whether there be tongues, they shall cease." But if, 
when our poor stammering words have fallen silent, 
there comes forth then out of the silence the one 
eternal Word; if men are able in that silence to hear 
even though only dimly and far away the challenging 
and healing cadences of the voice of God, the work 
will have been done, and we shall not have preached 
in vain. 



140 



CHAPTER IV 
THE PREACHER'S TECHNIQUE 

" What skill doth every part of our work require, and of how 
much moment is every part ! To preach a sermon, I think, is not 
the hardest part ; and yet what skill is necessary to make plain 
the truth, to convince the hearers j to let in the irresistible light 
into their consciences, and to keep it there, and drive all home ; 
to screw the truth into their minds, and work Christ into their 
affections ; to meet every objection that gainsays, and clearly to 
resolve it ; to drive sinners to a stand, and make them see there is 
no hope, but they must unavoidably be converted or condemned : 
and to do all this so for language and manner as beseems our work, 
and yet as is most suitable to the capacities of our hearers. This, 
and a great deal more that should be done in every sermon, should 
surely be done with a great deal of holy skill. So great a God, 
whose message we deliver, should be honoured by our delivery 
of it.*' RICHARD BAXTER. 



was a day when that flaming prophet of 
the eighteenth century, George Whitefield, was 
preaching to a vast throng on the power of saving faith. 
The pride of reason and worldly wisdom, he declared, 
would lead the soul downward to inevitable destruc- 
tion: only faith in Christ led heavenward. To drive 
the point home to his hearers' minds, he used an 
illustration. He begged them to imagine a blind man, 
with a dog, walking on the brink of a precipice. So 
vividly did the preacher describe the scene, so acute 
became the tension as he brought the blind man 
nearer and nearer to the fatal edge, that suddenly Lord 

141 



HERALDS OF GOD 

Chesterfield, who was sitting in the congregation, 
sprang up exclaiming, "Good God! The man's 
gone!" "No, my lord/' answered Whitefield, "he is 
not quite gone; let us hope that he may yet be saved." 
Then he went on to preach deliverance from the delu- 
sions of blind self-trust through faith in Jesus Christ. 

Now, we may not possess one-tenth of George 
Whitefield's dramatic imagination. Nevertheless, the 
art of illustration is a thing no preacher can afford to 
neglect. Abstract truth has to be translated into con- 
crete terms, if it is to impinge upon the average mind. 
The preacher who will not condescend thus to translate 
his meaning, who disdains the use of illustration, con- 
sidering it undignified and puerile, is being very foolish. 
Surely our Lord's example is decisive here. Jesus did 
not speak of the efficacy of importunate prayer : He 
showed us a man shamelessly hammering at his 
neighbour's door at midnight. He did not say that 
wrong personal relationships were inimical to religious 
reality: He said it would be wise to leave our gift 
before the altar, and go and make peace with our 
brother, and then come back and offer the gift. When 
a certain jurist, an expert in definitions, demanded 
"Who is my neighbour?" the answer was "A certain 
man went down to Jericho," and the story of the Good 
Samaritan. Truth made concrete will find a way past 
many a door where abstractions knock in vain. 

This is an art, of course, which calls for careful 
handling. Illustrations dragged in at random and 
needlessly multiplied betoken a slovenly mind. Any 

142 



THE PREACHER'S TECHNIQUE 

Illustration which is only doubtfully relevant to the 
main theme ought to be rigorously banned. No 
matter how vivid it may be in itself, if it does not 
immediately light up the particular truth under dis- 
cussion, exclude it ruthlessly. Otherwise it will simply 
distract attention and defeat your purpose. On the 
other hand, illustrations sparingly and appropriately 
used can be a vital source of power and illumination. 
You are describing, let us say, man's search for God, 
the soul's age-long quest for spiritual reality, and the 
thrilling moment of supreme discovery. Have you 
read Madame Curie's Life? Do you remember the 
moving account of the night of magic when, after years 
of experimenting, she saw across the darkness of the 
unlit laboratory the first faint streak of phosphorescent 
blue, and knew that it was radium ? Or suppose you 
are speaking of the remorse which lashes the guilty 
soul in the hour of its awakening. There is an un- 
forgettable instance you might adduce the dramatic 
moment in Saint Joan where the Chaplain, who has 
stood and watched the end, consenting to the death of 
the saint, bursts in suddenly upon the Earl of Warwick 
with the lamentable cry, "I let them do it. If I had 
known I would have torn her from their hands. O 
God, take away this sight from me ! O Christ, deliver 
me from this fire that is consuming me ! She cried to 
Thee in the midst of it: Jesus! Jesus! Jesus! She is 
in Thy bosom; and I am in hell for evermore/ 7 Or, 
once again, your theme may be the companionship of 
Jesus : you are trying to show the power of that com- 

H3 



HERALD S OF GOD 

panionship to keep life calm and strong and un- 
defeated through days of stress and storm. You recall 
how Joseph Conrad, in The Mirror of the Sea, quotes 
from a letter of Sir Robert Stopford, who commanded 
one of the ships with which Nelson chased to the 
West Indies an enemy fleet nearly double in number. 
Describing the desperate hardships of that daring ad- 
venture, Stopford wrote: "We are half-starved, and 
otherwise inconvenienced by being so long out of port. 
But our reward is we are with Nelson ! " How much 
deeper and more ineffable the serenity of those who 
through all the hazards and uncertainties of life can 
say, " We are with Christ!" 

The question may well be raised. How is the 
preacher to obtain an adequate store of illustrative 
material? I would warn you against being content to 
allow others to do this garnering for you. Ready-made 
collections of illustrations are a snare. Omnibus 
volumes of sermon anecdotes are the last refuge of a 
bankrupt intelligence. The best illustrations are those 
which come to you as the harvest of your own reading 
and observation. In this realm as in others, there is far 
more zest and thrill in personal discovery than in 
second-hand borrowing. Be your own anthologist. 
Little incidents of daily life, significant happenings in 
the world around you, moving pages in the books you 
read all can serve to illuminate the truth committed 
to your charge. These things are apt to be fugitive 
and memory precarious: therefore note them down. 
Elaborate card-indexing of illustrations is a work of 

144 



THE PREACHER'S TECHNIQUE 

supererogation. If a passion for mental tidiness leads 
you to adopt it, well and good: only beware lest the 
mechanism of cross-references and the like becomes 
despotic! For those of us to whom such intricate and 
even formidable methods must remain counsels of 
perfection, quite beyond the compass of our less 
disciplined ways, something much simpler a loose- 
leaf commonplace book, with headings will prove 
adequate. It scarcely matters how rough-and-ready 
such a compendium may be, as long as it is veritably 
your own, sheaves of your own harvesting from the 
fields of literature and of life. In any case, avoid over- 
loading. Do not scorn the aid of illustration, but use 
it sparingly in your sermons, and with discretion. And 
remember the maxim : Better one illustration that is 
strong and apt and gripping than ten that are shoddy 
and irrelevant and sentimental. 



ii 

Passing on to the place of quotations in preaching, 
we should do well to reaffirm the same rule : be sparing. 
"Let your moderation be known unto all men." 
People are not really so avid as some preachers suppose 
to learn what Confucius said in 500 B.C., or Emerson 
in A.D. 1850, or the Brains Trust in 1945. Beyond a 
certain point, the formula "As So-and-so has said" 
tends to become for some hearers merely irritating, for 
others positively soporific. Reference was made in an 
earlier lecture to St. Paul's sermon at Athens, its points 

145 



H ERALDS OF GOD 

of strength and of weakness. It is not without signific- 
ance that the occasion when the apostle, oppressed 
perhaps by the shadow of Demosthenes, appears to 
have argued with himself, "If they want literary allu- 
sion poetry, philosophy, comparative religion let 
them have it," was one of the conspicuously less 
successful days of his ministry: so that going on from 
there to Corinth, and meditating as he journeyed on 
the recent disappointment, he " determined not to 
know anything save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified." 
There is one class of quotations which might well be 
dispensed with altogether those which have grown 
hackneyed and threadbare through over-use. It would 
be much kinder to W. E. Henley and A. H. Clough 
if all preachers everywhere would agree to give 
"Invictus" and "Say not, the struggle nought avail- 
eth" a complete rest for the next ten years. It is a 
different matter, of course, when some commonplace 
allusion can be set in a suddenly new light or viewed 
from an unfamiliar angle. Take, for example, Sir 
Oliver Lodge's dictum, "The modern man is not 
worrying about his sins." I wonder in how many 
thousand sermons that remark has made a punctual 
reappearance? Ought it not now to be disqualified, 
and to have its sermon-licence suspended sine diet 
Certainly, if only the obvious sense of the words is 
intended. But suppose that one day in a sermon you 
are concerned to emphasize the crucial paradox, so 
imperfectly understood by many, that the more a man 
sins the less he is able to realize that he is a sinner (the 

146 



THE PREACHER'S TECHNIQUE 

damaging thing about sin being what the Bible calls its 
unconscious " hardening," its ominous way of blinding 
a man to its own nature and doping his spiritual per- 
ceptions without his knowing that anything of the kind 
is happening): then indeed you may use the familiar 
quotation with fresh point and force. For now you 
are setting it in a new light, "Not worrying about his 
sins"? No, precisely; for sin's characteristic action 
is to insensitize the soul, to incapacitate it progressively 
from seeing that there is anything to worry about. Or 
take, for another example, the stanza from Omar 
Khayyam : 

Ah Love ! could thou and I with Fate conspire 
To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire. 
Would not we shatter it to bits and then 
Re-mould it nearer to the Heart's Desire ! 

Banal enough in all conscience, if you are using it 
merely to illustrate the intractability of life or the dis- 
illusionment of a pagan ethic. But there is an inspired 
flash in Professor A. E. Taylor's comment on the lines 
when he bids us "put the heart itself at the very head 
of the list of things to be shattered and remade." 
There the hackneyed stanza of the Eastern rhymester 
is suddenly redeemed from its banality, and thrust 
dramatically into the service of the truth. 

Profuse and indiscriminate quotation, then, is a 
mark of bad preaching. On the other hand, to be able 
to focus the message at the right moment by quoting 
some memorable and gripping phrase is a real source 
of strength. You are preaching, let us say, on the 

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HERALDS OF GOD 

words of the twenty-third Psalm, "He restoreth my 
sour': God's secret ministry in days of spiritual re- 
action and fatigue. There comes to your mind a 
sentence from one of Baron von Hugel's letters: " Am 
doing what I can for her: pray for her. Have ex- 
plained how she requires a second conversion this 
time against the dust and drear when the physical 
enthusiasm dwindles/ 7 Does that not nail down the 
issue? Or you are speaking of our Lord's vivid use 
of the " how much more'* argument: " If ye know how 
to give good gifts unto your children, how much more 
your Father in heaven! 7 ' If parents will sacrifice 
themselves for their little ones, how much more God! 
If a man will lay down his life for his friends, how 
much more God ! If you will suffer for one whom you 
love, how much more God! Do you remember how 
Lacordaire once dramatized this very truth? "If you 
would wish to know how the Almighty feels towards 
us, listen to the beating of your own heart and add to it 
infinity" (Incidentally, there you have the whole book 
of the prophet Hosea the man's personal history and 
his religious message to the world in one golden 
sentence.) Or, again, you are dealing with what 
theologians barbarously describe as "the Kenotic 
Theory of the Incarnation" what you will prefer, in 
your sermon title, to call more simply "The Humility 
of the Divine": "He divested Himself of the glories 
of heaven," wrote Paul to the Philippians, "and became 
a servant and stooped to die upon the Cross." In one 
of her stories, Sheila Kaye-Smith depicts a character 

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THE PREACHER'S TECHNIQUE 

upon whom, as he knelt one day within a church, this 
great, subduing truth broke with all the force of a 
personal revelation. " There was not one pang of his 
lonely, wandering life, no throb or ache or groan of his 
up to that moment when the light of his eyes and the 
desire of his heart were taken from him at a stroke, that 
had not been shared by God. For if man has known 
the stars, so God has known the dust." There is a 
sentence which positively demands quotation. And 
is it not possible that, long after everything else in your 
sermon has been forgotten, such a shining word as 
that " If man has known the stars, so God has known 
the dust" may grip the memory of some who heard 
it, and go to work in secret ways within their hearts? 



in 



It may be well at this point to say something on the 
question of language. Two pitfalls against which I 
have already warned you are professionalism of 
vocabulary or pulpit jargon, and the temptations of the 
purple passage: on these nothing further need be said. 
Let me rather go on to stress one great positive rule 
which ought to determine your choice of language 
throughout: Be simple and direct. "People think," 
exclaimed Matthew Arnold, "that I can teach them 
style. What stuff it all is! Have something to say, 
and say it as clearly as you can. That is the only 
secret of style. " Surely Arnold was right. Every man 
at Pentecost heard the Gospel, we are told, in his own 

149 



HERALDS OF GOD 

tongue; and that is the basic condition of effective 
preaching still. Have something to say, and when you 
are saying it avoid periphrasis and over-elaboration: 
say it as clearly as you can. Dr. L. P. Jacks maintains 
that "two lines of Wordsworth 

But she is in her grave, and, oh, 
The difference to me ! 

are a more adequate expression of human grief than 
all the funeral sermons ever preached. 7 ' It is simple 
directness, not literary embellishment, that moves the 
hearts of men. 

