Preparing the Expository Sermon (Lecture)
September 8th, 1997
PREPARING THE EXPOSITORY SERMON (LECTURE)
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Peter 1:16-21
Our lecture today is on Preparing the Expository Sermon. As I outlined the lesson, I thought of how I ought to have a sermon here – an expository sermon – for us to look at. Then, I remembered, I have book after book of expository sermons.
I preached through the Bible, as you know. Then, when I got through, I went back to some of the books of the Bible and preached extensively and newly upon those texts. And they are published. There is a book on Ezekiel and about four on Daniel. There’s a book on Matthew. There is about three of them or more on the Book of Acts. There’s a book on Galatians. There’s a book on Ephesians. There’s a book on James. There’s a book on 1 and 2 Peter. And there are five books on the Revelation.
So, I thought, it would be foolish for me to take time to bring a sermon here for you to look at to see how an auditory sermon is presented. So, if you have opportunity along the way, why, you can get hold of those books and take a look at them. They are expositions of the Word of God.
Now, I want to make several introductory remarks about expository preaching. The way I have prepared, fundamentally, in my 71 years of preaching – the way is divided into two parts. One part – the first part; the one we’re going to talk about this morning – is the construction of message: what I’m going to say and how I’m going to say it. But, the second part is no less vital and important. About half of the time before I preach, I spend in prayer and in my heart, getting the message in my soul and all that pertains to its delivery. So I repeat, there are two parts to the message. One is its construction – the formation of the sermon itself. The second part is getting it in my soul; in my heart and in my memory.
One time, back yonder in the beginning – many years ago, I got down on my knees before God. And I said, "Dear Lord, I’m going to preach without notes. I’m going to stand up there with a Bible in my hands. And I’m going to proclaim the Word of God out of the Bible and not with any kind of a note." When I started, I was absolutely paralyzed with fear. What if I couldn’t recall the second part of the message? What if I could not remember the things that I had prepared? Oh, I was afraid. But, I trusted God for it. And that was over 71 years ago. And from that day until this, I have delivered every message without notes. And God has never forsaken me.
Once in a while – once in a great while, I may hesitate when I come to the third point. But, I just keep on preaching – keep on talking – and in just a moment, they will come back to me. The Lord has never let me down. And I praise His name for answering that prayer.
I want to make another observation about my fifty three year ministry there in the First Baptist Church of Dallas. For so many of those years, I prepared three sermons every Sunday, and delivered them at 8:15, at 10:50 and at 7:30 o’clock. In all those fifty three years that I had been preaching there, I have never preached in any service but that God didn’t give us a harvest. For fifty three years, every time I have preached, there are people who are saved. There are people who join the church. There are people who come forward at that invitation. It has never ever failed. And I could not thank God enough for that kind of a blessing.
Now, today, we are not going to speak of the harvest, of the intercession, of the asking of the Lord’s blessing. We are not going to speak of the time of prayer and of seeking the face and blessing of God. What we’re going to do this morning is speak of the mechanics of the building of a sermon: the how-to, the what to do to prepare the message. We are going to talk about the construction and the creation of the message – what you do there in getting it ready to preach; so the subject, Preparing the Expository Sermon.
At the beginning of the preparation, when you are called to a church, when you stand up in the pulpit for the first time it is fine to have general sermons. You are getting acquainted. You can speak of the call. You can speak of the goals and the dreams you have for the church – anything, to begin your ministry before the congregation.
Then, after you are done with those general sermons, you ought to announce the outline for the future messages that you are going to speak on – the expositions that lie ahead. You are going to announce your preaching program: the books of the Bible that you are going to cover and the messages; the theme that you are going to follow in presenting those sermons and all of your sermons thereafter ought to be expositional. They ought to be presenting one of the books of the Bible.
There are exceptions to that and I mention some of them. There are times when you ought to prepare a special sermon: Mother’s Day; Father’s Day; the Sunday closest to the Fourth of July; Thanksgiving day; Christmas day; New Year’s day; and Easter. Those are special days in the year in which you deliver special messages. But, outside of those special days, always, when you stand up there to preach, you ought to deliver an exposition of a passage of Scripture in a selected book that you are presenting to the people.
