James Petigru Boyce (1827–1888) served as a Southern Baptist pastor, theologian, author, and seminary professor and was the founder and first president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. The article “Preaching Plain Truths” in the italicized print below was written for publication in The Southern Baptist (February 25, 1852). I have added the headings and tweaked a few of the sentences slightly to make it a bit more readable. I hope this excellent article will be used to remind preachers of the Word that preaching simple and plain biblical truths is powerful and must be a priority.
In the article, Boyce is dealing with the problem of preachers who bypass simple and plain truths in the Bible as too self-evident to even mention. Too often, then and now, many preachers want to be seen as rhetorically gifted intellectuals. When listeners leave the sermon saying, “Wow, that preacher is smart!” it is often polite code language for “I didn’t really understand what he was saying.” Scottish theologian and preacher James Denny said, “No man can give the impression that he himself is clever and that Christ is mighty to save” (as quoted in John Stott, Between Two Worlds, 325). Moreover, J.I. Packer asserts, “If you call attention to yourself and your own competence, you cannot effectively call attention to Jesus and his glorious sufficiency” (Your Father Loves You).
Failing to Preach the Simple and Plain Truths of the Bible Leads to All Sorts of Evils
There is perhaps no greater difficulty met by a minister, in the course if his public ministrations than that of preaching plain truths. By this we do not mean the practical truths of Christianity, for the piety of the man will naturally lead him to declare these. But oftentimes, in the course of preaching, points will come up, which to his own mind, and to those of most of his auditors, are self-evident, or at least so familiar, that it amounts to the same thing. It is the discussion of these into which it is so difficult to enter; since they appear so plain, he can hardly reconcile it to himself to discuss them. And yet we know not the evil, which may arise from this very course of conduct. Let any one, who feels the difficulty to which I have above referred, but talk with the most ignorant or the most indifferent of his hearers; the ignorance of the one, and the indifference of the other, will be found to result from the same cause—the neglect of the ministry to enter upon these subjects, and fully to explain and enforce these simple truths.
Ignoring Simple and Plain Biblical Truths Causes Indifference to All Biblical Truths
It would astonish those who have not thus conversed, to find how ignorant even men of enlightened views are upon such matters; and the recognition of this ignorance will disclose the causes of their constant indifference to divine truth. It is not long since a very intelligent merchant—one which has always been a constant attendant at church during, at least, forty years, and having during that time, enjoyed the ministry of many most able minds—manifested this very ignorance to the writer of this article. The examination of his state of mind proved conclusively that the indifference, which he has thus far manifested towards divine things, has been owing to a great extent to the obstacles, which this ignorance of plain truths presents.
A Preacher is Responsible Not Only for What He Says but for What He Does Not Say
Under these circumstances, what, brethren in the ministry, should be our duty? Can it be that souls are perishing from our neglect to preach plain truths? Can it be that, through the same neglect, all of our most labored efforts fall powerless to the ground? Should we not then be careful what we omit in the discussion of our subjects? A preachers is responsible not only for what he says, but for what he does not say. We are to be holders forth of the word of God, giving to each one his portion in due season; and while we give meat for men, let us also provide milk for babes.
Preaching Simple and Plain Biblical Truths May be Less Interesting but More Useful
If it be, then, that thus acting, we may be less interesting, let us console ourselves by the thought that we shall be more useful. If our congregations complain of our descent to trifling particulars, let us remember that by thus doing, to a proper extent; we gain the plaudits of our Master. And let us, even at the risk of dullness, determine to be plain, neglecting not to make ourselves level to the comprehension even of the most ignorant. In thus doing, we may find ourselves often the agents of the Spirit of God in carrying conviction to the hearts of many intelligent persons, who are now utterly indifferent to all we can say.
(“Preaching Plain Truths,” in Stray Recollections, Short Articles and Public Orations of James P. Boyce edited by Thomas J. Nettles, 58-59).