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Sermon Structure: A Brief Outline Guide

For more information than is contained in this brief outline, see especially Harry S. Stout, The New England Soul:  Preaching and Religious Culture in Colonial New England ( New York: Oxford UP, 1986), Sacvan Bercovitch,  The American Jeremiad  (Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1978), and Perry Miller, The New England Mind: The Seventeenth Century. See also the Selected Bibliography on Puritanism. To read Puritan sermons online, go to the Fire and Ice site.
Origins Origins in Cicero's dicta that oratory should instruct, convince, and excite the listener.
Parts of an Oration (based on Cicero)
A. Exordium, or introduction.  Wilhelm Zepper (1598) compared this to the opening bars of a piece of music that renders the audience attentive.  Puritan writers, however, "condemned the exordium because it was first of all unnecessary to true believers, who should be sufficiently regardful of the preacher without any artificial capturing of their attention" (Miller, New England Mind 340).

B. Narration, or Statement of the Case. Causes and circumstances of the text.
C. Proposition or Partition of the Case.   Statement of the doctrine or theological position.
D. Confirmation or Proof. Demonstration of the truth of the position to the intellect.
E. Refutation. Rebuttal of objections and heresies.
F. Peroration. Recapitulation and amplification of the argument designed to arouse emotion in the listener.

 Structure Parts of a Sermon
A.Laying open the text
1. Grammatical meaning
2. Logical meaning
3. Figurative meaning
B. Doctrine
1. Partition and division of the topic
2. Collects profitable points of Scripture
C. Reasons
1. Demonstration of the truth of the doctrine
2. Leads to rational conviction
D. Application
E. Epilogue
1. Magnifies arguments
2. Leaves listener well-disposed, refreshed, and stimulated to further action
Puritan and 
Perry Miller, The New England Mind: "The Anglican sermon is constructed on a symphonic scheme of progressively widening vision; it moves from point to point by verbal analysis, weaving larger and larger embroideries about the words of the text.  The Puritan sermon quotes the text and "opens" it as briefly as possible, expounding circumstances and context, explaining its grammatical meanings, reducing its tropes and schemata to prose, and setting forth its logical implications; the sermon then proclaims in a flat, indicative sentence the "doctrine" contained in the text or logically deduced from it, and proceeds to the first reason or proof.   Reason follows reason, with no other transition than a period and a number; after the last proof is stated there follow the uses or applications, also in numbered sequence, and the sermon ends when there is nothing more to be said. The Anglican sermon opens with a pianissimo exordium, gathers momentum through a rising and quickening tempo, comes generally to a rolling, organ-toned peroration; the Puritan begins with a reading of the text, states the reason in an order determined by logic, and the uses in an enumeration determined by the kinds of person in the throng who need to be exhorted or reproved, and it stops without flourish or resounding climax" (332-3). 
© 1997-2013. Donna M. Campbell. Some information adapted from Resisting Regionalism: Gender and Naturalism in American Fiction, 1885-1915 (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1997).
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Campbell, Donna M. "Sermon Structure: A Brief Outline Guide." Literary Movements. Dept. of English, Washington State University. Date of publication or most recent update (listed above as the "last modified" date; you don't need to indicate the time). Web. Date you accessed the page.


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