Let us hark back, by way of contrast, to St. Paul's 
Cathedral at Christmastide 1624, and listen to this 
trumpet-toned, tremendous utterance of John Donne. 
He is speaking of the Psalmist's word, "I will sing of 
mercy and judgment." "If some King of the earth," 
cries Donne, "have so large an extent of Dominion, in 
North, and South, as that he hath Winter and Summer 
together in his Dominions, so large an extent East and 
West, as that he hath day and night together in his 
Dominions, much more hath God mercy and judgment 
together; He brought light out of darknesse, not out 
of a lesser light; He can bring thy Summer out of 
Winter, though thou have no Spring; though in the 
wayes of fortune, or understanding, or conscience, 
thou have been benighted till now, wintred and 
frosen, clouded and eclipsed, damped and benumbed, 
smothered and stupified till now, now God comes to 
thee, not as in the dawning of the day, not as in the 
bud of the spring, but as the Sun at noon to illustrate 

150 



THE PREACHER'S TECHNIQUE 

all shadowes, as the sheaves in harvest, to fill all 
penuries, all occasions invite His mercies, and all times 
are His seasons." That is magnificent but try 
modelling your sermon language upon it, and the 
result is likely to be disastrous. Or take this, from a 
preacher of a very different kind, Talmage of Brooklyn. 
He has just quoted the railing cry of the impenitent 
malefactor at Calvary, "If Thou be the Son of God" 
and he goes on, "If? Was there any if about it? 
Tell me, thou star, that in robe of life didst run to point 
out His birthplace. Tell me, thou sea, that didst put 
thy hand over thy lip when He bid thee be still. Tell 
me, ye dead, who got up to see Him die. Tell me, thou 
sun in mid-heaven, who for Him didst pull down over 
thy face the veil of darkness. Tell me, ye lepers, who 
were cleansed, ye dead, who were raised. Is He the 
Son of God? Aye, aye! responds the universe. The 
flowers breathe it the stars chime it the redeemed 
celebrate it the angels rise up on their thrones to 
announce it. And yet on that miserable malefactor's 
*iP millions shall be wrecked for all eternity." That, 
again, is great preaching: and you, too, may have 
please God, will often have those moments when 
language, winged with the emotion of a mighty theme, 
soars aloft in genuine eloquence. But artificial elo- 
quence, like sham emotion, is a dreadful thing. Learn 
to prune your language. Reject every expression that 
is merely florid and ostentatious. Prefer simple and 
even homely words to those that are abstract and diffi- 
cult, direct and pointed speech to involved circuitous 

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HERALDS OF GOD 

sentences. Not that you need be arid and prosaic: 
but you must be lucid. Do not be like the writers 
Quiller-Couch describes, "perpetually shuffling around 
in the fog and cotton-wool of abstract terms. " Canon 
Liddon was writing a letter to a friend one dark Christ- 
mas from Amen Court. " London is just now," he 
wrote, "buried under a dense fog. This is commonly 
attributed to Dr. Westcott having opened his study- 
window at Westminster." That, of course, was quite 
unfair. But clarity is a consummation so devoutly to 
be wished that you must be ready to sacrifice almost 
anything to achieve it. 

In thus urging upon you the necessity of lucid and 
simple language, I am certainly not suggesting that the 
best preaching is that which makes a minimum demand 
upon the hearers for mental exertion and hard thinking. 
Simplicity is a very different thing from shallowness; 
and if it is bad to preach over people's heads, not to 
preach to their heads at all is worse. I trust that to your 
dying day you will "preach the simple Gospel," but it 
is well to remember that there is nothing which so 
stretches men's mental horizons as God's revelation in 
Christ, It was a true insight that led the apostle to 
declare, "The world by wisdom knew not God": but 
it is a deplorable attitude which would divorce evan- 
gelism from the duty of disciplined thought. There is a 
type of preaching which apparently regards it as more 
important to generate heat than to supply light: 
sermons devoid of any element of positive teaching, 
compounded of anecdotes, appeals and homiletical 

152 



THE PREACHER'S TECHNIQUE 

4 * gush/' an affront to any decent man's Intelligence, 
"full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." Some 
preachers have the fixed idea that the way to reach the 
human heart is to by-pass the human understanding. 
It is emphatically mistaken strategy. Das Denken ist 
auch Gottesdienst; and nothing could be more tedious 
than the preaching which is all uplift and exhortation 
with no food to feed the mind. Resolve, then, that 
your pulpit work shall represent not only your truest 
fervour but also your best thought. Your congrega- 
tion deserves it, and will welcome it. But even with 
the deep and difficult themes that tax the rnind with 
these, indeed, most of all the rule applies: Be clear, 
be direct. Rabbi Duncan was discussing with a friend 
one day the merits and demerits of a certain essay. " Is 
it not deep?" his friend inquired admiringly. "No," 
came the blunt expressive answer, "not deep, but 
drumlie!" 



IV 



We proceed now to consider the fundamental ques- 
tion of the choice of texts and subjects. To every 
preacher this is a matter of constant and absorbing 
concern. Indeed, at the outset of a man's ministry, 
the prospect of having to find two fresh themes each 
week may well daunt the imagination and weigh upon 
the mind. Let me bring to you at this point a word of 
reassurance based on personal experience. You will 
discover with relief and delight, as the weeks and years 
go on, how punctually and unfailingly the promise is 

153 



HERALDS OF GOD 

ratified, "The Lord will provide." But there is one 
condition: unremitting Bible study. I have already 
urged upon you the vital importance of expository 
preaching. Here let me add that it is only as we live 
in the Bible devotionally, and as students of the 
sacred Word that we can hope to find the manna 
falling regularly for our people's need. 

Again and again in your reading of the Bible, 
phrases, sentences, whole passages will leap out from 
the page, each of them positively thrusting itself upon 
you, and clamouring "One day you must preach on 
me! " This is where your private notebooks come into 
action. When a text has once gripped you, do not let 
it escape. Jot it down at the head of a page, and under- 
neath it any thoughts, illustrations, potential sermon 
divisions it may have brought with it. There is a 
tragic page in the biography of Hector Berlioz the 
composer, which tells how one night there came to him 
quite suddenly an inspiration for a new symphony. 
The theme of the first movement, an Allegro, was 
ringing in his head: he knew he ought to capture it 
there and then, and set the music down in manuscript, 
but he refrained. The following night it returned, 
and again he heard the Allegro clearly, and sang it to 
himself, and even seemed to see it written down: but 
again he failed to take his pen. The next day, when he 
awoke, all remembrance of it was gone: the lovely 
melody refused to be recaptured, and the symphony 
which might have thrilled the world was never written. 
Let that sad episode be a warning. No elaborate 



THE PREACHER'S TECHNIQUE 

system of tabulation is necessary. All you require is 
a single reference at the top of a page, and a couple of 
lines of comment. Very often as you turn the pages 
of such a reference-book you will find that your theme 
has been given you ; and in a dry season you will thank 
God you have a reservoir ! 

It is hardly necessary perhaps to point out that there 
is one obligation which the very act of preaching from 
the Word of God binds upon us. I mean the duty of 
exegetical honesty. There are some sermons which, 
starting out from a word of Scripture, proceed quite 
flagrantly to violate the intention of the original writer. 
This practice of importing alien meanings into texts is 
strenuously to be discountenanced. To say this is not, 
of course, to suggest that allegorizing is necessarily 
bad ; nor does it imply a rigid and excessive literalism 
distrustful of all spiritual lines of interpretation. There 
is no reason why you should not, occasionally at least, 
extend the reference of a text beyond its immediate 
setting. For example, when Jesus declared "What 
God hath joined together let not man put asunder," 
He was speaking specifically of marriage and divorce. 
But the principle there proclaimed runs through the 
whole of life; and therefore you might well preach 
from that text on some of those other God-intended 
alliances which we break at our peril Faith and 
Reason (so tragically divorced in the long conflict 
between the Church and Science), Evangelism and 
Ethics, Justice and Mercy, Freedom and Discipline, 
Man the Sinner and Christ the Saviour. Or again, 

155 



HERALDS OF GOD 

take the closing words of Psalm ex: "He shall drink 
of the brook in the way, and go on with lifted head." 
It would be pedantic to deny your right to use such 
words for a sermon on some of the soul-refreshing 
streams Nature, Art, Friendship, the Lord's Day, 
the Bible, Prayer which God has provided along our 
pilgrim road. But the strongest and most helpful 
preaching is that which expounds a text or passage in 
dynamic relationship to its actual setting in Scripture. 
Loyalty to the Word of God demands scrupulous care 
in exegesis. Doubtless it would be possible, on the 
basis of the text "The simplicity that is in Christ," to 
paint a vivid picture of the homeliness of the Galilean 
ministry simple in its lowly origins, simple in speech, 
in companionship, in teaching, in faith. But we are 
using Scripture quite illegitimately if we fail to show 
that what the apostle had in mind was not primarily the 
simplicity of Jesus at all, but the necessity of simple and 
single-hearted devotion towards Jesus on the part of 
Christian converts. Or again, it is more than question- 
able to use King Agrippa's famous dictum, "Almost 
thou persuadest me to be a Christian, " in the sense that 
here was a soul openly acknowledging the ultimate 
dilemma, avowedly trembling on the verge of spiritual 
decision. In point of fact, it seems to have been sting- 
ing disdain that inspired the words (though, of course, 
the bravado may have been self-defence, a smart retort 
disguising an uneasy conscience): "At this rate, Paul, 
you will be thinking you have made a Christian of me! " 
The point is that it is imperative to allow the Scripture 

156 



THE PREACHER'S TECHNIQUE 

to speak its own message. Build your sermons on a 
solid foundation of accurate exegesis. Be honest with 
the Word of God! 

Such strict attention to basic meanings carries with 
it rich rewards. In the very process of tracking down 
the original sense of a text or passage, you will find new 
suggestions leaping out upon you. To take just one 
case in point, there is that lovely affirmation of St. Paul 
to the Philippians: "The peace of God, which passeth 
all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds 
through Christ Jesus/' Even as it stands in the 
Authorised Version, it is moving and expressive. But 
notice how much more vivid it becomes when the verb 
is given its full meaning. "The peace of God shall 
keep guard over, shall stand as sentry to, your hearts 
and minds/' It will hold the fort in the day of siege, 
and keep the central citadel inviolate. There, surely, 
is a conception of inner peace far removed from the 
sentimentalisms which have all too often blemished this 
noble theme. Christian serenity, as the apostle en- 
visages it, is no passive exemption or easy immunity 
from the assaults of life: it is the active strength of a 
God-garrisoned heart. 

In your choice of subjects it is wise, as a general rule, 
to avoid the bizarre and the sensational. It is easy 
enough to hit upon quaint, outlandish texts; easy 
enough, by announcing such a text, to intrigue your 
congregation with the thought "Now what in all the 
world will he be able to make of that?" But there is 
really very little merit in such performances. The 



HERALD S OF GOD 

chances are that they will leave an impression of the 
preacher's ingenuity rather than of the majesty of God : 
and that is failure devastating and complete. Far 
better gird yourself to grapple with John iii. 16 or 
Matthew xi. 28 than spend your time pursuing eccen- 
tric texts or fashioning odd and startling sermon-titles. 
"Remember Peniel," says Dr. W. R. Maltby, "and 
wrestle with the great themes, even if they throw 
you." 

At the same time, it is worth recognizing the fact 
that on page after page of the Bible there are texts 
possessing a quite peculiar quality of grip, a dramatic 
power of arresting attention from the very moment they 
are announced. To preach from such a text is to 
implant in your hearers' minds a seed which may go 
on germinating long after the sermon itself has been 
forgotten. What converted Spurgeon was not the 
Methodist lay preacher's sermon in the chapel at Col- 
chester: it was his text "Look unto Me and be ye 
saved, all the ends of the earth." "He had not much 
to say, thank God," declared Spurgeon afterwards, 
"for that compelled him to keep on repeating his text, 
and there was nothing needed by me, at any rate 
except his text." When you preach on such a word of 
Scripture, you start with an enormous initial gain. 
For from the very outset the text itself goes actively 
to work, awakening and challenging, smiting and 
binding up. 

For example, you may be anxious to make vivid to 
your people's minds the wonderful way in which God 

158 



THE PREACHER'S TECHNIQUE 

comes to us through the fact of friendship, using the 
human relationship with its experiences of trust, for- 
giveness and loyalty to interpret and make luminous 
for us the very heart and nature of the eternal. Do 
you remember Jacob's grateful cry to his brother whom 
he had wronged, when Esau welcomed him back 
magnanimously after the long estrangement? "I have 
seen thy face as though I had seen the face of God/' 
How memorably these moving words express the 
experience of encountering the divine in the human ! 
Such a text, by its own force of impact and momentum, 
will break through many barriers and thrust deep into 
heart and conscience. 

Or again, you may wish to stress the fact that the 
most important thing about any man is his final inter- 
pretation of life. What does life mean to him, on a 
total view of it ? What is his ultimate verdict on its 
significance? Is it a fortuitous succession of events, 
without rhyme or reason, a sorry tale of injustice and 
frustration? Or is it a plan of God? You might well 
invite your congregation to approach this question by 
way of one of the greatest stories in the world. You 
might take for your text that simple-looking but im- 
mensely deep saying of Joseph in Egypt to the men who 
had enslaved him: "So now it was not you that sent 
me hither, but God." Set out from that, and your 
message will have a double reinforcement. For not 
only is there the dramatic power of the words them- 
selves : there is also the fact that the whole setting of 
the text in Genesis sheds light upon your theme. 



HERALDS OF GOD 

You will be able to show that God does not will the 
baffling evils of the world to-day, any more than He 
willed the treacherous conduct of Joseph's brethren ; 
that, nevertheless, when sin has taken the game into its 
unclean hands, God is still master of the situation, using 
tragedy creatively and making the wrath of man to 
praise Him; and that the divine alchemy which thus 
brings good out of evil depends on our willing co- 
operation, just as it was by refusing the way of bitterness 
and recrimination, and by keeping his spirit even at 
the darkest hour alert and sensitive to God, that Joseph 
was able to turn his necessity to glorious gain and to 
lead captivity captive. 

