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Charles Buck Theological Dictionary [1]

A discourse delivered in public for the purpose of religious instruction and improvement. In order to make a good sermon, the following things may be attended to. The exordium should correspond with the subject on which we are about to treat. For this purpose the context often forms a source of appropriate remark; and this, though called a hackneyed way, is one of the best for opening gradually to the subject; though, I confess, always to use it is not so well, as it looks formal. There are some subjects in which the context cannot be consulted: then, perhaps, it is best to begin with some passage of Scripture apposite to the subject, or some striking observation. It has been debated, indeed, whether we should begin with any thing particularly calculated to gain the attention, or whether we should rise gradually in the strength of remark and aptness of sentiment. As to this, we may observe, that, although it is acknowledged that a minister should flame most towards the end, perhaps it would be well to guard against a too low and feeble manner in the exordium. It has been frequently the practice of making apologies, by way of introduction: though this may be admitted in some singular cases, as on the sudden death of a minister, or disappointment of the preacher through unforeseen circumstances; yet I think it is often made use of where it is entirely unnecessary, and carries with it an air of affectation and pride. An apology for a man's self is often more a reflection than any thing else.

If he be not qualified, why have the effrontery to engage? and, if qualified, why tell the people an untruth? Exordiums should be short: some give ua an abridgment of their sermons in their introduction, which takes off the people's attention afterwards; others promise so much, that the expectation thereby raised is often disappointed. Both these should be avoided; and a simple, correct, modest, deliberate, easy gradation to the text attended to. As to the plan. Sometimes a text may be discussed by exposition and inference; sometimes by raising a proposition, as the general sentiment of the text, from which several truths may be deduced and insisted on; sometimes by general observations; and sometimes by division. If we discuss by exposition, then we should examine the authenticity of the reading, the accuracy of the translation, and the scope of the writer, translation, and the scope of the writer. If a proposition be raised, care should be taken that it is founded on the meaning of the text. If observations be made, they should not be too numerous, foreign, nor upon every particle in the text. If by division, the heads should be distinct and few, yet have a just dependence on and connection one with the other. It was common in the last two centuries to have such a multitude of heads, subdivisions, observations, and inferences, that hardly any one could remember them: it is the custom of the present day, among many, to run into the other extreme, and to have no division at all. This is equally as injurious.

"I have no notion, " says one, "of the great usefulness of a sermon without heads and divisions. They should be few and distinct, and not coincide. But a general harangue, or a sermon with a concealed division, is very improper for the generality of hearers, especially the comon people, as they can neither remember it, nor so well understand it." Another observes: "We should ever remember that we are speaking to the plainest capacities; and as the arranging our ideas properly is necessary to our being understood, so the giving each division of our discourse its denomination of number, has a happy effect to assist the attention and memory of our hearers." As to the amplification. After having laid a good foundation on which to build, the superstructure should be raised with care. "Let every text have its true meaning, every truth its due weight, every hearer his proper portion." The reasoning should be clear, deliberate, and strong. No flights of wit should be indulged; but a close attention to the subject, with every exertion to inform the judgment and impress the heart. It is in this part of a sermon that it will be seen whether a man understands his subject, enters into the spirit of it, or whether, after all his parade, he be a mere trifler. I have known some, who, after having giving a pleasing exordium and ingenious plan, have been very deficient in the amplification of the subject; which shows that a man may be capable of making a good plan, and not a good sermon, which, of the two, perhaps, is worse than making a good sermon without a good plan. The best of men, however, cannot always enter into the subject with that ability which at certain times they are capable of. If in our attempts, therefore, to enlarge on particulars, we find our thoughts do not run freely on any point, we should not urge them too much

this will tire and jade the faculties too soon; but pursue our plan. Better thoughts may occur afterwards, which we may occasionally insert. As to the application. It is much to be lamented that this is a part which does not belong to the sermons of some divines. They can discuss a topic in a general way, show their abilities, and give pleasing descriptions of virtue and religion; but to apply, they think will hurt the feelings of their auditors. But I believe it has been found that, among such, little good has been done; nor is it likely, when the people are never led to suppose that they are the parties interested. There are also some doctrinal preachers who reject application altogether, and who affect to discharge their office by narrating and reasoning only: but such should remember that reasoning is persuasion; and that themselves, as often as any men, slide into personal application, especially in discussing certain favourite points in divinity. Application is certainly one of the most important parts of a sermon. Here both the judgment and the passions should be powerfully addressed. Here the minister must reason, expostulate, invite, warn, and exhort; and all without harshness and an insulting air. Here pity, love, faithfulness, concern, must be all displayed. The application, however, must not be too long, unnatural, nor, I think, concluded abruptly.

