In his book, The Supremacy of God in Preaching, John Piper noted that God-centred expository preaching was the key to the New England revival under Jonathan Edwards (1734-1744). Piper sets forth ten characteristics of Edwards’ preaching which serve as an excellent paradigm for pastors today.
1. Preaching Stirs Up Holy Affections
Good preaching aims at stirring up holy affections. These include a hatred towards sin and a delight in God, as well as a growing desire for holiness, tenderness and compassion.
2. Preaching Enlightens The Mind
Sound preaching enlightens the mind and burns the heart. According to Edwards a preacher must shine and burn. There must be heat in the heart and light in the mind. Affections that do not arise from an enlightened mind are not holy affections but instead are simply emotional responses.
3. Preaching is Saturated With Scripture
Edwards held the firm conviction that good preaching is saturated with Scripture. Every sermon must steadily, constantly and frequently quote the Word of God. This truth will ensure that we stay on track as faithful ministers of the Word.
4. Preaching Employs Analogies and Images
Abstract truth must be fleshed out. Edwards argued that vivid images touch the heart more than anything else. Piper informs us that Edwards strained at making heaven look irresistibly beautiful and the torments of hell look intolerably horrible.
5. Preaching Uses Threats and Warnings
In our day of politically correct language and blind tolerance, Edwards argues for threat and warning since it restrains one from sin and excites one to spiritual exercise.
6. Preaching Pleads for a Response
Sound preaching seeks a response. Edwards, like Spurgeon after him, pointed out: “Sinners… should be earnestly invited to come and accept of a Saviour, and yield their hearts unto him, with all the winning, encouraging arguments for them… that the Gospel affords.” (Piper, p.92)
7. Preaching Probes the Workings of the Heart
Piper points out that powerful preaching is like surgery. “Under the anointing of the Holy Spirit, it locates, lances, and removes the infection of sin.” (Piper, p.95) He shows that Edwards probed his own heart and therefore knew the heart of others. Sorting out the wheat from the chaff in his own church gave Edwards great insight into the heart of man.
8. Preaching Yields to the Holy Spirit
Since all preaching is totally dependent on the work of the Holy Spirit, prayer is an essential for good preaching.
9. Preaching is From a Tender and Broken Heart
Good preaching flows from a spirit of brokenness and tenderness. Edwards pointed out that the eye of blessing is upon the meek and trembling (Is. 66:2).
10. Preaching is Intense
The reality of heaven and hell ignites renewal and infuses the pulpit with power. The preacher is conscious of his responsibility as he declares eternal truths.