This phrase, “light and heat,” can bring a lot of things to mind. For some, it sounds like the product of a secret military weapon. For others, it is a fitting description of Superman’s laser eyesight, which can melt steel like a popsicle. Yet for others, light and heat are the primary reasons you should never leave a leather-bound Bible on the dash of your car. However, this phrase is particularly significant in the field of preaching. Light and heat represent the primary concerns of some of history’s most faithful preachers, the Puritans.
The Puritans were a diverse group of preachers who lived during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. They were convinced the Church of England needed to be reformed. Their primary weapon for reformation was the pulpit and preaching the Word of God. Puritan sermons confronted the religious mediocrity of their day. They boldly called sinners to repentance and believers to an unflinching devotion in Christ. Their preaching is sometimes referred to as “puritan plain style.” However, this preaching was far from dry and lifeless in its content and focus. With laser-like aim, Puritans sought to present their hearers with the gripping realities of a sovereign and transcendent God. They proclaimed the justness of God’s wrath and the extravagance of his grace. Their aim was to bring Glory to God through the preaching of clear biblical doctrines.
What is Light?
Light was of great concern in Puritan preaching. For the Puritans, light refers to the preaching of the pure Word of God.R. Bruce Bickel, Light and Heat: The Puritan View of the Pulpit, (Orlando: Northampton Press, 1999), 29. Puritans were empathically focused on Scripture. They wanted the Word of God to be proclaimed in a way that was undiluted and uncorrupted by the world surrounding them. They understood faithful preaching was a tool God’s Spirit used to penetrate the hardened and darkened hearts of sinners. Through preaching, hearts could be transformed with the knowledge of the judgment of God and the lavish grace of God available to sinners. Puritan preaching sought to illuminate these truths and often did so with powerful effects upon its hearers.
The Contemporary Need for Light
The example of the Puritans is both inspiring and instructive for contemporary preachers. The Puritans went against the status quo of their day to the benefit of their hearers. Their biblical sermons made the truth of God accessible to a generation inundated with religious trappings, yet devoid of spiritual power. We can learn much by studying the example of the Puritans. Their conviction that light from Scripture was to penetrate darkness remains instructive for preachers. Here are a few takeaways for preachers today:
Preaching must remain central in the life of the Church. We live in an age where a roaming horde of methods, strategies, and approaches to ministry is on the prowl. Some skeptics go so far as to question the value and place of biblical preaching in the life of the church. However, the Puritan example reminds us of the centrality of the pulpit for Christian ministry. Puritans were effective because of the convictions that God’s Word—not man’s tradition, nor the world’s ideas—should drive the church. The pulpit and preaching remained paramount.
I love technology. I love seeing new levels of creativity point people to Gospel truth. To see how new innovations can be wielded for Gospel endeavors is wonderful. Yet, technology, creativity, and innovation must all be subservient to the conviction that people need God’s pure Word. A biblical ministry keeps God’s Word at the center of church life.
Confidence must be in the Word, not self. Puritan emphasis on light reminds us that what people really need is God’s Word. People will not be transformed by my awesome ideas, my eloquence, my humor, my wisdom, or my personality. What people really need is light from God’s Word. Light from God’s Word can loosen the grip of indwelling sin within the human heart and help one resist sin that would entangle and ensnare them. God’s Word is the remedy people need.
As preachers, we must be confident in the Word, not in our own abilities. I am not suggesting that good communication skills have no place in preaching. Preachers should work hard to communicate well. Remember, more light is reflected from a polished and clear mirror than from a dirty and dingy one. Yet, human skill and preparation mean nothing without the conviction that God’s Word makes the eternal difference.
Puritan Discipleship: Hearing can produce doing. Puritan preaching was not a dry academic exercise. Puritan preachers understood that, through God’s grace, the hearing of the Word could produce real change in people. The Puritans expected people to respond to their preaching in specific ways. Puritans are well-known for giving their hearers “uses.” These “uses” are similar to what we might call “points of application.” Puritan preachers anticipated when people were confronted with God’s Word, they would need to do something about it.
Preaching should be composed of spiritually transforming works that significantly contribute to discipleship. A preacher’s heart should be molded and refined by regular encounters with the Word of God in the study. This process should result in him being a person who is growing as a “doer” of God’s Word in his own life. The same should be said of receptive hearers. Our people should be shaped, changed, challenged, convicted, and emboldened to follow Jesus in their own lives as they hear God’s Word. They should become more faithful disciples by hearing how the Word applies to their lives. Puritans understood God could use their preaching to bring about real change in people as truth was put to use.
Did you know that light travels at about 186,000 miles per second? That’s fast. Sound travels far slower at a mere 343 meters per second. The comparison between light and sound is helpful for preachers. God’s Word is the light people need. When God’s Word is preached, the impact will go further than we can imagine. Our words, no matter how eloquent or witty, will have far less reach than the light of God’s Word unleashed. So, keep laboring in the text and preaching the Word so that light can be let loose in a dark world!
J. Dace Clifton is the Pastor of First Baptist Church in Hico, Texas, a Ph.D. candidate at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, an adjunct professor at Arlington Baptist University, and a regular contributor to Daily Pastor.
|↑1||R. Bruce Bickel, Light and Heat: The Puritan View of the Pulpit, (Orlando: Northampton Press, 1999), 29.|