Thomas Boston – Holiness and Good Works Terms of Salvation

Object. But the elect’s believing, holiness, and good works, were also fixed as terms of their salvation: and Christ undertook also that they should believe, &c.

Ans. Then at that rate Christ performed the chief part of the condition of the covenant, and took it wholly on himself; but they perform another part of the condition, for which he became their cautioner. [Note: “In Scots law, the person who is bound for another, to the performance of an obligation,” Webster’s 1828 Dictionary.] Thus the condition of the covenant of grace is divided betwixt Christ and the impotent beggarly creature: and so must the glory of their salvation be; for whosoever works part of the work, or pays a part of the price, without question so much of the reward and purchase is due to him. But none of the glory of it is due to us, 1 Cor. i. 31. Zech. vi. 13. Rom. iv. 4, 5.; and therefore no part of the condition is performed by us. I own these things are secured in the covenant; but they are secured not in the conditionary part of the covenant, but in the promissory part of it, Heb. Viii. 10. 2.”

Thomas Boston, “An Illustration of the Doctrines of the Christian Religion: With Respect to Faith and Practice, Upon the Plan of the Assembly’s Shorter Catechism. Comprehending a Complete Body of Divinity,” (Still Waters Revival Books reprint), Volume 1:339.


Thomas Boston – Conditions of the Covenant of Grace

“The condition of a covenant or bargain is that part of it, upon the performance of which one’s right to the benefit promised is founded, his plea for it is established, as becoming due to him for that his performance, according to the agreement betwixt the parties. For instance, the paying of such a sum of money, for such a commodity, according to the agreement of the parties bargaining, is the condition of a covenant of commerce, sale, or traffic; and the working of such a piece of work, or doing of such a deed, for such a reward, agreed upon by the parties, is the condition of a covenant of service or hire.

There is also what is called a condition of connection or order in a covenant, whereby one thing necessarily goes before another in the order of a covenant, without being the ground on which one’s right and title to that other thing is founded. As in the former instances, the buyer’s receiving of the commodity, and the hireling’s receiving of the reward, covenanted or bargained for, must needs go before the possession or enjoyment of them: but it is evident, that receiving is not the thing on which the buyers right and title to the reward is founded: therefore, though it maybe called a condition of connection in the respective covenants, yet it cannot in any propriety of speech be called the condition of these covenants.

Thus, in the order of the covenant of grace, the having of the Spirit must go before faith, faith before justification, justification before sanctification, and holiness before heaven’s happiness. These may be called conditions in the covenant of grace, viz. conditions of certain connection; and belong to the established order of the promises of the covenant, which are contradistinguished to the condition of the covenant. But such conditions can in no proper sense be called the condition or conditions of the covenant.

This being premised, we say, that the condition of the covenant of grace, properly so called, is Christ’s fulfilling of all righteousness, owing unto God by the elect, in virtue of the covenant of works, and that as the last Adam, their head and representative.”

Thomas Boston, “An Illustration of the Doctrines of the Christian Religion: With Respect to Faith and Practice, Upon the Plan of the Assembly’s Shorter Catechism. Comprehending a Complete Body of Divinity,” (Still Waters Revival Books reprint), Volume 1:338.

Anthony Burgess – Good Works and Salvation

“You must, in the discourse you shall hear concerning the necessity of good works, carefully distinguish between these two Propositions: Good works are necessary to believers, to justified person, or to those that shall be saved; and this, Good works are necessary to justification and salvation.  Howsoever this latter is true in some sense, yet, because the words carry as if holiness had some effect immediately upon our justification and salvation, therefore I do wholly assent to those learned men, that think, in these two cases, we should not use such a Proposition: 1. When we deal with adversaries, especially Papists, in disputation; for then we ought to speak exactly: Therefore the Fathers would not use the word Christotokos of the Virgin Mary, lest they should seem to yield to Nestorius, who denied her to be Theotokos. The second case is in our sermons and exhortations to people; for, what common hearer is there, that, upon such a speech, doth not conceive that they are so necessary, as that they immediately work our justification?  The former proposition holds them offices and duties in the person justified; the other, as conditions effecting justification.”

Anthony Burgess, Vindiciae Legis: A Vindication of the Moral Law and the Covenants, Reformation Heritage Books, p. 40.

Some Neglected Aspects of the Ninth Commandment – Part 5

This is a continuation of a series with Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4 preceding.


The Catechism continues:

a ready receiving of a good report, and unwillingness to admit of an evil report, concerning them;

Just as a salesman promotes his product, and is very happy to hear of more sales, so we who are required to promote our neighbor’s good name will be very happy to hear good news about them. Scripture states that charity “Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things,” (1 Corinthians 13:6-7). Are we happy to hear evil of our neighbor? If so, we are not walking in love. Thus, we are to be unwilling to receive an evil report concerning him. Proverbs 25:23 states that “The north wind driveth away rain: so doth an angry countenance a backbiting tongue.” To backbite is “to censure, slander, reproach, or speak evil of the absent,” (American Dictionary of the English Language, Noah Webster, 1828, entry for “backbite”). If we are honest with ourselves, it is much easier to listen to the juicy details of the evil report about our neighbor than to make the angry countenance that God requires. We must neither be willing to take up such a report, nor to listen to such foul-mouthed fools who spew them.

The Catechism continues:

discouraging tale-bearers, flatterers, and slanderers;

This is a continuing thought from what preceded. If we are unwilling to receive evil reports about our neighbor because we rejoice in their good name, we will take all steps in our power to discourage tale-bearers, flatterers, and slanderers. When we discourage someone, we take the wind out of their sails. We make such rogues doubt themselves, and question whether or not they should repeat such matters to others, or at least to us. Taking a soft approach to tale-bearers, flatterers, and slanderers does not discourage them, but only slightly checks them. The hard-line approach of Proverbs 25:23 is more appropriate, and those with power to do something about it, whether in church, family, or state, are required by God to do so: “Whoso privily slandereth his neighbour, him will I cut off: him that hath an high look and a proud heart will not I suffer,” (Psalm 101:5). Tale-bearers, flatterers, and slanderers are divisive, and their end is destructive. If their mouths are not silenced and discouraged by those with the power to do so, their deadly poison will bring destruction and misery.

Although it may be hard to see how flatterers ruin the good name of others, since they seem to inflate it, we must look to the heart and soul of flattery rather than to the external appearance: “He that hateth dissembleth with his lips, and layeth up deceit within him; When he speaketh fair, believe him not: for there are seven abominations in his heart,” (Proverbs 26:24-25). Though flattery could be justified in someone’s mind, even by the requirements of the Ninth Commandment to promote the good name of others, we may illustrate such vanity by the salesman analogy. While every salesman rejoices in making a sale, we may have known an unethical salesman in our life. Such a person will lie about the condition of the car they’ll sell you, or about the output of their product, or about the ability of their tool to complete a specific task. Such is the flatterer: the good name he sells is not one rooted in sober judgment, but one he puts forth in order to trap you into doing what he would like you to do. “A man that flattereth his neighbor spreadeth a net for his feet,” (Proverbs 29:5).

