As is no doubt becoming apparent, I am quite taken with Francis Wayland’s letter, “In What Sense is the Ministry of the Gospel a Profession.” In fact I am thinking of ways to have it or the whole book reprinted. Here is another excerpt- good advice needed today on preaching in plain language, textual preaching, and preaching the intent of the passage. There is here a good rebuke of all those sermons which seem not to really need the text that was read before them!
“[In Scripture the minister] finds the ideas of God in the language of men. These he presents to the consciences of men. He must do it with plainness, simplicity, and with unshrinking fidelity, knowing not the persons of men, but speaking solemnly in the fear of God. To suppose that he can add to the impressiveness of the word of God, by strengthening it with the reasonings of men, seems to me to be arrant folly. No reason can every be so strong for any belief as the simple fact that God has said it.
All this, at least, is acknowledged by our universal practice. When we preach we always take, ostensibly as the basis of our discourse, some passage of the word of God. This is called a text; and without it, our communication may be an oration, a speech, a lecture, or an essay, but it is never called a sermon. But why take a text? Simply because we profess in preaching to unfold some idea of inspiration, and, on the authority of God, enforce it on our hearers. If this be not our intention we need no text at all; or we may as well take one from Bacon’s Essays or any other work, as from the Scriptures. This being so, it is not enough that we take for our text the words; we must take the ideas of the sacred Scriptures. It is not that some idea analogous to that in the text may be found in the Bible; we must endeavor to ascertain the precise idea communicated by the Spirit of God in the particular passage. It is not enough that what we utter may be true; we must, by manifestation of the truth revealed to us by God, commend ourselves to every man’s conscience.” (p. 63-64)