The Voice in Speech and Song

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Chapter 44—Brevity

Shorter Sermons, More Ministering—Long sermons fail to do good, for both the speaker and the hearer become weary. Discourses should be shortened, and the physical and mental powers of the minister should be preserved for ministering, and a far greater work could be accomplished.—The Review and Herald, September 2, 1890. VSS 247.1

Tenfold Greater Results—If our ministers would preach short discourses, right to the point, and then educate the brethren and sisters to work, and lay the burden upon them, the ministers themselves would be saved from exhaustion, the people would gain spiritual strength by the effort put forth, and the result would be tenfold greater than now is seen.—The Signs of the Times, May 17, 1883. VSS 247.2

Sermons Shorter by Half—Ministers give too much time to preaching, and exhaust their vital forces....It is the many long discourses that weary. One half of the gospel food presented would tell to much better advantage.—Evangelism, 658. VSS 247.3

Bodily Organs Overtaxed by Long Speeches— There is one matter about which I wish to caution you. In addressing a congregation, do not speak for too long a time; for thus you put a heavy strain on the delicate organs brought into action. I have to pledge myself not to speak too long; for I know that if I do, stomach and lungs and kidneys will be overtaxed, and suffering will result.—Letter 75, 1904. VSS 247.4

Pleasant Incense to God—Let the power and glow of the truth find expression in appropriate words. Express the joy and gratitude that well up from the heart as you see of the travail of your soul in the conversion of sinners. But in speaking to the people, remember to stop in season. Do not weary yourself so that you become nervous and debilitated, for the work you will need to do in addition to the preaching, requires tact and ability. It will be a potent agency for good, as pleasant incense rising to God.—SpT Series A, No. 7, Page 12. VSS 248.1

A Reserve of Physical and Mental Power—Never use up all your vitality in a discourse so long and wearisome that you have not a reserve of physical and mental power to meet inquiring minds, and patiently seek to remove their doubts, and to establish their faith. Make it manifest that we are handling weighty argument which you know cannot be controverted. Teach by precept and example that the truth is precious; that it brings light to your understanding and courage to your heart. Keep a cheerful countenance. You will do this if you present the truth in love. Ever bear in mind that eternal interests are at stake, and be prepared to engage in personal labor for those who desire help.... VSS 248.2

In plain, simple language, tell every soul what he must do to be saved.—SpT Series A, No. 7, Page 8. VSS 249.1

Long Sermons a Trial to Speaker and Hearers—Those who shall be mouthpieces for God should know that their lips have been touched with a live coal from off the altar, and present the truth in the demonstration of the Spirit. But lengthy discourses are a taxation to the speaker and a taxation to the hearers who have to sit so long. One half the matter presented would be of more benefit to the hearer than the large mass poured forth by the speaker. That which is spoken in the first hour is of far more value if the sermon closes then than the words that are spoken in an added half hour. There is a burying up of the matter that has been presented. VSS 249.2

This subject has been opened to me again and again that our ministers were making mistakes in talking so long as to wear away the first forcible impression made upon the hearers. So large a mass of matter is presented, which they cannot possibly retain and digest, that all seems confused.—Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, 256. VSS 249.3

Short Sermon, Testimony Service—The preaching service should generally be short so that an opportunity may be given to those who love God to express their gratitude and adoration. Prayer and praise offered to God by His believing children honor and glorify His name.—Manuscript 32a, 1894. VSS 249.4

Short Messages, Often Repeated—Let the message for this time be presented, not in long, labored discourses, but in short talks, right to the point. Lengthy sermons tax the strength of the speaker and the patience of his hearers. If the speaker is one who feels the importance of his message, he will need to be especially careful lest he overtax his physical powers, and give the people more than they can remember. VSS 250.1

Do not think, when you have gone over a subject once, that your hearers will retain in their minds all that you have presented. There is danger of passing too rapidly from point to point. Give short lessons, in plain, simple language, and let them be often repeated. Short sermons will be remembered far better than long ones. Our speakers should remember that the subjects they are presenting may be new to some of their hearers; therefore the principal points should be gone over again and again.—Gospel Workers, 167, 168. VSS 250.2

