Expository Preaching with Word Pictures: With Illustrations from the Sermons of Thomas Watson

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Jay Adams

Author, Pastor, Professor 

and Conference Speaker

“How grateful I am to have read Jack Hughes' volume, Expository Preaching with Word Pictures! I have over 300 volumes on preaching in my library, but only a few of them offer anything so instructive, fresh, and interesting. Hughes' book adds significantly to that small number. It is a veritable course in word painting. In illustrating his material from the sermons of Thomas Watson, the author demonstrates that he, himself, is more than capable of writing powerful picturesque prose of the sort that he highlights in Watson. The reader cannot but learn much from Hughes' own writing, as well as from Watson and the Scriptures (in which Hughes convincingly shows how biblical writers used such word pictures). Any preacher who does not beg, borrow or do anything short of stealing to obtain this book, should be horsewhipped!” 


John MacArthur (Grace Community Church, Sun Valley, CA)

Pastor, Author, Conference Speaker

“My passion is expository preaching, and that is the chief reason I am an admirer of the Puritans. The finest examples of Puritan exposition I know may be found in the sermons of Thomas Watson. Unbelievably rich, Watson's messages still communicate today with a power and clarity that is simply breathtaking. Jack Hughes has done a tremendous job of analyzing Watson's expository style, especially his use of potent word pictures. This book will be a valuable tool for any preacher seeking to improve his skill in handling and communicating the Word of God.”


David Meredith (Smithton-Culloden Free Church of Scotland, Iverness, United Kingdom)


“The ministry of Thomas Watson has obviously inspired Jack Hughes and as a result he has provided a real eye opener for the contemporary church. Hughes shows us that biblical preaching must be illustrated with colorful word pictures. It is refreshing to read a book which takes the methodology of the Puritan era and applies it so clearly to contemporary society. The book also takes the veil from our eyes when it shows us how much of the Bible is written in word pictures and how this is clearly seen in the teaching of Jesus and all the other biblical communicators.

In a society dominated by multi-media presentations in full Technicolor Jack Hughes tells us that there is no hiding place for the lazy preacher who is content to preach in monochrome. If we are to communicate effectively to our generation we must spare no effort in communicating ideas with word pictures.”


Warren Wiersbe

Pastor, Author, Conference Speaker

“In our image-saturated society, effective preachers who fail to reach the imagination of their listeners will never touch their hearts and move their wills. With the sermons of Thomas Watson as Exhibit A, the author shows you how to use a sanctified imagination to bring meaningful “pictures” out of the text and into your sermons, without sacrificing biblical content or homiletical structure. The beginning preacher and seasoned homiletician will both benefit from this unusual book.”


Howard Hendriks

Distinguished Professor

Chairman, Center for Christian Leadership

Dallas Theological Seminary

“Frankly, I began reading it [Expository Preaching with Word Pictures] the day it arrived and I can hardly put it down. From my perspective, this is one of the most balanced and critical contributions to the literature on expository preaching.

You hit the mark with your head. Like you I have given my life to the exposition of the Word, but have been saddened not only with its demise but its abuse. We are boring people to tears with our preaching and I am convinced it is a crime to bore anyone with the Scriptures.

Believe me, you have found the answer to your question and in addition have come to the Kingdom for such a time as this. Be confident I will recommend your book with enthusiasm wherever I go, especially in Pastor's Conferences. . .


You hammer so well what I have been committed to for over 50 years here at DTS, but your thoroughness is explicating the process is both encouraging and affirming. May your tribe increase.


I like both your choice of Thomas Watson and the way you related his messages to a workable method. Models are great but the process is greater in teaching others how to reproduce the experience. 


Richard Mayhue

Author, Professor, Sr. Vice President and Dean

The Master's Seminary

“Dr. Jack Hughes engagingly presents the colorful words of Thomas Watson in the context of Biblical exposition. We twenty-first century preachers are indebted to the author for this grand study of a notable, historic herald. Thomas Watson compelled people to listen to him whether he was preaching or writing, by the vivid word pictures that he painted, both at his desk and in the pulpit. This rich study should be a treasure in every preacher's library. I highly recommend it.”


