On Puritan Preaching #2

November 21, 2009

Yesterday we saw how Puritan expositors were very conscious of preaching a text in its context and in breaking the text down in categories that would make it memorable for their people.  Today we move on to the ‘doctrine’ of the sermon.

(3)  Every text of Scripture teaches some truth. A clear example of this is George Hutcheson’s Exposition of John.  Under each verse, he lists numerous doctrines that are taught or can legitimately be deduced from the text.  You can see what I am suggesting here.

“If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time.”  The Puritans were interested in teaching the key truths of Scripture in every sermon.  Their goal is to reach each hearer’s mind, often referred to as ‘the understanding.’ In their psychology, nothing reaches the conscience, the heart(affections) or the will unless it first passes through the understanding and is retained in the memory.  “My people perish for lack of knowledge,” is the constant drum beat of Puritan preaching.

Therefore, they established ‘doctrines’ so that they could aim at them. It is reassuring to hear what the WDPW says about how ‘doctrines’ are established, “In raising doctrines from the text, his care ought to be, First, That the matter be the truth of God. Secondly, That it be a truth contained in or grounded on that text, that the hearers may discern how God teaches it from thence. Thirdly, That he chiefly insist upon those doctrines which are principally intended; and make most for the edification of the hearers.”  In sum, it has to be true, true to the text and true to the primary emphasis of the text.

There are far too many ‘doctrines’ in any text to discuss them all.  Therefore, he must make choices.  He must consider not overburdening his hearers’ memories, as well as giving each doctrine enough attention to make it edifying.  Expounding the doctrine in some fullness, answering objections and fully applying it, necessarily limited how many he could raise.  Remember that the WDPW recommended that the doctrine(s) chosen are those “which are principally intended; and make most for the edification of the hearers.”

Consider also, what the WDPW has to say about how a doctrine is to be expounded:  “The doctrine is to be expressed in plain terms; or, if anything in it needs explication, it is to be opened, and the consequence also from the text cleared. The parallel places of scripture, confirming the doctrine, are rather to be plain and pertinent, than many, and (it need be) somewhat insisted upon, and applied to the purpose in hand.  The arguments or reasons are to be solid, and, as much as may be, convincing.”

In sum, this portion of the sermon consists of expounding and confirming the doctrine.  Two things enter into the exposition:  (1) bringing out what is explicitly revealed in the text; (2) bringing out what is implicitly revealed in the text by showing the good and necessary consequences of what is explicitly stated.

There are also two ways to confirm a doctrine:  (1) bringing in other Scriptures which teach the same truth; (2) bringing out arguments or reasons for believing that the doctrine is true.  Here the preacher’s ability to tie his doctrine into the system of doctrine taught in Scripture is paramount.  “By the mouth of two or three witnesses every truth will be confirmed.”

For instance, it is common for them to argue for the truth of a doctrine by showing how it glorifies each of God’s attributes.

Next up: using illustrations in preaching.  Caveat Lector!


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