Home > C. H. Spurgeon, Calvinism, Christian Authors, church history, church life > Puritan Preaching: the Application (Counseling)

Puritan Preaching: the Application (Counseling)


From J.I. Packer’s concluding lectures on the English Puritans come the following insights on Puritan preaching. The Puritan preacher, a physician of the soul, had three areas of focus: preaching, catechizing the children (education), and counseling. The Puritans did not use the word ‘counseling’ or think of it as we do, yet that is what they did, and effectively so, through the “applicatory” part of their sermons, which was often a large part of the overall sermon. Packer observes the importance of this, something that has been largely forgotten and lost; much of what is now done in “Christian counseling” in the pastor’s office, could and should instead be done through the pulpit.

What Packer describes is exactly what I have observed in Spurgeon’s sermons, that very helpful, “practical” aspect which I first observed 5-6 years ago, when I began reading through Spurgeon sermons (along with J.C. Ryle), noting in agreement with another blog commenter (note this blog comment and later references to it, at this Pyromaniacs post from 2010) this feature of Spurgeon’s sermons; though Spurgeon is often known for his strong doctrinal stance quotes, in actual sermon reading this is what comes through. Not surprisingly, later on in this section of lectures, Packer himself noted Spurgeon as one who understood and exemplified this Puritan approach – that Spurgeon was experiential and applicatory from the word go.

As Packer further explained, in answer to a question: this approach was lost by the end of the 17th century, especially after the ejection of Puritan preachers in 1662, a time when the mood in England turned against serious preaching. The Anglicans were the only ones left as preachers, and the people generally went along with their method of stringing together three points, a light-weight approach to preaching. The Great Awakening preachers returned to the Puritan style – George Whitfield, John Wesley, and John Newton, as did Spurgeon in the 19th century and Martyn Lloyd-Jones in the 20th. But as Packer notes: most have not thought it through; they haven’t seen how vital it is, and they think that “other forms (of sermon preaching) can make up for the fact that the preaching is weak.”

This application includes addressing the different types of people in the audience, with a word for each group. Each particular sermon may not address all the different people, but over a period of several weeks the various sermons will have something to say to each of the following groups:

  1. The “spiritually complacent” or hypocrites, who come to church as part of going through the motions; those who “need a bomb put under their seat,” to be awakened, to seek the Lord
  2. Those who are seeking in a general way, coming to find out general Christian teaching
  3. Those who “are not far from the kingdom,” who need specific guidance to come to Christ, to be taught the way of faith.
  4. Young Christians – often young in age, overall recent converts, the “little children” of John’s first epistle, who may be quite zealous for the faith though lacking maturity and greater understanding of doctrine.
  5. Mature believers. Often these are middle-aged or elderly, who need encouragement to continue, to keep on, to not flag spiritually as their bodies decline.
  6. Those in trouble, who have slipped badly in some moral issue, or are struggling with some temptation; though they may have kept it from others, yet they know of their failures. Perhaps they have almost yielded to a temptation, just generally struggling, or have experienced some personal trauma or disaster.

Puritan writing often expresses the application in terms of “use,” often with the words “use 1… use 2” etc., a feature I have seen in reading Puritan authors such as John Bunyan and Thomas Watson. Each of these areas of “use” follows from the text; given what this text says, what we are to consider, to apply in our lives positively, or to (negatively) depart from certain ideas we have that are contrary to scripture. Six of these “uses” are:

  1. Use of instruction or information
  2. Use of confutation
  3. Use of exhortation
  4. Use of admonition
  5. Use of comfort
  6. Use of trial   (self-examination)

The 5th one, use of comfort, again relates to the “counseling from the pulpit,” in which the preacher deals with actual questions from church members, including depressed people – who are very skilled at reasoning that excludes themselves from what the word of God says to everyone. And again I see this so descriptive of Spurgeon’s preaching, his constant emphasis on promises from God’s word, and reasons to reject such notions of why I am not fit to come to Christ.

Packer well summed up this overall issue:

We devote our pulpit ministry to teaching evangelical doctrine against liberalism or secularism, and when we’ve done that we think we’ve finished. We don’t do any serious applying, and we certainly don’t do this sort of applying. We don’t get within half a mile of doing any of our counseling from the pulpit. I think the Puritans have got something to say to us about this. I speak as to wise men and women, you judge what I say.

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  1. October 28, 2015 at 6:16 am

    Reblogged this on Talmidimblogging.

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