Friday, April 29, 2011

A Good Book on Preaching

The serious minister looks out for certain types of books. At the Banner conference, during the panel discussion, one of the speakers said, "read every book on the atonement that comes your way," or words to that effect. The same can be said, in my opinion, for books on preaching. It seems that the subject is inexhaustible!

In the latter part of the 19th century there was a proliferation of lectures established by denominations and by individuals to aid the denominations to which they belonged. One that I have mentioned before is the Free Church of Scotland Cunningham Lecture. This foundation gave us such classics as Buchanan on Justification, Smeaton on the Holy Spirit, and Laidlaw's Bible Doctrine of Man. The equivalent in the United Presbyterian Church, the Kerr lectures, gave us James Orr's The Christian View of God and the World, one of the first books on a Christian worldview published in English. The Congregational Union Lectures gave us R.W. Dale's classic work on the Atonement. Other trusts were more restricted in their themes - the Lyman Beecher Lectures on preaching at Yale Divinity School have given many a classic work, including one by R.W. Dale.

Which brings me to the volumes illustrated above. The Hartley Lecture was founded in 1897 by Sir William Hartley (of Hartley's Jam fame). This was delivered at the Primitive Methodist conference - although what was delivered at the conference was in fact a synopsis of a substantial volume, as can be seen above! What are shown are all the lectures from 1909 to 1932. They vary in quality, and in theology.

One of the best is the lecture for 1912, The Message and the Man, by W. Dodd Jackson. The subject of the book is preaching, and without a doubt this is a book that preachers ought to read.

The Primitive Methodist Church, like all the Methodist bodies, was founded on preaching, and Jackson is concerned that the Church shall go on existing as a preaching Church. Preaching, he reminds us, should be worship - and is, if it is really preaching. And although this is a book, the style is a preaching style. I rarely read 250-page books at a single sitting, but this is one of the one I have read all at once. Jackson sprinkles his prose with anecdotes and with apposite quotations from hymns. There is always a suitable illustration given. He was clarly in earnest about the subject, and that comes out in every line. It is a preacher's book in every way, and preachers ought to read it! It is a book that makes the reader excited about preaching and makes him take it very seriously.

Jackson begins with a section on 'The Man'. In six chapters he lays out what a preacher ought to be. He starts with what he calls his designation, his fitness for the work. The preacher has to be the right man for the job. Disturbed by the increasing professionalisation and respectability of the office - and the resulting entry into it of men who really had no business being there - Jackson calls for men who are audible, studious, and possessed of what he calls a preaching mind, a mind that can communicate truth to others. The man must be an earnest Christian, and have a real calling to the work. In the second chapter he calls for the minister to realise the importance of his work as "the very messenger of Jesus Christ to men," with a message from God to deliver. In chapter 3 he pleads "The need for certainty", the pulpit is not the place for the man who doubts the truth of the Gospel! In chapter four Jackson pleads for "Individuality", what Spurgeon called "eccentricity", that the preacher must be himself, and not try to be somebody else. In chapter 5 he calls for the preacher to have 'understanding', "this is only another way of saying that he must know what he is talking about." Finally, in Chapter 6, like a true 'Prim', he calls for passion in the pulpit. The true minister must not only know what he is talking about, he must be excited about it! He begins with the illustration of Whitefield's last days, which reminds me - there are few books for preachers as good as Dallimore's Whitefield.

Part 2 sets out 5 fundamental notes of preaching. The first is the note of accusation - the preacher speaks to sinful men, and must proclaim the judgement of God against sin, the great "Thou art the man!" The second note is that of pity - he preaches against their sins because he loves them, and wopuld have them to turn from their wickedness and live, and presents to them the Lamb of Calvary as their only hope. Third is the note of idealism - he does not just deal with things as they are, but lays out the way things out to be. He points towards heaven and holiness. The fourth note is that of edification, he seeks to build up the saints and to build the Church of God. The last note is the note of cheer. He says to men, "be of good cheer", not because he is a foolish optimist, but because he brings the Gospel, the good news of God's love, to them.

The final part of the book in on the form and deliverance of the sermon. It should be attractive, first of all, delivered in such a way as befits its contents. Secondly, it should be clear, the listener should be able to understand it. Finallythere is the need for the sermon to be an appeal, not just a lecture. It is truth set forth for a purpose, to turn sinners to repentance, to encourage saints in holiness, to reclaim the backslider. The sermon has an aim, and the whole discourse must be directed to that aim.

In the course of the book Jackson pleads for more expository and doctrinal preaching. He calls for sanctified learning, and illustrates his argument as he clothes a book with a great deal of learning behind it in attractive paragraphs that abound with illustrations and aphorisms.

Obviously, having been published in 1912, this book is out of print. But if you can find a copy, get it and read it. It will do you good. And if you're not a preacher, give one to your pastor if you can.


Jonathan Hunt said...

Is it still in copyright?

R M Walker said...

Hardly such a thing as "out of print" now, with digitised books. Available free (even in a Kindle version) at:

R M Walker said...

"Out of print " no longer means much!
Available free, even with a Kindle version, at:

Highland Host said...

Well, that's good. Of course, I'm notoriously old-fashioned. I don't even have a digital reading device, and don't read books on my computer.