William Ames on Preaching

From his Marrow of Sacred Divinity.

Chapter 35. Of ordinary Ministers, and their Office in Preaching

  1. ORDINARY Ministry is that which has all its direction from the will of God revealed in the Scriptures, and from those means which God has appointed in the Church for its perpetual edification.
  2. Hence they are called ordinary, because they may and are usually called to Minister by order, appointed by God.
  3. But because in their administration, they have that Will of God which was revealed before by extraordinary Ministers as a fixed rule to them, they should not propound or do anything in the Church which has not been prescribed to them in the Scriptures.
  4. Therefore they also depend on extraordinary Ministers, and are their successors as it were. For although in respect to the manner and degree, extraordinary Ministers have no successors; yet in respect to the essence of administration, ordinary Ministers perform the same office toward the Church as extraordinary Ministers did of old.
  5. The right of his Ministry is usually communicated by men; and in that respect, the calling of an ordinary Minister is mediate.
  6. But this is to be so understood, that the authority of administering Divine things is immediately communicated from God to all lawful Ministers; and the appointing of persons upon whom this authority is bestowed, is done by the Church.
  7. But because the Church can neither confer gifts that are necessary for this Ministry, nor prescribe to God upon whom he should bestow them, the Church can therefore only choose those whom she sees fitted beforehand; for not only extraordinary Ministers, but also ordinary, are made fit by their very calling, when they were previously unfit.
  8. Thus in an ordinary calling it is necessarily required that a lawful test go before the calling itself. 1Tim 3.10, Let them first be tested; then let them Minister if they are blameless.
  9. Ordinary Ministry is for preserving, propagating, and restoring the Church by ordinary means.
  10. There are two parts of this Ministry: 1. That in the name of God, he does those things which are to be done with the people. 2. That in the name of the people, he does those things with God which are to be done with him.
  11. But in these, the preaching of the Word most excels, and so it has always been of perpetual use in the Church.
  12. The duty of an ordinary preacher is to propound the Will of God out of the Word to the edification of the hearers. 1Tim 1.5, The end of preaching is love out of a pure heart, and a good conscience, and unfeigned faith.
  13. But because there is chiefly required a serious desire to edify the Church, he cannot be a fit preacher if he has not prepared his heart to seek the Law of the Lord, and to keep it, and to teach Israel the statutes and judgments. For one who teaches another, before and when he teaches, ought to teach himself, Rom 2.21. Otherwise he is not fitted to edify the Church.
  14. This duty is to be performed not only universally in respect to all the hearers in common, but also specially, in respect to their order, and of whatever age, as of old men, young men, servants (Titus chapters 2 & 3), teachers (2Pet 1.12, etc.), indeed, everyone. 1Thes 2.11, We exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you. [It is to be done] not only publicly, but privately also. Act 20.20, Publicly, and from house to house.
  15. He ought to have this scope of edifying so always before his eyes, that he diligently takes heed not to turn aside from it to vain jangling, 1Tim 1.6; to striving about words, 2Tim 2.14; to unprofitable controversies, or speculations of science, falsely so-called, 1Tim 6.20 — but show himself to be one who holds fast to the faithful word which tends to doctrine, Tit 1.9; and which cannot be condemned, Tit 2.8.
  16. But because the Will of God is to be propounded out of his Word, to this end therefore he is not fit for his Ministry, if he does not have his senses exercised in the Holy Scriptures, even beyond the common sort of believers; so that he might be said, as with Apollos, to be “mighty in the Scriptures,” Act 18.24. He must not trust to Postils and Commentaries.
  17. So that the Will of God may be propounded with the fruit of edification, these two things are necessary to be done: 1. That a declaration be made of those things that are contained in the Text. 2. That the application of those things be addressed to the consciences of the hearers as their condition seems to require. 1Tim 6.17, Charge those that are rich in this World, that they not be high-minded, nor trust in uncertain riches, etc.
  18. They deceive their hearers, and altogether forget themselves, if they propound a certain text in the beginning of the Sermon, as what is to be had, and afterward say many things about the text, or occasioned by the text, but for the most part draw nothing out of the text itself.
  19. In declaring what truth there is in the text, it should first be explained, and then afterward what good follows from it. That first part is spent in doctrines, or documenting; this latter part in its use, or deriving profit from those doctrines. 2Tim 3 16, All Scripture is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and instruction in righteousness.
  20. Those who invert and confound those parts, do not provide for the memory of their hearers, and they do not a little hinder their edification; because they cannot commit the chief point of the Sermon to memory, so that they may afterward repeat it privately in their families. Without this exercise, the greatest part of that fruit perishes which would otherwise redound to the Church of God by Sermons.
