W. Blackwood gives excellent guidance for expository preaching in
chapters dealing with biographical sermons, paragraph sermons, a sermon
series through a book of the Bible, chapter sermons, and Bible book
C. Mark suggests and illustrates many possibilities for topical, textual,
and expository sermons. Within the expository mode, he suggests sermons
of the telescopic period or age, book, chapter, section, historical,
and word variety.9
and Whitesell give five variations within the expository method, based
upon the length of the passage discussed: single verses, paragraphs,
chapters, thematic sections, and whole Bible books.10
Charles E. Faws A Guide to Biblical Preaching11
is an able discussion of preaching in a single sermon on the whole
Bible, or one of its major divisions, or a Bible book, a part of a
book, a paragraph, a sentence or a Biblical atom.
the Bible ranges over a vast area of subject matter, the expository
preacher need not devote too long to any one type. If he wishes to
skip around in the Bible, he can vary his individual sermons from
an historical base to a legal one, from legal to dramatic, from dramatic
to devotional, from devotional to wisdom, from wisdom to apocalyptic,
from apocalyptic to poetic, from poetic to epistolary.
If the preacher enjoys preaching sermon series, he might have a series
on the Ten Commandments, followed by one on the seven churches of
Asia Minor, then on conversions in the Book of Acts. The number of
varied sermon series possible is limited only by the resource-fulness
of the preacher.
The expositor can further diversify his preaching by selecting different
aims for his individual sermons. His pastoral calling, counseling,
and meditation will reveal to him the needs of his congregation. As
he preaches to these needs he may take such general aims as the evangelistic,
the doctrinal, the devotional, the inspirational, the corrective,
or the consolatory. But within each of these general aims, he may
wish to adopt more narrow and specific aims. Under the evangelistic
aim, he may wish to unveil the nature of sin in one sermon, and to
indicate the way of salvation in another. If the sermon is doctrinal,
he may wish to preach from an expository passage on the work of the
Holy Spirit in one sermon, and on obedience to the leading of the
Spirit in another. The aim of the sermon will determine what Scripture
passage to use and how to handle it. On the other hand, after the
preacher has selected and studied a Bible passage, he may adopt a
sermonic aim in line with what appears to him to be the aim of the
passage. "All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for
teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,
that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work
" (II Timothy 3:16, RSV).
As we study the sermons of great expository preachers we learn that
each one developed his own methods and techniques. No two are exactly
alike. All of them have purposed to unfold, illuminate, and apply
the Scriptures, but they go about it in a variety of ways. Not all
their procedures can be commended, but if we can discover their distinguishing
techniques, emphases, or approaches, we can decide whether or not
we wish to adopt anything from them. Other homileticians may not agree
with all of our findings at this point, but we hope our review will
prove thought-provoking: and the students of expository preaching
will learn some helpful methods.
The disciplined approachAlexander Maclaren. We
use this term because he so thoroughly dedicated himself to an expository
ministry, and so doggedly disciplined himself in it. Each day throughout
his life he read one Bible chapter in Hebrew and another in Greek.
He shut himself in his study every day of the week and devoted many
exacting hours to the preparation of each sermon. He did very little
pastoral calling and administrative work, nor did he travel around
the world preaching in other places. He believed that if people wanted
to hear him, they would come to Union Chapel in Manchester, England,
where he was pastor for forty-five years, and occasional preacher
for six more years.
Maclarens Expositions of Holy Scripture attains the highest
level of expository excellence and homiletical finish. E. C. Dargan
wrote of him: "No critical or descriptive account can do justice
to the excellence and power of Maclarens preaching
contents and form these sermons are models of modern preaching. The
exegesis of Scripture
is thorough and accurate. The analysis,
while not obtrusive, is always complete, satisfying, clear
Maclarens style has all the rhetorical qualities of force, clearness,
are so complete as expositions
of the Bible, so lofty in tone, so free from that which is merely
temporary and catchy, both in thought and style, that they can not
but appeal to the minds of men long after the living voice has ceased
to impress them upon living hearts."12
He has been called the prince of expositors and the king of preachers.
W. Robertson Nicoll, editor of The Expositors Bible and
The Expositors Greek Testament, wrote: "It is difficult
to believe that Dr. Maclarens Expositions will ever be
superseded. Will there ever again be such a combination of spiritual
insight, of scholarship, of passion, of style, of keen intellectual
Maclarens exegesis is always sound and thorough, his outlines
clear but seldom striking, his illustrations few and short, his applications
strong but rather impersonal. His best expository work is claimed
to be that on Colossians in The Expositors Bible. There
he devotes twenty-six sermons to Colossians, but in his Expositions
of Holy Scripture, covering the whole Bible, there are only nine
sermons on this same epistle, five of them on the first chapter.