A tale-bearer is “A person who officiously tells tales; one who impertinently communicates intelligence or anecdotes, and makes mischief in society by his officiousness,” (American Dictionary of the English Language, Noah Webster, 1828, entry for “talebearer”). Officiousness means “Eagerness to serve; usually, an excess of zeal to serve others, or improper forwardness, interposing in affairs without being desired, or with a disposition to meddle with the concerns of others,” (American Dictionary of the English Language, Noah Webster, 1828, entry for “officiousness”). Such tales as are spun by tale-bearers are such as corrupt children, destroy marriages, divide brethren, ruin nations, and bring in all sorts of chaos and evil. Is it any wonder that the Ninth Commandment requires that we discourage such well-meaning folly?

In summary, the Ninth Commandment requires much more than merely refraining from lying in court. Rather, the Ninth Commandment provides a context for human communication that is truthful, charitable, and edifying, while also avoiding the excesses of flattery (exaggeration of the truth to pump up someone’s good name), as well as tale-bearing (trying to “tell the truth” with excessive zeal by relating tales and anecdotes).

In our next set of installments, we will review the sins forbidden by the Ninth Commandment, paying special attention to such aspects as are neglected in our modern use of the tongue. However, this first part is enough for me to be convinced of how very needy I am of the grace of Jesus Christ to pardon my sins of the tongue, as well as my need for the grace of the Spirit of God to “set a guard over my mouth,” and help me to love my neighbor’s good name as I love my own.




Some Neglected Aspects of the Ninth Commandment – Part 4

This is a continuation of a series with Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 preceding.


Question 144 continues:

a charitable esteem of our neighbours; loving, desiring, and rejoicing in their good name;

Esteem has to do with how we think of someone. What do we make of their words? Do we see their actions in a positive light? Do we see their actions in a negative light? Do we give them the benefit of the doubt? Charitable esteem does not make us blind to others’ sins, but merely means that the “filter” through which we hear, see, think about, and speak of them is one of charity. Charity is an older term (in the sense used in “charitable”), and in our modern usage generally means gifts or donations that we make, or organizations set up to help people in need. In older language “charity” carried the idea of “liberality in judging of men and their actions; a disposition which inclines men to think and judge favorably, and to put the best construction on words and actions which the case will admit,” (American Dictionary of the English Language, Noah Webster, 1828, entry for “charity”).

Scripture praises this sort of “charitable esteem” stating that charity “Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things,” (1 Corinthians 13:7).

Further, we are taught to love, desire, and rejoice in other people having a good name as well as our self. Salesmen generally love getting people to buy into their products; they desire more and better commissioned sales; they rejoice when their products are sold, particularly in large quantities and at very favorable margins. And this is precisely what we are required to feel about the good reputation of our neighbor. Only in this case our gain is not financial, but a charitable gain by which we love our neighbor’s good name as we love our own. Examples abound in this regard, but one particularly strong passage about our attitude toward the good name of others is 3 John 3-4: “For I rejoiced greatly, when the brethren came and testified of the truth that is in thee, even as thou walkest in the truth. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.” Note the fulness and exuberance of joy the Apostle took in the good reports about others.

The Catechism continues:

sorrowing for, and covering of their infirmities;

Every person has some weakness. The way that God created each man’s personality, body, temperament, etc. is good so far it is the workmanship of God. But when the good workmanship of God is joined to particular persons with sinful human natures, dwelling in a fallen world, there are sins and infirmities galore. The Apostles of Christ sorrowed for the infirmities of their congregants. For example, the Apostle Paul stated that “out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote unto you with many tears; not that ye should be grieved, but that ye might know the love which I have more abundantly unto you,” (2 Corinthians 2:4). Note how loving others entails grief and tears over the infirmities of others, rather than exploiting them to forward our own goals (see also 2 Corinthians 12:21).

Covering the infirmities of others goes beyond simply the internal affection of sorrow, and relates to our speaking of, or repeating to others the infirmities of others, or even those that we think they have. Often, we justify repeating the infirmities, mistakes, sins, etc. of others by our motivation to “pray for someone,” or to explain their current conduct. Such conduct is divisive and hateful, as Scripture states in Proverbs 17:9: “He that covereth a transgression seeketh love; but he that repeateth a matter separateth very friends.” Transgressions are to be covered and not repeated. Love covers these things, but hatred repeats them, even if we convince ourselves that we are motivated by good things. 1 Peter 4:8 identifies the same virtue: “And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins.” Note how charity does not reveal “a multitude of sins.” This is very contrary to the general current of our cultural use of speech.


To continue reading, see Part 5.




Some Neglected Aspects of the Ninth Commandment – Part 3

In our previous posts (Part 1 and Part 2), we introduced this topic of the practical application of the Ninth Commandment, and began examining the Westminster Larger Catechism’s detailed treatment of the duties required in the Ninth Commandment.  And as we continue to examine our ways, we can come afresh to the blood of Christ for forgiveness, and the grace of the Holy Spirit to enable us to keep this part of the “perfect Law of liberty.”

speaking the truth, and only the truth, in matters of judgment and justice, and in all other things whatsoever;

Truth, and truth alone must be spoken. This is particularly the requirement of the Ninth Commandment as far as matters of judgment and justice are concerned (whether in church, state, family, or personal relationships), but also with regard to “all other things whatsoever.” From the smallest detailed fact, to the actual observations we make from our experiences, to the color of the shirt I wore last Tuesday (if I can even remember that!). Leviticus 19:15 commands that “Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment: thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor honour the person of the mighty: but in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbour.” Note the universality and justice required in what we do.

Not only is it particularly important to speak truth in matters of justice, but even in all other matters. Jesus teaches that our “yea” must be “yea,” and our “nay,” “nay.” The Apostle was an example of this, as he reflected the truth of God, “But as God is true, our word toward you was not yea and nay,” (2 Corinthians 1:18). Ephesians 4:25 commands this general truthfulness in the following terms: “Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another.” The addition of ecclesiastical unity, or “we are members one of another” does not provide an excuse for those outside the church to deal falsely, but is simply an added aggravation for committing this sin within the context of the church itself.


To continue reading, see Part 4.




Some Neglected Aspects of the Ninth Commandment – Part 2

In our previous post, we introduced this topic of the practical application of the Ninth Commandment. In this and the next few posts, we well look at the Westminster Larger Catechism’s detailed treatment of the duties required in the Ninth Commandment.  And as we examine our ways, we can come afresh to the blood of Christ for forgiveness, and the grace of the Holy Spirit to enable us to keep this part of the “perfect Law of liberty.”

The Ninth Commandment Requires:

preserving and promoting of truth between man and man, and the good name of our neighbour, as well as our own;

To preserve something means to keep it from failing, corrupting, rotting, or falling apart. Promoting is a more active verb, meaning to become a “salesman” so to speak. To go out and make something to be respected, embraced, and loved by others.

These actions are required with respect to two things: truth, and good names. Truth is what is actually the case, and extends to theological truth about God, Christ, the Scriptures, salvation, the law, as well as about particular circumstances, actions, thoughts, etc. A good name is what we sometimes call the reputation. How do people think of, speak of, and treat someone else? Do they speak well of him? Do they desire to become a salesman for that person’s reputation, as well as for their own? This is the foundational assumption of what follows in the rest of 144 and 145 of the Larger Catechism.

