Great Themes in Puritan Preaching

November 22, 2007

Preaching today is anemic at best and thoroughly unbiblical at worst! There is a solution! Learn from the past about what makes great preaching! Mariano Di Gangi has helped us by looking at the Puritans on preaching. Di Gangi, author of the new book Great Themes in Puritan Preaching from Joshua Press, is well known in Evangelicalism today having served in a number of well-known churches and taught in a number of schools. He received his M.Div. from Westminster and a D.D. from Gordon Conwell. He was written a previous book on the Puritans titled, A Golden Treasury or Puritan Devotion (P&R, 1999). With recommendations by Derek W. H. Thomas, John MacArthur, Jerry Bridges, and Joel R. Beeke and a forward by Michael A. G. Haykin, this book is surely to become a big hit! On a side note, Joshua Press will be distributing 6000 copies of this book to the Together for the Gospel 2008 conference attendees!

The table of contents reads as follows:

The infallible Word
No upstart sect
The Messiah revealed
Pastoral ministry
Guilt and grace
The second birth
Radical repentance
Justified and sanctified
Spiritual conflict
Bread and wine
Renewal and reform
Family values
Most blessed assurance
Advent to judgment

Below is the introduction of the book reproduced in whole to whet your appetite and encourage you to go out and buy this book (reprinted by permission of Joshua Press)! It is available from Sola Scriptura Ministries International. It is available in paper back or hard cover. Check out the website for Joshua Press for their other titles.


Puritans have been caricatured by their critics as advocates of “the narrowest and most inquisitive clerical intoleranc, a gloomy Calvinism in doctrine, Sabbatarianism in practice, and a degrading mental slavery to the mere letter of the Bible.” “Where once one might be accustomed to see an altar, leading his thoughts straightway to Jesus and to ‘the Lamb in the midst of the elders as it had been slain,’ he sees a cushioned pulpit… The noble liturgies of the early church have given way to the extempore effusions of an individual. The place of worship seems to have become a preaching house… Catholicity appears to have yielded to a bald French Calvinism, capable of imagining nothing but a sermon.” The Puritans were suspected of having “one eager all-absorbing passion–to Calvinize the Church of England and assimilate its polity and ritual–in all respects–to those of Scotland and Geneva.”

Undoubtedly, there may have been Dissenters whose extremist excesses produced intolerance rather than renewal in the turbulent decades that followed the Reformation. The fact remains, however, that “Puritanism aimed at a radical purification and reconstruction of church and state on the sole basis of the Word of God, without regard to the traditions of men… Radical in its antagonism to the medieval church, it was a revolution and it ran into the excesses of a revolution.

The Puritans were people of austere morals, reformed in doctrine, and nonconformists in practice when confronted with the imposition of ceremonies and customs not commanded in the Scriptures. Puritan preachers did not major in minors. They would not trivialize the tremendous truths that had the power to change lives. Building on the Nicene Creed, the Apostles’ Creed, and the Christology of Chalcedon, they strongly opposed Pelagianism, Arminianism, and the Socinianism that eventually spawned Unitarianism. They also differed from the Antinomians who depreciated the authority o God’s moral law. Now would they compromise with the Semi-Pelagians who diluted the gospel of sovereign grace with doses of human merit.

Puritan theology expressed in the Westminster Confession of Faith (1643-1648) and the Savoy Declaration (1658), was also in harmony with the Scot’s Confession (1563), the Belgic Confession (1561) and the Heidelberg Catechism (1563) of the Reformation era. The Puritan movement was distinguished by a serious study of the Scriptures and the practical application of biblical doctrines. Accurate exegesis prepared the way for lively exposition and relevant conclusions. Puritan preachers “emphasized the importance of words in the text of Scripture… This wise and insightful use of words gave Puritan preaching an exactness and attractiveness that many other English pulpiteers lacked.”

The Puritans were noted not only for viewing the text in its context, and so avoiding a pretext, but also for comparing and contrasting biblical passages in such a way that Scripture was used to interpret Scripture. They knew how to distinguish between history and allegory and looked for Christ in texts that were typological. Above all, they believed that God’s eternal Word was timely and trustworthy. It spoke to the ethical, social, and doctrinal issues faced by God’s people in every generation. When the inspired Scripture is illumined by the Holy Spirit, it has an undoubted perspicuity.

