“Many speak well, but few can do well.” Thus wrote Anne Bradstreet, America’s first poet and a witness to Puritan thought. In her “Meditations Divine and Moral,” she makes a statement that speaks to both the importance of personal morality to Puritans and a certain degree of ambiguity as to how that is achieved. “That house which is not often swept makes the cleanly inhabitant soon loath it, and that heart which is not continually purifying itself is no fit temple for the spirit of God to dwell in.”
 
Such a statement might have been written by John Owen, but the real question when examining the works of Anne Bradstreet is what she saw as the true source of her purification: personal effort or the working of the Spirit. The American Puritans are both famous and infamous for their moral code. Sometimes this was rooted strongly in Reformation thinking regarding grace, but sometimes it lapsed into a kind of simple moralism. So what did Anne Bradstreet mean when she spoke of the heart “purifying itself?”
 
In her poem “Of the Four Ages of Man,” Bradstreet makes clear her belief in the absolute corrupting power of the sinful nature. She has a child say, “Stained from birth with Adam’s sinful fact, / Thence I began to sin as soon as act.” A young man proclaims, “My lust doth hurry me to all that’s ill: / I know no law nor reason but my will,” and later continues, “Such wretch, such monster am I, but yet more, / I have no heart at all this to deplore, / Rememb’ring not the dreadful day of doom, / Nor yet that heavy reckoning soon to come.” Bradstreet herself noted that, “As I grew up to be about 14 or 15, I found my heart more carnal, and sitting loose from God, vanity and the follies of youth take hold of me.” 
 
Bradstreet speaks of a God who is active in the world and terribly concerned with the deeds of individuals, constantly holding them to account. 
“He that would keep a pure heart and lead a blameless life must set himself always in the awful presence of God. The consideration of His all-seeing eye will be a bridle to restrain from evil and spur to quicken on to good duties. We certainly dream of some remoteness betwixt God and us, or else we should not so often fail in our whole course of life as we do, but he that with David sets the Lord always in his sight will not sin against Him.” (“Meditations Divine and Moral”, #63)
In “Of the Four Ages of Man”, an old man concludes, “But what I have done well, that is my proper; / He that in youth is godly, wise, and sage, / Provides a staff then to support his age.” Taken together, this can give the impression of a judgmental God who must be constantly appeased through self-improvement efforts. Yet, if we look elsewhere in Bradstreet’s writings, we see that she did not subscribe to the notion that a human being could ever work their way into pleasing God. Rather, she held very much to the distinction between flesh and spirit, even writing a poem titled “The Flesh and the Spirit” in which these two figures speak to one another. At one point, the spirit says,
“Be still thou unregenerate part,
Disturb no more my settled heart,
For I have vowed (and so will do)
Thee as a foe still to pursue.
And combat with thee will and must,
Until I see thee laid in th’ dust.
Sisters we are, yea, twins we be,
Yet deadly feud ‘twixt thee and me;
For from one father are we not,
Thou by old Adam wast begot,
But my arise is from above,
Whence my dear Father I do love.”
Elsewhere, she makes a very clear statement that behavior modification is not enough to achieve redemption.
“Men that have walked very extravagantly and at last bethink themselves of turning to God, the first thing which they eye is how to reform their ways rather than to beg forgiveness for their sins. Nature looks more at a compensation than at a pardon, but he that will not come for mercy without money and without price, but bring his filthy rages to barter for it, shall meet with miserable disappointment, going away empty bearing the reproach of his pride and folly.” (“Meditations Divine and Moral”, #66)
Thus, we must conclude that Anne Bradstreet believed that the pursuit of morality, while absolutely necessary, could only be accomplished under the power of the Spirit, and not by any innate goodness in human beings. In this, she was very much in line with the teachings of the Reformers and the leading Puritans in England.
The first five of the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion explained the universal faith of the church. Article 6 begins the theological issues that divided the church at the time of the Reformation and deals with the source of Christian doctrine. It explains the concept of sola Scriptura, "Scripture alone." As we have seen in previous articles, article 6 is not intended to stand-alone. The question of who decides what the Scripture teaches is answered in Article 20 and questions concerning church order in worship and administration come in article 34. 
 
VI — Of the Sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for Salvation

Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation. In the name of the holy Scripture we do understand those Canonical Books of the Old and New Testament, of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church.
 
Of the Names and Number of the Canonical Books:
Genesis, 
Exodus, 
Leviticus, 
Numbers, 
Deuteronomy, 
Joshua, 
Judges, 
Ruth, 
The First Book of Samuel
, The Second Book of Samuel, 
The First Book of Kings
, The Second Book of Kings
, The First Book of Chronicles, 
The Second Book of Chronicles
, The First Book of Esdras, 
The Second Book of Esdras
, The Book of Esther
, The Book of Job
, The Psalms, 
The Proverbs, 
Ecclesiastes or Preacher, 
Cantica, or Songs of Solomon
, Four Prophets the greater, Twelve Prophets the less
 
And the other Books (as Hierome saith) the Church doth read for example of life and instruction of manners; but yet doth it not apply them to establish any doctrine; such are these following:
The Third Book of Esdras, 
The Fourth Book of Esdras
, The Book of Tobias
, The Book of Judith
, The rest of the Book of Esther, 
The Book of Wisdom, Jesus the Son of Sirach
, Baruch the Prophet, 
The Song of the Three Children
, The Story of Susanna
, Of Bel and the Dragon, 
The Prayer of Manasses
, The First Book of Maccabees
, The Second Book of Maccabees.
 
All the Books of the New Testament, as they are commonly received, we do receive, and account them Canonical.
 