Or it may be your purpose on another occasion to 
expose the inadequacy of a merely derivative and 
borrowed religion in this day of crisis. There is that 
swift retort of Jesus to Pontius Pilate, who had been 
vaguely sounding our Lord about His claims to sover- 
eignty: " Sayest thou this thing of thyself, or did others 
tell it thee of Me?" How that rapier-like challenge 
pierces the pretensions of a second-hand religion ! Or 
you are eager to impress upon your people the Chris- 
tian's paramount obligation to be an active witness 
among men to the truth and the power of the Gospel. 
Do you remember the four lepers at the gate of 
Samaria who were the first to discover that the besieg- 
ing Syrians had fled? "We do not well,' 1 they cried, 
4 * this day is a day of good tidings, and we hold our 
peace." Or you are concerned to stress the dangers 
of a half-hearted, sentimental religion, the need for a 

1 60 



THE PREACHER'S TECHNIQUE 

dogged, stubborn devotion which will be ready to face 
the austerity of the divine demand and to pay down the 
price of discipleship, Jeremiah, writing of the return 
of the exiles, has a magnificent word about that : * * They 
shall ask the way to Zion with their faces thitherward/' 
Or you may be wanting to strengthen and encourage 
those who may be passing through the difficult and 
testing times when faith burns low, and the note of 
rapture dies out of the Christian song, and dulness and 
dry ness possess the soul. There is a gloriously re- 
assuring word for such a mood in Paul's letter to the 
Romans Dr. Moffatt has translated it: "God never 
goes back upon His call." Or you are impressed with 
the necessity of setting clear before your people's eyes 
the twofold character of the Christian life, the indis- 
soluble connection between personal religion and social 
passion, between dwelling in the secret place of the 
Most High and going forth on crusade against in- 
justice and oppression and all manner of evils every- 
where. You will find it all summed up in the noble 
words of the prayer of Asa, king of Judah, on the eve 
of a great battle long ago: "O Lord our God, we rest 
on Thee, and in Thy name we go against this multi- 
tude." 

Such words of Scripture, used as texts, are weapons 
of immense penetrating power. Even if the sermon 
should be utterly incommensurate with its theme, the 
Word of the Lord on which it is based will not return 
unto Him void. There are texts which in themselves 
are like a sudden rending of the veil. One of my own 

161 



HERALDS OF GOD 

earliest recollections is of a day when Dr. Alexander 
Whyte of St. George's, Edinburgh, visiting the church 
in which my parents were members, preached his 
famous sermon on Micah vii. 18. Everything in the 
discourse that day has long since faded from memory, 
but still across the years there come the tones in which 
the preacher repeated over and again his mighty text: 
" Who is a God like unto Thee?" Whatever you do, 
never forsake the custom of preaching week by week 
from the very words of Scripture. Surely the faithful 
preacher, with such soul-piercing weapons in his 
armoury, can never ultimately fail! 

There are times when two weapons are better than 
one; and you may occasionally vary the traditional 
method by taking two or more texts together. This 
if used sparingly can be very effective. Thus, for a 
sermon on the spiritual pilgrimage of the human soul 
in its apprehension of the fact of Christ, you might 
bring together the four brief, dramatic utterances: 
"Behold the Man," "Behold the Lamb," "Behold 
your King," "Behold your God." For has not that 
precisely been the pilgrim's progress of many a soul 
in relationship to Jesus Christ fascinated by His 
manliness, moved to the depths by His sacrifice, 
surrendering to His sovereignty, confessing His 
divinity? Or you may sometimes set two texts side 
by side by way of contrast. The wonder of the divine 
welcome to sinners will stand out arrestingly if you 
link Jephthah's curt demand to the elders of Israel, 
"Why are ye come unto me now when ye are in dis- 

162 



THE PREACHER'S TECHNIQUE 

tress ?" with the gracious invitation of our Lofd, "Him 
that cometh unto Me I will in no wise cast out"; or 
the churlishness of Bethlehem, " There was no room/' 
with the hospitality of the king's feast, "Yet there is 
room!" Or take the Psalmist's cry, "Oh that I had 
wings like a dove! for then would I fly away and be at 
rest," in juxtaposition with the apostolic injunction, 
"Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier"; 
and immediately you touch the very nerve of one of the 
most radical tensions in human experience. Some- 
times, too, a single word, occurring suggestively in 
different contexts, will go to work within your mind, 
and give you the nucleus of a strong and well-knit 
sermon. You have been impressed, let us say, by the 
prevalence of two diametrically opposite attitudes in 
religion : on the one hand, the attitude of some pro- 
fessing Christians who confidently assume that Christ 
is of their company, whereas in point of fact they have 
lost Him utterly; and on the other, the attitude of 
those seeking souls who feel desolately that He is far 
beyond their reach, whereas in truth He is standing by 
their side. Do you remember Joseph and Mary who 
lost Jesus on the Jerusalem road, "supposing Him to 
have been in the company," and Mary Magdalene who 
met Him in the garden and knew Him not, "supposing 
Him to be the gardener"? There the word common 
to the two passages gives you your theme, and from it 
you develop your sermon on "Mistaken Suppositions" 
the contrasted errors of those who think Christ 
present when He is absent, and of those who think 



HERALDS OF GOD 

Him absent when He is present. Or again, you may 
have been struck, in reading the Epistles, by the 
dramatic use Paul makes of two short, simple words 
"But now.'* Again and again they break out of his 
argument like the sudden note of a trumpet or the beat 
of a drum. "By the deeds of the law shall no flesh be 
justified. But now the righteousness of God without 
the law is revealed/* "The end of those things is 
death. But now being made free from sin." "Ye 
were without God in the world: but now ye are made 
nigh." "If in this life only we have hope in Christ, 
we are of all men most miserable. But now is Christ 
risen from the dead." By the coming of Christ, Paul 
is saying in these four passages, something has got a 
foothold in history which turns man's struggle into 
victory, his sin into redemption, his solitude into divine 
communion, his setting sun into the daybreak of an 
eternal morning. And all the way through, that 
trumpet-toned text will keep sounding forth the truth 
that God's new era for the sons of men is not mere 
vision and prophecy, for in Christ it has already 
appeared. It is not a pious dream, it is historic fact. 
It is not to-morrow, it is to-day. It is not yonder, it is 
here. But now! 

Here let me add that your very calling as expositors 
of God's Word implies that often you will preach, not 
from isolated texts or groups of texts, but from whole 
passages and narratives and incidents. No sermons 
are more likely to meet with a response of genuine 
interest and gratitude than those in which the spiritual 

164 



THE PREACHER'S TECHNIQUE 

message of a dozen or a score of verses is faithfully and 
concisely set forth, A single phrase from Psalm cxxxix 
or Ephesians i might well provide material for a 
sermon : but why should you not also make the ex- 
periment of taking such a psalm or chapter entire, and 
grappling with it until you can discern, running right 
throi^gh it from start to finish, one clear line along 
which to lead your people's thoughts ? You will find 
it a fascinating and rewarding study. Read Isaiah vi 
analytically, and you may feel an urge to preach on the 
wings of the seraphim, or the smoke that filled the 
house: nor is there any reason why you should not 
obey that urge. Read it as a unity, and there will 
emerge, ckar-cut and decisive, the outlines of a totally 
different kind of sermon : now, with the whole chapter 
as your text, you will preach on the three visions which 
came in rapid succession to the prophet and enter still 
into the experience of every true servant of the Lord 
the vision of God, the vision of himself, and the vision 
of a waiting world. The point is: do not be in bond- 
age to the tradition of the single text and the isolated 
phrase. Use the microscope by all means; but do not 
neglect the wider view and the far horizon, I would 
even, greatly daring, suggest that you should try 
occasionally, as a useful discipline of your own mental 
processes and spiritual perception, to concentrate into 
one sermon the basic message of a whole book, such 
as Amos, Hosea, or Revelation. There are tens of 
thousands of people to-day who are quite unable, where 
the Bible is concerned, to see the wood for the trees. 



HERALDS OF GOD 

You will be doing no small service if, leading them to 
vantage-points above the lower levels, you show them 
the country spread out before them like a map, and the 
glory of the land of far-stretching distances. 

Further, I would advise you in the choice of texts 
and subjects to aim at comprehensiveness. Your task 
is to surprise your hearers with "the many-coloured 
wisdom of God," not to bore them with the restricted 
aspect of the truth which happens to appeal most to 
yourself. It is a wearisome business for a congregation 
when the man in the pulpit incessantly thrusts his own 
preferences, insights and viewpoints upon them, as 
though these were the sum total of the evangel. Of 
course, the personal equation is bound to influence 
your work: and that message alone will ring true 
which a man can call "my Gospel/' But that is no 
reason why you should jog monotonously down the 
well-beaten tracks, or drag your people week by week 
along the grooves of your own favourite ideas. Take 
stock of your pulpit work from time to time. Ask 
yourself: "Is there some aspect of the faith which I 
have been neglecting ? Some doctrine which has been 
missing from my teaching? Have I been doing justice 
to the many-sided message of the Scriptures?" Use 
the diversity of the Word of God to widen your own 
spiritual range. Reject resolutely the tempting tyranny 
of the obvious and the congenial. And remember 
Paul's parting words to the elders of Ephesus: "I 
have not shunned to declare unto you the whole 
counsel of God." 

1 66 



THE PREACHER'S TECHNIQUE 



This brings another important matter into view 
the value of *' courses" of sermons. Much is to be 
said for the tradition of intimating from time to time a 
connected sequence of studies on one particular theme 
or section of Scripture. For one thing, this method 
gives scope for that systematic instruction in Christian 
truth which forms so essential a part of any vital 
ministry. Moreover, it is an immense gain to the 
preacher himself to have his path for the next six or 
seven Sundays clearly mapped out in advance. Not 
only does it mean a saving of valuable hours which he 
might otherwise waste in a haphazard and fruitless 
search for texts; there is also the fact that, once the 
subject is fixed, his mind keeps working at it sub- 
consciously, gathering materials and hammering them 
into shape. Spurgeon argued against courses of 
sermons on the ground that the Holy Spirit does not 
work that way: to prescribe a route in advance by 
announcing a list of projected themes is to lay a fetter 
upon one's own soul, and to limit the possibilities of 
divine inspiration. That is, to say the least of it, 
debatable did not an apostle once describe the Holy 
Spirit as the " Spirit of saving discipline " (sophromsmos) ? 
but perhaps there is enough truth in it to serve as a 
warning. Just as it is unwise, as a general rule, to give 
away your proposed divisions or heads at the outset of 
a sermon, so the announcement of a consecutive series 
may seem to involve surrendering that invaluable 

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HERALDS OF GOD 

weapon of the preacher the element of surprise. On 
the other hand, it will be found that most congrega- 
tions will welcome an occasional course of reasonable 
length: they will feel with relief that there is a satis- 
factory definiteness in it, as contrasted with the preach- 
ing which bandies them about in a desultory fashion 
from Genesis to Revelation, without plan or system. 

"An occasional course" I emphasize that: for it 
is inexpedient to stereotype your methods, running 
one series of sermons after another all the year round 
without a break. And "of reasonable length 7 * that 
is vitally important. You may have only three or four 
sermons in a course. As a maximum I would suggest 
eight or nine. Six would be an ample number. Dr. 
Alexander Whyte once preached for a whole winter 
in St. George's, Edinburgh, on one text, Luke xi. I, 
"Lord, teach us to pray": but then he was a giant of 
the pulpit, and could dare things not permitted to 
lesser men. It is told of one of the early eighteenth- 
century ministers of the City Temple, Robert Bragge, 
that he announced a course of sermons on the mystical 
meaning of Joseph's coat of many colours, and con- 
tinued it Sunday by Sunday for four months. As a 
contemporary described it: 

Eternal Bragge, in never-ending strains. 
Unfolds the wonders Joseph's coat contains; 
Of every hue describes a different cause, 
And from each patch a solemn mystery draws. 

The extraordinary thing is that Bragge's popularity 
with his congregation appears to have survived even 

1 68 



THE PREACHER'S TECHNIQUE 

that severe and searching test. But that was two 
centuries ago, and is not for emulation to-day. Spur- 
geon confessed that the epistle to the Hebrews came 
near being ruined for him in his youth by a seemingly 
interminable series of discourses to which it was his 
fate to listen. " I wished frequently that the Hebrews 
had kept the epistle to themselves, for it sadly bored 
one poor Gentile lad. That epistle exhorts us to suffer 
the word of exhortation, and" he added grimly 
u we did so/ 7 The passion for comprehensiveness is 
doubtless a laudable virtue; but it can ruin a man's 
preaching unless it is held in check by common sense 
and by a judicious application of the art of omission. 

Take, for example, the book of Jeremiah. Might it 
not be possible, by careful planning and wise selection, 
to concentrate the main message of Jeremiah into a 
course of six or eight addresses ? The experiment is at 
least worth trying. It will certainly involve an immense 
amount of preliminary study, mental spade-work and 
spiritual discipline. But granted fidelity of prepara- 
tion, such a course of sermons is likely to meet with an 
eager and deeply encouraging response. Let me 
taking Jeremiah still as illustration reinforce my plea 
for this kind of preaching by urging upon you three 
considerations. For one thing, the message of the 
book is so decisively significant for the present hour. 
Do you wish a vivid interpretation of God's will for a 
time of national crisis ? You will find that here. Are 
you concerned about the part that organized religion 
ought to play in face of the challenge of the social and 



HERALDS OF GOD 

economic conditions which mould the lives of men ? 
You will find that here. Are you anxious to show what 
faith can say about the mysteries of Providence, and 
what God means by allowing life sometimes to be so 
terribly difficult for those who take His way? You 
will find that here. Moreover, the man himself is such 
a fascinating study. Jeremiah has laid bare to us, not 
only the outward events of his life, but also the inner 
struggles of his spirit. And finally, here is a book 
which inevitably leads the preacher straight to the 
burning heart of personal religion. Thus the strength 
of such a course of sermons is that history and bio- 
graphy become alive, contemporary, challenging; and 
exposition merges in evangelism. 

