Preaching Effectual Sermons by Andy Hynes

Guest blogger Andy Hynes (@ABHYNES) is a PhD candidate at Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary.

The Puritans understood the power of the sermon.  Effectual sermons opened the door to the Father’s work.  John Flavel supposed that hearing God’s Word regularly was necessary for Him to draw a man toward Himself.  The Father consistently drew the elect to Himself through the Son.  General revelation was insufficient to allow this to happen. When Paul wrote Ephesians 4:20-21 Flavel understood,

Of necessity of divine teaching, in order to believing, the apostle speaks, in Eph. iv. 20,21. “But ye have not so learned Christ; ‘if so be that you have heard him, and been taught by him, as ‘the truth is in Jesus;’ i.e. Your faith must needs be effectual, both to the reformation of your lives, and your perseverance in the ways of holiness, if it be such a faith as is begotten and introduced into your hearts by divine teachings.[1]

Without the delivery of special revelation, sinners would not hear nor understand their need for grace.  The Puritan needed a conscience awareness of mediation upon that Word.  The duty and necessity of mediation demanded that without meditation, the preached Word would fail to profit.[2]

The Word possessed the necessary component for preparation, the delivery of that Word stood high.  The Puritans did not regard evangelistic sermons as a special class, but rather preached Christ from all the Scriptures, since His witness is in all the Word.[3]  Preaching Gospel centered messages according to Packer, meant, “teaching the whole Christian system – the character of God, the Trinity, the plan of salvation, the entire work of grace. To preach Christ, they held, involved preaching all this.”[4]

The Puritan pulpit produced the golden age of evangelical preaching in England, by sound doctrine and thorough practical application.[5]  As each Puritan pastor taught the Word, he became vessel that God used to promote the truths of the Gospel, truths necessary for forming Christ in a sinner.  The sermon developed into the ultimate weapon for the Puritan as it offered guidance in the search for salvation unattainable in any other way.[6]

Preaching advanced to the chief glory of ministry.  If a personal experience with the wrath and love of God was necessary for conversion, then His Word, both written and preached, was the primary method by which man’s confrontation took place.[7]  John Downame said about preaching that, “God’s own ordinance which he hath instituted and ordained for the gathering of the saints, and building the body of his church, as appearth in Eph. 4:11,12.”[8]  One can see the significance of preaching.  The capability of God existed to accomplish anything He wished; He ordained the pulpit to be the place for the delivery of salvific principles.  The Puritans took great pains in preaching and teaching.  It involved wretched self-introspection on a consistent basis.  They longed to be prepared for the delivery of God’s Holy Word, for it alone was the power unto salvation.

Flavel understood the power of the Word as the instrument unto the saving work of God.  He embraced five effectual works of the Word through preaching.  These acts were upon the souls of men.

First, It hath an awakening efficacy upon secure and sleepy sinners; It rouses the conscious, and brings a man to a sense and feeling apprehension, Eph. v. 13, 14. The first effectual touch of the word startles the drowsy conscious. . . . Secondly, the Law of God hath an enlightening efficacy upon the minds of men: It is the eye-salve to the blinded eye, Rev. iii. 18. . . . Thirdly, The Word of God hath a convincing efficacy: It sets sin in order before the soul, Psal. l. 21. . . . Fourthly, The law of God hath a soul-wounding, an heart-cutting efficacy: It pierces into the very soul and spirit of man, Acts ii. 37. . . . Fifthly, The word hath a heart-turning, as well as a convincing word, 1 Peter i. 23.[9]

While the sermon remained the instrument used, the pastor existed as the vessel to promote.  Harry Stout talked about the New England Puritan pastors, but many of the same qualities and characteristics epitomized the English clergy during the seventeenth century.  He said concerning the pastor in preparation for the sermon,

Ministers rarely talked about their own turmoil and uncertainties in their sermons; indeed the pronoun I hardly ever appears in their notes. . . . In fact ministers agonized over their sermons and recorded that agony in another staple of the Puritan literature, the diary. . . . From these it is clear that, along with the hours of biblical study and analysis, the ministers engaged in ceaseless self-examination and self-censure. Before calling the congregation to account to God for their lives, thoughts, and feelings, the minster first had to submit his own life to a withering divine scrutiny. Only then could he project that message outward and say to his congregation with the proper combination of humility and finality, “Thus saith the Lord.”[10]

Regular effectual preaching supplied a needed void according to William Perkins.  He defined the business of preaching as, “It is to collect the church and to accomplish the number of the elect.”[11]  Preaching sermons that taught the Law and grace provided the setting necessary for the Holy Spirit to do His work.  God conducted perfect work through the preaching of His Word.

[1] John Flavel, The Methods of Grace in the Gospel-Redemption, Sermon XXII, The Teachings of God Opened, in Their Nature and Necessity, vol. II of The Works of John Flavel (1820; repr., Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1997), 307.
[2] Joel Beeke, Puritan Reformed Spirituality (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2004), 79.
[3] Packer, A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life, 165-6.
[4] Ibid., 169.
[5] Peter Lewis, The Genius of Puritanism (Hayward Heath Sussex: Carey Publications, 1979), 20.
[6] Harry Stout, The New England Soul (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986), 32.
[7] Brauer, “The Nature of English Puritanism,” 101.
[8] Lewis, The Genius of Puritanism, 39.
[9] John Flavel, The Method of Grace, Sermon XXI, For I was Alive Without the Law once: But when the Commandment came, Sin Revived, and I Died, vol. II of The Works of John Flavel (1820; repr., Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1997), 296-7.
[10] Stout, The New England Soul, 35.
[11] D. M. Lloyd-Jones, The Puritans: Their Origins and Successors (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1987), 381.

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