Dave Deuel

Academic Director of 

The Master's Academy International

“In his study of word pictures, Jack Hughes sets up his easel at the head of a long line of painters: our author is indebted to Adams, Adams to Spurgeon, Spurgeon to the Puritans and the Puritans to Scripture – in effect, all to Scripture. The succession of preachers with their colorful sermon palettes stands as a reminder that, throughout History, our Lord has equipped His illustration artists sufficiently to help His people see the Truth in brilliant colors. But with a slight change of word picture, God's messengers must not distort their message from the Cosmic King with rhetoric that sounds like advertising ploys, sensationalist journalism, or other tactics that obscure the truth. In short, Jack reminds us that our content must come from God's Word and our packaging must not cheapen or distort it. Sounds simple and refreshing.”


In Process (Omaha Bible Church, Omaha, NE)

Amazon.com Book Review

If you are a Bible expositor, what is your aim for your sermons? Are you preparing and delivering your sermons so that the people of God would, not only hear, but UNDERSTAND and thus obey what God has said. "We want the people of the pews to understand and remember as much of our sermons as possible. We should not be content with firing over people's heads, but with aiming at their hearts," (pg 44)...so says the author, Dr Jack Hughes (MDiv from Master's Seminary and Doctorate of Ministry from Westminster). "Sometimes expository preachers can give their people exegetical data and fail utterly to give them understanding." (pg 69) Dr Hughes has written this helpful book so that expositors might put appropriate emphasis on communicating God's word effectively.

One tool to communicate God's truth is the use of Word Pictures. A Word Picture is any "word, phrase, story, analogy, illustration, metaphor, figure of speech, trope, allegory, graphical quotation, historical reference, cross reference, or comparison used to help the listener, see, imagine, experience, sense, understand, remember and/or relate to abstract facts." A working definition is that a Word Picture "...describes the many ways words can be used to communicate abstract truth in a picturable, understandable, and memorable way." (pg 33) Throughout this book, Dr Hughes draws from Thomas Watson's many potent uses of Word Pictures.

I took special note of Dr Hughes' tips for being a better communicator:

- Start training your mind to think comparatively (pg 47) 

- Cultivate your imagination (pg 50) 

- Begin the sermon with an illustration for your hearers to understand to know WHY they need to know something (pg 73) 

- Use Word Pictures drawing from: the narrative portions of Scripture (pg 103), the Law (pg 110), the prophetic books (pg 117), from the Gospels (pg 122), and from the epistles (pg 129) 

- Notice how others use Word Pictures in their writing and speaking (pg 141) 

- Ask God to help you think of simple, effective ways to express the truth of his word as Jesus did (pg 150) 

- Use Word Pictures from nature (pg 151) 

- Consider what is `like' or `as' the truth that you are teaching (pg 155). If nothing comes to mind, get some rest and try again. 

- Practice thinking of word pictures during moments of free time (ex: when driving around) (pg 158) 

- Reduce the truth that you are trying to teach to a basic concept, then think of persons, places, and things that illustrate that truth (pg 159) 

- Practice taking a person, place, or thing & try to think of as many spiritual parallels as you can (pg 160) 

- Think how you would communicate what you are teaching to a new believer or to a child who has little or no Bible knowledge (pg 162) 

- Avoid entertaining (pg 167), over-illustrating (pg 171), over-complicatiing (pg 174)

Other great quotes: 

- "Ear ticklers do not need to worry much about abstract truth because their sermons are void of theological substance." (pg 60) 

- "If the people in your church aren't listening to your sermon, it's your fault!" (pg 68) 

I found Appendix B (page 195-290) as a helpful tool for future reference - it is an alphabetized list of topics that contain the "cream" of Thomas Watson's Word Pictures. This list will stimulate my thinking on possible Word Pictures for a given topic.


Erik Raymond (Ohmaha, NE)

Pastor, Amazon Book Review

Preaching has fallen on hard times in our day.  Many insist that pulpit ministries are boring, ineffective, outdated, and irrelevant.  And if you listen to a sampling of sermons from various pulpits, there is an element of some truth to the frustrations.

