William Boyd Carpenter.

On sermon preparation : recollections and suggestions online

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is the reason why sermons so often lack grip.
"What is said is good and true, but it fails to lay
hold upon the mind of the hearer, because the
preacher has failed to grasp his own subject. It is
indispensable that the preacher should see his
sermon from end to end ; that the lines before
him should be clear, intelligible, and manageable
lines. He must know where he means to stop as
well as where he means to begin. For that
time is not lost which is spent in securing the
order of his sermon. To secure it he must reject
much which is attractive, if in any way it leads
him astray from his main purpose ; and his
purpose should be clear throughout his discourse.
It is not of so much importance whether the
structure of his sermon be analytical or synthetic
so long as the structure is a real one. In other


words it must not be a collection of ideas, but an
assemblage of thoughts which cohere together, and
arise out of one another. The mind of the hearer
is then carried on from point to point, and each
portion tends to strengthen the main argument.

One or two hints on this subject may perhaps
be useful. Let the order be from the simplest
thoughts to the less simple. Let your first utter-
ance be that which all can understand ; make
clear your subject. If it depend upon some Bible
narrative, present the narrative to your hearers.
Simplicity is the best commencement ; fire, accord-
ing to the French axiom, " fire in the exordium is
fire in straw." We have heard some sermons
which commenced promising eloquence, but which
grew dull towards the close. The reason of this is
that the preacher has been a little enamoured with
some pet thought, but has lacked determination or
patience to work out the whole subject in orderly
fashion. His energy has spent itself in the intro-
duction. Such a sermon might probably have
been transformed by a very little trouble into
a useful one, and one which would have sustained
interest to the last. But it needed that its form
should be recast.


Again, for this purpose think over your subject ;
observe its bearings on the life of men ; consider
how its principles will touch men of varying
occupations ; think of its relationship to the con-
sciences you wish to touch, and lay your plans to
reach the conscience and to enlist the heart.

Thirdly, the expression of the sermon must be
considered. The text has been chosen ; the order
has been decided on ; the subject must now be
expressed to the people. How is this to be done 1
It may be written out and read ; it may be written
out, learned by heart, and delivered ; or the
subject in its matured order may be meditated
upon, made part of ourselves ; and then spoken
out freely and simply to our audience. Of these
three methods the first and the last are each good
in their way. The second need be mentioned only
to be condemned. It secures the advantages
neither of the written sermon nor of the spoken
one. The mind is not free as it is in the case of
the spoken sermon, for the memory is put to a
strain at the very moment when the mind should
be in possession of its unfettered strength. There
is truth in the saying that good speaking is
thinking on your legs. The good speaker is the


man who, though he is fully familiar with his
subject, understands the order in which he intends
to present it, and who, though bound by its order,
yet speaks with a free and undistracted mind.
He is a man who, notwithstanding that careful
preparation which he has made, can fling his soul
into what he says. The mere memoriter preacher
can never do this. The sense that his memory is
weighted makes him timid ; the slip of a word, the
failure of memory for a single moment may throw
him off his balance. Moreover the fact that he
has to deliver something from memory gives
an air of unreality to what he says. He is so
obviously dependent on his memory that his
speech does not seem to come from his heart. In
other words, his self-consciousness is provoked by
the necessity of using his memory, and he cannot
reach that self-abandonment which is essential to
all effective extempore speaking.

The first plan of writing and reading a sermon
has its advantages. Much anxiety of mind is
spared ; sleepless nights are often avoided. The
practice can never be condemned as long as the
names of Chalmers, and Melvill, and Liddon are
remembered. But it still needs to be said that it


is not every one who can read his written sermon
as these men read theirs. Too often tlie mono-
tonous reading, the downcast face, the closed
throat which are the accompaniments of such a
sermon, render it less effective than the less
gracefully phrased spoken sermon. And certainly
a political orator would hardly succeed if he were
bound to his book. To face the people ; to meet
them with eye and voice ; to be full of the earnest
desire to persuade them to think as you think ; to
have something, well studied, much believed in,
which you desire to make them believe also, and
to be able simply and earnestly to give expression
to your thoughts, is, on the whole, the shortest and
simplest route to the hearts of men.

