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On Appeal

It is set before us in this last chapter of our lecture to say
something in reference to appeal as an essential quality of the sermon.
The discourse, it must always be borne in mind, is not an end in
itself, but a means to an end, and that end the bending of the human
will to "repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus
Christ." To the full and perfect surrender which this implies men are
found to be opposed in every possible way. Pride is against it;
selfishness is against it; self-indulgence and the lusts of the flesh
are against it. Often, in addition to these natural elements of
opposition, a man's reluctance to yield himself to God will be
fortified by tradition and strengthened by association. A hundred
circumstances affecting his life, his comfort, his general well-being
may seem to encourage, almost necessitate his refusal. Then, again,
the teaching of all scripture goes to create and establish the belief
that there are supernatural prompters of the sinner in his rebellion
against God; that the warfare of the preacher for his deliverance is
not against flesh and blood only, but also "against principalities and
powers and spiritual wickedness in high places." We do not always
quite realise all that it may mean to a man to take the step to which
we invite him--sometimes so lightly. To begin the following of Christ,
or, having already begun that following, to arise from slackness to
whole-hearted service, may involve the snapping of long cherished ties
and an absolute revolution in every habit and mode of life and thought.
By many men the Kingdom of Heaven can only be entered at the cost of
what seems to them a stupendous sacrifice and the facing of what
appears an appalling risk. Against all these forces and considerations
has the preacher to prevail, and that, through no compulsive power, but
by exercise of such gifts of persuasion as are given unto him to be
cultivated to that end, God's Spirit helping his efforts. He is here
to make men do--do that which on every earthly account they had
rather not do. Unless he accomplishes this result his work has been in

Now, it is well that the nature of the work, its greatness and the
hardness of it, should be fully realised and constantly remembered.
There is always a danger of being misled by the shows of incomplete, or
false, success. In no branch of service is this more true than in
preaching. It is such a glorious thing to be able to gather great
congregations; but even this may be done and the messenger fail. It is
such a delightful thing to a preacher to watch a multitude waiting
spellbound beneath his eloquence in rapt attention, or swept by waves
of emotion; but that multitude may disperse, the great end of preaching
still unwrought and the whole attempt a splendid failure. It is
possible to attract people to your preaching, possible to win the crown
of their approval, and yet come short of accomplishing the very results
for which you were commissioned from on high. To please is one thing;
to prevail against the heart of sin another.

And with the recollection of this much-to-be-remembered truth it will
be well that a sense of the difficulty of the real task should abide
continually with us. Some of these difficulties, we have already
mentioned. The hardest to overcome are the obstacles within the mind
and heart of the hearer himself. It is always finally the man who
has to be conquered. This, we surely know through our own spiritual
experiences. He is bone of our bone, flesh of our flesh. Here is
surely one reason why the Master sets men to preach to men:--Because
every preacher has been himself a rebel and knows the way rebellion
takes in heart and brain. Ours also was once the stubborn will; ours
the stiff neck; ours the evil heart of unbelief. We, as well as he
whom we now assail for Jesus' sake, have said, "I will not have this
man to reign over me." Once upon a time we, also, bore ourselves
proudly and contemptuously. Never are we weary of thinking of the
wonder that ever we were brought to ground our arms at the Master's
feet. Will the winning of others be easier than was the victory won
over ourselves? Now that we battle against what once we were and did,
we should understand from memory the immensity of the task. Once
realised, it should never be forgotten. There is no miracle in all the
Gospel history greater than the miracle of a broken human will.

Yes, the preacher's work is at the best a supremely hard one. The
sense of this hardness must get into his soul, or else all hope of
success will be vain. Should there ever come to him a moment in which
it shall appear an easy thing to preach, or when his knowledge of the
congregation awaiting him shall seem to indicate that "anything will
do," then let him, in that moment, consider himself in peril of missing
the true end of his calling. Anything will not do. The very best
will hardly do! Think of the hardness of the heart! Think of the
arguments of the tempter! Think how fair and sweet sin often seems!
Think of all the sacrifice and self-denial and self-surrender we are
asking from men! Here is need for the utmost diligence; for the
development of every latent power of persuasion; for the employment of
every ounce of energy, of every resource of skill; for the expenditure
of every volt of passion the soul can contain. We can only hope to
capture the citadel when the utmost possibilities of attack are brought
to bear upon it. Even then the garrison may hold out against us!

