6. Put story retelling in your sermon primarily in the past tense.
One basic rule of thumb in story-telling is that the more serious the story, the more the past tense is used. When someone gives a historic account, they usually use the past tense for this reason. The present tense in storytelling is used when you are seeking to intensify the action at a crucial moment. For those declaring the gospel, they should retell a Biblical story mostly in the past tense, then shift to the present when they want to make the congregation feel as if they were there.
In conclusion, notice how George Whitefield does this in a famous sermon in Genesis 22 at one point as he describes Abraham coming to the point of sacrificing Isaac (present tense is in bold):
"And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a Lamb for a burnt-offering." Some think, that Abraham by faith saw the Lord Jesus afar off, and here spoke prophetically of that Lamb of God already slain in decree, and hereafter to be actually offered up for sinners. This was a lamb of God's providing indeed (we dared not have thought of it) to satisfy his own justice, and to render him just in justifying the ungodly. What is all our fire and wood, the best preparations and performances we can make or present, unless God had provided himself this Lamb for a burnt-offering? He could not away with them. The words will well hear this interpretation. But, whatever Abraham might intend, I cannot but think he here made an application, and acquainted his son, of God's dealing with his soul; and at length, with tears in his eyes, and the utmost affection in his heart, cried out, "Thou art to be the lamb, my Son;" God has commanded me to provide thee for a burnt-offering, and to offer thee upon the mountain which we are now ascending. And, as it appears from a subsequent verse, Isaac, convinced that it was the divine will, made no resistance at all; For it is said, "They went both of them together;" and again, when we are told, that Abraham bound Isaac, we do not hear of his complaining, or endeavoring to escape, which he might have done, being (as some think) near thirty years of age, and, it is plain, capable of carrying wood enough for a burnt-offering. But he was partaker of the like precious faith with his aged father, and therefore is as willing to be offered, as Abraham is to offer him: And "so they went both of them together."
And now, the fatal blow is going to be given. "And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son." But do you not think he intended to turn away his head, when he gave the blow? Nay, why may we not suppose he sometimes drew his hand in, after it was stretched out, willing to take another last farewell of his beloved Isaac, and desirous to defer it a little, though resolved at last to strike home? Be that is it will, his arm is now stretched out, the knife is in his hand, and he is about to put it to his dear son's throat.
Whitefield, as it were, puts the knife handle right in your hand!
This article was originally published on Gentle Reformation. Reprinted with permission.
Barry York, is the author of Hitting The Marks. He describes himself as Sinner by Nature - Saved by Grace, Husband of Miriam - Grateful for Privilege, Father of Six - Blessed by God, and President of RPTS - Serve with Thankfulness.
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