But whatever course is pursued it is indispensable
that we should be earnest not merely when v/c
are preparing our sermon, but when we are
delivering it.

II. — This leads us to the other branch of our
subject — the indirect preparation of the sermon.
If a man's studies week by week are for his
Sunday sermons only, he will be more like the
lawyer getting up his brief than like the preacher
delivering his soul. He makes direct preparation


only. The indirect preparation is the personal
study, reading, meditation, and prayer which is
undertaken without thought of the Sunday sermon.
In this personal study the man's mind grows riper
and stronger for his ministry ; he accumulates
material without feeling that it is accumulated for
a special purpose. He reads and makes his own
what he reads. He becomes a richer and fuller
man ; and to that extent he is readier to commence
the direct preparation for the sermon than he
otherwise would be. In order to be fitly and
fully prepared for preaching we should keep up
a constant system of study which is independent
of all direct preparation for the pulpit. One of the
ablest preachers I ever knew made this an absolute
rule. When he was asked how it was possible to
find time for more than the reading needful for
preaching, he said, " I must have it, even if I were
to leave the special reading undone."

But this indirect preparation goes beyond reading.
It is that self-preparation which means self-exam-
ination, personal piety, spiritual growth. These
need their share of attention. Above all else the
ethical quality of the man is of the first importance
in preaching. The preacher should be a man of


heavenly spirit ; he should not merely be a man
who knows he has something to say ; he should
be a man whose speech is out of the fulness of his
heart. Such a man will be above the petty
ambition of producing eloquent sermons and
adorning them with tawdry ornaments ; he will
be less and less rhetorical as he is more and more
earnest. He may be an orator, for earnestness is
indispensable to true oratory ; he certainly will
speak effectively, because no man who earnestly
desires to speak the truth, and takes pains to
speak it simply and clearly, can fail to be
effective. The range of his effectiveness may be
less or more, but the reality of it will be
undoubted. Such a man will know that the real
object which he has in view is to touch the moral
nature of his hearers. He will realize that the
great force of the Gospel is its moral force. And
whether we consider the direct or indirect prepara-
tion of sermons, this moral force of the Gospel
must never be forgotten, lest the sermon should
miss its mark.

HI. — We need, therefore, to consider the relation
of preaching to the conscience. It has an influence
in the spheres of intellect, taste, politics ; but these


are subordinate, the results of the overflow of its
abounding power ; they are not of its immediate
intention, which is to touch, renew, elevate the
moral nature of man. Its appeal is therefore to
the conscience, and it is of immense advantage to
the preacher that the tribunal before which he has
to plead with man, on his own behalf, is that, not
of the intellect, or the passion, or the tastes, but
that of the conscience, because it is a tribunal
which is guided by a simpler and more universal
code than the intricate and contradictory standards
of judgment, affection, and refinement ; he can
evoke a wider response, for with all the varieties
of taste, education, attainments, race, class, and
climate, he will find a more universal and unani-
mous verdict on moral questions than on others.
Apart from the impulse of partiality and passion,
there will be found a very general agreement when
a simple question of right and wrong is laid before
the public mind. Happy are we that we are not
called to deal with vexed questions of philosophy,
or widely contested opinions in metaphysics, but
with broad issues of moral good and evil, where
our duty is to commend ourselves to every man's
conscience in the fear of God.


But how to reach this conscience ? Our work
may have an element of simpHcity in being one
which avoids certain erratic speculations ; but this
very simplicity is a source of difficulty on account
of the variety, the eccentricity, and the number of
attachments with which men have conspired to
bar up every avenue by which the conscience
may be approached. If the conscience is chief
minister to the will, how can we secure an audience
— where the vestibules and saloons are crowded
with a throng of suppliants, and the throne-room
occupied with a bevy of favourites and advisers ?
Where every caprice, every passion, every new
fanciful thought or opinion sends its representative
to dazzle, to oppress, or to fascinate the ruling
power — where the rightful authority is set at
nought, and every hour some new favourite
monopolizes the monarch's ear — how can we make
ourselves heard ?