The article's first sentence is based on Thomas Cranmer's 1553 original. The second, including the canonical list we read here, was added in 1563, probably based on the Confession of Würtemburg, although the same list of canonical v. apocryphal books also appears in Cranmer’s earlier Reformatio Legum, adding at the end, "This is the sum of Holy Scripture, in which we believe that all things which must be believed for salvation are fully and perfectly contained, so that if something is not read or contained in it, neither does it follow nor is it deduced from it, cannot be demanded of anyone that it should be believed as an article of faith."
 
Scripture is identified both in article 6 and the Reformatio Legum as the principium cognoscendi, "the principle of knowing" of all theology, and is described regarding its authority, clarity, and sufficiency of all matters of faith and morality. The view of the article evolved from the debate between the reformers and late medieval theology over the relation of Scripture and tradition. The medieval, confirmed by the Council of Trent, viewing Scripture and tradition as coequal norms. The reformers viewing Scripture as the absolute and therefore prior norm, but allowing tradition a derivative and subordinate secondary role in creedal and confessional statements (as Article 8 explains later). Robert Letham has written that the material of this article is adopted by Westminster Confession of Faith 1.6 and Westminster Confession of Faith 20.2a, on Christian liberty that insists that faith and practice are to based upon Scripture, not human teachings (The Westminster Assembly: Reading Its Theology in Historical Context, p. 72).
 
The doctrine of Scripture is a misunderstood teaching among Anglicans today. Some have suggested that the 39 Articles do not teach sola but prima Scriptura, rejecting Scripture as the prior norm of tradition or of human experience. The irony being that this article was written specifically to reject any understanding of church tradition or individual human experience as equal norms to Scripture.
 
Where would an Anglican turn to learn more? The Two Books of Homilies (online or print) are traditionally considered part of Anglicanism’s constitutive documents, as Articles 11 and 35 underline. They have always been understood as a source of doctrine for Anglicans although they are little known today. The Homilies were a brilliant evangelism strategy in an era when the gospel was little known outside of cities and towns that were centers of trade with the continent of Europe. For the thousands of parishes that made up the bulk of the Church of England the quality of biblical preaching was very poor to non-existent. They were intended as an instrument of gospel mission, to raise the standard of preaching by offering model sermons covering critical doctrines of the gospel and to provide pastoral application that was to be read (particularly by officers or lay ministers who lacked a license to preach or teach). 
 
Homily one of The Homilies begins as the later Westminster Confession of Faith begins: "A Fruitful Exhortation to the Reading and Knowledge of Holy Scriptures." Written by Thomas Cranmer it gives Anglicans the wider context of article 6, 7 on the Scripture, and articles 8, 20, 21 and 34 on the relation of the authority of the church to Scripture. When read as a narrative whole, the Reformation principle of sola Scriptura shines through every paragraph of the historical formularies.
 
Homily one is written in two parts. The first establishes the doctrine, and the second gives application. This colorful paragraph on the sufficiency of Scripture from part one is an example,
Therefore, forsaking the corrupt judgment of fleshly men, with care not for but their carcass, let us reverently hear and read Holy Scripture, which is the food of the soul. Let us diligently search for the well of life in the books of the New and Old Testament, and not run to the stinking puddles of men’s traditions, devised by men’s imagination, for our justification and salvation. For in Holy Scripture is fully contained what we ought to do, and what to eschew, what to believe, what to love, and what to look for at God’s hands at length. In these books we shall find the Father from whom, the Son by whom and the Holy Ghost in whom, all things have their being and keeping up; and these three Persons to be but one God, and one substance. In these books we may learn to know ourselves, how vile and miserable we be; and also to know God, how good he is of himself, and how he makes us and all creatures partakers of his goodness. We may learn also in these books to know God’s will and pleasure, as much as, for this present time, is convenient for us to know.
Homily one is one of the most extensive expositions of the doctrine of sola Scriptura found in any of the official Anglican documents of the Reformation era.
One of the purposes of Meet the Puritans is to encourage the reading of, well, the Puritans and other literature that stands in that tradition. But how do we know what to read? How do we know what will be helpful for us? Well, one of my favourite “Puritans”, the Scottish preacher and theologian James Durham (1622-58) has a little essay “Of Reading, and Hearing” which helps us answer these questions (Found in his Commentary on Revelation [1658, Repr. Old Paths, 2000], 81-83).
 
Durham begins his advice on reading noting that we are to be discerning readers. He applies the warning of 2 Tim 4:3-4 to reading, “they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.” Just as in listening, so in reading, we are called to give ourselves to teachers of the truth. We are just as much to avoid “itching eyes” in reading as “itching ears” in listening! 
 
Durham believed that this was important as “reading is a special means of edification, if well employed”. But by contrast bad reading can be “a great step to destruction.” As such Durham believed that “Christian wisdom” had to be exercised that our reading will be helpful for us, and not harmful. For many Christians are not able to “discern poison from good food.”
 
But it was not just the need to avoid error that concerned Durham. He was also a realist. In general people have little time to read. He noted “its but a little time that many can spend in reading.” As such, if our reading is to be spiritually helpful for us we need to use the little time we have profitably, on the best things.
 
