HISTORY OF PREACHING: JESUS TO NOW
Ar the birth of our Savior, the forms of the Jewish worship were established, and had become familiar to the people by their weekly observance in the Synagogues. Among the regular services was the reading of one lesson out of the Law, and one out of the Prophets, and these, or passages in them, often became the topic of remark, or the basis of an exhortation to the people, by some respectable member of the congregation, or some reputable stranger, who might chance to be present. From a passage in the 4th chapter of Luke, it would appear that our Lord Jesus often availed himself of this custom to unfold the Scriptures to his countrymen, and thereby to draw their attention from the subtle and corrupted interpretations of their Rabbis, to the plain and practical promises and teachings of their Prophets. The objects of his discourses were, to bring back his countrymen to a right interpretation of their Sacred books, to reform their wworship and manners, and to fix their attention on himself as the Messiah. His style was as varied as the topics and the occasions. When he unfolded the prophecies and showed their application, or taught a pure morality of which his hearers had not dreamed, “all bare him witness, and wondered at the gracious words that proceeded out of his mouth:” When he denounced the corrupt teachings, and the more corrupt manners of his countrymen, the multitude exclaimed: “He teaches as one having authority, and not as the Scribes.” When he spoke of the destruction of Jerusalem and the terrible dispersion of his nation, it was in strains of the most touching sorrow. Such was the preaching of our Lord Jesus Christ.
After his ascension to heaven the Apostles entered upon the execution of the great commission given them in these words, “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature.He who believes and is baptized shall be saved, but he who does not believe shall be condemned.” The topic of their preaching was the story of the birth, miracles, sufferings, death, resurrection and ascension of our Lord, and their object was to show that these fulfilled the conditions of the prophecies concerning the Messiah; and therefore that Jesus was the Christ. The experience which accompanied this new faith was often the subject of public confession, as in Paul's address before king Agrippa, and also of familiar conversation in the society of the disciples, as with the Elders at Miletus. Such themes and occasions mark the Apostolic preaching . It had but httle of the character of much modem preaching, such as fixed times, selected texts, distributed topics, and previous preparation. All that we know of it is contained in the Acts of the Apostles. In the second century public preaching bore nearly the same relation to the Christian worship, that it had done to the Jewish in the time of Christ. It consisted of familiar remarks in the midst of the church, upon the Lesson read, or upon some event in the life of Christ. And these remarks were not unfrequently made by one of the members of the church. The progress of society, for the sake of order, assigned the public instruction exclusively to those who were set apart by the church to the peculiar work of the ministry. Consequently, public preaching became topical, and adapted itself to the state of the church, both with respeet to experience and doctrine. Frequently it was exhortation to encourage and advise, intended to sustain the patience of the people under affliction and persecution. Sometimes it was instructive, illustrasting one of the doctrines delivered to the saints. Sermons by content may be Expository, Topcial, Biographicfal and Historical. Probably the preacher sat in the midst of his brethren , named no particualr text, and made his exhortation or exposition without eloquence or order. These social discourses were called Homilies which means short plain sermons.
The extension of Christianity brought it into contact with the philosophical systems of the Greeks and Orientals, and thus many new topics in morals, and theology were raised, and became the subject of keen discussion. This state of the church required more varied talent and learning, and public preaching assumed a higher and more commanding position.. However, it became speculative and controversial, artificial rhetorical, and the simplicity and fervor of the first and second centuries entirely passed away. This is the period of the Fathers
Upon the establishment of Christian4y as the religion of the Roman Empire, and its almost universal corruption under the Papacy, public preaching well nigh ceased. Religion consisted of certain mysteries in the hands of the Roman Catholic priesthood. The period of the cessation of public preaching in the church, as a part of public worship, has, with .propriety, been called The Dark Ages. For nearly a thousand years, from the 6th to the 16th century , there was no public preaching profitable to the people. The topics were ridiculously trivial, such as—Was Abel slain with a club? Of what sort of wood was it? Of what sort of wood was Moses' rod. Was the gold which the Magi offered to Christ coined, or in mass? The origin and history of the thirty pieces. of silver which Jesus received etc. The conflict between the Imperial and Papal powers, and the increasing superstitions of the church of Rome, called loudly on the churchmen to defend the truths their forefathers handed down to them. And such trivial themes as are mentioned above gave place to declamatorical statements on the authority of the church of Rome, against the merits and intercession of departed saints, the dignity of the blessed Virgin, the efficacy of relics, the terrors of purgatory, and the efficacy of indulgencoes. This was the character of preaching in the early 1500's.
The establishment of the Protestant Reformation in 1500 changed the topics and style of public preaching. At the beginning, preaching became controversial and verged on the speculative and became didactic and tedious. Such was the preaching of the notable preachers in the Prortestant churches immediately after the Reformation and their separation from the church of Rome. The publc mind becoming fatigued with dry theological discussions, and having settled down upon the fundamental principles of Christianity, required that these should be adorned and recommended by eloquence which had become the powerful instrument in forming and directing men's minds. A style of peaching developed that were controversial, rheorical and unacceptable to many. The multitude was not interested in doctrinal sermons. Much of he preaching did not address itself to the multitude. Yet it was the characteristic of the time that the multitude demanded instruction in every department of knowledge. In time preaching assumed the character of using short, plain sermons on uncontroverted doctrines, duties, and morals of the Christian religion. It is the primary style of preaching in the prsent time. It was not until the sixteenth century that the preachers resumed their place in the pulpit and
began to recall the attention of the world from the superstitious and dangerous ceremonies and practices of the church or Rome, to pure and primitive Christianity. They denounced the Mass, the efficacy of relics, and of the intercession of the Virgin, and of departed saints; and returned to many of the doctdrines of the New Testament. This was the character of the preaching at the era of the Reformation,*
*This message is a reproduction of a message written by a 19th century preacher whose name was J.P. Durbin. The various styles of preaching in this article impressed me, and I thought it worthy to be put on the internet. It is enlightening to say the least. The Protestant Reformation did not restore the Lord's church to primitive Christianity, but created mny sectarian and divided churches in Christianity. However, it did restore some of the truths of the primitive church. At least they made an effort, and it was the first effort after the apostasy of the Dark Ages. We are thankful to be a part of the movement in the 21st century to restore New Testament Christianity to the world..