By way of variety, a series on the message of a book 
of Scripture might well be followed by a set of char- 
acter studies. Some preachers are inclined to disdain 
this type of sermon and to minimize its usefulness. 
They regard it as merely an easy and not particularly 
commendable expedient involving a minimum of 
thought and positive teaching. This is really very 
foolish and unimaginative. In point of fact, few 
sermons can be so spiritually searching and incisive as 
those in which the preacher, singling out some char- 
acter from the vast portrait-gallery of Scripture, shows 
us the actual man, striving, struggling, sinning, repent- 
ing, with the living God intersecting his experience 
and invading his soul. John Galsworthy, in Flowering 
Wilderness, makes one of his characters, Adrian Cher- 
well, exclaim: "It's the sudden personal emergency 

170 



THE PREACHER'S TECHNIQUE 

coming out of the blue, with no eyes on you, that's 
the acid test. Who among us knows how he'll come 
through it?" What wealth of material lies to your 
hand in the pages of the Bible, to show how different 
men react to the sudden personal emergency, leaping 
on them out of the blue, in the unguarded hour! 
Souls at the Crossroads," you might call your sermon 
sequence: and you speak in turn of Esau, of Balaam, 
of Samson, of David, of Gehazi, of Daniel of each 
man in that crucial hour when, as Browning puts it, 

God stoops o'er his head, 
Satan looks up beneath his feet both tug. 

It will be strange indeed if, through such a course, 
many in your congregation do not become aware of 
God dealing with their own souls in judgment and 
mercy. Or at another time you may plan a series with 
the title "Encountering Jesus." From the crowded 
record of the Gospels you choose out six or seven men 
and women in the moving and dramatic moment when 
their several paths crossed the path of Jesus Nico- 
demus, the woman of Samaria, Zacchaeus, the cen- 
turion of Capernaum, the man born blind, the Syro- 
Phoenician mother, the dying thief and it may be 
that as you endeavour with the aid of imagination 
(which is just another name for the insight of faith) to 
reconstruct these scenes, the Gospel story will begin to 
repeat itself in your congregation ; and one here and 
another there, forgetting all about the preacher and 
"seeing no man save Jesus only/' will register secret 

171 



HERALDS OF GOD 

decisions and ratify new vows, knowing that to them 
also it has been given as veritably and as vividly as 
to those men and women long ago to encounter the 
Saviour of the world. 

VI 

Let me add, in passing from this question of the 
choice of texts and subjects, two final remarks. It is 
possible that, in spite of vigilance and fidelity, bad 
weeks will occur when inspiration seems to have 
deserted you : no theme lays a coercive grip upon you, 
no text cries peremptorily "Preach on me." What are 
you to do then ? 

O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend 
The brightest heaven of invention ! 

But waiting for that kindling moment is a risky busi- 
ness, with Sunday rushing on inexorably. Nor is it 
advisable in days when the going is difficult and the 
fire burns low to take the easy way out and preach an 
old sermon over again. Certainly there is no reason, 
if you have once toiled over a sermon and put your best 
into it, why you should not use it a second time; and 
the advice sometimes given, "burn the lot," is surely 
more reckless than heroic. Thomas Chalmers once 
had an unusual experience. He was growing weary 
of the gaping crowds that thronged his ministry; and 
one Sunday morning, being determined to end this 
displeasing vogue and to prevent the annoyance of 
overcrowding, he intimated that in the evening he 
proposed to preach, not a different sermon, but the 

172 



THE PREACHER'S TECHNIQUE 

same one which he had just delivered. That night the 
church doors were rushed ! But have a care what moral 
you deduce from that story. You will be wise not to 
discard your old sermons. But you will be doubly 
wise never to have recourse to any of them as a means 
of escape from the heavy self-discipline, mental and 
spiritual, of unlit days and difficult weeks. "Thou 
therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus 
Christ." 

But is there any positive and practical counsel one 
can give against such hours of emergency, when the 
mind seems barren, the supply exhausted, and the harp 
hangs silent on the willows ? 

Biting my truant pen. 
Beating myself for spite, 

Fool, said my muse to me, 
Look in thy heart, and write. 

That is the first essential. Get closer to God. Ponder 
anew your own immeasurable debt to Him. Has He 
not delivered, time and again, your eyes from tears, 
your feet from falling, your soul from death? That 
recollection will loosen the grip of the low mood from 
your spirit, as spring breaks up the grip of winter. 
Then open your Bible. Do not pursue elusive texts. 
Stop racking your brain for a subject. Take a whole 
psalm, a complete Gospel incident, or a solid section 
from an epistle of St. Paul. Set yourself to interpret 
it faithfully. I am almost inclined to believe that the 
Holy Spirit deliberately sends such bad weeks occasion- 
ally, in order to force the preacher to rediscover the 

173 



HERALDS OF GOD 

virtue of plain, downright exposition. Your wisdom 
at such a time is to desist from weaving fancies around 
isolated phrases of Scripture: it is to take an entire 
passage, and let the Word of God speak for itself. It 
may be you will find that it is precisely the sermon 
wrought out in these difficult, ebb-tide hours for which 
God reserves His richest blessing. 

The other remark to be added here is this. Resolve 
that every sermon you preach shall be in the truest 
sense your own. This indeed is involved in the very 
nature of the Gospel itself. 

What we have felt and seen 
With confidence we tell. 

"This/* wrote Elgar at the end of the original score of 
his great oratorio The Dream of Gerontius^ "this I saw 
and knew" ; and there is little hope of preaching being 
effectual unless the preacher can implicitly say the 
same. Every sermon must have something of your 
own life-blood in it. It is your personal act of witness. 
That which we have seen with our eyes, and our hands 
have handled, of the Word of life, declare we unto you." 
Not that you are to bestrew your discourse with frag- 
ments of autobiography! Keep the first personal 
pronoun severely in the background. The pulpit is 
no place for indulging a propensity to egotistical 
reminiscence. To say that the preacher's sermon 
should be his own does not at all mean the obtruding 
of self into the picture. It does emphatically mean that 
God has a higher ideal in view for His commissioned 

174 



THE PREACHER'S TECHNIQUE 

servants than that they should be mere borrowers and 
copyists. 

It Is hardly necessary to labour the point that to 
borrow another man's thoughts, ideas and expressions, 
and to present them as one's own, may be one way of 
reducing labour and maintaining the supply, but in 
God's eyes it is to be a castaway. Here is someone, 
let us say, who is so preoccupied throughout the week 
with a medley of good works, all of them doubtless 
legitimate and worthy in their own way, that at the 
week-end, finding himself sermonless and in desperate 
straits, he is driven to use another man's material, 
"reaping where he has not sown, and gathering where 
he has not strawed." Is it likely that such preaching 
should ring true ? May not such a habit, if persisted 
in, neutralize and negative the grace of the preacher's 
ordination? Must it not imperil his spiritual vitality, 
and ultimately jeopardize his soul? The five wise 
virgins who refused to share their surplus oil with their 
five foolish sisters were not being stingy and can- 
tankerous : they were simply giving realistic expression 
to the undoubted truth that in this world there can be 
no shining with a borrowed light. Far better the 
poorest and most halting discourse that is veritably a 
man's own than the most elaborate work of art tainted 
with the breath of plagiarism. But indeed it were 
superfluous to emphasize this further. The basic note 
of preaching must ever be reality. And where is 
honour towards God to be looked for if not in the work 
of those who are His heralds ? 

*75 



HERALDS OF GOD 

VII 

We pass now from the making of the sermon to its 
delivery. You have found your message. In the 
quietness of your study you have pondered it and 
wrestled with it. You have fashioned it to the best of 
your ability. But that is not the end. There still 
remains the all-important final stage of the process. 
You have now to send that message to work as a living 
thing in other minds. You have to endeavour, face to 
face with a company of your fellow men and women, to 
get the Word of the Lord out of your heart into theirs. 

No wise man will underrate this ultimate task. Far 
too many a competent and carefully constructed sermon 
has been nullified and ruined by a careless or incom- 
petent delivery. To-day, more than ever before in the 
history of preaching, this matter is vital. Broadcasting 
has brought right into the homes of the nation dis- 
tinguished voices speaking on all manner of subjects 
literature, politics, science, religion: and people who 
have thus grown accustomed to well-articulated and 
effective speech are less likely to be indulgent to a 
preaching manner that is ponderous or mumbling or 
uncouth, or to the dull tedium of that hateful thing, the 
" pulpit voice." The message entrusted to the preacher 
is not less but far more important than any wireless 
talk however fascinating on a literary, scientific or 
sociological theme. That a message of such vast 
consequence should be delivered in a manner which 
virtually denies its urgency is witless and inexcusable, 

176 



THE PREACHER'S TECHNIQUE 

Now here there inevitably arises the question of the 
relative merits of read and spoken sermons. This is 
an old debate and it is not necessary to rehearse all the 
"pros" and "cons." Let me rather make one or two 
general suggestions on the main issue, and then draw 
attention to three specific points which have been 
singularly overlooked. 

You will be well advised, whichever method of de- 
livery you are proposing to adopt, to begin by writing 
out your sermons fully. During the first ten years of 
your ministry and perhaps over a much longer period 
than that there is no substitute for this essential 
discipline. It will safeguard your work against diffuse- 
ness, ambiguity and redundance. It will make for 
clarity of thought and perspicuity of style. Therefore 
establish it as a rule that one of your two sermons each 
week some would go further and say both shall be, 
not merely drafted, but wrought out in full from 
beginning to end. 

But having your sermon thus completely written, 
what are you to do with it ? Are you to take the manu- 
script into the pulpit and read it word for word ? That 
this method has manifest advantages is not to be 
denied. Thus, for example, it ensures that the balanced 
presentation of a subject, for which the preacher has 
laboured in his study, shall not be lost. Moreover, it 
defends a helpless congregation from the worst evils of 
extemporaneous padding and prolixity! It defends 
the preacher from the nightmare experience of floun- 
dering in the morass, and fumbling in vain for the 

177 



HERALDS OF GOD 

right word and the telling phrase. Joseph Parker once 
asked R. W. Dale of Birmingham why he read his 
sermons; to which Dale frankly replied, "If I spoke 
extemporaneously I should never sit down." "My 
command of words," he confessed, "is such that as a 
young man I could preach standing on my head. To 
be condensed is my object in writing my sermons." 
It is eminently desirable that a sermon should be com- 
pact, clean-cut and as far as possible free from literary 
aberrations and logical anacoloutha: herein lies the 
virtue of the read sermon. Nor ought we to be in- 
fluenced by what Phillips Brooks once called "the 
general impression of the piety of extemporaneous- 
ness": a crude, erroneous notion, based on a naive 
doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Have we not all heard 
sermons delivered without a scrap of paper which 
moved us not a whit, and merely left us feeling "The 
Lord was not in the wind"? And have we not 
listened to read discourses which were memorable 
in the deepest sense and charged with spiritual 
power ? 

There is, however, another side to this matter. The 
preacher who suffers himself to be tied slavishly to his 
manuscript is surrendering something a quality of 
directness and pointedness, of versatility and verve and 
liveliness which he can ill afford to lose. There is the 
ever-present danger that the typed or written sermon 
on the pulpit-desk in front of him may act as a barrier 
between himself and those to whom he speaks. Chris- 
tian preaching strikes notes of challenge and appeal 



THE PREACHER'S TECHNIQUE 

which are almost bound to sound muffled and un- 
natural where bondage to the written word holds sway. 
The minister of the Gospel is essentially a herald of the 
most magnificent and moving tidings that ever broke 
upon the world; but how shall he make the world feel 
the living urgency of the message if he is perpetually 
fettered and shackled by the tradition of the read 
discourse? If you dispense with your manuscript, and 
preach freely from a single page of notes, your sermon 
may indeed lose something of artistry and literary 
expression ; there may be gaps and broken sentences 
occasionally even murdered grammar. " Brethren/' 
cried Father Taylor, the sailor-preacher, finding him- 
self entangled in a sentence from whose labyrinthine 
subordinate clauses there seemed to be no exit, "I have 
lost the nominative of this sentence, and things are 
generally mixed up, but I am bound for the Kingdom 
anyhow!'' You may lose some polished idiom or 
nicely rounded phrase; you may perpetrate many an 
abrupt and violent anacolouthon. What matter if you 
do? Take courage: you are in good company. Are 
there no anacolouthistic sentences in the New Testa- 
ment, beginning one way, ending another? In any 
case, what you stand to lose is more than compensated 
by the gain in personal grip, in directness and urgency 
and reality, in the immediate impact of mind upon 
mind and the living encounter of heart with heart. 
Do you remember Jeanie Deans, in The Heart of Mid- 
lothian, telling Reuben Butler of her decision to make 
the long journey to London and plead in person for 

179 



HERALDS OF GOD 

Effie's life before the king and queen ? "Writing winna 
do it a letter canna look, and pray, and beg, and be- 
seech, as the human voice can do to the human heart. A 
letter's like the music that the ladies have for their spinets 
naething but black scores, compared to the same tune 
played or sung. It's word of mouth maun do it, or nae- 
thing, Reuben." There is something there worth 
pondering by those whose task it is to plead with men, 
beseeching them in Christ's stead to be reconciled to 
God. 

It would be very unwise, of course, to prescribe any 
general rule on this matter. Each man must find his 
own method for himself. You might decide, for 
instance, as many preachers have done, to use alter- 
nately both methods described, reading one sermon 
each Sunday and speaking the other. But let me pass 
on to three facts bearing on this whole debate, which 
are apt to be strangely overlooked. 

First, the preacher's method must be adapted to the 
needs of the present age. It is no good saying, for 
example, that because the tradition of read sermons 
satisfied a former generation it is necessarily valid 
to-day. It is our lot to have been called to the ministry 
at a time when the Church is being challenged to get 
out into the open. All the evidences indicate that this 
demand will grow even more insistent in the coming 
years. Can you imagine a preacher facing a crowd in 
the open-air, the factory, the camp, and reading his 
address off a manuscript ? The thing is absurd. And 
if your open-air preaching thus delivers you from bond- 

1 80 



THE PREACHER'S TECHNIQUE 

age to the letter, why not carry that immense gain 
across into your pulpit work in church ? Let no man, 
in this hour when the Church is being challenged to 
come out from behind its own walls and barriers, reject 
that opportunity with the disclaimer " It is not in my 
line/' Christ has issued His marching-orders: what 
else matters ? Make up your mind to take a full share 
of this vital work in the wider field and to meet men 
on their own ground. Not the least of the results will 
be a new sense of freedom in your ministry. Having 
once cast off subservience to your own written words, 
you will not readily submit to a reimposition of the 
yoke. Stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ has 
made you free! 

