And these clerks began their preaching, and they had fair Latin books with them, and they recited their reading clearly, and praised the Creator fervently. And it was recreation of mind and heart to the hosts to listen to them. And those who had never thought of God before, turned their thoughts to Him now.
- Life of Colman Ela, Irish, 17th century from an earlier ms.
For the Word of God is living and powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
- Hebrews 4.12
The anonymous author of Life of Colman Ela was reporting on the work of itinerate preachers from the ministry of Colman Ela, some time during the period of the Celtic Revival (ca. 430-800 AD). These wandering missionary/monks were known as peregrini, and they brought renewal to churches and the Gospel to pagan peoples in Ireland, Scotland, Gaul (France), the Low Countries, Switzerland, and elsewhere.
In this account, the audience for their preaching was some local king and his tribe. We can make a couple of observations here about the preaching of these 6th-century Celtic missionaries – preaching which God honored in ways the likes of which we have not witnessed in our lifetime.
First, their preaching was clear and fervent. This is evident both in the description of their delivery, and in the response of those who heard them, and who eagerly embraced their teaching. These simple preachers made their points clearly, bringing the Word to their hearers in a manner that could penetrate their minds and open their hearts.
Second, their preaching was based on the Latin text of the Bible – probably their own hand-made copies, transcribed for use in ministry. They probably read the original, then translated it into the vernacular for their hearers. We can be sure that they had spent much time in the Word and were well prepared for this labor. Each monastery had a scriptorium where the work of Scripture study and copying was part of every monk’s assigned duties. Celtic peregrini were solid students of the Word, and passionate proclaimers of it.
Third, preaching consisted of a combination of impassioned reading, praise to God, and instruction to the hearts and minds of the hearers. All these were blended seamlessly, it seems, into the proclamation of the Good News. We can imagine how this must have helped hearers have a weightier sense of the Presence of God and the urgency of His truth.
This is the kind of preaching that unsheaths the living and active Word to impact lives. No jokes, stories, or skits. No gimmicks. No impressive, detailed explanations of subtle word usages or nuances of grammar. Reading, praising, explaining with clarity and fervor.
No wonder those Irish pagans who heard this preaching turned their thoughts to God. They were confronted by the power of the living Word.
We need a revival of preaching in the Church today, preaching that floods the mind with clear expositions of Biblical texts and teaching, and that stabs at the heart to lay it bear before the searching Spirit of God. Preaching that includes comparative reading of Scripture, such as one finds in the writings of Jonathan Edwards. Preaching that calls on and praised the Lord as the sermon unfolds. Preaching that is passionate, urgent, and uncompromising.
This kind of preaching requires diligent preparation and study. It also requires unblinking courage, for it will not be popular with the masses, who prefer entertainment to transformation.
But it will be blessed of God if it is grounded in prayer and proclaimed with love, just as it was during the period of the Celtic Revival.
And we who have been appointed witnesses for Christ – peregrini pro Christo in our own Personal Mission Fields – should learn from the example of these Celtic monks as well. We have Good News to tell! Let us tell it clearly, persuasively, and often.
Only the Word of God can bring life to lost sinners. Only the living and active Word of God can awaken slumbering saints, bring them to true repentance, and equip them for every good work. Only the Word of God can bring us into the Presence of our Lord and His glory where the Spirit can transform us into the image of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 3.12-18).
Let us pray that God will move in the hearts of preachers and witnesses all over the world to recover the ministry of proclaiming God’s Word with clarity and fervor, urgency, praise, and sound teaching.
Then we will see what God can do.
Psalm 25.4-7 (Festal Song: Rise Up, O Men of God)
Make me to know Your ways, teach me Your paths, O Lord!
My Savior, all day long I wait and seek You in Your Word.
Remember mercy, Lord, and steadfast love to me!
And all my sins before You let them not remembered be!
You have entrusted me with the Good News, O Lord. Help me to be a faithful witness today as I…
The Gospel of the Kingdom
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T. M. Moore, Principal
All Psalms for singing from The Ailbe Psalter. Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 Plummer, p. 163.