A short time ago we compared the content of the preaching from our pulpits in the past and now. There are still a few details that should be mentioned.
As I ask around among our older folk about the difference in the preaching then and now the common remark is made, that the preaching is far more positive now than in the past. For some time after 1924 the preaching was negative in the sense that the controversy was still fresh in the minds of the preacher and the pew. Much time was devoted to exposing the error of common grace and the well-meant offer of salvation. This apologetic preaching was likely also in evidence after 1953. That can readily be overdone, since the church must be built up in the most holy faith in every aspect of our lives.
It must be admitted that not much consideration was given to the young people and children of the congregation. They were usually expected to pick up the crumbs that fell from the table. And they often did. Even when they were very young they were encouraged, not only to sit still, but also to listen. It is really quite surprising what young children do pick up from a sermon. Maybe you adults can still remember certain things that struck your attention in your early days. Yet I do consider it a good practice to keep in mind the younger element of the congregation in the preaching, and also for parents to help their children to listen by asking them about the sermon. Soon they take our places in the congregation.
In those days, the preaching from our pulpits was definitely theocentric. When the text centered about love the emphasis fell upon the fact that “God is love”, and there is no love apart from God. He is the Fountain of love, and our love must end in Him. When the text spoke of grace the emphasis again was on the fact that God is the God of all grace. In fact, the first denominational radio message over WFUR struck the key-note: “God is”. And the second followed with: “God is God”.
We do well to maintain this emphasis. The chief aim in our preaching must be to glorify God’s holy Name, for of Him, and through Him, and unto Him are all things forever and ever. Let us never become anthropocentric (man-centered).
It was a common practice in those years to preach a series of sermons not only on the shorter, but also on the longer Books of the Bible. I can recall hearing sermons from the historical sections of the Pentateuch, from Judges, Isaiah, Malachi, Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, James, I and II Peter, Jude and Revelation.
Members of the congregation enjoyed those series. They knew exactly what to expect on Sunday and many read that portion of Scripture at their devotions. They became thoroughly acquainted with that Book or Epistle, which continued to live in their souls. One woman remarked that every Sunday afternoon she read the entire epistle of Ephesians in anticipation of the evening sermon. She said she had virtually learned it by heart. It seems to me that this had a distinct advantage. For the minister, it meant that he did not have to search for a text every week.
In times past ministers seemed to prefer short texts rather than large sections of a chapter. Today the tendency of some seems to be more toward larger passages of Scripture. Something can be said in favor of both. A shorter passage allows for a more thorough and detailed exegesis. A longer passage, if properly presented, gives a clear insight into a larger portion of Scripture. That is especially true if the central thought of the text is clearly presented. When I was doing mission work in Ripon, California we had only an afternoon service on Sunday. In the morning, I attended one of the local churches. That minister always took a large part of a chapter for his text, and discussed each verse separately. The central thought was never brought home. For example, when he preached on John 7:1-10, Jesus’ brethren challenging Him to declare openly His mission, the minister never once referred to Psalm 69:8, “I am become a stranger unto my brethren, and an alien to my mother’s children.” In such instances one does not see the forest for the trees and goes home with the question: “What do I take along with me for the week?”
One other remark: is there possibly even in our day a lack of consideration in our prayers and sermons for the sinner who is wrestling with his sins; the weak, the weary one who has not yet found rest for his soul?
In passing, something also should be said about counseling. Personally, I have a feeling that in our day counseling is overdone. That is, too much emphasis is laid on personal counseling and not enough on the power of the Word that is preached. Also in counseling the minister is called to: “Preach the word”. (II Tim.4:2). He must not lend an ear to all kinds of modern theories of psychologists.
As young people in the congregation you do well to remember that our Sabbath can be desecrated already before it begins by not preparing ourselves properly, so that we are not fit to devote ourselves wholeheartedly to the Lord. Worship takes effort, concentration, and above all consecration. Our God is worthy of that! Never fail to pray the Lord of the Sabbath for His indispensable blessing!
In conclusion, we live in perilous times. What happened recently in Waco can also happen to us in the future. Now more than ever we must remember the key-note that is struck every Sunday at the beginning of our worship service. The congregation arises to sing:
“Praise God from whom all blessings flow,
Praise Him all creatures here below,
Praise Him above, ye heav’nly host,
Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost
Then in awesome silence we bow our heads to receive the benediction of Christ, who speaks to us through the minister. Ministers are ambassadors of Jesus Christ. We come to hear the voice of Jesus when we worship on the Sabbath.