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.