Weekly Update 21 – Puritan Preaching

I came across an important quote from the Puritan Robert Bolton (1572-1631) this week while I was on holiday.  It illustrates perfectly the Puritan idea of preaching:

[The Lord Jesus Christ] is offered most freely, and without exception of any person, every Sabbath, every Sermon, either in plain, and direct terms, or impliedly, at the least.
Robert Bolton, Instructions for a Right Comforting Afflicted Consciences, 1640, p185

So central was the free offer of the gospel to Bolton’s concept of preaching that it must be there in every sermon.  Now I’m not sure if many preachers, even among Puritans, fully lived up to Bolton’s ideal, but if you take Durham as an example you would struggle to find a sermon where Christ is not offered “impliedly at the least”.

Commenting on Puritan preaching a young J.I. Packer noted:

The Puritans did not regard evangelistic sermons as a special class of sermons, having their own peculiar 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. 
‘The Puritan View of Preaching the Gospel’, How Shall They Hear?, Papers Read at the Puritan and Reformed Studies Conference, December 1959, p 11-21, Rept. Tentmaker – I am indebted to Packer’s paper for the Bolton reference.

Packer here is correct.  Most [I think all is stretching it a bit too far] sermons by the Puritans would be “to some extent evangelistic”.  Can we say that of modern preaching?  If not is it because modern sermons do not “declare Christ” as well as the Puritans did?

I’ll try and post some Durham later this week but I’m still working mostly on the secondary literature.

2 Responses to “Weekly Update 21 – Puritan Preaching”

  1. Greg MacDonald Says:

    Even ‘working’on your holidays – what dedication!
    But is Bolton here talking about the conscious act of the preacher or rather the very provision by Christ of Sabbath preaching itself as a gracious offer of himself even without explicit reference from the preacher?

  2. Donald John MacLean Says:

    As I read him he is talking of the conscious act of the preacher. The quote comes from a section entitled, “How Christ is to be proposed” which followed a section on “How the Gospel is to be Preached”. The relevant section begins:

    In proposing Christ, Let the Man of God, set out as much as he can possibly, the excellency of His Person, the invaluable preciousness of His blood, the riches of His heavenly purchases, the gracious sweetness of His invitations, the generality and freeness of his offers…Ibid, p184

    I don’t think, though, he is demanding an explicit reference to the free offer every sermon. It can be done “impliedly” as well. Still this is not to minimise the emphasis Bolton places on the free offer here.

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