The answer continues:

…appearing and standing for the truth; and from the heart, sincerely, freely, clearly, and fully,

Part of promoting something is actively taking stands for it. Salesmen do not idly sit at their desks all day hoping that someone will eventually hear about their product. Rather, they make calls, post things on the internet, send emails, make personal visits, etc. All of these actions are with a view to making their product embraced, believed in, purchased, etc.

Standing for truth, however, is not to be done merely by our conduct, but must first be done within the heart. Thus it must be done “from the heart,” and “sincerely.” The blessed man of Psalm 15 is one who “speaketh the truth in his heart,” (Psalm 15:2), and not merely with his lips. Though his father Saul hated David with a passion, yet Jonathan sincerely and freely spoke truth, even though it could have jeopardized his life and reputation (see 1 Samuel 19:4-5). This historical example demonstrates the Ninth Commandment’s requirement to stand for the truth and good name of our neighbor, even at great risk to ourselves

Speaking truth clearly is when we do not hide any part of the truth that is relevant to a particular situation. We can’t say that we’ll speak the part of the truth that is found acceptable to the audience, or that we don’t want to ruffle feathers, and will therefore just speak the parts that are agreed upon, or easy to receive. As Joshua commanded Achan, “My son, give, I pray thee, glory to the LORD God of Israel, and make confession unto him; and tell me now what thou hast done; hide it not from me,” (Joshua 7:19).


To continue reading, see Part 3.




Some Neglected Aspects of the Ninth Commandment – Part 1

This series of posts is not meant as a complete treatment of the Ninth Commandment, “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor,” (Exodus 20:16). However, how we speak about and to one another, whether in politics or in human relationships, often neglects certain aspects of the Ninth Commandment. The intention of this series of posts is not to argue for the teaching of the Larger Catechism on this Commandment as correct, but rather to take for granted that the historic understanding of the Ninth Commandment, as summarized in the Westminster Larger Catechism’s questions 143-145, is the correct understanding of the requirements and conduct forbidden by the Ninth Commandment. This is the first in a multi-part series. The first few posts will cover the duties required by the Ninth Commandment, and the last few posts will cover the sins forbidden by the Ninth Commandment.

Most Christians understand that lying is forbidden by the Ninth Commandment, even though the specific action forbidden relates to witness bearing. However, Scripture goes far beyond merely lying, and also discusses things like “whispering, backbiting,” and how to think of what we hear about others, and even about how to respond when we hear things about other people. In summary, the Ninth Commandment applies the “law of love,” or “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” to how we speak about truth, as well as how we treat the good name of our neighbor and our self.

This series will discuss merely a few of the neglected aspects of this commandment, in order that believers may know the grace of the gospel, both in convicting us of our ongoing sin and thereby making the sweetness of Christ’s grace all the sweeter, and providing a rule for how we may please God in our conduct, and how best to love our neighbor as our self.

The Larger Catechism asks:

Q. 144. What are the duties required in the ninth commandment?

The answer comes back:

A. The duties required in the ninth commandment are, the preserving and promoting of truth between man and man, and the good name of our neighbour, as well as our own; appearing and standing for the truth; and from the heart, sincerely, freely, clearly, and fully, speaking the truth, and only the truth, in matters of judgment and justice, and in all other things whatsoever; a charitable esteem of our neighbours; loving, desiring, and rejoicing in their good name; sorrowing for, and covering of their infirmities; freely acknowledging of their gifts and graces, defending their innocency; a ready receiving of a good report, and unwillingness to admit of an evil report, concerning them; discouraging tale-bearers, flatterers, and slanderers; love and care of our own good name, and defending it when need requireth; keeping of lawful promises; studying and practicing of whatsoever things are true, honest, lovely, and of good report.

Some of the terms used in the Catechism require definition and biblical illustration, and I hope that this series of posts will serve toward that end. As such, we will take various phrases that seem more difficult to understand and/or practice, and provide a fuller explanation, trusting in the Lord’s grace to pardon our many sins, as well as His Spirit to give us power to keep this most precious commandment.  The next few posts will cover the details of Q144.


To continue reading, see Part 2.

Charity on the Internet

Many times internet communication can prove less than profitable. From a quick response, to excessive sarcasm, to adopting the posture of secular broadcasters, there are many temptations to avoid, sins to mortify, and edifying habits to cultivate. As someone who has fallen to the temptations, been ensnared by the sins, and who wants to cultivate the virtues, I believe that the Westminster Larger Catechism’s explanation of the Ninth Commandment provides a useful set of guidelines for all communication, not simply internet dialogue. However, in this post, I would like to highlight a few salient points from the catechism, as it reflects the teaching of Scripture on this point:

  1. Seek to preserve and promote the good name of others as well as your own.

This is particularly important in passing along news stories. Do I choose stories that promote a good name for others, or single out stories particularly suited to blacken the names of others?

  1. Seek to appear and stand for the truth.

When we see truth (about a person, or about a proposition) coming under attack, we are required to defend it. Our defense should not be with zeal divorced from compassion, but with knowledge, mercy, and a desire for the glory of God, not a desire to see our name lifted up in pride.

  1. Loving, desiring, and rejoicing in the good name of our neighbor.

What about when we disagree with someone else? Do we accentuate their moral failings to highlight our disagreement? Rather, we should rejoice to hear good news, and be ready to speak about it. On the other hand, we should be sad to hear bad news, and be ready to keep it to ourselves.

Do I assume the best about other people’s intentions, or find myself quick to judge their words or posts, without having all of the facts? You lose nothing by assuming the best about other people’s written communications, and gain nothing by assuming the worst.

  1. Be ready to receive a good report, and unwilling to receive an evil report.

Try to circulate stories that demonstrate virtue in some form. Don’t pass along stories that accentuate the vices of humanity.

  1. Discourage gossip and slander.

This speaks for itself.

All of these practices serve to promote harmony, love, and peace. But our hearts are darkened by vanity, hatred, and strife. Our tongues are quick to curse, and quick to speak. But Christ died for the sharp tongue as much as for the murdering hand. We must turn to the fountain of forgiveness in Jesus’ blood, and find power in His Spirit to walk uprightly. The gospel cleanses our faults, and turns our cursed tongues into instruments for blessing:

1 Peter 3:8 Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous: 9 Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing. 10 For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile.

The Work of a Prophet Being an Interaction with the Text of The Art of Prophecie by William Perkins

The Work of a Prophet

Being an Interaction with the Text of

The Art of Prophecie

by William Perkins

Reformed Orthobilly

For Preaching (THE501), Master of Divinity Program

The North American Reformed Seminary

January 4th in the Year of Our Lord 2014

In my previous book report on William Perkins, I dealt with his book Golden Chain, a book outlining the summary of Christian theology. In this report, however, I discuss Perkins’ treatment of the work of the prophet, or The Art of Prophecie,1 in which Perkins explains the major duties of Christian pastors, prayer on behalf of the people to God, and declaring messages from God’s Word to the people. “For in speaking there are onely two duties of the Prophet, that is, of the Minister of the word; to wit, Preaching of the word, and Praying unto God in the name of the people. Rom. 12. 6. ‘Having prophecie, let us prophecie according to the proportion of faith.’ Gen. 20. 7. ‘Deliver the man his wife againe, for he is a Prophet; and when he shal pray for thee, thou shalt live.’”2

In reading Prophesy, as is my custom, I collected quotations from the various chapters, and grouped them into topics. I collected 16 major topics in Prophesy, mostly touching on preaching, but also matters as various as the nature of Scripture, repentance, the sacraments, law and gospel, humility and more. Topics directly affecting the work of a prophet include sermon preparation, interpretation, the piety of a minister, preaching, interpretation, application of texts, and public debates. I will focus my efforts on the eight major topics that embrace over 80% of my collected quotations: application of texts in preaching, Scripture, its interpretation, the analogy of faith, preaching, prophesy, sermon preparation, and law and gospel.

