Yesterday and Wednesday, I quoted from a book I had found by a turn of the (last) century Christian church preacher/educator, J.W. McGarvey in which he spoke about the “Preachers Methods” in 1888, and I marveled at how appropriate much of what he said is still appropriate today. It didn’t take too long to find another series of talks on preaching. They were given before the student body of the school for which McGarvey was the president (The College of the Bible in Lexington, KY-pictured to the left). Many of the messages were not on preaching, (“Your Roommate,” “A Grade of Ninety,” “The Study and Selection of Hymns,” “How to Be Respected) but a number were:
Delivered before the Student Body
of the College of the Bible
in 1910 and 1911.
“A considerable number of you expect to preach tomorrow. What for?….
The apostle Paul gave the purpose of the work of the preacher when he wrote to Timothy. He said, “By so doing you will save both yourself and them that hear you.” How save himself? Because when a man has reached the conclusion no matter how it came into his mind, that it is his duty to preach and make that his business he will be lost if he does not do it. Just as neglect of duty in any other matter will bring down the wrath of God in the day of judgment. If there is any of you who really and conscientiously believes that God wants you to preach the gospel, do it at the peril of your soul. This means that Timothy and every other man that preaches will save himself and every other man who believes. What business is it of mine to save other people if I can only save myself? If you are a good swimmer and should find yourself out in the water by the side of a sinking steamer where people are going down all around you and you should boldly swim to the shore without trying to help anybody, they ought to tumble you back in the ocean when you get there, for you could have saved somebody and you did not. And here we are in the great sea of the world. There are thousands going down. We see them every day. If the preacher does not save some of them, I do not think it is possible for him to be saved himself. What would men and angels think of a man going home to heaven who has been a preacher and has not brought one single soul with him? I think that if you were to take a vote on it all men and angels would vote to send him back. They would say, “He is not fit for our country”. Now if that is your purpose in preaching, to “Save yourself and them that hear you”, it is a worthy one.
“Many of you expect to preach tomorrow. What will be your subject?…
“Perhaps some of you are prepared to answer, “I have but one sermon.” Well, the thing is, if that is all and that one is worth preaching, go on and preach it. A man can scarcely preach a sermon that is anything like what a sermon ought to be without doing good. So, if you have only one, don’t be afraid to preach that one. And if you have to preach twice before you get another, preach the same sermon twice, but make an improvement on it every time….
“I think that the principle on which we are to determine the selection of the subject depends upon what preaching is for. “To save yourself and those who hear you.” That sermon, then, of all that you are able to preach tomorrow, by which you can have the greatest hope of saving somebody in the audience, and thereby save yourself, is the one you ought to preach tomorrow and so every other time you are called upon to preach….
“The apostle Paul says that the goodness of God leads you to repentance-evidently by the power of a sense of gratitude to God for his goodness. Well, then, any effort that you may make to impress upon men’s minds and consciences the goodness of God to them individually is one of the means by which to bring them to repentance.”
“My subject this morning is Poor Preachers. You will observe at once that the expression is ambiguous. It may mean men who do poor preaching, or it may mean preachers who are poor men. For the former class I have very little respect, because they could all do better preaching if they would. But the latter class includes nearly all preachers….
“Young men, it is said, are not willing to take the risk of poverty and that keeps them out of the ministry. Now I do not know to what extent this is true, but to the extent that it is true, I regard it as a blessing to the church and to the world rather than a curse. Any young man who declines preparing himself for the ministry for this reason is not fit to enter upon it. And to the extent that the anticipation of poverty keeps men out of the ministry it keeps out those who would be an encumbrance, a dead weight, and a disadvantage….
“Resolve, that, with the help of God, you will never be the man to do poor preaching, but that you will always be a poor man to do the best preaching of which you are capable.”
“I purpose to speak this morning on Action in the Pulpit….
“You have all heard more than once what Demosthenes said about this matter. On being asked what was the first thing in oratory, he said, “Action”. “What is the second thing?” “Action”. “What is the third?” “Action”.
“But do not be mistaken and think that Demosthenes meant that action was all–that action without thought is oratory. We know from the contents of his great addresses that he meant this: when you appear before an audience with a speech in your head, from this point forward everything depends on action, including the voice as well as the hands….
“Jesus was an orator. The highest type of oratory ever heard on earth was his. Unlike Demosthenes, he did not depend on action. He took his seat on the side of the mountain with the multitude stretched out before him. Or he sat in a boat at the edge of the water and spoke to the multitude stretched out before him on the shore. But Jesus had words to speak so far superior to any that Demosthenes or any other orator ever offered, that he depended upon them for the effect of his speeches; and it was not in vain….
“The apostle Paul, so far as we have learned from Luke, indulged in little action when speaking; but that action had a telling effect. When he stood before a strange audience in Antioch of Pisidia, having been called out of the audience by the ruler of the synagogue, who said to him and Barnabas, “Brethren, if ye have any word of exhortation for the people, say on,” he stood up in the midst of the audience and “beckoned with his hand” before he uttered a word. Every man knew what that gesture meant. They knew that the stranger had something to say to them that he thought worth hearing, so they listened. And once when a mob had taken him, and was beating him, and would have killed him, he was rescued by Lysias the chief captain and his band of soldiers; and was being taken into the castle. When he came up on the stairs leading into the castle, he begged the officer to allow him to speak to the people. They were crying out, “Away with such a man from the earth.” The officer allowed him to speak and Paul “beckoned with his hand”. That looks like a very simple act, and it was. But there was something about that simple action that quelled that mob in a moment; and in the language of Luke, “There was a great silence.” Then he made them a speech…..
“When Sergius Paulus was listening with great interest to Paul’s preaching and Bar-Jesus contradicted with great vehemence what he was saying, Luke says that Paul “fastened his eyes” upon the man….. No doubt that fastening the eyes upon him drove home the words in a fashion that no motion of the hands or arms could have effected….
“And again, when standing before the Sanhedrin whither he was brought by Lysias, he was there as a man accused of things worthy of death. The mob said, “Away with such a man from the earth.” Very naturally the Roman officer expected him to have a down-cast countenance like a man guilty of wrong doing. There was silence for awhile, and not a man rose up to accuse him. He, though the accused, had to begin the proceedings. “Looking steadfastly on the council”, he said, “Men and brethren, I have lived before God in all good conscience to this day.” That was bold. That was not the language of one who was guilty of wrong doing. He wore the calm, majestic, beaming face of an innocent man…. I wish I could have seen Paul’s face. There was something in the cast of his eye and the expression of his countenance that was well calculated to overawe the wrong doers….
“The best method I know of for a young man to acquire suitable action in the pulpit, or for an old man, for that matter, is to first find the faults of which you are guilty and correct them. The action that is left will be natural and effective like the actions of children at play….
“I close with this. If you want to see gesticulation in as near perfection as you will ever see it, watch little children three or four years of age, engaged in animated conversation. And if you do any imitating, imitate them rather than full grown men.