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Topical Sermons are the type of sermons that cover the Biblical subject which the preacher has chosen to preach. Of course, it is hoped that the preacher consulted the Lord when he chose that subject.
Broadus in his book, "Preparation and Delivery of Sermons," says that topical sermons are those in which the subject alone is derived from the text. Textual sermons are those in which the subject and main divisions are derived from the text. Expository sermons are those in which the subject, main divisions and most of the details are derived from the text.
That explanation of the three major types of sermons might be a little bit simplistic, but it comes close to the truth. The fact is, many writers believe that the topical and textual sermons can and should be just a variation of the expository sermon.
Even though topical sermons cover more than one passage of Scripture (because all the Scriptures that deal with that subject are used), the subject does come from the Bible and each major point is based on a Bible passage which is expounded at every successive point.
The textual sermon is just a shorter form of the expository sermon and covers only a verse or part of a verse, but still expounds that shorter portion of Scripture.
What is this type of sermon?
Gibbs in his book, The Preacher and His Preaching," says that this type of sermon means choosing a certain subject, or topic, then searching through all of the Scriptures to discover what light can be thrown on the subject under consideration.
He goes on to use an analogy that the topic, or theme, may be likened to a river, and all the Scriptures that throw light upon the topic to the tributary streams that flow into that river. Each division of the topic must have a vital connection with it.
Thus all topical sermons, properly prepared and delivered, should possess the threefold quality of unity, coherence and emphasis.
The dictionary (Word Web-Princeton University) says that "topical" is "Of or relating to or arranged by topics" and of course the "sermon" is "an address of a religious nature (usually delivered during a church service)." So topical sermons are sermons that are arranged by topic or subject.
What is Positive about this type of sermon?
The topical sermons method of preaching allows one to get a grasp of a Bible subject completely. Everything about a particular subject is not found in one place in the Bible, so the Bible material must be collected together on purpose and then analyzed and preached.
If there is too much Scripture to cover in one sermon, a series of sermons can be developed to cover all of the passages that relate to that topic.
This type of preaching, topical sermons, should also impress the preacher, as well as the hearer, that even though the Bible is made up of sixty-six books written by many human authors of varied backgrounds, it is one volume in unity.
This is because the ultimate author is God Himself and as we compare one passage to another, it is amazing to behold the Divine unity of His revelation to man.
Because of the above benefits, many writers believe that topical sermons are the best way to preach about and completely cover the great Doctrines of the Bible. The Bible doctrine that is chosen becomes the subject of the sermon or sermons and each passage of Scripture that relates to that doctrine is expounded so as to cover every aspect of it.
What is Negative about this type of sermon?
In the topical sermons method there is more opportunity for the display of rhetorical ability and pulpit oratory. There is also an opportunity to discuss certain themes which are not strictly speaking "Scriptural," in that the very subject is definitely noticeable in the Bible.
But this method has this positive disadvantage that the preacher is apt to become decidedly unscriptural, to forget his message, and to discourse upon unsuitable themes.
There is much topical preaching that leaves the Bible entirely and deals largely with human sources of wisdom. It is possible, however, for topical sermons to be completely Scriptural and expository. The preacher, if he would, could get his topic from the Bible and then let the Bible develop that topic from the various passages that relate to it.
In this type of Bible exposition the topic determines the content of the sermon and the Scriptures themselves determine the manner in which it is developed.
But even if one preaches topical sermons and does it properly, there are only so many topics in the Bible. Sooner or later, if the preacher limits himself to this kind of preaching, he will eventually run out of subjects for his sermons. Use this type of preaching for variety but not as your only method of sermonizing.
What is Practical about this type of sermon?
Every Biblical sermon should have a topic but not all sermons are topical sermons. According to Blackwood in his book, "Preaching from the Bible," technically, a topical sermon is one which owes its form to the unfolding of the truth wrapped up in the title.
He goes on to say that it is refreshing when the truth wrapped up in the title is worthy and in keeping with Scriptural truth. In the history of the Christian pulpit, practically every sermon which has become famous has been topical.
Whether the subject or the text of a sermon is first chosen, will of course, depend upon circumstances. In considering the condition of the congregation, looking back over the sermons recently preached, or the subjects and doctrines not recently preached, one will be more likely to decide upon a subject, for which he must then find a text or texts.
In reading the Bible, or running over his growing list of possible preaching texts, he will be more apt to decide upon some text or texts which impress him (or which is impressed on him by the Holy Spirit), and from which he will proceed to come up with a theme.
Broadus said, "The needs of the congregation will make the preacher wish to present a full view of some doctrine, or some topic of general or particular morality, and not merely the special aspects of it which one text or another may exhibit.
The Scriptures do not present truth in a succession of logical propositions, any more than the objects of nature are found grouped according to scientific classification. This suits the design of the Bible as a book to be read, and also leads to a rich variety in textual preaching. But it is frequently instructive and satisfactory to discuss some collective subject."
Once a subject or topic is settled on, how do you develop it? Many times the passages that relate to the subject chosen can be organized to make up the main points of the sermon and satisfactorily cover the subject at hand.
But when the material is scattered out over the Bible in an unorganized way it might be better to ask the journalist's standard questions summarized for us by Rudyard Kipling in his catchy poem, "Six Servants."
Rudyard Kipling, author of "The Jungle Book" and the "Just So Stories" was a journalist before he became a famous author. Kipling's poem Six Servants calls on the basic journalistic questioning techniques of asking: What? Why? When? How? Where? and Who?
Kipling's Poem - Six Servants
I keep six honest serving men
They taught me all I knew
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who
Gibbs adapted Kipling's rhyme and added another appropriate question that is especially good for studying the subject material for a sermon, but can be used for any message sacred or secular.
Kipling's Poem - Six Servants (Adapted)
I have seven faithful serving men,
Who taught me all I ken;
Their names are What, Why, How, and Who,
And Where, When, and What-then?
With these questions the "what" answers "What am I going to speak about?" The "why" answers "Why am I going to speak on this subject?" and both are covered in the introduction of the sermon.
The "how" covers the circumstances, availability, conditions, reception, and promises of the subject and is covered in the body of the sermon.
The "who" answers "Who is involved?" from the source to the reception of the truth or promise. It covers the personal element of the message and is in the body of the sermon.
The "where" answers questions of place and "when" answers questions of time and both are in the body of the sermon.
The "what then" answers the question, "What do I do about it?" or "How does this truth apply to me?" and is found in the conclusion of the sermon.
To come at the subject from a more spiritual point of view, as well as to provide more variety, other possible subtopics might be developed from one's subject material like "the need of it, the place of it, the origin of it, the work of it, the love of it, the grace of it, the power of it, the sin of it, the blessings of it, the rewards of it, the meaning of it, and the joys of it."
This list, of course, is not exhaustive. I'm sure you can think of many more subtopics for your subject, or any subject for that matter.
What is an Example of this type of sermon?
by O. R. Baldwin
The Greek word for resurrection means "a standing up." This is the word Jesus used. To the Christian, it means that our dead bodies shall stand up, and come forth from their graves. It presents a very happy occasion to look forward to. We concern ourselves primarily with the resurrection of Jesus.
I. The Evidence Given.
II. The Proof Presented.
III. The Joys Realized.
It really takes very little thinking to realize the joys ahead for God's people along this line.
IV. The Future Joys for Christians.
V. How To Obtain These Joys.
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