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Despise Not Prophesyings

Covenanters in a Glen

“Despise not prophesyings,” we are commanded in 1 Thessalonians 5:20.

The despising of prophesyings is a serious sin, as illustrated by the brazen actions of Jehoiakim, who cut the scroll of Jeremiah’s prophecies three or four leaves at a time and cast it into the fire. (Jer. 36:23) But is there any danger of committing this sin today, and who is in danger of doing so?

As one who believes that the office and gift of revelatory prophecy have ceased since the completion of the canon of Scripture, the present author also believes that the despising of prophesyings is a sin that it is possible to commit today, indeed, a sin that is commonly committed today. The key point is that “Preaching the Word is prophesying in the name and on behalf of Christ.” [The Art of Prophesying, William Perkins. Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1996. Originally published 1592. p. 7.]

This statement is made by English Puritan William Perkins in his classic book on preaching, titled The Art of Prophesying. There are several reasons why it is proper to speak of preaching as a kind of prophesying. The first is the prophetic nature of Scripture itself. The Old Testament Scriptures are the law and the prophets (Matt. 5:17), and the New Testament Scriptures are the record of the revelation given since Pentecost to the holy apostles and prophets (Eph. 3:5). Thus, he who preaches Scripture preaches the prophetic Word. The second reason is the prophetic office of Christ. Christ is the Prophet who has been raised up by God (Deut. 18:15). To preach is to speak “in Christ” (2 Cor. 2:17), and therefore he who preaches speaks in the great, risen, ascended Prophet of the Church.

The third reason why we may speak of preaching as a kind of prophesying is the fulfilled promise of the outpouring of the Spirit. When the gathered disciples were filled with the Holy Ghost and began to speak with tongues, Peter declared to the crowds at Pentecost: “But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.” (Acts 2:16-17)

Peter said that Joel’s prophecy had been fulfilled, even though the specific manifestation of the Spirit’s outpouring on that day lay in tongues-speaking and apostolic preaching rather than in widespread prophesy, dreams, and visions. The essence of the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy, as discerned by Peter, did not lie in the specific mode of speaking that the Spirit was enabling, but in the fact that the Spirit had been poured out by the ascended Christ so that the now-accomplished redemption might be declared in power to all men. Joel’s prophecy was clothed in the Old Testament garb of the modes of revelation common to the Old Testament – prophecy, dreams, and visions – but indicating a day when the Spirit and Word of the Lord would come in greater fullness. If we speak of preaching as a kind of prophesying, we are using Old Testament garb to refer to the better, clearer, fuller way in which the Lord declares his Word to us under the New Testament, just as Peter did.

Thus, he who despises the faithful preaching of the Word does, in some true sense, despise prophesying. We ought not to neglect opportunities of hearing the Word preached, nor sit under them but carelessly let them slip past without laying hold upon the Word preached, nor discount what is proclaimed through a too-great opinion of our own private judgment. Thomas Manton’s directions for gaining understanding set forth the attitude that we should have toward the preaching of the Word: “Call in the helps which God hath given, many private helps of commentaries; but above all, ‘despise not prophesying.’ Consult with the officers and guides of the church.” [A Commentary on Jude, by Thomas Manton. Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1989. Originally published 1658. p. 173.]

Brent Evans
Brent Evans
Rev. Brent C. Evans serves as the pastor of Reformation Presbyterian Church (FCC) in the suburbs of Atlanta, GA.