So how does the preacherwho wants to preach the word of God not get in the way and make the sermon become the Sunday morning equivalent to the flight attendant’s reading of the pre-flight safety instructions?

Author and pastor Jack Hughes has some ideas.  He has written a very helpful book entitled Expository Preaching with Word Pictures.  Hughes is convinced for the need of more colorful and descriptive preaching in our day.  To help with the task he enlists the pen of Puritan Thomas Watson.  Watson is renown for his ability to carve spiritual truth into our minds through powerfully weighted words.

Consider these examples:

“Zeal in a minister is as proper as fire on the altar. Some are afraid to reprove, like the swordfish which has a sword in his head, but is without a heart. So they carry the sword of the Spirit with them—but have no heart to draw it out in reproof against sin. How many have sown pillows under their people, Ezek. 13:18, making them sleep so securely, that they never awoke until they were in hell!”

“The sins of the wicked pierce Christ’s side.  The sins of the godly go to his heart.”

“A godly man loves the Word preached, which is a commentary upon the Word written. This day-star has risen in his heart, and ushered in the Sun of righteousness. The Scriptures are the sovereign oils and balsams; the preaching of the Word is the pouring of them out. The Scriptures are the precious spices; the preaching of the Word is the beating of these spices, which causes a wonderful fragrance and delight.”

Hughes labors to prove the Scriptural basis to use (and not abuse) word pictures and illustrations.  He interacts with many of the popular objections and then continues to demonstrate biblically the need for such a practice in the pulpit.

In the chapter entitled “Do is yourself Word Pictures” Hughes endeavors to help preachers find illustrations and word pictures in their lives and world around them.  This is a most helpful chapter for preachers.  He follows this chapter with a word of caution to those who may be given unto excess and misuse the pens of word pictures by scribbling over and veiling the very text they intending to highlight.

Finally, Hughes includes a 100 page appendix of topical organized quotes from Thomas Watson.  This is a very helpful resource for the Bible teacher; if you can’t think of something on your own you can cruise on back to Watson’s pantry and borrow some of his supplies.

Expository Preaching with Word Pictures is a helpful tool for preachers; I found it very encouraging and instructive.


M. Thomasson (Los Angeles, CA)

Amazon Book Review

If you are an expository preacher then you should read this book. There's a lot more to expository preaching than just dumping exegetical data on your congregation. This book will teach you how to make your sermons (and more than that God's word) stick in the hearts and minds of your hearers. I strongly recommend this book.


Tim Crockett (Bible Way Baptist Church, Auburn, MA)


The author takes a refreshing and enlightening approach to homiletics by highlighting a specific area which is not only practical but biblical. That of preaching with word pictures. He utilizes many examples from the Bible and that of the old Puritan Thomas Watson.


Having read many books by great authors on the subject of homiletics, this particular book was a refreshing read. He wrote with exceptional ease and clarity, he truly learned from his study.

The main thrust of the writer's intent centers around preaching with word pictures. The basis of his thesis was on the preaching with word pictures like that of the old Puritan Thomas Watson. the goal was to get back solid expository preaching which cut to the heart and challenged believers to live right.


The author's aim was to communicate valuable truth and that he did. The layout was easy to follow and I believed he covered areas pertinent to the preaching ministry. He not only shows the importance of sound expositional preaching but takes you on a journey starting with basics of hermeneutics and then the development and employment of word pictures. This is where you see the author's passion and adoration for Thomas Watson coupled with his passion for scriptural word pictures which he goes into great detail on. Much like looking at a diamond from another angle.

Not only is there an extensive subject and person and scripture index, but he goes on to list Watson's works followed by a gallery of quotes. Here are some examples:

Sanctification - It is better ti be a pattern of holiness, than a partner of wickedness. It is better to go to heaven with a few, than to hell in the crowd. We must walk in an opposite course to the men of the world.

