Today’s Expositor’s Quote from Martyn Lloyd-Jones concerns the temptation to entertain our people rather than to proclaim the Truth:
Stories and illustrations are only meant to illustrate truth, not to call attention to themselves. This whole business of illustrations and story-telling has been a particular curse during the last hundred years. I believe it is one of the factors that accounts for the decline in preaching because it helped to give the impression that preaching was an art, an end in itself. There have undoubtedly been many who really prepared a sermon simply in order to be able to use a great illustration. . . . The illustration had become the first thing; you then find a text which is likely to cover this. In other words the heart of the matter had become the illustration. But that is the wrong order. The illustration is meant to illustrate truth, not to show itself, not to call attention to itself; it is a means of leading and helping people to see the truth that you are enunciating and proclaiming still more clearly. The rule therefore should always be that the truth must be pre-eminent and have great prominence, and illustrations must be used sparsely and carefully to that end alone. Our business is not to entertain people. . . .
A preacher should go into the pulpit to . . . proclaim the Truth itself. . . . Everything else is but to minister to this end. Illustrations are just servants. . . . I am prepared to go so far as to say that if you use too many illustrations in your sermon your preaching will be ineffective. To do so always means loss of tension. There is the type of preacher who after saying a few words says, ‘I remember’ – then out comes the story. Then after a few more remarks again, ‘I remember’. This means that the theme, the thrust of the Truth, is constantly being interrupted; it becomes staccato, and in the end you feel that you have been listening to a kind of after-dinner speaker or entertainer and not to a man proclaiming a grand and a glorious Truth. If such preachers become popular, and they frequently do, they are popular only in a bad sense, because they are really nothing but popular entertainers.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers (Zondervan: 1971), p. 232-234.
[Whenever anyone tells me they like an illustration or story used in a sermon, I always ask, "What was the point of the story? What truth did it illustrate?" If even a few people remember the story but not the Truth, I’ve failed to communicate effectively. May we be wise in our use of illustrations, using appropriate stories that aid in the communication of the truth, but never drawing attention to ourselves or the illustrations themselves – Coty]
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