First, then, I will discuss Perkins’ treatment of prophesy and preaching. Perkins defines “prophesy” as follows:

Prophecie (or Prophecying) is a publike and solemne speech of the Prophet, pertaining to the worship of God, & to the salvation of our neighbor. 1 Cor. 14. 3. ‘But he that prophecieth, speaketh unto men to edification, to exhortation, & to consolation. Vers. 24. But if all prophecie, & there come in one that beleeveth not, or one unlearned, he is rebuked of all men, and is judged of all men,’ Rom. 1. 9. ‘God is my witnesse, whom I serve (or worship, latreÚw) in my spirit, in the Gospell of his Sonne.’3

To prophesy, then, has reference to the worship of God and salvation of souls. Note, Perkins handles it as public, as opposed to private, and solemn, as opposed to vain or light. Thus, the highest of aims are the ends of the prophet’s work.

The work of the prophet is to be a light of salvation to the people. That is, both to those currently in darkness, and to those who walk in the light:

Preaching of the word is Prophecying in the name and roome of Christ, whereby men are called to the state of Grace, and conserved in it, 2 Cor. 5. 19. ‘And hath committed to us the word of reconciliation, 20. Therefore we are Embassadours for Christ; as though God did beseech you by us, we pray you in the name of Christ, that ye be reconciled to God.’ 2 Thess. 2. 13. 14. ‘God hath from the beginning elected you to salvation, through sanctification of the Spirit, and faith imbracing the truth: whereunto he called you by our Gospel.’ Rom. 1. 16. ‘The Gospell is the power of God to salvation to every one that beleeveth,’ Prov. 29. 18. ‘When there is no vision the people are naked.’4

What a glorious privilege, and a fearful responsibility, to stand in the room of Christ and call men to salvation, or to persevere in the way. This inestimable treasure has been committed to vessels of clay. And this treasure does not merely include reconciliation with God, but also sanctification, and a vision for the glory of God.

Moreover, Perkins compares prophesy to a mighty engine to batter down the devil’s kingdom. This mighty work of salvation demonstrates the power of God over men and devils:

Answerable to this dignitie there is also a two-fold use: one, in that it serveth to collect the Church, and to accomplish the number of the Elect: the other, for that it driveth away the Woolves from the foldes of the Lord, for this is indeede that Flexanima, that allurer of the Soule, whereby mens froward mindes are mitigated and mooved from an ungodly and barbarous life unto Christian faith and repentance. This also is that Engine, which as it hath shaken the foundation of ancient heresies, so it hath these few by-past yeares, cut asunder the sinews of that great Antichrist. Wherefore if it bee demanded which is the most excellent gift of all, doubtlesse the praise must be given to Prophecying.5

How beautiful are the feet of those that bring good tidings, indeed! The black kingdoms of barbarism, the white castles of the heretic, and the purple robes of the Antichrist are all cut asunder by the sword of the spirit. Part of the conservation of God’s elect is the refutation of error afforded by the work of the prophet.

Perkins gives excellent and practical advice to ministers in the delivery of this divinely appointed task. Concerning ostentation and the display of mere human wisdom from the pulpit, Perkins advises:

In the Promulgation two things are required: the hiding of humane wisdome, and the demonstration (or shewing) of the spirit.

Humane wisedome must be concealed, whether it be in the matter of the sermon, or in the setting forth of the words: because the preaching of the word is the ‘Testimony of God, and the profession of the knowledge of Christ,’ and not of humane skill: and againe, because the hearers ought not to ascribe their faith to the gifts of men, but to the power of Gods word.6

Mere human wisdom, whether in the matter or the manner of the sermon, is totally out of place. The prophet, again, declares God’s message to His people. The prophet’s work is not to preach himself, but Christ crucified.

Regarding the words which the Spirit teaches, over against the words which man’s wisdom teaches, Perkins distinguishes what is spiritual versus what is carnal. Perkins cites 1 Corinthians 2:13 to demonstrate that “That speech is spirituall, which the holy Spirit doth teach.”7 Because the prophet is the mouthpiece for the Holy Spirit, his words and wisdom must be from God. They must not be what man’s wisdom teaches, but are to be spiritual comparisons with spiritual things.

Moreover, Spirit-given speech is to be “both simple and perspicuous, fit both for the peoples understanding, and to expresse the Majestie of the Spirit.”8 Perkins then cites Acts 17:2-3 where Paul’s customary disputation entailed opening and shewing that the doctrine of Scripture had sufficient clarity that Jesus was the Christ. In other words, that the Spirit’s speech is perspicuous, or clear in itself. That the Spirit’s speech is simple, Perkins gathers from Galatians 3:1, demonstrating that preaching is to be a clear demonstration of Jesus Christ.

In this same vein, Perkins dissuades ministers from using ostentation of learning: “Wherefore neither the words of art, nor Greeke and Latine phrases and quirkes must be intermingled in the sermon. 1. They disturbe the mind of the auditours, that they cannot fit those things which went afore with those that follow. 2. A strange word hindreth the understanding of those things that are spoken. 3. It drawes the minde away from the purpose to some other matter. Here also the telling of tales, and all profane and ridiculous speeches must bee omitted.”9 We often choose to demonstrate our whit, learning, or other supposed excellencies rather than edify our hearers, and this vice is to be avoided if a minister would speak the words which the Spirit teaches. Such vain chatter is neither simple, nor perspicuous, drawing men’s minds from the word of God preached.

Perkins likewise discusses sermon preparation. Though unlawful to display learning in preaching, a learned minister, particularly in his study, is indispensable. In discussing his comments on the duty of a minister to refrain from ostentation, Perkins responds to an objection:

If any man thinke that by this means barbarisme should be brought into the pulpits; hee must understand that the Minister may, yea and must privately use at his libertie the arts, Philosophy, and variety of reading, whilest he is in framing his sermon: but he ought in publike to conceale all these from the people, and not to make the least ostentation. ‘Artis etiam est celare artem; it is also a point of Art to conceale Art.’10

The art of prophesying includes the art of concealing whatever learning is required in private, so as to emphasize the words which the Spirit teaches, that men’s faith may rest in God, rather than in the messenger.

Preparation of a sermon, Perkins teaches, includes the duties of interpreting the text of Scripture, and rightly dividing its content. “Preparation hath two parts; Interpretation, and right division or cutting. Interpretation is the Opening of the words and sentences of the Scripture, that one entire and natural sense may appeare.”11 Thus, the fancy of the preacher is to be restrained by what the Scripture actually says, in its one entire and natural sense, and as it is rightly divided.

