Jonathan Edwards once stated that Peter van Mastricht’s Theoretico-Practica Theologia was the best book that he had read apart from the Bible (1). Mastricht was not exactly a Puritan, but he was the Dutch counterpart of one who wrote during the same time period. He wrote his theology in order to teach men how to preach better, which should carry its own commendation to us all. This reflects the fact that systematic theology was once regarded as engaging the whole person in communion with the Triune God rather than merely presenting a scientifically correct system. This little volume will introduce Puritan lovers to a neglected yet outstanding devotional author.
Mastricht’s work is valuable. Each chapter of Mastricht’s theological project includes an exegetical section, a theological section, a polemical section (refuting error), and a practical section. The Best Method of Preaching began as a preface to this larger work. Until now, most of Mastricht’s writing was buried in Latin. Todd Rester’s in-process translation of Mastricht’s work ought to prove one of the most important contributions to English-speaking Reformed theology in our time. The Best Method of Preaching is designed to whet reader’s appetites for more (19).
Mastricht’s book is practical. He believed that most books on preaching were too long (26). He thought that long tedious books on preaching resulted in long tedious sermons. Rester conveniently divides Mastricht’s counsel on preaching into ten brief chapters. The book expands what Mastricht believed were the four necessities in preaching: invention, arrangement, elaboration, and delivery (29). Each chapter is filled with good sense, pithy statements, and illustrations of how to construct the parts of a sermon using Colossians 3:1 as a template. Mastricht’s primary goals were to make sermons easy to remember and to promote the practice of piety. His treatment of preparing sermon introductions that are experimental and that draw hearers into a text of Scripture is particularly helpful. The brevity of the book makes it a handy reference tool to keep on a pastor’s desk for weekly sermon preparation.
Most modern ministers will not be inclined to adopt Mastricht’s prescribed sermon structure, which is somewhat artificial and imposed. In this regard, William Perkins’s Art of Prophesying gives superior counsel. However, it is hard to surpass his practical sense of dealing with people in the context of preaching. It is worth knowing Latin if only to read Mastricht. Lord willing, Mastricht will soon be available in English. I pray that this book on preaching would leave readers hooked and longing for more.