?In 1889 John A. Broadus, the father of expository preaching, offered the prominent Beecher Lectures on Preaching to the campus of the divinity school at Yale University. The preaching ministry of one of the greatest preachers in America was condensed into eight lectures that sought to define the foundations of preaching in the life of the minister and his pulpit.
But what do unpublished lectures on preaching and teaching by John Broadus say to the landscape of contemporary preaching today? What could he say to a generation of 21st-century preachers who have more tools, technology and training than any previous generation?
The enduring influence of John Broadus and his ministry as a preacher, teacher and scholar continue to influence both the Christian pulpit and classroom. The prominent Greek and New Testament scholar A.T. Robertson wrote, “No man ever stirred my nature as . . . [he] did in the classroom and the pulpit.” His works as professor and preacher yielded the production of A Treatise on the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons, the most widely used book on homiletics in the 19th century.
Over a century later and through several editions and innumerable printings, the text remains among the most popular and significant volumes on the methodology of biblical preaching. Those nearest Broadus understood his desire to teach and preach with clarion precision and perspicuity. With his indefatigable preaching schedule and scholastic ability, Broadus was among the most prominent preachers in the American pulpit.
His lectures at Yale filled the aisles of the Marquand Chapel with chairs and left many standing in the corners and peering in the windows from outside. But because Broadus never published the materials from the Beecher series, the lectures have been called the “The Lost Yale Lectures on Preaching.” Thus, when in the course of research, I came across the notes Broadus used for his lectures-long lost in a neglected library archive box-it made available to a new generation the insights of one of the master preachers of his day. So what did Broadus have to say to preachers of his day-and ours?
CANONS FOR PREACHING TODAY
Broadus’ conversational style condensed the preacher’s mature thought into practical advice for the young preachers of another generation. Without the formality of a high lecture, Broadus offered the audience a personal, intimate and detailed description of the preacher’s discipline and desire to prepare and deliver biblical sermons appropriately. In the lectures, Broadus displays an intimate familiarity of the demands of the listening audience and the burden placed on the preacher as the communicator of God’s Word.
The Preacher and His “Materials”
The first canon of Broadus’ lectures includes “On Freshness in Preaching” and “On Sensation Preaching.” The content of these lectures provides vivid and practical perspective to preachers. He addresses the “helps” and “cautions” associated with what he terms the “inventiveness of freshness” and the creativity of what he calls “sensational preaching.”
Freshness in preaching ensures boldness of thought and relevance for the audience. The preacher must be involved in the creative act of constructing a message that brings the contemporary audience the historic message of the gospel. For Broadus, the herald must first gain the attention of the listener, interest the audience in his material, convince each listener of his message’s importance and impress him toward a decisive change of will.
Broadus reminds the preacher that freshness must be established as a regular discipline early in ministry. This practice will prove helpful as the minister ages and loses his youthfulness and novelty in the pulpit, Broadus argues. Lack of freshness, Broadus asserts, yields an uninterested and disconnected audience. The minister maintains freshness through the study of Scripture, systematic theology and other formal academic endeavors combined with an increase in the preacher’s ability to address difficult subjects in common terms from the pulpit.
Furthermore, the minister should study through observing the “occasions of life” from the currents of his congregation in order to rightly deliver the message. Whether studying individuals, culture, the church or oneself, strength and freshness in preaching comes through the labors of much study.
Preachers must process and analyze both the text and the context within which each sermon is preached. Beyond analysis, the preacher should study associations in order to create a sense of perspicuity in freshness. Preaching should teach by
communicating the principles of the text into the lives of the audience through analogical or inferential references.
Finally, freshness should be fostered through vigorous mental activity or other physical stimuli. Whether from engaging conversation or through intensive reading of great books, Broadus argues the best sources of invention come through freeing the mind to clear and creative thought. Through reading and taking time to consider these studies, the preacher should compile and analyze his thoughts in a notebook for reference.
In the end, the preacher must avoid the objectionable and guard against vapid frivolity, yet the herald must remain fresh and creative. The preacher should build his ministry on a sense of aim and purpose for the sacred and spiritual. With spiritual aim at the fore, the preacher must seize the attention of every listener.