But how then to do this? He gave four practical pieces of advice to enable us to read well:
 
  1. Read books that other godly Christians have found helpful. That is in our reading we should focus on books “judicious tender Christians have found good of before, or shall recommend.” In these cases, these books “have been tried and tasted, and therefore may be, as good food in which there in no hazard, meddled with.” This is sound advice. Today, in addition to advice from Christians you know and respect, the Banner of Truth’s Puritan Paperbacks or Reformation Heritage Book’s Classics of Reformed Spirituality provide excellent places to start. In both these series you will find books that have blessed generations of God’s people.
  2. Read books where the authors are known to be helpful. Durham states that “if by other writings, preaching, or otherwise he be known to be sound and serious” then it is likely that other writings of the same author will be profitable. Today we might expand that advice to publishers which are known to be helpful. Here again we can reference Banner of Truth and Reformation Heritage Books. But to them can be added Christian Focus, Evangelical Press, P&R Publishing, Crossway and a number of others. Read books from sound authors and sound publishers with confidence. But Durham rightly cautions that “no man’s name ought to bear such sway with any, as to make them digest anything without trial.” Everything is ultimately to be tried and tested by the word of God, no matter how “safe” the source. 
  3. Avoid books where the authors are known to be unhelpful. In essence Durham warns against time being wasted on writings which are “dangerous and unprofitable.”
  4. If the book and the author is unknown to us, caveat lector. Durham cautions against wasting time on unknown authors (or publishers) until it has been proven they produce good quality material. He says we would not go to a doctor for help with natural diseases without some proof of their training and evidence of their qualifications. Likewise, we should not go to a book for spiritual help and counsel without knowing whether it will likely do us good. Today book reviews and, dare I say it, book blurbs (in moderation!) can helpfully show which books from new authors/publishers are worth reading.
 
To close, Durham was not opposed to all Christians reading widely. He noted that some are “called to acquaint themselves with writings of all kinds”. But, for Durham, these are principally church officers who are charged to “convince gainsayers.” Generally, Christians should seek to read books that will be spiritually and theologically helpful, and so be “saved from much hurtful and unprofitable labour in reading.” If we listen to Durham’s advice, we will indeed be saved from this, and blessed with much spiritually helpful reading.
In my last post, I began to present an annotated outline of Patrick Gillespie’s (1617-1675) treatment of the Covenant of Works from his work, The Ark of the Testament. We saw that he made the case that there was a Covenant of Works with Adam before the Fall. Then he explained how God transacted this covenant with Adam. This is where we begin in this post. This discussion is important because it helps us understand how Reformed authors generally understood the relationship between the moral law, the Covenant of Works, the Mosaic covenant, and other related issues. This shows how a representative author intertwined exegesis and theology in order to set an important backdrop for the Covenant of Grace. It also provides insight into the place of the law in Reformed covenant theology.
 
As in the previous post, the material in [brackets] represents my commentary on the outline.
 
Outline
I. How God transacted the covenant of works with Adam (183)
 
A. God impressed and wrote the covenant of works on Adam’s heart. This is what God restores to man in the new covenant. Jer. 31:33 (183). [Gillespie argues backwards here from what God restores in Christ to what Adam possessed in Paradise]
 
1. “The law of Works, or the law of Nature, or the substance of the Moral Law (for by these here I intend the same thing)” was written in Adam’s heart and it constituted part of the image of God. Col. 3:10. [As Turretin and other argued, “natural law” referred to natural rights between God and the creature and between the creatures and one another as created by God. This meant, for example, that God deserved worship and obedience because of the nature of his relation to his creatures and that things like homosexuality were wrong because of the manner in which God created man. “Moral law” was the outward expression of these natural principles. Gillespie intended “the same thing” by both terms because the content of natural and moral law was identical in practice].
 
2. By this law, Adam knew both the sovereign will of God regarding his duty, and the gracious will of God concerning his reward. The remnants of this fact appear in Rom. 2:15. This is also why men go about to establish their own righteousness. Rom. 10:3.
 
3. This law on man’s heart was the Covenant of Works and is, therefore, called the “law of works.” Rom. 3:27. The moral law as abstracted from the law of Moses is a covenant of works. It became weak through the flesh (Rom. 8:3), brings the knowledge of sin, and works wrath (Rom. 3:20; 4:15). “This was the law written in the heart of Adam.” (184).
 
4. God transacted the Covenant of Works with Adam by writing this law upon his heart. We see this by inference from Jer. 31:33. (184). [This point and the preceding ones explain the reasoning behind WCF chapter 19. Even though God gave Adam the moral law as a Covenant of Works (paragraph 1), “this law” continues to be a perfect rule of obedience after the fall (paragraph 2). Though God added ceremonial and judicial laws temporarily to the moral law (paragraphs 3-4), the moral law continues to be of use to all men generally (paragraph 5) and to believers particularly (paragraph 6). These distinctions are only possible by distinguishing the law of God, which is rooted in natural law, from its use as a Covenant of Works for Adam].
 
B. God expressly transacted the Covenant of Works with Adam by a positive law and command. Gen. 2:16-17 (184). [Positive law referred to something that God ordained that had no natural necessity. In this case, the Tree was like all of the other trees in the Garden. It was forbidden only by virtue of God’s command. Other examples of positive law in Scripture include the day of the Sabbath and the sacraments, such as Baptism and the Lord’s Supper].
 
1. These verbal expressions given to Adam amounted to a covenant (185). Both parties agreed or consented to the terms and conditions, though God administered them sovereignly.
 
2. The prohibition of eating from the tree was a small part of Adam’s obedience (185). The law that constituted the Covenant of Works was partly natural and partly positive (186). Jas. 2:10-11; Gal. 3:10. [It was natural because man owed obedience to God in all things, yet it was positive since there was no natural reason for forbidding the Tree].
 
3. The prohibition to eat of the tree was a symbolic precept that represented his entire obedience to God (187. Citing John Ball).
 
4. The tree itself was an indifferent thing and it was prohibited purely by a positive commandment of God (187. Citing Anthony Burgess).
 
5. God gave this positive law in addition to the natural law on man’s heart for several important reasons. (187).
 
a. To lead man to better acknowledge God’s superiority over him (187).
 
b. “For the greater trial of man’s obedience” (188).
 
c. To show man that God only has absolute dominion over the creation. Man has relative dominion only (188).
 
d. To show that God sets limits to our enjoyment of the creation (188).
 
e. To show that God’s revealed will through his Word is the only rule that can teach us what to avoid (188).
 
f. To show the greater aggravation of Adam’s in the case of disobedience (189).
 
g. To show that man could not live without God’s law or Word in any state of life (189).
 
