Sermon Preparation Part 4 – The Title of the Sermon and the Point of Doctrine - by C. Matthew McMahonSermon Preparation and Guidelines for Expository Preaching
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“Speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine,” (Titus 2:1).
The Point of Doctrine
Once the text has been explained and opened clearly, it’s time for the minister to choose a doctrine that could be applicable to any age of the church at large which comes directly from the text. Any Christian church, in any time period, should be able to agree with the doctrine brought forth.
Should the minister have one teaching? Maybe, two? What about five? How many should the preacher have in a single sermon? That’s left up to the individual preacher and his own pastoral setting, though, most good preachers through history have usually kept a single sermon to have one, two, possibly at the most the three doctrines pulled from the text. In doing this, however, each doctrine is given a specific amount of time, carefully calculated, not to be overbearing, confusing, or irrelevant to the sermon as a whole.
If a minister were to preach 13 sermons on Leviticus 10:3 as Jeremiah Burroughs did, their main doctrine would be, “God Alone Determines the Manner in Which Sinners Approach Him.” This is a very important doctrine surrounding what we call in theology, the Regulative Principle. Burroughs used the following phrase from Leviticus 10:3 “I will be sanctified by those that draw near to me,” as his main doctrine and point taken from the actual text itself. The text itself gave him the specific doctrine to teach. But that one doctrine will then open the door for 13 other sermons that unleash a host of annexed teachings that come out of that main doctrine. You might ask, but what if Mr. Burroughs only preached one sermon, or only had time for one sermon? At that point, it would mean he would teach his one main point.
What is the goal of the doctrinal point? First, consider that the minister must cultivate precision of language. Be precise, clear and bold in the presentation of this doctrinal point. It is the one main idea, the one main point that you want your congregation to listen to and take away from the passage. Later on, you’ll show them why this one point is important by applying it to them. But now, the goal is to have this point remembered; to communicate an irrefutable point of doctrine or teaching.
In reading some of the heavy puritans, such as John Owen, he often has many points, many arguments, many uses and many applications. Consider though, that in reading Owen, you are reading a book. If you read one of his sermons, its generally a point, maybe two, and very focused, with many arguments and uses for the people listening. This is also the same with the sermons of Jonathan Edwards. One point is explained thoroughly in various ways and facets. Whatever that “one point may be” will in turn furnish the sermon with its main title. Consider the titles of some of these sermons:
The Future Punishment of the Wicked Unavoidable and Intolerable (Jonathan Edwards)
God Makes Men Sensible of Their Misery Before He Reveals His Mercy and Love (Jonathan Edwards)
How Must We Make Religion Our Business (Thomas Watson)
How May a Gracious Person from Whom God Hides His Face, Trust in the Lord as His God? (Matthew Sylvester)
How is Gospel Grace the Best Motive to Holiness? (Peter Vinke)
The Zealous Christian (Simeon Ashe)
The Necessity of Reforming the Church (John Calvin)
How We May Hear the Word with Profit (Thomas Senior)
The Method of Grace (John Flavel)
The Great Duty of Family Religion (George Whitefield)
When sermon preparation has yielded it due consequence of taking the meaning of the text and pulling out a teaching from it, the teaching (or doctrine) will in fact give the sermon its title. In these noted above, the title gives away what the sermon will actually be about.
It is safe to restrict one’s self to one doctrine, and mull over that doctrine for a good while to milk out of it all that should be seen in the simple and clear presentation of the doctrinal point. It should be that any Christian, in any age, reads the doctrinal point, and could heartily agree with it being taken primarily from the text expounded.
Peter van Mastricht, in his work, “The Best Method of Preaching” says the following on this point which is of great importance:
Then, after the text is explained, the doctrinal argument is made in the sermon, gathered from the text, to which belongs its investigation and premise. It should certainly be in the text, or be brought forth from it, by “invincible consequence,” so that the preacher does not say just anything concerning God, but precisely the particular word that is in his text. It should solidly demonstrate what must be proven. Doctrine teaches the hearer what the text means, or rather, what the Spirit said and meant in the text. It should be evident to the hearer, and the rationale of the deduction or consequence should be so plainly rendered that the hearers might not doubt what the doctrine is in the text. However, this should not run too long. One must take heed that we be not excessively lengthy here, and steal away our time from application, which is the soul of preaching.
A Simple Example
In considering Luke 16:1-8, a doctrine that may be pulled from that text should surround the eschatological nature of Christ’s judgment. This is a major theme of the 3 parables of Luke in this section. From that main theme, we may focus on the Mercy of the Master (which would in turn press us to consider the character of the Master, who in this case would be Christ), and equally the character of the shrewd but unjust steward, who was wise in the ways of the world. Mercy is the intended response of the hopeful steward who acts shrewdly by throwing himself on the mercy of the Master in response to coming judgment of turning in his books. And this “turning in the books” every person who has ever lived will do at the time of their death before the judgment seat of Christ. It shows, also, a number of annexed ideas attached to this, such as the Master’s disposition to be kind and forgiving to those who are under his power, though they are undeserving. Also, the steward deserves to go to jail, i.e. to hell. So, in this respect, cast yourself upon the mercy of the Master, for we know that Christ is the only fountain of Saving Mercy.
A second theme which initiates another point of doctrine might be entrusting everything to the quality of mercy in the Master. This is in no way blind faith. But a trust based on knowledge. The unjust steward knew the Master was like this – he did not guess, hope, etc. This speaks to other annexed doctrines such as Christ being the same yesterday, today and forever, or even of the doctrine of God’s immutable nature, or his faithful attribute to remain consistent in his love and mercy towards his people. Disciples who follow Jesus need this same kind of trust. The sons of light, in this way, need to be like the sons of the world.
There are a number of important intended points in passage which in turn allows the minister to choose the fitting doctrine to be explored in oversight of his people.