Andrew W. Blackwood believes that Maclarens preaching was mostly
textual until he passed middle life, and that the shift to regular
expository work came in his fifty-seventh year.14 Most
of Maclarens sermons in Expositions of Holy Scripture
seem to be textual at first glance, but closer examination shows that
he always uses his text in the light of the larger context and his
handling is really expository.
The contextual principleG. Campbell Morgan. He
never handled any text, large or small, without closely relating it
to its total context. By doing so he was often able to develop fresh
and convincing interpretations of familiar passages. Many people considered
Morgan the greatest of modern expository preachers. Wilbur M. Smith
wrote: "For 40 years, beginning at the first decade of our century,
the entire Christian world acknowledged that the greatest Biblical
expositor known in the pulpits of both England and America was Dr.
G. Campbell Morgan."15
Morgans expository sermons are best represented in the ten volumes
of The Westminster Pulpit. Here are nearly 300 of his expository
sermons. Most of them are based on a single text of one, two or three
verses of Scripture, but before Morgan has finished his sermon he
has thoroughly explored his text grammatically, contextually, and
theologically. They are expository sermons.
Don M. Wagner wrote a small book on Morgans expository method.
His conclusion is: "Dr. G. Campbell Morgans expository
method is the application of the context principle of Bible study.
A definition of the context principle indicates that the hypothesis
contains a great deal more than that which appears on the surface.
Context principle is the interpretation of a given passage in the
light of the text which surrounds it, diminishing in importance as
one proceeds from the near to the far context. Two fundamental principles
are involved in putting this context principle to work; they are analysis
and synthesis. Analysis takes apart and classifies or describes each
part; synthesis assembles the parts in a logical order."16
Before preaching from a book of the Bible, Morgan would read it through
from forty to fifty times. He would survey, condense, expand and dissect
taught and preached the Bible from almost every angle. His books on
Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, I and II Corinthians, Hosea and Jeremiah
are not fully sermonic but are pure expositions. His Great Chapters
of the Bible contains the substance of sermons on forty-nine chapters
of the Bible. In his Living Messages of the Books of the Bible
there is a sermonic study on every book of the Bible. The Great
Physician sermonizes on the soul-winning and healing miracles
of Jesus. Searchlights From the Word takes one text from each
chapter of the Bible and explains the chapter around that verse.
In his little book on Preaching Morgan affirmed that truth,
clarity and passion were the essentials of a sermon. He claimed that
getting the outline was the most important part of the homiletical
process. Like Maclaren, Morgan dedicated himself to lifelong Bible
study. Who was the greater expositor, Maclaren or Morgan? Opinions
differ. Both disciplined themselves to highest achievement in Biblical
The balanced approachFrederick W. Robertson. Although
Robertson died when he was thirty-seven years old, A. W. Blackwood
thinks of him "as the most influential preacher thus far in the
English-speaking world."17 In six years of expository
work he covered only I and II Samuel, Acts, Genesis, and I and II
Corinthians. He died practically unknown outside his parish at Brighton,
England, but his stature has continued to increase through his printed
sermons. His greatness is hard to explain. His sermons grip one with
their plaintive sadness, rugged honesty, Scriptural discernment, forward
movement, and utter simplicity. E. C. Dargan says of his sermonic
method: "He made a careful expository study of the Scripture,
usually taking full notes. The division is nearly always twofold.
He was fond of thinking in pairs and antithesis."18
And James R. Blackwood wrote: "In choosing his text and in outlining
the message, Robertson laid stress on the principle of balance. Partly
for this reason he excelled in writing a sermon with only two main
And again, James R. Blackwood writes about the tested sermonizing
formula of Robertson: "He took one clear thought and let it dominate
the sermon; he developed it positively, not negatively; suggestively,
not dogmatically; from the inward to the outward; and with frequent
use of balance and contrast."20
E. C. Dargan would add this further word: "In spite of their
condensed and imperfect form, the sermons (as printed) have great
literary charm. The style is pure, glowing, clear, attractive. The
homiletical excellence of these sermons is beyond dispute. Careful
interpretation of Scripture, simple twofold division, and clearly
marked subdivisions, give a unity of structure and a completeness
of treatment notwithstanding the condensed form."21
One of Robertsons expository talents, according to F. R. Webber,
was this: "Where many preachers begin with a doctrine, and then
search for proof-texts, Robertson began with a text, probed for its
meaning, and drew doctrine out of it."22
Robertson has a famous sermon on "The Loneliness of Christ,"
based on John 16:31-32. He divides it into two main points: we meditate
on the loneliness of Christ; on the temper of His solitude.
