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Ancient But Fresh

The Dead Preachers Society is one of the several areas of interest that occupy me.

We have held a conference on preaching past, present and future, and a reading day retreat on Augustine’s iconic book The City of God.

The idea of the Dead Preachers Society is to retrieve the wisdom embedded in ancient writings to use them in fresh ways today.

Since 2022 I have tried to post a daily tweet on Twitter/X. For most of the last year I have been tweeting quotes from the collected sermons of Jonathan Edwards that have been published in six elegant volumes by Yale University Press.

The one sermon that has produced the most tweets is one of Edwards’s later sermons: The True Excellency of a Minister of the Gospel. This was an ordination sermon based on John 5:35: “He is a burning and shining light.”

Edwards suggests that “the use of the light is threefold; to discover, to refresh, and to direct”.

  • The first to discover things, or to make them manifest. Without light nothing is to be seen.

  • Another use of light is to refresh and delight the beholders. Darkness is dismal: the light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is to behold the sun.

  • The third use of light is to direct. Ministers are set to be lights to men’s souls.

I was interested to see that Edwards seems to make a similar point to Augustine with his formula for preaching of “teach, delight and persuade”.

Preaching aims for clarity that helps hearers see the light plainly.

It also seeks to preach the truth in a way that reaches people in a refreshing and delightful way. Preaching is more than imparting information, which is good but never enough on its own.

Preaching also directs us into a new way of seeing and living as it moves beyond information and affections to life change and action.

That leads to the second emphasis of Edwards’s sermon that the preacher is a “burning light” who communicates heat and light when preaching.

“True grace is no dull, inactive, ineffectual principle; it is a powerful thing; there is an exceeding energy in it. And the reason is that God is in it.”

There is clearly a danger in preaching that is all heat but contains no light. The preacher gets excited and so do the hearers, but because it is not full of light all this enthusiasm leads nowhere. By contrast, when a preacher is gripped by the light of God’s truth hearers will feel the heat and energy of the message and be moved to listen and respond.

Perhaps preachers need to have a light and heat test when preparing to preach a sermon?

Does my sermon clearly communicate the message of God’s word?

Is my sermon full of light?

Does my sermon contain anything that connects with people’s affections, imagination and will in such a way that it will lead to change?

Does my sermon have energy and heat?

Sometimes it is worth asking the question “If I was a listener in this service would I want to listen to this preacher and hear this sermon?”

Photo by Jaël Vallée on Unsplash

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