Yet this task of preparation is not merely an academic exercise, but is the work of a prophet, and must be conducted under the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Thus, prayer must go before the sermon, and the sermon must be conceived in a spirit of prayer. “Fiftly, before all these things God must earnestly bee sued unto by prayer, that he would blesse these meanes, and that he would open the meaning of the Scriptures to us that are blinde. Psal. 119. 18. ‘Open mine eyes, that I may see the wonderfull things of thy Law.’ Revel. 3. 18. ‘I advise thee to buy golde for thee,and to anoint thine eyes with eye-salve, that thou mayest see.’”12 Christ, the prophet and king of His church, ministering by His Holy Spirit, is the one who must open our eyes. The salvation of men does not rest in the hands of mortal men, but in the almighty power of God.

The work of the prophet in preparing a sermon, properly interpreting Scripture, and soundly opening Scripture, culminates in the application of such Scripture to the hearers. “Application is that, whereby the doctrine rightly collected, is diversly fitted according as place, time, and person doe require. Ezech. 34.15. ‘I will feede my sheepe, and bring them to their rest, saith the Lord. 16. I will seeke that which is lost, and bring againe that which was driven away, and will binde up that which was broken, and will strengthen the sicke.’ Jud. 22 ‘And having compassion of some in putting difference. 23. And save others with terror, pulling them out of the flame.’”13 Each sermon must come to a point of practical application. The doctrine of Scripture is intended to be fitly applied for the glory of God and the good of our neighbor. Ezekiel shows this distinction in the varying application of the Word of the Lord to those driven away, those broken, and those sick. The Word is one, but its application is manifold.

As a skillful soul-physician, Perkins then delineates a seven-fold application, contingent on the spiritual state of the hearers. “The waies of Application are chiefly seaven, according to the divers condition of men and people, which is seavenfolde.”14 These conditions are as follows:

I. Unbelievers, who are both ignorant and unteachable…. This preparation is to bee made partly by disputing or reasoning with them, that thou maist throughly discerne their manner and disposition, and partly by reprooving in them some notorious sinne, that beeing pricked in heart and terrified, they may become teachable [Perkins then cites Acts 17:17, 9:3-5, 16:27-31 and 17:22-24]… When now there is hope that they are become teachable and prepared, the doctrine of Gods word is to be declared to them generally in some common tearmes, or ordinary points. [Perkins then cites Acts 17:30-31]… If they shall approove this doctrine, then it is to bee opened to them distinctly, and in every particular, but if they shall remaine unteachable, without hope of winning them, they are to bee left. [Perkins then cites Matthew 7:6, Prov. 9:8, and Acts 19:9].15

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to the work of the prophet. Even with a man who is unteachable and ignorant, the appropriate remedy depends on the nature of his malady. Such a man’s malady will demonstrate itself by his responses to various stages of exposure to the Word of God.

The second state Perkins mentions is that of the man who is teachable, yet ignorant:

To these men the Catechisme must be delivered. Act. 18. 25. Apollos was catechized (kathchmšnoj) in the way of the Lord. And he spake fervently in spirit, and taught diligently the things of the Lord, knowing onely the baptisme of John. 26. And hee beganne to speake boldly in the Synagogue. Whom when Aquila and Priscilla had heard, they tooke him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly. Luk. 1. 4. That thou maiest know the the [sic.] truth of those things, whereof thou hast beene catechized (kathc»qhj) or instructed.16

Catechesis, or instruction in the basics of the faith is suitable to any who desire to learn. Ignorance may be cured by instruction, whereas unteachableness takes the hammer blows of the law to crush the sons of pride.

A third sort have knowledge, but have yet to be humbled. Such are to be stirred to repentance and godly sorrow. “To the hard-hearted the Law must bee urged, and the curse of the law must bee denounced with threatning, together with the difficulty of obtaining deliverance until they be pricked in their heart. Mat. 3. 7.”17 The need for a proud man who has knowledge is not more information, but the hammer blows of the law to break his stony heart. The law converts the soul, and this is its first function toward that end.

The fourth sort that Perkins deals with is soul that is humbled. Perkins advises, “Here wee must very diligently consider whether their humiliation be compleate and sound, or but begun and but light or slight: lest that hee or they, receiving comfort sooner then is meet, should afterwards wax more hard, like yron, which being cast into the furnace, becomes exceeding hard, after that it is once colde.”18 Again the remedy must match the malady. The humbled soul is blessed, but his first stages of humility must not be turned to his destruction. Rather, the breach must be healed with tempered mortar, lest the crack in the wall re-appear.

In applying the preached Word, a fifth sort of hearer to consider is one who believes:

To these must bee propoundad. 1. The Gospel touching justification, sanctification, and perseverance. 2. The law without the curse, whereby they may be taught to bring forth fruit of new obedience beseeming repentance. Rom. 8. 1. ‘There is no condemnation to those that are in Christ Jesus.’ 1 Tim. 1. 9. ‘The law is not appointed for the righteous.’ Let the Epistles of Paul to the Romans bee the example. 3. Howsoever the curse of the law is not to be urged against the person that is righteous and holy in the sight of God, yet it is to be urged against the sinnes of the person, which are remaining. And as a father doth oftentimes set his yron rods that are appointed for the servants before the eyes of his sonns, that they may be stired up very often in the faithful themselves, lest they should abuse the mercie of God to licentious living, and that they may bee more fully humbled.19

Those who trust in Christ are to receive the sweetness of the gospel. They are to know that they are righteous in Christ, and that He alone is their hope. The law, once accusing them relentlessly, is now to be published as a standard for holy living and loving one’s neighbor. Though its curse removed from their persons, yet the fatherly discipline of the law is to be brought to bear as a motive to holiness. In these ways, the preaching of God’s Word is to be applied suitably to the various hearers, including such as have come to embrace Jesus Christ.

The sixth sort of hearers are those who are fallen from grace. These do not wholly fall from the grace of God, as some vainly imagine, but have a certain declension from the grace of the gospel. This declension is related to either faith or manners. “Falling in knowledge is a declining into error, whether lighter or fundamentall. Now unto those that fall thus, that doctrine which doth crosse their error, is to bee demonstrated and inculcated (or beaten upon them) together with the doctrine of repentance, and that with a brotherly affection.”20 Generalities will not help one who falls; he needs to be crossed. This crossing is not in malevolence or with haughty pride, but is to be done in brotherly affection and kindness.

Those that fall in faith are to be tried as to the particular malady, and their response to the crossing previously advised must be gauged to ascertain the strength of the malady. Once this is done, Perkins advises:

When Triall is made, the Remedie must bee applied unto them out of the Gospell, which is double. First, some Evangelicall meditations are to be often inculcated and pressed upon them, as 1. That their sinne is pardonable. 2. That the promises are generall in respect of beleevers, and that they are undefinite in respect of particular men, and doe exclude no man. 3. That the will to beleeve is faith, Psal. 145. 19. Rev. 21. 6. 4. That sinne doth not abolish grace, but rather (God turning all things unto the good of those that are his) doth illustrate it. 5. That all the works of God are done by cotrarie meanes. Secondly, they must be intreated to stirre up in them in the very bitternesse of the temptation, their faith which hath lien in a swowne, and bin covered (as it were with ashes) and that they would certainely set downe with themselves, that their sins are forgiven them, & that it would please them to struggle manfully in prayer either alone or with others against carnall sense and humane hope. And that they may performe these things, they must be very earnestly beaten upon, & those that are unwilling must in a manner bee constrained.21

Fellowship and wise counsel are means God uses to recover those fallen in faith. Such a person’s faith is at a low ebb, and he needs help so that he does not walk this road alone.

