The Puritan evangelist brought to his work a unique inward disposition or frame of mind and soul. Commitment to godliness lay at the heart of the Puritan vision. Thomas Brooks wrote, “A preacher’s life should be a commentary upon his doctrine; his practice should be the counterpane [counterpart] of his sermons. Heavenly doctrines should always be adorned with a heavenly life.”
Preachers are the glass [the mirror],
the school, the book,
Where people’s eyes do learn, do read, do look.1Works of Thomas Brooks, 4:24.
The Puritan evangelist had a heart to serve God; devotion to and care for the people of God and the unsaved; devotion to the Scriptures and ability to preach them; a sense of dependency on the Holy Spirit coupled with a life of prayerfulness. These last two qualities in particular are lacking in modern evangelism and need to be addressed in our concluding chapters.
First, the Puritans showed a profound dependence upon the Holy Spirit in everything they said and did. They felt keenly their inability to bring anyone to Christ as well as the magnitude of conversion. “God never laid it upon thee to convert those he sends thee to. No; to publish the gospel is thy duty,” William Gurnall said to ministers.2The Christian in Complete Armour (1662; reprint London: Banner of Truth Trust, 1964), p. 574 (second pagination). And Richard Baxter wrote, “Conversion is another kind of work than most are aware of. It is not a small matter to bring an earthly mind to heaven and to show man the amiable excellencies of God, to be taken up in such love to him that can never be quenched; to make him flee for refuge to Christ and thankfully embrace him as the life of his soul; to have the very drift and bent of his life change so that a man renounces that which he took for his happiness, and places his happiness where he never did before.”3Cf. Richard Baxter, Reformed Pastor, abridged (1862; reprint London: Banner of Truth Trust, 1974), pp. 94-96, 114-16.
The Puritans were convinced that both preacher and listener are totally dependent on the work of the Spirit to effect regeneration and conversion when, how, and in whom He will.4Packer, A Quest for Godliness, pp. 296-99. The Spirit brings God’s presence into human hearts. He persuades sinners to seek salvation, renews corrupt wills, and makes scriptural truths take root in stony hearts. As Thomas Watson wrote, “Ministers knock at the door of men’s hearts, the Spirit comes with a key and opens the door.”5A Body of Divinity, p. 154. And Joseph Alleine said: “Never think you can convert yourself. If ever you would be savingly converted, you must despair of doing it in your own strength. It is a resurrection from the dead (Eph. 2:1), a new creation (Gal. 6:15; Eph. 2:10), a work of absolute omnipotence (Eph. 1:19).”6An Alarm to the Unconverted, pp. 26-27.
Modern evangelists need to be persuaded that the Spirit’s regenerating action, as John Owen wrote, is “infallible, victorious, irresistible, and always efficacious”; it “removeth all obstacles, overcomes all oppositions, and infallibly produces the effect intended.”7Works, 3:317ff. All modes of action which imply another doctrine are unbiblical. As Packer writes: “All devices for exerting psychological pressure in order to precipitate ‘decisions’ must be eschewed, as being in truth presumptuous attempts to intrude into the province of the Holy Ghost.” Such pressures may even be harmful, he goes on to say, for while they “may produce the outward form of ‘decision,’ they cannot bring about regeneration and a change of heart, and when the ‘decisions’ wear off those who registered them will be found ‘gospelhardened’ and antagonistic.” Packer concludes in a Puritan vein: “Evangelism must rather be conceived as a long-term enterprise of patient teaching and instruction, in which God’s servants seek simply to be faithful in delivering the gospel message and applying it to human lives, and leave it to God’s Spirit to draw men to faith through this message in his own way and at his own speed.”8A Quest for Godliness, pp. 163-64.
A Biblical Approach
Joel R. Beeke