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Pastoral Book Reviews – The Art of Prophesying
Reviewed by Dr. C. Matthew McMahon
The Art of Prophesying,
By William Perkins
Banner of Truth Trust, Carlisle, PA: 1996.
191 Pages, Paperback
William Perkins was born in 1558 in Marston Jabbet in Warwickshire. He received his formal education at Christ’s College, Cambridge, He graduated with a B.A. in 1581, but remained at Christ’s College as a fellow until 1595; he served as lecturer (preacher) in the church of Great St. Andrews from 1584 until his death in 1602 at the age of 44.
Perkin’s style of preaching was called the “plain style”. The description is self explanatory: in sharp contrast to “witty” preaching which employed the fashions and devices of human eloquence and classical rhetoric, Perkins believed preaching should conform to the apostolic touchstone of being “the open manifestation of the truth” (2 Cor. 4:2). Unfolding and applying the text of the Scripture in a straightforward and simple, yet vigorous and direct style of speech and manner were it hallmarks. It was to be in a three tiered format: the text was explained in its context, the doctrine or central teaching of the passage was expounded clearly and concisely; and then the careful application to the hearers followed in further explanation, and careful application to the hearers. These application were commonly deemed “uses”.
This particular book was published in Latin in 1592, and was translated into English in 1606. The title is not meant to indicate the art of foretelling, but “forth-telling” or “preaching.” It also houses the other half of the elder’s responsibility which is praying. In the first section the book covers the preaching and praying of the elder. In the second half one of Perkins’ disciples wrote down and published Perkins’ lectures on “The Call to the Ministry.”
The first section can be summed up in this way, which Perkins did himself: Preaching involves: 1) Rereading the text clearly from the canonical Scriptures. 2) Explaining the meaning of it, once it has been read, in light of the Scriptures themselves. 3) Gathering a few profitable points of doctrine from the natural sense of the passage. 4) If the preacher is suitably gifted, applying the doctrines thus explained to the life and practice of the congregation in straightforward, plain speech. The heart of the matter is this: Preach one Christ, by Christ, to the praise of Christ. (Perkins’ did not think that those unsuited could preach. In the second half of the book he covers this thoroughly.)
In the last portion of the book, Perkins covers two texts; one is Isaiah 6, and the other in Job 33:23. He is going to describe the minister of the Gospel in 5 ways in Job 33: 1) By his titles: he is a messenger and an interpreter. 2) By his rarity: he is one in a thousand. 3) By his office: he is to declare…His righteousness. 4) By the blessing that God gives to his labors: Then he will have mercy on him. 5) By his commission and authority in the last words God will say: Deliver him, that he go not down into the pit; for I have received a reconciliation. What then follows are remarks concerning the minister in these ways.
This is a book no pastor should be without.
“Whenever possible the minister should include himself in his reproofs. In this way his preaching, teaching and counseling will be expressed in a mild and gentle spirit (cf. Dan. 4:16-19; 1 Cor. 4:6; Gal. 2:15).”
“Application is the skill by which the doctrine which has been properly drawn from Scripture is handled in ways which are appropriate to the circumstances of the place and time and to the people in the congregation.”
“Every prophet’s task is to speak partly as the voice of God (in preaching), and partly as the voice of the people (in praying).”
“First of all he is someone who can expound and explain the covenant of grace, and rightly lay down how this reconciliation is accomplished. Secondly, he is someone who can properly and accurately apply the means for its outworking. Thirdly, he is someone who has authority to proclaim and declare it when it is effected. In these three ways he is God’s interpreter to the people.”
“How can anyone be an interpreter unless he knows the mind of God himself?”
“According to the plain and literal sense: among the men of this world, there is not one in a thousand who proves to be a true minister.”
This book is exceptional. If any minister can read through this book and not question his qualifications to be an elder, if he should really and truly be an elder in any church, he is not fit for the office. Hearty self examination is what this book procures.