Faithful Shepherd 5B

Chapter 5 continued
The text must be out of the canon of Scripture
For the text, it must be canonical Scripture. The minister is God’s mouth. He must then speak God’s word, not only taking it for his text but making sure all his words agree to the written truth, above which he may not presume.
The prophets came with the word of the Lord (Je 23;28; 1 Pe 4:11; 1 Co 4:6); our Saviour uttered only the word of his Father and as his Father spoke to him (Jn 7:16, 8:26, 12:50; Ac 26:22). His text was the canon of Scripture (Lk 4:16, 17). He interpreted Scripture (Lk 24). St Paul taught nothing but Scripture. It alone binds conscience. It is absolutely perfect. It converts and makes perfect (Ps 19:7; He 4;12; 1 Ti 3:16). Men’s precepts are no rule in religion. Will and affection is too base to rule and to command reason, and reason too swayed by man’s wisdom is too carnal for religion. (Ro 8:7). Ezra’s text was Scripture (Neh 8), Christ’s out of Isaiah (29:13); the Levites’ was the law (2 Ch 17:9). Everyone spoke out of the Book of God and so it continued until popish prelates invented lying legends to beguile the people. They are such as God gives over to believe lies because they did not keep or receive a love of the truth and so remain to this day even their best teachers, by God’s just judgement.
What kind of text
In the past some have preached without a text, but it is not now the custom of the church, which ordinarily must be observed. Nor is that other way so useful for increasing knowledge of the Scripture, nor to cause reverence for that which is spoken, people not seeing where it is grounded. Secondly, it must a text to beget faith, to ground hope and to settle love. We must choose such places as plainly afford us these things, to teach them regularly as the apostle exhorts.
Obscure Scriptures about which controversial questions must necessarily arise leave to the schools and do not handle them among the common people and the ordinary sort. Common assemblies are not suitable either to hear or to judge controversies. Yet it is the fault of many preachers, who commonly use every sermon to raise one point or another that is disputed. They they spend most of their time on it, often without just reason or necessary cause. The fruit of these men’s labours is their hearers contentiousness, talk about words, quibbles and vain ostentation - but not faith working by love and holy sanctification.
It must be a fit text
Thirdly, the text must be for the hearers. If St Paul preach before a heathen Felix, intemperate and unjust, his words shall sound out temperance, righteousness and judgement so that Felix may hear and tremble. Christ Jesus will preach before scribes and Pharisees against false interpretation of Scripture, human traditions and hypocrisy.
This choice of fit text commends the minister’s wisdom in teaching; his faithfulness to perform his office without fear and his care to do good. It will prevent cavils when things are reproved, which the text plainly affords. On the contrary, an inappropriate text shows that the preacher lacks judgement, either to choose his text or to know his audience or both. Otherwise it is that he has but some favourite sermons that must serve his turn alike upon all occasions in any place or that he is fearful and dare not take a text to touch them, especially men of consequence, whom he would rather please by his preaching, to advantage himself and so loathe is such a one to offend. It is the fault of too many in these days - men-pleasers, not the servants of Christ.
This is the reason why many weigh every word, as in a balance, for weight and tunable measure, for fine pronunciation to delight the ear, more for a plaudit than to convince conscience or to remove impiety. They glance at sin sometimes but fair and far off for fear of hitting. They are much in controversies, by which they least displease men who lead sinful lives, who willingly listen to anything except about their sins and reformation of life. These be preachers full of discretion but of little religion and lacking a true and hearty desire to bring men to salvation.
Here then we see that a preacher must have knowledge of his audience, to fit his text to them, considering where they be and what kind of persons - public or private, ecclesiastical or of the body politic, superstitious or religious, of holy life or profane, peaceable or persecutors, zealous or lukewarm, constant or backsliders, of sound judgement or wandering from the truth, either ignorantly or out of obstinacy.
The place must be also considered - a city or a town, a popular place or a last resort. Also, if the meeting be not an ordinary one, he must note the occasion, the purpose and timing - whether in happiness or in sorrow, to rejoice or lament, in time of prosperity or adversity - and so frame his speech.
How to be always ready to speak
Therefore it is also requisite that he be a man experienced in the Word and one who has in reading Scripture gathered together a variety of portions on a variety of subjects and has them ready noted in some little paper book and studies at times to be more ready to speak on them as occasion shall require. If a man wants to know how to speak well at any time, in any place, to all sorts of unknown people, he must take general Scriptures which may rightly concern all and cannot be spoken to any without making an impact, such as these - Ec 12:13, Jas 1:27, 2 Co 1:5, 10, Ju 14, Jn 3:16 or 36, Ac 18:26, etc.

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