December 14, 2017

Insight into Substantive Preaching (1)

Mark Minnick

On the desk beside me lies a 1694 first edition of forty sermons by the early London Baptist, Benjamin Keach (1640–1704). Keach, one of the predecessors in the ministry assumed by C. H. Spurgeon over two centuries later, entitled his volume A Golden Mine Opened: Or, The Glory of God’s Rich Grace Displayed in the Mediator to Believers. The book’s yellowed pages throw open a revealing window back into both the style and substance of what was evidently the norm for preaching among seventeenthcentury Baptists and Puritans. I’m interested in that. Here’s why.

Not just Fundamentalist observers, but even many of the more conservative sort of Evangelicals, are dismayed at the deceptive mutation that is foisted off as preaching in many contemporary pulpits.

“There is a discernable trend in contemporary evangelicalism away from biblical preaching and a drift toward an experience-centered, pragmatic, topical approach in the pulpit” (John MacArthur).

“Biblical preaching’s authenticity is significantly tarnished by contemporary communicators who are more concerned with personal relevance than with God’s revelation” (Richard Mayhue).

“Much of what now emanates from contemporary pulpits would not have been recognized [in the past] as being anywhere close to the kind of expository preaching that is Bible-based, Christ-focused, and life-changing—the kind of preaching that is marked by doctrinal clarity, a sense of gravity, and convincing argument” (Alistair Begg).

“We have fallen so far from their [Jonathan Edwards, Thomas Chalmers, and the Puritans] conception of preaching that we couldn’t imitate it if we tried” (John Piper).

Is this merely “wolf-crying” to get attention? Or worse yet, to hawk new books? If not, what are these Evangelicals talking about? What’s their point? To understand, you’ve got to locate some point of reference with which to compare what’s new and mostly experimental with what’s been time-tested and unarguably effectual. That means resurrecting voices from the past. There are many worth listening to. Keach is one of them.

So I’d like to suggest a careful, leisurely reading of a sample of his preaching from A Golden Mine Opened. I assure you that I’ve not chosen some exceptional showpiece. It’s very much the general run of his mill.

In fact, my guess is that it may initially strike you as just that unexceptional. Except, that is, for one thing. By contemporary standards it’s exceptionally substantive. That is, it has a solid basis in Scripture. Not only in letter, but in spirit. It’s meaty.

Contemporary Christians lack health. Evangelicals say it’s the pulpit diet. So what does a really substantive meal look like? Taste like? For many years it’s been a kind of hobby with me to study the history of preaching. That study gives me confidence to make the claim that what we’re going to be reading was pretty typical Lord’s Day fare in the stronger sort of churches a few centuries ago.

I’ve got one problem, however. Substantial sermons evidently aren’t short. So it’s going to take two issues to get this one out in front of us. Then we’re also going to need even more space to discuss it.

But for starters, let me suggest some of the chemistry to note. (1) The amount of doctrinal content. (2) The percentage of that doctrinal content that’s Christological. It’ll take the whole sermon to get at this, but we’ll still form up a pretty accurate impression from just this first installment. (3) The elevated spirit of the language with which he expresses those doctrines (this, I think, is especially instructive). (4) The number of Scriptures employed—that is, Keach’s studied effort to ground his assertions in a multiplied Biblical theology but then, in addition, (5) his judicious use of systematic theology to weave the stout threads of those Bible texts into a comprehensive doctrinal fabric.

Just one more suggestion. If you’d be willing to reflect as you read, I think you’d find it very profitable to isolate visually the many varied doctrines he combines almost seamlessly within the discourse. How about jotting them down in the margins as you read?

Ready? Got a pen handy? The three-centuries-old style will slow us down (that’s probably good), but this, I trust, will prove to be both an instructive and an inspirational tour of a sermon of substance! It’s the second in a series of sermons on Hebrews 2:3. See what you think.

Gospel Salvation Is a Great and Glorious Salvation

How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation? (Heb. 2:3)

I am about the proof and demonstration of the first point of doctrine raised in our text. That Gospel-salvation is a great and glorious salvation. I have spoken of this already under five considerations. Now sixthly.

It is so if we consider the glory and greatness of the persons who sat in counsel about bringing it in and working it out for sinful man. We commonly judge of the greatness of an undertaking and the glory of the work by considering the dignity, glory, wisdom, power and greatness of the persons concerned in it. …

To be continued…

Dr. Mark Minnick is the pastor of Mount Calvary Baptist Church in Greenville, South Carolina, and serves as adjunct professor of preaching and exposition at Bob Jones Seminary.

(Originally published in FrontLine • January / February 2004. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)

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