And the ultimate possibilities of attack are the ultimate possibilities
of appeal. We speak of appeal as a quality that must pervade the whole
of the sermon. We have heard counsels on preaching in which advice was
given about "the appeal" or "the final appeal," whereby were meant
certain perorative paragraphs; the remainder of the discourse being
divided into "introduction," "exegesis," "argument," "illustration,"
"application." We remember some of these perorative paragraphs, and
sometimes we have been tempted to ask whether the same note is struck
in the preaching of to-day as was sounded forth in their stirring
words. In spite of the homilists the sermon was generally better than
their advice concerning its making and its form. The paragraph in
question, though, perhaps, neither the preacher nor his adviser
suspected the truth, was only powerful because it formed the climax of
all that had gone before. It was the final assault following upon
processes of sapping and mining, bombardment and fusillade. The appeal
must commence with the first word of the sermon. The very
introduction must be persuasive. The motif of the whole composition
must be the wooing note. Obviously this note will need to be struck in
many keys. The appeal will have many expressions; and in their variety
and form the skill of the preacher will have such room for exercise and
such need for it as no other duty of his life displays.

To mention some of the elements of this appeal, of which, again, the
whole sermon is the expression:--There is first, that gift, or
endowment, or talent--call it what you will--which we speak of as Tact.
In some men this power amounts almost to genius. Of such an one we
say, "he has a way with him." He is the man to bring about
"settlements." His very voice, his very manner, bring disputations to
an end. In political conflicts, in social misunderstandings, in labour
troubles he is invaluable. In the church he is a treasure. In the
Sunday school his price is above rubies. In the pulpit he enjoys an
immeasurable advantage. Happy the congregation whose preacher "has a
way with him." We have known such men and envied them. Their gift
defies analysis. It is an element!

Of men such as these there are, alas, comparatively few! They are born
into the world with a genius for always doing the right thing in the
right way. Most of us enter into life with a genius for doing
everything in the wrong way, and we can only look enviously upon our
more richly endowed brethren and learn from them to practise as an art
what they do as the result of an inheritance. We can do this and,
indeed, we must do it if it be any part of our life's work to
influence men to courses against their minds. The sermon must be
tactful or else, though it possess every other excellence, it will most
surely fail. How often have we heard, as a criticism, the one word
"tactless," which meant that the truth had been expressed in such
language, or in such a manner as to accentuate, rather than allay, the
opposition of the hearer; that, instead of getting round the
prejudices of the congregation by a flanking movement, the preacher had
assailed them by a frontal attack, and so called to the ramparts every
sleeping power of opposition. Many a well conceived and convincing
sermon fails from just this cause.

So then we feel inclined to urge that the cultivation of tactfulness
should be reckoned an indispensable part of every preacher's training,
for there is no prevailing with men without it. For this, among other
things, he will require that thorough understanding of men of which we
spoke in an earlier chapter--an understanding which must include a
familiarity with their tastes, their prejudices, their weaknesses and
infirmities. To this understanding must be added the fruits of much
self-study and criticism. To be able so to speak as to secure
acceptance for the Word of Life is worth it all. The basis of appeal
is conciliation. The instrument of conciliation is tact!

And having, through the exercise of this gift of tact, secured for
himself and his message the toleration of the hearer, the preacher will
proceed to make the best of the advantage thus obtained. He has made
his man a listener but the great work still remains to be done, and
again we say that it is of all work the hardest to accomplish. At
once, let us acknowledge the impossibility of outlining a method that
will be effective in every case. At once, too, let us say that in no
branch of Christian service is so much left to the inventive and
initiative faculties of the worker as in preaching. Still some
principles there are which may well be named as worthy of remembrance
in the day of action.

And the first of these may well be this:--That the first assault should
be made through the intellect. The sermon must contain, at least, a
solid foundation of good reasoning. "Come now and let us reason
together, saith the Lord," was the prophet's invitation to Israel in
the day of her rebellion. The preacher should see to it that he
"render a reason." It is no compliment to an audience to fail to
recognise its mental powers. It is something less than a compliment
merely to pretend to argue, as is so often done. That is not only to
fail to produce the result we desire but to estrange the hearer still
further and so make his case more hopeless than before.

