Distinctives of Puritan Preaching: Dignity

Distinctives of Puritan Preaching: Dignity

Puritan minister did not spare his pulpit efforts. He preached for an hour or two once or twice and sometimes three times a week—that is, always once or twice on Sundays, often at a week-day lecture, and occasionally on days of fasting, of thanksgiving, and election. His sermon content was based directly on the Bible, for Scripture was the final and infallible authority by which every man was to govern his life. The doctrine for each and every sermon was taken directly from the Bible, and all proof rested in the Bible. No opinion on any matter—theological, moral, political, pragmatic—had any value unless it could be supported by definite Biblical references.

The Puritan preacher saw the role of preaching much differently than we do today because he saw the role of the preacher so much differently than we do today. Rather than seeing the preacher as just “one of the boys” with a bit more knowledge of religious things, the Puritan preacher saw his office as one of dignity and importance, character and content. Alexander Grosart, speaking of Thomas Brooks, said,“In all likelihood he proceeded from degree to degree, although in common with other of the Puritans, he places none (of those degrees) on his title pages, preferring the nobler designation, ‘Preacher of the Gospel,’ or ‘Preacher of the Word.’ ”

The difference in how we view the pulpit is pointed out by Dr. Bruce Bickel in his excellent book, Light and Heat: the Puritan View of the Pulpit:

The fading picture of the pulpit is a clear picture of how many Protestant ministers see their task and function. Their time is dictated by the vision they have of the pulpit. Many ‘share’ rather than preach, pray rather than pronounce blessings, and perform under a clouded vision of their ministry because they have no clear conviction about the nature of preaching. They do not see clearly the unique and supernatural nature of preaching because they do not see clearly the unique and supernatural nature of the divine Scriptures.

Many ministers allocate their time accordingly. More time is spent in motivational discussions, program planning, and church administration than in sermon study and preparation. Both pastors and congregations alike organize the minister’s schedule based on his or their view of the pulpit. Demands or expectations are placed upon the minister based upon a job description that reflects a weak view of the pulpit.

Throughout history God has raised up men and movements whose great work was to preach and apply the Word of God to their own generation. Of course, by implication, these men have affected all generations thereafter. Such men were the Puritans.

Because the Puritans held that the pure Word of God was the criterion to which doctrine, worship, and church government must conform, proclamation of the Scriptures occupied the central position in their worship. Horton Davies writes: “The importance of [Puritan] preaching consisted in the fact that it was the declaration by the preacher of the revelation of God, confirmed in the hearts of believers by the interior testimony of the Holy Spirit.”

Richard Sibbes spoke for all Puritan preachers when he said, “Christ, when He ascended on high and led captivity captive (He would give no mean gift then, when He was to ascend triumphantly to heaven) the greatest He could give was ‘some to be prophets, some apostles, some teachers (and preachers) for the building up of the body of Christ till we all meet, a perfect man in Christ.’ ‘I will send them pastors according to My own heart,’ saith God (Jer.3:15). It is the gift of all gifts, the ordinance of preaching. God esteems it so, Christ esteems it so, and so should we esteem it.”

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