Thankfulness - An unthankful person is a monster in nature, a paradox in Christianity. He is the scorn of heaven and the plague of the earth. An ungrateful man never does well except in one thing - that is, when he dies.

Unbeliever - If the devil bids a man to lie or steal, he does not refuse; and, what is worse, he willingly obeys this tyrant. Other slaves are forces against their will: "Israel sighed by reason of their bondage" (Exodus 2:23); but sinners are willing to be slaves, they will not take their freedom; they kiss their fetters.

Personal Response:

I began to apply the principles taught almost immediately. I agree with the author's opening statements that there is a famine in the pulpits today. With technology advancing rapidly the days of sitting and brooding over a text have given way to the internet and ready-made sermons and a myriad of other distractions.

This is not the only area of concern either, certainly the folks sitting in the pews need something outside their realm of normality. In other words what is going to entice them to think about the message and leave aside all worldly care? All too often the cares of this world get a strangle hold on the believers leaving the preacher to contend not only with sin, the devil and the flesh, he now navigates through the hearers minds and attempts to stimulate them to meditate and apply God's word.

This book was an enjoyable read and had a definite impact on my pulpit ministry. I was refreshed and encouraged at the same time. Now when writing messages I try to incorporate word pictures for illustrations with the intent on leaving an indelible mark on the minds of the hearers. This is one addition to my library that will not collect dust.


Doug Wilson (Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho)

Pastor, Professor, Author, Conference Speaker 

“This is one of the most helpful books on preaching that I have read. The subtitle "With Illustrations from the Sermons of Thomas Watson" shows why the book is so good. Watson was one of the great Puritan preachers, a vivid wordsmith, and one to be imitated. This was a very helpful book. Here are some Watson samples: 

"Whoever brings an affliction to us, it is God that sends it." 

"Zeal in a minister is as proper as fire on the altar."

"He who has only a painted holiness shall have a painted happiness."

"How many souls have been blown into hell with the wind of popular applause?"


Neil Robbie, (Holy Trinity Church, West Bromwich, England)


I was really pleased to read Jack Hughes' Expository Preaching with Word Pictures which is the result of his Phd [sic. D. Min] on the sermons of Thomas Watson. Watson's sermons remain relevant and stimulating today because, argues Hughes, Watson makes the abstract concrete by his vivid use of metaphor and simile.

The following quote captures the way Watson explains God's providence (bold italics) followed by Hughes' own analysis of colourless contemporary expository preaching (italics).

The providence of God is "the queen and governess of the world": it is the eye that sees, and the hand that turns all the wheels in the universe. God is not like an artificer that builds a house, and then leaves it, but like a pilot He steers the ship of the whole creation. Suppose you were in a smith's shop, and should see there several sorts of tools, some crooked, some bowed, others hooked, would you condemn all these things, because they do not look handsome? The smith makes use of them all for doing his work. Thus it is with the providences of God; they seem to us to be very crooked and strange, yet they all carry on God's work.

I know that expository preachers are a finicky group of individuals. They are preaching mavericks. While the majority of churches are swapping the sermon hour for drama, entertainment, upbeat music and cappuccino time, expositors stand firm against the raging torrent of truncated, superficial preaching and maintain their commitment to `preach the word'. They are a fearless and noble crowd who are nauseated by the sad state of preaching in many churches. Their revulsion against baby formula sermons has caused their personal pendulum to swing to the opposite end of the preaching spectrum. Because of the many abuses and misuses in preaching today, they do not want to be named among the slick-talking orators who wow their people with worldly wisdom and sermons void of any spiritual nutrition.


But some expositors have thrown the baby out with the bath water when it comes to being effective communicators. They reason to themselves, `It is my job to preach the word, and it is the Holy Spirit's job to take it from there.' But this can be like giving someone who needs shelter a pile of building materials and telling them to `take it from there'.


Hughes' book has given me a swift, hard kick where I needed it most. My preaching has become like sea glass; dull, opaque and blunt. I must get back into the habit of using my imagination, led by the Holy Spirit, to paint illustrative word pictures when dealing with difficult doctrine.