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Hiding Our Wisdom?

March 20, 2007

For today’s Classic Materials we enjoy a short dose of William Perkins. No doubt this will please my good friend Christopher Ross (over at the Conventicle) who in his phD studies is practically ‘pastored’ by this Puritan giant! From The Art of Prophesying, our intriguing quote strikes a major blow against all attempts to persuade others by wise ‘erudition.’

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“Now we must think about the actual preaching itself. Here two things are essential: (i) the hiding of human wisdom, and (ii) the demonstration or manifestation of the Spirit.

Human wisdom must be concealed, both in the content of the sermon and in the language we use. The preaching of the Word is the testimony of God and the profession of the knowledge of Christ; not of human skill. Furthermore, the hearers ought not to ascribe their faith to the gifts of men, but to the power of God’s Word (1 Cor 2:1, 2, 5).

But this does not mean that pulpits will be marked by a lack of knowledge or education. The minister may, and in fact must, privately make free use of the general arts and of philosophy as well as employ a wide variety of reading while he is preparing his sermon.

But in public exposition these should be hidden from the congregation, not ostentatiously paraded before them. As the Latin proverb says, Artis etiam celare artem – it is also the point of art to conceal art.

The demonstration of the Spirit (1 Cor 2:4) becomes a reality when, in preaching, the minister of the Word conducts himself in such a way that everyone – even those who are ignorant of the gospel and are unbelievers – recognise that it is not so much the preacher who is speaking, but the Spirit of God in him and by him (Mic 3:8; 1 Cor 2:4, 14:2). This is what makes his ministry living and powerful (Luke 11:27).

Such a ‘demonstration’ will come to expression either in speech or gesture. The speech must be spiritual and gracious. Spiritual speech is speech which the Holy Spirit teaches (1 Cor 2:13). It is both simple and clear, tailored to the understanding of the hearers and appropriate for expressing the majesty of the SPirit (Acts 17:2, 3; 2 Cor 4:2-4; Gal 3:1).

For this reason, none of the specialised vocabluary of the arts, nor Greek and Latin phrases, nor odd turns of phrase should be used in the sermon. These distract the minds of those listeners who cannot see the connection between what has been said and what follows.”

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2 comments

  1. Great post. I posted today on Hercules Collins on the preparation of a sermon. I actually took Perkins book off my shelf this weekend to see if Collins was dependent upon Perkins in his explanation of the preparation of the sermon. I see similarities, but noting conclusive. I’m still researching though!


  2. That’s an interesting connection Steve. I’ll keep my eye on your posts to see what you come up with. Hope you are well…



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