Andrew Watterson Blackwood (1882-1966) was a pastor, professor, and prolific author, in the service of Jesus Christ. He was once one of the leading figures in American homiletical theory, and has left a rich legacy for those who would serve the cause of Jesus Christ today.
An ordained Presbyterian, Blackwood spent what he called “seventeen happy years in the pastorate” before turning to full time seminary teaching. His teaching career began in 1926 when he accepted an appointment as Professor of English Bible at Louisville Seminary. The bulk of his teaching career, from 1930-1950, was spent at Princeton Theological Seminary, where he was chair of the Department of Practical Theology. In 1950, he moved to become Professor of Homiletics, Temple University, where he served until his retirement in 1958.
A frequent quoter of the famous line from James Denney, “No man can bear witness to Christ and himself at the same time,” Blackwood would prefer that we devote little time here to studying his biography. He would call us to give greater attention to what he lived for, the nourishing of preachers who would in turn nourish parishioners with spiritual food from the Word of God to the glory of Jesus Christ. This leads us to the fruits of his labors.
I. A Legacy of Strong Books
Blackwood once remarked that when a preacher gets a new pen it should be dedicated to the service of God by way of a definite act of prayer. In the same context, he quoted the phrase Nulla dies sine linea (no day without a line).1 Often at his desk by five in the morning, Blackwood used his pen every day for the sake of the Lord.2 The result of that discipline is a legacy of strong books and significant articles. This bibliography covers virtually every aspect of a minister’s work.
His first two books, The Prophets (1917) and Bible History (1928), grew out of his years in the pastorate and were intended for lay people. His twenty-one remaining books were intended primarily for ministers and their teachers.
The publication dates reveal that Blackwood remained active after his retirement. Though he was writing for younger ministers in particular, there is a sense that, in 1960, he was “The Growing Minister.” He did not look upon retirement as a time for idleness. He used this season of life to keep growing both in learning and maturity.
The publication dates of his books also show that Blackwood did a considerable amount of his writing during and immediately after the Second World War. The aftermath of this war occupied his writing and thinking. In faith he looked ahead to the war’s end and knew he was training ministers who would serve Christ’s church in the days of rebuilding that would follow the peace. So, with a professor’s mind and a pastor’s heart he repeatedly referred to the post-war period and to what would then be needed from the church and its pulpit. This is what he meant by “Preaching in Time of Reconstruction.”
Basic to Blackwood’s books and articles, particularly those directly concerned with preaching, is what he called the case method or the study of sermons. He believed in learning the art of preaching through concentrated study of the sermons of master preachers past and present. For that reason, one does not read far in any Blackwood volume before encountering case after case from the history of preaching, often beginning with the prophets. These became the object lessons he called cases. He never spoke of preaching in the abstract, and he seemed to disparage homiletics as a science. He always wrote in reference to specific ministers and their sermons.
He encouraged ministers to develop their own homemade courses in preaching following the pattern of this case study method. He outlined the plan in numerous places, including The Protestant Pulpit. The idea was to begin with a minister’s biography and then move to that person’s treatise on preaching, if the worker in view published such a volume. Thereafter one would analyze the printed sermons of the same person, singling out one in particular that grips the soul. He advised the student to live with this sermon until it becomes a friend for life.3 After spending a year or a sizeable portion thereof with one preacher, the student should move to another and conduct a similar study. Gradually, one would amass a working knowledge of the ways of master preachers.
In all of this, Blackwood was preaching what he practiced, for this was his method of study. In 1917, while still a pastor, he wrote, “During the past year or two I have read the biographies of Luther, McCheyne, Simeon, Spurgeon, Phillips Brooks, John Watson, and Alexander MacLaren.”4
II. A Legacy of High Ideals
Blackwood believed each minister should be committed to high ideals from the start and then keep growing year after year under the power of God who alone can make a person more Christlike. To summarize Blackwood’s ideals, we can say he was committed to a teaching ministry exercised largely but not exclusively through preaching. He believed the sermons of a teaching minister should be “Biblical in substance, doctrinal in form, and practical in effect.”5
Blackwood stressed the teaching ministry as the ideal way of understanding one’s role as a parish pastor. He quoted favorably one who noted that many Protestant chaplains during World War II found a great deal of biblical and theological illiteracy among their charges and resolved to do nothing but teach when they returned to parish ministry.6 In terms of preaching, having a teaching ministry meant to Blackwood that there would be some connection between the sermons from week to week so that one’s pulpit fare would have a cummulative effect.7
This emphasis on the teaching ministry led Blackwood to write much about preaching in courses as well as in series. He defined both the course and the series as a set of unified sermons delivered consecutively on successive Sundays or Wednesdays at the same hour. The chief differences between the two ways of preaching are two. One, the series is announced beforehand as a unified whole while the course is not. Two, the stress in the series is on the whole, while the stress in the course is on the individual message.8 Blackwood appreciated both ways of working because each one contributes to continuity from the pulpit from week to week.
