God’s Ambassadors: Advice for Preachers

Preachers are not mere professionals, paid to study topics and prepare sermons.

Unsurprisingly, the assembly speaks to preachers in such as way as to remind them that both in his motivations and in his concerns the preacher is a pastor. The preacher is to address the people in such a way that they sense his “loving affection” and his “godly zeale & hearty desyre, to doe them good.” He is to walk “before his flocke as an example to them in it . . . wachfully looking to himselfe & the flocke wherof the Lord hath made him overseer.”

 

If a hundred preachers could agree on advice to be given to other ministers, it would probably be worth weighing their wisdom on the subject. This is just what the Westminster Assembly offered in a “sub-directory” on preaching within the body’s larger Directory for Worship. It is there that the gathering explained that one who expects to preach needs to be a scholar, a worshipper, an orator, an apologist, a pastor and a servant.

1. A Scholar

Even before he enters a pulpit, the preacher is called to be a scholar. Referring readers back to the Directory for Ordination, the assembly explained that “accordinge to the Rules of Ordination” a minister must “in some good measure” be “guifted for soe weighty a service.” He is to have “skill in the originall languages & in such arts & Sciences as are hand maides to Divinity.” He is to have “knowledg in the whole body of Theology, but most of all in the holy Scriptures.” He is to be able to understand and to summarize scripture, to analyze and divide texts, to ensure that the truths he expounds are “contained in or grounded on that text” he preaches, and to “cheefly insist upon those doctrines which are principally intended” in the passage he addresses. Nonetheless, he is to be the kind of scholar whose teaching is “expressed in plaine termes” because he is a scholar whose work is for the benefit of others and not just for himself or his peers.

2. A Worshipper

In the paragraphs most clearly emphasizing a preacher’s scholarly abilities, the assembly also stressed that he is a worshipper. In fact, immediately after stressing that a preacher is to be a student of truth and an expert in the Bible, the directory states that the preacher must have “his senses & hart exercised in them above the common sort of beleevers.” He is to trust in “the illumination of gods Spirit & other guiftes of edification.” In “reading & studying of the Word,” and in seeking God “by prayer, & an humble hart,” the preacher is always to be “resolving to admitt & receive any truth not yet attained, when ever God shall make it knowne unto him.” Assembly members considered preparation for preaching as an act of piety, a sanctifying experience of personal worship. And thus “he is to make use of” and “improve” on “his private preparations, before he deliver in publique” what he has studied. That is to say, he is to be “persuaded in his owne heart that all that he teacheth is the truth of Christ” and “earnestly both in private & in Publique recomending his labours to the blessing of God, & wachfully looking to himselfe & the flocke wherof the Lord hath made him overseer.”

3. An Orator

Preachers are not mere professionals, paid to study topics and prepare sermons. Nonetheless, they are to be orators, men able to construct and deliver addresses that are well-ordered and persuasive. The assembly expected sermons to have introductions, well-ordered arguments, and illustrations that engender “spiritual delight.” The directory directs him to exhort and dehort; to explicate and to insist. The liability of the label “orator” is that it could suggest that preaching is but a type of rhetoric. This the assembly would reject. The subdirectory insists that preachers communicate in a manner “that the meanest may understand, delivering the truth not in the entiseing words of mans wisdome, but in demonstration of the spirit & of power, lesse the crosse of Christ should be made of none effect.” The preacher’s “gesture[s], voice & expressions” were to be appropriate to his ministry.

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