It has been noted that “two emphases followed by the Puritans explain at least a part of their effectiveness… First, they educated the mind… They recognized that heat in the pulpit without light from the Scripture would not change people. Second, they appealed to an individuals relationship to God at each present moment. As they explained the Scriptures, they expected the Holy Spirit to honour their work by leading the hearers to judge themselves, and by producing response to the preaching.”

Puritanism developed as part of the Protestant Reformation in England. According to one writer, “Nonconformity was conceived during the days of King Edward, born in the reign of Queen Mary, nursed and weaned in the reign of Elizabeth, grew up a youth under King James, and shot up under Charles I to conquer the hierarchy–its adversary.”

Many of the Puritan pastors and leaders were prepared for the gospel ministry by their studies at Oxford or Cambridge. They preached the incarnate Word from the written Word with prayerful dependence on the Holy Spirit and a clear sense of purpose: that God would be glorified as people repented and believed the gospel, and then obeyed Christ in the fellowship of his church and in their daily work in the world. In all this, they were continuing the ministry of the Reformers and the Lord’s apostles before them.

At that first Pentecost after Christ’s resurrection, when the Holy Spirit came with power upon those praying disciples, Peter did not dwell on his experience of glossolalia but proclaimed the Lord Jesus–his humiliation and his exaltation. Peter summoned people to repentance and offered them the forgiveness of sins through the work of Christ, as well as the gift of the Spirit. Paul was also devoted to preaching Christ, particularly Christ crucified, the Saviour who paid the penalty of our sins and opened the way for us to have peace with God.

Preaching is not universally held in high esteem these days. It is often depreciated, especially by those who lack the discipline and passion to do it well. A pastor’s day can be so involved in matters of secondary and even tertiary importance that the priority of preaching the Word is crowded out. Administration, visitation, counselling, and community relations have their place, but they should never rob the communication of the Word from its place of primacy. When this happens, the consequences may be catastrophic. “The days are coming,” declares the Sovereign LORD, “When I will send a famine through the land–not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the LORD” (Amos 8:11, NIV).

Let all who are called to feed God’s flock renew their commitment to preach the Word in season and out of season, correcting, rebuking, and encouraging, with great patience and careful instruction (2 Tim. 4:2).

The Puritans provide us with a model of faithful biblical preaching. There are those who compare the multiple headings and abounding subdivisions of a typical Puritan sermon to the bones Ezekiel beheld in the valley of his vision: they were many, all were dry, and definitely quite dead. Undoubtedly, some of their homilies would have benefited from sensitive editing. But such criticisms say more about the shortness of the average listener’s attention span today than they do about a Puritan pastor’s supposed prolixity.

True, they produced sermons replete with introductions, expositions, clarifications, objections, exhortations, dehortations, illustrations, applications, doctrines, duties, invitations, promises, warnings and consolations. Yet we can derive lasting benefit from focusing on the insights of these biblical preachers. In studying their sermons, writings, and lectures, we will be enriched as their homiletical heritage prompts us to persevere in the reading and teaching of the inspired Scriptures.

The Life of John Newton, with particular reference to his hymns and letters

November 19, 2007

Dr. Michael A. G. Haykin just presented a paper titled, “The Life of John Newton, with particular reference to his hymns and letters” at the monthly Sovereign Grace Fellowship Pastoral Studies being held at Toronto Baptist Seminary. Here is a PDF of that paper for you all!


“Listening to the Past – Lessons from Andrew Fuller” 17

November 11, 2007


Fuller rightly responds to people who want to be part of a broad religious group without a commitment to their local church. It seems the problems we face today existed in Fuller’s day just the same. The following entry comes from The Works of Andrew Fuller, III:797.

“There appears to be a mistaken idea, to commonly prevailing in the religious world at present, respecting what is called a party spirit. Many professors, while they endeavour to promote the interests of religion in general, too often neglect to pay that attention which id due to the interest and welfare of that class or denomination of Christians in particular with which they are or have been connected. It is not uncommon to see one of these “candid” Christian professors keep at a distance from his own denomination, or party, where that denomination stands most in need of his countenance and support; while he associates with another pat, which is sanctioned by numbers and worldly influence. And when the inconsistency of his conduct is hinted at, he will excuse himself by saying, in the cant phrase of the day, That it is his wish to promote the interests of religion in general, and not to serve a party. I wish some of your correspondents would expose the conduct of such fawning professors i its true colours; and endeavour to convince them that in vain are all pretensions to Christian candour where consistency and integrity are wanting.”

