John Piper has written a small, yet helpful book on The Supremacy of God in Preaching. In the book, Piper summarizes several characteristics of Jonathan Edwards’ preaching that serve to make God supreme. I will briefly summarize them, but a greater elaboration of the list is worth the price of the book.
1. Stir Up Holy Affections:
God-centered preaching aims to stir up “holy affections”–things like hatred for sin, delight in God, hope in His promises, gratitude for His mercy, desire for holiness, tender compassion toward His people. Edwards suggests that ministers should be catalysts for stirring up affections in their hearers only with those things truly worthy of affection (i.e., the truths of God). By aiming at the affections, preachers are seeking to hit the cause of behavior. People will think, feel, believe, and behave according to what is most important to them. Hence, the importance of stirring up holy affections so that the flame of the Holy Spirit might burn intensely within the heart of every believer. Edwards writes, “Gracious and holy affections have their exercise and fruit in Christian practice.” In short, if the tree is good, the fruit will be good. When God saves us, He gives us heart affections that delight in Him, depend on Him, and seek His glory above our own. Therefore, the best preaching targets the heart for it is the wellspring of life and the fountain from which our words and behaviors overflow.
2. Enlighten the Mind:
In preaching on John 5:35 about John the Baptist, Edwards emphasized that “a preacher must burn and shine. There must be heat in the heart and light in the mind–and no more heat than justified by the light.” The preacher will be passionate about the truths that he professes, because the Holy Spirit has enlightened his mind to see their significance. The faithful preacher will seek to give his hearers “a good reason” and “just ground” for the affections that he is trying to stir up. He neither manipulates the emotions nor ignores them. Through clear, distinct preaching, a preacher may enlighten the mind through the Holy Spirit’s application of divine truth. The truth gives light and sanctifies the understanding. Therefore, the preacher should exercise both heat and light in his private devotions and public preaching. He should be a “burning and shining light” who aims to impact the head and the heart so that the exercise of passion is actually the exercise of thoughtful passion. Drinking deeply of doctrine will result in an experience of deep delight in the person of God and the nature of His work in human lives.
3. Saturate with Scripture:
The power of great preaching is found in the word of God and the provision of the Holy Spirit. Piper writes, “Good preaching is ‘saturated with Scripture’ and not ‘based on Scripture.'” It doesn’t just bounce off of the biblical text. Instead it marinates in it, bathes in it, churns in the crucible of its grinding power. Piper writes, “Quote the text! Quote the text! Quote the text!” People need to know where the ideas of the preacher are coming from in Scripture. Edwards writes about Bible passages, “They are as it were the beams of light of the Sun of righteousness; they are the light by which ministers must be enlightened, and the light they are to hold forth to their hearers; and they are the fire whence their hearts and the hearts of their hearers must be enkindled.” I like that word, “enkindled.” It gives me the image of stoking up the fires of the mind by stirring up the smoldering coals that God put there. The fire came from heaven. We just have to stir up the coals by preaching the text clearly and convincingly.
Edwards had a passion for knowing the word of God so intimately that he would almost “bleed Bible” as John Bunyan was said to have done: “Resolved, To study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly, and frequently, as that I may find, and plainly perceive, myself to grow in the knowledge of the same.” He consumed the text as though he were a starving man turned loose upon the feast. May that be true of us as preachers, teachers, and lay ministers of His word. Every believer is a starving man who ought to hunger after the feast waiting at his fingertips. Edwards writes, “[Every preacher] must be well studied in divinity, well acquainted with the written word of God [and] mighty in the Scriptures.”
Father, we pray as both preachers and hearers to make us such men and women. Ignite a holy fire in our souls, an eternal restlessness to know you, love you, serve you, and proclaim you. Impassion our hearts, enlighten our minds, and make us mighty in the Scriptures. These things we pray for they can only be accomplished through your Spirit as a result of our faith in your Son. Thank you, Father. You are more gracious than we deserve. Amen