Monday, 1 April 2013

The Puritan Passion for Preaching

The British puritans were passionate about preaching. Why was this? It was because they believed that preaching is the primary instrument through which the church is fed, that public worship remains God-centred, and that the gospel is propagated in the world. "The Westminster Directory of Public Worship" contains a valuable section called "Of the Preaching of the Word". Its opening statement says: "Preaching of the word, being the power of God unto salvation, and one of the greatest and most excellent works belonging to the ministry of the gospel ... ". What a magnificent summary of preaching!

There are many helpful pointers for the man who is set apart for preaching in this chapter of the "Directory". There are seven points which are brought out for a man to perform his whole ministry:

1. Painfully, not doing the work of the Lord negligently.
2. Plainly, that the meanest [or simplest] may understand.
3. Faithfully, looking to the honour of Christ ... keeping nothing back.
4. Wisely, framing all his doctrines, exhortations, exhortations, and especially his reproofs, in such a manner as may be most likely to prevail.
5. Gravely, as is fitting for the word of God.
6. With loving affection.
7. As taught of God, and persuaded in his own heart.

Did you notice two things especially? The performance of ministry is primarily and especially the ministry of the preaching of the word, therefore our greatest efforts in our use of personal time and preparation should be directed in this area. Secondly, in point 5, preaching must be conducted gravely. Hebrews 12:28 teaches: "Let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe". This idea really goes against the "mood of the age" and there can be a danger that preaching in our day can seek acceptability by being like the world around us.

So much conversation today can focus on communication skills, being relevant, with lots of "ice breakers" and 'humour". This idea would be abhorrent to the apostles and the puritans. Colossians 4:6 teaches all Christians "Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person". How much more should the language of the preacher, in the pulpit, be filled with reverence, gravitas and sober speech.

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