The Work of a Prophet
Being an Interaction with the Text of
The Art of Prophecie
by William Perkins
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 (plhrofor…an,) 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.
9 Prophesy, 670-1.
10 Prophesy, 670.
11 Prophesy, 651.
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.
24 Prophesy, 668.
25 Prophesy, 664.
26 Prophesy, 664.
27 Prophesy, 647.
29 Prophesy, 649.
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.