Historical Narrative Sermons Are Informative and Essential

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The Historical Narrative or Historical Incident type of sermon is an informative and essential way to preach about the amazing historical incidents in the Word of God while expounding the Biblical truths that relate to each situation.

The Historical Narrative Sermon is preaching conveyed by means of a historical example. Some writers feel that, along with the Biographical Narrative Sermon, it is one of the more simple forms of sermonizing, but a very informative and essential type of sermon that relates to us through the historical incidents of the Bible.

The subject of the Historical Narrative Sermon is a Biblical historical event, which becomes the subject, and that subject must have direct reference to the scene which is to be described for the purposes of the sermon.

As we said with the Biographical Narrative Sermon, many people hear and respond to spiritual truth much better when it is associated with real life accounts or situations that parallel our own situations and events. It is true that we are always interested in the happenings of other people and places, even in our everyday conversation.

What is this type of sermon?

In the Historical Narrative Sermon, a Bible incident or event is used as the subject of the sermon and the spiritual lessons in that event are applied as the story of the incident progresses and unfolds.

The whole passage containing the event is preached and those Biblical truths contained therein are applied to the hearers all the way to the end of the story. Because of this some, including Gibbs in his book, "The Preacher and His Preaching," call this just another kind of expository sermon, and they may be correct.

The Historical Narrative Sermon is called another kind of expository sermon, or at least allied with the expository sermon, because the whole passage containing the incident is taken, and its spiritual meaning is expounded and then applied.

The dictionary (Word Web-Princeton University) says that "historical" is that which is important or famous in the past. And a "narrative" is a message that tells the particulars of an act or occurrence or course of events.

The Historical Narrative Sermon simply takes an important recorded Scriptural event and tells the particulars of that act or occurrence or course of events from the Bible and makes spiritual application to our own lives today.

What is Positive about this type of sermon?

As many have said, "All the world loves a story," and the stories in the Bible are magnificent. Gibbs in his book, "The Preacher and His Preaching," says that the stories in the Bible are incomparable. That is certainly true.

And it is also true that everything we could ever face is, at least in principle, found in the Bible. The events in the Bible expose every phase of character and present practically every situation that could possibly arise in our human experience.

Roy Laurin in his book, "Meet Yourself in the Bible," says that there are about thirty-six basic dramatic situations found in literature and drama. All the plots of novels and plays are based on either one or more of these fundamental situations.

It may be a situation of fear, frustration, inferiority, anxiety, hatred, envy, or any other of the thirty-six fundamental situations. And all these various situations are found in the Word of God. In other words, Laruin is saying that all you have to do is read the Holy Scriptures and you will meet yourself there.

There is also much information about the events involving believers, as well as unbelievers, in the books of the Bible. There are many Old Testament stories and events, as well as many New Testament stories and events.

And there are many parables told by Christ in the New Testament, which provides much preaching material, for Historical Narrative type of sermon, as well. Lessons learned both positive and negative from these historical incidents in the Bible can help us in our spiritual growth as we go through similar situations.

The fact is, what is recorded in the Bible is specifically recorded for our benefit...both negative and positive; it is there for both warning and encouragement.

And that is what the preacher does when he preaches a Historical Narrative Sermon...he warns and encourages. Therefore, the material that the Lord has graciously recorded for us as believers is what we preach as ministers.

In 1 Corinthians 1, Paul warns the Corinthian Church that God is displeased when we are self-centered and worldly. Notice that twice in this passage (verse 6 and verse 11), Paul tells them that the events that he is referring to from the Old Testament (See Exo.13:21; Num.10:34; Num.14:13; Psa.105:39; Exo.16:15; Exo.17:6; Num.20:11) were recorded for our benefit.

