(A look at excerpts from J.W. McGarvey’s lecture on "Preachers Methods" delivered at the Missouri Christian lectureship 125 years ago… 1883: (cont.)
2. Study of Other Books
"Good Commentaries render us important service in many ways.
- First they serve as a guard against blunders.Among the most egregious blunders in the interpretation of Scripture are those committed by men of inferior learning or judgment who interpret the Scriptures without aid.
- In the second place, it is a ready source of information. Multitudes of facts and references throwing floods of light upon important passages have been collected by the research of commentators, and furnished to our hand, which would otherwise be beyond our reach….
- In the third place, the use of Commentaries awakens thought. Every one that is worth consulting presents the subject in some new phase: it presents something different from and often inconsistent with our own previously formed conceptions; and it compels us to think again over the whole ground.
- In the last place, Commentaries, with all the errors which may be properly charged against them, do in the main give us the right interpretation of obscure passages, and the right application of those which are not obscure. If we follow them implicitly we are but seldom led astray, and if we find in them only a confirmation of our own conclusions this gives us strength and gratification.
"While I insist, however, upon the value of Commentaries, I would also insist upon a judicious use of them. When about to study a passage of Scripture, never consult the Commentary first. If you do you are likely to accept the author’s views, whether right or wrong, and your mind will be biased in the subsequent study of the text itself. First study the text until its words and sentences are distinctly apprehended; until all that is clear in it is understood; until its difficulties are discovered; and until your own mind has grappled with these difficulties more or less successfully. You are then prepared to consult the Commentary…."
"I would suggest as another precaution in regard to Commentaries, that the young preacher take pains, as soon as practicable, to procure two or more on every portion of Scripture which he studies, lest he become a blind follower of a single, guide, who, in some places, is almost certain to be a blind guide. In making selections, always choose from the more recent rather than from the older works. In all departments of literature immense advances are being made on the knowledge and methods of former times, and in no department are they more rapid than in the interpretation and illustration of the Bible…."
[cph: it is fascinating to note that many of the "classic" conservative commentaries upon which we still rely were being released about this time and McGarvey notes and recommends them.]
3. Special Preparation for the Pulpit
"First of all, I ask, what is the purpose of a sermon? Its structure, the material which enters into it, and the special study which precedes it, will all be determined by its purpose….
- Making a Reputation
- The Improvement of the Preacher as a Public Speaker
- To impart instruction.
The Proper Purpose:
"This aim, if we judge by all of the apostolic sermons, and by all that is said in the New Testament about preaching, is to bring about some change for the better in the life of the hearer. To this end instruction is but tributary, and for this reason it holds a subordinate place. No sermon is effective without instruction, nor is it effective without exhortation. We teach that we may have a basis for exhortation, and we exhort that we may move to proper action. The last is the supreme purpose to which all else is to be carefully subordinated.
"If this view is correct, then the very first step in the special preparation of a sermon, is to select the special change for the better at which it shall aim….
"When the special aim of the sermon has been fixed, and the subject or the particular Scripture passage to be employed has been selected, the next step is to study the selected passage until the author’s real thought is ascertained. This and this only should be presented as the teaching of the passage. To wrest the word of God for an evil purpose is one of the greatest of sins. To wrest it for a good purpose, though not so bad, is still a sin, and it is a sin quite common in the pulpit. It is to do evil that good may come. It is deceptive, because it has the appearance of doing what is not done, and it leaves on the minds of many hearers a  permanent misconception of the passage which is misconstrued. If a text properly construed, whether it be your principal text, or others employed in the progress of the sermon, does not serve your purpose, find others that do, and if you can find none that do, then conclude either that your purpose is unscriptural, or that you are not yet sufficiently acquainted with the Bible to speak with that purpose in view."
"In all that I have said on the subject of special preparation, I refer to preparation for preaching, not for writing. If a man, after thus preparing to preach a sermon concludes to commit it to writing, either before or after delivering it, he does well, provided he does so not for the purpose of reading it to an audience, or of printing it, or of committing it to memory and reciting it. There is a great difference between preaching and reciting a memorized sermon. The former is a living thing, the latter is a machine. There is a still greater difference between preaching and reading a sermon. When the reading is real reading, as when one reads a book, it is a tame affair in the pulpit. When it is not real reading, but a kind of make-believe in which the speaker half reads, half recites and tries to convince the audience by gesticulating and posturing, and hiding his manuscript, that he is preaching, the performance is a farce, and the people would laugh it out of countenance were it not for the solemn service with which it is connected."
4. System in Study
"System in study requires much more than the mere appropriation of regular hours to study. It requires the steady prosecution of selected lines of study, and the proper distribution of our time between these. It is not well to give our whole time for any considerable period to one line of study; nor must we divide it between too many. The study of the Scriptures should  occupy a fixed part of every day. If one devotes but a single hour every day to the study of the Scriptures historically, or by books, or topically, and shall compute how much this will amount to in a year, he will be astonished at the result. In the course of a lifetime it would make him intimately acquainted with every part of the Bible. And besides the study for mere knowledge, he should give another part of every day to devotional study. Should a man take time to only commit to memory a single verse of a Psalm and meditate upon it every day, in the course of a year he would commit at least twenty Psalms, and he would have all of them in about seven years. I mention these small figures, not because a preacher should be content with them, but to show by the results of a little systematic study that more can be accomplished than those who lack system are apt to imagine."