Like ambassadors, we shall be wise to understand
the customs of the court, lest unwittingly we
should lose our chance of an audience by breaking
its harmless forms. If we would pierce into the
presence-chamber, and hold converse with man's
conscience, we must know somewhat of the nature


of man, and of the causes which impede our
approach. And it is not always easy to reach
the conscience. " Every part of the duty of the
minister of rehgion is more easy than to maintain
in vigour the spirit which is needed as a reprover
of sin, and a guardian of virtue."

I think Isaac Taylor was right when he wrote
this ; for when we consider the position which
preaching occupies in our social system, the weak-
ness of our own hearts, the vanity and exacting
character of our hearers, we must feel at once that
there are combined influences at work to enervate
the vigour of our ministry to the consciences of
men. As week after week rolls by, and Sunday
after Sunday comes — when, more especially after
the lapse of years, incessant labour has withered
somewhat the freshness of our materials, there
comes the temptation — the tendency to suffer the
sermon to dwindle into a source of pleasure, or
mere instruction — and to forget that the preaching
of the Gospel is a great power for dealing with
man's moral nature, and that every sermon which
fails of this end is, as far as the immediate object
of preaching is concerned, lost.

We must, therefore, realize that our object as


preachers of the Gospel is to reach the consciences
of men ; that though without this we may have
pleased the more cultivated of our hearers and
perplexed the more lowly, we have in reality
accomplished nothing. We may have unfolded
truth, we may have arrayed it in ornaments

enchanting and attractive, but in manifesting truth
we have failed to reach the conscience.

Two things are needed here — we need clear and
strong personal convictions of truth and right.
We must, that is, vividly realize the principles of
God's government. We must not go after little
things, or erect trifling customs or habits into
serious sins. It confuses the conscience when
matters of opinion and personal feeling are treated
as though they were matters of grave moral
importance. We must grasp clearly and set forth
firmly two great principles of duty — love to God
and love to man. To these the conscience will
respond. In the next place we must do all this
as guided by love. The conscience may make
a man tremble ; but it is only love that can
fully work repentance. We are men seeking for
men. The hands which are stretched out should
be brotherly hands. Our Master's example will


guide us. Even when He reproached the cities
which had been unrepentant under His ministry,
His love broke forth into the yearning cry, **Come
unto Me, all ye that are weary and heavy laden."
To be animated by this spirit is to possess the
key to man's heart and conscience. The Spirit
of Christ is the preacher's first and last need.


By the Very Rev. Williaim Lefroy, D.D.,
Dea7i of Norwich,

In treating of sermon preparation, I crave in-
dulgence for the place which the personal element
must necessarily occupy. My mode of this branch
of work will be best understood by the method
which lay behind it or beneath it. By this I mean
the way in which from my earliest ministerial life
I mapped out my time. For years, in Liverpool,
I arose at five a.m. The seasons made no difference
in this. My work began at about a quarter to six.
It consisted of the Greek Testament and Theology.
By nine o'clock I had three hours' reading, think-
ing, and notifying done. In this work Clark's
Foreign Theological Library was to me invaluable.
I always had a small book by my side, in which I
jotted down texts which struck me, and I frequently
turned to my Calendar to see on what day the

chapter in which such a text was found occurred in



the ordered Lesson, and if it were a Sunday I
transcribed the text in a larger diary, making a
note in it of the Hne of thought which was sug-
gested, and for that sermon on such a Sunday my
text was found and fixed. From that I seldom