Second, it is worth emphasizing that freedom of 
delivery in the pulpit depends upon carefulness of con- 
struction in the study. It is surprising how often this 
point has been missed in the debate between read and 
spoken sermons. To the question " Ought I to risk 
oral delivery of my sermon ?" the right answer surely 
is that ic all depends on the sermon. Some sermons it 
would be almost impossible, even for the man who 
wrote them, to carry in the mind at all. They meander 
with mazy motion; they return upon their tracks; 
ideas overlap; single paragraphs trail on and on for 
pages; there is not one illustration like a beacon to 
light the way. For such sermons, oral delivery would 
involve prodigious feats of memory and that is no 
true preaching. On the other hand, it should be quite 
possible for the preacher, without the stiltedness of 

181 



HERALDS OF GOD 

mechanized memorizing, to get a sure grip and clear 
conspectus of his own sermon, provided that certain 
conditions have been observed in the writing of it. 
These conditions are clarity of logical structure ; well- 
defined divisions and subdivisions; exclusion of ir- 
relevances; short paragraphs, with a single clear-cut 
thought in each, not long unbroken stretches, where a 
dozen ideas jostle; balance and progress and develop- 
ment; with one or two strong and vivid illustrations 
marking out the track. The point is that freedom of 
delivery will tend to vary in direct proportion to accuracy 
of construction. If you can fashion a sermon which 
stands out clearly in all its parts before your own mind, 
the tyranny of the manuscript is broken. 

Third, remember that the opening years invariably 
tend to fix the methods of a man's whole ministry. 
Any preacher, even the most tongue-tied and diffident, 
can achieve freedom of utterance on two conditions : 
he must be willing to face the necessary self-discipline, 
and he must begin early enough. Those first years are 
big with enviable opportunity and critical decision: 
for it is then that ways and habits are developing 
which, once formed, are apt to bind irrevocably. In 
this matter of delivery, every preacher is at the 
beginning master of his fate. You may be led to 
adjudge that you can serve God best in your pulpit 
by reading your sermons. But if you feel another 
method beckoning you, have no misgivings. Do not 
precipitately decide against it. If you want to be free, 
you can. 

182 



THE PREACHER'S TECHNIQUE 



VIII 



As regards pace, I am disposed to propound a mild 
form of heresy. The orthodox attitude would be to 
warn you against the errors of a too rapid delivery, and 
to beg and beseech you to go slow: put on the brake, 
and keep it on ! 1 suggest that too much Andante with 
never a touch of Allegro or even Presto can be quite as 
fatal. You will not, of course, emulate the preacher 
whom Spurgeon described, "tearing along like a wild 
horse with a hornet in its ear." Common sense will 
teach you to regulate speed in accordance with the 
acoustics of the building in which you are speaking. 
But just as a dragging organ accompaniment can ruin 
congregational praise, so a too deliberate pulpit delivery 
can gravely decelerate interest in the message. Preach- 
ing ought to resemble a purposeful, rhythmic march 
rather than a slow-paced saunter: it is degraded when 
it becomes a slouch or a shuffle. There are speakers 
who proceed with such irritating leisureliness that 
those listening to them can forecast, before each sen- 
tence is half-finished, exactly how it is going to end. 
No congregation ought to be subjected to such a horrid 
ordeal. If you are temperamentally inclined to dash 
ahead like an express train, let reasonableness moderate 
your impetuosity. But if the voice of orthodoxy in 
these matters has almost persuaded you that Largo di 
molto must be the invariable rule of the pulpit, you 
would do well to consider whether this tempo de- 
liberate and stately and dignified, verging sometimes 



HERALDS OF GOD 

on the ponderous is really the best adapted for con- 
veying to your hearers' minds a Gospel urgent and 
glorious and amazing beyond all other tidings in the 
world. 

In tone, no less than in speed, variety is essential. 
It is strange that so often the effect of standing in a 
pulpit should be that a man's natural speaking voice 
is immediately transformed into something forced and 
artificial and monotonous. Savonarola declared that 
many a Gospel hearer had " become like unto a rook 
on a steeple, that, at the first stroke of the church bell, 
takes the alarm and hath fear, but then, when accus- 
tomed to the sound, percheth quietly on the bell, 
however loudly it be rung." Learn to modulate the 
voice, and avoid like the plague the conventional pulpit 
monotone; lest your people, " accustomed to the 
sound," cease to heed the message. Always begin 
quietly. Even when your theme, as it develops, takes 
hold of you irresistibly (as it ought to do if you are 
truly preaching), bring yourself back again and again 
deliberately to the conversational level. As Hamlet 
put it to the players, " In the very torrent, tempest, and, 
as I may say, the whirlwind of passion, you must 
acquire and beget a temperance that may give it 
smoothness/' Never bellow! Remember Savona- 
rola's rook perching disdainfully on the bell, "how- 
ever loudly it be rung." Let yourself go occasionally 
if the Spirit moves you ; but clamour is not necessarily 
inspiration, and shouting saves no souls. A good 
sermon can have its total effect reduced fifty per cent 

184 



THE PREACHER'S TECHNIQUE 

by an over-emphatic and hectic delivery; and plati- 
tudes which might disclose new meanings if treated 
quietly become merely tiresome or absurd when shouted 
and declaimed, 

This insistence on being natural applies also to 
gesture. There is no necessity that the preacher 
should aim at reproducing the immobility of a graven 
image; but neither is there any necessity that he should 
saw the air like a windmill, or behave like a schoolboy 
with the fidgets. You will be wise, at almost any cost 
of strenuous self-discipline, to eradicate and eschew 
all meaningless mannerisms which, so far from adding 
emphasis to what is being said, serve only to distract. 
Temperament and individuality play here so large a 
part that imitation of any kind is bound to be disastrous : 
the gesture which in one man is right and unexception- 
able might be ludicrous in another. Dr. Carnegie 
Simpson, in his Recollections, has described how once 
as a youth he heard Spurgeon preaching in the old 
Metropolitan Tabernacle, on the subject of the in- 
spiration of Holy Scripture. At one point the preacher 
took up some book into his hands, and crying dram- 
atically, "Here is a work of current science its day 
will pass," let the volume drop. "Here," he went on, 
taking up another book, "is a fashionable novel it 
soon will be dead," and it also he let fall. Then, taking 
the big pulpit Bible bodily off its desk, clutching it in 
his arms and holding it aloft, he cried, "Here is the 
Word of God which endureth for ever." Spurgeon 
could dare the startling gesture, and it would be 



HERALDS OF GOD 

magnificently impressive: but with ninety-nine men 
out of a hundred the risk of an abrupt descent from 
the sublime to the ridiculous would be prohibitive. 
It is a wise rule to be sparing of gesture, and to suffer 
no movement which is not the natural and instinctive 
expression of a deeply felt mood. 

The fact is that this whole matter of delivery can be 
resolved into two precepts which are not so paradoxical 
as they appear: Be yourself Forget yourself. God 
has given to each man his own individuality, and 
standardization is emphatically no part of the divine 
intention for your ministry. How intolerably dull it 
would be if every preacher had to be cut to the same 
pattern ! You are to give free rein to your personality. 
"We are too formal/' cried Dr. Alexander Whyte. 
"We have too much starch in our souls/' And he 
went on, in his downright way : "Starch is more deadly 
than sin. Your soul may be saved from sin, but 
scarcely from starch/' Henry Ward Beecher was no 
less outspoken: "There may be a propriety in a man's 
preaching that will damn half his congregation, or 
there may occasionally be almost an impropriety that 
will hurt nobody, and accompanied with the right 
manner will save multitudes." Do not think that 
personal idiosyncrasies are merely to be suppressed 
and levelled out. Be yourself. And do not complain 
if you cannot be someone else. Nothing is more 
preposterous or pathetic than the sedulous attempts 
which are sometimes made to imitate external manner- 
isms or ways of speech. "David played before the 

186 



THE PREACHER'S TECHNIQUE 

Lord," says the sacred writer^ "on all manner of 
instruments/' If God has made you a clarinet or a 
flute, do not complain that you are not a violin or a 
harp. Shall the trumpet say to the oboe, "I have no 
need of thee" ? Or the drum to the 'cello, " I have no 
need of thee"? Shall the great Master Musician, 
who controls them all, say to the humblest of His 
instruments, "I have no need of thee"? 

Be yourself, then; but also, forget yourself. You 
are to use for the delivery of the Word every faculty 
God has given you; and simultaneously you are to 
renounce yourself utterly, so that in the end the 
messenger shall be nothing, the message everything. 
You are not to cramp or stifle your individuality; but 
you are to offer it so completely to God upon the altar 
that, when the service closes, the dominating thought 
in the worshippers' minds will be, not of any obtrusive 
human proficiency or cleverness, but only this "The 
Lord was in His holy temple to-day!" 

We are desperately self-conscious creatures, and that 
miserable fact of self-love tends to thrust its way into 
the picture, even in our work for Christ. To achieve 
release and self-obliteration, one thing is essential for 
the preacher; as he leads the worship of his congrega- 
tion, let him see to it that he is worshipping along with 
them. As he uplifts the supplications of his people to 
the throne, let him be bowing there himself in heart 
and mind. Then, when he stands up to preach, he 
will have found deliverance through worship from the 
tyranny of self. Not only so, but his words will now 



HERALDS OF GOD 

come forth throbbing with a fervour and reality totally 
unlike the pseudo-animation of a pretentious and self- 
conscious delivery. "When the work of the com- 
poser," wrote Jebb of the Greek poets, "failed to be 
vital and sincere, this, the unpardonable fault, was 
described by the expressive word psychros, frigid. The 
composition was then no longer a living thing, which 
spoke to the hearers and elicited a response. It was 
stricken with the chill of death/' Jebb might have 
been writing there of the Christian preacher. In the 
moment when sincerity goes, the whole business of 
preaching is stricken with the chill of death ; and the 
obtrusion of self is always destructive of sincerity. In 
the last resort, everything depends on the degree in 
which awareness of self is swallowed up in the vision 
of God. As he delivers his sermon, the man who has 
himself entered through worship into the holy place 
will preach with something of the glow and freedom 
which mark true inspiration. Among those listening 
to him there will be some who, as the sermon proceeds, 
are conscious less of the actual speaker than of a ringing 
and authentic "Thus saith the Lord!" some who 
beyond the human tones will hear, pleading and com- 
manding, the very voice of Jesus. And long after the 
sermon is finished, that voice will keep sounding on. 
Paul plants, Apollos waters; but the real issues are 
wrought out at levels where Paul, Apollos and every 
other human factor have vanished out of sight. It is 
not your personality that has to be impressed redeem- 
ingly upon other souls thank heaven for that; it is 

188 



THE PREACHER'S TECHNIQUE 

not you who are to dazzle men with your grasp of the 
truth, or your powers as a defender of the faith ; it is 
not you who are going to convert souls and unlock the 
shining gates to which only Jesus has the key. Bring 
everything you have and are to your ministry your 
best craftsmanship, your most concentrated study, 
your truest technique, your uttermost of self-consecra- 
tion, your toil and sweat of brain and heart bring it 
all without reserve. But when you have brought it, 
something else remains: Stand back^ and see the 
salvation of God. 



189 



CHAPTER V 
THE PREACHER'S INNER LIFE 

" The zeal for God that is not according to knowledge is a zeal 
that dies in the middle years by the pessimism of experience ; but 
the zeal that is fed by His broken Body and His outpoured Blood 
devours us still, in an age of weariness and cynicism." 

BERNARD MANNING. 

THERE is a Franciscan story which tells how the 
saint on one occasion invited a young novice to 
accompany him on a preaching expedition through the 
town, and how they passed through one street after 
another and eventually returned to their starting-point, 
and not a word had been spoken. "But, father," said 
the probationer, puzzled and disappointed, "I thought 
we were going to preach?" " We have preached/' re- 
plied Francis, "we were observed as we walked. They 
marked us as we went. It was thus we preached." 

You have chosen a vocation or rather, Christ has 
chosen you for it which more than any other calling 
in the world depends upon the quality of life and the 
total witness of character which by the grace of God a 
man may bring to it. "Preaching/' inquires Bishop 
Quayle, "is the art of making a sermon and delivering 
it?" and he answers his own question: "Why, no, 
that is not preaching. Preaching is the art of making 
a preacher and delivering that. It is no trouble to 
preach, but a vast trouble to construct a preacher," 

190 



THE PREACHER'S INNER LIFE 

When Gefaazi went at Blisha's command to resurrect 
the dead, he took the prophet's staff with him, but no 
miracle happened; for the virtue of the staff was 
negatived by the hands that held it* "I was con- 
firmed/' wrote John Milton, "in the opinion that he 
who would not be frustrate of his hope to write well in 
laudable things ought himself to be a true poem." 
Homiletics may indeed be taught by books and 
lectures; but at the heart of everything stands the 
personal equation, and the real work is done, not on 
the level where a man acquires a knowledge of tech- 
nique and rules and devices, but on the deep levels of 
self-commitment where he rigorously disciplines his 
life for love of Jesus Christ. One hesitates to say any- 
thing on a matter so intimate and sacred: here words 
can be but few and faltering. Yet it would be a poor 
service to analyse the elements of preaching and be 
dumb about what matters most. "Anything destined 
to be strong and efficacious in action" Father Martin- 
dale reminds us> " needs a drastic preparation of 
Character" And if there is truth in the saying pectus 

acit theologum^ it is no less true that the inner life makes 

,he preacher. 

