( Originally Published 1902 )
GOING from the little village of Lawrenceburg, to the capital city, Indianapolis, young Henry Ward Beecher found the intellectual demands upon him greatly increased, and he set himself studiously to work to meet them. He did not allow his evangelical zeal to abate, but preached with fervor and with fire. He told how he first learned to make a real sermon; he said: "When I had lived at Indianapolis the first year, I said, There was a reason why, when the apostles preached, they succeeded, and I will find it out if it is to be found out.' I took every single instance in the record where I could find one of their sermons and analyzed it, and asked myself, ` What were the circumstances? Who were the people? What did he do?' and I studied the sermons until I got this idea—that the apostles were accustomed first to feel for a ground on which the people and they stood together, a common ground where they could meet. Then they stored up a large number of the particulars of knowledge that belonged to every-body, and when they had got that knowledge which everybody would admit placed in a proper form before the minds of the people, then they brought it to bear upon them with all their excited heart and feeling. That was the first definite idea of taking aim that I had in my mind. ` Now,' said I, ` I will make a sermon so.' I remember it just as well as if it were yesterday. First, I sketched out the things we all know, and in that way I went on with my ` you all knows' until I had about forty of them. When I had got through that I turned round and brought it to bear upon them with all my might ; and there were seventeen men awakened under that sermon. I never felt so triumphant in my life. I cried all the way home. I said to myself, ` Now I know how to preach.' I could not make another sermon for a month that was good for anything. I had used all my powder and shot on that one. But for the first time in my life I had got the idea of taking aim."
True apostolic succession consists in the belief of those principles, the entertainment of those sentiments, the enforcement of those precepts which inspired the holy apostles in the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Apostolic preaching is followed by the conviction and conversion of souls.
In any undertaking in life there must be good aim taken before the gun is fired, or there will be a miss. This is peculiarly so in the preaching of the Gospel. There will be no good done by accident or by any haphazard work. I have often fired at a whole flock of birds as they arose, but usually there was room enough between the birds to let the shot go through. It was only when I fastened my eye on a single bird, and held it there until I pulled the trigger, that I could have any success. In the preaching of a sermon, in the teaching of a Bible class, in any church work, in any earthly endeavor, the eye must be held upon the single bird if any game would be brought down. It is all-important for people in the secular and spiritual world to learn, like the young minister in Indiana did, how to take aim and fire.