Perkins likewise discusses what to do with such as have fallen in manners. Perkins defines this as “Falling in manners is, when any faithful man falleth to the committing of some actuall sinne in life. As Noah’s drunkennesse, David’s adulterie, Peters deniall, &c. To those that are fallen thus, forsomuch as grace remaining in respect of their vertue and habit may bee lost for a time in respect of sense and working; the law must be propounded beeing mixed with the Gospell: because a new act of sinne requires a new act (or worke) of faith and repentance.”22 Faith and repentance, the initial remedies, are likewise the ongoing remedies. When the virtues of a godly man, wrought by the Spirit, lie dormant, the law helps to stir up a godly zeal and clearing of ourselves.

The seventh type of application is that made to a mixed group: “There is a mingled people. A mixt people are the assemblies of our Churches. To these any doctrine may bee propounded, whether of the law or of the Gospel if the limitation and circumscription of the doctrine be made to those persons, for whome it is convenient.”23 Thus, a particular assembly may be composed of the fallen, the ignorant and unteachable, and those that believe, and the applications should be suited to the various types of hearers present. Who is sufficient for these things, save such as the Holy Ghost calls?

Perkins handles an objection to this type of application while discussing the ministry of the Old Testament prophets. “And this was the manner of the Prophets in their Sermons, to denounce judgements and destruction to the wicked, and to promise deliverance in the Messias to those that doe repent. A doubt if any man shall despaire in the publike congregation, when the rest are hardened, what ought to be done? Answ. Let those that are hardened heare the Law circumscribed within the limits of the persons; and of the vices, and let the aflicted conscience heare the voice of the Gospell applied in special manner unto it.”24 The Holy Ghost puts this inestimable treasure of the gospel in earthen vessels. The glory is God’s, and the means are also His. This shows the prudence of Perkins’ point above about speaking the words that the Holy Ghost’s wisdom teaches, rather than the “wisdom” of the flesh. Only when Christ is the true Prophet, and the earthly prophet merely His mouthpiece, may the hardened and the afflicted conscience meet in one place, and both be benefited by the preaching of God’s Word.

Related to the application of Scripture to various sorts of hearers is the biblical doctrine of law and gospel. Though a brief side-note in Prophesy, this doctrine guides Perkins’ advice on application. Perkins explains:

The foundation of application is, to know whether the place propounded be a sentence of the Law, or of the Gospel. For when the word is preached, there is one operation of the Law, and another of the Gospel. For the Law is thus farre forth effectuall, as to declare unto us the disease of sinne, and by accident to exasperate and stirre it up: but it affoards no remedy. Now the Gospell, as it teacheth what is to be done: so it hath also the efficacy of the holy Ghost adjoyned with it, by whom beeing regenerated, we have strength both to beleeve the Gospell, and to performe those things which it commandeth.25

The law gospel distinction, then, is critical in knowing how to interpret and apply the preaching of the Word. Confusing one with the other leads to misapplication and, if pressed to consistency, may lead to heretical opinions regarding justification.

Nevertheless, Perkins points out that since the gospel enables rather than just commanding, the commandments of the law may lawfully be applied evangelically to those regenerated by the Spirit. “Hence it is, that many sentences, which seeme to belong to the Law, are by reason of Christ, to bee understood not legally (nomikîs) but with the qualification of the Gospell.”26 For the proof of this point, Perkins cites Luke 11:28 regarding the blessing of those who hear the Word of God and keep it, and Deuteronomy 30:11 and 14, as cited in Romans 10:8. Not that the law and the gospel are thus confused, but that the application made to particular hearers is to reflect their spiritual state. For example, the same law that condemns the sinner provides a motive to sanctification for the saint.

In addition to discussing the nature of preaching and prophesy, sermon preparation, application of the Word preached and the law gospel distinction, Perkins also discusses the Scriptures themselves. Concerning their nature:

The excellency of the nature is either the perfection thereof, or the eternitie.

The perfection is either the sufficiencie, or the purity. The sufficiencie is that, whereby the word of God is so compleate, that nothing may bee either put to it, or taken from it, which appertaineth to the proper end thereof. Psal. 19. 7. The Law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soule. Deut. 12. 32. Whatsoever I command you, take heede yee doe it: thou shalt put nothing thereto, nor take ought therefrom. Revel. 22. 18. 19.

The puritie thereof is, whereby it remaineth entire in it selfe, voide of deceit and errour, Psal. 12. 6. The words of the Lord are pure words, as silver tried in a furnace of earth, fined seven times.27

God’s Word is perfect, eternal, pure, sufficient, and free from error. The Scripture proceed out of the mouth of God, and therefore reflect their Author. God is true, perfect, sufficient, free from error and more, and His Word reflects these attributes.

Concerning the nature of inspiration, Perkins soundly sets forth the nature of the human authorship of Scripture: it is non-existent. In other words, as a sound and orthodox theologian, untainted by the dregs of German rationalism, Perkins believed that the Bible is, in fact, God’s Word. “The Scripture is the word of God written in a language fit for the Church by men immediately called to be the Clerkes, or Secretaries of the holy Ghost. 2. Pet. 1. 21. For prophecie came not in old time by the will of man, but the holy men of God spake as they were carried and mooved by the holy Ghost.”28 Inspiration is not a cooperative effort between human and divine authors. Rather, it is the Word of God, breathed out by Him, for His glory, reflecting His wisdom.

Modern theories of inspiration, following the local, temporal and human model of German rationalism, interpret and apply Scripture with the spiritual insight of a bag of hammers. The application of Scripture is stunted, and the work of prophet is exchanged for the impotency of spiritual eunuchs. The spiritual vitality of the Word is lost, and scholars, scribes and Sadducees lecture the blind on the virtues of their blindness. This spiritual doldrums has even affected Reformed ministers, whose preaching does not touch the heart, but merely titillates the mind with redemptive-historical and ancient near east jibber jabber. Yet once Scripture is received as the very Word from on high, the minister’s work as the prophet of God is built on a solid foundation, and renewed with a divine energy.

Concerning the persuasion that the Scriptures are, in fact, the Word of God, Perkins identifies the surest grounds. “Now there are very strong proofes, which shew that shee alone is the word of God, and no other besides. Of these proofes one doth make a man certainely to know the same, the other doth but declare or testifie it. Of the former kinde there is onely one, namely, the inward testimony of the holy Ghost speaking in the Scriptures, and not only telling a man within in his heart, but also effectually perswading him, that these bookes of the Scripture are the word of God. Isa. 59. 21. My Spirit, that is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth,from henceforth even for ever.”29 Thus, we may only be persuaded that the Scriptures are God’s Word by the testimony of the Holy Spirit.

