The renewal of the pulpit over the past several years has produced some of the best works on preaching to be seen in any period. Major works by James W. Cox, John Killinger, David Buttrick, Fred Craddock and others have contributed much to the current dialogue on the art and craft of preaching.
In addition, the contributions of other developing fields of study has enriched the study of preaching. The development of narrative exegesis has informed narrative preaching styles. The contemporary concern for hermeneutical issues has led to a new understanding of the role of speech, the function of texts, and the role of the reader/hearer. Similarly, the rediscovery of classical rhetoric has added new dimensions of meaning to the preaching task.
Nevertheless, in the midst of these clear developments and the many promising volumes which relate them to preaching, there remain the classic books on preaching which have demonstrated their service over many years.
A classic, said one busy preacher, is “any book still in print by the time I find an opportunity to read it.” Nevertheless, some books on preaching have earned a much deserved reputation for greatness, and are genuine ‘classics’ in the preaching world.
This list would include P. T. Forsyth’s great Positive Preaching and the Modern Mind, H. H. Farmer’s The Servant of the Word, and George A. Buttrick’s Jesus Came Preaching. Many of these classics are out of print and available only in libraries.
In this issue we review three classics still in print, two of which have been in print for over 100 years. Though dated and worn, they have stood the test of time, and speak powerfully over the decades.
John A. Broadus, On the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons, Fourth Edition, Revised by Vernon L. Stanfield [San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1979 (1870)], 332 pp., $14.95.
From its first printing to the present, On the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons has been among the most popular and influential volumes on the preaching task. First published in 1870, the volume was the product of one of the most remarkable preaching ministries of the nineteenth century.
The life of John A. Broadus is inseparable from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, of which Broadus was the second president and one of four founding faculty. Broadus was the logical choice for the homiletics position, with his nation-wide reputation for scholarship and preaching already well established.
By the time of the Civil War, Broadus was one of the most famous preachers in America, and his reputation took him into the great pulpits of the North and the South — even during the war years.
His greatest book, On the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons, grew out of his classroom lectures on preaching delivered in 1865-1866. In that academic year, the first session after the war, Broadus had only one student — a blind man — in his preaching class. Nevertheless, out of that session a classic volume on preaching emerged.
Preaching, suggested Broadus, is a determining characteristic of Christianity. “No other religion has ever made the regular and frequent assembling of groups of people, to hear religious instruction and exhortation, an integral part of divine worship.” This unique emphasis on the centrality of preaching within the worshipping community marks Christianity as a fellowship of preaching.
Preaching, defined Broadus, “is the proclamation of God’s message by a chosen personality to meet the needs of humanity.” In this definition Broadus intentionally pointed to the roles of God’s message, the chosen personality, and the needs of humanity.
Broadus had an elevated conception of preaching. “Of every age it is true that there has been no great religious movement, no restoration of scriptural truth and reanimation of genuine piety without new power in preaching.”
Homiletics, acknowledged Broadus, is rooted in the Jewish tradition and Greek rhetoric. In his forward to the first edition, Broadus acknowledged his indebtedness to Aristotle, Cicero, and Quintillian.
The church discovered the power of ancient rhetoric and “ennobled the art by filling it with the distinctive reality of the Christian faith and the Christian message and devoting it to Christian ends.” Thus came homiletics, “the science of preparing and delivering a discourse based on Scripture,” Broadus suggested.
Broadus was as comprehensive as he was confident. On the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons covers almost every aspect of the preaching task, from the history of the homiletical tradition to the calling of the preacher, the function of the text, the proposition of the sermon, its delivery in the preaching event, and the context of Christian worship.
He saw the Christian preaching of his day — and any subsequent day — as the continuation of the apostolic preaching ministry and the discovery of preaching in the early church. The preacher, suggested Broadus, should be a student of this great tradition, and of the heritage of preaching throughout the ages.
Broadus was a biblical scholar by training, and he remained a renowned New Testament scholar throughout his life. His commentary on Matthew in The American Commentary remains a classic. This disciplined focus on the biblical text informed his conception of biblical preaching.
Careful biblical study would, in Broadus’ conception, lead to powerful preaching. The text should claim and choose the preacher, not the reverse. “A text that chooses the preacher will develop easily and will bring great personal satisfaction.”
Broadus’ volume takes the reader through the universe of issues he covered in his preaching lectures. The reader will find much valuable material on such practical issues as the title, the proposition, types of sermon structure, the arrangement of the sermon, introductions and conclusions, application, imagination, and preparation, among many others. It remains one of the most comprehensive volumes on preaching ever published.
