Aug 4, 2020

John Broadus on Continuous Exposition

John Broadus was a 19th century American pastor, confederate army chaplain, co-founder and 2nd president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. There he taught New Testament interpretation and homiletics and produced his classic work on preaching A Treatise on the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons. Charles Spurgeon referred to Broadus as “the greatest of living preachers.” He has even been called “the father [modern] expository preaching” by Bryan Chapell.  

 Though his homiletical method is not beyond critique (see here and here) and his defense of slavery is rightly condemned, he does serve as a significant voice from the past on matters of preaching. 

 What counsel does Broadus give to preachers regarding “continuous exposition” (or, perhaps you call it something different: the expository book series, consecutive exposition, preaching through books of the Bible, lectio continua . . .)?

 The following quotations come from his 1898 work published by Hodder and Stoughton. The headings are mine and the quotations are selective; they are not necessarily in their original order of presentation. I have arranged them under key questions related to “continuous exposition.”  Any emphasis is mine. You can find Broadus’ full treatment of the subject on pages 325-336.


How Can I Get My Congregation Used to the Idea of Continuous Exposition? 

 Begin with the Occasional Exposition of Detached Passages

When an inexperienced preacher begins to think of attempting expository preaching, his mind is very apt to turn at once toward the idea of continuous exposition. He must get up a series. But why should not the preacher first discipline himself in this kind of preaching, and accustom his congregation to it, by the exposition, every now and then, of detached passages? 

It will also sometimes be well to take an extended passage and merely make a text-sermon on a long text, gathering several thoughts from it and using them as in the ordinary text-sermon upon a short text. Or a brief text may be announced, and the sermon be occupied with a discussion of the entire paragraph in which it stands. This, indeed, is often done by men who have no thought that they are preaching expository sermons.

 Try It Periodically Without Mentioning You’re Doing Anything Unusual

One cannot say then, as is often said, try expository preaching first on week-nights, till you and the people become accustomed to it. Nay, try it now and then for your principal sermon on Sunday, without mentioning that you are about to do anything unusual, and lay out your best strength upon an earnest effort to make it at once instructive, interesting, and impressive.

People Will Become Accustomed and Attached to It Gradually

Then you and the people will gradually become accustomed to expository preaching as it should be. After repeating, more or less frequently, such occasional efforts, you will know how to prepare for an expository series. 

By such means the people cease to imagine that expository preaching is entirely different from other methods, and become accustomed and attached to all alike. Then, whenever a series is attempted, there will be little feeling of strangeness about it, and much less difficulty in sustaining the interest.

When Am I Ready for Continuous Exposition? 

Practice and Study

It will be time enough for a series when he has gained a little more practice, yea, and has made repeated and very mature study of the book to be treated.  

We may say, in general, that no man will succeed in expository preaching unless he delights in exegetical study of the Bible, unless he loves to search out the exact meaning of its sentences, phrases, words.

He who begins it as an easy thing will find expository preaching surpassingly difficult; but he who manfully takes hold of it as difficult, will find it grow easier and more pleasant with every year of his experience. Not every man will find the expository method best suited to his mental endowments. But every one ought to acquire the power of employing it with skill and success.

And it may be confidently asserted that many a one who now thinks this method of preaching unsuited to him, needs nothing but diligent study and practice, upon some such principles as have been indicated, to make his expository sermons very profitable to his hearers, and singularly delightful to himself. 

Why Is Continuous Exposition So Difficult?

It is proper earnestly to insist that one great reason why many ministers find expository preaching difficult is, that they have not been sufficiently accustomed to study the Bible. Our rapid general reading is very useful, our devotional reading of brief portions is indispensable to personal piety, but the downright study of Scripture is too often confined to the texts for next Sunday, and their immediate context.

Do I Need to Know the Original Languages?

In order to this, a knowledge of the original languages of Scripture is of course exceedingly desirable, but it is by no means indispensable. Andrew Fuller, who dealt largely and successfully in this method of preaching, had substantially no knowledge of Hebrew and Greek, and his writings were devoted not to commentary, but to didactic and polemic theology. Yet he loved to study the very words of Scripture. In all his works it is manifest that he did not content himself with gathering the general meaning of a passage, but was exceedingly anxious to know its exact meaning. One of the most eloquent Baptist ministers of America, in the earlier part of this century, was never so happy, so charming, as in expository sermons. He, too, was unacquainted with Greek and Hebrew, and was not liberally supplied with commentaries; but he loved, above all things, to ponder and to talk about the meaning of God’s Word.

What Book Should I Start With? 

Don’t Begin with the Psalms

And let it be urged that first attempts shall not be made upon a Psalm, as is very generally the case; for with occasional exceptions the Psalms are comparatively lacking in manifest unity, and in distinct connection and regular progress, so that it requires practice to handle them successfully.  

Now that I’ve Picked a Book, Where Should I Start? 

Study the Entire Book Carefully to Grasp Its Contents and Trace Its Progress 

The first thing to be done is to make a careful study beforehand of the entire book, or other portion of Scripture to which the series is to be devoted. To view every book as a whole, to grasp its entire contents, and then trace in detail the progress of its narrative or argument, is a method of Scripture study far too little practised. It is one of the benefits of expository preaching that it compels the preacher to study in this way.  

Use Some of the Best Explanatory Commentaries 

The first thing to do, then, after determining to give a series of expository sermons upon a book, or other portion of Scripture, is to study it all over in advance, with some of the best explanatory commentaries, and with especial attention to the general contents and connection.   

Consider Committing the Book to Memory 

To commit the book to memory would be no bad idea, but, at any rate, one should get the whole train of thought or series of facts, from beginning to end, firmly fixed in his mind.  

Plan Out the Series In Advance But Be Willing to Adjust as Necessary 

Next, it would be well to mark out a scheme of sermons covering the whole ground. Previous experience in the exposition of detached passages will enable one to do this without any great difficulty, and, of course, there can be alterations, if occasion for them should arise in the progress of the series. The great advantage of making out the scheme in advance is, that we can thus distribute most judiciously the several topics of the book.  

In General Don’t Promise a Particular Number of Sermons at the Outset  

In Romans, for example, various subjects are alluded to in the first three chapters, which are afterwards treated at some length. It would be awkward if one should go into any general discussion of these topics at the point of their first occurrence. They ought to be briefly considered there, and reserved for more extensive remark where they are introduced again. It would very rarely be advisable, however, to promise at the outset a definite number of discourses.  

Beware of Going Too Slowly and Not Making Clear Progress  

Indeed, it is not always best to announce a series at all. It may be added that one must beware of going too slowly. Let there be manifest progress, such as the restless spirit of our generation requires.  

Select Preaching Texts Based on External Dimensions and According to Interest and Richness to Facilitate Variety in the Series 

But we may pause upon any specially interesting sentence or phrase, even to the extent, in some cases, of devoting a whole sermon to it. Thus there will be variety as well as progress; and hearers will be gratified to perceive that the preacher marks out passages, not according to their mere external dimensions, but according to the richness of their available contents.


Question: What stands out to you about Broadus’ counsel on continuous exposition? Where do you agree or disagree? What would you add?








Kerry McGonigal

Kerry McGonigal

Kerry McGonigal is the pastor of Beth Haven Baptist Church in Simpsonville, South Carolina. He has also taught preaching to undergraduates at Bob Jones University since 2003.