C. The way of transacting the covenant with Adam in relation to the covenant seals (189). [As noted in the previous post, seals were an important part of God’s covenants with man].
 
1. The use of the two sacraments or symbols in man’s innocence (189). [Johannes Cocceius denied that the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was a sacrament by arguing that it was a sign and not a seal, since Adam was prohibited from partaking of it. He argued, with other Reformed authors, that the Tree of Life was both a sign and a seal].
 
a. In relation to Adam’s weakness of mutability. Adam had no sinful weakness, but he was mutable as a creature. He needed “confirming grace” (189). [This illustrates that grace was a broader concept than showing mercy to sinners. Grace entailed giving creatures what they did not deserve, whether sinless or not. This is why WLC 13 observed that God “elected some angels to glory … for the praise of his glorious grace.”].
 
b. God gave man an open declaration and assurance that he would never break his covenant with man (190).
 
c. They gave Adam greater boldness and freedom to perform the covenant (190).
 
d. They helped to prevent his distrust of God and breaking of the covenant (190). The outcome showed that he needed this.
 
e. Symbols and seals are suitable for all of God’s covenant dealings with men.
 
2. The reasons behind the names of the two trees have given rise to numerous conjectures (190). God did not name the trees according to their natures, but according to their ends (191). The two trees were a visible confirmation of the two parts of the covenant.
 
D. Adam’s consent in the manner of God’s entering into covenant with him (192).
 
1. Adam knew that God dealt with him by way of covenant (193. Citing A. Burgess).
 
2. Adam’s will was perfect, upright, and entirely submissive to God’s revealed will. He would not refuse the Covenant of Works, though his consent was not needed to constitute it (194). [This appears, on the surface, to contradict his six components of a covenant treated in the previous post, which lists mutual consent at a component of all covenants. However, Gillespie notes that it would be inconceivable for a perfect man to reject the terms of this covenant].
 
3. God engaged Adam’s consent in the covenant by writing the law upon his heart (194).
 
Summary
This section of Gillespie’s outline reveals several important components of the Reformed doctrine of the Covenant of Works.
 
First, moral and natural law are distinct from the Covenant of Works. This is why the moral law is still useful after the Fall and continues to be relevant to believers under the Covenant of Grace. If the moral law was equivalent to the Covenant of Works, then it could not remain relevant to Christians, who are delivered from the Covenant of Works.
 
Second, God gave the moral law on Adam’s heart as a Covenant of Works. Prohibiting him to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil put his obedience to the test poignantly. This illustrates a special use of the moral law that was not inherent to its nature.
 
Third, while the terms of the Covenant of Works were legal, its promise of eternal life was gracious. Sin did not create the need for divine grace, but sin accentuated the nature of divine grace through Christ’s work as applied to his elect under the Covenant of Grace. All of these points help establish the nature of the Covenant of Works and the consequences of breaking it, which I will treat in the next post.

We are giving away four (4) copies of our first published book, Knowing the Trinity: Practical Thoughts for Daily Life by Dr. Ryan M. McGraw.

Deadline is May 12.

Enter here.

One of the most interesting things about the Puritan poet Anne Bradstreet (see posts #1 & #2 in this series) is that she actually admitted to having doubts about her religious beliefs. Granted, she did not do so in a manner that was meant to be released to the public, but rather in a letter that she wrote to her children near the end of her life. In this, her longest surviving work of prose, we get a glimpse of some of Bradstreet’s spiritual struggles.
 
“Many times hath Satan troubled me concerning the verity of the Scriptures,” she admits. “Many times by atheism how I could know whether there was a God; I never saw any miracles to confirm me, and those which I read of, how did I know but they were feigned?” That Bradstreet had these doubts is not the astonishing part, but rather the fact that she was willing to admit them, even if it was only to her intimate relations. Having confessed as much, she concludes, 
“That there is a God my reason would soon tell me by the wondrous works that I see, the vast frame of the heaven and the earth, the order of all things, night and day, summer and winter, spring and autumn, the daily providing for this great household upon the earth, the preserving and directing of all to its proper end. The consideration of these things would with amazement certainly resolve me that there is an Eternal Being.”
In questioning God’s existence, Bradstreet is no different than many great philosophers over the years, yet the rationale she chooses to reassure herself is perhaps not as sophisticated as the arguments of Anselm or Aquinas. Rather, she sees God in what she knows: His wondrous creation, His provision for her family, His sovereignty over all things. Nor does Bradstreet appeal only to these aspects of more general revelation, but also to God’s special revelation in His Word.
“If ever this God hath revealed himself, it must be in His word, and this must be it or none. Have I not found that operation by it that no human invention can work upon the soul, hath not judgments befallen divers who have scorned and contemned it, hath it not been preserved through all ages maugre all the heathen tyrants and all the enemies who have opposed it? Is there any story but that which shows the beginnings of times, and how the world came to be as we see? Do we not know the prophecies in it fulfilled which could not have been so long foretold by any but God Himself?”
Unlike her fellow Boston resident, Anne Hutchinson, who in claiming some form of direct revelation from God and asserting novelties drew the ire of the local authorities, Bradstreet’s writings always seem very rooted in the Word of God as already revealed: the teachings that have stood the test of time. However, this was not as much help to her when it came to another area of doubt.
“When I have got over this block, then have I another put in my way, that admit this be the true God whom we worship, and that be his word, yet why may not the Popish religion be the right? They have the same God, the same Christ, the same word. They only interpret it one way, we another.” 
It is possible that Bradstreet is referring here to Roman Catholicism, but it may also be that she is thinking of the High Church Anglicanism that she describes in other places as “Popery”. That would make this passage more intriguing, as it would represent a questioning of the entire Puritan movement, which stood in opposition to this form of religion. Whatever she meant by the “Popish religion”, she is once again able to dismiss her doubts.
“This hath sometimes stuck with me, and more it would, but the vain fooleries that are in their religion together with their lying miracles and cruel persecutions of the saints, which admit were they as they term them, yet not so to be dealt withal. The consideration of these things and many the like would soon turn me to my own religion again.”
This letter shows the degree of knowledge Bradstreet had about other points of view, to the point that she truly wrestled with them and considered which path was the true one. She was neither ignorant nor gullible, but felt that her faith was based on reason and the Word of God, which she saw as the foundation of all true religion. In her final hours, she wished to leave a testament to her children both of her doubts and her ultimate faith. In this, she was a truly remarkable woman.
I certainly do not wish to leave the impression from my previous post that the Puritans were bad examples as preachers. There are many ways in which we can and should imitate their preaching. Here are a few of the lessons we can learn from them.
 
