Preaching is usually and with literal correctness defined as the act of delivering religious discourses. But this definition fails to suggest the most important signification of the term. That can only be reached by considering it as designating the objective idea of a great and peculiar appointment of the Lord Jesus Christ. In this broad but legitimate sense, preaching means more than an individual act or series of acts. It represents an institution of Christianity which has been in existence some nineteen centuries, and an agency of religious influence destined to continue in action throughout the whole period of human affairs.
I. The Proper Chcaracter and Design of Preaching. As Christ himself was the Divine Word made flesh, so, lessening to employ human agency for the promotion of his kingdom among men, he made a special appropriation of man's distinguishing faculty of speech by appointing it as the primary and principal means of diffusing God's word of truth and message of salvation throughout the world. Having chosen disciples from among his own earliest hearers, "he ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach" (Mr 3; Mr 14). To those disciples he said, "What I tell you in darkness that speak ye in light: and what ye hear in the ear that preach ye upon the house-tops" (Mt 10:27). As had been foreshadowed in prophecy, so Christ represented the preaching of the Gospel to the poor as the distinguishing characteristic of his kingdom. The great Preacher himself, having completed his earthly mission, crowned it with the ever-binding command given to his disciples, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature" (Mr 16:15). Christian preaching, therefore, implies not only preachers, but hearers. It presupposes a personal conviction and a deep sense of truth in the mind of the preacher, accompanied by a purpose to transfer his convictions to the minds and hearts of his hearers. Although preaching is designed to embody an important element of instruction yet, if properly executed, it rises in character superior to lecturing, or any (If the forms of didactic discourse. It resembles the best forms of demonstrative address, but transcends all secular oratory in the moral grandeur of its themes, and especially in its specific design of enlightening and quickening the consciences of men as a means of affecting their earthly character and their eternal destiny.
II. Historical Development. — Prior to Christ, preaching was but little more known among the Jews than among the Gentiles. It had been to some extent anticipated by several of the prophets, the greatest and last of whom was John the Baptist; but, from the time that Christ began his public ministry, preaching became common and constant. Following our Lord's ascension, the apostolic ministry of preaching was elevated and vitalized by the gift of the Holy Ghost. The gift of tongues and the manifestation of the tongues of fire were alike designed to aid and encourage them in their work of evangelization. Hence, whether in the Temple, in synagogues, or in prisons, they preached Christ and him crucified as the power of God and the wisdom of God; and, when scattered abroad by persecution, "they went everywhere preaching the Word" (Ac 8:4). It was thus that the Gospel became rapidly diffused throughout the Roman empire, which, in an important sense, represented "all the world" of that period.
It seems safe to believe that, had the apostolic zeal and fidelity in preaching been maintained without interruption, the triumphs of the Gospel would have been continuous, and perhaps ere this coextensive with the habitable world. But, unfortunately, the 2nd and 3rd centuries witnessed the introduction into the Church of two classes of influences which had a tendency to reduce the number of preachers and limit the work and influence of preaching. The first was that of asceticism (q.v.), which, by a powerful but mistaken impulse, sent into deserts and caves, and afterwards into monasteries, thousands of earnest men, whose lives were thus withdrawn from evangelical activity and wasted in penances and self- torture. The second was that of ceremonialism, SEE CEREMONY, by which the preaching office was taken away from the majority of the clergy, and for the greater part limited to bishops. Bingham states the limitation in these words:
"Preaching anciently was one of the chief offices of a bishop; insomuch that in the African churches a presbyter was never known to preach before a bishop in his cathedral church till Austin's time, and St. Austin was the first presbyter in that part of the world that ever was allowed to preach in the presence of his bishop.... It is true, in the Eastern churches presbyters were sometimes allowed to preach in the great church before the bishop; but that was not to discharge him of the duty, for still he preached a sermon at the same time after then… 11 the lesser churches of the city and country about, this office was devolved upon presbyters as the bishop's proper assistants; 1and the deacons, except in the aforementioned cases (of reading the homilies of the liathers, and when the presbyter was sick or infirm), were not authorized to perform it" (Antiq. Christian Church, bk. 14 ch. 4).