Here Paul preaches a Historical Narrative Sermon and says that the incident was recorded so we might learn from the mistakes of believers from the past and not make the same mistakes ourselves. Notice the passage:

1Co 10:1 Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; 1Co 10:2 And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; 1Co 10:3 And did all eat the same spiritual meat; 1Co 10:4 And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ. 1Co 10:5 But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness. 1Co 10:6 Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted. 1Co 10:7 Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play. 1Co 10:8 Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand. 1Co 10:9 Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents. 1Co 10:10 Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer. 1Co 10:11 Now all these things happened unto them for examples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.

In Romans 15, Paul is contrasting the strong and the weak and uses the example of Christ to show how the strong believers live not to please themselves but to please others, that is, to build them up by what we say and what we do. Paul says our example is Christ and he quotes Psalm 69:9 to prove it.

So, in essence, Paul again preaches a Historical Narrative Sermon himself and uses both the Old Testament and the New Testament to speak encouragement to the Roman Church. In verse 4 he says that what was recorded in Scripture was recorded for our learning and to give us hope. Notice the passage:

Rom 15:1 We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Rom 15:2 Let every one of us please his neighbor for his good to edification. Rom 15:3 For even Christ pleased not himself: but, as it is written, The reproaches of them that reproached thee fell on me. Rom 15:4 For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope. Rom 15:5 Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus: Rom 15:6 That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Truly, there is much good that can come from preaching the Historical Narrative type of sermon and it is fully sanctioned by the Scripture itself. Maybe we should use this method more often, not only for the benefit of our hearers but also for ourselves.

What is Negative about this type of sermon?

The main problem with the Historical Narrative type of sermon is that the preacher may over-spiritualize the incident. If one stretches the application of the incident to an extreme that is not warranted by the teaching of the rest of the Bible it becomes seriously dangerous.

This is especially true when it comes to the parables, which are used in Scripture only to illustrate doctrine and clarify a particular single aspect of a truth.

Gibbs uses the well-known examples of the parable of the prodigal son and the parable of the wise and foolish virgins to prove the point that some preachers over-spiritualize and stretch the bounds of what is taught in Scripture as a whole.

In the parable of the prodigal son, even though there is no atonement mentioned, some preachers feel it necessary to include it in the story, and have consequently used the the killing of the fatted calf to illustrate the doctrine. This parable illustrates the love of God for sinners, and His willingness to pardon, cleanse and relieve them.

In the parable of the wise and foolish virgins, preachers have used it to teach the theory of a partial rapture of Christians. This parable points out the necessity for preparation in view of the second coming of Christ and that alone.

I like what Gibbs said about the proper use of a parable. He said, "A parable has been likened to a sphere and a doctrine to a plane. When a sphere is placed upon a plane, it touches the plane at one point only. In order to make that sphere touch the plane at more than one point at a time, the sphere must be broken.

A parable therefore touches a doctrine at one point only. It serves the excellent purpose, designed by the Lord, of illustrating just one phase of doctrinal truth. Almost any false theory can be taught by using a parable for its basis of doctrine instead of using it as an illustration of Scripture teaching."

He further adds that the Bible has been made to suffer at the hands of its "friends" as well as its enemies, as evidenced by the multitude of sects and cults, all of which claim support from its pages. Truly the abuse of the best is the worst.

We should certainly beware of forcing any parable or illustration beyond its proper limits to make it teach what is not supported by the teaching of the Scriptures as a whole. The parable of the sower and the seed drives home the duty of the hearer of the Word of God to both hear, receive, and reproduce the good seed sown upon his heart.

What is Practical about this type of sermon?

The Historical Narrative Sermon, like the Biographical Narrative Sermon, is not to be a lecture, but a sermon. If one is engaged in the construction of a lecture he may content himself with an orderly review of consecutive events. This will make a narrative, but not a narrative sermon.

The Historical Narrative Sermon, like the Biographical Narrative Sermon is intended to arouse the conscience, act upon the will, and persuade one to belief and action.

To get the overall picture of any Biblical historical incident, one must look at that event everywhere it is recorded. Some events are found in more than one book of the Bible and those parallel accounts must be included in your study for the Historical Narrative Sermon.

