Peter Taylor Forsyth refers to the Sacrament of the Word as the distinctly Protestant Sacrament that invests the pulpit with dignity.
In an 1885 sermon, he bemoaned the tendency of his age to depreciate the power of the spoken word.
He cites fellow preachers who bemoan their Sunday Sacramental duty, contemptuously attending to Sundays when they would rather be about their so-called “practical” work during the week!
And then he says this……
“And we are constantly pressed with the demand for short sermons. I believe myself that short sermons are mostly themselves too long. The man whose preaching is simply tolerated has no right to preach as long as ten minutes. The man whose preaching is welcomed has no right to be as short as twenty.
We listen gladly to political speeches of an hour [and in our day we could add TV and cinema], and the reason is that we have an interest, amounting to a passion for the subject. Let us have enough knowledge of the subject of religion [Christianity] as to choose only competent men for ministers, and let it be so real and passionate to us that we take pleasure in what our prophet or expositor has to say for an hour if he likes.
I don’t hint that all sermons should be an hour long. But I do think short sermons are killing the pulpit and sending the people to the altar or platform.”
P.T.Forsyth, 1885 sermon entitled ‘The Pulpit and the Age’ in Jason Goroncy’s collection of Forsyth sermons entitled ‘Descending on Humanity and Intervening in History’ pg.134
The reason this caught my attention was the reference to the limited attention spans of (1885) Christians who hear preaching regularly. Current educational methods espouse a whole range of styles that are designed to engage the weary listener and to keep them engaged [we genuinely do live in a short attention-span age and I think it is because of the celebrated fact of our information-saturation age]. Preaching has had a bad rap because it is now common parlance that preaching is nothing more than a monologue by a moron to mutes. When preaching is the merely lame passing on of information, of facts, of “truths”, then we will reap a harvest of chaff and weed.
Bad preaching by a bad preacher to spiritual infants may make that crass statement true, but genuine biblical preaching, with a man or woman filled with the Spirit of God, after seriously engaging study and prayer, wrestling with the Word of the text for the people of God, a people who should come willing and expectant, is going to be alive with prophetic power enough to raise the dead. Preaching is not about mere information, but confrontation and transformation; not information but wisdom. Not good ideas for nice people, but God’s salvation plan for redeemed rebels. Preaching is the sword that pierces our hearts too!
There is no place for boring sermons by boring preachers to bored people. But there will always be a place for sermons preached by men and women called and equipped by God to preach the Word of God in a manner that is at once insightful, challenging, piercing and winsome, that the Church may be built up into the glorious likeness of Christ.