The imaginative approachJoseph Parker. Author
of many volumes of sermons, he is known especially for his Parkers
Peoples Bible, twenty-seven volumes covering most of the
Bible. He was unique, eccentric, individualistic but popular, eloquent,
energetic, oratorical, imaginative, versatile, intense in feelings
and strongly evangelical. He said: "Of all the kinds of preaching,
I love expository the most. You will understand this from the fact
that during the last seven years I have expounded most of the first
two books of the Pentateuch, the whole book of Nehemiah, the whole
of Ecclesiastes, and nearly half of the Gospel of Matthew."23
Parkers sermons resemble the running commentary, Biblical homilies
with fair evidence of an outline. He does not go into close exegesis
and careful interpretation, but his material is rich, original, colorful,
vivid, and exciting. He let his imagination soar but kept it under
the control of reality.
Alexander Gammie wrote of Parker: "And there was always the element
of the unexpected in what he said and how he said it. Ye there was
something more, very much more, than all that. He was a supreme interpreter
of the Scriptures. His Peoples Bible is a mine for preachers,
because of its freshness and originality and insight. Often by a flash
of intuition, inspiration, or geniuscall it what you willhe
made texts sparkle with a new meaning."24
Though not classified as expository preachers, Alexander Whyte and
T. DeWitt Talmage both are highly imaginative. This quality is developed
further in our chapter on imagination.
The pivot text methodF. B. Meyer. Meyer was a
popular, devotional-type, expository preacher. When he was still a
young man, his friend, Charles Birrell, said to him: "I advise
you to do as I have done for the last 30 yearsbecome an expositor
of Scripture. You will always retain your freshness and will build
a strong and healthy church."25
He took the advice and majored in expository preaching. Meyer specialized
in expository preaching on Bible personalities, and his published
volumes included the lives of Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua,
David, Samuel, Elijah, Jeremiah, John the Baptist, Paul and Peter.
His method of preparing to preach through a book of the Bible was
to study that book intensely for two or three months, reading it repeatedly
until its central lesson became clear to him. Next he divided the
book into sections and subsections, each containing a well-developed
thought. Then he sought out the pivot text in each section, a verse
which was terse, crisp, bright and short, one that could be easily
remembered and quoted. He developed his exposition around that pivot
text relating to it all the main elements of the surrounding text.
Meyer gave a certain graphic or pictorial quality to Scripture interpretation,
put glowing color into it, and invested truth with the radiant freshness
of new truth. Having heard him preach, Alexander Gammie had this impression:
"Quietly, persuasively, serenely, and in silver tones he proclaimed
his message. The phrasing was simple, with the simplicity of the art
which conceals art, the imagery peaceful and pastoral like an
English valley washed with sunlight.
Everything was intimate,
tender and appealing."
Robert G. Lee wrote of Meyers books: "
his books have
been a source of stimulation for my mind, of comfort for my heart,
of encouragement in times when the roads were rough, the hills high,
the valleys deep and dark. I believe every preacher who does not have
and does not read the books of Dr. Meyer cheats himself, impoverishes
his spiritual life, and makes less valiant his faith
. I urge
you to purchase, to read, to search, to study all of Dr. Meyers
books. If you obey my insistent urging, you will thank me."27
The inverted pyramid methodDonald Grey Barnhouse.
He affirmed: "I believe that the only way to understand any given
passage in the Word of God is to take the whole Bible and place the
point of it, like an inverted pyramid, on that passage, so that the
weight of the entire Word rests upon a single verse, or indeed a single
Barnhouse went into great detail. His expository series on Romans
took three and one half years of Sunday morning preaching. He says
that his method of preparation was to read thirty or forty leading
commentaries on Romans; use some twenty translations in English, French,
and German; plus grammatical research in Strongs Concordance,
Thayers Greek Lexicon, and the Englishmans Greek
Concordance. He sometimes has two sermons on the same text. On
Romans 5:2 he has six, and on 5:5 he has seven. On Romans, chapter
1, he has twenty-seven sermons, and on Romans, chapter 5, twenty-seven.
Inevitably some of these sermons seem to be more topical than expository,
but the expository aspect is in the careful, detailed, and painstaking
verse-by-verse unfolding and application of the book of Romans in
the light of the rest of the Bible.
