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  • Writer's pictureW. Austin Gardner

Emotion in His Sermon

Let not the pastor be afraid of emotion in his preaching. True eloquence flows out of deep feeling. Jonathan Edwards appealed to the emotions. He believed that the passions are the prime movers in life. He was not afraid to appeal to the elementary instincts of fear, love, hope, deliverance, security. He believed that unless a man is moved by some affection he was by nature inactive. He said, "Take away all love and hatred, all hope and fear, all anger, zeal and affectionate desire, and the world would be in a great measure motionless and dead; there would be no such thing as activity among mankind or any earnest pursuit whatsoever. "

Jonathan Edwards also wrote, "As the passions are the springs of conduct, vital religion must consist in an exercise of these. " He presented the glowing joys of the redeemed, the blessedness of the union with Christ, the felicities of the full knowledge of God. He also presented the horrors and terrors of hell. The early Christians also did this.

The sermon is no essay to read for optional opinion, for the people casually to consider. It is a confrontation with the Almighty God. It is to be delivered with a burning passion, in the authority of the Holy Spirit.

One modern layman wrote: "The present day layman is seeking a stronger emotional spirit in his religion. He is prone to deemphasize the intellectual. It seems that in recent years our younger preachers began to get less emotional and more intellectual. Their sermons were less like a sermon and more like a lecture. The 'We must be born again' kind of religion disappeared. We quit singing, There is wonder-working power in the blood' and started singing some new songs with a different kind of message. We became interested in something the people called 'the social gospel. ' The laymen listened, approved, then started playing golf on Sunday morning.

"Today laymen want to recapture some of that 'you must be born again' philosophy. They want to be stirred and moved. They want a religion that is strong medicine. In words of the popular song, it has to have 'heart.'"

Again, in an article I read one writer said:

"It worries me that so many of our younger ministers feel that they must preach in a quiet and solemn voice with never a gesture, never a smile, never a change in cadence. It would be a relief if they would hit the pulpit just once. "

Abraham Lincoln once said: "I don't like cut and dried sermons. When I hear a man preach, I like to see him act as if he were fighting a swarm of bees. "

The word we preach from our pulpits ought to be like the Word of God itself—like a fire and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces (Jeremiah 23:29).

You cannot read the New Testament without sensing that the preachers were electrified by the power of the gospel and swept off their feet by the wonder of the great revelation which had been committed to their trust. There is something wrong if a man charged with the greatest news in the world can be listless and frigid and dull. Who is going to believe that the glad tidings brought by the preacher means literally more than anything else on earth if they are presented with no verve or fire or attack, and if the man himself is apathetic, uninspired, afflicted with spiritual coma in unsaying by his attitude what he says in words?

John Wesley spoke well when he advised, "Put fire in your sermon, or put your sermon in the fire. " How could it ever be that a minister can speak of the tragic condition of the lost, of life and death, hell and heaven, time and eternity with cold, removed, impersonal indifference? The response the pastor seeks to elicit from his people is the most meaningful decision in human experience. Let him plead for it as such, and that with all his soul.

Robert Murray McCheyne, who died at the early age of twenty-nine (he literally burned himself out for God), had a profound effect upon Scotland and upon the religious world. A traveler from afar made the journey to his church in Dundee, Scotland, to discuss the secret of the young man's powerful ministry. When the visitor arrived, to his great sorrow the pastor was away. But the custodian was there.

Seeing the disappointment registered on the visitor's face, he asked the stranger why he had come. The reply was to find the secret of the young preacher's power. The janitor replied: "I can show you. Come with me. " He took the traveler to the study of the pastor, then said, "See that chair? That is his chair. Sit down in it. Now place your arms upon the desk, bury your face in your hands, and weep. " He took the traveler to the pulpit in the sanctuary, then said, "Climb up into the pulpit. Stand behind it. Now bury your face in your hands and weep.

W. A. Criswell, Criswell’s Guidebook for Pastors

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