The great Puritan preacher and writer William Perkins (1558-1602) lived only 44 years (!), but has had a tremendous impact on preachers of the gospel of Christ for well over 400 hundred years. He is often referred to as “the father of puritanism.”
His influence lives on through his written works, one of the most helpful of which is his book, The Art of Prophesying, which deals with the work of the pastor in preaching and in prayer. In his Foreword to the Banner of Truth Trust “Puritan Paperbacks” edition of that very book, Sinclair Ferguson notes that “Perkins’ pulpit ministry was characterized by biblical exposition marked by great ‘plainness of speech’ (2 Cor. 3:12).” That same plainness of speech is also evident throughout the book.
Perkins there gives a very brief summary of what is involved in preaching. He notes that true biblical preaching basically involves four (4) things:
- Reading the text clearly from the canonical Scriptures.
- Explaining the meaning of it, once it has been read, in the light of the Scriptures themselves.
- Gathering a few profitable points of doctrine from the natural sense of the passage.
- If the preacher is suitably gifted, applying the doctrines this explained to the life and practice of the congregation in straightforward, plain speech. (p.79)
That list may seem rather simple, but how often are these things neglected or ignored? How common is it really to hear preaching that conforms to these basic standards? Consider Perkins’ fourfold description of preaching re-stated in the form of a set of diagnostic questions:
- Is a particular text of holy Scripture read? (Do the people hear the clear reading of the Word of God?)
- Is that same text then clearly explained? (Are the people made to understand meaning of that text of Scripture?)
- Are a few profitable points of doctrine being expounded from the text? (Are the people really being taught the great doctrines of the gospel?)
- Lastly, are those doctrines being applied to the life and practice of the congregation? (Are the people being made to see the difference that the gospel should make in their daily lives?)
If you are a preacher, how do you answer those simple questions with regards to your own preaching? I hope that you can say with a clear conscience that you preach the Word of Christ like this from week to week. It may not impress many of your hearers, but that is the way that sinners are led to the Savior; and that is the way that saints are built up in their most holy faith as well. Such preaching no doubt pleases God, and that should be our first concern, shouldn’t it?
If you are a church member who attends public worship regularly and so listens attentively (right?) to the preaching of the Word of God, are these the kinds of things that you look (or listen) for? Are these the things by which you judge preaching to be good or bad? If this is the kind of preaching that you hear from week to week, no matter how unimpressive and unspectacular it may seem – thank God for it! Count yourself truly blessed indeed! Many who sit under far more impressive-sounding preaching are not being fed and built up the way that you are.
What the church needs today (and has always needed) is not so much talented preachers who are able to captivate an audience (not that there is anything wrong with talent), but rather men of God who are willing to do the hard work of prayerfully studying the Scriptures, and plainly making known what is taught there.
May the Lord Jesus Christ be pleased to grant more such men in our pulpits – that His church may be built up, to the glory of His great Name.