The author-centered approachPaul S. Rees. In his
expository series of Philippians, entitled The Adequate Man,
he believes that this epistle is a remarkable self-portrait of its
author, so he expounds the epistle in five sermons setting forth differing
characteristics of the Apostle Paul: "The Art of the Heart,"
"The Affectionate Man," "The Alert Man," "The
Aspiring Man," and "The Adequate Man."29
This author-centered approach can be used with many parts of the Bible.
Men like F. B. Meyer, William M. Taylor and Clovis G. Chappell have
followed it in their biographical-expository volumes.
The single-subject expository handlingRoy L. Laurin.
This method was used by Laurin in a number of his expositions of New
Testament books. He selected the idea of "Life" as being
a wedge to open these books. He expounds Romans under the theme, Where
Life Begins, II Corinthians under Where Life Endures, I
Corinthians under Where Life Matures, Philippians under Where
Life Advances, Colossians under Where Life is Established,
and I John under Life At Its Best. On the whole, his sermons
are true to expository ideals and well worth reading.
As an example, in his book on II Corinthians, Where Life Endures,30
he includes thirteen sermons covering the epistle. The first seven
are under the general title, "The Endurance of the Christian,"
and the specific subtitles are: "The Life That Endures Adversity,"
"The Life That Endures Discipline," "The Life That
Endures Experience," "The Life That Endures Service,"
"The Life That Endures Dying," "The Life That Endures
Living," and "The Life That Endures Chastening." The
danger of this method, in less able hands, might be to force the Scriptures
into artificial molds.
The backgrounds emphasisGeorge Adam Smith and
Harris E. Kirk. An Old Testament scholar from Scotland, Smith
was rather liberal in his view of the Scriptures, but he was widely
recognized as a great expositor. He contributed the volumes on Isaiah
and on the minor prophets to The Expositors Bible. As
author of the famous Historical Geography of the Holy Land,
Smith put great emphasis upon the historical and geographical situation
in back of any Scripture passage. Even though his work is somewhat
outdated by recent research, one has to admit that he makes the Scriptures
come alive as he puts them into their proper setting.
Edgar DeWitt Jones wrote of him: "As a preacher Dr. Smith was
Biblical, expository, and exegetical. There was clarity and simplicity
in his discourses, the illustrative material was choice, and he was
equally at home in a rural church or on a university occasion."31
He gave the Lyman Beecher Lectures on preaching at Yale in 1899 under
the title, "Modern Criticism and the Preaching of the Old Testament."
Harris E. Kirk, for over forty years pastor of the Franklin Street
Presbyterian Church, Baltimore, also went in heavily for proper background
material. As the author listened to him in July, 1946, at the Princeton
Summer Conference for Ministers, he was deeply impressed by Kirks
extensive knowledge and use of background material. He told us: "Get
into the great trends and movements of Biblical history, the great
tidal forces and rhythms. Learn to float on the fluid element of Gods
grace in history and providence. Get the relationship of the Bible
to the land itself, and the relationship of the land to ancient civilizations."
The running commentary method has many users. One of the best
known of modern times was Harry A. Ironside. He published sermonic
commentaries on nearly all of the Bible. As pastor of the Moody Church,
Chicago, for eighteen and one half years, he was one of the most popular
Bible-teaching preachers in America. Usually he went from verse to
verse, or from section to section of a passage, and he regularly preached
straight through books of the Bible. What he lacked in structural
strength he made up for in powerful explanation, illustration, application,
and exhortation. His sermons are racy reading, full of spiritual truth
and interesting illustrations.
William R. Newell, who gave us expositions of Romans, Hebrews, and
Revelation, was a running commentary preacher who sought to dig deeply
into the Word by verse-to-verse comments.
John Chrysostom, called "the golden-mouthed," was a great
expository preacher who covered most of the Bible in running commentary
sermons, as did Martin Luther.
John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli, the Protestant reformers, used the
running commentary method to cover the books of the Bible. Regardless
of the defects of this method in structure and unity, it has a noble
history. If a preacher gives it thorough preparation and powerful
presentation, it will still have popular appeal. But we think there
is a better way available, and we shall set it forth fully in the
chapters to follow.
The lessons methodWilliam M. Taylor and J.
C. Ryle. Taylor twice gave the Lyman Beecher Lectures on preaching
at Yale: first in 1876, on "The Ministry of the Word," and
again in 1886, on "The Scottish Pulpit." He published popular
and useful volumes on The Miracles of Our Saviour and The
Parables of Our Saviour, as well as several on Bible characters.
His expository method was to present a thorough discussion of his
Scripture passage in explanation and interpretation, then point out
the practical lessons and drive them home.
