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. This section appears on pp. 19 – 21.
I have already referred to the temptation to disproportionate treatment of details which lies in their exceeding richness. The expositor, while he revels in these riches, will also find them a source of embarrassment, unless he shall first have mastered the categories of thought in the chapter or section. I had almost said you have no business to preach from a text in one of Paul’s letters without having thoroughly studied the whole epistle
I may safely say that you will preach from the text more intelligently, richly, and suggestively after having done this. This result will come through those habits of daily critical study of the Word of which I have spoken.
Paul exhorts Timothy to be “a workman that need not to be ashamed, cutting straight the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). That is not digging or blasting out a fragment here or there. God’s word is a quarry, and the truth lies in strata; and a good quarryman must understand the dip of the strata and the trend of the whole quarry, and cut straight along the strata lines. Then he will bring out glorious stones with which to build a holy temple unto the Lord. Otherwise, he will mutilate the perfect masses in his effort to break out a fragment here and there.
To drop figure, the great principle with which the expositor must start—the principle he must emphasize to himself—is the unity of the Word. It is one great crystal, of which Christ is the nucleus, and in which Divine truth lies along definite lines of cleavage.
And what is true of the Bible as a whole, is true also within the limits of its different parts. A chapter, or a group of chapters, or a Psalm, which may appear at first to be only a succession of detached thoughts, will be found, upon closer study, to be marshalled along one or two great fundamental ideas.
The best result of expository preaching is to bring out these ideas, and to group the whole matter of the section around them. Through the lack of this, a great deal of preaching that is brilliant and captivating exhibits a radical element of weakness.
A sermon ought to leave more than the impression of the value and power of its particular text. It should leave with this a general impression of the grandeur and power of the Word of God as a whole. The single jewel should carry the suggestion of the treasury as well as the charm of its own beauty.
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