From nine o'clock till ten was given to family
prayer, breakfast, and the clearing of the morning
correspondence. By that time I became liable to
interruptions — serious, frivolous, irrelevant, musical,
educational, parochial, domestic, financial. They
had all one thing in common. They were vexa-
tious, and I soon saw that, if I allowed it, they
would absorb all the time I had saved between
six and nine. I accordingly had a large and
attractively printed card, neatly framed and glazed,
hung in my hall, and so hung that it was, except
the face of the servant, the first object that met a
visitor's eye. It bore the following inscription : —
** Rev. W. Lefroy engaged till 2.15 p.m." Many a
wrangle occurred at that door. But the servant
had her instructions, which were not on the card.
My wife saw those who could not come at my
appointed hour, or who had such business as she
could arrange with me or without me. There



were, too, cases which being exceptional in their
character required exceptional treatment. But
the restriction soon became known, and people
were good enough to recognize its reasonableness.
They learned, in one way or another, that when a
student is at work he is entitled, if he can arrange
it, to quiet and to freedom from disturbance. What
a darkened chamber is to a photographer a library
ought to be to a student. I have the strongest
conviction that many a mental picture, with its
background of Scripture, of history, of philosophy,
and with its foreground of life, of perplexity, of
religion, is ruined by a single tap at the door.
There are times when great principles rise and
grow, and revolve in the mind ; when they seem,
with the rapidity of a flash of lightning, to explain
a hundred enigmas, to include a thousand facts,
and to encircle ages of conflict, in preparation, in
collision, in the progress of one idea, in the collapse
of another. All this mental work is dashed by
Mrs. Growler coming to inquire if Tommy Growler's
school fees may not be paid for a fortnight ! True,
the interruption may have saved the congregation
from much. But, however that may be, the
student and his work are the first consideration.


Hence my hall notice. Hence to this hour, in
this deanery, the perpetuation of it. Hence, too,
my plea with my younger brethren, for deliberate,
resolute, uninterrupted study. Nothing, save the
cry of the sick or the dying, should be allowed to
interfere with a clergyman engaged in study.

Moreover, the best book on each subject should
be read. A good index enhances the value of
every volume. The divisions of a book should be
most carefully noted, and for myself I have always
avoided divisions in a sermon, just as I shun the
words " in conclusion." The use of these words
arouses expectancy, impatience, and unrest in
thousands of hearers.

I have said above that texts were frequently
selected out of my early morning reading. This
mode was but partial. The habitual and normal
method, ever pursued in the early years of my
Liverpool ministry, was otherwise. They were
selected on Sunday night, and very often from the
appointed lessons, or Epistle, or Gospel, or Psalms
for the day. However worn by care, by exhaustion,
by mental or moral expenditure, I seldom rested
until I had, aided by entries made in my Lett,
selected both texts for the following Sunday. This


done, each Sunday evening for years I read Frances
Ridley Havergal's most touching and comforting
poem " Sunday Night." Many a time I fell asleep
ere its soothing syllables were finished. But it
was to me such a glimpse of the Master ! He
was near me, for I needed Him. And I have
thanked Him that He ever allowed the author of
that poem to live.

On Monday morning I regularly saw my curate.
Amongst the subjects of our conversation, which I
always jotted down as our agenda, were the books
he was reading and the sermons he was to preach.
In both I took the keenest interest. And as to
the latter, he had ample time for preparation, and
very often as much as a month's notice. The rest
of Monday I gave to amusement. Passionately
fond of exercise, I used to walk from Seacome
Ferry to Leasowe Lighthouse along the sand and
home by the high-road. Monday night brought
me all that was lacking on Sunday night in the
way of sleep. Then on Tuesday, at ten, I began
to map out the sermon from the text which had
been selected, either from the early morning read-
ing or upon the Sunday night before.

This was sometimes done very rapidly and


sometimes very slowly. The difference depended
upon the nature of the text and the varying
method of treatment. If a text was doctrinal,
such as Exod. xii. 13 ; Isa. liii. 4, 5, or 6 ; Ps. 1. 5
or 21 ; Matt. iii. 17, xx. 28; Acts iii. 16; Eph. ii.
8, the work was direct. It was there on the surface
of the passage. It was capable of being made of
absorbing interest to every hearer by dealing with
it theologically, that is, by showing the varied
shades of truth or of falsehood, which had in days
gone by, or in our own time, gathered round the
doctrine revealed in the text. In this way, I am
not conscious of ever having preached a doctrinal
sermon without dealing with the doctrine with
which that in the text stood in either designed or
incidental or historical contrast. This compelled
me, if I needed compulsion, to keep up my reading
and to be vigilant in observation. It gave me, at
all events, perpetual interest in my work. It gave
freshness to well-worn themes. The heresies of
pre-Reformation times and the defects and excesses
of Nonconformity were dealt with. It enabled me
to appeal to the Prayer-book, in the way of eluci-
dation, confirmation, or warning. It showed my
people the Scripturalness of our communion. It


