Evangelistic preaching is the proclamation of the Gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit with the aim of a clear decision for Christ in the hearers. To be sure, all Christian preaching should expect a response in both faith and action, whether the sermon be a declaration of the facts of personal redemption or the teaching of some great moral truth. But in the more specialized sense, evangelistic preaching concerns the immediate message of salvation, a message that carries with it the imperative that all men must repent and believe the Gospel. Evangelistic preaching is not necessarily any special type of sermon or homiletical method; rather, it is preaching distinguished by the call for commitment to the Son of God who died for our sin and rose triumphant from the grave.

This passion for lost men to come to God is the consuming burden of the evangelist as he prepares and delivers his sermon. Everything he says is measured by it. Yet this does not take away the necessity for responsible homiletics. The very urgency of the evangelist’s mission demands that he use every principle of effective preaching.

Certain requirements in sermon-building relate especially to the evangelist’s purpose. Seven of these may serve as a checklist by which an evangelistic sermon may be evaluated—apart, of course, from the supernatural unction of the Holy Spirit in its delivery.

1. Is the sermon Christ-exalting? A gospel message, whatever its particular doctrinal emphasis, centers in Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 1:23; 2 Cor. 4:5; Acts 5:42). He is the Evangel—“the good news” incarnate, “the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). He is “the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Col. 2:9). In him every redemptive truth begins and ends. “There is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12b). Unless people see him, regardless of what else impresses them, they will not be drawn to God.

By the same token, since Christ is the ultimate Revelation by which all men are judged, the issue of the sermon turns on what men do with Jesus (Acts 17:31). The evangelist must be keenly aware of this fact, and he must seek to bring it into focus in the personal application of his subject. It matters little what the people think of the preacher; everything depends upon what they believe about the Son of God. That is why the first measure of a sermon’s power is the degree to which it exalts Christ and makes men aware of his claims upon their lives. With this in mind, it is very revealing to listen to the remarks of people after a preaching service. If they talk more about the preacher than about Jesus, it may be that the sermon missed the mark.

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2. Is the sermon scriptural? Preaching that brings men to the Saviour is subject to the spirit and letter of God-breathed Scripture. The word written in the Book discloses Christ the Living Word (John 20:31). It is the means by which the mind is illuminated (2 Tim. 3:16), faith is kindled (Rom. 10:17), and the heart is recreated according to the purpose of God (1 Pet. 1:23; 2 Pet. 1:4: John 17:17). For this reason, the redemptive power of any sermon is in direct proportion to the way the Scriptures are proclaimed.

The Bible is the “sword of the Spirit” in the preacher’s hand (Eph. 6:17). It alone is the authority for his proclamation of the Gospel. Without its sure testimony, the sermon would be little more than a statement of human experience. It is indeed well for the preacher to support the message by his own personal witness; but the ultimate authority for what he preaches must be the written Word of God. Experience can be trusted only when it accords with Holy Scripture.

Thus the evangelist is commissioned simply to “preach the word” (2 Tim. 4:2). He is not called to speculate or argue about the conflicting opinions of men, nor is his message open for discussion. God has spoken, and the sermon imbued with this conviction is an inexorable declaration: “Thus saith the Lord!” Such preaching needs neither defense nor explanation. The Spirit of God who gave the Word will bear witness to its truthfulness (1 John 5:6; 2 Pet. 1:21), and he will not let it return unto him void (Isa. 55:11).

3. Is the sermon soul-searching? To meet human need a sermon must strike hard at the problem of sin. Under the firm touch of the Word of God, the cloak of self-righteousness is pulled away from the rebel heart and the hypocrisy of living independently from God is seen for what it is (John 15:22). Urging at one time the greatness of man’s guilt and at another the imminence of his danger, the evangelist awakens the human conscience. The awfulness of sin becomes vivid. Although all the diverse kinds of sin cannot be treated in one sermon, at least the basic issue of disobedience and unbelief can be disclosed, with perhaps a few specific applications to the local situation.

There should never be any confusion about whom the evangelist is addressing. It is not sin but the sinner that he is talking about. Indeed, it might well seem to the sinner that the preacher has been following him around all week. Although obvious considerations of propriety and good sense must be kept in mind, still a test of an evangelistic sermon is the way it gets under a person’s skin and makes the transgressor face himself. One thing is certain: If people do not see their problem, they are unlikely to want the remedy.

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4. Is the sermon logical? From introduction to conclusion the sermon must be based on a convincing course of logic. Notwithstanding the fad of irrational thinking among some existentialist ministers, consistency is still a mark of truth, and a gospel sermon should reflect this fact. Not only should the objective of the message be perfectly clear: there should also be a progression of thought leading up to the appeal for decision. When this is clone well, the invitation seems as natural as it is necessary.