1. Preach Well-Rounded Sermons
There are four dimensions of a good sermon. It must be biblical, offering an explanation of the meaning of the text in its biblical and historical context; doctrinal, deriving and defining truths from the text about God and man; experiential, addressing the truths to the hearts of the listeners with idealism, realism, and optimism; and practical, giving specific directions for how hearers should respond to God’s Word. 
 
We may view these four words as the "golden chain of preaching." All the doctrine we preach must be rooted in Bible, not in human traditions, experiences, or speculations. Christian experience must be informed by and conformed to the doctrines of Scripture, and must allow itself to be judged and measured by God’s Word lest we drift into mysticism and emotionalism. Our practical activity must always flow from the faith and love of our hearts, and must spring out of spiritual experience based in the truth of the written Word of God.
 
The Puritans excelled in using all four links of this golden chain of preaching. Consider the preaching of William Perkins (1558–1602) on Galatians 1:12: “For I neither received [the gospel] of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.” In the biblical aspect, Perkins explained that Paul did not learn the gospel from a human teacher as he had once been instructed at the feet of Gamaliel, but instead received it by a revelation from Jesus Christ. This, Perkins said, confirmed the point of the previous verse, that the gospel he preached was not “after man,” that is it did not come from man. Perkins proposed a distinction between ordinary revelation by the preaching of the Word and extraordinary revelation by supernatural means. He also expounded the doctrine of the prophetic office of Christ, whom God sent to reveal the truth (Matt. 17:6; 23:8), to call and send ministers to preach it (John 20:21; Eph. 4:11), and to illuminate the mind of those hearing it (Luke 24:45). From this Perkins gave the following experiential and practical directions: (1) Reverence the preaching of God’s Word and carefully obey it, for Christ is our Teacher therein; (2) Be warned that those who reject the gospel treat Jesus Christ with contempt and will be damned for it; (3) Pray to Christ for understanding and submissive hearts. Perkins also drew the implication that because immediate special revelation has ceased, we must train Bible teachers in theological schools, which requires financial investment by those with means, a willingness in parents for their sons to enter the ministry, and the prayers of all God’s people for divine blessing on the seminaries.
 
2. Preach the Main Doctrine of Your Text Thoroughly
I have spoken about the danger of allowing systematic theology to overwhelm the exposition of Scripture. However, I would not want to discourage you from building doctrine into your sermons. The question is one of focus: Do you explore all the relevant doctrines that touch your text, or do you focus on the central doctrine taught by that text? Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758) was a master at doing the latter, applying his massive intellect and brilliant spiritual insight to probe the depths of the particular doctrine of the text on which he preached. 
 
An example is Edwards’s sermon on 2 Corinthians 4:7: “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.” After a brief exposition of the text, Edwards deduced this doctrine: “God is pleased to make his own power appear by carrying on the work of his grace by such instruments as men, that in themselves are utterly insufficient for it.” First, he showed that preachers are unable to do God’s work in the souls of fallen men, for men are “forsaken by God” for their sins, “spiritually dead,” and “in a state of captivity unto Satan.” Second, the preachers are mere creatures, and conversion is a work that even angels cannot affect; yes, even though preachers are “not only creatures, but very weak and infirm, partakers of the same infirmities as their hearers.” Third, because God calls such weak men to be preachers and causes them to overcome the world, it is evident “that the foolishness of God is wiser than men and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Cor. 1:25). Edwards went on to make applications, but let us pause here to consider how thoroughly he developed his doctrine.
 
I fear that some preachers today are contemptuous of doctrine. Perhaps they think that biblical exposition is somehow superior to doctrine and they sneer at systematic theology. However, they are cutting off their own feet, for until exposition passes into doctrine it does not inform and reform the beliefs that control our minds. Other preachers may ignore doctrine because they are so focused on offering practical application. However, application without doctrine is legalism. Preaching without instruction is only ungrounded exhortation. Only doctrine grounds our faith in Jesus Christ and builds our obedience to God’s law upon our reliance on God’s promises. While we must not turn our congregations into supercomputers without a soul, we must not shirk our responsibility to teach them doctrine. The responsible way to do that starts with preaching the specific doctrine taught by our sermon text.
 
3. Preach the Whole Counsel of God over Time
We should not attempt to cover all systematic theology in a single sermon: God, man, Christ, salvation, church, and the end times. However, we should feel the weight of Paul’s statement in Acts 20:26–27, “Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God.” Over the years of our ministries, we must preach through the whole body of truth revealed in the Scriptures so that God’s people are moved to trust in Him at all times and be fully equipped to worship and serve Him.
 
