Finding Materials For A Sermon

As a good steward of God a minister ought to excel in finding two sorts of materials for a sermon. First and more important, from the passage in hand. If on the Sunday after Christmas the sermon deals with wise men at worship now, the Gospel record contains facts about persons of interest now. If the coming message confines itself to these biblical facts, the layman who has never heard a popular teaching sermon can follow with ease, especially if he has read the passage at home and has prayed.

“Can the minister not quote other Bible verses?” Of course, but only if each of them throws light on this passage and subject. Such a way of dealing with a Bible unit should not seem odd. In college teaching of Shakespeare the professor led in seeing one unit at a time. With this kind of pulpit teaching a layman can learn how to read and enjoy a Bible unit. After a while he may dare to read something difficult.

The resulting sermon may or may not in form be expository. In the pulpit a wise man calls no attention to himself or to how he preaches. He might do that if he used a concordance to show how wise men in all ages past worshiped God. But why call such a compilation a sermon? Why not simply explain one passage, only one?

Once at a tuberculosis camp a university student told his pastor: “I may not read, and I have few visitors. I lie here and think about your sermons on the parables in the First Gospel. I can tell the gist of each parable, and what it means today, both to me and others. At last I have learned how to read and enjoy a Bible book, and a Bible paragraph.”

A pastor also needs materials from life today. How else could he show the layman the meaning of a parable in the experience of a businessman now? The nature of these outside materials may depend on the prevailing stress in the passage. One parable has to do with a building; another, with farming, or gardening; a third, with hidden treasure; and so on through varied callings, with the human stress often on a person like the man in the pew. The sermon becomes an interpretation of the hearer’s daily work in light from God’s Holy Book.

This kind of pulpit work calls for use of fact-words, which enable the layman to see, feel, and desire what the parable sets forth. A scholastic sermonizer depends on colorless abstractions; a preacher sees what he says. Thus the hearer becomes a see-er. Spurgeon and Maclaren, or Macartney and Sangster, differed in many ways, but each at his best used words like those of John Bunyan. Why? Because the recent interpreter too had lived with the words of Jesus. The ideas here have much to do with illustrations, which serve as windows to light up every room.

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So much for the ideal; what are the facts? With honorable exceptions, evangelical sermons that appear in print today often show how not to deal with a parable, or other Bible unit. The ideas often are excellent, but the non-biblical parts come from all sorts of sources not closely related to the passage, or to each other. They appear in words that make no appeal to the eye-gate. In such an indictment a man remembers his own sins and charges them on the congregation! Anyone hit?

Let us assume that a pastor has some kind of storehouse. If he has a photographic memory, rare among ministers now, he may dispense with index cards and folders. Most busy pastors need such equipment, if only to save time and worry. Into a biblical and a topical file a man puts data about his own books, either about a passage or a subject. In two such folders he can put materials from other books, and from life. From the biography of Alexander Fleming, discoverer of penicillin, one learns that Psalm 51:7a contains the first known reference to this wonder-working drug. The note goes into a file under Psalm 51. By jotting the idea down one impresses it on the memory. A personal storehouse!

In history almost every effective pastor preacher has had some way of preserving materials. If wise, a man keeps his system simple, and uses it with brains. He can do so all the better if he makes a general preaching plan for months to come, and special plans for the near future. From his wife or mother he may learn how to be a first-class homiletical housekeeper. In dealing with the bread of life, a man needs ready materials.

For a more detailed treatment see the writer’s Preparation of Sermons; on storing, the Appendix of Planning a Years Pulpit Work; both are by Abingdon Press. Better still, learn to do by doing, as a good steward of God.


I was before a blasphemer, and a. persecuter, and injurious; howbeit I obtained mercy … (1 Tim. 1:13; read vv. 12–17).

The Apostle here tells about the terrifying memory of sin. He is glancing back at his past. His memory has many a dark spot. And yet our text is only a minor note in a jubilant song. His memory of headstrong defiance and pitiless cruelty gives way before the Gospel of forgiveness at the Cross. How then does the Cross affect the memory of sin? The Cross—

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I. Takes the Sting Out of the Memory. Every sin leaves on the memory a spot. An unforgiven sin leaves a wound. But let a man be persuaded that he has received mercy through the Cross, and his wound is healed, his sting is gone. Such an experience every man ought to repeat. You have faces that rise upon you in the hour of the backward glance, faces of those you have tempted to evil and provoked to unbelief. But once be persuaded that because of the Cross God has forgiven you. At once you feel that your wound is healed, your sting is gone. Then with Paul you learn to thank God for the past tenses of peace in Christ and his Cross.

II. Makes the Memory of Sin a Means of Grace. Every man has in his heart much that he wishes to forget, but God leaves the stain and uses it as a means of grace. A stained memory becomes a barrier against future sin. Such a memory is like an angel with drawn sword to keep you from the gates of death.

God also uses a stained memory as an equipment for service. How else came to Paul that zeal for the outcast, that pity for the fallen, that tenderness over the lost? God likewise uses a stained memory as a source of love for Christ. It is not our love for him that makes our calling sure; it is Christ’s love for us. A stained memory helps to keep your love of Christ at flood.

III. Shall Finally Obliterate the Memory of Sin. The Memory is like a palimpsest manuscript. Once it held the records of sin and shame, which a skillful hand erased. Now the same surface contains a portion of the Gospel. So the evil within you, sin-haunted, will in time cease to be. There is in Christ a depth of forgetfulness in which a forgiven sin can not survive.