Well, how do you prepare that message? That’s what we are going to talk about this morning. The first thing to do, when you pick up your Bible and start studying that book that you’re going to expound – when you’ve chosen the section that you’re going to present, first of all, look at it in the Word of God. If you know Hebrew and Greek, look at the passage in Hebrew and Greek. Then, of course, you would follow the message in English. And for that purpose of getting acquainted with the text, the passage, there is nothing more profitably than to read about it in your commentaries.
And as I go through my library, I just look at some of the commentaries that I have on those shelves. I have the American Commentary on the New Testament. I have Gray and Adams. I have Sidlow Baxter. I have the Christian Book of Knowledge. I have the Expositor’s Outline of the Whole Bible. I have the Complete Biblical Library. I have the Expositor’s Bible. I have the Introduction to the English Bible. I have Matthew Henry’s Commentary. I have the Great Texts of the Bible. I have the Sermon Outline Bible. I have the Pulpit Commentary, which is a long, long series of books. I have the Preacher’s Homiletical Commentary, which is another long series of books. Now, I mention this to remind you that, as you live, as you move around, and as you get acquainted with people, you remember to pick up all the commentaries that you can. And you do that.
And the first thing you do after you select your passage or part of that book you are going to deliver; expound; and after you look at the text in Hebrew and Greek and English, then you look at the text in all of those commentaries. And if you will do that, you will have an acquaintance with that passage from the Bible that is just simply marvelous.
Now, I want to mention the most blessed discovery I ever made; the thing that has contributed to the richness of my messages more than anything I could verbalize on it. First of all, have, secure, buy a wide-margin Bible. They are published and you can find them in a bookstore. Get you a wide-margin Bible. Then, every volume that has to do with the presentation of the text of the the passage; give a number to that Bible, starting at 1 and go right on down. And in that wide-margin Bible, write the number of that volume, a hyphen, and the text upon which the sermon or the message or the passage is discussed. There is not anything I have ever discovered in my life that has had as rich a reward of that simple use of the books that present the Word of God.
Now, I want to tell you something personal about me. Now, remember, it’s about me – it’s personal. All through college – four years of it – and all through the Seminary – six years of it – the professors, without exception, all pounded this into my head and heart: that I was never to use what another man had said or done. Everything was to be from me, personally. And if I used anything else, why, I was copying and I was being unfaithful and untrue to the call of my own ministry. So, I followed that for years. Whatever any other preacher said, whatever any other preachers did, by no means would I put it in my own ministry. Then, as time went on, and the years passed, I came to a conclusion and I mean a deep and everlasting conclusion that if I preached just out of my own experience and out of my own knowledge and out of my own head and heart, my sermons would always be thin. And I mean T-H-I-N: thin. For I don’t care who I am, or even how long I’ve been at it, my own experience is very limited. I’ve just done this. And I’ve just introduced this. And I’ve just picked up this.
I don’t care who I am, how successful a blessing or how long I’ve been at it, my own experience is very, very limited. But, there before me are the words and the descriptions and the presentations of uncounted numbers of men, some of them great, great men, and what they have experienced, and what they have said and what they have expounded in the messages they delivered to their people. So, I reversed my whole life. I changed my whole life. Anywhere, anytime, anyhow, any man that said anything pertinent about the Word of God, I endorse it. I included it and I thank God for it. And I use it. There has never been a change in my preaching comparable than that day.
Now, I’m not saying that you ought to be as I was. I’m just telling you my own personal experience. When you prepare that message, use everything that you can find – up and own, back and forth, said and unsaid, presented and unpresented. Do everything you can to find everything you can that pertains to that exposition and use it. And the Lord give you His blessing in it.
Now, when you study and read, by that time, there will come to your heart and to your head a theme and a subject for that section of the Bible that you are expounding. Then, as you continue to look at it and study it and pray over it, there will come an outline in your heart and head that you can use. Then, as time goes on, illustrations will come to you. And illustrations, you will find in your reading. Then, finally, there will come to you the climax and the appeal of the message. You can count on that. You don’t have to worry about any of that. As you do what I have said, all of that will come to your heart. You can write it down and you can make it the fundamental theme and message that you are to present.
