I am now moving from a summary of Carrick’s chapter on the indicative in preaching to his chapter on the exclamative. And yes, Reformed preaching is allowed to contain exclamation marks! Even if it is a Dutch guy on the pulpit.
He begins with the four types of sentences which include: statements, requests, questions, and exclamations. Statements are indicative, requests are imperative, questions are a branch of the indicative except with interrogative, and exclamations imply emotion. Digging deeper into the exclamative itself, it is usually expressed by words like how, what, oh, woe, etc. The purpose is to give a certain truth more emphasis.
All these indicators of exclamatives are used in Scripture and I will record an example of each below focusing on the examples he gives from the Apostle Paul:
- Romans 10:15 “And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!'”
- 2 Corinthians 7:11 “For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter.”
- Romans 11:33 “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!”
- Micah 2:1 “Woe to those who devise wickedness and work evil on their beds! When the morning dawns, they perform it, because it is in the power of their hand.”
In each case it is important to bring the emphasis and feeling that are appropriate in context.
We can find examples of this in the preaching of Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, Samuel Davies, Asahel Nettleton, and Martyn-Lloyd Jones. All of these men use and abundance of exclamations in their sermons. Jonathan Edwards, for example, used these exclamations to emphasize the greatness of man’s sin. Harry S. Stout writes that “words or phrases such as ‘Hark!’ ‘Behold!’ ‘Alas!’ and ‘Oh!’ invariably signaled the pathos Whitefield dramatically recreated with his whole body.” Of course, contrary to his naturalistic evaluation, we have to consider how the Spirit was at work through his piety. Martin Lloyd-Jones once wrote that “Preaching a sermon is not to be confused with giving a lecture” and that “a sermon is not an essay”. On the opposite side, JI Packer has critiqued the type of sermon that only expresses “calm and chatty intimacy.”
But of course, the real meat of the exclamative comes the preacher’s own heart and piety as the Spirit works through the preacher. J.W. Alexander writes: “No rhetorical appliance can make a cold passage truly warm. If, for any cause, an inanimate sermon must needs be uttered, it ought to be delivered with no more emotion than its contents engender in the speaker’s soul. Everything beyond that is pretence; and here is the source of all mock-passion, which is the fixed habit of many speakers.” We must remember that this is not simply rhetoric, but sacred rhetoric. And so Dabney challenges the preacher: “affectation in the preacher, in the orator, the damning sin.” This exclamative, then, is not primarily a rhetorical device, but flows from a heart that is overwhelmed by the goodness and mercy of God.
Again, I appreciate Carrick’s exhortation to use exclamation marks in preaching as well as his warning against affectation. I have found it worthwhile to reflect on what the preaching does to me before I bring it onto the pulpit. Hebrews 4:12–13 states: “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” This has always been an incredibly important truth to me as I am preparing for a sermon. No creature is hidden from His sight, that includes the preacher. And so if I am honest with myself, then I realize that this word must act first on my own pride, my own hypocrisy, my own sin! And so preaching must continue to be an overflow of my own faith life and union with Christ. This is why it is so important that true godliness accompany intellectual knowledge.
It’s like the old adage goes: “Theology leads to doxology.”
I will conclude with another quote from Dabney: “Nothing, therefore, is a true oration which is not a life, a spiritual action, transacted in the utterance.”