  21. DOCTRINE is a Theological Axiom, either consisting in the express words of Scripture, or flowing from them by immediate consequence.
  22. A doctrine must first be rightly found out, and then afterward rightly handled.
  23. FINDING IT OUT is by Logical Analysis, to which Rhetoric and Grammar also serve.
  24. Analysis depends chiefly upon the observation of the scope or purpose, and the means by which it is attained, according to the act of Logic.
  25. To this must be subjoined for confirmation, the interpretation of those things which are doubtful in the Analysis; but obvious things, those which are perspicuous in themselves, neither require nor allow for a needless interpretation.
  26. HANDLING a doctrine consists partly in proving what might be questioned by the hearers (for it is unfit to carefully confirm what all acknowledge), and partly in illustrating the thing that is sufficiently proved.
  27. PROVING ought to be taken out of the clearer testimonies of Scripture; reasons may also be added where the nature of the thing will allow. But here, that measure is to be kept which the good of the hearers will dictate.
  28. ILLUSTRATION may be drawn almost from all inventive places; but contrasting and comparative arguments have the chief place here.
  29. Every doctrine being now sufficiently explained, we most insist that they must quickly be brought to use in this part also, unless some special reason otherwise requires; this is because it contains the end and good of the other, and it is more joined with the chief scope of the Sermon, namely the edification of the hearers.
  30. Those fail, therefore, who stick to a naked discovery and explication of the truth, and by neglecting its use and practice — in which Religion and so blessedness consist — do little or nothing to edify the conscience.
  31. Nor yet are all the doctrines which may be drawn out of the text to be propounded, or all the uses to be inculcated; but only those should be chosen which the circumstances of place, time, and persons teach to be most necessary; and of those, those especially are to be chosen which do most to stir up or confirm the life of Religion in the hearers.
  32. Those fail, therefore, who do not care much what they say, so long as they may seem to have observed and spoken many things. It is not seldom that they do this, so that they may extort many things out of the text which are not in it, and often draw from other places for it, bringing everything out of many things; indeed by doing so, what follows is the subversion rather than the edification of the hearers, especially when it is done by those who are more unskillful.
  33. Both doctrine and use ought to be framed, as much as possible, so they have some connexion between them, and also show it. For the mind is not drawn from one thing to another without disprofit; nor is there anything that helps memory more than an order of deduction.
  34. A USE is a Theological Axiom, drawn from the doctrine [thesis 21], showing the profit, goodness, or end of it.
  35. The reason for the deduction is to be clarified if it is not very plain; to this also must be subjoined a proof or illustration, as the needs of the hearers and the prudence of the speaker suggest.
  36. This use either pertains to the judgment, or to the practice, 2Tim 3.16.
  37. In the JUDGMENT there is Information, and Reformation of the mind.
  38. INFORMATION is the proving of some truth.
  39. REFORMATION is the confutation of some error.
  40. But although every truth may be taught on some occasion, yet every error is not to be refuted everywhere. For old heresies where they are already buried, are not to be dug up again so that they may be refuted; nor are wicked blasphemies to be readily repeated. This troubles and offends, especially when they are solemnly named, explained, and refuted.
  41. In the practice of life, there is DIRECTION, which consists of instruction and correction.
  42. INSTRUCTION is a demonstration of that life that is to be followed.
  43. CORRECTION is a condemning of that life that is to be shunned.
  44. After the declaration, application ought to follow, which so greatly agrees with a derivation of uses, that it may often be mingled with the declaration.
  45. To apply a doctrine to its use, is to so whet and clothe some general truth with special accommodation, that it may pierce the minds of those who are present with a moving of godly affections.
  46. Men are to be so pricked to the quick, that they may each experience what the Apostle said, namely, that the Word of the Lord is a two-edged sword that pierces into the inward thoughts and af ections, and goes through to the joining together of the bones and the marrow. Preachers therefore ought not to be dead, but lively and effectual, so that an unbeliever coming into the Congregation of the faithful ought to be so affected, and as it were, dug through at the very hearing of the Word, that he may give glory to God. 1Cor 14.25, And so the hidden things of the heart are made manifest; and so falling down on his face, he will worship God, and say that God is in you indeed.
  47. But this application either respects an oppressed mind (as consolation to it); or fainting in the prosecution of good (as an exhortation); or in avoiding evil (as an admonition).
  48. CONSOLATION is the application of some argument either to take away, or to mitigate, grief and oppressing fear.
  49. In consolation, marks are profitably joined by which the conscience of a man may be assured that such a benefit pertains to him; the Minister comforts the consciences of believers with the consideration of this, adding occupations and refutations of those things which a pious and troubled mind may bring up and think of, that are to the contrary.
