As stated in the previous two posts, John Piper distills ten habits of preaching that made Jonathan Edwards an effective preacher of the gospel. He was a powerful instrument in the hand of God as he sought to make God supreme in all of his preaching. By comparison, I am an extremely poor communicator with a relatively immature view of God. However, I would be blessed should God grant that I become even half as faithful in proclaiming the gospel as the late Edwards. For the benefit of others, I have summarized Piper’s analyses in my own words.
7. Probe the Workings of the Heart:
All true preaching seeks to move the heart for that is where the sinner has turned from God. Piper writes, “Powerful preaching is like surgery. Under the anointing of the Holy Spirit, it locates, lances, and removes the infection of sin.” Since is like a cancerous gangrene eating away the soul of man, and without radical amputation it will destroy every one of us. The Holy Spirit penetrates the hardness of our hearts and removes the heart of stone in order to replace it with a heart of flesh. The Holy Spirit makes us sensitive to the things of God. I heard a preacher once say, “Hard preaching makes soft people.” I think that’s very true. Preaching hard truths in a loving, compelling way softens the hearts of people as the Holy Spirit does the work.
Jonathan Edwards was “convinced of the extraordinary deceitfulness of the heart” and how often its sinful appetites blind the mind and force it into complete subjection. Jeremiah 17:9 informs us that the heart is more deceitful than we will ever realize, and that we should not trust it. In fact, we are to trust the Lord rather than our own wisdom or ways. A preacher should be well-acquainted with the deceitfulness of his own heart so that he may properly address the hearts of others. Human beings are so often self-deceived, but the word of God shines a penetrating light upon the true nature of the heart as the Holy Spirit provides the power to change. Preachers should endeavor to make it a life pursuit to study the human heart in light of Scripture in order to more effectively become “surgeons of the soul.” “[Such preaching],” Piper writes, “uncovers the secret things of the heart. And more than once it has led to great awakening in the church.” With the light of Scripture, we must… Probe the heart. Probe the heart. Probe the heart.
8. Yield to the Holy Spirit in Prayer:
Edwards delivered a sermon entitled “The Most High, a Prayer-Hearing God.” In a previous post (Edwards on Prayer), I discussed some of Edwards’ thoughts on prayer: “God has been pleased to constitute prayer to be antecedent [coming before] to the bestowment of mercy; and he is please to bestow mercy in consequence of prayer, as though he were prevailed on by prayer.” Essentially, Edwards was saying that God has designed prayer to come before the deliverance of his mercy and it often seems that human prayer has the power to move the heart of God. In reality, God has set his mercy up so that it is released to us through genuine, persevering prayer. He rewards our faith with mercy even though we are entirely helpless and ill-deserving.
The preacher, of all people, must be a man of prayer. He must labor diligently and dependently in prayer. His preaching must be under the divine influence if it is to be powerful and effective. Prayer should precede and accompany preaching that aims to move human hearts. The Holy Spirit is the one who fills the heart with holy affections and the heart gives words to the mouth. Edwards said, “When a person is in an holy and lively frame in secret prayer, it will wonderfully supply him with matter and with expressions… [in] preaching.” He further remarked, “Ministers, in order to be burning and shining lights, should walk closely with God, and keep near to Christ… And they should be much in seeking God, and conversing with him by prayer, who is the fountain of light and love.” Prayer, for the Christian and especially the preacher, should be as natural to us as breathing. Edwards described it as “the breath by which the inward burnings of my heart had vent.” Powerful preaching comes from persistent prayer that desperately pleads for the mercy of God to be delivered through the Spirit of power and love.
9. Be Broken and Tenderhearted:
“God is near to the broken-hearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). The greatest knowledge of God comes through brokenness. Brokenness demonstrates a recognition of our own helpless estate before God and our need for His mercy. It shows a complete dependence on Him to lift us up with His tender hands. John Piper writes that “Good preaching comes from a spirit of brokenness and tenderness.” A heart that has been tenderized by the Lord will be able to lead others toward His tender embrace. Jesus had great power and authority, but he was most attractive because he was “gentle and lowly in heart” (Matt. 11:29). His presence was restful for those who were completely restless and burdened with sin.
The preacher who is gripped by God’s grace will be filled with “a tender affection that sweetens every promise and softens with tears every warning and rebuke.” The Spirit makes such tender-hearted preachers when He shows them the incredible realities of heaven and hell. He is able to speak of such weighty matters with a sweet, yet intense soberness. Edwards’ own words are most fitting here:
All gracious affections… are brokenhearted affections. A truly Christian love… is a humble, brokenhearted love. The desires of the saints, however earnest, are humble desires: their hope is an humble hope; and their joy, even when it is unspeakable, and full of glory, is a humble, brokenhearted joy, and leaves the Christian more poor in spirit, and more like a little child and more disposed to an universal lowliness of behavior.
“Edwards was persuaded from Scripture that ‘gracious affections do not tend to make men bold, forward, noisy, and boisterous; but rather to speak trembling.’” The Lord looks to those who are humble and contrite in spirit and tremble at His word (Isaiah 66:2). Preachers and teachers should be of such quality—humble-hearted in their spirits. How shall it ever be seen in the congregation, if it is not exemplified by their pastor? A preacher gripped by his own wretched depravity, his utter sinfulness, will be the first to run to Christ and plead with others to join him there. It is in such hearts where Christ is “all in all” as He was intended to be. As Piper has often said, it is Christ who will make us “lion-hearted and lamb-like.”
10. Be Intense:
Intensity is attractive. It’s also overwhelming. It confronts us with the reality that something very important is before us. The preaching of the gospel should leave an impression that something very great is at stake. By its very nature, intensity demands attention. In preaching, eternity is at stake for every soul that is present. Such preaching requires an intensity that communicates passion. Passion may not always appear as emotional enthusiasm; often it does not and should not. Instead, passion is expressed in a raw seriousness, a blood-earnest desire to communicate a life-and-death reality. Piper writes, “Lack of intensity in preaching can only communicate that the preacher does not believe or has never been seriously gripped by the reality of which he speaks—or that the subject matter is insignificant.”
Horatius Bonar, a pastor from the 19th Century wrote of “the kind of preachers God has been pleased to use to awaken his church through the centuries”:
They felt their infinite responsibility as stewards of the mysteries of God and shepherds appointed by the Chief Shepherd to gather in and watch over souls. They lived and labored and preached like men on whose lips the immortality of thousands hung. Everything they did and spoke bore the stamp of earnestness, and proclaimed to all with whom they came into contact that the matters about which they had been sent to treat were of infinite moment… Their preaching seems to have been of the most masculine and fearless kind, falling on the audience with tremendous power. It was not vehement, it was not fierce, it was not noisy; it was far too solemn to be such; it was massive, weighty, cutting, piercing, sharper than a two-edged sword.
The gospel is too powerful and too important to be preached half-heartedly. A man genuinely gripped by such truths will be unable to contain the intense passion that compels him to preach with a blood-earnest desire to see souls saved and made into the image of Christ Jesus.