NOTE: This article is an excerpt from an excellent little book on preaching, The Expositor in the Pulpit, by the Greek scholar Marvin R. Vincent. The book is the content of his lectures given to students at Union Theological Seminary in 1884. The book is a must read for expository preachers and teachers.
“Systematic Study Vs. “Cramming”
There is an enormous waste of time and power in devoting the solid study-hours to reading up for special sermons and ransacking cyclopedias of illustration and collections of popular sermons for telling points. It is amazing how much such literature you will find in some ministers’ libraries.
Such sermons are likely to carry the aroma of the scrap-book rather than the Word. The difference between these and sermons which grow out of habitual and systematic study of the Word, is the difference between a palm in a northern hot-house, and a palm under its native sun and quickened by the warm airs of the tropics.
Doubtless you will often have to examine special texts as exponents of special topics; but if you study in that way only, your pulpit work will be a sort of living from hand to mouth. A preacher’s mind ought not to be like that well-known stream in the Catskills, which is dammed up until it can gather sufficient volume to be shot off in a periodical cataract for the amusement of summer tourists. A pastor in active service will find that he has often to “play” when the waters have had no time to accumulate for a special spurt. Hence the main drift of his study should be toward filling his mind and heart with the knowledge of God’s truth, so that the streams shall always flow out to the people under the pressure of the vast ocean of Divine wisdom.
You cannot put the whole Bible into every sermon, but you can have the power and drive of the whole Bible behind every sermon; you can have every sermon pervaded with a Bible atmosphere.
Study to this end extends itself, of course, over the preacher’s whole life; but as it shall be steadily maintained, year after year, he will find that it supersedes in great measure the special reading on texts. The smaller will be included in the greater; the special in the general preparation. When he shall come to the examination of a particular text, he will find it falling at once into its place in a large section of familiar Scripture matter; and his treatment of the special topic will be the richer, the more lively, and the more varied from the long and ripening contact of the stored masses of Biblical knowledge.
This article originally appeared on www.drdavidlallen.com