09 January 2008

"The Reformed Pastor"--Preach With Humility

Some people think that in order to preach you should be very self-confident, very self-assured. Hogwash! Anyone who claims to be fit for the pulpit should be the most humble person they know. After all, who are you preaching for? Yourself? Or the Lord? Do you want to think you have plumbed every depth of His word? Nay, one should approach the Word of God with trembling (Isaiah 66:2). From chapter 2, section 2, of Richard Baxter's "The Reformed Pastor"--
5. All our teaching must be as plain and simple as possible. This doth best suit a teacher’s ends. He that would be understood must speak to the capacity of his hearers. Truth loves the light, and is most beautiful when most naked. It is the sign of an envious enemy to hide the truth; and it is the work of a hypocrite to do this under pretense of revealing it; and therefore painted obscure sermons (like painted glass in windows which keeps out the light) are too oft the marks of painted hypocrites. If you would not teach men, what do you in the pulpit? If you would, why do you not speak so as to be understood? I know the height of the matter may make a man not understood, when he hath studied to make it as plain as he can; but that a man should purposely cloud the matter in strange words, and hide his mind from the people, whom he pretendeth to instruct, is the way to make fools admire his profound learning, and wise men his folly, pride, and hypocrisy.

Some men conceal their sentiments, under the pretense of necessity, because of men’s prejudices, and the unpreparedness of common understandings to receive the truth. But truth overcomes prejudice by the mere light of evidence, and there is no better way to make a good cause prevail, than to make it as plain, and as generally and thoroughly known as we can; it is this light that will dispose an unprepared mind. It is, at best, a sign that a man hath not well digested the matter himself, if he is not able to deliver it plainly to others. I mean as plainly as the nature of the matter will bear, in regard of capacities prepared for it by prerequisite truths; for I know that some men cannot at present understand some truths, if you speak them as plainly as words can express them; as the easiest rules in grammar, most plainly taught, will not be understood by a child that is but learning his alphabet.


6. Our work must be carried on with great humility. We must carry ourselves meekly and condescendingly to all; and so teach others, as to be as ready to learn of any that can teach us, and so both teach and learn at once; not proudly venting our own conceits, and disdaining all that any way contradict them, as if we had attained to the height of knowledge, and were destined for the chair, and other men to sit at our feet. Pride is a vice that ill beseems them that must lead men in such an humble way to heaven: let us, therefore, take heed, lest, when we have brought others thither, the gate should prove too strait for ourselves. For, as Grotius saith, ‘Pride is born in heaven, but as if unmindful that the way from that place is closed, it is impossible for it to return afterwards!’ God, that thrust out a proud angel, will not entertain there a proud preacher.

Methinks we should remember, at least the title of a Minister, which, though the popish priests disdain, yet so do not we. It is this pride at the root that feedeth all the rest of our sins. Hence the envy, the contention, and unpeaceableness of ministers; hence the stops to all reformation; all would lead, and few will follow or concur. Hence, also, is the non-proficiency of too many ministers, because they are too proud to learn. Humility would teach them another lesson. I may say of ministers as Augustine to Jerome, even of the aged among them, 'Although it is more fitting for the aged to teach than to learn, much more is it fitting to learn than to be ignorant.'

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