When you’re done with the message, carefully file it. Keep it. There are two ways to file those messages. One is by text. You get you a filing cabinet of some kind. And every message you preach, you file it by text. Put it there, in that filing cabinet. Then, of course, you have a file for those special messages that you have delivered: like, on Mother’s Day; like a patriotic sermon, on the Sunday closest to the Fourth of July; like Christmas; like all the rest of them. You have a special file for those special days.
And then, as you get older and continue preaching, that will be the most marvelous, marvelous of all of the possessions you will ever have. I have in my filing cabinet – because they’re making a Legacy there at the Church – I wouldn’t know it otherwise – I have about 4,200 sermons in that series of filing cabinets out of about 10,000 that I have preached. And I have outlines of all ten thousand. So, you do that and it will be the most enriching possession you will ever have. I don’t care what else ever comes into your hands and into your possession.
Is there a question or a comment? Yes.
Well, it never occurred to me that anybody would ever look at those. Had it ever occurred to me, I would have done a lot better – if I had known that somebody would be trying to copy these and print them and use them. But, it just never entered my mind.
Now, I want to conclude with a word from John A. Broadus – B-R-O-A-D-U-S – John A. Broadus. He was, without doubt, one of the most marvelous professors you could ever know. There were four men who founded the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. They founded it in South Carolina and then moved it to Louisville, Kentucky, where it has been ever since. And there were these four professors who founded this group, and taught in it until they died. And John A. Broadus was one of them. Dr. Boyce – James P. Boyce – was the President of the school. And when he died, Dr. Broadus took his place.
Now, I’m going to read some of the things that Dr. Broadus says. "The great appointed means of presenting – preaching – the good tidings of salvation through Jesus Christ is preaching the word of salvation. And this, nothing can supercede."
Then, I write here this note:; "Just recently, I came across the very last words that Dr. Broadus ever taught in the classroom. He knew he was approaching his death. He finished his teaching career at Southern Seminary by completing a third class in the English New Testament.
After completing his review of the lesson, he turned to his students and departed from his lesson plan. These are the words that were recorded by a student in the class. Quote: "Young gentlemen, if this were the last time I should ever be permitted to address you, I would feel amply repaid for consuming the whole hour endeavoring to impress upon you these two things: one, true piety; and then, like Apollos, to be men mighty in the Scriptures."
The student went on to say; "Then pausing, he stood for a moment, with his piercing eyes fixed upon us, and repeated over and over again, in that slow, but wonderfully impressive, style peculiar to Broadus, quote, ‘mighty in the Scriptures – mighty in the Scriptures,’ until the whole class echoed the Word of God – until the whole class seemed to be lifted, through him, into a sacred nearness to the Master. That picture of him, as he stood there at that moment, can never be obliterated from my mind," end quote.
And you’re going to listen about that for the rest of this class, as I present to you the mightiness of God’s Word and our call to expound it to the people. The link between the preaching of the gospel and the preaching of the Word is indivisible and unbreakable. Nevertheless, the sad history of the last two centuries indicate an increasing pattern of preachers who attempt to liberate the gospel from the Scriptures. This pattern weakened them. From the beginning to the end, we are to preach the Word. We are to preach no other word. Preaching cannot be severed from Scripture, if it is to be authentic and mighty Christian preaching.
If preachers wish to preach divine authority, they must proclaim this message of the inspired Word of God, for the Scriptures alone have divine authority. If preachers wish to preach with divine authority, they must submit themselves and echo the Word of God. We are to preach that which has been sent, delivered and addressed to us, not a message that has been developed or altered. The Bible is often displaced by the authority of our personal experience, our pragmatic concerns and our pragmatic goals. Research indicates widespread and biblical ignorance among evangelicals and ideas even among Southern Baptists.
That is unthinkable. And that is why we have this school. That is why we have this class. And that is why you are here to present; to expound the Word of God.
