In a recent article reprinted in The Banner of Truth, Johann Odendaal sets out some of the principle priorities of Puritan preaching. These help to explain why these men should be regarded as ‘God’s giants’:-
1. Good preaching to them was the primary means of God’s grace to man. It was the highlight of public worship. Through the preaching the Holy Spirit would apply the Word in power to save people from their sins. It is primarily through the preaching of the Word that believers are built up in their faith. Especially in our knowledge-exploding world, God still uses the foolishness of preaching to accomplish the salvation of man.
2. Good preaching to them was expositional and didactic. This is where the hard work comes in. Labouring to find the meaning of the text within its context and to open it up was their duty. This should still be the case. They preached through passages to proclaim the whole counsel of God. Take, for example, Gurnall’s work The Christian in Complete Armour. In 1176 pages he opened up nine verses, Ephesians 6:10-18, in the context of spiritual warfare. In this way they corrected un-biblical thinking, teaching on God and salvation. William Perkins said that only current errors which trouble the Church should be reproved, and that all others be left alone if they are dead in past history.
3. Good preaching to them needed good application. Preaching had to address the whole man – the intellect, emotions, conscience and the will. William Perkins once again remarked that it is easy to prepare a lecture on a doctrine, but the aim of preaching is to change lives and that requires application. Application can only come through prayer and the Word. For that reason the Apostles made it clear that they would give themselves to prayer and the Word (Acts 6:4).
4. Good preaching to them had to be evangelistic. The good news of the gospel is for sinners. Sinners must see themselves in the light of the holiness of God. That brings conviction and without conviction there can be no conversion. Jesus started his ministry with these words: ‘Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand!’
5. Good preaching to them had to be powerful. The subject matter is the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit and eternal life. The eternal God of all creation is in action in the salvation of man.
6. Good preaching to them had to be popular in style. Their language and style addressed the people of their day from all walks of life. It was described as ‘homely, pithy and illustrative.’ Richard Mather said he shot his arrows not over people’s heads but into their hearts.
7. Good preaching to them required prayer and diligent study. They lived and preached in an era where many people claimed that they didn’t need preparation but only a word from the Holy Spirit. The Puritans remarked wisely that a word from the Holy Spirit comes through the diligent study of God’s Word.
8. Good preaching to them was respect for the sovereignty of the Holy Spirit. You will never find in their preaching that they tried to do the work of the Holy Spirit. They believed that God judges; that Christ died for our sins and that the Holy Spirit convicts of sin. Our task is to plead with sinners.