In his sermon on "The Healing of the Gadarene Demoniac,"
he gives twelve pages of exposition and uses four and one half pages
to set forth four lessons and apply them.
J. C. Ryle was bishop of Liverpool. His four-volume set, Expository
Thoughts on the Gospels, takes the reader through the four gospels.
Ryle takes a passage of several verses and plunges into a discussion
of it, drawing from it three, four, or five practical applications.
His treatments are shorter than sermons, running only about four pages
each, but at the end of each he appends two or three pages of explanatory
notes. His points are sometimes more suggestive and inferential than
those directly taught by the passage, but they always strike one with
force and appeal. Ryle majors on application rather than explanation,
argument, or illustration. His method is popular and helpful but it
has to be used with restraint.
The analytical methodW. H. Griffith Thomas. He
was a Bible-teaching preacher par excellence, strong on structural
outlines. He believed that Alexander Maclarens expositions were
the finest models of all expository preaching. Thomas insisted that
three features were needed in any expository presentation:
- (1) it should
concern only the salient features;
- (2) mainly
it should concern the spiritual meaning;
- (3) it should
always have a searching message.32
commentaries on Genesis, Romans, Acts, and Colossians, and his books
on the lives and writings of Peter and John will furnish abundant
outlines and much fine commentary material for the expository preacher
or Sunday school teacher.
W. Graham Scroggie is also an outstanding analyst of the Bible. His
works on various parts of the Bible are less sermonic than analytical.
exegetical methodA. T. Robertson and William Barclay.
Robertson was the outstanding Greek scholar of America in his day.
He could go into the Greek words of the New Testament and expound
them with practical applications more easily than the average preacher
can do it in English. His homely but pointed comments held the attention
of crowds. He has left us exegetical-sermonic commentaries on Marks
Gospel, James, Philippians, and Colossians. He also wrote on the lives
of John the Baptist, Mark, Paul, Peter and John, as well as other
more technical New Testament studies. His set on Word Pictures
in the New Testament should be used by every expository preacher.
In 1934 he published a volume of sermons entitled Passing On the
Torch and Other Sermons. Many of these have good outlines and
are more homiletical than most of his other works. Robertsons
writings are rich source material for expository preachers.
William Barclay of Scotland has produced a splendid series of small
commentaries on the different parts and books of the New Testament.
They are written in a popular and interesting style, and are exegetical
and semi-sermonic. It is not hard to believe that Barclay used most
of this material in expository preaching. Every expository preacher
should obtain the Barclay commentaries and use them.
The exegetical method involves the danger of becoming too technical
and too dry for popular use, but in the hands of Robertson or Barclay
it does not.
The stylistic emphasisJohn Henry Jowett. One of
the worlds most renowned preachers, he possessed all the features
of homiletical perfection, but he put major emphasis on style. His
hobby was the study of words and he would write, rewrite, correct,
and rewrite in order to perfect his style. Most of his sermons seem
to be textual but when one studies them, one finds the exegesis so
careful, the contextual relations so recognized, and the rhetorical
elements so balanced, that the sermons fit the expository category.
Jowett published a large number of books and hundreds of sermons in
Christian periodicals and magazines. His expository genius is best
illustrated in The High Calling, an exposition of Philippians;
The Epistles of St. Peter; and The Whole Armor of God,
expounding a part of Ephesians 6.
The evangelistic methodWilliam B. Riley and George
W. Truett. Both men were Baptist pastors in their respective pulpits
for nearly fifty years, and both were intensely evangelistic. They
turned the Scriptures to evangelistic ends.
Riley was more truly an expository preacher. He was the author of
many books and pam-phlets but his supreme contribution to expository
preaching is his forty-volume set, The Bible of the Expositor and
Evangelist. The whole Bible has been covered in this set, though
not every passage by any means. The sermons are well outlined and
ably illustrated. Most of them throb with evangelistic passion and
appeal. Truett was a greater pulpiteer than Riley. In fact, many considered
him the greatest preacher in America in his time. His soul and sermons
fairly flamed with evangelistic power. If one heard him preach at
the zenith of his power, one could never forget it. Many of his sermons
have been printed or reprinted in recent years. They are usually textual
but he always paid careful attention to his text, and sometimes he
Charles H. Spurgeon belongs in the evangelistic category too. Most
of his sermons were textual, but now and then he became expository,
and in every case he used his text for more than a starting point.
With these suggestions for diversification, we believe that any expositor
should be able to stay out of the rut of monotony and be able to use
the power of variety yet still remain expository.
3: Power Through EXPLANATION
The expository preacher seeks to find the true and exact meaning
of the Scriptures and to set that meaning against life today