Yet God the Spirit does not merely testify in the heart, but also to the ears and eyes. Scripture testifies that it is the authoritative Word from on high as well:

The Scripture it selfe doth also testifie of it selfe with that kinde of testimony, which is surer even then all the oathes of men. For wee have the voice of the holy Ghost speaking in the Scripture: who doth also worke in our hearts a certaine (plhroforan,) full perswasion of the Scriptures, when wee are exercised in hearing, reading and meditating of them. Neither do we beleeve a thing, because the Church saith it is to be beleeved: but therefore we do beleeve a thing, because that which the Church speaketh, the Scripture did first speak. Yea the Church cannot stand, nor yet be imagined without faith: faith is not without the word, which word is the rule or object of faith, & not the judgement, though it be of most holy men. 3. He which doubteth of the Scriptures, will doubt as well of the testimony of the Church.30

Scripture, then, is the object of faith, and declares that itself is the Word of God. If we were to rely on the testimony of men and consider the testimony of the Holy Ghost speaking in Scripture as unreliable, we would worship men rather than God.

In addition to our full persuasion of the Scriptures being from the Holy Spirit speaking in Scripture, the rule of interpretation is likewise the Holy Spirit speaking in Scripture. Perkins excellently remarks concerning interpretation that “The principall Interpreter of the Scripture, is the holy Ghost. 2. Pet. 1. 20. So that ye first know this, that no prophecie in the Scripture is of any private interpretation. Moreover, hee that makes the law, is the best and the highest interpreter of the law.”31 God gave the law, and knows best His own mind. Thus, God’s mind delivered in Scripture is only suitably interpreted with reference to itself.

Perkins has an excellent section discussing the work of the prophet in interpreting the sacred text. Perkins chooses a very edifying instance by which to illustrate the proper way to harmonize more difficult passages with those less difficult, namely, the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11:24, “This is my body, which is broken for you.”

The sense that is given by some:

This bread is indeed and properly the body of Christ, namely by conversion. Or, the body of Christ is in, under, or with the bread.

The unfitnesse of this sense.

The letter or words used in this place, beeing retained (or expounded accordinly without any alteration) doth disagree with an article of the faith, ‘He ascended into heaven,’ and with the nature of a Sacrament, which ought to be a Memoriall of the body of Christ absent. Therefore a new exposition is to bee sought for.32

Perkins operates on two critical assumptions: that a particular interpretation may not contradict fundamental articles of faith, taught in Scripture, and that plain texts of Scripture may not be contradicted by an interpretation of a portion more difficult to understand.

Because the papist and Lutheran interpretations violate these two rules, Perkins seeks for a different interpretation:

A new or second sense.

In this place the bread is a signe of my body: by a Metonymy of the subject for the adjunct.

The fitnesse of this exposition.

First, it agrees with the analogie of faith: 1. He ascended truly into heaven, that is, he was taken up out of the earth into heaven locally and visibly. Therefore his bodie is not to be received with the mouth at the Communion, but by faith apprehending it in the heaven. 2. Borne of the Virgin Marie, &c. Therefore he had a true and naturall bodie, being long, broad, thicke, seared and circumscribed in some place. Whereby it appeareth that the bread in the Supper cannot bee properly his very bodie, but onely a signe or pledge thereof.

Secondly, this sense consenteth with the circumstances of the place propounded.

1. He tooke, he brake it. Here it is not likely that Christ sitting amongst his disciples did take and breake his owne bodie with his hands. Therefore the bread is no more then a signe and seale.

2. Delivered (or given) for you. The bread can in no wise be said to be given for us, but the body of Christ; therefore the bread is not properly the bodie, but symbolically or by way of signification.

3. The Cup is the new Testament, not properly, but by a Metonymie: therefore nothing hindreth, but that a Metonymie may bee as well in these words, ‘This is my bodie.’

4. Christ himselfe did eate of the bread; but he did not eate himselfe.

5. ‘Doe ye this in remembrance of me;’ therefore Christ is not corporally present to the mouth, but spiritually to the faith of the heart.

6. “Untill he come;’ therefore Christ is absent in his bodie.

7. Christ said not, ‘Under the forme of bread,’ or ‘in the bread;’ but he said, ‘This,’ that is, ‘This bread is my bodie.’

Thirdly, this sense accords with the nature of a sacrament: in which we must make a proportion and resemblance betweene the signe and the thing signified: which here can be none if the bread be properly the bodie.33

Thus, the Reformed interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11 accords with both the analogy of faith, the plain teaching of clear passages of Scripture, and common sense. As such, it is to be chosen before any vain interpretation that contradicts basic Christian truth, plain passages of Scripture and common sense.

Perkins also helps ministers to understand how to interpret passages that seem to indicate that something is completed, when as yet it was not completed:

Things spoken (completivè) as if they were alreadie finished, if they be not as yet finished, they are to be understood (inchoativè) as beeing begun, and in the way to be fulfilled. Gen. 5. 32. ‘And when Noah was five hundred yeares old, he begat Shem, Ham and Japheth,’ that is, he began to beget them. Gen. 11. 26. ‘Terah lived seventie yeares, when hee begat Abram, Nahor, and Haran.’ 1 King. 6. 2. 37. Psal. 119. 8.34

Passages like this can confuse the people of God and give enemies of God occasions for false accusations. Thus the skillful prophet will train his people to repel the enemy’s paper swords.

Moreover, a skillful prophet will teach his people to carefully consider Scripture’s teaching on the “will of God.” In this way the divine threats of judgment will be properly distinguished from the declarations that God wills the futurition of this or that event in particular:

The Lord saith to Abimelech, because hee had taken Abrahams wife to himselfe: ‘Behold, thou shalt die for the woman which thou hast taken;’ except, ‘unlesse thou restore her.’ Hence arose the distinction in the schooles of the Signifying will, and the will of Gods good-pleasure. The will of good-pleasure is that, whereby God doth will something absolutely and simply without any condition, as the creation and regiment of the world, and the sending of the his Sonne. The signifying will is that, whereby he willeth some things for some other thing and with condition, and so we say, because that the condition annexed is a signe of the will, that God doth so will.35

Often the “will of God” is confused in Scripture and in preaching, and this confusion has very profound effects in the experience of professed Christians. Skillfully handling the Word of righteousness assists in the sanctification of the saints, and firms the mind against temptations to misunderstand and cavil at Scripture.

Perkins also assists the prophet to rightly divide the Word of truth by understanding the certainty of the divine words of Scripture:

The Enallage of the preterperfect tense, whereby the time past is put for the time to come, signifieth in the oracles of the Prophets the certentie of the thing that is to come. Gen. 20. 3. ‘Thou art dead because of the woman,’ that is, ‘thou shalt die.’ Isai. 9. 6. ‘Unto us a child is borne, unto us a sonne is given.’ Isa. 21. 9. ‘It is fallen, it is fallen, Babylon, &c.’36

Thus, the prophet is assisted in rightly interpreting prophetic utterances in Scripture. The certainty of the futurition of certain events in God’s will of good-pleasure is an anchor for the saints’ faith. And this too quenches the fiery darts of the evil one, hurled against the veracity of the Scripture when things are said to be done already when they have yet to be completed hundreds of years later.

