When it comes to the galaxy of Puritan preaching, the name of William Perkins shines brightly. His famous work on preaching, The Art of Prophesying, remains a classic in the field.
More than four hundred years ago, Perkins delivered some addresses at Cambridge on the subject “The Calling of the Ministry, Describing the Duties and Dignities of that Calling.” John Brown helpfully summarizes the main points of these lectures in his Puritan Preaching in England; A Study of Past and Present (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1900), 74-76.
Most of us in this place are either prophets or sons of prophets. If we are prophets we are God’s messengers and must preach God’s Word as God’s Word and deliver it as we received it. For as many men mar a good tale in the telling, so we must see to it lest we take away the power and majesty of God’s Word in the manner of delivering it.
Every true minister is a double interpreter–God’s interpreter to the people by preaching to them from God, and the people’s interpreter to God, laying open their wants, confessing their sins, craving pardon and forgiveness for, and in their names giving thanks for mercies received, thus so offering up their spiritual sacrifices to God.
So that everyone who either is, or intends to be a minister needs that tongue of the learned of which Isaiah speaks, by which he may be able to speak a word in season to him that is weary. To be able to speak with this tongue the minister must first be furnished with human learning, next with divine knowledge, and besides these with that inward learning taught by the Spirit of God. The two first he must learn from men, the third from God: a true minister must be inwardly taught by the spiritual schoolmaster, the Holy Ghost.
He must not only have the knowledge of divine things flowing in his brain, but engraven in his heart and printed in his soul by the spiritual finger of God. After all his own study, meditation, conference, commentaries, after all human helps he must pray with the Psalmist, “Open thou mine eyes that I may see the wonders of thy Law.”
Then too he must labor for sanctity and holiness of life. A minster is to declare the reconciliation betwixt God and man, and is he himself no reconciled? Dare he present another man to God’s mercy for pardon and never yet presented himself? Can he commend the state of grace to another, and never felt the wetness thereof in his own soul? Dare he come to preach sanctification with polluted lips and out of an unsanctified heart?
Let all true ministers of God first be God’s interpreters to their own consciences, and their own souls’ interpreters to God, then shall they know more perfectly how to discharge the office of true interpreters betwixt God and His people.
And while they must privately confer, visit, admonish and rebuke, yet principally they must preach, and that in such good manner and in so diligent measure as they may redeem and win souls–the end they must aim at must be to win souls.
Some preach for fear of the law, to avoid censure or punishment; some for fashion’s sake, that they may be like others; some for ostentation’s sake to win credit and praise; some for ambition, to rise in the world! All these forget their commission, which is to deliver a man from going down to hell.