It is one of the many accusations made against the modern pulpit, that
it has fallen into the habit of begging the question and basing its
appeals upon assumptions. Men of mind come to hear the preacher and go
away disappointed. The good man declaims, but makes no real attempt to
prove the truth of his declamation, or to anticipate the mental
difficulties into which his statements may lead the hearer. He makes
statements, but does not substantiate them. How often we hear of the
intellectual barrenness of the modern sermon! How often we are told
that men are asked to take the most important steps, and make the most
astounding sacrifices upon arguments which would not convince a seventh
standard schoolboy. In speaking of a certain orator, some one said,
"There was physical power, for the preacher shouted; ho(a)rse power,
for in his roaring he fortunately lost his voice; water power, because
he wept most copiously; everything but brain power." We cannot proceed
on the exploded fiction that ignorance is the mother of devotion. The
schoolmaster is abroad. More than this, the denier is busy, and,
though his reasoning may be packed with fallacies, he can only be
answered by arguments as sound as his are false. Perhaps there was
never a time in which the literature of unbelief had so great and
general a currency as it has to-day. It circulates in our workshops in
unnumbered pages, for its special attack seems to be directed against
our working men, especially the younger members of the class. Here,
undoubtedly, is one of the causes of the apparent drift of the toiling
masses from the churches. A preaching that is merely declamatory,
visionary, emotional; that takes its stand upon tradition, the
authority of great names the dim antiquity of its far-off past,
failing, meanwhile, to recognise the eager questioning of the modern
man, must be prepared for non-success, though there may come from
certain quarters, even in the hour of its failure, the meed of
popularity and applause.

Let this, therefore, be laid down:--That the appeal of the sermon must
at the beginning be the appeal of intellect to intellect. Let no one
be made afraid by this statement. It is not contended that every
sermon must be an elaborate argument of the case for the Christian
demand. This would necessitate that every preacher be a specialist in
theology and apologetics, which is obviously impossible. Happily, the
situation, strained as it is, is not such as to render it needful that
only experts should venture to preach the gospel. But it is needful
that the sermon stand the test of common sense and, in that way, carry
in it its own defence. It is needful that, as the preacher proceeds to
develop his subject, the hearer shall find cause to assent to the
positions taken up. Otherwise it will be useless to invite him to
forsake his own ground in order to share that from which he has been
addressed. Of course it must be conceded that even this modest demand
will mean much study for the preacher and a careful preparation of the
sermon. Surely, however, the end is worth the labour. In no work is
proficiency gained without some taking of pains. That preacher who is
afraid of a little toil in order that he may thereby improve his
usefulness, and increase his success, should find proof in this fear of
effort that his commission--if ever he had one--has expired. One thing
is sure:--That a sermon which fails to satisfy the intellect--we do not
say of the atheist or the agnostic, to whom, by the way, we are hardly
ever called to preach, but of the average hearer--will ask in vain for
the surrender of men to God. It may be full of sentiment and
overflowing with emotion; it holds no true appeal!

But the intellect is not the whole of a man. The sermon that contains
no appeal to a hearer's emotions will fail, just as certainly as one
that contains no address to his reason. If sermons are full of
emotion, and empty of arguments, they are invertebrate and produce but
transient effects. If the sermon be simply and solely an intellectual
effort it will be cold and nerveless and ineffective. You may
convince a man beyond all possibility of contradiction or protest,
and at the same time utterly fail to bring him to the decision you
desire him to register. Probably an analysis of most of our
congregations would prove that so far as merely intellectual agreement
is concerned the great majority of hearers are already on the
preacher's side as a result of years of hearing while, as yet,
undecided to attempt the path so plainly stretching away before them.

The preacher must address himself to all the emotions of the heart
for any one of them may be the means of carrying his message to that
innermost chamber whither he desires that it shall come. Fear and
courage, doubt and confidence, all should be assailed, for the
awakening of any one of them may bring to pass the accomplishment of
the preacher's glorious purpose. Of course we have become familiar
with all that is said by superior persons about what they are pleased
to decry as "mere sentiment." We know, but too well, the man who at
once, and invariably, characterises any preaching that touches the
hearts of men as "playing to the gallery,"--the man whose one and only
demand is for intellectualism. Him we know in his superiority to
feeling, his scorn of smiles and tears. We know him and, thank God! we
generally ignore him; as we must learn to do more and more. The city
of Mansoul has many gates--more, indeed, than honest Bunyan saw--and
happy may the preacher be if he can gain admission by any one of them!

Then, although the hearer is "a sinner," and must be approached as
such, the sermon that will lead him furthest along the upward way will
be one in which it is recognised that he is not so utterly depraved as
to be without some lingering, or latent, good to which appeal may, and
ought to be made. Find the good in a child and by the use of it lead
him to the best, is a sound principle in the training of the young. It
is equally sound as a rule for dealing with their elders. Find the
good in a man if you would save him wholly and for ever.