  50. EXHORTATION is the application of an argument either to beget, cherish, and excite some inward virtue, or to further the exercise of it.
  51. In an exhortation to virtue, it is very profitable to show the means which tend to beget that virtue in us; but let it all be proved by passages of Scripture and by examples, or by reasons which have a firm foundation in the Scriptures.
  52. ADMONITION is the application of an argument to correct some vitiousness.
  53. In admonition, or dehortation from vice, there may be remedies adjoined out of those places of Scripture which are most likely to prevail against those vices.
  54. The manner of working in all these must be such that it has no ostentation of human wisdom, or intermingling of human affections; rather, the demonstration of the Spirit should be manifested everywhere. 1Cor 1.17, Not with skill of speaking lest the Cross of Christ be made of no ef ect; 1Cor 2.1, 4, Not with excellence of speech or wisdom; not in persuading words of men’s wisdom, but in spiritual and powerful demonstration; 1Cor 2.13, Not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches; for it is the word of the Spirit, the word of Life, which is preached to edification about God, which is by Faith; to which if anything is not fitly spoken or done, it is as vain as hay and stubble, 1Cor 3.12.
  55. Therefore human testimonies, whatever they are, and Histories known only to the learned, should not be intermingled except rarely (the reason also being indicated which constrains one to do so) — when urgent necessity or certain hope of fruit seems to require such a thing; much less should words or sentences of Latin, Greek, or Hebrew be used, which the people do not understand.
  56. The purity, perfection, and majesty of the Word of God is violated while it seems to lack the mixture of human words, and with that, a scandal is given to the hearers, who being accustomed to such human flourishes, often contracting itching ears, begin to loathe the simplicity of the Gospel, and will not tolerate wholesome doctrine, 2Tim 4.3.
  57. We have the example of Paul, who cites a very few and brief sayings of heathen Poets, not naming the Authors, in order to convince the Gentiles to whom they were known and approved of; and that was very seldom, and only by the way. This example does nothing to enforce that necessity or profit which those urge who obtrude human testimonies frequently, and purposely, commending the authors with almost the same solemnity with which they cite the names of the prophets; and they do that among Christians who only desire to hear Christ, and do it to display some learning.
  58. Also unnecessary to be followed are far-fetched Proems or persuasive words of Orators; nor should they love digressions or excursions. They favour a human spirit, waste time, and exclude other things which would edify more.
  59. But if any Exordium pertaining to the present matter is used, that will have its proper place either in the declaration of the text, or in applying it to the use of the text.
  60. The speech and action ought to be wholly spiritual, flowing from the very heart; showing a man very conversant in exercises of piety, who also has persuaded himself beforehand, and thoroughly settled in his own conscience, those things to which he endeavours to persuade others; and into which, finally, there is Zeal, Charity, Mildness, Freedom, and Humility, with grave authority.
  61. The pronouncing of the speech must be both natural, familiar, clear, and distinct, so that it may be fitly understood; and also agreeable to the matter, so that it may move the affections. Gal 4.20, I would now be present with you, and change my voice, because I am in doubt of you.
  62. Among others, here are two voices that are most to be criticized: the one which is heavy, slow, singing, and drowsy, in which not only the words are separated with a pause, the same as a comma, but even the syllables in the same word are separated, to the great hindrance of the understanding of things.
  63. The other voice which most offends here is that which is hasty and swift, which overturns the ears with too much celerity, so that there is no distinct perceiving of things.
  64. That type of speech, pronunciation, and action which would be ridiculous in the senate, in places of judgment, or in the Court, is even more to be avoided in a Sermon.
  65. The efficacy of the Holy Spirit more clearly appears in a naked simplicity of words, than in elegance and neatness. Hence Paul said he was ἰδιώτης τῷ λόγω, rude in speech, 2Cor 11.6. Yet if anyone has a certain outward force of speaking, he ought to use it with genuine simplicity.
  66. So much affectation as appears: so much efficacy and authority is lost.
  67. The sum is that nothing is to be admitted which does not make for the spiritual edification of the people; nor is anything to be omitted whereby we may in a sure way attain to that end.
  68. An appendix of the Sermon is PRAYER, both before and after.
  69. In Prayer going before, those general things ought to be propounded whereby the end and use of the word and preaching, and our wants, unworthiness, and duty, together with the gracious promises of God, may be so brought to remembrance that the minds of all may be stirred up humbly to seek, and to faithfully observe, the Will of God.
  70. In Prayer following after, giving thanks is always to be sued, and the chief heads of the Sermon should be turned into petitions.

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