A Review of Rapture Fiction and the Evangelical Crisis – Appendix – “Alternatives to Dispensationalism”

November 10, 2007

Gribben concludes his book with an appendix called “Alternatives to Dispensationalism.” It is of course very true that there are other alternatives to a dispensational view of the Scriptures. Yet, does Gribben effectively understand dispensationalism so as to offer helpful alternatives to the movement?

He first notes that we must all acknowledge dispensational distinctives, in that he means that there are different epochs in redemption history that we need to note. Even the staunch opponent to dispensationalism notes the differences in 2 dispensations; namely the Old and New Testament. But because of this, we note that therefore this is not necessarily a distinctive of dispensationalism. We refer then to the sine qua non of dispensationalism. The major hallmarks of dispensationalism is a distinction between Israel and the Church, a literal hermeneutic, and viewing God’s main purpose in history as that of pursuing His glory. But Gribben does note these things later.

He looks briefly at the systematization of dispensationalism by Darby and the revision of the 1967 Scofield Bible. He then notes the change toward Progressive Dispensationalism and the work of Bock and Blaising and others. He notes the change on the view of Israel in this movment and the question of whether they are truly dispensationalists any longer.

He then explains the arrival of New Covenant Theology and the distinction between it and Reformed Baptist Covenant Theology and their emphasis on either the first or the second London Baptist Confession of Faith. He then looks at Reformed Paedo-Baptist theology and finally notes that any disagreement between the various movements should be done with grace. He finally notes that one does not have to be a dispensationalist to be a premillennialist.

It is not Gribben’s intention to go in-depth on the different positions but simply to say there are different positions outside of dispensationalism. In that I agree. I may quibble about the differences and how he views the importance of some of the non-dispensational distinctives but overall, Gribben traces the differences fairly well. It would have been nicer if this section was longer and more in-depth.

Overall, Gribben’s book is absolutely tremendous. As a dispensationalist I feel it is important to look at the popular mainstream approach to our theology and note the problems and work to fix them and to focus our eyes on the true gospel! Evangelicalism has issues. We are a movement without true theological moorings. We must heed Gribben’s call to faithfulness to the Scriptures and to the Gospel of Jesus Christ! Whether you are a dispensationalist, a progressive, a New Covenant Theologian, or a covenant theologian, you need to read this book! Could not be recommended any higher!

Calvinist Myths

November 10, 2007


My good friend Nathan Finn who teaches Church History at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary is presenting a paper at the upcoming Building Bridges conference. He is presenting a paper on “Southern Baptist Calvinism: Setting the Record Straight.” Here is his plea from readers,

“I will be discussing some of the most prevalent myths about Southern Baptist Calvinists. As I finish up my preparation for the conference, I am interested in hearing from some of you. What are the most common myths you have heard bandied about in SBC circles about Calvinism? I would love for you to share some of your “favorite” mischaracterizations in the comments section below. The more outlandish, the better.”

So please, check out his post here and give him your best Calvinist myths!

Please Pray

November 9, 2007

Please pray. I have recently realized that there are only 6 weeks until Christmas break here at TBS and thus the end of my job here. I trust the Lord will provide, but I ask you all to be praying for the Lord to open a new door for work for me especially as I am getting married next year and need to be able to take care of my family. I appreciate your care and your prayers for me. I trust the Lord has a good place for me and hope He reveals it soon!

John Newton as a Spiritual Mentor

November 1, 2007

Dr. Michael A. G. Haykin on John Newton


The Sovereign Grace Pastor’s Fellowship (formerly known as FRPS) will be holding it’s November 19th meeting at Toronto Baptist Seminary with Guest Lecturer Dr. Michael A. G. Haykin. Details are below.
“John Newton as a Spiritual Mentor”
Presented by Dr. Michael Haykin
November 19, 2007
10:00 AM


Toronto Baptist Seminary
130 Gerrard Street East, Toronto,
Ontario, M5A 3T4 (416) 925-3263
In the Greenway Chapel of Jarvis St. Baptist Church
(Limited free parking is available!)

You must register in advance by calling 416-925-3263

Also, don’t forget the upcoming Sola Scriptura Ministries International Conference – “The Dungeon Flamed with Light: The Great Awakening in the 18th Century” also featuring Dr. Haykin. You can check it out on a previous post here.