* Taken from The Art of Prophesying by William Perkins. Used with permission of Banner of Truth, Carlisle, PA. See the review elsewhere in this issue.
We have discussed the preparation of the substance of the sermon. Now we must think about the actual preaching itself. Here two things are essential: (i) the hiding of human wisdom, and (ii) the demonstration or manifestation of the Spirit. Human wisdom must be concealed, both in the content of the sermon and in the language we use. The preaching of the Word is the testimony of God and the profession of the knowledge of Christ, not of human skill. Furthermore, the hearers ought not to ascribe their faith to the gifts of men, but to the power of God’s Word (I Cor. 2:1, 2, 5). But this does not mean that pulpits will be marked by a lack of knowledge and education. The minister may, and in fact must, privately make free use of the general arts and of philosophy as well as employ a wide variety of reading while he is preparing his sermon. But in public exposition these should be hidden from the congregation, not ostentatiously paraded before them. As the Latin proverb says, Artis etiam celare artem—it is also a point of art to conceal art.
The ‘demonstration of the Spirit’ (I Cor. 2:4) becomes a reality when, in preaching, the minister of the Word conducts himself in such a way that everyone—even those who are ignorant of the gospel and are unbelievers—recognise that it is not so much the preacher who is speaking, but the Spirit of God in him and by him (Mic. 3:8; I Cor. 2:4; I Cor. 14:24, 25; I Cor. 4:19, 20). This is what makes his ministry living and powerful (Luke 11:27).
Such a ‘demonstration’ will come to expression either in speech or in gesture. The speech must be spiritual and gracious. Spiritual speech is speech which the Holy Spirit teaches (I Cor. 2:13). It is both simple and clear, tailored to the understanding of the hearers and appropriate for expressing the majesty of the Spirit (Acts 17:2, 3; II Cor. 4:2-4; Gal. 3:1). For this reason none of the specialised vocabulary of the arts, nor Greek and Latin phrases, nor odd turns of phrase should be used in the sermon. These distract the minds of those listeners who cannot see the connection between what has beensaid and what follows. In addition, unusual words hinder rather than help people in their efforts to understand what is being said. And they also tend to draw their minds away from the subject in hand to other things. In this connection, too, mere story-telling as well as vulgar or foolish statements must be avoided.
Gracious speech expresses the grace of the heart (Luke 4:22;John 7:46). Such grace is either of the person, or of the ministry.
The grace of the person is the holiness of the heart and of an unblameable life. While these do not in themselves qualify anyone to be a minister, no one can do the work of the ministry without them, for several reasons.
1.Because the doctrine of the Word is hard to understand and to practise. Consequently the minister ought to express what he teaches by his example, as a kind of model or type of his own message (Phil. 4:8; I Tim. 4:12; I Pet. 5:3).
3.God abhors godly speech which is not joined with a godly life (Psa. 50:16, 17). As Gregory of Nazianzus (c.329-c.389) said, it is as strange to see someone who is supposed to guide others on the way wandering out of the way himself, as it is to see a physician with signs of disease in his own body.
4.It is one of the secrets of ministry that the minister ought to cover his infirmities, so that they are not obvious. Ordinary people do not distinguish between the ministry and the minister. They are not able to see the importance of the ministry without first assessing the person of the minister. Herod heard John Baptist willingly, not because he was a good minister, but because he was a good man (Mark 6:20). Gregory of Nazianzus strikes the right note again when he says: ‘He that teaches sound doctrine, and lives wickedly, reaches with one hand what he knocks away with the other.’ John Chrysostom (347-407), commenting on Matthew 20, says: ‘The doctor of the church by teaching well and by living well instructs the people how they ought to live well; but by living ill he instructs God how to condemn him.’ And again: ‘It is an easy matter to show wisdom in words; teach me to live by your life, this is the best teaching.’ Words do not make as great an impression on the soul as works do!
5.A minister who is wicked, either openly or secretly, is not worthy to stand before the face of the most holy and almighty God (Lev. 10:3; Isa. 6:6-8;Jer. 15:19). That is why the judgments of God remain for wicked ministers to tremble at (I Sam. 2:17, 25).
Holiness involves the following elements as far as the preacher is concerned:
2.An inward sense of the doctrine we are to preach. Wood that is capable of burning is not set alight unless fire is put to it. Similarly anyone who would encourage godly affections and desires in others must first have godly affections himself. Thus, whatever responses a particular sermon requires should first be stirred up privately in our own minds, so that we can kindle the same flame in our hearers.
3.The fear of God, so that, filled with a reverent sense of the majesty of God, we will speak soberly and with moderation.
5.The minister must also be worthy of respect for his constancy, integrity, seriousness, and truthfulness. He must know how to respect others in private or in public, in keeping with the character of his congregation.
6.He must be temperate, inwardly restraining any strong feelings. Both his outward style of behaviour and his gestures ought to be moderate and straightforward. In this way he will be marked by dignity and authority. Consequently he must be neither covetous, nor a heavy drinker, nor litigious, nor a pugnacious character, nor given to bursts of anger. Those who are younger men must devote themselves to godliness, and reject the lusts of youth (I Tim. 4:7).
The grace of the minister consists of the following qualities:
1.He must be able to teach (I Tim. 3:2). Paul does not simply mean that it is highly desirable for this gift to be present; it is so essential that it may not be absent. This is the reason Gregory of Nazianzus refused a bishopric. Theophylact comments on this passage that ‘this duty of teaching is above all others essential in those who are bishops.’ Indeed, in the Councils of Nicea and Miletus, this was imposed instead of punishment, to hold the name of a minister, but not be allowed to preach the gospel.
3.Zeal, so that, in his longing for God’s glory he will seek through his ministry to fulfil and effect the decree of God’s election of men and women to salvation (Job 32:18, 19;Col. 1:28, 29; II Tim. 2:25).
Gesture involves the action of either the voice or the body.
The voice ought to be loud enough for all to hear (Isa. 58:1;John 7:37; Acts 2:14). In the exposition of the doctrine in a sermon we ought to be more moderate, but in the exhortation more fervent and vehement. There should be a gravity about the gestures of the body which will in their own way grace the messenger of God. It is appropriate therefore, that the preacher keep the trunk of his body erect and still, while the other parts like the arm, the hand, the face and eyes may express and (as it were) speak the spiritual affections of his heart.
Scripture provides illustrations of the communicative power of physical actions. The lifting up of the eye and the hand signifies confidence (II Chron. 6:13, 14; Acts 7:55). The casting down of the eyes indicates sorrow and heaviness (Luke 18:13). As for gestures, we cannot lay down further principles; but here the example of widely respected godly ministers will serve as a guide.