I want to take a leaf out of my own life. Right after I came here, I announced to the people that I was going to preach through the Bible. Where I left off Sunday morning, I was to begin again Sunday night. Where I left off Sunday night, I was to start Sunday morning.
My predecessor at the First Baptist Church of Dallas was possibly the greatest preacher our denomination has ever produced: George W. Truett. Dr. Truett never preached an expository sermon in his life – not one time. He preached topically. And I have the sermons, the ones that have been published of Dr. Truett. Every one is a topical sermon; every one. The only kind of a sermon those people had ever heard was a topical sermon.
When I announced that I was going to expound the Bible, the deacons gathered around me and said, "Young pastor, you’re going to kill the Church. The Church is going to die. Nobody’s going to come here to hear a man preach about Haggai, or Zechariah, or Nahum. They don’t even know where it is." But, I had presented my soul before God. I am going to expound that Word, section-by-section, book-by-book.
Well, I started out – about a year or so after I was there, I started out. As I went on, I preached slower and slower and slower. When I got to the Revelation, they published five volumes of my sermons on the Revelation. And had I preached as slowly when I began in Genesis, as I did when I was finished with Revelation, God would have given me about 500 years of life to have finished the whole thing.
All right, what about that word of the deacons to me? "Nobody is going to come. The Church is going to die." Well, what really did happen?
You couldn’t get into the place. You couldn’t get in it. It was crowded and packed, to the very top row. And that is when we began having two services, one at 8:15 and one at 10:50, because the people were so imorous in trying to get in the big building, we had to do something to make room for them. I don’t know of anything – and I must think about this further – I don’t know of anything that had the effect among people as just standing up there and preaching the Word of God. I have a whole lot of things to say about it and will say along the way But if you do that, it will be a mighty, mighty instrument in your hands. I don’t care who you are.
One thing that I think I mentioned last time: when you stand up there and preach out of your life, out of your heart, oh brother it’s a different world. If it comes from you and the people can just decimate you. But, when you stand up there and preach the Bible, and say, "This is the Word of God," with what authority you can avow it and with what confidence can you stand upon the rock of God’s Word and announce what it is the Lord says.
And I used an illustration about homosexuality. If you stand up there and tell them what you think about homosexuality, then there will be people out there that will want to kill you. And they will try it if they can get by with it. We have in our church a whole bunch of homosexuals. They are in the choir, which isn’t unusual. But, when you stand up there and open the Bible and read what Leviticus says – what God said – about it; or if you stand up there and tell them what Paul, in the Book of Romans, said about it – what God’s Word says about it, then nobody is going to do anything but go out of the way with the conviction that is the revelation of God. I use that just as an illustration of a thousand things.
How do you finance your church? I would say 99 percent or 999 percent of the Christian churches in the world do it by the preaching of the gospel. We had a meeting of our elders or of our deacons and we’ve got this budget and we hope that you will respond. All right, there’s nothing wrong with that. And God bless the bishops and the elders as they present this budget for the people to subscribe.
Why not stand up there in the pulpit with the Word of God and read it? "The tithe is the Lord’s. On the first day of the week, let every one of you lay by as the Lord hath blessed him." The tithe belongs to God. It doesn’t belong to me. And you ought to present it to the Lord on the first day of the week.
I want – and I have never heard in my life anyone to preach on it. I want you to turn to the Book of Hebrews. In the Book of Hebrews, turn to chapter 7 and in chapter 7, turn to verse 8. Allen do you have it? Stand up and read it with a conviction of heart so should you believe it.
(A student stands and reads.)
That’s a mistranslation. Does somebody have a King James Version? Would you please stand read and read the King James Version of it.
(Another student stand and reads.)
I have never heard anybody ever preach on that. But, that’s one of the finest verses in the Word of God: "Here men that die receive tithes." We look at them every Lord’s Day. There they are. There they are, passing the plate and receiving it. "But there he receiveth them, of whom it is written that he liveth" [Hebrews 7:8]. Who actually receives that tithe; that man down there who is to die? No! That glorious Savior up there, who will never ever die again. He is the one who actually receives it. And when I bring it to the church, I give it ostensibly to that deacon who is passing the plate but, if you look at what God’s Word says, the one who is receiving it is up there in heaven.