Moreover, in terms of application and edification in righteousness, properly understanding the figures of speech in Scripture is critical. Regarding tropes in Scripture Perkins notes:

All tropes are emphaticall, and besides delight and ornament they doe also affoard matter for the nourishment of faith: as when Christ is put for a Christian man, or the Church of God. Math. 25. 35. 1 Cor. 12. ‘As the bodie is one, and hath many members: and all the members of one bodie, though they be many, are yet but one bodie; so also Christ,’ that is, The Church, Act. 9. 4. This trope doth comfort a faithfull soule, and nourish faith.37

We are Christ’s people. Yet this truth is more firmly impressed upon our hearts when we hear that figure of speech which makes us to be Christ Himself! Again, this is a mere figure of speech, but its force is overpowering if properly grasped. Our names are written on the palm of His hand, and we are the apple of His eye. Hallelujah!

Related to the matter of interpretation, Perkins handles the analogy of faith. In terms of the work of the prophet, he must understand how the various truths of Scripture fit together with one another. God’s Word is an expression of His mind, and therefore its contents must fit together one with another. The analogy of faith is simply the way in which these various components of divine truth fit together with one another. Perkins explains:

The analogie of faith, is a certaine abridgement or summe of the Scriptures, collected out of most manifest & familiar places. The parts thereof are two. The first concerneth faith, which is handled in the Apostles Creede. The second concerneth charity or love, which is explicated in the tenne Commandements. 2 Timothie 1. 13. Keepe the true patterne of the wholesome words, which thou hast heard of men, with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.38

This sum or pattern of sound words is the bedrock for every Christian. Faith and love are the sums of our religion. The Creed and the Decalogue shape who we are in Christ Jesus. This analogy of faith must govern how the prophet preaches and applies Scripture. Nothing may be safely spoken against the Creed or the Decalogue. And these two components of the analogy of faith must drive the heart and soul of the prophet’s application of Scripture to his hearers.

Concerning the sum of Scripture in the analogy of faith, Perkins helpfully summarizes:

The Summe of the Scripture is conteined in such a syllogisme, or forme of reasoning, as this is which followeth. (a) The true Messias shall be both God and man of the seede of David; he shall be borne of a Virgin; he shall bring the Godspell forth of his Fathers bosome; he shall satisfie the Law; he shall offer up himself a sacrifice for the sinnes of the faithful; he shall conquer death by dying and rising againe; he shall ascend into heaven; and in his due time he shall returne unto judgement. But (b) Jesus of Nazareth the Sonne of Mary is such a one; He (c) therefore is the true Messias.

In this syllogisme the Major is the scope or principall drift in all the writings of the Prophets: and the Minor in the writings of the Evangelists and Apostles.39

This adequately summarizes the whole content of things to be believed in a short paragraph. The Scriptures primarily teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.40 This paragraph summarizes the first part of the primary teaching of Scripture. Christ is the sum of the sum; the analogy of faith’s heart and soul.

Perkins also notes foundational principles which Scripture itself provides:

A principle is that which doth directly, and immediately serve both for the salvation of men, and for the glory of God, which being also denied and over-turned, no salvation can be hoped for.

There are especially sixe principles: repentance, faith, baptisme, that is, the sacraments, imposition of hands, that is, the ministery of the word by a Synechdoche, the resurrection, and the last judgement, Heb. 6. 1, 2, 3.41

What is interesting about the principles listed in Scripture, and pointed out by Perkins, is that most of these are neglected, to a greater or lesser extent, in our day. Modern evangelicals may be familiar with faith, though sadly some are taught to neglect the doctrine of repentance. The sacraments are held to be indifferent matters in many quarters, or are seen as too controversial. The notion that lawful ordination is a basic principle of the Christian faith is yet another sad illustration of the gross biblical ignorance in our day. Many suppose that “me and Jesus” is the way to go, whereas Scripture teaches that the laying on of hands in ordination is a basic principle of Christianity, without which, one is merely an ABC student in the school of Christ.

Yet when one moves into more advanced teachings in the school of Christ, he must move beyond these basics into matters more weighty and substantial. Milk is perfect for infants, but does not sustain the life of young or aged men. Thus, there is a need to “grow up to perfection,” and to build upon the basic doctrines of Christ. Perkins explains:

Strong meate is a speciall, copious, luculent and cleare handling of the doctrine of faith: as when the condition of man before the fall, his fall, originall and actuall sinne, mans guiltinesse, free-will, the mysteries of the Trinity, the two natures of Christ, the imputation of righteousness, faith, grace, and the use of the law, are delivered out of the word of God distinctly and exactly.42

Gauging by the doctrines that Perkins mentions in particular, it is lamentable that most pastors would not be considered as strong Christians, but such as are learning the mere ABCs of the faith.

Yet, as a Christian grows up to maturity in Christ, the doctrines of the law and the gospel, delivered in Scripture, become increasingly important. The gospel is the fuel that drives the car, and the law is the steering wheel that directs the path to take. Without these two, the car of the Christian life goes nowhere. In this manner, Perkins demonstrates that the work of the prophet includes moving hearers from the state of infants into the state of mature men in Christ.

In conclusion, in reading the Prophesy, I have been edified by Perkins’ discussion of the application of texts in preaching, Scripture, its interpretation, the analogy of faith, preaching, prophesy, sermon preparation, and law and gospel. The topics focus in on the work of the prophet in delivering the Word of God to the flock of Christ. He must skillfully wield Scripture, safeguarding the analogy of faith, properly distinguishing law and gospel, and applying the appropriate remedy to the malady at hand. This book is a useful manual of homiletics, and I would recommend it for any student of theology, or pastor.

1 William Perkins, The Art of Prophecying, or a Treatise Concerning the Sacred and Onely True Manner and Methode of Preaching, in The Works of That Famous and Worthy Minister of Christ in the Universitie of Cambridge, M. William Perkins, Volume 2 (London: Printed by John Legatt, 1631). This work will be cited as Prophesy in the text and footnotes. Note: spelling, capitalization, punctuation and formatting have followed this edition as closely as possible.

2 Prophesy, 646.

3 Prophesy, 646.

4 Prophesy, 646.

5 Prophesy, 645.

6 Prophesy, 670.

7 Prophesy, 670.

8 Ibid.

9 Prophesy, 670-1.

10 Prophesy, 670.

11 Prophesy, 651.

12 Ibid.

13 Prophesy, 664.

14 Prophesy, 665.

15 Prophesy, 665.

16 Prophesy, 665.

17 Prophesy, 666.

18 Prophesy, 666.

19 Prophesy, 667.

20 Prophesy, 667.

21 Prophesy, 667-8.

22 Prophesy, 668.

23 Ibid.

24 Prophesy, 668.

25 Prophesy, 664.

26 Prophesy, 664.

27 Prophesy, 647.

28 Ibid.

29 Prophesy, 649.

30 Ibid.

31 Prophesy, 651.

32 Prophesy, 654.

33 Prophesy, 654-5.

34 Prophesy, 656.

35 Prophesy, 657.

36 Prophesy, 658.

37 Prophesy, 659.

38 Prophesy, 651-2.

39 Prophesy, 647.

40 Cf. Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 3.

41 Prophesy, 665.

42 Prophesy, 666.