A teaching ministry of this sort calls for planning at every stage, and this was a theme Blackwood developed at every opportunity. He believed in planning for the pulpit for the sake of the congregation as well as for the preacher. In the ideal plan, the teaching minister would systematically lead the congregation through the Bible, the range of Christian doctrine, and all the while pay attention to the Christian year and church calendar.
Blackwood believed the sermons of the teaching minister should be biblical in substance. In writing of the importance of the sermon’s conclusion, he remarked the conclusion is second in importance only to the sermon’s text.9 He agreed with Joseph Parker, who once declared, “You can depend on one thing, the only ministry that will last, and be as fresh at the end as it was at the beginning, is a Biblical and expository one.”10
While he recognized the validity of a variety of ways of preaching, Blackwood gave the right of way to expository work. He looked upon the expository sermon as one in which the main thoughts come directly from a Bible passage longer than two or three verses. He wanted the emphasis of expository preaching to be on the message, not the exposition. He viewed the aim of an expository sermon to be meeting some human need with help from the Scriptures and not explaining some passage for the sake of explanation.11 As the Scriptures are used in this way to interpret life and meet genuine needs one practical result of each sermon is that it leaves “in the hearer’s Bible and in his heart another illuminated text.”12
The teaching minister who would bring expository and other biblical messages to the pulpit needs to be a constant student. To this end, Blackwood called for regular Bible study of at least an hour a day, five days a week. Under Blackwood’s plan of study, a preacher would select a Bible book, study it as a whole, and then by way of its paragraphs, preferably beginning with the original languages.13 He was fond of saying we should study the Bible as it was written, book by book, and each book paragraph by paragraph.14
Along with leading the congregation through the Bible book by book, the teaching minister leads the people through the round of Christian doctrine. Blackwood frequently quoted, and always with favor, this line from Phillips Brooks: “Preach doctrine, preach all the doctrine that you know, and learn forever more and more; but preach it …, not that men may believe it, but that men may be saved by believing it.”15
Blackwood defined the doctrinal sermon as “the preacher’s interpretation of a vital Christian truth, for a high practical purpose.”16 He believed that doctrinal preaching of this sort could be done more or less directly, as when teaching through all or part of the Apostles’ Creed. He also valued doctrinal preaching that was more or less indirect, such as when one bases the call to a particular duty or the availability of some help from heaven on a Christian doctrine.
This brings us to the third part of Blackwood’s vision that sermons be “Biblical in substance, doctrinal in form, and practical in effect.” Whether stressing Bible or doctrine, Blackwood never lost sight of the hearer. The hallmark of expository work was “the use of the Scriptures in meeting the practical needs of men today.”17 His book on doctrinal preaching had “the stress …fall on the pulpit use of one doctrine after another as a God-given way of meeting heart needs of men and women.”18 He came to define preaching as “interpreting the truths of God so as to meet the needs of the hearer today, and guide him in doing God’s will tomorrow.”19 In one of his last books he was critical of preaching that neglects the hearer and discusses “the truth in terms of far away and long ago.”20
The teaching ministry Blackwood envisioned was conducted largely through preaching. Largely, but not exclusively. He was also a strong advocate of pastoral work, and that in more than the book by that title. As for the minister’s use of time, he expressed his vision of the ideal when he said, “Morning hours in the study, later hours among the people, a crowning hour in the pulpit — all of these mean much or little, spiritually, according to the degree of a man’s fellowship with Christ.”21 When he summarized the characteristics of a teaching minister, he put pastoral work first in order: “be a faithful pastor of the flock, a diligent student of the Book, and a helpful preacher of the Gospel.”22
He believed in pastoral calling for the sake of the people and not simply for the sake of one’s preaching. He did not consider himself a good “mixer” — to use his term — but he was ready to serve the Lord as a home-going minister. He nonetheless felt every call should have a worthy purpose and not be mere socializing.23
Before bringing to a close this section of Blackwood’s ideals for the teaching ministry, we would be remiss if we did not present his views concerning the Sunday evening service. Blackwood was a strong advocate of the evening service in the era when it was already beginning to lose power. In many of our denominations it is now a relic of the past. Blackwood felt the demise of the evening service was disastrous. He remarked, “In as far as I can see and judge, if local Protestantism contents itself with a one-hour-a-week schedule for the public worship of God, our part of the Church will be on the way out.”24
With reverent pride, he claimed to have been able to conduct evening services that were well-attended. When he referred to his success with evening services, his intent was to encourage younger workers, not draw praise for himself. In each of the pastorates he served, he was told an evening service would be impossible. Yet, under God, he proved the nay-sayers wrong. He hoped his experience would foster a form of apostolic optimism in others.25
III. A Legacy of Sturdy Principles
The teaching minister prepares and delivers individual sermons. While Blackwood had much to say about the directions of a teaching ministry, he kept the individual sermon in constant view. This brings us to a discussion of the principles he advocated in terms of the preparation of sermons.