We have already noted the sermons of Thomas Manton. His Works contain hundreds of sermons that demonstrate a ministry committed to the whole counsel of God. This appears in the variety of texts on which he preached. A look at the “Index of Principal Texts” reveals that he preached individual sermons from every part of Scripture, as well as sermon series on Psalm 119 (the Word of God), Isaiah 53 (Christ’s substitutionary death), Matthew 4:1–11 (Christ’s temptation), Matthew 6:6–13 (the Lord’s Prayer), Matthew 17:1–8 (Christ’s transfiguration), Matthew 25 (judgment day), Mark 10:17–26 (the rich young ruler and conversion), John 17 (Christ’s intercession and our salvation), Romans 6 (union with Christ and holiness), Romans 8 (the Holy Spirit and our hope), 2 Corinthians 5 (reconciliation with God), Ephesians 5 (godliness, marriage, and the work of Christ), Philippians 3 (love for Christ), Colossians 1:14–20 (Christ’s person and work), 2 Thessalonians 1:4–12 (conversion), 2 Thessalonians 2 (end times and salvation), Titus 2:11–14 (holiness by grace), Hebrews 11 (faith), the Epistle of James (practical Christianity), and the Epistle of Jude (false teachers). Manton’s preaching exposed his hearers to the full range of Bible doctrines over the three and a half decades of his ministry.
 
Preachers should strive to feed the family of God with a balanced diet. Ministers of the gospel, take some time periodically to recollect and reflect on what you have preached heretofore, and compare it to the breadth of Bible doctrine and ethics. Will someone who sits under your preaching for a decade or two be schooled and trained in the whole counsel of God?
 
4. Preach in Plain Style that Ordinary People Can Understand
In the Puritan age, prominent preachers in the Church of England adorned their sermons with long citations in Latin, Greek, and other languages in order to impress people with their erudition, even though many people would not understand what they were talking about. They attempted to show how clever they were in the pulpit by the way they put words and phrases together, entertaining listeners with rhetorical skill while leaving their hearts unmoved by the glory of Christ. This approach was often coupled with an emphasis upon majestic buildings, visual art, and solemn rituals invented by man—outward forms of worship that impressed the senses. The intellectual Enlightenment also began to rise in the seventeenth century through figures like John Locke (1632–1704) with an emphasis on rationality and human reason as the judge of all things.
 
The Puritans responded to these trends of the day by insisting upon the biblical simplicity of worship, as regulated by the Word of God alone. They taught that the only images that God authorizes and that people need are “the right administration of the sacraments” and “the lively preaching of the word.” They heeded the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 2:1–2, “And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” They refused to make human reason a judge and dictator in all divine matters, but rather a tool and instrument. 
 
The apostle Paul wrote in Galatians 3:1 that his preaching of the gospel had set forth Christ so plainly before them that it was as if they had personally seen Christ being crucified. Perkins said that “the properties of the ministry of the word… must be plain, perspicuous [clear], and evident, as if the doctrine were pictured and painted before the eyes of men.” Rather than using words that may impress the listener but leave their minds uncomprehending, Perkins said that with regard to preaching, “the plainer, the better.”
 
Today we face similar temptations, for the pride and glory of man ever seeks to intrude into the holy office of preaching. Many ministers today function as entertainers to draw a crowd with their rhetorical skill, or design worship services to move the senses. Others make the pulpit into an academic throne to display their scholarship, or flatter their listeners by trying to convince them that the Bible will satisfy the demands of human reason as it sits in judgment over God’s Word. Against all this we must preach the gospel of Christ with plainness, clarity, and passion. If we would preach a crucified Christ, then we must enter the pulpit with our pride and glory crucified. See yourself not as a great man towering over the congregation, but as the servant of the little children and least educated.
 
5. Preach with Your Life What You Preach from the Pulpit
There is no substitute for godliness of life in the preacher. His life must not contradict his message, because his actions speak louder than his words. Nothing puts fire into the sermon so much as holiness in the preacher. This was a hallmark of Puritanism. Sinclair Ferguson writes, “The marriage of true learning and personal godliness lay at the heart of the Puritan vision. A recurring note in their thinking was the apostolic injunction, ‘pay careful attention to yourselves’ (Acts 20:28); ‘guard your life…’ (1 Tim. 4:16). Personal godliness was the great essential.” 
 
The Westminster Directory for the Publick Worship of God calls “the servant of God” to “perform his whole ministry” with the following qualities: 
  • diligence (“painfully,” as the old language puts it), as opposed to negligence; 
  • faithfulness, “looking at the honour of Christ, the conversion, edification, and salvation of the people, not at his own gain or glory”;
  • impartiality, serving each person his gospel food without neglecting the lowly and poor or showing favoritism to the rich and powerful;
  • wisdom, endeavoring to shape his work so as to be as effective as possible in doing God’s will, as opposed to being driven about by foolish passions or anger;
  • dignity (“gravely”), as is fitting of a messenger of the word of God, avoiding things that would give sinners the opportunity to despise him;
  • love for God and man, so that people can see that everything he does comes from his godly zeal, and hearty desire to do them good;
  • conviction of truth, as one deeply persuaded by the Holy Spirit that what he teaches and preaches is real, true, and the word of God;
  • exemplary conduct, “walking before his flock” as a model of what it means to follow in the pathways of the Lord, and keeping watch over himself;
  • prayer, “earnestly, both in private and publick, recommending his labours to the blessing of God” through petition and intercession.
Will you preach to others but not preach to yourself? Beware of becoming a mere ministry professional. If the only reason you read the Bible is to find texts for sermons, then how will you feed your own soul? Make every time you open the Word a time of meditation and prayer, and impress upon your soul the danger of being a hearer only, and not a doer of the Word (James 1:22).
 