Sometimes it will happen that your most carefully 
prepared sermon discomfits you by missing fire com- 
pletely & salutary if humbling experience. Then is 
the time to put some searching questions to your own 
soul: "Why did it fail so palpably? Was it because I 
had neglected the flame on my own altar ? Can It have 
been that I was so busy preparing my sermon that I 

191 



HERALDS OF GOD 

omitted to prepare myself ?" Now, just as this discip- 
line of self-preparation is necessary for every sermon 
a man preaches, so it must form the constant back- 
ground of his total ministry. I am not suggesting a 
double standard of sanctification one level of holiness 
for the Christian layman as he goes about his business 
and another for the ordained minister of the Word ; 
for with God there is no respect of persons, and every 
Christian without distinction is committed to live for 
Christ with every atom of his being. But I am saying 
that if I presume to point out to others the heavenward 
way, while failing to bend all my spiritual energies to 
its pursuit, I shall receive from God the greater con- 
demnation. The ambassador of Christ shares all men*s 
involvement in sinful corruption and it was the greatest 
ambassador who ever lived who confessed himself to 
be the chief of sinners. But the preacher is essentially 
a seer, bringing back to men first-hand reports of 
divine truth and authentic visions of that Jerusalem 
which is the mother of us all : and if he cannot induce 
the vision nor evoke it at will, he can at least keep clean 
the window through which his vision is likely to come. 
"Take heed unto yourselves, and to all the flock" was 
Paul's parting injunction at Miletus to the elders of 
the Church to yourselves first, for only so can the 
hungry sheep be fed. You must believe intensely and 
with total conviction, if you are to persuade others to 
believe. Your own spirit must be subjected to the full 
force and challenge of Christ's ethic, must be energized, 
supernaturalized, if you are to bring God's help to bear 

192 



THE PREACHER'S INNER LIFE 

upon the gaping needs of men. The trouble is, as 
Richard Baxter put it bluntly to the clergy of Ms day, 
that "many a tailor goes in rags that maketh costly 
clothes for others ; and many a cook scarcely licks his 
fingers, when he hath dressed for others the most 
costly dishes." It is a solemnizing thought for any 
preacher that what he speaks to men in the name of 
God is going to be mightily reinforced or mercilessly 
negatived by the quality of life behind it. Chaucer 
summed it up succinctly when he wrote of his good 
priest : 

Cfaristes lore^ and His apostles twelve, 

He taught^ and first he folwed it him^-selve. 

It might indeed be supposed that the very nature of 
the preacher's calling would guarantee an invincible 
fidelity and consecration. But all sacred things are 
double-edged; and if the tasks of the ministry may be 
a safeguard and a panoply they have also their peculiar 
perils 3 and they exact vengeance from those who handle 
them with undue familiarity, Robertson of Brighton 
was right when he spoke of "the hardening influence 
of spiritual things " ; for the prophetic awe and wonder 
in presence of the revelation of God can all too easily 
deteriorate into a mere mechanical trafficking with the 
ordinances of religion* To quote Baxter again: **It 
is a sad thing that so many of us preach our hearers 
asleep; but it is sadder still if we have studied and 
preached ourselves asleep^ and have talked so long 
against hardness of heartj till our own grow hardened 
under the noise of our own reproofs/ 1 There is no sure 

193 



HERALDS OF GOD 

defence against that grim and tragic loss of reality and 
zeal and faith except in a daily renewed surrender of 
life to Christ, nor is there any easy alternative by which 
to evade the cost of this rigorous and surgical self- 
discipline and commitment. There is no by-pass road 
round Calvary. "He is like a refiner's fire, and He 
shall purify the sons of Levi." 

Let us inquire, then, what manner of man the 
preacher must be in his inner life. What are the seals 
and marks of his apostleship ? It is, of course, not 
possible here to explore the full range of this theme, or 
indeed to do more than touch upon certain distinctive 
qualities, singling them out from many others which 
might equally have been mentioned. I suggest the 
following points. 



First, the true preacher will be a man utterly dedicated 
to his work. "This one thing I do." The Christian 
ministry opens a door into the most absorbing life- 
work under heaven; and there is something seriously 
wrong with the man who, entering it, is not wholly 
absorbed. Unless we are prepared, with joyous and 
deliberate abandon, to be mastered, dominated and 
controlled by the great task, we ought to thrust it from 
us once for all, and not mock Christ with tepid loyalties 
and divided interests. This kind of spiritual concen- 
tration is, of course, a totally different thing from the 
strained and stubborn austerity which refuses to relax. 
It is hardly likely that any preacher will enhance his 

194 



THE PREACHER'S INNER LIFE 

efficiency by going from one year's end to another 
without a holiday or a hobby, as though it were glori- 
fying God to ignore the Master's word, "Come ye 
yourselves apart, and rest awhile. " Equally mistaken 
is the absorption which consists in shutting oneself off 
from life, dwelling remote from the common interests 
of market, street and home, out of touch with the 
crowding cares and hopes and joys and agonies that 
mould the lives of men. The condemnation of that 
attitude is that it is downright inhuman and terribly 
unlike Jesus. But the fact remains that the servant 
of the evangel more than anyone else, more than 
scientist, artist, composer or man of affairs must be 
possessed, heart and mind and soul, by the momentous 
enterprise that has laid its compulsion upon him. 

It would be unnecessary to emphasize this, were it 
not that slackness is such an insidious peril. This 
common sin has beggared the rich promise of many a 
ministry and blunted the cutting edge of its spiritual 
power. The very conditions of a minister's work 
which put into his own hands the control of his time 
and the ordering of his days impose a peculiar re- 
sponsibility. If he fritters time away in idleness, if he 
squanders in desultory reading of the newspaper and 
magazine reviews those precious morning hours which 
ought to be rigorously safeguarded for wrestling with 
the Word of God, if when Sunday comes he offers to 
his people sermons shoddy with lack of thought, he 
damages his troth to Christ and dishonours his high 
calling. He proves himself to be culpably impercipient 

195 



HERALDS OF GOD 

of the deep spiritual needs and longings of those whom 
the great Shepherd has committed to his care. He 
has never heard the inarticulate crying of the hungry 
flock: "O refresh us, travelling through this wilder- 
ness/ 1 He is the hireling who careth not for the sheep. 
What right (to put it no higher) have we to speak to 
the labouring and the heavy-taden, if we are not our- 
selves as busy as the hardest toiler amongst them? 
Common decency ought to tell us that to stand in a 
pulpit on Sunday, and presume to instruct in the things 
of God men and women who all the week before have 
been beating us in simple faithfulness to duty, is a 
mockery and a sham. Rudimentary as this considera- 
tion is, it nevertheless calls for emphasis and plain 
speaking. Beware the professional busy-ness which 
is but slackness in disguise! The trouble is that we 
may even succeed in deceiving ourselves. Our diary 
is crowded. Meetings, discussions, interviews, com- 
mittees throng the hectic page. We are driven here, 
there, everywhere by the whirling machinery of good 
works. We become ail things to all men. Laziness ? 
The word, we protest, is not in our vocabulary. Are 
we not engrossed from morning till night ? Do we not 
conspicuously spend our days under the high pressure 
of an exacting life ? But God, who searches the heart, 
knows how much of our outward strenuousness is but 
a rationalization of a latent slackness. What does it 
all amount to- the whole paraphernalia of good works 
and religious machinery if there is lacking the intense 
concentration on the message which is to deliver men's 

196 



THE PREACHER'S INNER LIFE 

eyes from tears, their feet from falling, and their souls 
from deathj the lonely wrestling with God at Peniel 
without which no blessing comes ? 

"We are seeking/ 1 cried Richard Baxter to his 
brother preachers, "to uphold the world, to save it 
from the curse of God, to perfect the creation, to attain 
the ends of Christ's redemption. And are these works 
to be done with a careless mind or a lazy mind or a lazy 
hand? O see that this work be done with all your 
might I Study hard, for the well is deep/' It is indeed 
intolerable to be slack or lethargic in the preparation 
of a message upon which issues of such incalculable 
moment hang* What is at stake in our work is the 
lives of men. Every sermon is to be preached in the 
knowledge that for someone present it may be now the 
fulness of the time and the day of salvation- "I take 
you to record this day/* exclaimed Paul, "that I am 
pure from the blood of all men/* Dare we look such 
words in the face? There was a day when Ezekiel, 
caught up in the Spirit, heard a voice from heaven 
crying, "If the watchman see the sword come, and 
blow not the trumpet, and the people be not warned; 
if the sword come, and take any person from amongst 
them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood 
will I require at the watchman's hand/* And as he 
pondered the vision, suddenly with terrific dramatic 
force the voice went on: "So thou, O son of man, I 
have set thee a watchman unto the house of Israel/* 
Age after age, this has been the great prophetic motive. 
Always the man of God has been the watchman on the 

197 



HERALDS OF GOD 

ramparts of the world. Always the preacher of the 
Word has known himself to be a sentinel, appointed to 
keep vigil over immortal souls. Always the pressure 
of the immense responsibility has constrained him to 
cry, "Necessity is laid upon me: woe is me, if I preach 
not the Gospel!" That is not rhetoric. It is not the 
vehement, declamatory talk of the pietist or the fanatic. 
It is the plain unemotional declaration of the man who 
has grasped the essential issues of his calling. "These 
sheep of the Saviour's flock, these blundering, sinning, 
suffering, lovable men and women, these I must render 
again to the Lord who has given them to me, these I 
must offer at the throne in righteousness: else God 
will ask the reason why! Their blood will God require 
at the watchman's hand/' It is when this ultimate 
challenge stabs our conscience that we learn to see 
slackness, that ruinous besetting sin of so many a 
ministry, in its true colours, and make our vows unto 
the Lord against it. 

Redemptive work is always costly. There is no 
hope of ease for the faithful servant of the Cross, It is 
involved in the very nature of his task that he can never 
be at the end of it. Not his to evade the burden and 
the heat of the day: physical weariness, sickness of 
heart and bitter disappointment, the strain of the 
passion for souls, all the wear and tear of vicarious 
burden-bearing these he will know in full measure. 
He may even find himself wondering sometimes why 
he ever accepted a commission in a warfare in which 
there is no discharge. He may have moods when a 

198 



THE PREACHER'S INNER LIFE 

haunting sense of anticlimax overwhelms him. It is 
one thing to set out gallantly when the flags are waving 
and the drums summoning to a new crusade, but it is 
quite another thing to keep plodding on when the road 
is difficult and the Initial impetus has spent its force 
and the trumpets of the dawn have ceased to blow. It 
is one thing to have inspirations : it is another to have 
tenacity. "My little children/* wrote Paul to the 
Galatians, "of whom I travail in birth again until 
Christ be formed in you": a swift and startling turn 
of phrase giving a profoundly moving insight into the 
price of true Christian ambassadorship. For 

it is by no breath^ 

Turn f eye, wave of hand, that salvation joins issue with 
death ! 

and if ever a man finds the work of the ministry becom- 
ing easily manageable and surmountable, an undemand- 
ing vocation without strain or any encumbering load of 
care, he is to be pitied, not congratulated: for he has 
so flagrantly lost touch with One whose ministry of 
reconciliation could be accomplished and fulfilled only 
through Gethsemane and Calvary. "Without shed- 
ding of blood there is no remission of sins." Unless 
something of the evangelist's life-blood goes into his 
quest for souls and into the word he brings them from 
the Lord, the quest remains fruitless and the word 
devoid of delivering power. 

That the ministry should be regarded (as in fact it 
has sometimes been regarded) as a profession a career 
whose main qualifications are a certain amount of 

199 



HERALDS OF GOB 

organizing ability, tact and culture? the reputation of 
being a good " mixer" and a shrewd judge of men, 
some measure of facility of speech, and a decent level 
of piety this is shocking and deplorable. No ministry 
is worth anything which is not first and last and all the 
time a ministry beneath the Cross. Let a man reckon 
the cost ere he closes with the call. 

There are, indeed, mighty compensations and in- 
comparably precious rewards. You will receive letters 
which you will treasure all your life as sacred, because 
they tell gratefully of some vision received, some 
challenge accepted, some discovery made of the won- 
derful friendship of Jesus; and when, for one reason 
or another, your work is taking more out of you than 
you care to tell, and disappointments are encountered, 
and the haunting question "What is the use? M stands 
at your door and knocks, you will thank God at such a 
time that it is possible by opening the drawer where 
these letters lie, and reading one or more of them again, 
to send the low mood flying, and to rally and comfort 
your soul with a sudden vision of the essential worth 
and splendour of the task, the amazing privilege of 
being in it at all, and the magnificence of the faithful- 
ness of God. 

The true preacher, then, is a man completely dedi- 
cated to the high mission on which he is sent forth. 
He will be resolute and vigilant, lest any secret slack- 
ness should invalidate the message he proclaims. Not 
that he will obtrude his labours, or take credit from his 
crowded days, or wish that anyone should know the 

200 



THE PREACHER'S INNER LIFE 

burden of his toil Nothing could be further from his 
thoughts : for he is so piercingly aware that the utter- 
most of his devotion is a paltry, miserable return for 
what Christ has done for him* " If there is anything/' 
exclaimed Rabbi Duncan, "in which I would be 
inclined to contradict my Lord, it would be if 1 heard 
Him say ? "Well done 5 good and faithful servant/" 

ii 

This first mark of the herald of Christ leads on 
inevitably to the second. He will be a man of prayer* 
Here again, of course, it is necessary to guard against 
any suggestion of a double standard as though the 
cultivation of the devotional life were a professional 
obligation limited to the few, and not the manifest duty 
of all* 66 A man of prayer" that must be the ideal, 
not only of the ordained servants of the Gospel, but of 
everyone who bears the Christian name. All are here 
alike, for the New Testament knows nothing of a 
possession of the Spirit as a priestly monopoly, and the 
life of devotion is meant to be normal Christianity. 
The basic reason why a minister must pray is not 
because he is a minister (that would savour of official 
piety, always an odious thing), but because he is a poor, 
needy creature dependent on God's grace. 

That is fundamental. But is it not also evident that 
the weight of his peculiar responsibility must drive him 
to his knees ? If he is taking his work seriously at all, 
there will be days when Moses' hot outburst to the 
Lord will echo in his heart: "Wherefore layest Thou 

201 



HERALDS OF GOD 

the burden of all this people upon me ? Have I con- 
ceived all this people? Have I begotten them, that 
Thou shouldst say unto me. Carry them in thy bosom ? 
I am not able to bear all this people alone, because it is 
too heavy for me." It is out of such a mood of desper- 
ate defeat and bankruptcy that there rises, like a bright 
and morning star, the discovery of prayer's unsearch- 
able riches, its power to steady the staggering soul, to 
replenish the lost virtue and the nervous energy which 
the toil of the passion for souls has drained away. Day 
after day, year after year, you will be expending your- 
selves, giving out to others. You simply cannot face 
the strain, except on one condition : you must simul- 
taneously be taking in from God. 

