Thursday, 16 December 2010

The Reformed Pastor (Preaching)

In The Reformed Pastor the role of preaching is especially noted at two points.

The first is in the section on ‘The Nature of Oversight’ in a chapter entitled ‘The Oversight of Ourselves’. Baxter exhorts preachers to be consistent with their message. The preacher is to be ‘careful that your graces are kept in vigorous and lively exercise, and that you preach to yourselves the sermons which you study, before you preach them to others.’ ‘When your minds are in a holy, heavenly frame, your people are likely to partake of the fruits of it.’ He places great emphasis on the spiritual life of the preacher, writing that ‘a minister should take some special pains with his heart … if it be then cold, how is it likely to warm the hearts of its hearers?’ The preacher is to guard against pride and error. They are to daily examine themselves, meditate on Scripture and be much in private prayer.  Underlining all the teaching of this section is Baxter’s emphasise on the relationship between the preacher’s spiritual life and how this will affect their congregations; ‘[w]atch, therefore, for the sake of yourselves and others.’

An emphasis on evangelism is stressed right throughout The Reformed Pastor, and this is evident in Baxter’s comments on preaching.  The preacher is to ensure that ‘the work of saving grace be thoroughly wrought in your own souls’ and that they offer this same grace to others. It could be argued that, in his comments, Baxter neglects the role of preaching for building up those who have already responded to the message with faith.

Packer points out that Puritan preaching has had a bad press in recent times, ‘the caricature is that Puritan sermons were regularly long, abstruse, and dull.’ Baxter certainly did not approve of dull sermons. The second point where Baxter gives a more detailed look at preaching is a subsection relating to ‘dull, drowsy preaching’ in the chapter on ‘Application’. His advice here relates to the manner in which the message is spoken.

Baxter laments at how few ministers preach with all their might, ‘or speak about everlasting joys and everlasting torments in such a manner as may make men believe that they are in good earnest!’ He is not content simply that the substance would be right but that the tone in which it is delivered would be reflect the seriousness and earnestness of the message. ‘Though you give the holy things of God the highest praises in words, yet, if you do it coldly, you will seem by your manner to unsay what you said in the matter … [t]he manner, as well as the words, must set them forth.’ He disapproves of a soft and drowsy form of speech, urging ministers to exert their voice and speak loudly and earnestly. However, he warns against a constant loudness in preaching, ‘for that will make your fervency contemptible.’ He urges preachers to have a constant seriousness and warns against humour, or ‘gaudy oration’ . The preacher should be careful not to have a tone that sounds like they are reading a text and should speak to the congregation as if ‘you are talking to them personally.’

It may be felt that in this second section on preaching there is too much emphasis on technique. Baxter, however, is not negligent of the spiritual aspect of his work. He tells the preacher to, ‘Look around them with the eye of faith, and with compassion, and think in what state of joy or torment they must all be for ever; and then, methinks, it will make you earnest, and melt your heart to a sense of their condition.’ Elsewhere in The Reformed Pastor he writes, ‘All our work must be done spiritually … The Word is that seal which made all the holy impressions that are in the hearts of true believers, and stamped the image of God upon them, and, therefore, they must needs be like that Word and highly esteem it as long as they live.’

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