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 oppose
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.