The Art of Prophesying, by William Perkins. Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1996. Pp. xv + 191. $6.99 (paper). [Reviewed by the editor.]
Both the prophet and those to whom he prophesies will benefit from this warm, practical book on the ministry. “Prophesying” in the title refers to the preaching of the gospel. The “prophet” is the preacher, and his audience is the congregation of believers and their children. The late sixteenth century English Reformed pastor William Perkins gives wise counsel to the preacher concerning his office, task, and life. Along the way, he instructs the people of God to honor the preaching and to receive their godly preacher, to the saving of their souls.
The book brings together two related but different works by Perkins. The first is “The Art of Prophesying,” which concerns the proper preparation and delivery of sermons. Perkins is convinced that “it is doubtful if there is a more difficult challenge in the theological disciplines than that of homiletics” (p. 3). Basic to the construction of good sermons are a sound doctrine of Scripture and a grasp of the principles of the interpretation of Scripture. Perkins gives solid, if brief, instruction in both.
All good preaching includes practical application of the doctrine of the text. The reproof “must always be accompanied by an obvious love for the person who has sinned.” Also, “the minister should include himself in his reproofs. In this way the preaching, teaching and counseling will be expressed in a mild and gentle spirit” (p. 65).
In his enthusiasm for effective application, Perkins divides the congregation up into all kinds of dubious categories, as became characteristic of Puritanism.
With regard to the delivery of the sermon, preaching is not reading a manuscript, but speaking “directly from the heart.” This requires that a carefully prepared manuscript be learned, which is not the same as “memorising a sermon manuscript word for word.” Perkins has helpful advice here (pp. 69, 70).
The second work that makes up this volume is “The Calling of the Ministry.” ExpoundingJob 32 and Job 33 and Isaiah 6, Perkins comments on the worth of the office of the ministry, as well as the actual call of a man to the office. He observes that ministers are scarce. In his day, able young men tended to avoid the ministry because “the ministry, generally speaking, yields nothing but a clear road to poverty” (p. 95). But God “will pay their wages: an eternal weight of comfort here and of glory in heaven” (p. 191).
Throughout, Perkins insists on the godliness of the minister’s life. This comes out clearly in the chapter that is reprinted elsewhere in this issue of the Standard Bearer.
Perkins has the highest view of the office of preaching. Preaching is “the voice of God” (p. 7). Particularly in forgiving sins to the penitent or holding sins against the impenitent, “the power ministers of the gospel have comes directly from God.” This carries its own sharp warning to preachers (p. 111).