Conclusion: Pray to the Power of the Spirit for Puritan-like Preaching
The Westminster Larger Catechism summarizes the positive lessons we can learn from the Puritans in its statement of the Puritan norms for preaching:
Q159. How is the Word of God to be preached by those that are called thereunto?
A. They that are called to labour in the ministry of the Word, are to preach sound doctrine, diligently, in season, and out of season; plainly, not in the enticing words of mans wisedome, but in demonstration of the Spirit, and power; faithfully, making known the whole counsell of God; wisely, applying themselves to the necessities and capacities of the hearers; zealously, with fervent love to God, and the souls of his people; sincerely, aiming at his glory, and their conversion, edification, and salvation.
A key phrase in that statement is, “in demonstration of the Spirit, and power,” alluding to 1 Corinthians 2:4, or “the demonstration of which the Spirit is the author, and which is characterized by power; so that the sense is, the powerful demonstration of the Spirit.” It is not an accident that the next question and answer in the catechism say that those who hear the Word must “attend upon it with diligence, preparation, and prayer.” We cannot expect to approximate the Puritans in preaching if we do not pray for the power of the Spirit that accompanied their preaching of the Word.
 
We may find fault with some aspects of John Flavel’s preaching, but we must recognize that it was anointed with the Holy Spirit and with power. Flavel preached in times of persecution, yet he preached with great boldness and plainness. Sometimes he had to gather his congregation out in the woods to avoid detection. Once he had to ride his horse into the sea to escape arrest by the authorities. His sermons blazed with light and heat. One of the members of his church said that a “person must have a very soft head, or a very hard heart, or both, that could sit under his ministry unaffected.” One young man, Luke Short, evidently heard Flavel with a hard heart, for he went away unchanged after a message on the horror of dying under God’s curse. Short emigrated to New England, where he became a farmer who lived to be over a hundred years old. One day the old man looked over his fields and remembered the sermon he had heard in England. The Spirit of God pressed Flavel’s message upon the man’s heart, and there, eighty-five years after the fact, Luke Short was converted and saved. His gravestone read, “Here lies a babe in grace, aged three years, who died according to nature, aged 106."
 
Only the Holy Spirit can imbue our preaching with such lasting, converting power. If you want to preach like the Puritans, or want your pastor to preach like the Puritans, then pray! “God will give His grace and Holy Spirit to those only, who with sincere desires continually ask them of Him, and are thankful for them” (Heidelberg Catechism, Q. 116).
Around the time God converted me at the age of 21, I remember embracing the reality of hell. It terrified me right into the arms of Jesus Christ. I truly sensed fleeing from the wrath to come. So, the first time I read A Treatise of the Fear of God (1679) by John Bunyan (1628-1688), I latched on to his discussion about the terror of hell as a prelude to embracing Christ. 
 
Recently, I took a closer look at Bunyan’s treatment of this topic. In distinction from the Christian “grace” of godly fear, he discusses the natural fear of sinners who can fear God in some sense but not in a godly way. For example, the light of nature prompts men to act in a civil manner towards others out of fear for God. In this way, Abimelech kept his hands off Abraham’s “sister” wife after God warned the king. Bunyan also discusses the servile fear of sinners (slaves) as opposed to the filial fear shown by God’s children. The former stirs up the terror of God (and hell) prompting one to run from him (e.g. Isa. 2:10-21) and never turn to him through Christ. 
 
Next, Bunyan relates a “godly” fear shown by sinners, not yet Christians, experienced temporarily. It concerns the fear of damnation in those coming to Christ. It makes a man judge himself and fall down at God’s feet crying out for mercy (e.g. Acts 2:37; 16:29-30). While he lacks clarity in his discussion, we can conclude Bunyan means limits this godly terror of hell to the regenerate. Such an individual has undergone “an effect of sound awakenings by the word of wrath” and experiences a fear “wrought in the heart by the Spirit of God,” at a “first conversion” or “first awakening.”  This terror turns the sinner, by the work of the Spirit, towards God in Christ. 
 
For Scriptural support, Bunyan appeals to Romans 8:15 claiming that this godly fear of hell occurs through the “spirit of bondage” that carries the sinner from slavery to sonship. Once we become children of God, we do not receive that spirit “again to fear,” as we no longer need it. He claims this fear comes “as a spirit of bondage” with a terror of damnation occurring before the Spirit as a “spirit of adoption” comes upon us. This spirit of bondage convinces us of our sin and our “damnable state. . . before we believe.”  
 
This fear “greatly differs from that which is wholly ungodly of itself,” because in it the “sinner” begins to “judge himself” before God causing him to “cast himself down” at God’s feet for mercy. While this fear comes from one without “faith in Christ” and still “under the law,” it contains the “essence and habit” of the eventual Christian grace of fearing God and grows “into a more sweet and gospel current and manner of working.”
 
The terror of hell goes away when the Spirit, as the spirit of adoption, reveals and applies “the sweet word of promise of life and salvation by Jesus Christ.”  Thus the spirit of bondage no longer operates, since it involves the fear of damnation. We can certainly agree that the regenerate experience a terror of hell in a positive manner that drives them to Christ for relief. However, Bunyan’s exegesis of Romans 8:15 must be called into question. Paul there clearly sets forth the spirit of bondage in an entirely negative sense as the fear of slaves not of sons. It is the very servile fear of which Bunyan spoke earlier and that which drives sinners from and not to Christ. 
 
Still, we can commend Bunyan for treating the fear of hell that drives us to Christ who then delivers us from that terror. He also helpfully considers the Christian’s ongoing struggle with of falling back  to the terror of hell under the temptation of the devil. Bunyan, with great pastoral sensitivity, seeks to bring relief to Christians prone to falling prey again to the fear of damnation. He skillfully sizes up the devil saying: 
 
Satan is always for being too soon or too late. If he would have men believe they are children, he would have them believe it while they are slaves, slaves to him and their lusts. If he would have them believe they are slaves, it is when they are sons, and have received the spirit of adoption,. . . And this evil is rooted even in his nature – ‘He is a liar, and the father of it’; and his lies are not known to saints more than in this, that he labours always to contradict the work and order of the Spirit of truth (John 8).
 
