Preaching and Application (again!)

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 An Introduction to CalvinismJoel 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)]

8 Responses to “Preaching and Application (again!)”

  1. Steven Carr Says:

    I am enjoying Beeke’s book as well. Robert Oliver in the previous chapter to Applying the Word, writes, “[Calvin] kept close to the text, while allowing himself freedom in elaboration, explanation, and continuous application. He preached without notes to ensure lively contact with his audience. He believed that preaching must penetrate the conscience.”

    I think preachers need to take special note of the fact that Calvin preached without notes to keep a lively contact with his audience. Dr. David Murray made the point in the evangelism conference last Feb. that when preaching evangelistically the preacher should keep eye contact otherwise he doesn’t appear earnest.

  2. Donald John MacLean Says:

    Hi Steve

    That is an interesting point. It was certainly the case that in the old days in the Highlands the use of notes was frowned upon in preaching, although they will now be almost universally used. I think Dabney also in his Lectures on Preaching makes the point as well, that paper notes are a barrier between the preacher and audience. For myself, I think the ideal is to be without notes although I wouldn’t be prescriptive as for some preachers they bring necessary order and structure. Would that be your view?

    Every blessing

  3. thomasgoodwin Says:

    Thanks, Donald John. Joel Beeke gave me a copy of his book and I haven’t had time to read it yet, but this section you’ve highlighted looks very good, indeed.

  4. Beeke on Application in Preaching « Thomas Goodwin Says:

    […] on Application in Preaching Linking isn’t something I do often, but this summary of Joel Beeke’s thoughts on application in preaching, from his new book on Calvinism, warmed […]

  5. Marty Foord Says:

    Hear, hear!

  6. Benjamin P. Glaser Says:

    Looking forward to picking this up…

  7. Steven Carr Says:

    There needs to be balance. A sermon needs to be coherent and logical, but that should not be had at the expense of warmth and conviction. The audience should know that the preacher cares about them and his message.

  8. Donald John MacLean Says:

    Hi Steve

    Agreed entirely. If there is not warmth and conviciton in the preacher regarding his own message then how will the congregation ever know warmth and conviction!


    Thanks for the encouragement.


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