By Elmer Ellsworth Shelhamer
THE PREPARATION OF SERMONS
By John Paul
Every true sermon is an organization or an organism of thought. Speaking from the human standpoint, sermons Originate in two ways. They are made and they grow.
When the theme is selected for the coming Sunday sermon it will help the preacher's grasp of the subject for him to think much about it on his own account, sometimes going to sleep with the meditation in his heart. If it is a practical theme that affects conditions in the slums or factories or stores or law offices or hospitals or among the poor, the preacher should go personally and review the illustrations of his subject and talk on his subject with various people representing it.
There are some themes in which this does not apply. Perhaps he is going to preach on home religion, on faith, on prayer, on one of our Lord's miracles or parables. If he is a young preacher he can well afford to converse with a few older students on this subject or passage. The effect will be not only to improve his understanding of it but to work it into his system, so to speak, and foster a special enthusiasm that will add to the spirit and quality of his message.
We recognize that preachers need exhortation to pray more, to live better, to pay their debts, to use discretion, to avoid fanaticism, and a thousand other things. But one of the outstanding needs is for the preacher to preach better. It is easy for a man to let down and think he is preaching well enough, even though he knows he is not doing his absolute best. Inferior preaching hurts the world's respect for the gospel. Superior preaching stops the mouths of gainsayers and arrests the attention of a thinking world. Almost any minister with common sense and reasonable talent can make a strong preacher if he refuses to content himself with inferior preaching and makes it a matter of conscience to do his best.
We need not speak at length about the second class of sermon preparation, where we grow them. A great many evangelists who began young in their ministry and tarried only a short while in each place will recall that their best sermons have been a growth. Where our situation favors this method we can get a thought from a book or from some other man's sermon or it can come to us in the hour of prayer and meditation, and this thought may have about it the qualities of a germ. We talk it over with a friend and thus we get practice. We give it in a prayer meeting lecture and the field of thought grows larger. We preach it on a rainy night at the revival. Gradually it enlarges until finally as a thing of life it becomes an outstanding gospel message. Sermons developed this way are more likely to be organisms, although it is possible to draft an outline and build a sermon under the pastoral method suggested above and have its parts so fused together by spiritual fire and make it such a thing of life that it will be an organism.
In it all the Holy Spirit must be invited. On top of these methods the baptism of the Spirit is the indispensable climax of preparation.