Likewise, Bunyan avoids bringing imbalanced comfort to the children of God whose sin cannot dissolve their relationship with the Father.  Bunyan also deals at length with God’s fatherly “rod” of discipline for those who fall “foully into sin.” He will bring affliction to his children in love but never with the intent to drive them back to their former terrors of hell from which they have been delivered.
One of the best ways we help our children appreciate what they have is to take something away for a time only to restore it later. In a similar way, one of the best ways for us to appreciate what we have in Jesus Christ is to think about what Adam took away from us by his disobedience. He took away true knowledge of God. Now we are born blinded by sin. He took away fellowship with God. Now we are born at enmity with God. He took away delight in serving God. Now we are born unable to serve him. But Jesus Christ restores these lost aspects of our relationship with God. As a priest he removes our enmity with God, as a king he removes our inability to serve the Lord, and as a prophet he removes the blindness of sin.
 
It’s this prophetic office of Christ that we read about in Matthew 17:1–13. Our Lord Jesus Christ is the great prophet who “reveal[s] to the church, in all ages, by his Spirit and Word, in divers ways of administration, the whole will of God, in all things concerning their edification and salvation” (Westminster Larger Catechism, Q&A 43). This passage describes what we call the “transfiguration,” that is, Jesus’ outward change or transformation as his face and clothes were transformed into heavenly glory before the disciples. The beautiful thing about Jesus is that he also inwardly transforms us by the renewing of our minds into his image (Rom. 12:2; 2 Cor. 3:18). What is most important for us in terms of his prophetic office is the heavenly Father’s word concerning his Son: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” In the traditional language of the Geneva Bible (1599) and King James Bible (1611), we are to “Hear him” (Matt. 17:5).
 
Him Whom We Are to Hear
Why is it so important to know the “him” whom we are to hear? Imagine your favorite cable news show, talk radio show, or even a group conversation you’ve been involved in recently. There were lots of voices, weren’t there? And when a host has two or three other guests at the same time, there is that phenomenon of them all speaking and sounding like a buzz of sound, with no distinguishable voice. Now, realize that this is the same thing that we have in the world. There are so many noises and voices, so many ideologies and philosophies, so many self-proclaimed gurus and prophets all vying for our attention. Jesus himself warned that this would be the case in the world (Matt. 24:23–26).
 
Because of this we need to be able to discern his voice so that we can hear him amid all the chatter of ideology, philosophy, and religion. We can do this by discerning his dignity. He is the Son of God: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 17:5). We can do this by discerning his dearness to the Father: “My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” We can do this by discerning his distinctness from all other prophets. Jesus is the culmination of all that the law and the prophets spoke. On the Mount of Transfiguration with Jesus were Moses—the giver of the law—and Elijah—the great prophet of Israel. And on the testimony of two or three witnesses everything was established. Here are two testimonies while the third is added for final confirmation—the voice of the Father himself.
 
So if Jesus is the eternally beloved Son and the culmination of the prophets, what did he say that is so urgent for us to hear? Hear him speak in his Word the truth about how sinners like you are saved from the wrath of Almighty God and brought into his everlasting kingdom. Hear him speak in his Word the truth about how you as a member of his kingdom are to be edified. Hear him.
 
Hearing Him Who Speaks
The Father’s words in Matthew 17:5 also teach us to hear him who speaks. Thomas Manton once illustrated this when he said there is a distinction between mere hearing of the sounds of Jesus’ words in the ear, which the animal kingdoms can do, understanding the meaning of Jesus’ words, which human beings can do, and finally assenting to what Jesus’ words mean, which is what his disciples alone do (Manton, Works 1:395). The Father wants us to hear his Son, our great prophet, in this way as his disciples, not mere animals; as friends, not his enemies.
 
But where can we go to hear him when he is now at the right hand of God in heaven? We hear him in his Word written but especially in his Word preached. In Hebrews 2:1–3 the writer speaks as a second generation Christian, as one who knew the voice of our great prophet through his apostles but also that same voice through the proclamation of his words. Thus he says, “we must pay closer attention to what we have heard” through the means of ministers of the gospel. Hence Paul could say in 2 Corinthians 5:20, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.”
 
We need to hear with urgency, as the imperative mood implies: “Hear him!” Recall what Paul said to Timothy in 2 Timothy 4. We know the famous line, “Preach the Word” (2 Tim. 4:2), but we do not know what he goes on to say: “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Tim. 4:3–4). In the midst of the chatter and noise in our time we need to urgently gather to ourselves not teachers to tickle our ears, but teachers to tell us the truth.
 
And how are we to hear our great prophet’s words? We need to hear with devotion, as Peter and the disciples did. After Jesus asked them, “Do you want to go away as well?” Peter said on their behalf, “Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:67–68). And this devoted hearing of him must lead to obeying him: “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only” (Jas. 1:22).
 
Yet our Bibles gather dust. Yet our minds are filled with the images and self-gratification of the Internet, Facebook, and Twitter. Yet more time is spend in front of video games than in front of the face of the Lord. Yet our attention is so easily grabbed by the Super Bowl, by birthday parties, by weddings, by social events, by the lure of money in working on the Lord’s Day. How quickly we hear the world’s words and believe. How easily we are seduced by the devil. How weakly we put up a fight with our sin natures.
 
Hear him.

We have three (3) copies of Lee Gatiss' book, John Owen: The Genius of English Puritanism, to give away. Deadline is this Friday, April 28.

Enter here.