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Jonathan Edwards on the Attributes of Good Preaching | by Pastor Steve Cornell

By April 9, 2010June 20th, 2014No Comments

With the rise of John Piper and his ministry, there has also been a resurgence of puritan writers and their teaching, of whom Jonathan Edwards holds a chief position of honor. Much of John Piper’s teaching ministry is rooted in the teaching of Jonathan Edwards. While surfing the web for information that might be of value for preachers today, I came across the following short article by a Pastor Steve Cornell. This article lays forth 10 characteristics of good preaching found in the preaching of Jonathan Edwards. Have fun with the article, and I trust that those of you who are preachers are continually growing in the ministry and craft of preaching the Word. Enjoy!

(One final challenge: Which one of these 10 attributes of good preaching is most lacking in today’s churches in your opinion? Post your thoughts.)

In his book, The Supremacy of God in Preaching (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990), Dr. John Piper writes that God-centred expository preaching was the key to the New England revival under Jonathan Edwards (1734–1744). Piper sets forth ten characteristics of Edwards’ preaching which serve as a paradigm for today.

1. Preaching Stirs Up Holy Affections – Good preaching aims at stirring up holy affections. These include a hatred towards sin and a delight in God, as well as a growing desire for holiness, tenderness and compassion.

2. Preaching Enlightens the Mind – Sound preaching enlightens the mind and burns the heart. According to Edwards a preacher must shine and burn. There must be heat in the heart and light in the mind. Affections that do not arise from an enlightened mind are not holy affections but instead are simply emotional responses. (We would do well to head this insightful thought in light of the trends of emotional manipulation in our day.)

3. Preaching is Saturated With Scripture – Edwards held the firm conviction that good preaching is saturated with Scripture. Every sermon must steadily, constantly and frequently quote the Word of God. This truth will ensure that we stay on track as faithful ministers of the Word.

4. Preaching Employs Analogies and Images – Abstract truth must be fleshed out. Edwards argued that vivid images touch the heart more than anything else. Piper informs us that Edwards strained at making heaven look irresistibly beautiful and the torments of hell look intolerably horrible.

5. Preaching Uses Threats and Warnings – In our day of politically correct language and blind tolerance, Edwards argues for threat and warning since it restrains one from sin and excites one to spiritual exercise. (A true preacher today may not necessarily be a popular preacher.)

6. Preaching Pleads for a Response – Sound preaching seeks a response. Edwards, like Spurgeon after him, pointed out: “Sinners . . . should be earnestly invited to come and accept the Savior, and yield their hearts unto him, with all the winning, encouraging arguments for them . . . that the Gospel affords.” (Piper, p.92)

7. Preaching Probes the Workings of the Heart – Piper points out that powerful preaching is like surgery. “Under the anointing of the Holy Spirit, it locates, lances, and removes the infection of sin.” (Piper, p.95) He shows that Edwards probed his own heart and therefore knew the heart of others. Sorting out the wheat from the chaff in his own church gave Edwards great insightfulness into the heart of man.

8. Preaching Yields to the Holy Spirit – Since all preaching is totally dependent on the work of the Holy Spirit, prayer is an essential for good preaching.

9. Preaching is From a Tender and Broken Heart – Good preaching flows from a spirit of brokenness and tenderness. Edwards pointed out that the eye of blessing is upon the meek and trembling (Is. 66:2).

10. Preaching is Intense– The reality of heaven and hell ignites renewal and infuses the pulpit with power. The preacher is conscious of his responsibility as he declares eternal truths.

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