We shall now subjoin a few remarks as to the style and delivery. As to style: it should be perspicuous. Singular terms, hard words, bombastic expressions, are not at all consistent. Quoting Latin and Greek sentences will be of little utility. Long argumentations, and dry metaphysical reasoning, should be avoided. A plain manly style, so clear that it cannot be misunderstood, should be pursued. The Scriptures are the best model. Mr. Flavel says, "The devil is very busy with ministers in their studies, tempting them to lofty language, and terms of art, above their hearers capacities." The style should be correct. That a man may preach, and do good, without knowing much of grammar, is not to be doubted; but certainly it cannot be pleasing to hear a man, who sets himself up as a teacher of others, continually violating all the rules of grammar, and rendering himself a laughing-stock to the more intelligent part of the congregation; "and yet, " says one, "I have heard persons, who could scarce utter three sentences without a false construction, make grammatical criticisms not only on the English language, but on Latin, Greek, and Hebrew." Care should always be taken not to use a redundancy of words, and a jingle of sentences and syllables, as they carry more an air of pedantry than of prudence. As to the use of figures. "A noble metaphor, when it is placed to advantage, casts a kind of glory round it, and darts a lustre through a whole sentence." But the present and the past age have abounded with preachers, who have murdered and distorted figures in a shameful manner. Keach's metaphors are run beyond all due bounds. Yet I know of no method so useful in preaching as by figures, when well chosen, when they are not too mean, nor draws out into too many parallels. The Scriptures abound with figures. Our Lord and his disciples constantly used them; and people understand a subject better when represented by a figure, than by learned disquisitions. As to the delivery of sermons, we refer to the articles Declamation and Eloquence

See also Minister and Preaching

Webster's Dictionary [2]

(1): ( v. t.) To discourse to or of, as in a sermon.

(2): ( n.) Specifically, a discourse delivered in public, usually by a clergyman, for the purpose of religious instruction and grounded on some text or passage of Scripture.

(3): ( v. i.) To speak; to discourse; to compose or deliver a sermon.

(4): ( v. t.) To tutor; to lecture.

(5): ( n.) A discourse or address; a talk; a writing; as, the sermons of Chaucer.

(6): ( n.) Hence, a serious address; a lecture on one's conduct or duty; an exhortation or reproof; a homily; - often in a depreciatory sense.

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [3]

(Lat. sermo, "a discourse"), a discourse delivered in public religious services. In the early Church sermons were called tractates (expository), disputations (argumentative and controversial), allocutions, and by the Greeks Διδασκαλίαι (doctrinal), or Homilies (familiar addresses). The Place of the sermon in the service was immediately after the reading of the psalms and lessons out of the Scriptures, before the catechumens were dismissed. The Person whose duty it was to deliver the sermon was the bishop, when he was present, or one of his presbyters in any church from which he was absent: then it was considered as the bishop preaching by proxy. In some cases a special commission was given to a layman to deliver a sermon, and then he might do it by the authority of the bishop's commission for that time. This applied to the public services in the churches, and was not necessary when laymen did it in a private way as catechists in their catechetic schools, as at Alexandria and elsewhere. Sometimes it happened that two or three sermons would be preached in the same assembly, first by the presbyters and then by the bishop. Or, if more than one bishop were present, several of them would preach one after another, reserving the last place for the most honorable person. In some places sermons were preached every day, especially in Lent and the festival days of Easter. In larger towns and cities, it seems probable that two sermons were delivered on Sunday; but this custom did not prevail in the country parishes.

The sermon was either, 1, an exposition of Scripture; 2, a panegyrical discourse upon some saint or martyr; 3, a sermon upon some particular time, occasion, festival; or, 4, a sermon upon a particular doctrine, against heresy, or to recommend the practice of virtue. Al of these have examples in the sermons of Chrysostom and Augustine. Origen appears to have been the first to deliver his sermons extempore, it having been the general practice to carefully compose and write them beforehand. It was customary to introduce the sermon with a short prayer for divine assistance for the preacher and his hearers; and sometimes, if occasion required, this prayer was said in the middle of the discourse. It was usual in many places, before beginning the sermon, for the preacher to use the common salutation Pax vobis, "Peace be unto you," or "The Lord be with you." There was no general rule as to the length of the sermon, that being doubtless determined by the circumstances of the occasion, e.g. whether one or more sermons were to be delivered. Scarcely any of them would take an hour in delivery, and many of them not more than half that time. It was not considered, by many in the ancient Church, to be improper for the preacher to deliver a sermon prepared by another person, they holding that it is "lawful for a man to preach the compositions of more eloquent men, provided he compose his own life answerable to God's Word." The sermon was always concluded with a doxology to the Holy Trinity. The posture of preacher and hearers was generally the reverse of that prevalent now, for then the preacher sat and his hearers stood. It was a peculiar custom in the African Church, when the preacher chanced to cite some remarkable text of Scripture in the middle of his sermon, for the people to join with him in repeating the remainder of it. This was, no doubt, done to encourage the people to hear, read, and remember the Scriptures. It was a very general custom for the people to show their appreciation of the sermon by public applause, manifested by words (as "orthodox"), or signs, or clapping of hands. We notice also the custom, prevailing among many ancient hearers, of writing down the sermons, word for word, as they were delivered, and by this means some extempore discourses were handed down to posterity. See Bingham, Christ. Antiq. p. 705 sq.; Walcott, Sacred Archoeol. s.v.