Sometimes we wonder whether the bliss of heaven will be marred by stained memories of earth. No, in the other world, the lash of memory will be felt only in hell. Only the unforgiven sin is eternal. No sin can live forever under the felt power of the Cross.—From The Cross in Christian Experience, London.

Behooved it not the Christ to suffer these things? (Luke 24:26a; read vv. 13–35).

On the evening of the first Easter Day our Lord told two disciples that the Cross had to be. This truth appears elsewhere throughout the later parts of the New Testament. Let us see if we can understand a little more clearly, though we can never understand all of the mystery and wonder of it. So let me ask three questions.

I. Could Any but the Crucified Saviour Reveal Our Sins? It is the universal tragedy of our race that we do not realize the sinfulness of our sins. It is sin that takes the holy God—incarnate here on earth—and treats him as we should treat no beast. That is your sin. You have been guilty of the same sins that nailed him to the Cross. Sin is deadly, the one thing that God will not tolerate. Go and look at the Cross. Sin did that! Sin is the most deadly thing known to God and men. Sin would slay the body and damn the soul. Sin is hell’s worst. You may see all that when you look at the cross of Christ.

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II. Could Any but the Crucified Redeemer Save Us from Our Sins? “Without shedding of blood there is no remission.” The Lamb shed from the foundation of the world is seen to be slain, and with his stripes we are healed. In his well-beloved Son the Father likewise suffered. If you say that God required the penalty, you must also say that God himself paid it all. Make no division in the Godhead. “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself.”

III. Could Any but the Crucified Saviour Bless Us Now in Our Sorrows? Every day the minister must meet the brokenhearted. If I had no crucified Saviour with whom to greet those who have been broken by the tragedies of life, I should not know what to say or do. Christ has suffered. He alone has the answers to all of life’s questions about the hereafter. He can even bring you utter peace. Can’t you see that the Cross had to be?—From Sangster’s Special-Day Sermons, Abingdon Press.

And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun (Mark 16:2; read vv. 1–8).

For us Christians Easter ought to serve as Commencement Day. The Cross marked the end of the old order. Easter shows the beginning of a reign that shall never end. Let us think of this day as a new beginning of—

I. Christian Worship, the most important and wonderful thing that believers do on earth. Songs of praise—prayers of hope—messages from the Book—Communion with the Living Lord—all in the spirit of Easter joy and hope.

II. The Christian Gospel. Only after Easter began the preaching of the full-orbed Gospel: the death of Christ to deliver from sins; the Resurrection as the way to receive power; the living Lord as the center of our beliefs and hopes, until he comes again.

III. The Christian Service. After the Resurrection, new vision, power, and joy. Witnessing to believers who have lost hope and radiance. Winning others who never have known Christ as Saviour. Working for the transformation of the world at home and beyond the seven seas. Hallelujah!

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IV. Christian Hope. The Church at large and believers one by one need a rebirth of Christian hope. Hope for the triumph of the Kingdom, according to the Covenant Promise; for the Church, as the custodian of the Gospel; for the future of the believer, as dear to the heart of the Redeemer.

On an Easter morning Dr. Wilfred Grenfell drove across a frozen bay to succor a man in distress. Soon the missionary found that he was afloat on an ice floe. Facing what seemed to be certain death he asked himself why he expected to share in the life beyond. He decided that he did so because be believed in the resurrection of Christ. Rescued as by a miracle, Grenfell went on to old age, sacrificially serving men and testifying to “the power of an endless life.”

What a wonderful time for you to enroll in the school of Christ! Since you assuredly wish to share with Grenfell in his most glorious and blessed hope, begin at once to look on Easter as your Commencement Day!

Dedicated to assisting the clergy in the preparation of sermons, the feature titled The Minister’s Workshop appears in the first issue of each month. The section’s introductory essay is contributed alternately by Dr. Andrew W. Blackwood and Dr. Paul S. Rees. The feature includes, also, Dr. Blackwood’s abridgments of expository-topical sermons, outlines of significant messages by great preachers of the past, and outlines or abridgments of messages presented by expository preachers of our own time.—ED.

… Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures? (Luke 24:32; read vv. 13–35.)

As a believer in Christ you look on Easter as the most wondrous day in the Christian year. To Easter you look forward with eager expectation; on it look back with thanksgiving. During all the rest of the year how can you worship and live in the afterglow of Easter morn? Such an afterglow comes through—

I. Meeting for Worship. Early Christians believed in group worship. Before the two pilgrims met with the Living Lord they were full of doubts and fears. After an hour with him they were full of hope and joy. Such a change comes in worship now, when the Living Lord opens eyes and hearts.

II. Understanding the Scriptures. The early Church made large use of the Book that Jesus loved. Before that hour with him the two did not understand. Afterward they knew better how to read the Book. By interpreting the Scriptures the Risen Lord had opened their eyes.

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III. Engaging in Service. Before that transforming hour the two had felt sorry for themselves. After the Lord led them to see, they thought much about others. Today the most radiant believers are busy making the Living Christ known to others. If those two had kept the Good News to themselves, their vision would soon have faded.

IV. Living in Hope. Today many church folk pitch their music on a minor key. So did those two think about the past as dead, the future as hopeless. After a transforming hour they felt secure about the past, and about the future, in the hands that once had been pierced. Now such radiant followers of the Risen Lord are the happiest people on earth.

Early in our century a brilliant English editor, L. P. Jacks, wrote a little book, The Lost Radiance of the Christian Church. Later he wrote about the way to recapture such radiance. By reading the New Testament through he found that the early saints were radiant because they lived in daily fellowship with the Living Christ. To each of you, here and now, I offer the secret of radiance in daily fellowship with the Christ of Easter morn, and of every morn.

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