Solomon Stoddard was a Congregationalist minister in Massachusetts who lived from 1643-1728/29. He graduated from Harvard and was the first librarian at that college. He served as pastor at Northampton, Mass from 1672 until his death. There were major “revivals of religion” at Northampton in 1679, 1683, 1712 and 1718. The Dictionary of American Biography states: “As an ecclesiastical statesman he was unrivaled in his generation.” It is also notable that he was the grandfather of Jonathan Edwards.
On May 19, 1723, Stoddard preached a sermon at Northampton entitled “Defects of Preachers Reproved”.
He uses as his text Matt 23:2-3:‘The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practise [sic] what they teach.”
After reviewing who it is to whom the text refers and what the biblical expectations of the Jewish leaders and teachers were, he moves into the application of those principles to the preachers of his day.
There may be a great deal of preaching, but that does not meant that it is good preaching. Good, sound, biblical doctrines may be taught, but the people are harmed if some things are left untaught/unpreached.
Stoddard holds that many preachers are moral men and learned men, but those things do not make for good preachers. One may be learned, “yet drunk in very corrupt doctrine.”
Many preachers, Stoddard accuses, know much about the Bible, but have not had a conversion experience:
It is as with a Man that has seen a Map of a Country, or has read a great deal about it; he can’t tell the Way between Town and Town, and Hundreds of particular Circumstances, as a Man that has travelled or lived there is able to do. Experience fits Men to teach others.
I. An Examination to See If This Is The Case:
Stoddard suggests all preachers do self examination.
1. Bad preaching allows people to think that they don’t need to have to know a specific time of conversion in their lives. He sees minimizing having a specific time where one was converted as a sign of a lack of regeneration.
2. Good preaching always stresses that humiliation must precede faith. By “humiliation” I take it that he means to be broken of any sense of one’s own self-righteousness. We do not “grow” into Christian faith and maturity. It comes from brokenness, not progress.
Men must see their Malady, before they see their Remedy. Men must be led into the Understanding of the Badness of their Hearts and the strictness of the Law, before they will be convinced of the Preciousness of Christ. Men that can heal their own Consciences, will not come to Christ for Healing. Men must be driven by Necessity indeed before they come to Christ.
3. Bad preaching minimizes the “Danger of Damnation.”
Some Ministers preach most about moral Duties, and the blessed Estate of godly Men, but don’t seek to awaken Sinners and make them sensible of their Danger; they cry for Reformation: These Things are very needful in their Places to be spoken unto; but if Sinners don’t hear often of Judgment and Damnation, few will be converted. Many Men are in a deep Sleep, and flatter themselves as if there was no Hell, or at least that God will not deal so harshly with them as to damn them.
4. Bad preaching misrepresents justifying faith. Some preach that it is possible to understand all that God says or requires of us. “Faith in Christ is said to be only a Perswasion [sic] of the Truth of the Christian Religion.” They are Christian because it is more logical than “Heathenism” or Judaism or some other way.
Justifying Faith is set forth in the Scripture by many figurative Expressions; coming to Christ, opening to him, sitting under his Shadow, flying to him for Refuge, building on him as on a Foundation, feeding on him, [etc]. These Expressions do imply not only an Act of Understanding, but also an Act of the Will, accepting of him, depending on him.
Many “believed” in Jesus when they saw the miracles that he performed, but Jesus did not trust himself to them, because he knew that their faith was fickle.
5. (My copy jumps from Point 4 to point 6. I don’t know if this is a typo or point 5 has been edited out)
6. Bad preaching points to miraculous signs or the effect that the Word has on people’s lives as the sign of it’s authority. The authority of God’s word stands apart from any witness to it, miraculous or experiential. It stands because it IS the Word of God.
These Considerations may well strengthen the Faith of the People of God; but these Things cannot be the Foundation of our Faith: it is only the certain Knowledge of their Authority, that can be the Foundation of Faith or any other Grace.
7. If we preach that some things are “liberties as God doth not allow” it is not good preaching. Many preachers are unwilling to call people to account for the inconsistency of their behavior with their supposed profession of faith. While I am not sure I can buy into all the list of “licentious liberties” that Stoddard lists [some are pretty culturally bound], still his point is valid. We are often too meek to call people to account in our preaching for the inconsistencies in their walk.
As long as Men live in Way of Intemperance, Injustice, and unsuitable Carriages on the Sabbath, it will be a great Impediment to a thorough Work of Conversion. There may be Conversion tho’ Men are not broken off from Sins of Ignorance, but as long as they tolerate themselves in Immoralities, that will be a mighty Bar in the Way of their Conversion.
II. The Results of This Bad Preaching is Twofold:
1. There is so little conversion.
2. Even those who make a profession of faith, lead unsanctified lives. As Stoddard puts it: “tho’ they profess high, they live very low.” If they were confronted with their sin, Stoddard says, they not only would be able to reform,but they would better be prepared for eternal life.
You can find the entire text of the sermon here.
LATER ADDITION: In looking at another version of Stoddard’s sermon, I found that there was indeed a #5 that we left out of the previous version & had seen.
5. If we give people the impression that good behavior is a sign that we are under grace, that is not good preaching. (He words it: If any give false signs of godliness, that is not good preaching.”) Some behavior can make us think that probably someone is a believer, but only probably. It is able to be done by un-regenerate persons as well. We do not do well to allow people to think they are saved simply because they act in godly ways.
Those things that may flow from common principles don’t truly distinguish between saints and hypocrites, things such as a good conversation savory discourse, zeal against sin, strong religious affections, sorrow for sin, quietness under afflictions, delight in ordinances, or suffering for religion. From such loose signs people are in danger of taking up a false persuasion of their godliness.