Only the word of God and its faithful exposition—that is, exposition in line with the hermeneutical principles stated in The Arte of Prophecying—could accomplish the monumental tasks before sixteenth-century Puritans. Perkins in particular strove to transform an ignorant and immoral people, exhorting them to live up to the Reformation principles England had officially adopted. So, in his preaching and practical works, what did he do? He expounded Scripture.
William Perkins’s convictions on the ministry of God’s word are best known through his preaching manual, The Arte of Prophecying, which became a standard textbook on the subject. The volume articulated a thoroughly Protestant understanding of the nature and authority of Scripture and rooted itself in a thoroughly Reformed hermeneutic. The book also featured a fountain of homiletical advice, as Perkins detailed his method of sermon development and delivery. More than any other, the popularity of this book explains Perkins’s enduring significance in the decades and even centuries after his death.
Interpreting Scripture with Scripture
Perkins’s business was the ministry of the word, and it extended far beyond his sermons. He carried this commitment to the word into every genre of his writing. This consistency evidences his convictions concerning Scripture itself as well as the nature of his goals as a reformer. It is not an overstatement to say the systematic interpretation of the Bible and the presentation of its results defined Perkins’s life in the university and church pulpit. In fact, it is because of this rigorous commitment—whether in his practical materials, theological treatises, or polemical works—that Perkins started with Scripture and always applied it to the task at hand.
William Perkins interpreted Scripture with Scripture by using three tools: context, collation, and the analogy of faith. In brief, context is a close reading of the text in terms of the argument and literary features; collation a comparison with other passages; and the analogy of faith the boundaries of the Reformed tradition. Perkins expounded Scripture throughout his works according to this method, which he presents in The Arte of Prophecying.