by John Jennings & Augustus Franck
Edited by Thomas and Colleen Witte
He preached Christ crucified our only wisdom and righteousness, sanctification and redemption. His design was to convince sinners of their absolute want of Christ, that with flaming affections they might come to him, and from his fulness receive divine grace. This is to water the tree at the root, whereby it becomes flourishing and fruitful; whereas the laying down of moral rules for the exercise of virtue, and subduing vicious affections, without directing men to derive spiritual strength by prayer, and in the use of divine ordinances, from the mediator the fountain of all grace; and without representing his love as the most powerful motive and obligation to obedience, is but pure philosophy, and the highest effect of it is but unregenerate morality.
When I see a book well written for the instruction of mankind, I always hope it will spread its good influences as far and wide as it finds readers. But when I meet with a valuable treatise, whose design is to improve the sacred skill of preaching, I am ready to persuade myself, “Surely this will be become a more extensive benefit; and the good influences of it will reach as many whole assemblies of men, as there are ministers who shall happen to read it.” For this reason I cannot but take a special satisfaction in recommending these two discourses to the world, which, in my opinion, are founded upon the general principles of Christianity, and therefore invite the perusal of all, being written without the narrow spirit of a party. They seem to be calculated for the common good, nor have I offered anything in them that can justly give disgust, or awaken any reasonable resentment.
It must be confessed, without controversy, that there are some things where in several of the preachers of the present time have the advantage of our learned and pious fathers: But there are other excellencies in the sermons of the puritanical age, which I would rejoice to find more studiously revived and cultivated in our day. Among these I know none of more eminent necessity, glory, and usefulness, than those two which are the subjects of this little book; I mean the evangelical turn of thought that should run through our ministry, and the experimental way of discourse on practical subjects.
It hath been justly observed, that where a great and universal neglect of preaching Christ hath prevailed in a Christian nation, it hath given a fatal occasion to the growth of deism and infidelity; for when persons have heard the sermons of their clergy, for many years together, and find little of Christ in them, they have taken it into their heads, that men may be very good men, and go safe to heaven without Christianity; and therefore, though they dwell in a land where the Gospel is professed, they imagine there’s no need they should be Christians. But what a blot and reproach would it be to our ministry, if infidels and heathens should multiply among us, through such a woeful neglect of preaching the peculiar doctrines of Christ?
Besides, let us consider how little hath been our success in comparison of the multitudes converted by our fathers in the day of their ministry. Hath not this been matter of sore complaint these many years past? Now it is worth our enquiry, whether it may not be ascribed to the absence of Christ in our sermons. And what reason indeed can we have to expect the presence and influence of the Spirit of Christ, if we leave his person, his offices, his grace, and his gospel, out of our discourses, or give but a slight and casual hint at these glorious subjects, which ought to be our daily theme. This is what our author would put us in mind of in his first discourse.
And perhaps another cause of our want of success hath been this, that we have too much left off the way of our fathers, in distinguishing the characters of our hearers, and dividing the word aright to saints and sinners, to the stupid and the profane, the awakened and convinced, the mournful and penitent, the presumptuous and obstinate, the deserted and despairing.
This method appears eminently in the labours of the former age. Those two great and good men, Mr. Flavell, and Mr. Baxter, might be divided in their sentiments on other subjects, but you find this conduct runs through all their practical writings. This is a great part of what the second discourse here recommends to us, under the title of Experimental Preaching.
Our author indeed assumes not so much to himself, as to address any besides students and younger ministers. But if in the middle age of life we should examine our performances by the light of this treatise, ‘tis possible we and our people might be gainers by it.
Have we not been too often tempted to follow the modish way, and speak to our hearers in general terms, as though they were all converted already, and sufficiently made Christians by a national profession? Have not some of us spent our labour to build them up in the practice of duties, without teaching them to search whether the foundation has been laid in an entire change and renovation of heart? Do we lead them constantly to enquire into the inward state of their souls, the special tempers and circumstances of their spirits, their peculiar difficulties, dangers and temptations, and give them peculiar assistance in all this variety of the Christian life?
With how much more efficacy does the word of God impress the conscience, when every hearer finds himself described without the preacher’s personal knowledge of him? When his own spiritual state is painted to the life, and (as it were) set before his eyes in the language of the preacher? When a word of conviction, advice, or comfort, is spoken so pertinently to his own case, that he takes it as directed to himself. How much more powerful and more penetrating will our sermons be, when those who come into our assemblies shall be convinced and judged, and have the secrets of their hearts made manifest, and confess that God is in the midst of us of a truth?
The perusal of these excellent discourses in manuscript hath given me so much satisfaction, that I take a sensible pleasure to think that the press will communicate them to the world; and then I hope for a further share of profit, by keeping them always at my right hand when I am preparing for the service of the sanctuary. May the blessed Spirit of God teach those who enter into the sacred office, this holy skill of winning souls! May He awaken us all to see what may be mended in our ministrations, in order to publish the gospel of Christ with more illustrious and divine success!
London, June 14, 1723.