It would grieve one to the heart to hear what excellent doctrine some ministers have in hand, while yet they let it die in their hands for want of close [searching] and lively [living] application.
Richard Baxter, The Reformed Pastor, (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1974), 147
Reformation Trust recently published Joel Beeke’s Living For God’s Glory: An Introduction to Calvinism. I have not read most of this work yet but my eyes were immediately drawn to a chapter entitled “Applying the Word” in the section Calvinism in the Church. In this chapter Beeke highlights 10 elements of true “Calvinistic” preaching one of which is that “experiential Calvinistic preaching is applicatory.” At which point I said “amen” and read on with enthusiasm.
Beeke’s desire in raising this point is that “it could be said of more ministers’ preaching today what has been said of Jonathan Edwards preaching: all his doctrine was application and all his application was doctrine.” It is Beeke’s conviction that a “sermon that lacks application may be good teaching, but it is not preaching.” Strong words, but fair.
He goes on to identify seven kinds of application (six from the Westminster Directory of Public Worship and one of his own):
- Instruction: Doctrinal application
- Confutation: Refuting contemporary error
- Exhortation: pressing and admonishing the sheep to obey the imperatives and duties set forth in the text being preached, as well as expounding “the means that help to the performance of them.”
- Dehortation: rebuking sin, stirring up conviction of its heinousness and hatred for it, as well as declaring its dread consequences and showing how to avoid it.
- Comfort: encouraging believers to press on in the good fight of faith…
- Trial: preaching standards and marks of grace for purposes of self examination and correction so as to stir up believers to do their duty…
- Doxological: [To] bring people to sense the beauty and glory of God and his truth and to move them to praise Him…
This is the kind of preaching we need today. Beeke also notes that preaching that is full of application “is often costly preaching.” He continues, “As has often been said, when John the Baptist preached generally, Herod heard him gladly. But when John applied his preaching particularly, he lost his head.” But despite the cost that can be associated with faithful application the preacher can not simply avoid application because “every preacher will stand before God’s judgement seat to give an account of how he handled God’s Word among the flock of sheep entrusted to him.”
Beeke concludes: “Preachers, I urge you to remember not to speak before people but to people. Application is not only critical; it is the main thing to be done.” Indeed, it is the main thing to be done, so that Spurgeon could say, “Where the application begins, there the sermons begins”.
Beeke’s other nine points are important too but I’ll only comment on one more (and only one element of that) and that is point eight: “Calvinistic preaching is sincerely earnest.” Here Beeke makes the statement that “earnest experiential preaching avoids all levity.” He quotes Baxter, “Of all the preaching in the world, I hate that preaching which tends to make the hearers laugh, or to move their minds with tickling levity … instead of affecting them with a holy reverence for the name of God.” There is much in Baxter I dissent from, but that quote is not one of them. The tendency for inappropriate humour in the pulpit is another feature of modern preaching (and especially pasts of services devoted to children) I wish would change.
[All quotes, including Puritan ones, from Chapter 19 of Dr. Beeke’s book (p255-274)]