The Losing of a Religious Interest—Long discourses and tedious prayers are positively injurious to a religious interest and fail to carry conviction to the consciences of the people. This propensity for speech-making frequently dampens a religious interest that might have produced great results.—Testimonies for the Church 4:261. VSS 250.3

A Little at a Time—Present the truth to the people in its true importance and sacredness, and be careful not to give them too large a portion in one discourse. It will be lost upon them if you do. Lengthy speeches detract from the efficiency of your labors. To those who are ignorant of the truth, your teaching is new and strange, and they do not readily apprehend it. There is danger of pouring into their minds a mass of matter which they cannot possibly digest. “But the word of the Lord was unto them precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little.” We need to study His method of teaching. We have the most important and decided testimony for the world, and we must give the people short discourses, in plain and simple language. Do not think, because you have gone over a subject once, that you can pass right on to other points, and the hearers retain all that has been presented.—SpT Series A, No. 7, Pages 6, 7. VSS 250.4

More Emphasis on Bible Reading—Avoid lengthy sermons. The people cannot retain one half of the discourses which they hear. Give short talks and more Bible readings. This is the time to make every point as plain as mileposts.—Evangelism, 439. VSS 251.1

Pure Wheat Thoroughly Winnowed—Preach the truth in its simplicity, but let your discourses be short. Dwell decidedly on a few important points.... Keep decidedly to a few points. Give the people pure wheat thoroughly winnowed from all chaff. Do not let your discourses embrace so much that weakness shall be seen in the place of solid argument. Present the truth as it is in Jesus, that those who hear may receive the very best impression.—Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, 310. VSS 251.2

Effect of Dry Words—Many make a mistake in their preaching in not stopping while the interest is up. They go on speechifying until the interest that had risen in the minds of the hearers dies out and the people are really wearied with words of no special weight or interest. Stop before you get there. Stop when you have nothing of special importance to say. Do not go on with dry words that only excite prejudice and do not soften the heart. You want to be so united to Christ that your words will melt and burn their way to the soul. Mere prosy talk is insufficient for this time. Arguments are good, but there may be too much of the argumentative and too little of the spirit and life of God.—Testimonies for the Church 3:419. VSS 252.1

Better Preparation, Shorter Discourses—The discourses given upon present truth are full of important matter, and if these discourses are carefully considered before being presented to the people, if they are condensed and do not cover too much ground, if the Spirit of the Master goes with the utterances, no one will be left in darkness, no one will have cause to complain of being unfed. The preparation, both in preacher and hearer, has very much to do with the result. VSS 252.2

I will here quote a few words that have come under my notice just now:“I always know by the length of Cannon's sermon whether he has been much from home during the week,” said one of his flock. “When carefully studied, his discourses are of a moderate length, but it is almost impossible for his hearers to forget the teachings conveyed in them. When he has had no time for preparation, his sermons are unreasonably long, and it is equally impossible to get anything out of them which will stick to the memory.” VSS 252.3

Another able minister was asked how long he was accustomed to preach. “When I prepare thoroughly, half an hour; when only partially, an hour; but when I enter the pulpit without previous preparation, I go on for any length of time you like; in fact, I never know when to stop.” VSS 253.1

Here is another forcible statement: “A good shepherd,” says a writer, “should always have abundance of bread in his scrip, and his dog under command. The dog is his zeal, which he must lead, order, and moderate. His scrip full of bread is his mind full of useful knowledge, and he should ever be in readiness to give nourishment to his flock.”—Evangelism, 175, 176. VSS 253.2

Needless Expenditure of Vitality—Some pray too long and too loud, which greatly exhausts their feeble strength and needlessly expends their vitality; others frequently make their discourses one-third or one-half longer than they should. In so doing they become excessively weary, the interest of the people decreases before the discourse closes, and much is lost to them, for they cannot retain it. One-half that was said would have been better than more. Although all the matter may be important, the success would be much greater were the praying and talking less lengthy. The result would be reached without so great weariness. They are needlessly using up their strength and vitality, which, for the good of the cause, it is so necessary to retain. It is the long-protracted effort, after laboring to the point of weariness, which wears and breaks.—Testimonies for the Church 2:116, 117. VSS 253.3

