A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.
A. P. GIBBS (1890-1967): The Scriptures have a great deal to say about the value of right words. It likens “fitly chosen” words to “apples of gold, in pictures of silver”—a pleasing combination indeed! Job complained of the “vain words” of his so-called “comforters,” and then exclaimed: “How forcible are right words!” The wise preacher is described as seeking out “acceptable words” by which to convey his message, even “words of truth,” Ecclesiastes 12:10. Paul urged those who ministered the Word of God to do so by means of words that were “easy to be understood,” I Corinthians 14:9-19.
MARTIN LUTHER (1483-1546): A preacher should have the skill to teach the unlearned simply, roundly and plainly…Those are the best preachers for the common people, who speak in the meanest, lowest, humblest, and most simple style.
C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892): The plodding multitudes will never be benefited by preaching which requires them to bring a dictionary to church.
GEORGE WHITEFIELD (1714-1770): I use market language.
MARTIN LUTHER: When I preach I regard neither doctors nor magistrates, of whom I have above forty in the congregation. I have all my eyes on the servant maids and the children. And if the learned men are not well pleased with what they have, well, the door is open.
MARTYN LLOYD-JONES (1899-1981): That surely is the right attitude…Simplicity is not incompatible with depth.
J. C. RYLE (1816-1900): If you would attain simplicity in preaching, my five points are these: First, you must have a clear knowledge of what you are going to preach. Second, you must use simple words. Third, you must seek to acquire a simple style of composition, with short sentences and as few colons and semicolons as possible. Fourth, aim at directness. Fifth, make abundant use of illustration and anecdote.
D. L. MOODY (1837-1899): Don’t get into ruts; strike out a path of your own. Don’t say, “Firstly,” and “Secondly,” and “Thirdly,” and then, “Finally,” “In conclusion,” and “Lastly,” and all that! Take the whole truth or the whole text and throw it right at them; then try to drive it home―Another thing: be yourself. I detest the kind of people who take a religious tone when they begin to talk with you on subject of religion and have a peculiar [sanctimonious] whine. Be natural.
IRA SANKEY (1840-1908): One the greatest compliments to D. L. Moody’s preaching was that the sermon that would hold the rapt attention of the most intelligent of his congregations would also be listened to with the same eagerness by the children present. Any one—every one—understood what he said. His meaning was clear to every child. It was also convincing to the old. No other preacher ever mastered this art—if anything connected with Mr. Moody may be called an art—of reaching the understanding of old and young at the same time. His simplicity of language was remarkable.
HENRY TRUMBULL (1830-1903): Moody knew his power, and he knew his lack, and he had due regard for both. He never attempted what was outside of his limitations, but he was fearless in the use of what he had. Moody was no Oriental scholar, nor did he assume to give a Bible picture in its Eastern setting. But he did give the idea of the Bible scene as he had it in his mind, and as he wanted his hearers to have it in theirs. I once heard him, in telling the story of Daniel, picture Daniel as taking out his watch to note the time as noon approached, when he would pray as usual, lions or no lions. In his earnest graphic, vivid way he made that scene so real that no one thought of any anachronism on his part.
C. H. SPURGEON: Mind your illustrations are correct. It will never do to describe Noah as one did, sitting outside the Ark reading his Bible.
CHARLES BRIDGES (1794-1869): The apples of gold in their beautiful cover evidently imply good sense, and good taste with good things. A well-meaning absurdity rather brings contempt than conviction.
D. L. MOODY: I know perfectly well that, wherever I go and preach, there are many better preachers known and heard than I am; all that I can say is that the Lord uses me.
HENRY TRUMBULL: So, again, as Moody told the story of Noah’s warnings before the Flood, he pictured the scoffers of that day while the Deluge was delayed―“They’d say to one another, ‘Not much sign of old Noah’s rain-storm yet.’ They’d talk it over in the corner groceries, evenings.” Then, as if in explanation, he added, “I tell you, my friends, before the world got as bad as it was in Noah’s day, they must have had corner groceries.” Everybody could understand that kind of talk.*
C. H. SPURGEON: There was an amusing incident in my early Waterbeach ministry which I have never forgotten.
One day, a gentleman, who was then mayor of Cambridge, and who had more than once tried to correct my youthful mistakes, asked me if I really had told my congregation that if a thief got into Heaven, he would begin picking the angels’ pockets. “Yes, sir,” I replied, “I told them that if it were possible for an ungodly man to go to Heaven without having his nature changed, he would be none the better for being there; and then, by way of illustration, I said that were a thief to get in among the glorified, he would remain a thief still, and he would go round the place picking the angels’ pockets!”
“But, my dear young friend,” asked Mr. Brimley, very seriously, “don’t you know that the angels haven’t any pockets?” “No, sir,” I replied, with equal gravity, “I did not know that, but I am glad to be assured of the fact from a gentlemen who does know. I will take care to put it all right the first opportunity I get.”
The following Monday morning, I walked into Mr. Brimley’s shop, and said to him, “I set that matter right yesterday, sir.” “What matter?” he enquired.
“Why, about the angels’ pockets!”
“What did you say?” he asked, in a tone almost of despair at what he might hear next.
“Oh, sir, I just told the people I was sorry to say that I had made a mistake the last time I preached to them; but that I had met a gentleman—the mayor of Cambridge—who had assured me that the angels had no pockets, so I must correct what I had said, as I did not want anybody to go away with a false notion about Heaven. I would therefore say that, if a thief got among the angels without having his nature changed, he would try to steal the feathers out of their wings!”
“Surely, you did not say that?” said Mr. Brimley.
“I did, though,” I replied.
“Then,” he exclaimed, “I’ll never try to set you right again.”—which was just exactly what I wanted him to say.
*Editor’s Note: Before the automobile, sprawling suburban supermarkets, and modern social media, small neighbourhood corner grocery stores were common walking-distance urban conveniences, and very often places where local gossip was exchanged. In Hispanic sections of American cities, these stores are called bodegas.