This is not anything, I repeat, that has the power of the preaching of the Word of God in preaching. And that is an illustration of it on financing the work of the Lord. Take a text like that out of the Bible and expound it: the tithe actually is placed in the hands of the Lord. He is the one who receives it.
Well, sweet, precious preachers, does someone want to say something? Does anything want to ask something? Does anyone want to make an observation? All right son you have to speak loud so we can hear him. Dr. Allen, do you want him to come up here or do you want to take this off of me?
(Student asks question)
Son, when we have Founder’s Day, which is soon, you’re going to see me resoundingly preach about that: the denial and the repudiation of men’s behavior and actuality by the preachers and by the churches and that includes many, many in our Southern Baptist fellowship. And God bless you, the Lord be good to you in preaching the Word of God. That’s why God calls us and sends us out to do that. You’ll want to hear me expound on that when I give that message that I’ll bring – I am to do that, isn’t that right?
Oh dear! One of the things I’m going to hammer on is the reason for the dying phenomenon that we see in the Western world, namely the dying of the church and the dying of the Christian faith. Where does that come from? Well, as you know, for years and years and years, I went all over this world, and I’ll tell you some brief illustrations.
I went to St. Isaac’s Cathedral, the biggest one in Eastern Europe and the whole cathedral, all of it was an exhibition of the work of the communists; all of it. I went to St. Paul’s Cathedral, the second largest cathedral in the world after St. Peter’s in Rome. I went there and sat down. They had a small crowd. It looked like they were all tourists. And the Dean climbed up in that high pulpit and delivered the morning message on the possibility of the extinction of the great whales in the North Atlantic Sea. That was his message.
And I’ve been going around as you know these years and years, all over this continent. All of our institutions are dying in Canada. And all of our great institutes are dying in the north; they all have. Those great universities; I have read their charters and every one of them – Harvard, Yale, Princeton, the whole bunch – every one of them, the charter will read, "Founded for the instruction and preparation of the ministry to reach the world;" every one of them founded for the education that preachers preach the Word of the Lord. And without exception, every one of them is an infidel institution.
And I looked at the South where we live. Our senior university in Virginia, Richmond Virginia has dissociated itself from our denomination. Our senior university in North Carolina has dissociated itself from the denomination. Our senior university in South Carolina – Clemson – has dissociated itself from the denomination. Our senior university in Florida – Stetson – has dissociated itself from the Baptist denomination. Our senior university in Alabama – Samford – has dissociated itself from the denomination. Our senior university in Arkansas is getting ready to dissociate itself from the denomination. And of all things, my alma mater, our senior university in Texas, Baylor, has dissociated itself from the Baptist denomination.
Well, what happens when an institution does that? Without exception – without exception, it goes secular. It dissociates itself from the Christian faith. It goes secular – I mean, completely secular. That’s why we need this school. And that’s why we need you and your commitment to the Word of God – expounding the Word of the Lord.
Ash, come up here, for me to hear it and so they can hear it, too, I want you to give your testimony. I never was more amazed in my life than that you were baptized yesterday. I saw you up there in the baptistry and I saw the ceremony. You have been a member of the church for a generation, and you have been in my classes, and no telling what else. In your experience, what has happened to you?
(inaudible testimony given)
Thank you Ash. That’s an amazing testimony. I don’t know what would happen to us if our people in the church were like that. How many people think salvation may be something of the Lord; "I got to work at it, must be worthy of it." But the Bible says it’s a free gift, not something you work for, not something you earn. It’s not something you deserve. It’s a gift.
And I don’t care how you see it. If somebody gives you something, like an automobile, and you give him a dime for it, it’s not a gift. When it’s a gift, you don’t have anything to do with it. It comes from Him. And that’s our salvation. It’s a gift of God, not of works lest any man should say, "I did it."
Well, son, if I don’t quit, you won’t have any opportunity to close this institution.