The anecdote in the sermon answers the purpose of an engraving in a book.” So said Charles Haddon Spurgeon in one of his lectures to young ministers. Let’s think that one over a bit, for surely anecdote must be given a place in this excursive series on the pictorial element in preaching.

As currently used, “anecdote” has, to some extent at least, broken company with its etymology. Its Greek components add up to the meaning of “not given out.” Originally, therefore, an anecdote was something hitherto unpublished, something that its teller was releasing for the first time. Even now, when custom has given to the word a much broader definition, most listeners are struck by the vividness that may suddenly light up the sermon when the preacher says, “Yesterday as I was walking down Fifth Avenue.…”

The anecdote, though its purpose is manifestly illustrative, differs from, let us say, an illustration drawn from science in these particulars: (1) it belongs to the realm of event or experience; (2) it is personal (it happened in your experience or that of someone of whom you have knowledge); and (3) it normally can be told with brevity.

On one of those rare occasions when the late W. E. Sangster of London finished a sermon with an anecdote, his text was Genesis 41:51, “God … hath made me forget.” His subject: “Remember to Forget!” This was the ending:

It was Christmas time in my home. One of my guests had come a couple of days early and saw me sending off the last of my Christmas cards. He was startled to see a certain name and address. “Surely, you are not sending a greeting to him,” he said.
“Why not?” I asked.
“But you remember,” ...
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