Are you allowed to preach just on a single verse at Cornhill?
Well, yes, you are. Indeed we actively encourage students to learn how to do so wisely. Of course there were some good reasons why in recent decades many preachers moved away from the frequent single-verse habit of their predecessors:
• it could readily lend itself to preaching verses out of context;
• done as the staple diet, it prevented consecutive exposition through whole books;
• it assumed greater Bible literacy in congregations than is now often the case;
• preachers could rather easily choose to preach on just their favourite topics.
There have been some real gains in this shift, and it’s wise to try to hold on to them. But when students ask (as they occasionally do) ‘how can I preach on a single verse and still do all the things Cornhill trains me to do with the text?’, that’s probably a signal that we need to work at not losing the ability to preach well from a single verse. Choosing a single verse as your text is, after all, doing nothing more radical than just opting to preach on a pretty short text. There are of course still some dangers out there into which the unwary and lazy may fall:
• preaching the context rather than what my text actually says;
• conversely, preaching my text without controls from its context.
However there are some benefits from occasional single-verse preaching, when done well:
• less time is normally spent in the sermon on text-explanation, leaving more time for application – whereas many of our sermons are imbalanced the other way;
• it can summarise the heart of the message of a complex book or chapter in a single verse (debatable examples of whole-book summaries, for my money, are Galatians 5.5; James 4.4; 1 John 5.20);
• in speaking situations where brevity, crystal clarity and directness are essential – funerals, short evangelistic talks, Christmas services, etc. – a single verse may well be the most sensible way to go.