Once there was lived upon this earth a life of 
terrible self-giving, yet of uttermost serenity. Do not 
we, who grow so hectic often and strained and tired 
and overburdened, long to share the secret of Christ's 
peace ? It was the secret known to the mountain-tops 
where He outwatched the stars, to the olive trees in the 
garden which heard His voice at midnight, to the winds 
and waves that were His shrine while He communed 
with God. How shall any man be strong to do Christ's 
work to-day, with the purposefulness and passion and 
mastery of life that shine on every page of the Gospels, 
if he neglects Christ's hidden secret ? Chalmers was 
indeed going to the root of the matter when he declared 
that most failures in the ministry were due, not to lack 
of visiting or of study or of organizational activity, but 
to lack of prayer. 

202 



THE PREACHER'S INNER LIFE 

There is more at stake in this than the reinforcing 
of your spirit or the culture of your private devotions. 
For whether your congregation be large or small a 
great part of your task on its behalf lies in the realm of 
intercession. I do not simply mean asking God to 
bless your people collectively though, of course, you 
will do that I mean praying for every family, each 
separate soul, by name. Let me assure you that this 
suggestion is entirely practicable, whether you have a 
hundred members or two thousand. Method and 
system, of course, are necessary; but is there any reason 
why prayer should not be methodical? Take your 
Communion Roll. Use it as a directory of intercession. 
Single out, say, three families each day. Mention each 
member of these homes by name. Visualize their cir- 
cumstances. Think of their work, their difficulties, 
their temptations. Remember very specially any who 
may have been growing indifferent to religious ordin- 
ances and drifting away from the Church. Bear them 
individually upon your heart to the mercy-seat. From 
such concrete and particular intercession two results 
will follow. On the one hand, there will be a blessing 
for those for whom you pray. On the other hand, there 
will be revealed to you from time to time, even as you 
intercede for them, practical ways of helpfulness, new 
avenues of sympathetic understanding, opportunities 
of showing to this one or that other something of the 
kindness of God for Jesus* sake. And when you look 
into their faces on the Sunday, as you lead their worship 
and proclaim to them afresh the all-sufficient grace of 

203 



HERALDS OF GOB 

Christ, that background of your hidden intercessions, 
of your pleading for them name by name, will lift your 
words and wing them with love and ardour and reality, 
God will not refuse the kindling flame when secret 
prayer has laid its sacrifice upon the altar. And you 
will prove in your own experience the truth to which 
that great soldier of the Cross, Samuel Rutherford, 
gave expression long ago: "I seldom made an errand 
to God for another, but I got something for myself/' 

Is it too much to say that revival in the Church 
depends upon the prayer-life of its ministers? Too 
often we take for granted that here at least all is well. 
But still to-day, as when the winds of Pentecost stirred 
the world, the first essential is the broken spirit and 
the contrite heart of those who preach the Word, the 
sense of dreadful inadequacy driving every apostle to 
his knees. To realize, face to face with the task, that 
it is hopeless trying to go on unless higher hands take 
hold of you; to know the feeling of utter incapacity 
which creates a trust that is vital just because it is 
desperate ; to cry to God out of that depth of humilia- 
tion every day you live this is to learn the secret of 
the apostles, whose very weakness was turned through 
the alchemy of prayer into their strongest asset, whose 
human inadequacy itself became the vehicle of the 
conquering might of Christ. " We have this treasure 
in earthen vessels, to show that the excellency of the 
power is of God, and not of us." It is when a man 
strikes rock-bottom in his sense of nothingness that he 
suddenly finds he has struck the Rock of ages. Then 

204 



PREACHER'S INNER LIFE 

his ministry is supernaturalized* and through 

him the Spirit can act with power* "In Love's 
service, 5 " says the Angel in Thornton Wilder's play, 
"only the wounded soldiers can serve," And only 
those who have been wounded in the region of their 
human confidence, whose self-sufficiency has been 
shattered into supplication, only they can be the 
healers of this ailing world* Be sure of this, that if 
men are to be blessed by your ministry, prayer must 
be its alpha and its omega. "Our sufficiency is of 
God." 



in 



This brings us to the third characteristic note of the 
preacher's inner life. He will be a man marked ty a 
great humility of heart. Nowhere surely are pride and 
self-importance and conscious striving after effect more 
incongruous and unpardonable than in the servant of 
the Cross, Yet pride would not be the basic sin it is, 
if it did not possess this demonic quality, that precisely 
where you would expect to find it lying dead for ever, 
there it reappears, insinuating itself in even subtler 
guise, u The final human pretension/' Reinhold 
Niebuhr has reminded us, **is made most successfully 
under the aegis of a religion which has overcome human 
pretension in principle/* "I am an apostle/' wrote 
Paul to the Romans; "I magnify mine office" for it 
is right to think greatly of a calling so momentous in 
its issues for the Kingdom of Christ and the souls of 
men. But that there can be a false magnifying of the 

205 



HERALDS OF GOD 

ministerial office, Paul himself reminds us trenchantly 
in another passage. Read the fourth chapter of First 
CorinthianSj and you will see the apostle's irony flash- 
ing like a rapier against the self-display, the acceptance 
of adulation, and all the stratagems of a latent egotism 
which too often have intruded themselves into the 
service of the Lord. Two hundred years ago, William 
Law in his Serious Call laid it down flatly that to serve 
Christ self-importandy is to be both a thief and a liar: 
"It has the guilt of stealing, as it gives to ourselves 
those things which belong only to God; and it has the 
guilt of lying, as it is the denying the truth of our state, 
and pretending to be something that we are not." 

This, certainly, is true Biblical teaching. "Who 
maketh thee to differ from another ? What hast thou 
that thou didst not receive ? Why dost thou glory, as if 
thou hadst not received it?" Imagine a poor dauber 
setting his amateurish efforts alongside a Raphael or a 
Titian: "Yes, it is rather good, that work of mine!'* 
What are our best words for Christ compared with the 
Christ of whom we speak ? What is our uttermost of 
devotion in the presence of that blazing holiness? 
"All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags," all our 
anxious concern "Did I preach well to-day ?" is dust 
and ashes in the presence of the Cross: that every 
mouth may be stopped before God. 

Observe that there are three contributory factors 
here. The first we have noted already. It is the 
magnitude of the task. To build something of the 
New Jerusalem in your own parish and field of labour, 

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THE PREACHER'S INNER LIFE 

to fight for social justice and the Christian ethic in the 
wider community, to carry upon your heart the sorrows 
and shames and sins of the souls committed to your 
care, to be amongst them as a witness and a herald, 
44 to present" (as Paul put it) "every man perfect in 
Christ Jesus" could you conceive any task more 
humbling in its appalling responsibility? There is a 
great sermon of John Donne's, delivered in the year 
1624, in which he sets forth his conception of the awful 
burden on the preacher's heart. "What Sea/' cries 
Donne, "could furnish mine eyes with teares enough 
to poure out, if I should think, that of all this congre- 
gation, which lookes me in the face now, I should not 
meet one at the Resurrection, at the right hand of 
God! When at any midnight I hear a bell toll from 
this steeple, must not I say to my selfe, what have I 
done at any time for the instructing or rectifying of 
that man's Conscience, who lieth there now ready to 
deliver up his own account and my account to Al- 
mighty God?" Is it to be wondered at that many a 
man of God besides Elijah and Jeremiah has tried to 
run away from a commission so crushing and intoler- 
able ? Nothing but the grace of God can hold you to 
it. The magnitude of the task is the first element in 
evangelical humility. 

The second is the unworthiness of the preacher. 
Who are we to expound categorically the mysteries of 
God and the soul? Our best insights are so frag- 
mentary ? our ignorance so abysmal. Never forget that 
in your congregation there will be those who had been 

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HERALDS OF GOD 

"born again" before you were born at all. You will 
be preaching to some who will always be 54 further ben" 
in the deep things of God than yourself. Must not 
that reflection replace false confidence with modesty? 
But ignorance and finitude are not ? of course, the sum 
total of our unworthiness. "Woe is me! for I am un- 
done; because I am a man of unclean lips: mine eyes 
have seen the King/' "Only once," wrote Dr, Alex- 
ander Whyte, "did God choose a completely sinless 
preacher/' Our doom it is that with no atom of 
personal merit or deserving, with nothing indeed but 
broken contrition and the shame of sin's radical cor- 
ruption, we have to tell of Jesus and His love. Let the 
preacher, charged to mediate the word of God to men, 
pause ere he mount the pulpit-steps and breathe the 
secret prayer, "God be merciful to me a sinner." 
There will be days when the sense of personal un- 
worthiness smites and shatters us, until we cry "My 
God, why hast Thou forsaken me?" It is then, by 
some miracle of divine lovingkindness, at such a 
moment of desolation, that there comes the angel, 
touching a man's lips with a live coal from the altar 
of God. 

There is a third reason for the humility which will 
always mark the servant of the evangel. This is the 
fact that anything his work may achieve is God's doing, 
not his own. If visible results attend his ministry if 
souls are brought out of darkness into lights if the 
faithful are strengthened and the apathetic awakened 
and the spiritually dead resurrected (and, mark you, 

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THE PREACHER'S INNER LIFE 

unless he Is aiming at these things he has no right to 
be in the ministry at all), if success in this deep sense 
is granted? he will not seek to depreciate it or ignore it, 
for that would be dangerously like the sin against the 
Holy Ghost: but equally he will not take to himself 
one grain of credit for it, for it is the doing of the Lord 
alone. It is only God who can take the five loaves and 
the two fishes our paltry, scanty offering and make 
it a banquet for the hungry souls of men. Moreover 
preaching (as we saw in a previous lecture) is essentially 
worship, and in worship all human glorying is excluded, 
for the God whom we adore fills the whole horizon, 
and our mood is that of prostrate Abraham: " Behold 
now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord, 
which am but dust and ashes." Spurgeon in one place 
describes the clergyman who says, "When I was 
preaching at such-and-such a place, fifteen persons 
came into the vestry at the close of the service, and 
thanked me for the sermon I had preached/' And 
Spurgeon, unable to restrain himself, lets fly furiously 
at the complacent creature: "You and your blessed 
sermon be hanged ! Take not to yourself the honour 
which belongeth unto God only/' 

All we can do is nothing worth, unless God blesses the deed; 

Vainly we hope for the harvest-tide, till God gives life to 
the seed. 

Here, in the knowledge that the human agent is 
nothing vox et fraeterea nihil is the final source of 
the preacher's humility of heart. He will rejoice when- 
ever another soul, through his ministry, stumbles upon 

209 



HERALDS OF GOD 



the crowning revelation and breaks loose from Its 
fetters and enters the Kingdom; but he will give God 
the glory. Flesh and blood have not revealed it, but 
only the Father in heaven. 



IV 



In the light of what has just been said, the fourth 
mark of the true preacher, to which we now pass, may 
appear at first sight paradoxical. He will be a man of 
authority. It is quite mistaken to suppose that humility 
excludes conviction, G. K. Chesterton once penned 
some wise words about what he called "the dislocation 
of humility," "What we suffer from to-day is humility 
in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the 
organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the 
organ of conviction ; where it was never meant to be. 
A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but 
undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly 
reversed. We are on the road to producing a race of 
men too mentally modest to believe in the multiplica- 
tion table." Humble and self-forgetting we must be 
always, but diffident and apologetic about the Gospel 
never. 

When D. L. Moody first carried his evangelism into 
one of our great University centres, there was some 
initial opposition. His first meeting was persistently 
interrupted, punctuated with scoffing epithets. At 
last Moody broke out. "You jeered at the hymns," 
he exclaimed, "and I said nothing. You jeered at the 

210 



THE PREACHER'S INNER LIFE 

prayers and I said nothing. But now you jeer at the 
Word of God, I would as soon play with forked 
lightmngl " Surely the diffidence and lack of assurance 
which would be appropriate enough in the propagating 
of private theories or the giving of human advice 
become ludicrous and nauseating in the proclamation 
of a Word so swift and powerful and tremendous. " It 
is not God's ordinary way/' cries John Donne, "to be 
whispering of secrets. For Publication of Himselfe He 
hath constituted a Church, And in this Church, His 
Ordinance is Ordinance indeed; His Ordinance of 
preaching batters the soule, and by that breach, the 
Spirit enters; His Ministers are an Earthquake, and 
shake an earthly soule ; they are the sonnes of thunder, 
and scatter a cloudy conscience." 

The very terms describing the preacher's function 
herald, ambassador manifestly connote authority. 
Far too often the pulpit has been deferential and apolo- 
getic when it ought to have been prophetic and 
trumpet-toned. It has wasted time balancing prob- 
abilities and discussing opinions and erecting interroga- 
tion-marks, when it ought to have been ringing out 
the note of unabashed, triumphant affirmation "The 
mouth of the Lord hath spoken it!" 

It is significant that when the vision of the glory of 
God struck Ezekiel prostrate to the ground, the first 
words that shattered the silence were "Son of man, 
stand upon thy feet, and I will speak unto thee." God 
wants no grovelling, faint-hearted creatures for His 
ambassadors: He wants men who> having communed 

211 



HERALDS OF GOD 

with heaven, can never be intimidated by the world. 
You will re'member how the same note sounds again 
in Paul's account of his conversion. " Who art Thou, 
Lord?" "I am Jesus whom thou persecutes^ But 
rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto 
thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister*" It is 
always thus in every age the ministers of the living 
Christ are made the crashing, paralysing sense of 
abject worthlessness, the self-esteem broken and rolled 
in the dust, and then a man rising to his full stature as 
God's commissioned messenger. " Chief of sinners/' 
" least of all saints" such was Paul's self-estimate ; 
yet with what royal, unqualified authority he pro- 
claimed the word and the will of the Lord ! 