Broadus cautions against making headlines with sermons by naming specific sins, the horrific, art and literature, or other subjects because the genre creates a downward spiral as the audience demands more sensation and edge. In the end, preaching should be focused on the Christian principle of proclamation together with the creative to cultivate reverence and an appetite for spiritual things.
The Preacher and Sermon Arrangement
Broadus includes within this canon the vital elements of his homiletic, including a section on arrangement and the formal construction and elements of a sermon. Also, various forms and species of sermons are discussed and evaluated. Broadus built his homiletic legacy arguing that the sermon derives its power first from God, His Word and its authority.
Though Broadus refused to take notes into the pulpit, his sermons display a commitment to clear divisions and proper arrangement that serve to strengthen the substance and simplicity of his sermons. Broadus argued that each sermon should be ordered with respect to the importance of structure and necessity of purpose in every subject. Broadus spurned show and arrogance in the pulpit, and he praised the genuineness of extemporaneous proclamation.
The structure of the sermon serves the audience and enables the listener to receive the message more effectively. Broadus argues for the importance of perspicuity in the pulpit. Careful and plain explanation serves as the preacher’s gift to the listener. Also, argument and illustration should be joined together in order to convince the audience toward some desired end. For Broadus, application serves as the means to elucidate the truth of the Bible within the context of the Christian life.
Broadus’ commitment and dependence on the authority of Scripture and its sufficiency for preaching is evident throughout his lectures. While the expository sermon includes the arguments and applications of the preacher, the message must derive
its substance and power from God and His Scriptures.
The Preacher and His “Style”
Broadus discusses the importance of style and the necessary work of improving as a preacher. Energy, imagination and
elegance are his emphases. Through his lectures “The Minister’s General Reading” and “The Minister and His Hymn Book,” Broadus expands the scope of the preacher’s vocation. As a pastor, linguist, Bible scholar and homiletician, Broadus displays a broad knowledge of both historic and contemporary literature. He argues that the discipline of reading and study are vital to the minister and his preparation for preaching. Furthermore, Broadus’ lecture on sacred songs argues for the importance of a working knowledge of the lyrics of the Christian faith.
Through constructive imagination and perspiration, Broadus argues any man who will try can learn to “say what he means.”
Reading develops in the preacher a healthy appetite for principles of proper style and good taste, and he argues reading ought to be pursued as the minister’s first form of intellectual recreation. Furthermore, reading provokes the requisite mental stimulation for the work of preparation. Also, in addition to cultivating literary taste, reading provides the elementary substance that contributes toward the development of a sense of style in preaching.
Broadus directs the preacher to read voluminously-to develop better preaching through reading. Beyond literature, the study of worship music must also find its way to the minister’s preparation, Broadus says. As a form of poetic expression, the study of the “poetry of the church” must be pursued by the preacher. From the early hymns of Scripture to the songs of the contemporary church, Broadus contends for the study of songs through the major developments in sacred music.
Beyond the knowledge of song, Broadus asserts singing improves the voice for preaching; and it provides an emotional connection with the audience, especially the choir and those drawn to music. Furthermore, singing prepares the mind and body for the physical requirements of preaching.
Like hymns, reading in general provides a necessary element in the development of the preacher. His argument for the acquisition of style, energy, imagination and elegance in the pulpit is driven by his instruction to read and study language, literature and sacred songs.
The Preacher and Sermon Delivery
Far too many preachers ignore the means through which the message of God is preached. For Broadus, freedom is controlled by the responsibility of mastering the subject to be preached. This comprehensive preparation must be arranged in an orderly structure. With this knowledge and structure, Broadus contends the audience should be considered with respect to their ability to comprehend the contents of the message. The preacher must keep the understanding of the audience at the fore of his preparation.
Broadus contends for a free model of speaking from the pulpit that is practically arranged, perspicuous, properly articulated and free from the fear that liberty may lead to failure.
Broadus drives the preacher to embrace extemporaneous preaching. He must learn to trust, he argues. The preacher must trust his preparation and entrust himself to God by preparing the sermon, leaving it at home and preaching with freedom, he says. Broadus provides ample historical evidence to suggest that the most gifted of preachers engaged themselves-if not at first-in the practice of free delivery.