gave them a firm grasp of doctrine. Doctrinal
sermons should ever include references to doctrinal
exao["2ferations or defects.

The mapping out of these sermons, and about a
page and a half of their expansion into composition
was completed by one o'clock on Tuesday. Then
I had luncheon, and at 1.15 till 2.15, accompanied
by a large Irish retriever, I went to walk. That
dog had many merits, but his conspicuous virtue
was to assail, with vehemence, any one who at-
tempted to converse with his master. For a good
hour we chased over fields in Liverpool, which are
now covered in by thousands of houses. At 2.15
I went to the schools ; then I visited from house
to house, returning to dine at 6.30. By 7.30 I was
out to meetings of the usual parochial character,
making for home by 10. On Wednesday, at 10
a.m., I resumed my composition of the Sunday
evening's sermon, and continued it till 12. The
same may be said of Thursday, and of Friday,
by which day at 12 generally my Sunday even-
ing's sermon, into which my strength, such as
it was, was put, was finished. The hours saved
on these days between 12 and 1.15 were given
to literature, as were those of any evening in


the week on which I was free to remain at

But there were other than doctrinal sermons.
There were ethical, topical, moral themes. These
had ever to me a great attraction. They seemed
to cover an immense area, in life, in suffering, in
sorrow, and in sin ; in action of all kinds. They
admitted of variety of treatment, while they were
capable of being applied to every man's character
with the most clinging closeness. Such themes,
arising out of the texts which contain them, are
as much doctrinal as those I have cited. But
these differ from those in not being revelations of
the personal Christ, nor expressions of historicity.
These texts contain great and pregnant principles.
They assert the prevalence of laws, which govern
the ages and those who exist in them. I refer
now to such texts as Gen. xviii. 25, as revealing
man's moral sense reposing upon his innate con-
viction of the final rectitude of Divine adminis-
tration ; or to Num. xxii. 9, showing God's observ-
ance of our associates ; or Num. xxii. 12, 19, 20,
22, teaching that God may bestow in anger what
He refuses in love ; or Ezek. xviii. 2, the innocent
suffering for the guilty; or St. John ix. 3, the


Divine mission of suffering ; or Gal. vi. 7, every
man his own outgrowth. Such texts as these —
and they are selected as rapidly as the pen runs —
admit of a different treatment from that to which
the others are subject. These can be examined
and analysed until we get back to the philosophic
principle on which they rest and of which they are
the voice and expression. I do not forget that
others would treat them otherwise ; but may I say
that my method was to press behind all details,
and to grasp the fundamental idea on which the
precept or the principle rested. This having been
gained, I began to search for its appearance,
operation, recognition, or violation. I sought for
it in individual, social, moral, political, or religious
life. Every department of human interest was
laid under contribution and pressed into service,
and in the working out of my principle I was
often impressed by the unity of truth amid the
infinite variety which marked those who held it in
different modes, ages, conditions.

One result of this sort of preaching was a con-
siderable variety of vocabulary. Another was the
unity which ran through the sermon. A third
was the possibility of remembering it with ease,


and the certainty that that sermon which is most
orderly in arrangement is most easily remembered
by both preacher and hearers. Such a sermon
had but one idea, yet it would have many thoughts,
and if well worked out it could be intelligently
and aptly described ; indeed, a name might be
given to it. The late Archbishop Magee was
Dean of Cork when I went to that city to begin
my ministry. The Dean was most kind and

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Online LibraryWilliam Boyd CarpenterOn sermon preparation : recollections and suggestions → online text (page 2 of 12)