Not only was preaching shorn of its aggressive power by being thus limited and subordinated under the influence of a growing ceremonialism, but in some places it was for long periods scandalously neglected. Sozomen, the historian, "relates of the Church of Rome in his time that they had no sermons either by the bishop or any other." Some have thought Sozomen mistaken; but Cassiodorus, who was a senator and consul at Rome, quotes the same out of Sozomen in his Historia Tripartita, without correction, and further says that no one can produce any sermons preached to the people by any bishop of Rome before those of Leo. The revival of preaching by Leo appears to have been but temporary; for, according to Surius, a Roman writer, it was afterwards discontinued for five hundred years together, till Pius Quintus, like another Leo, revived the practice. Not merely at Rome, but through large portions both of the Latin and Greek churches, preaching, instead of being a constant custom, was rare and exceptional during the long period between the 6th and 16th centuries. It ceased to be a regular part of the services of the Sabbath, although it was retained as a part of the ceremonial of ordinations, while on festival days it took the form of panegyrics or eulogies upon the Virgin and the saints.
The preaching of the Crusades (q.v.) by Peter the Hermit, St. Bernard, and others, and the organization of the Dominicans (q.v.) as a preaching order of monks, may be considered as exceptional to the usual practice of the mediteval Church. Some other exceptions, however, of a far better character, and followed by better results, are also to be credited to the Church of the Middle Ages, while on the other hand it was disgraced by Tetzel and others, who used preaching as an agency for the sale of indulgences. But preaching never again became general till after the Reformation. It was seized tupon by Luther and the other reformers as a means of propagating scriptural truth and exposing the corrupt doctrines and practices which had crept into the Church, and from that time forward preaching became frequent and universal among Protestants. Its influence in the Protestant world has reacted upon Romanism, so that long since, in all Protestant countries, and to some extent elsewhere, preaching has become a regular Sunday service in Roman Catholic churches, performed not only by bishops, but by presbyters and deacons, as well as by monks of several different orders.
III. Preaching-places and Customs. — In New Testament times our Lord and his apostles found places for preaching wherever people could be assembled. The mountain-side, the shores of seas and rivers, the public street, private houses, the porch of the Temple, the Jewish synagogue, and various other places were found available for the proclamation of the Gospel. So far as the preaching customs of the first period of Christianity can be inferred from authentic records, they were simple in the extreme. Sometimes the message of the preacher was communicated in conversation, and when delivered in a more formal manner it rarely had any other accompaniments than the reading of the Sacred Word and prayer. For a considerable time there could have been no Church edifices adapted to the convenient preaching and hearing of the Word; but the earliest structures erected for Christian worship doubtless had that design in view. It was, therefore, a corruption in practice when churches began to be constructed for ceremonial display-as with altars for the celebration of mass, niches for images, and long-drawn aisles for processional parades. The conversion of heathen temples and basilicas into Christian churches, which in the 4th century became common, tended largely to foster and extend that form of corruption. At the period named, the most common form of preaching was that of the exhortation and the homily. A few of the great preachers, like Cyril, Chrysostom, and Augustine, delivered courses of homilies in daily succession, especially during Lent. More commonly short exhortations, sometimes two, three, or even four in succession, were delivered either at morning or evening prayer, or both. This was more particularly true in cities and the large churches, and it was only when presbyters and deacons were authorized to preach that preaching could be furnished with frequency or regularity in villages or country-places. Sometimes large assemblies were gathered at the graves of martyrs to hear panegyrics upon the virtues of those who had suffered death in persecution.
