Friday, July 27, 2007

The Preaching of the Puritans

The English and American Puritans heavily emphasized preaching. They believed that preaching drives all of the other ministries and activities of the church and argued that preaching is primary because God's Word is primary. Puritan preaching was characterized by a number of qualities.

1. Godliness in the preacher. Above all else, preachers must know the God they proclaim. Puritan preachers knew the paths of sin as they ran in their own hearts and they sought to overcome it with the grace of the gospel of Christ. They understood the law-gospel contrast in justification and the gospel-law continuum in sanctification and the significance of that distinction to their own souls.

2. Sincere and personal. Puritan preaching was often characterized by an intense and sincere personalism. It was direct, conversational, naturally impassioned, and sincere. The preacher did not put on a preaching brogue, eliminated rhetorical flourish, spoke in plain vernacular English, and sought to communicate as a whole person. Puritan preachers wanted to preach the whole gospel to whole men, addressing the minds, hearts, and wills of their hearers.

3. Aims for the conscience. Puritan preachers were not lecturers. They moved easily from doctrine to experience, seeking to engage both the head and the heart, to expose sinful habits and patterns of thought and to exhort with the gospel of free grace.

4. Teases Christ out of every text. The Puritans were intensely Christ-centered. That is, they preached the whole counsel of God in every sermon, and did not rip any pericope from its whole Bible context. Every sermon at some level included the grand themes of divine sovereignty, creation, fall, redemption, and restoration.

5. Aims at replacing counseling. Puritan preachers wanted to teach men to pastor their own souls, to learn how to apply the gospel to their own hearts and to deal with whatever sin or situation might present itself. They believed that if they faithfully expounded the whole counsel of God and really aimed at the lives of those in the congregation, then the need for extra counseling would largely subside.

6. Considers all sorts in the congregation. They were always aware that a great diversity of people sat under their preaching, which is why they addressed unbelievers, doubters, atheists, the downcast, the sluggish, the proud, and maturing believers in their preaching applications. They sought never to ignore any category of hearer.

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