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The Puritan preachers preached their sermons to reach even the hearts of the unconverted or of those who were still outside the church and convert them.  They made their preaching missionary proclamation of redemption to the lost.  They reached the hearts of their audience by being understood by their audience.


Trinitarian Redemption and Proclamation

As Paul Pierson indicates it in the previous chapter, with Puritans Christians are in partnership with God in redemption.  Richard Baxter set forth Trinitarian work of redemption on God’s part and proclamation of the redemption on man’s part.  The missiological implication we find here is that God sends the Son to redeem us; and likewise, the human preachers as the ones sent by God proclaim the gospel in order to fulfill His Work of Redemption.  Sidney H. Rooy quotes from Richard Baxter saying:

The Father sendeth the Son; the Son redeemeth us, and maketh the promise of grace; the Holy Ghost inditeth and sealth this gospel;the apostles are the secretaries of the Spirit, to write it; the preachers of the gospel to proclaim it, and persuade men to obey it; and the Holy Ghost doth make their preaching effectual, by opening the hearts of men to entertain it (1965:76). 

The soteriological consideration that men must be brought to personal conversion dominates the Puritan message.  The practical use of doctrine was at the heart of Puritan preaching.  The direct application of spiritual truth to men’s situation was the Puritan purpose in preaching.

The Simplicity of Preaching

Lloyd-Jones remarks that Puritans reprobated and avoided that which was the chief-characteristic of Anglican preaching.  They believed in ‘plain, direct, experimental, saving preaching.’  Preaching was to be simple, earnest, and faithful.  They were called to preach salvation through grace by faith in our Lord Jesus Christ (1987:384).

What distinguished the Puritan preachers even more than their doctrinal position was the manner and purpose of their preaching.  They asserted, as did others, that man could be saved by faith alone.   They endeavored to do this, however, in terms that common men might understand, in expressive images that would move men to repent, believe and begin the new life at once under the leadership of the preacher (Haller 1957:19). 

Preaching the Word in Plain Language

Retaining the profundity of the gospel message, yet the Puritan preachers strove for simplicity in their sermon delivery.  As James I. Packer quotes from the Westminster Directory for the Public Worship of God:

Plainly that the meanest may understand; delivering the truth not
in the enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and power, lest the Truth of Christ should be made of none effects; abstaining also from an unprofitable use of unknown tongues, Strange phrases, and cadences of sounds and words…(1994:278).

William Haller also argues that the Puritan preachers themselves asserted again and again that only so much doctrine was important to be understood by men of least knowledge and capacity, What is important for us is, then, not what the learned doctor’s doctrine was—not how they argued among themselves—but what it meant and did to the common public’ (1957:86).

D. M. Lloyd-Jones disputes the idea that their preaching was dull or pedestrian because they were opposed to ornate, artificial, oratorical kind of preaching.  On the contrary they were very learned men.  What they insisted on was that human wisdom should be concealed because the preacher is declaring a divine and not a human message (1987:85).

Plainness and Powerfulness

For the Puritans the end of preaching is to make manifest to the unlearned stranger the things of his own heart.  As William Perkins puts it, it is to obtain  “an admirable plainness and an admirable powerfulness.”  That must be plain by which an unlearned man is enabled to perceive his own faults.  That must be powerful which moves the unregenerate conscience to exclaim, ‘Certainly God speaks in this man!’ (1957:130).[1]

Reaction against the style of the orthodox Anglicans was an important element in the preacher’s conversion, and the account of his plainness and powerfulness became almost as conventional a part of the legend of him as conversion itself.  The Puritan preachers labored earnestly to make themselves understood by their audience.  Richard Stoke spoke so ‘that both the learnedest might receive satisfaction from him, and the very meanest and dullest might also reap benefit by him (Haller 1957:131).

Robert Harries ‘could so cook his meat that he could make it relish to every palate: He could dress a plain discourse, so as that all sorts should be delighted with it.  He could preach with a learned plainness, and had learned to conceal his Art’ (:132). Richard Baxter was a powerful Puritan preacher who saw in his lifetime that almost all people in his parish converted.  He believes in using plainest words for powerful and effective pulpit communication.  Baxter clearly sets forth it in his Reformed Pastor.  Albert H. Currier quotes him, saying:

The plainest words are the most profitable oratory in the weightiest matters.  Fineness is for ornament and delicacy for delight, but they answer not necessity.  Yea, it is hard for the heart to observe the matter of ornament and delicacy, and not be carried from the matter of necessity: for it usually hindereth the due operation of the matter, keeps it from the heart….  All our teaching must be as plain and evident as we can make it.  If you would not teach men, what do you do in the pulpit?  If you would, why do you not speak so as to be understood (118)?


Explication and Application in Plain Speech

The calculated effort to appeal to the popular audience affected the structure as well as the style of the sermon.  The preacher carried into the pulpit, as a rule, little more than the heads of the discourse he was to deliver.  This method of preaching, as prescribed by Perkins, required first that the preacher read the text out of Scripture and then explain or ‘open’ it in its context.  He should then proceed to collect a few and profitable points of doctrine out of the natural sense.  Finally he must apply the doctrines rightly collected, to the life and manners of men in a simple, plain speech.  These were called ‘the uses’ (Haller  1957:134).