The custom of preaching extempore was at first general, but after a time yielded, in the case of ordinary preachers, to that of reciting discourses not infrequently composed by others. Preachers frequently preceded their discourses by a brief prayer for divine assistance. Following prayer was the salutation "Peace be unto you," or "The Lord be with you;" to which the people responded, "Peace be with thy spirit." Sometimes the salutation gave place to a benediction, as may be seen in several of Chrysostom's homilies. Sometimes a text of Scripture was taken as a basis of the discourse, sometimes several were taken for the same object, and sometimes none. Generally the discourse was concluded with a doxology. It was usual for preachers to sit and the people to stand during the delivery of the discourse. It was common for the people when pleased by the utterances of a preacher to give applause by clapping their hands and by vocal acclamations. Sometimes handkerchiefs were waved and garments tossed aloft. At other times groans and sobs and tears were the responses made by sympathetic hearers. So great value was attached to the discourses of some of the more venerable and eloquent preachers that ready writers were employed to report the words they uttered. Copies of reported discourses were circulated among those who prized them, and were held for reading to other assemblies. In this way the homilies of the fathers descended to later times, when they could be better preserved and more rapidly multiplied by printing. During the medieval period, where preaching was not wholly abandoned, sermons and homilies were to a great extent substituted by postils (q.v.), which were very brief addresses delivered at the conclusion of the mass, and holding about the same relation to the preceding ceremonies of worship that a postscript holds to a letter, or a marginal note to the text of a book.
The preaching customs of modern times differ in minor particulars somewhat with reference to differences of national habits, but more with reference to the predominance of the idea of worship or of religious address. In a certain class of churches the services are conducted with primary reference to forms of worship. In churches of that class, by whatever name designated, preaching is made subordinate. In other churches the leading idea of a Sabbath assembly is that of an audience gathered together to receive instruction from the Word of God, both as read from the sacred page and as declared by his appointed messengers. In the latter, preaching is regarded as of principal importance, prayer and psalmody being auxiliary to it.
The principal places for preaching in modern times are churches constructed with primary reference to that object. It may be here remarked that even in Europe church architecture has been greatly modified since the period of the Reformation, in a perhaps unconscious adaptation to the more general practice of preaching. Few large cathedrals have been built, but many churches of smaller proportions, and more available as auditoriums. Protestant churches in all countries are supplied with permanent seats for audiences, and, with rare exceptions, the pulpit occupies the central position allotted in Roman Catholic countries to the principal altar. On the continent of Europe movable seats only are used in the Roman Catholic churches, but in countries distinctively Protestant, pews or fixed sittings are generally introduced to accommodate hearers during the preaching services. But preaching, especially among Protestants, has by no means been limited to churches. While maintained with regularity in them, it has been extended as a missionary agency to highways and market places, to public commons, to natural amphitheatres, to groves, to ships' decks, to extemporized tabernacles, and even to music-halls and theatres. In short, zealous evangelists show themselves ready, both in civilized and heathen countries, to preach wherever and whenever their fellow men can be gathered to hear them.
IV. Literature. — The literature of preaching may be divided into two classes-the first embracing publications relating to the art and science of preaching, and t he second embracing the printed products of preaching, whether postils, homilies, or sermons. Of the first class, an extensive list is given in connection with the article on HOMILETICS SEE HOMILETICS (q.v.). Of the second, it would be easy to enumerate authors and books by hundreds. For select and classified lists, SEE PULPIT ELOQUENCE; SEE SERMONS. Of recent books of the first class. the following may be named: Mullois (M. l'Abbé Isidore; translated by George Percy Badger), The Clergy and the Pulpit in their Relations to the People (N. Y. 1867, 12mo); Hood, Lamps, Pitchers, and Trumpets: Lectures on the Vocation of the Preacher (1st and 2d series, ibid. 1869, 2 vols. 12mo); Parker, Ad Clerum: Advices to a Young Preacher (Bost. 1871, 12mo); Broadus, Preparation and Delivery of Sermons (Phila. 1871, 12mo); Beecher, Yale Lectures on Preaching (1st, 2nd, and 3rd series, N. Y. 1872-74, 3 vols. 12mo); Storrs, Preaching without Notes (ibid. 1875, 12mo); Hall, God's Word through Preaching (ibid. 1875 12mo); Broadus, Lectures on the History of Preaching (ibid. 1876, 12mo); Taylor, The Ministry of the Word (ibid. 1876, 12mo); Brooks, Lectures on Preaching (ibid. 1877, 12mo); Dale, Nine Lectures on Preaching (ibid. 1878, 12mo). (D. P. K.)