Indeed, Broadus gave careful attention to several issues no longer commonly discussed in relation to preaching. Few contemporary volumes give any attention to the role of the voice or its training. This consideration, lacking in most recent volumes, is one of the most critical issues for effectiveness in preaching, and its modern neglect does not serve the church.
Most contemporary volumes do not deal extensively with such practical issues, and deal instead with the crucial matters of form, content, and structure. A reading of Broadus’s contribution will not suffice, but will reveal thoughtful and helpful material which can lead to more contemporary material on voice and training.
On the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons will likely continue to serve generations to follow. The current revision, a service rendered by Vernon Stanfield of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, is a somewhat updated version. A comparison with the first edition reveals a good bit of editing and revision on some matters, but the integrity of Broadus’s powerful lectures on preaching remains intact for today’s reader.
Gardiner Spring, The Power of the Pulpit: Thoughts Addressed to Christian Ministers and Those Who Hear Them [Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1986 (1848)], 244 pp., $12.95.
Gardiner Spring was another of the pulpit giants of the nineteenth century. The son of noted Revolutionary preacher Samuel Spring, Gardiner Spring chose first the study of law, and was admitted to the bar in 1780. Soon thereafter he felt a compelling call to the ministry and went to Andover Theological Seminary.
In 1810 he was ordained as pastor of the Brick Presbyterian Church, New York City, where he was to have a remarkable ministry which spanned a full sixty-two years, ending only in his death. His ministry at Brick Presbyterian Church was a testimony to the power of Christian preaching and the Gospel.
Almost forty years into his ministry in New York, Spring felt the need to write down “a few plain thoughts” for younger preachers, for whom he saw a calling of greatness. “Never was there such a work as that to which they are invited in the present age of the world.” The “few plain words” grew into one of the most powerful and compelling volumes on the preaching vocation.
In Spring’s mind, the power of the pulpit was immediately apparent. It was seen in “those immediate and direct influences, which it exerts in producing and sustaining the interests of truth and godliness among men, and fitting them for a higher and nobler state of being.”
The state of the church is correlated from age to age, said Spring. “Different ages of the church, and different lands, and different departments of the Christian church, are a sort of transcript of the pulpits that have instructed them, and bear their peculiarities to the present hour.”
Spring rooted the power of the pulpit in the truth of which preaching is the vehicle. “The pulpit has no other instrumentality. It has accomplished its vocation when it has fully, clearly, and with a right spirit, exhibited the claims of truth.”
This truth Spring rooted in the God of all truth, and His inscripturated Word. This is the message of the pulpit. “It is emphatically the truth of God’s written word which it utters, and which He has revealed for the salvation of men.”
The preacher, suggested Spring, is “the living teacher” who communicates God’s truth. The preacher utters God’s truth in God’s name undergirded by God’s authority. “The legitimate occupants of the pulpit claim this as their prerogative; they are appointed by God himself to this responsible service.”
Spring held to a high view of the preacher’s calling, and wrote of this calling with unusual power and conviction: “There is a reality in the ministerial commission; and though we claim for it no magical influence, and none of the authority of civil power, yet it is one of those elements of influence and strong moral power with which God Himself has invested the ambassadors of his truth and grace. It stands upon a sure foundation, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
The root of this conviction is found in Spring’s central claim for the pulpit, that it “is associated with the mighty power of God in the conviction and conversion of men.” This power is none other than the power of the Gospel — the message of the pulpit. The elements of the pulpit’s power are thus “the truth of which it is the vehicle, truth from the living teacher, truth uttered in the name and by the authority of God, truth accompanied with his mighty power.”
An incredible devotional power shines through the pages of The Power of the Pulpit. Spring was a man of great prayer, discipline, and devotion. This was the source of his powerful preaching and writing, and he gave a great deal of attention to the spiritual life of the preacher.
The pulpit requires spiritual focus. “It is no easy matter to keep the great object of the pulpit distinctly and steadily before the mind; to do so requires great self-denial, spirituality, and imparted grace ….”
The book also includes rich chapters on prayer, personal piety, the minister’s example, and the preacher’s role within the community — as well as chapters on such issues as the preacher’s pay! Throughout the volume Spring’s exuberance and conviction challenges the reader, revealing anew the power of the pulpit as God’s instrument of truth-telling.
All preachers will benefit from the volume, but those suffering a periodic bout of ambivalence or doubt about the power of the preaching ministry will find The Power of the Pulpit a genuine solace. “Behold, ye despisers, and wonder and perish! Adore, ye lovers of God and the Gospel of his Son, that by the foolishness of preaching he is pleased to save them that believe!”