The Christian preacher is the bondslave of Christ 
and the servant of all : but let him not confound such 
apostolic servitude with spiritual servility. The Gospel 
is not servile: it is "mighty through God to the pulling 
down of strongholds." Dr. G. L. Prestige, in his 
biography of the late Bishop Gore, has described a 
sermon Gore preached before the University of Oxford, 
in which he sought to distinguish between true humility 
and false deference. "Some who heard it long recalled 
the trumpet tones and accompanying snorts of derision 
with which he quoted the Magnificat^ interspersing 
each passage with contemptuous cries of * Servile?'" 
" Stand upon thy feet," said the voice to Saul of Tarsus, 
"for I will make thee a minister, delivering thee from 
the people" i for to have stood before Christ is to be 
clothed with an authority that defies subservience and 

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THE PREACHER'S INNER LIFE 

no face of man. To quote Donne again "So 
the Apostles proceeded; when they came in their 
peregrination to a new State, to a new Court, to Rome 
It selfe, they did not enquire, how stands the Emperour 
affected to Christ, and to the preaching of His Gospel ? 
This was not their way; They only considered who 
sent them; Christ Jesus: And what they brought; 
salvation to every soul." This is the note that modern 
preaching must recapture. For this is no time for 
Christ* s accredited servants to be soft-pedalling their 
distinctive message; no time for that peculiarly un- 
pleasant form of servility which regards it as a feather 
in the Church's cap if some scientist or philosopher or 
Brains Trust specialist speaks approvingly and patron- 
izingly of our holy religion; no time to be watering 
down the radical and challenging content of the 
Christian faith to suit the taste of any vague indeter- 
minate humanism that boggles at the supernatural. 
We shall never do Christ's work to-day unless like 
our Master we dare to speak with authority, and 
not as the scribes. 

But whence comes this authority ? It springs, first, 
from the fact that it is God's Word, not our own, that 
we proclaim. When that noble ambassador of Christ, 
Temple Gairdner of Cairo (whose life-story is one of 
the classics of missionary biography), was an under- 
graduate, he took some share in student meetings 
organized by one of the religious societies in the 
University. "Do I speak at a meeting?" he wrote in 
a letter to a friend, "I am asked, ' Are you better than 

213 



HERALDS OF GOD 

those here, that you speak to them?' Nay, but Christ 
is better I do not speak of myself but of Him/ 9 It 
is this that redeems our stammering lips from con- 
fusion, and gives the veriest sinner words that ring like 
iron and shine like flame. "You have not chosen Me/' 
says Jesus that would be too flimsy and fortuitous 
to be a basis for apostleship " but I have chosen you " : 
that rallies all the latent courage of the soul. It is "in 
Christ's stead," declared St. Paul, that we who in 
ourselves are fallible and sinful creatures announce the 
Gospel of reconciliation; and the preacher across 
whose consciousness that thrilling word "in Christ's 
stead" has pealed needs no other apostolic succession 
to invest him with the insignia of authority. He is not 
diffidently offering men the dubious results of his 
private speculation: he is standing on his feet to 
deliver to them, in the name of the King of kings, a 
word that cannot return void. He preaches as if the 
Lord God omnipotent were there at his right hand: 
as indeed God is. The keynote of his preaching is not 
"Thus I think": it is "Thus saith the Lord." The 
late Sir George Adam Smith has described the early 
years of Dr. Alexander Whyte's ministry in St. George's, 
Edinburgh, and the great preacher's influence on the 
student community in particular, to which at that time 
Smith himself belonged. "I remember how one of us 
coming out of church one day said: * Well, till hearing 
Whyte I never realised that paradox of St. Paul, / . . . 
yet not // There was the natural man himself, the 
strong, gifted, ardent personality with his own features, 

214 



THE PREACHER'S INNER LIFE 

accents and styles, and his own experiences, all of 
which came home to our hearts, but it was the Spirit 
of the Lord which we felt pouring through him/' 
That penetrating analysis goes right to the roots of the 
secret of true preaching. "I yet not I, but Christ!" 
Not mine the witness, not mine the cry and beseeching, 
not over my poor lips but out from the depths of the 
eternal breaks the word that is to convict and save. I 
plead with men, yet not I : Christ pleadeth in me. In 
Christ, God goes forth in action through the Spirit. 
44 He that hath ears to hear, let him hear " 

There is a second, subsidiary source of the preacher's 
authority. This is the testimony of the Christian cen- 
turies behind him and of the universal Church around 
him. Not as an isolated, lonely figure, intruding oddly 
upon the contemporary scene, does he stand in his 
pulpit to-day. What matter though his sphere of 
labour be thankless and obscure, and his own gifts and 
talents meagre and unimpressive? Behind him stand 
Spurgeon and Liddon and Newman and Chalmers and 
Baxter and Jeremy Taylor and Latimer and Luther 
and Francis and Augustine and Chrysostom and Paul. 
Those who belittle the vocation of the preacher prove 
the poverty of their own historic imagination: for 
behind every pulpit from which the Word is faithfully 
proclaimed to-day there stretches the august pageant 
of the gathering ages. It is an immensely thrilling 
experience to know, when you tell men of Christ the 
Lord, that your poor words are backed and reinforced 
by the witness of two thousand years. Indeed, the very 

215 



HERALDS OF GOB 

indestructibility of the Church out of whose bosom 
you speak^ its survival of desperate vicissitudes^ its 
defiance of the gates of hell this is itself impressive 
proof of the eternal significance of your ministry and 
vocation. If ever you feel lonely in your task and 
there will be days when crashing loneliness besets you 
remember who are your kith and kin, Columba and 
Xavier and Savonarola and Knox and Wesley and all 
the multitude who in every generation have preached 
the identical Christ whom you preach to-day 5 one Lord^ 
one faith, one baptism 5 one Cross, one victory,, one 
mercy-seat, one building not made with hands, eternal 
in the heavens. Nor need you turn your gaze to the 
past only. Lift up your eyes, and look around you; 
and realize that, while you stand solitary in your pulpit, 
yonder at that very moment beyond the walls of 
your church and out to earth's remotest bounds a great 
host of witnesses are publishing the same tidings which 
you now bear upon your heart. So the littleness and 
the inadequacy of the individual preacher are caught 
up into the context of historic Christianity; and his 
message rings, not with the dogmatism of a self- 
assured complacency, but with the authoritative testi- 
mony of a great cloud of witnesses, the glorious 
company of the apostles, the goodly fellowship of the 
prophets, the noble army of martyrs, and the holy 
Church throughout all the world, 

Yet even this is not enough. The preacher pro- 
claims God's word, not his own ; and he proclaims it 
out of the midst of the Christian fellowship. But a 

216 



THE PREACHER'S INNER LIFE 

third factor is needful to vest him in the authority of a 
true ambassador* He must possess the word or 
rather, he must be possessed by it -as a living, personal 
experience. Why is it that two men, enunciating the 
very same truths, may differ utterly in results achieved ? 
The one declares the salvation of Christ, and little or 
nothing happens. The other, using almost the identical 
words, declares the same salvation, and chords are set 
vibrating in a hundred hearts. It is in the realm of 
personal experience that the difference lies. There 
were certain Jewish exorcists, the writer of the Book of 
Acts narrates, who tried to do the works of God and 
cast out evil spirits by using the formula, "I adjure 
you by Jesus whom Paul preacheth, 1 ' As if miracles 
could be wrought in the name of someone else's Christ! 
Are we to tell men to-day of a Christ whom the apostles 
preached, or Luther, or the Wesleys, or our own im- 
mediate fathers in the faith ? It is not surprising that 
the sons of Sceva in the Book of Acts, adjuring their 
congregation by Jesus- whom Paul preached, met the 
blunt retort " Jesus we know, and Paul we know, 
but who are ye?" You may preach Paul's Christ or 
Calvin's Christ, and not break a single shackle of sin 
or bind up one broken heart. There is not authority 
enough in second-hand religion to rouse the listless and 
set the captives free. But how different it is when, like 
the apostle, the twentieth-century preacher can declare 
"my Gospel," when he is manifestly building not on 
rumour and hearsay but on the proved facts of his own 
experience, and when those hearkening to his word are 

217 



HERALDS OF GOD 

constrained to say " There is a man who has been 
with Jesus!" 

This, of course, is not to say that you are to keep 
talking about your own soul, or dragging your secret 
experiences into the light. Emphatically not: such 
self-exposure in the pulpit is apt to make all decent 
men and women squirm, and the note of autobiography 
soon becomes mawkish and insufferable, " Stand out 
of the way," men feel like saying to such a preacher, 
"and let us through to Jesus!" But if self-obtrusion 
is to be discountenanced, the fact remains that the only 
sermon the world wants to hear is one that throbs with 
the vitality of first-hand knowledge and experience. 
This alone carries authority and conviction. This 
leaves men saying, "God spoke to us to-day." 

Therefore it is essential that, right on to the very end 
of his ministry, the preacher's own vision of God in 
Christ should be a growing and expanding thing. No 
doubt the last sermon that you ever preach on earth 
will contain the same Gospel with which you first 
launched out on the day of your ordination. Yet 
surely there will be a difference. For all along the 
road, God will have been speaking to you, enlarging 
your experience with new disclosures of His grace. 
And if, as we have seen, authority is born of personal 
apprehension of the truth, it is well to remember that 
such apprehension is never final : it is always, as Hosea 
expressed it, a "following on to know the Lord." 
God asks no man to face to-day in the strength of 
yesterday's grace, or to hoard for his sustenance to- 

218 



THE PREACHER'S INNER LIFE 

morrow manna gathered to-day. "I will make thee a 
minister and a witness," said the risen Christ to Saul 
of Tarsus, "both of these things which thou hast seen, 
and of those things in the which I will appear unto 
thee 7 ': for beyond the Damascus vision there was a 
whole world of spiritual knowledge waiting to be 
explored, and when he lay in prison near the end he 
was reaching out to know Christ better still in the 
power of His Resurrection and the fellowship of His 
sufferings. However long your ministry, there need 
be no danger of the blight of staleness and stagnation, 
if your personal experience of Christ is growing all the 
time. Here is the ultimate secret of authoritative 
preaching a first-hand knowledge, never inert and 
static, never dependent merely on remembered epi- 
sodes, shining and decisive God-encounters long ago, 
but always dynamic and developing, always with insight 
added to insight, and wonder piled on wonder, from 
the moment when you first gird on your armour for 
the fray, until the last sermon is preached and the long 
campaign is over and your work on earth is done. 



We have been inquiring into the nature of the 
preacher's inner life. We have distinguished certain 
vital marks of his apostleship. There are others, too 
numerous to mention here. Let it suffice to call 
attention to one final, indispensable quality. He will 
be a man on fire for Christ. 

219 



HERALDS OF GOD 

God help the preacher who tries to ply this work 
with no overpowering sense of its urgency! When 
you remember, as you stand in your pulpit, that some 
around you there have been lifting you to God, to gird 
your soul with strength and your words with the 
authority of Jesus; that never a congregation gather$ 3 
but some expectant souls are presents hoping and 
hungering for the open heavens and the vision of the 
Lord; that always there are some trembling on the 
verge of spiritual decision, so that for them this very 
service might be the hour of life's supreme encounter; 
that every one of those into whose faces you look is so 
infinitely precious that for their sakes Christ was willing 
to endure the Cross and despise the shame -when you 
reflect on this, must not your spirit catch fire, and all 
listlessness and formality be burned up in the glow of 
the evangel ? Here is the source of authentic inspira- 
tion, "the demon of preaching, 55 as it is sometimes 
called. When all is said and done, the supreme need 
of the Church is the same in the twentieth century as 
in the first; it is men on fire for Christ. 

I beg you not to commit the fearful blunder of 
damping down that flame. It is, of course, under- 
standable and right that you who are going out into 
the ministry should distrust, and set your faces against, 
the spurious fervour which notoriously brings discredit 
on the faith. But the pity is that there are preachers so 
frightened of this taint that they have actually done 
violence to the flame Christ has kindled within them, 
choosing deliberately an attitude of cool and imperturb- 

220 



THE PREACHER'S INNER LIFE 

detachmentj and perhaps even confounding frigid- 
ity with philosophic depth and logical precision with 
spiritual power. Let us have precision of utterance 
and clarity of exposition by all means: but even pre- 
cision and logic are bought too dear if they stifle the 
living flame. The radical mistake, of course^ is in 
supposing that precision and the heart on fire are 
somehow exclusive of each other. It is a supposition 
manifestly disproved by every page of the New Testa- 
mentj but it can do untold damage to the Church. 
"I indeed baptize you with water/' said John to his 
desert congregation,, "but He that cometh after me 
shall baptize you with fire' 9 ; and the weakness of many 
an otherwise competent ministry is that it has been 
content with the first baptism and neglected the second^ 
has tried to do with water what can be accomplished 
only with the fire of Christ. "She introduced me/* 
said Frederic Myers of that noble woman Josephine 
Butler, "to Christianity as by an inner door: not to its 
encumbering forms, but to its heart of flame, " That, 
under God, is your high calling; and how shall you 
tend the flame upon other altars if it is not burning on 
your own ? The whole nation was destined to know the 
impact of the hour when John Wesley in the Alders- 
gate Street meeting-house felt his heart " strangely 
warmed within him; and even in the wilder chaos of 
the twentieth century there is nothing which the Holy 
Spirit might not accomplish through a generation of 
preachers on fire for Christ. 

Yours is the greatest of all vocations- You will stint 
221 



HERALDS OF GOD 

no pains or labour to prepare for it. But do remember 
that there is nothing that can avail if the warmth of the 
Christ passion is lacking, nor any substitute for a heart 
that burns within you as He talks with you by the way. 
I pray that God will mightily bless your ministry. 
May He fulfil and verify in your experience those words 
which stand in the enactments of Leviticus 5 but which 
must surely mean far more for you to-day than the 
writer of any code in Israel could ever comprehend: 
"THE FIRE SHALL EVER BE BURNING UPON THE ALTAR: 
IT SHALL NEVER GO OUT/' 



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