Saturday, December 5, 2009

Mr. Plain Jane, er, John

Now that I have wet your whistle about Puritan Preacher, William Perkins (you are interested, right?), let's dive into some of the things he said and preached, shall we?

Perkins was a second-generation Calvinist. Can you imagine? Just one generation before him across the channel and over the woods of France, there lived and breathed J.C. - getting down to business, writing a ton, pastoring a flock and sticking it to the pointy-hatted man! What a time to be alive! I would be jealous, but I'm a woman, and more than likely would have been nursing babies, cooking meals and probably not have the ability to read or write; so you might gather that I would rather enjoy reading about these two men and what they wrote than living during their time. Unless I was Calvin's second wife? But I digress.

Perkins had a natural way of writing and preaching which came to be known as "plain style." Now, you might think that plain style would be something rather boring to listen to, such as the simplest of sentences or I don't know, listening to a doctor give out just the facts in the plain speech of medical terms or something of the sort. Well, if you thought this, I must inform you that you would be wrong. Plain style, as Sinclair Ferguson so eloquently put it, is along the following line:

“The sermons of many plain-style preachers scintillated with vivid language and illuminating illustration; but the main business was to preach Christ and to reach the heart. Everything was subservient to this."

Vivid language, illuminating illustration - the closest that I can think that comes to this type of speech in our present day would be Alistair Begg, but I am sure that you could think of others as well. I firmly believe that C.S. Lewis falls into this type of speaker/writer as well, but we all know that I have a biased opinion of Saint Lewis.

Perkins was very good at preaching though. This is why there are stories recorded of him early on in his pastoring career when he was in a prison ministry - there was a man on the way to his death sentence, fearing the fate that was coming, and Perkins stopped the man and asked if he was ready to die. The man, literally quivering in his boots, told Perkins that he was not ready. Perkins prayed over the man and through the prayer so effectually led him to the depths of hell to show him the wonderful mercy of God that the man saw the gates of death close before him and knew his Savior. He walked on to his hanging and died gleaming from the mercy he had found.

Now I don't know about you, if you have ever been put in a situation where someone is quite literally fearing death or so depressed that they are in complete despair or even simply facing the question of eternity and the idea of God, but those situations are extremely frightening for me. I am so worried that I am going to jumble up the basic message of the Gospel, or that my sarcasm and general sinful self will turn them off to the idea of being apart of the body of Christ, or simply that I should not say anything to them because I am not qualified. Perkins is an inspiration to me during those times. He relied fully on the fact that the Spirit would speak through him, and he used all of his faculties and resources that God had given him to speak appropriately during those times. He did not shy away, he did not lace the Gospel message with any sort of promises of blessings to come (outside of the blessing of eternal life, which when you put any other sort of "blessing" face to face with that, do they even compare?). He used plain style, vivid language, useful and illuminating illustrations - plain and simple as that.

Maybe you are saying, well that's great, but I am not that smart, creative or witty. How will I be able to use a great, vivid, illustration during these times? I can't even come up with a good, creative definition when I play Balderdash! The answer, my friend, is this: plagiarize! Now, I do not mean that you should start quoting John Piper or Tim Keller or, let's try to be ecumenical here, Thomas Aquinas or G.K. Chesterton and claim these words as your own brilliant thought. No, what I am saying is that you should start reading these people more and more and using the examples and illustrations that they give when you are faced in these situations. If you can't think of something on your own, then borrow, and later on give that person the book that you so eloquently quoted from!

OK, I am going to leave you with these thoughts now. I promise the next couple of blogs will contain actually plain style words of Perkins and his views of predestination and the assurance of salvation. Exciting stuff, yes? Well, at I think so.

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