Earlier this year Joel Beeke and Dustin Benge put together a festschrift for Steve Lawson entitled, Pulpit Aflame. The quality of festschrifts can vary greatly from one volume to the next. I was pleasantly surprised to find Pulpit Aflame abundantly useful.
One standout chapter is Sinclair Ferguson’s, “Preaching as Worship.” The chapter closer with Ferguson calling on an unknown Puritan named William Fenner. In 1657, Fenner published a work on the affections under, as Ferguson says, “a characteristically delicious Puritan title,” A Treatise on the Affections, or The Souls Pulse whereby a Christian may know whether he is living or dying: Together with a lively description of their nature, signs, and symptoms: As also directing men to a right of them.
Channeling Fenner, Ferguson gives us several reflections on worshipful, affectionate preaching.
5 Keys to Worshipful Preaching
- Affections are raised, fixed, and enflamed when ministers “preach to the life,” that is, when their exposition explains, describes, and expounds reality as it is. As James VI and I note of one Puritan, “He preaches as if death were at my back.”
- For this to become a reality in our own ministry of the word, we preachers must be full of affection. “Affection in the speaker is likely to beget affections in the hearer.” Fenner distinguishes this from mere externals in preaching. It is not a matter of personality type or communication skills, certainly not “emotionalism.” As Calvin notes, there are preachers who thus preach, but they leave their hearers cold and unmoved because they perceive that what they hear is only surface emotion and not truly the affections of the reasonable and volitional soul.
- Preachers must be marked by godliness in their own lives. Only in this way will their own affections be pure and worshipful, and only thus will they be appropriate vessels through whom Christ will touch and move the affections of their hearers. This is merely a matter of style but a quality of life.
- Intriguingly, Fenner adds that affectionate preaching will be expressed in the voice. Here he stands consciously in a long line of rhetorical theorists stretching back at least to Augustine who acknowledged that they could not explain this relationship, but they knew that it was the case. Fenner held that when the preacher’s affections are moved, this will become evident in the vehicle by which he expresses them to others.
- Fenner also notes that affections are expressed and evoked through the preacher’s actions in his preaching—admitting his own limitations precisely here.