For "good" there is, and that in the very worst of men. No doctrine of
human depravity that theologians may teach can alter the fact, that,
deep in the heart of man, may be found a starting point whence the
highest heights may be gained if we have but the skill to lead him
forward. We may speak of him as being sick in head and heart, as "full
of wounds and bruises and putrifying sores." It is all true and yet,
paradoxical as it may appear, there are still in him the power to love;
some gift of gratitude; some sense of fair play; an elemental idea of
justice. There is still some secret reverence for purity and modesty
and truth. The preacher, notwithstanding all the schoolmen may tell
him, must believe this, or else he will not effectively preach.

There is much to be gained by every one in believing the best of human
nature. For the preacher such a belief will provide ways into the
city, the inner fortress of which he means to capture for his Lord. He
will call upon the best qualities in his hearer to help him as he
pushes home the siege. There is a power of loving. Surely he will
enlist the aid of this by reminding the wanderer of the love wherewith
He has loved him. "We love Him because He first loved us," so wrote
one whose will had been brought low what time his affection was
entreated. There is a sense of gratitude. Surely this will be called
to look upon that sacrifice on which the ages gaze! That sense of
justice; that elementary instinct of fair play--they, too, may be rare
colleagues of the messenger, if he will but enlist them on his side.
For this method of prosecuting his saving warfare he has precedent
enough in the prophets:--"And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men
of Judah, judge, I pray you, betwixt Me and My vineyard! What could
have been done more in My vineyard, that I have not done in it?
Wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it
forth wild grapes?" Here is an appeal to the inborn sense of equity
which still lingered in the heart of the chosen people. The claims of
honesty and chastity, of truthfulness and benevolence and gentleness
will not always be in vain, if the preacher will remember that some
reverence for these things still lingers in the heart of even the most
abandoned of men and address himself thereto. He is the wisest of all
campaigners who enlists the enemy against himself.

To all these elements of human nature, then, the preacher will address
himself. He will do more:--He will study times and seasons and events,
for times and seasons and events often produce moods which infect a
whole people. We have examples of this in the moral influence of the
festivals of the Christian year. They were wise men who, for all
futurity, connected with certain dates the outstanding events of the
sacred history, the memory of great saints, confessors and martyrs.
Probably we of the Nonconformist pulpits might here learn a lesson in
homiletic tactics from our friends of the Roman and Anglican churches.
There should only be one subject for Good Friday; one for Easter morn;
one for Christmastide; one for the hour wherein the old year dies. It
is not merely a tribute to convention to observe these seasons. It is
strategically wise to do so. The preacher should use Whitsun as an
opportunity of leading the Church to prayer for new pentecosts; harvest
time to stir the slumbering thankfulness of men. He who neglects these
ready-made chances throws away precious advantage for his appeal and
misses the psychological moment.

So much for the seasons and their memories. We have experience, also,
of the way in which the watchful and tactful preacher will profit from
the occurrences of his time. In the events of the day much material
for the pointing of appeal may often be found. The calamities which
befall; the happenings which arrest the attention of the multitude and
often hush a whole nation with the hush of awe--he will find in these
things an opening to be entered on behalf of the enterprise he has in
hand. Very watchful must he be, for everything that touches the heart
may mean "a way in" which it were a misfortune to miss. He must look
for the very slightest change of mood in his people, for so his
long-hoped-for chance may come. With all he may do; after every plea
he may still find that the victory is unwon. He has gained the
intellect it may be or moved the heart; but the stubborn will still
holds out against him.

Yes, notwithstanding all he may do the will may resist him still, but
this fact, instead of causing the preacher to give up in despair,
should move him to still greater efforts. The more difficult the task,
the greater the honour laid upon him who is sent to attempt it. This
is the understanding of military life, and this should be the
understanding of the preacher. He will not fail with all. Some
there will be who will ground their arms at Jesus' feet; some who will
give themselves to the living of the new life, who will accept the
invitation to climb the hills of God. In every one of these the
preacher will have ample reward for all his "work of faith and labour
of love"; for he who "converteth a sinner from the error of his ways
saveth a soul from death and hideth a multitude of sins." To know that
he has done these things for one brother man will be better than the
breath of popularity. Sweeter than all the compliments of men will be
the far-echoing "Well done" of Christ in that day when the messenger
lays his commission at His feet.

Next: Conclusion

Previous: On Transparency

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