Three Puritans on Preaching: The Early Church, the Middle Age, and Their Age

God hath seemed to have reserved it for a great blessing to the last age of the world that, for aught appears to us from any books, it hath been more fertile of such preaching than any since that of the apostles. The ancient church had persons that did famously in their generations; such were Chrysostom in the Greek, and Augustine in the Latin church; but besides that they were but very few, whoso reads the one and the other must compliment antiquity at a great rate, if himself hath any judgment, and doth not say that multitudes in the last age have been as to preaching greater than they. In the former are to be found many judicious explications of scripture, many honest and spiritual discourses; in the latter, not these things only, but a pleasantness of wit and fancy. But for plenty of matter, clearness of judgment, orderliness of method, and many other things, they have not been a little exceeded by men of this last age. Nor is it any disparagement to them, more than it was to John the Baptist, that ‘the least in the kingdom of heaven’ was to be ‘greater than he;’ or to Christ, that the apostles, John xiv. 12, were to do greater things than he had done. In the middle ages of the church, preaching generally was turned into trifling about scholastic niceties; and to the very dawning of the Reformation the priests’ texts were out of Scotus or Aquinas; and we remember they were not ashamed when Luther, Melancthon, etc., restored in some degree the true kind of preaching, to petition magistrates for the suppression of it, and a liberty to trifle still in that great work of God with discourses upon Scotus and Aquinas. Though Luther, Zuinglius, and others in Germany, and Mr. Calvin, Farellus, and Viret, and Beza, in France, about a hundred and fifty years since mended this matter in a great degree, yet we all know how ill their examples were followed; so as Mr. Perkins, who began to flourish about the year 1580, is generally judged to have been the first who amongst us restored preaching to its true use, and taught us the true manner of it, whose piety was followed by many; but as their number hath vastly increased since that time, especially in the fifty or sixty years last past, so God hath seemed to pour out his Spirit upon ministers, as to spiritual gifts, in a more plentiful measure, yet in very different proportions, that he might have some to feed his lambs, as well as others to feed his sheep. The generality of good preachers have made it their business to preach Christ, and the exceeding riches of his grace, and to study matter rather than words, upon Mr. Perkins old principle verba sequentur res. But all have not had alike fertile invention, or solid judgment, or alike skill and learning in languages and arts, etc. Some particular persons have been blessed with them all, by which they have made stars of the first magnitude in the church of God.




August 1684 To the Reader in preface to Manton’s Sermons on Matt. 25