Brevity is important. The rule is to include nothing in the sermon that could be excluded. Illustrations and human interest stories can be used as needed to clarify or to make more impressive an idea. Yet it is well to remember that the strength of the sermon does not rest in the illustrative material. People like to be entertained with stories, and one cannot ignore the need to sustain interest; but what is more important is the irresistible logic of the truth presented.

5. Is the sermon simple! A well-prepared sermon will be simple in its basic organization and language (2 Cor. 11:3). Anybody can make the Gospel difficult to comprehend, but the man of wisdom says it so that a child can understand. Some preachers pathetically feign intellectual superiority by sermonizing in high-sounding philosophical terms, as if the Gospel needed to be sophisticated in order to appeal to the well-educated. That some clerics labor under this illusion may be one reason why so many people, including university students, scorn the Church. Whenever a theological discourse gets so complicated that only a college man can understand it, then something is wrong either with the theology or with its presentation.

The admonition is to speak “in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God” (2 Cor. 1:12). Plain speech and familiar words will help accomplish this. Not that everything in the message can be given a simple explanation: much that is revealed by God remains a mystery, such as the nature of the Trinity, the Incarnation, or the miraculous power of the Holy Spirit. But when the Gospel of salvation is stated plainly as a fact, it makes sense to the honest soul seeking after God. This is what counts. The evangelist does not need to answer all the curious problems of theology, but he must have an unequivocal answer to the fundamental question of perishing man: “What must I do to be saved?” How well this is done is surely one test of great preaching.

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6. Is the sermon experiential! The evangelist is not content merely to state the Gospel; he expects men to be changed by it. His sermon thus becomes a plea in the Name of Christ that men be “reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:20). A living, personal, certain experience of salvation is the objective of the message. Definitions of that experience are not nearly so important as its reality. Without quibbling over terms, the evangelist directs the sinner to the mercy seat, where by faith he can be redeemed in the precious blood of the Lamb.

This keeps the sermon from becoming merely a pious statement of orthodoxy. To be sure, the message must be unequivocally sound in doctrine; but its orthodoxy must be bathed in the compassion of a preacher who knows that except for the grace of God he would be as those who have not yet found the Saviour. Humbled by this knowledge, the evangelist cannot be judgmental and brazen in pronouncements against others. Rather he enters into their sorrows with a compassion wrung from his own deep experience with God, and his sermon reflects this in a tenderness that the hearer is quick to recognize. There is a vicariousness about the sermon, expressing itself supremely in the yearning that all men might come and drink freely from the same fountains of living water that have satisfied the evangelist’s own soul. This outgoing invitation for men actually to partake of the grace of God and experience for themselves a new life in Christ is what makes an evangelistic sermon consistent with its mission. The water of life cannot be self-contained without becoming stagnant; it must be kept flowing to maintain its life-giving power.

7. Is the sermon demanding of a verdict! The final test of any sermon is what men do about it. If the will of man is not moved to action, there can be no salvation (Rom. 10:13). The decision is what makes the difference. The truth of the message is saved from degenerating into mere rationalism on the one band and mere emotionalism on the other if it is linked with a personal response. To stir people to great aspirations without also giving them something that they can do about it leaves them worse off than they were before. Consequently, once the Gospel is made clear, the evangelist must call to account each person who hears the message. So far as he knows, his work for eternity may rest upon this one discourse.

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With this burden, the evangelist cries out almost with a note of desperation. Tremendous issues are at stake. Men are perishing. Jesus Christ died for their sin. Judgment is certain. God offers mercy, but men must repent and believe the Gospel. Heaven and hell are in the balance. Time is running out. “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2b).

Preaching that does not convey this point lacks evangelistic relevance. The Gospel does not permit men the luxury of indecision. In the presence of the crucified and living King of kings, one cannot be neutral. To deliberately ignore Christ is to blaspheme God. “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord,” the evangelist seeks to persuade men (2 Cor. 5:11). He cannot make the decision for them, but as God gives him grace he is responsible for doing everything within his means to make the issues plain. Eternal destinies are at stake.

This is the task of the evangelistic preacher—to present a Christ-exalting body of authoritative facts immediately relevant to human need, logically arranged, and simply stated, to the end that men might experience salvation by turning from sin and accepting the grace of God. In such a time as this, when the world is falling apart and multitudes grope in the darkness for some ray of hope, it would be well for the minister to measure more sermons by the extent to which they fulfill this task.—

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