The Character of Puritan Preaching, Part 4

The Character of Puritan Preaching, Part 4

We would do well to model our ministry after these men. They were men of integrity. They saw their calling as one of dignity and worth. They loved the church because Christ loved it. 

The sermon was the minister’s attempt through reason to encourage faith as it affected this life and the next. They were committed to a style that was plain but not dull. Each minister was pledged by his own creed to use a balance of doctrine and practice, faithfully devoted to the exposition of the Word of Scripture, and understood by all. Every Puritan sermon began with a definite Biblical text. Once a text was selected, the preacher’s immediate duty was to clarify it in all possible ways. Thus the lengthy Puritan sermon had a structure of its own. It had a triple division into Doctrine, Reason, and Use. In contrast to the sermons of the Anglican divines such as Andrewes and Donne which were weighted down with classical quotations, the sermons of the Puritans were restricted almost entirely to Biblical citations because evangelical teaching was the first aim of the sermon. They did, however, refer to a Luther, a Calvin, or even each other on occasion, in addition to citing several of the church fathers, such as Jerome or Bernard.

Each sermon was an attempt to identify from the text an axiom of theology and to discuss its practical applications. In procedure, the text was taken apart by the method of analysis into its component parts and usually set out again as a proposition. After the logical analysis of the passage, the practical appeal was made by the pastor who attempted to make the Bible applicable to real life.

In defining the process, Horton Davies observes, “The doctrines had to be explained to the congregation and their contraries refuted. The second division of the sermon was a logical defense of the assumptions of the first section. It was insisted that apparent contradictions were to be reconciled, and that little time was to be spent in answering trivial objections or mere cavillings. The third section intended to drive home the practical advantages of belief in the particular teachings and concluded with encouragements.”

Richard Baxter affirmed this tradition by stating, “The preacher’s aim should be first to convince the understanding and then to engage the heart. Light first, then heat. Begin with a careful opening of the text, then proceed to the clearance of possible difficulties or objections; next, to a statement of uses; and lastly to a fervent appeal for acceptance by conscience and heart.”

While being masters of divinity, the Puritans were also masters of practical divinity. To these men of the Word, there was no doctrine that could not be practice. To them, all that was practiced had to be founded on sound doctrine.

Lastly, Puritan preaching was bold preaching. The Puritan preacher was not afraid to let the preaching of the Word of God offend sinners. As Samuel Hieron said in his Preacher’s Plea, in 1629, “As men love nothing more than their sins, so they loathe nothing more than the discovery thereof.” The Puritans realized that there would always be a violent reaction to bold preaching, but that it was absolutely necessary.

To re-quote Baxter, “You cannot break men’s hearts by jesting with them, or telling them a smooth tale, or pronouncing a gaudy oration. Men will not cast away their dearest pleasures at the drowsy request of one that seemeth not to mean as he speaks or to care much whether his request be granted or not. If you say that the work is God’s, and He may do it by the weakest means, I answer, it is true, He may do so; buy yet His ordinary way is to work by means, and not only to make the matter that is preached, but also the manner of preaching instrumental to our work.”

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