This entry is part 2 of 10 in the series: Preachers and their preaching
- Preachers and their preaching – John Calvin
- Preachers and their preaching – the Puritans
- Preachers and their preaching – Charles Simeon
- Preachers and their preaching – Phillips Brooks
- Preachers and their preaching – C.H. Spurgeon
- Preachers and their preaching – D.M. Lloyd-Jones
- Preachers and their preaching – J. Sidlow Baxter
- Preachers and their preaching – John Stott
- Preachers and their preaching – Fred Craddock
- Preachers and their preaching – Simon Ponsonby
J.I. Packer, who has done so much to revive interest in the Puritans, identifies the following characteristics of Puritan preaching:-
1. It was expository in its method. The preacher’s task was to extract meaning from the text, rather than to impose meaning on it. The preacher seeks the mind of God as revealed in Scripture, and then seeks to express it faithfully. In ‘opening’ a text, the Puritan preacher would explain it in context, extract from it one or more doctrinal observations, and then amplify, illustrate and confirm from other scriptures the truths thus derived. The Puritans were devotees of continuous exposition, whether of single texts, or chapters, or whole books of the Bible.
2. Puritan preaching was doctrinal in its content. God had declared his mind in the Bible, and this revelation constituted a ‘body of divinity’. Each text should be interpreted in the light of the totality of the revelation.
3. Puritan preaching was orderly in its arrangement. The structure of their sermons was clear and logical. This lent itself to memorisation, ‘repeating’ sermons, and to meditation during the week.
4. Puritan preaching, though profound in its content, was popular in its style. Thomas Goodwin complained in other preacher of ‘the eminentist farrago of all sorts of flowers of wit that are found in any of the Fathers, poets, histories, similitudes, or whatever has the elegancy of wit in it’. But the Puritans eschewed ‘witty’ and clever preaching, which exalts the preacher rather than the Saviour. Weighty matters demand plain words. In Ryle’s autobiographical words, they ‘crucified their style’, and preached with dignified simplicity.
5. Puritan preaching was Christ-centred in its orientation. They sought to declare the whole counsel of God, but recognised that the cross is at the centre of that counsel. ‘The Puritans knew that the traveller through the Bible landscape misses his way as soon as he loses sight of the hill called Calvary.’
6. Puritan preaching was experimental in its interests. Their aim was to bring men to know God. Constant themes were sin, the cross, Christ’s heavenly ministry, the Holy Spirit, faith and hypocrisy, assurance and the lack of it, prayer, meditation, temptation, mortification, growth in grace, death, heaven were their constant themes. They studied carefully the human heart as well as the Divine word. ‘Their strenuous exercise in meditation and prayer, their sensitiveness to sin, their utter humility, their passion for holiness, and their glowing devotion to Christ equipped them to be master-physicians of the soul.’
7. Puritan preaching was piercing in its applications. They identified and spoke to specific states of spiritual need, and particular kinds and hearers. ‘Perkins in his Arte of Prophecying distinguished the different classes of people that the preacher could expect to be addressing in any ordinary congregation: the ignorant and unteachable, who needed the equivalent of a bomb under their seats; the ignorant but teachable, who needed orderly instruction in what Christianity is all about; the knowledgeable but unhumbled, who needed to be given a sense of sin; the humbled and desperate, who needed to be grounded in the gospel; believers going on with God, who needed building up; and believers who had fallen into error, intellectual or moral, and needed correction.’ Other groups come to mind too – the discouraged, the hurting, and the depressed.
8. Puritan preaching was powerful in its manner. They desired earnestness of heart, and unction from above. In Baxter’s famous words: ‘As one that never should preach again, And as a dying man to dying men.’
Based on Packer, J. I. (1994). A quest for godliness : The Puritan vision of the Christian life. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books.