The herald may build confidence in this freedom through certain disciplines. Habitual correctness of speech in conversation will likely procure the same in the pulpit. In addition to correctness of speech, the herald should also strive toward excellence in delivery. Broadus hails the important concept of being liberated from hindrances or shackles to freedom of delivery. Areas of concern that ought to be discarded include fear of forgetting, repeating, failure or preaching too long. Fears should not rule the minister but freedom.
The freedom of extemporaneous speech combined with proper preparation and the creation of a sketched outline enable the preacher to respond to the stimulus of the audience and react appropriately in order to deliver the most effective message. Looking through annals of history, Broadus contends this methodology to be the most effective.
The Preacher and Public Worship
As Broadus concludes his lectures, he addresses myriad issues in the minister’s public and private life. He discusses practical issues ranging from Scripture reading in worship to service length and pulpit etiquette. In his lectures “The Young Preacher’s Outfit” and “The Minister and His Bible,” Broadus addresses the disciplines of the young man in ministry. Leadership in the church requires humility and the realization that preaching and ministry must be a call, not a profession. Broadus elucidates the call that requires the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and significant spiritual discipline.
Moreover, the ministry demands good health, strong mental facility and disciplined study of the Bible and beyond. Beyond clarity of statement, the preacher should seek to improve his command of argument in the arrangement of a sermon. With these, the preacher must remember the audience and employ the powers of creative imagination. Combined with proper preparation, the herald must
deliver the message through appropriating passion, sympathy and a strong will.
Beyond the requisite internal strengths of the minister, the preacher must acquire the skills of his office, including the habit of study. Preparation through study lays the foundation of every message. What’s more, the herald should maintain the discipline of observation as well as the practice of reflecting upon those observations.
Among the strengths Broadus describes as necessary to the ministry, perhaps no discipline is more important than personal holiness. Broadus consistently emphasizes the importance of personal devotion in the life of the preacher. Whether in public conversation or private meetings, the preacher should practice habitual grace and temperance of language and actions. The minister who works to maintain these habits and build a ministry should aspire to greatness for the Lord.
Additionally, Broadus develops the habit of Bible study into an entire lecture on the important concept of the voluminous study of Scripture. Broadus articulates a defense of reading the Bible for devotional and spiritual benefit. Moreover, the minister should read to gain materials for preaching and pastoral ministry. Also, the preacher should read for both a general knowledge of Scripture as well as memorization. Furthermore, regular reading of Scripture improves expository preaching in general. Broadus provides a schedule for regular reading of the Bible that includes the challenge of up to three hours of daily reading. The importance of reading and growing in the knowledge of the Scripture must remain at the forefront of the minister’s pursuits, he argues.
Broadus for the 21st Century
Broadus’ 1889 lectures unleash personal, intimate and detailed instruction for the preparation and delivery of sermons. Broadus bestows on his audience the culmination of his teaching ministry. Broadus sought to incarnate a model of biblical preaching with an applicational style that drives each listener to a powerful impulse of the will.
He displays a superior knowledge and informed theory on the nature and character of preaching. His contribution to homiletics is unparalleled among Baptists, and the Yale lecture content broadens his relevance for renewed study today. Broadus’ lectures provide a new reason to rediscover his vast contributions to homiletics. Indeed, these Yale lectures display Broadus’ vivid and engaging homiletic, relevant for another generation of expositors.
At Broadus’ death, Dr. William Rainey Harper, president of the University of Chicago, declared, “No man ever heard him preach but understood every sentence; no one heard him preach who did not feel the truth of God sink deep into his heart. As a teacher of the New Testament as well as of homiletics, it is perhaps not too much to say that he had no superior in this country.”
Broadus remained clear in his commitment to conversational preaching that embodied the art and discipline of proper biblical preaching. The principles he established in his 50 years as a preacher-teacher are timeless. As he approached the end of his productive ministry, the Yale lectures mark the pinnacle and culmination of his lifelong promotion of powerful, practical and engaging proclamation.