Rules for Preaching

by James Madison Mathes (1808-1892)
The Christian Record, Vol. 3, 1845

  1. Use the mother speech and tone, without affectation or imitation of any man, that you may not seem to act a comedy, instead of preaching a sermon.
  2. Clog not your memory too much, it will exceedingly hinder invention and mar delivery.
  3. Be sure you eye God, His glory, the good of souls, having the day before mastered self and man-pleasing ague. This must be renewed toties quoties ["as often as the occasion arises."]
  4. Let your words come no faster than the weakest hearer can digest each morsel; pause awhile and look in the child’s eye till he has swallowed his bit.
  5. Look to your affections most carefully, that they be not feigned, nor forcedly let loose to have their “full scope;” for then they will overrun your judgment, or be a temptation to vain glory.
  6. Preach, speaking or talking, to the people; look on the people, not on roofs or walls — and look on the mortified faces in the assembly: let them know your preaching is really talking with them, whereby they may be provoked, as it were, to answer you again.
  7. Take heed of over-wording anything.
  8. Be sure you have made the people understand thoroughly what is the good you exhort them to, or the evil you exhort them from before you bring your motives and means.
  9. Touch no scripture slightly; trouble not many, but open the metaphors, and let one scripture point out the other.
  10. Let the scripture teach you and not you it.
  11. Be sure you feed yourself with the people, else the truth will do them little good, and you none at all; taste every bit.
  12. Take these five helps to find out what to say to the people.
    1. Prayer for the Spirit.
    2. The Scriptures unbiased.
    3. The thoughts and experience of good men.
    4. Your own experience.
    5. The condition of the people.
  13. Break off anywhere, rather than run upon any of these two inconveniences: 1
    1. Either to huddle or tumble together spiritual things; or,
    2. Tire the weakest of your flock.
  14. Pass over that point at which you have nothing material to say.
  15. Let your doctrine and the constant stream of your preaching, be about the chiefest spiritual things, and let small controversies and external duties come in by and by.
  16. Beware of forms, neither be tied to any one method.
  17. Be always on that subject which is next to your heart; and be not too thrifty and careful what to say next, for God will provide; it will be offensive, like kept manna, if reserved through distrust till the next day.
  18. Be sure to extricate, carefully, any goodly point you speak of, out of the notions and terms of divinity; else it will freeze inevitably in your mouth and their ears.
  19. Let there not be disfiguring of faces, nor snuffing in the nose, nor hemming in the throat, nor any antic gesture, pretending devotion, made gravity; which will make you seem a loathsome Pharisee or distracted man let loose from Bedlam.
  20. Do not care so much whether the people receive your doctrine, as whether it and you are acceptable to the Lord.
  21. Do not conceive that your zeal or earnestness can prevail with the people; but the force of spiritual reason, the evidence of Scripture, and the power of the Holy Ghost.
  22. Do not think the hearers can receive as you conceive, and so make your own conception the rule of dealing the bread of life, so shall you only please yourself, admired but not understood by others.
  23. Let there be something in every sermon to draw poor sinners to Jesus Christ.
  24. Take heed that your comparisons be not ridiculous, and yet be not shy of homely ones.
  25. Study every scripture you are to speak of beforehand, lest you overburden invention or presume too much on your own parts.
  26. Take care to free truth from extravagances of needless heads and enumerations.
  27. Shun apologies, for they are always offensive.
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