I'm currently reading a history of Lancashire puritans and nonconformists published in 1878. A certain William Leigh, born 1550 and appointed vicar of Standish, is described as 'a painful preacher'. If someone said that of me, I'd know not how to take it. What does the phrase mean? Here are some suppositions:
He was difficult to listen to. He mumbled, got his words wrong, was generally unfathomable. This would indeed render him a painful preacher.
He preached too loudly. He yelled at his congregations and hurt their ears. This would be painful to those on the first few pews.
He preached about pain. God's people do suffer in this life, and those not the Lord's people in the next. He may have preached on this theme regularly, which earned him this description.
He caused his congregations to feel pain as he denounced sin and idolatry and blasted them from the pulpit.
Perhaps he suffered some physical ailment that bestowed on him a life of pain, even, or especially, when he got up and preached.
Or finally, and most convincingly, he took effort, or 'pains' to use Jacobean language, to preach. Many parsons back then were 'called' by luxurious livings and generous tithes rather than the Spirit of God. They didn't bother preaching, merely reading homilies or the set pieces in the Book of Common Prayer. Yet here was a man for whom the preaching ministry was central, both to saving souls and encouraging the saved.
He was a painful preacher. May all who preach become so. May we take pains to rightly divide the word of God and handle with care His lively oracles.