Purpose stood out in importance for Blackwood. For him, purpose was always practical, and it governed everything having to do with the sermon’s growth and development. “The purpose has to do with moving the will of the hearer to action, which may be only within the heart.”26 The purpose, determined early and preferably written down, should be used to guide all the remaining work, particularly the difficult decisions of what to include and exclude.
Structure also loomed large in importance for Blackwood. He understood this word to refer to “the bony framework of a sermon that lives and moves so as to reach a certain goal.”27 This structure may or may not stand out to the hearer, but it cannot be ignored by the preacher. It is an aid to both the writing and the delivery of the message. The structure should not be wooden or predictable from week to week, but moving and varied. The structure of each sermon should be marked by unity, order, symmetry, and progress.
Blackwood felt that the way to build progress into a sermon was to provide for climax. When he discussed climax, he referred to it as moving from the most important to the most interesting. As an object lesson, he mentioned a sermon on John 3.16. The outline for that sermon points to:
I. God’s Love for Our World
II. God’s Gift of His Son
III. God’s Call to Whosoever.
Blackwood felt this plan has climax. It puts God first as most important, the cross second as what is central, and the self last. It is climactic because people are always more interested in themselves.28
Blackwood believed in the importance of introductions. He thought the minister should craft the first sentences with the utmost of care, and look upon the first two paragraphs of a sermon as decisive. The introduction should arouse interest but not be so interesting that it paves the way for anti-climax. It should be neither too long nor too short, but appropriate in size to the same degree that a porch is fitting to a house. It should fit the occasion and be friendly without being excessively so. It should introduce the theme, but not give the whole sermon away. It should vary from week to week. Blackwood thought the wise minister should get to know a wide variety of ways to get sermons going. He listed twelve ways and hinted at more.29
As stated earlier, Blackwood considered the conclusion to be second in importance only to the text. He felt the introduction was decisive in terms of arousing interest, and that the conclusion was decisive toward ending the sermon with force. By force Blackwood meant effectiveness in relation to one’s purpose. “In preaching a sermon, as in making an airplane flight,” he said, “the chief test comes at the end.”30 It should be planned in advance and in accord with the sermon’s purpose. As with all else related to preaching, the minister should strive to achieve variety in conclusion forms. Blackwood despised what he called “lameness, sameness, and tameness.”
Blackwood believed in the value of illustrations. He believed in them largely because Jesus did. He observed, “The Master Teacher spoke about God in relation to persons or things, and about persons or things with reference to God. When our Lord talked about farm or fireside, He wished to interest people in the Kingdom that they could never see with the eyes of flesh….He used facts to throw light on truth or duty and to make the things of heaven attractive to people on earth.”31
As for where to find illustrations, Blackwood said we should “use brains with imagination.”32 For him this meant study and thinking, the disciplined, practiced, and sanctified use of insight. He believed illustrations were everywhere. Even so, he did not think too many should be crammed into a sermon.
Blackwood believed in writing each sermon out in full but in carrying only notes into the pulpit and preaching as if there were none. Where there was more than one opportunity to preach a week, he advised separate ways of working for each sermon, such as writing out one in full and shaping the other with detailed notes only. Recognizing that not every method fits all ministers, he laid down no inviolable rule vis-a-vis these matters of delivery. Nevertheless, he was a stickler for correct pronunciation and grammar.