D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers [Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing Co., 1971], 325 pp.
D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones is no stranger to most preachers. His preaching ministry at Westminster Chapel, London, enjoyed one of the highest profiles of any post-war pulpit, and lecture and preaching tours took him literally around the world.
His major volume on preaching, Preaching and Preachers, was part of a veritable library which flowed from Lloyd-Jones’ pen. “The Doctor,” as he was affectionately known, had forsaken a promising medical practice for the calling of the pulpit, and had assumed one of the most powerful pulpits in the Christian world.
Preaching and Preachers was published a full century after the works of both Broadus and Spring, yet it belongs with those older works, both in the power of its message and its conception of the pulpit ministry. It is already a classic, now through almost twenty printings.
The origins of the volume lies in lectures Lloyd-Jones delivered at Westminster Theological Seminary in the 1960’s. The work is essentially a very personal apologia for preaching and the glory of the preaching ministry. Though Lloyd-Jones does not point to himself as the central character of the book, it is not at all impersonal. It is rich with anecdotes and energized by the personal testimony implicit in its pages.
“The Doctor” had great confidence in preaching — and great love for preachers. Preaching is “the highest and the greatest and the most glorious calling to which anyone can ever be called.” Furthermore, “I would say without hesitation that the most urgent need in the Christian church today is true preaching; and as it is the greatest and most urgent need in the church, it is obviously the great need of the world also.”
Lloyd-Jones wrote Preaching and Preachers during a period of the decline of the pulpit in both Great Britain and the United States. Though Westminster Chapel and other great churches were attended by thousands, the pulpit had a diminished reputation in a time of social and intellectual ferment.
The author blamed much of the decline on inhabitants of the pulpit who were “pulpiteers rather than preachers.” “There was a great deal of showmanship to them, and they were experts at handling congregations and playing on their emotions.” This was, in Lloyd-Jones’ mind, an abomination and disgrace. The reaction to these shallow and manipulative preachers was a major cause of the decline, he believed.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones was a stalwart Westminster Calvinist, and the great confidence of the Reformed tradition provides the fiber of the volume. Emil Brunner once remarked that Lloyd-Jones was “Reformed preaching at its finest.” His sermons and writings are compelling and powerful.
Preaching and Preachers demonstrates the theoria behind Lloyd-Jones’ praxis of preaching. The chapters of the book address a plethora of issues, from the act of preaching to “The Pitfalls and the Romance.” Servants of the Word will discover in Lloyd-Jones a great colleague and critic, and will find in Preaching and Preachers a true classic for the preacher’s library.
Book Notes
John Killinger, The Name God Hallowed: The Lord’s Prayer for Today [Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1988], 90 pp.
John Killinger, pastor of the First Congregational Church, Los Angeles, is deservedly one of the most popular preachers in America. In this short but potent volume, Killinger reveals the power of his creative and contagious pulpit ministry.
The Lord’s Prayer, he suggests, “is without doubt the most effective summary of Christian theology ever given.” The Name God Hallowed is the record of Killinger’s Lenten messages on the Lord’s Prayer as preached to his own congregation.
Walter C. Kaiser, Hard Sayings of the Old Testament [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988], 254 pp.
Several books have appeared in recent years which deal with the difficult passages of the New Testament. These “hard sayings of Jesus” have become more clear in meaning and context through the research and publication of those volumes.
Walter Kaiser, dean and vice president at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, has produced a volume addressing seventy-three difficult passages in the Old Testament. Though written for an informed lay readership, it is one of the very few volumes which exhibits the candor and careful scholarship needed for effective preaching and teaching.
John H. Hayes and Stuart A. Irvine, Isaiah: His Times and His Preaching [Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1987], 400 pp.
Isaiah has been one of the customary battle grounds for form critics and redaction analysts. Hayes and Irvine suggest a unitive understanding of Isaiah as the work of a world-class orator and preacher. Preachers will find the volume a catalyst for preaching in Isaiah. No one is likely to agree with the authors en toto, though all will find much food for thought.
Howard Schwartz, Lilith’s Cave: Jewish Tales of the Supernatural [San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1988], 294 pp., $22.50.
In all likelihood, most preachers will find these stories new material and fascinating reading. These stories, many published here for the first time, are formative influences in the Jewish tradition, and provide keen insights into a creative culture and theology.
Lilith’s Cave is an introduction to these parabolic stories, rich in moral fiber and dark foreboding. Preachers will find this volume a rich storehouse of stories. Schwartz, a well-known editor and collector of Jewish tales, is joined in his volume by a capable illustrator, Uri Shulevitz.

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