Long Prayers Not a Part of the Gospel—The long prayers made by some ministers have been a great failure. Praying to great length, as some do, is all out of place. They injure the throat and vocal organs, and then they talk of breaking down by their hard labor. They injure themselves when it is not called for. Many feel that praying injures their vocal organs more than talking. This is in consequence of the unnatural position of the body, and the manner of holding the head. They can stand and talk, and not feel injured. The position in prayer should be perfectly natural. Long praying wearies, and is not in accordance with the gospel of Christ. Half or even quarter of an hour is altogether too long. A few minutes’ time is long enough to bring your case before God and tell Him what you want; and you can take the people with you and not weary them out and lessen their interest in devotion and prayer. They may be refreshed and strengthened, instead of exhausted. VSS 254.1

A mistake has been made by many in their religious exercises in long praying and long preaching, upon a high key, with a forced voice, in an unnatural strain and an unnatural tone. The minister has needlessly wearied himself and really distressed the people by hard, labored exercise, which is all unnecessary. Ministers should speak in a manner to reach and impress the people. The teachings of Christ were impressive and solemn; His voice was melodious. And should not we, as well as Christ, study to have melody in our voices?—Testimonies for the Church 2:617. VSS 254.2

Specific Nature of Public Prayer—The prayers offered by ministers previous to their discourses are frequently long and inappropriate. They embrace a whole round of subjects that have no reference to the necessities of the occasion or the wants of the people. Such prayers are suitable for the closet, but should not be offered in public. The hearers become weary and long for the minister to close. Brethren, carry the people with you in your prayers. Go to your Saviour in faith, tell Him what you need on that occasion. Let the soul go out after God with intense longing for the blessing needed at that time.—Testimonies for the Church 5:201. VSS 255.1

Longer Secret Prayers, Short Public Prayers—Long prayers are tiring to those who hear, and do not prepare the people to listen to the instruction that is to follow. VSS 255.2

It is often because secret prayer is neglected that long, tedious prayers are offered in public. Let not ministers go over in their petitions a week of neglected duties, hoping to atone for their neglect and to pacify conscience. Such prayers frequently result in bringing others down to a low level of spirituality.—Gospel Workers, 176. VSS 255.3

For Children, Frequency Better Than Length—Those who instruct children should avoid tedious remarks. Short remarks and to the point will have a happy influence. If much is to be said, make up for briefness by frequency. A few words of interest now and then will be more beneficial than to have it all at once. Long speeches burden the small minds of children. Too much talk will lead them to loathe even spiritual instruction, just as overeating burdens the stomach and lessens the appetite, leading even to a loathing of food. The minds of the people may be glutted with too much speechifying. Labor for the church, but especially for the youth, should be line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little, and there a little. Give minds time to digest the truths you feed them. Children must be drawn toward heaven, not rashly, but very gently.—Testimonies for the Church 2:420. VSS 256.1

Only the Best Quality—Teacher, weed from your talks all that is not of the highest and best quality. Keep before the students those sentiments only that are essential. Never should the physician, minister, or teacher prolong his talks until the alpha is forgotten in long-drawn-out assertions that are not of the least benefit. When this is done, the mind is swamped with a multitude of words that it cannot retain. Let the talks given be short and right to the point.—Counsels to Parents, Teachers, and Students, 403. VSS 256.2

Teachers’ Words Few and Well Chosen—Teachers, meet with your classes. Pray with them, and teach them how to pray. Let the heart be softened, and the petitions short and simple, but earnest. Let your words be few and well chosen; and let them learn from your lips and your example that the truth of God must be rooted in their hearts or they cannot stand the test of temptation. We want to see whole classes of young people being converted to God, and growing up useful members of the church.—Counsels on Sabbath School Work, 125. VSS 256.3