While our subject had much more to teach about the methods of sermon preparation and delivery, no aspect of either preparation or delivery was more important to this man of God than prayer. He wanted all the minister’s work to begin and end in prayer. At the close of The Fine Art of Preaching, he supposed this might be the final prayer in the study once the sermon was ready: “Here, is my sermon. It is a piece of my heart and of my life. Take it, I beseech thee, and use it as an earthen vessel. Cleanse it by Thy Holy Spirit; then fill it and flood it with the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”33
Among Blackwood’s trademark phrases were “today is not yesterday” and “no young David should sally forth in King Saul’s armor.” These appear in nearly every one of his books. He would affix the same warning to any reappraisal of his work today. He would want no pastor or professor to study his methods and theories with the aim of carrying them into the present day wholesale and unchanged. Still, Blackwood’s writings repay study and his biography is full of both divine grace and human charm. Those who would establish a teaching ministry today, and who would hope to carry it out in a spirit of Christian radiance, can find help in the legacy of Andrew W. Blackwood, Sr.
1.Andrew W. Blackwood, Preaching from the Bible (1941, Baker Book House, 1974), p. 190.
2.See Jay E. Adams, The Homiletical Innovations of Andrew W. Blackwood (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1975), p. 52, n. 18.
3.Andrew W. Blackwood, The Protestant Pulpit (New York: Abingdon, 1947), p. 305.
4.Andrew W. Blackwood, “The Young Minister’s Study,” The Union Seminary Review, XXVIII (March, 1917), p. 226 as quoted by Adams, The Homiletical Innovations of Andrew W. Blackwood, pp. 56-57.
5.Andrew W. Blackwood, Planning A Year’s Pulpit Work (New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury, 1942), p. 69.
6.Andrew W. Blackwood, Pastoral Leadership (New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury, 1949), p. 22.
7.Andrew W. Blackwood, Planning A Year’s Pulpit Work, p. 20.
8.Andrew W. Blackwood, Preaching From the Bible, p. 41.
9.Andrew W. Blackwood, The Preparation of Sermons (New York: 1948), p. 162.
10.Quoted by John Harries, G. Campbell Morgan (New York: 1930), p. 65.
11.Andrew W. Blackwood, The Preparation of Sermons, p. 64.
12.Andrew W. Blackwood, Preaching From the Bible, p. 37.
13.Andrew W. Blackwood, Expository Preaching for Today (New York: Abingdon Cokesbury, 1953), p. 190.
14.Andrew W. Blackwood, Preaching From the Bible, pp. 94ff.
15.Phillips Brooks, Lectures on Preaching (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1950), p. 129 as quoted by Andrew W. Blackwood, Doctrinal Preaching for Today (New York: Abingdon, 1956), p. 37.
16.Andrew W. Blackwood, Planning A Year’s Pulpit Work, p. 70.
17.Andrew W. Blackwood, Planning A Year’s Pulpit Work, p. 17.
18.Andrew W. Blackwood, Doctrinal Preaching for Today, p. 34.
19.Andrew W. Blackwood, Biographical Preaching for Today (New York: Abingdon, 1954), p. 17.
20.Andrew W. Blackwood, Evangelical Sermons of our Day (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1959). p. 22.
21.Andrew W. Blackwood, Expository Preaching for Today, p. 199.
22.Andrew W. Blackwood, Planning A Year’s Pulpit Work, pp. 219-220.
23.Andrew W. Blackwood, Pastoral Work (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1945) 65.
24.Andrew W. Blackwood, The Growing Minister (New York: Abingdon, 1960), p. 56.
25.Andrew W. Blackwood, Planning A Year’s Pulpit Work, p. 25.
26.Andrew W. Blackwood, The Preparation of Sermons, p. 41.
27.Ibid., p.125.
28.Andrew W. Blackwood, “What is Wrong With Preaching Today?”, The Asbury Seminarian, 7 (Winter 1953), p. 17.
29.Andrew W Blackwood, The Preparation of Sermons, pp. 109 ff.
30.Ibid., p. 162.
31.Ibid., p. 152.
32.Ibid., p. 156.
33.Andrew W. Blackwood, The Fine Art of Preaching (1937, rpt.: Baker Book House, 1976), p. 168.

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