In a 1960 article of J.I. Packer’s from the Churchman, he outlines five principles of preaching from the sermons of the 18th/early 19th century English pastor, Charles Simeon. Simeon was an anomaly in his own day and a rock star of faithful pastoring in our own day. If you are not familiar with his life, do a search for some biographical synopses. Simeon’s outlines are a treasure. Over 2,500 “skeleton” sermons are available. They were originally published as Horae Homileticae and available online for free. After several years of checking them out of the Wheaton College library, I was thrilled to find a set for sale of the 1950’s Zondervan reprint from a library in Kansas. If you come across a set (they’re rare), snatch it up. You won’t be disappointed.

In Packer’s article, he writes five basic lessons seen from Simeon’s sermons. Simeon gave much time to training other men to preach. There were certain lessons, Packer explains, that Simeon hammered away at in his training.

#1 Simeon believed:

A sermon is a single utterance; therefore it must have a single subject. Its divisions (which should be clearly marked, to help the listener follow and remember) should act like the joints of a telescope: “each successive division . . . should be as an additional lens to bring the subject of your text nearer, and make it more distinct”.

#2 Simeon believed:

A sermon has a threefold aim—“to instruct, to please and to affect”: the introduction being designed chiefly to please, to win the hearers’ interest and goodwill; the exposition to instruct, to win their minds and judgments; and the application to affect, to win, their hearts and wills.

#3 Simeon believed:

A sermon should be textual in character. It was, precisely, ex-position, bringing out of the texts what God had put in them. “I never preach,” said Simeon, “unless I feel satisfied that I have the mind of God as regards the sense of the passage.”

#4 Simeon believed:

A sermon must have a doctrinal substructure. The expositor who knows his doctrine (the truths and principles exhibited in the acts of God) is able to see the significance and implications of each particular text in a way that another man is not. And this is what he is called to do: to open up individual texts in the light of the analogy of faith, i.e., in terms of the broad framework of doctrinal truth which the Bible embodies. Always in some way they will set forth the gospel in its double aspect as a revelation and a remedy; always in some way they will throw light on the twin themes of sin and grace; for these are the things that the whole Bible is about. Always, therefore, their tendency will be threefold—“to humble the sinner; to exalt the Saviour; to promote holiness”24—for that is the tendency of the Bible, and of every part of the Bible.

#5 Simeon believed:

A sermon must have a theocentric perspective. The key that unlocks the biblical outlook is the perception that the real subject of Holy Scripture is not man and his religion, but God and His glory; from which it follows that God is the real subject of every text, and must therefore be the real subject of every expository sermon, as He is of Simeon’s own sermons.

Reading Simeon’s sermons with these questions in mind is a wonderful exercise. How does this affect my heart? What is the mind of God regarding this text? What is the doctrinal substructure? Where are the gospel pointers in this text? In what way does this sermon provide a theocentric perspective? Even more, applying these questions to our own sermons, will increase the possibility of reaching their purpose.