This is the final post on J.C. Ryle’s Simplicity in Preaching. It’s could be the most important because Ryle comes on so strong at the end about essentials that if not enacted render all he has said beside the point! So, a quick review:
Four prefatory remarks the book opens with:
- “To attain simplicity in preaching is of the utmost importance to every minister who wishes to be useful to souls.”
- “To attain simplicity in preaching is by no means an easy matter.”
- “When I talk of simplicity in preaching, I would not have my readers suppose I mean childish preaching.”
- “Finally let me observe, that it is not coarse or vulgar preaching that is needed.”
5 Hints for Simplicity in Preaching
- “If you want to attain simplicity in preaching, you must have a clear knowledge of what you are going to preach.”
- “If you would attain simplicity in preaching, you must use simple words.”
- “If you would attain simplicity in preaching, you must seek to acquire a simple style of composition, with short sentences and as few colons and semicolons as possible.”
- “If you would attain simplicity in preaching, aim at directness.”
- “If you would attain simplicity in preaching, make abundant use of illustration and anecdote.”
Now, let’s look at how he concludes. First, he states flatly that this is not going to be easy. It will really take work.
“Let me add to all this one plain word of application. You will never attain simplicity in preaching without plenty of trouble. Pains and trouble, I say emphatically, pains and trouble…. I entreat my younger brethren to remember this. I beg them to make time for their composition of sermons, to take trouble and to exercise their brains by reading. Only mind that you read what is useful.”
Ryle lays a heavy emphasis on reading in a way that is productive. He urges us to read “good models” and “good specimens of simplicity in preaching.” For those in his day he directs them to use the English Bible because of the language used. (What would be recommended today? NLT? Message?) He goes on to stress reading the Puritans, especially “… John Bunyan’s immortal work, the Pilgrim’s Progress. Read it again and again, if you wish to attain simplicity in preaching.
” Do not be above reading the Puritans. Read such books as Baxter, and Watson, and Traill, and Flavel, and Charnock, and Hall, and Henry. They are, to my mind, models of the best simple English spoken in old times. Remember, however, that language alters with years. They spoke English, and so do we, but their style was different from ours.”
Bishop Ryle was all about relevancy in language while being uncompromising in truth!
But Ryle returns from the literary heights to remind preachers of those things most important. Five in particular:
1) Talk to your flock.
“On the other hand, do not be above talking to the poor, and visiting your people from house to house… We must talk to our people when we are out of church, if we would understand how to preach to them in the church.”
2) Aim to change hearts.
“Let us beware of fireworks in our preaching. “Beautiful” sermons, “brilliant” sermons, “clever” sermons, “popular” sermons, are often sermons which have no effect on the congregation, and do not draw men to Jesus Christ. Let us aim so to preach, that what we say may really come home to men’s minds and consciences and hearts, and make them think and consider.”
3) Preach the Gospel!
“All the simplicity in the world can do no good, unless you preach the simple gospel of Jesus Christ so fully and clearly that everybody can understand it. If Christ crucified has not His rightful place in your sermons, and sin is not exposed as it should be, and your people are not plainly told what they ought to believe, and be, and do, YOUR PREACHING IS OF NO USE.” (His emphasis!)
4) Preach with Passion
“All the simplicity in the world, again, is useless without a good lively delivery. If you bury your head in your bosom, and mumble over your manuscript in a dull, monotonous, droning way, like a bee in a bottle, so that people cannot understand what you are speaking about, your preaching will be in vain.”
“Above all, let us never forget that all the simplicity in the world is useless without prayer for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and the grant of God’s blessing, and a life corresponding in some measure to what we preach. Be it ours to have an earnest desire for the souls of men, while we seek for simplicity in preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, and let us never forget to accompany our sermons by holy living and fervent prayer.”