John Broadus on Application

by Andrew Wilson | Oct 27, 2022

Philosophy of Preaching

Following a brief study of the word homiletics, Broadus offered a description of what occurs in the preaching moment. He wrote, “The primary idea is that the discourse is a development of the text, an explanation, illustration, application of its teachings. Our business is to teach God’s word.” Broadus used the terms explanation, illustration, and application to describe the functional elements of preaching. Thus, application was one of the foundations of Broadus’s teaching on sermon construction. Even in the practice of text selection, Broadus advocated for the preacher to choose texts which were more readily applicable in a contemporary and relevant way. He wrote, “It is his business to teach the people lessons of real utility, either as regards doctrine or practice.” Thus, application was integral to Broadus’s understanding of how to preach.

The Use of Application in the Sermon

Broadus’s book contained a chapter on each of the functional elements of preaching. Broadus wrote, “Application, in the strict sense, is that part, or those parts, of the discourse in which we show how the subject applies to the persons addressed, what practical instructions it offers them, what practical demands it makes upon them.” In the first section of his chapter, Broadus referred to three potential ways of deriving applications: remarks, inferences, and lessons.


Based on his description, remarks seem to be a collection of focused sayings on a particular topic in the sermon. Broadus taught that the remarks “should always be of a very practical character, bearing down upon the feelings and the will. And the remarks must not diverge in various directions, and become like the untwisted cracker of a whip, but should have a common aim and make a combined impression.” Additionally, Broadus wrote, “In sermons upon historical subjects, it is lawful to bring out several distinct lessons, but these had better be pretty closely related.” The combined effect of several interconnected sentences form the practice of giving remarks as application.


Whereas remarks are closely connected and make a combined point, inferences could represent a number of uses and seem to be logical conclusions of the text. Broadus offered two limits for reigning in the use of inferences in application. He wrote “Nothing should be presented as an inference which does not logically and directly follow from the subject discussed.” Broadus emphasized that the inference must proceed from the subject of the sermon. Moreover, he reasoned, “The other limit is, that no inferences should be drawn in applying a subject which are not of practical importance. It is not a preacher’s business to exhibit all the matters which may be inferred from his discussion, as if he were attempting an exercise in logic, but only to draw out those which will appeal to the feelings and the will of his hearers, and move them to action.” Thus, Broadus’s two rules for inferences are that inferences must proceed from the subject and must be practical.


Lessons appear to be a category in between remarks and inferences. Broadus described lessons, “This term implies that the practical teachings of the subject are more thoroughly brought out and more fully applied than would be done in mere ‘remarks,’ while it does not restrict the application to those teachings which appear as logical ‘inferences’ from the propositions established.” Broadus emphasized the practicality of teaching the lesson from the propositions of the sermon. He continued, “These ‘lessons’ must, of course, be thoroughly practical, and must not be too formal, nor have a magisterial air. The preacher is not a dignitary, speaking ex cathedra to his inferiors. He had better speak, in general, of lessons which we may learn.” In all three descriptions of remarks, inferences, and lessons Broadus underscored the importance of practicality.  

Broadus suggested that the preacher should remove obstacles to obedience by describing how the congregation might apply the sermon to their life. Broadus left room for creativity and improvement by suggesting that this practice required observation and tact. Again, Broadus advised the preacher to find practical ways for the message to be applied.


Broadus believed that application culminated in persuasion. He wrote, “The chief part of what we commonly call application is persuasion. It is not enough to convince men of truth, nor enough to make them see how it applies to themselves, and how it might be practicable for them to act it out – but we must ‘persuade men.’” While he certainly emphasized the practicality of application, Broadus taught that the preacher must provide the audience with a description of the motivation to obey. Broadus suggested that the preacher could appeal to the motives of “happiness, holiness, and love” in order to persuade the audience to apply the message.


[1]  John Broadus, A Treatise on the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons, Rev. (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1926), 21.
[2] Ibid., 25.
[3] Ibid., 246.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid., 247.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Ibid., 247–248.
[9] Ibid., 248.
[10] Ibid., 249.
[11] Ibid., 249–250.

Andrew works as the Caskey Center Coordinator, and he is also pursuing a PHD in Biblical Exposition. He enjoys learning about imagery in preaching, preaching to a contemporary audience, and the wisdom literature.