Of the supreme value in the Puritan preaching is the unity of ‘exposition’ and ‘application’ they retained in their preaching.  As Packer remarks it: “Puritans preached the Bible systematically and thoroughly, with sustained application to personal life, preaching it as those who believed it, and who sought by their manner to make their matter credible and convincing and converting (1994:280).


The Type of Puritan Preaching

There are predominately five types of Puritan preaching.  They include application, profundity and simplicity, exposition, doctrinal. And evangelism.  Commonly this five genre appear together in a Puritan preaching.     


Puritan preaching was piercing in its application.  The Puritan preachers trained their homiletical searchlights on specific states of spiritual need, and spoke to these in
a precise and detailed way.  Puritan pastoral preachers would speak half or more of their preaching time developing applications.   Packer comments, “Strength of application was, from one standpoint, the most striking feature of Puritan preaching, and it is arguable that the theory of discriminating application is the most valuable legacy that Puritan preaching have left to those who would preach the Bible and its gospel effectively today” (1994:286-87).

Thomas Cartwright, Puritan and the real father of Presbyterianism in England, said that the Word of God is vital in its operation only when applied to hearts and consciences of believers by way of consolation and rebuke.  He illustrates it  by saying, ‘As the fire stirred giveth more heat, so the word, as it were blown by preaching flameth more in the hearts than when it is read’ (Lloyd-Jones 1987:376).


Profound, Yet Simple

Puritan preaching, though profound in its content, was popular in its style.  Baxter expresses it in his homiletic idiom: ‘the plainest words are the profitablest oratory in the weightiest matters’ (1888:II, 399).  They talked to their congregations in plain, straightforward, homely English.  Dignified simplicity—‘studied plainness’—was their ideal.  In fact, the ‘studied plainness’ of Puritan preaching often possesses a striking eloquence of its own—the natural eloquence that results when words are treated not at all as the orator’s playthings, but entirely as the servant of a notable meaning (Packer 1994:285-86)


The Puritan preacher regarded himself as the mouthpiece of God and the servant of His words.  He must speak ‘as the oracle of God.’  His task, therefore, was not information, fastening on to Scripture text meanings they do not bear, nor was it juxtaposition, using his text as a peg on which to hang some homily unrelated to it.  The preacher’s task was precisely, exposition, extracting from his texts what God had encased within them (Packer 1994:284).

The Puritan method of ‘opening’ a text was first to explain it in its context; next, to extract from the text one or more doctrinal observations embodying its substances, and then to amplify, illustrate, and conform form other Scriptures the truths thus derived; and finally, to draw out their practical implications for the hearers (284).   


Packer makes a point that Puritan preaching was doctrinal in its content: “Puritan preachers were not afraid to bring the profound theology into the pulpit if it bore on their hearers’ salvation, nor to demand that men and women apply themselves to mastering unwillingness to do so as a sign of insincerity” (1994:284-85).

The case of Thomas Goodwin supplies an excellent example of the way in which the Puritan sermon commonly labored to escape from abstract to imagistic methods of presenting doctrine.   The preachers saw and generally recorded, his own life as an image of the truth.  In his sermons too he was impelled to present truth in images—images which tended to fall into allegory (Haller 1957:143).      


Packer discusses the Puritan perspective of evangelistic preaching:

The Puritans did not regard evangelistic sermons as a special class of sermons, having their own preaching style and conventions; the Puritan position was rather, that since all Scripture bears witness to Christ, and all sermons should aim to expound and apply what is in the Bible, all proper sermons would of necessity declare Christ and so be to some extent evangelistic (1994:165-166).

Packer again indicates that there is a significant implication in the Puritan evangelism for modern evangelism:

Modern evangelism will always depend for its fruitfulness under
ordinary circumstances, on the prior exposure of the audience it
gathers to evangelism of the Puritan type—longer-term ,
broader-based, deeper-digging, church-, community- and
friendship-centered, oriented more to worship and less to
entertainment. Modern evangelism is only likely to reap
where Puritan evangelism has first sowed (1994:301).    

Recently, a group of missiologists such as Charles Kraft have noted the powerful effects person-to-person communication can have on evangelism.[2]<![endif]>   In fact, this is exactly what the Puritan preachers learned and practiced long ago. Baxter illustrates this insights for evangelistic address:

I have found by experience, that some important persons, who have been so long unprofitable hearers, have got more knowledge and remorse in half an hour’s close discourse, than they did from ten year’s public preaching.  I know that preaching the gospel publicly is the most excellent mean, because we speak to many at once.  But it is usually far more effectual to preach it privately to particular sinner” (Packer 1994:307).[3]

The Priority of Preaching to the Unconverted

Compassion for the misery of the unconverted had been, from the beginning to the end of Baxter’s life, a compelling motive to most ardent preaching (Rooy 1965:154).

In Baxter's fifteen duties of the minister,  the first four carry missiological motifs: Preaching to the unconverted, entreating repentance, receiving and baptizing believers, and gathering converts into churches (1888:I, 908).  Preaching to the unconverted comes first.  The work of faithful ministers is to save men’s souls.  True pastors and bishops thirst after the conversion and winning of men to Christ (II, 157).[4]

[3] Cf. Baxter. The Reformed Pastor.  Pp. 186f.

[4] See also Baxter. Practical Work,  Vol. I, p.556; Cf. Rooy. 1965, p. 97.

  © This manuscript was Dae Ryeong Kim's study note toward a paper.