We may use non-Biblical historical incidents as illustrations, but the Historical Narrative type of sermon must, by definition, be based on Biblical historical events. And each main movement in the story will become a main division in the sermon. It is probably best to proceed chronologically from beginning to end and discover and apply the spiritual lessons from the historical record.

In the Historical Narrative Sermon the historical material should be employed only so far as it has to do with the subject and it should be employed in strict connection with the progress of the successive elements of the scene.

It is not well for one to tell the whole story at the outset. All the material is to be disposed according to the demands of the subject as it is developed. The subject should be made the governing factor from beginning to the end.

Breed in his book, "Preparing to Preach," says that in order to achieve great success in the composition of the Historical Narrative type of sermon, the preacher must diligently cultivate his imagination. What is called the "historical imagination" is almost indispensable to effective preaching along this line.

It is necessary to realize the scenes that are depicted, to enter into active intellectual sympathy with the characters and events presented. Ruskin has well said that hundreds of people can talk for one who can think, but thousands can think for one who can see.

So when we say that the Historical Narrative Sermon is one of the more simple forms of pulpit address, we do not mean that it is not capable of becoming one of the highest forms. If the preacher is one of those thousands who can see as well as think, whose vision penetrates the example considered, he may elevate his style of address to a very high level.

And in this case, his presentation of the scene is not a mere sketch, the barren recital of successive events, or certain moralizations concerning them, but it is profound analysis which enters into the very spring of human life, dissects the motive, and lays bare the heart. This is when the Historical Narrative Sermon has done its job effectively.

What is an Example of this type of sermon?

The Ten Lepers
by Alfred Gibbs

Luke 17:11-19

I. Their Condition (verses 11-12)

Typical of the unsaved:

  1. Unclean (Lev.13:45;Isa.64:6; Psa.14:2-3; Job 15:14-16; Isa.6:5)
  2. Afar Off (Eph.2:13; Isa.59:2; Luke 18:13; Rev.18:10; Luke 16:23)
  3. Without Hope (John 3:18; Jer.17:9; Rom.5:6)
    There was no cure by human means and they were helpless to save themselves.

II. Their Cry (verse 13)

  1. In the right spirit: earnest, "lifted up." (Jer.29:13; Isa 55:6; Rom.10:13)
  2. In the right attitude: humble, "mercy." (Micah 7:18-19; Psa.103:8,10,11; Matt.9:13)
    They didn't demand their "rights," for they had none; but pled for mercy.
  3. To the right Person: "Jesus." (Matt.1:21; Acts 4:12; John 14:6)
  4. At the right time: While Christ was present. (Prov.27:1; Isa.55:6; 2 Cor.6:2)
    The opportunity of a lifetime must be grasped in the lifetime of the opportunity.

III. Their Cure (verse 14)

  1. A. The Word was given: "go." (Rom.10:6-9). "Come" (Matt.11:28). "Look" (Isa.45:22). "Hear" (John 5:24). "Receive" (John 1:12).
  2. The Word obeyed--the obedience of faith (Rom.16:26; 6:17; Heb.4:2).
  3. The cleansing experienced (John 6:47; 1 John 5:13)
    Note it was "as they went" they were cleansed. They had no experience of the change at the time, yet they acted as cleansed ones. It was not by their "feelings" or by "sight" but faith in the bare word of Christ.

IV. The Thankful One (verses 15-19)

His gratitude was expressed several ways:

  1. His turning back from the types and shadows of law to the Antitype Himself (Matt.8:4; Gal.4:9; Heb.10:1-14)
  2. His hearty giving of thanks (verse 6; Psa.50:23,14,15; Eph.5:20; Phil.4:6; Col.1:12; 1 Thess.5:18)
    By this he glorified God.
  3. His humility: "at His feet." (Luke 7:38; 8:35; 10:39)
  4. His worship: "on his face." (John 4:23;,24; Heb.10:19-22)

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