The Lure Of Lucidity

“Gentlemen,” said Principal James Denney to a classroom of young preachers, “the first thing in a sermon is lucidity; the second is lucidity; and the third is lucidity.” Here, obviously, is a manner of speaking in which one employs a kind of guileless exaggeration in order to score a neglected point.

Clarity of sound and speech is one thing. Clarity of thought and syntax is quite another thing. The first is achieved by giving attention to enunciation. The second is the product (in combination) of logic, rhetoric, and illustration. If we fail here, the most flawless diction is no atonement. It is possible to call a sermon profound when it is merely opaque.

If we are to preach lucidly, there are certain procedures so fruitful that disregard for them is costly:

1. Go for a goal. How shall I word my subject? Admittedly, this is important. What is also important is to ask: How shall I state my object? We may or may not state it to our listeners; we should insist on stating it to ourselves. There is truth in the hoary quip, “Some sermons aim at nothing, and hit it!”

Perhaps we are tempted to reply, defensively, that this is a matter taken for granted, since the aim of all preaching is the proclamation of the Gospel. Such defense is not enough, for what is under discussion is a sharper, tighter concept of the preacher’s aim. Every sermon (evangelistic as well as pastoral) would be the better for it if at the beginning of his preparation the preacher asked himself: What is it that I want this sermon to do?

Let us say that it is in fact an evangelistic sermon. Let us say that its text is Romans 4:5: “And to one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness.” To himself, ...

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