Sunday, September 9, 2012

A Critique on Select Chapters from Charles Spurgeon's Lectures to my Students

            Charles Spurgeon in his work Lectures to My Students covers a wide range of material that is important to any man considering entering into the ministry. His work ranges from the need for us to have our own salvation securely in place all the way to how we conduct our daily conversation with those around us. As we read through the material we can notice a theme that appears, Spurgeon not only covers things that are of importance when dealing with sermons and our time in the pulpit, he covers the focus of our hearts.
            Spurgeon advocates for us to be extremely dependent upon prayer no matter if it’s during worship or our own private time with God. He believes our lives should be a continuous out pouring of prayer, he says, “I take it that as a minister he is always praying. Whenever his mind turns to his work, whether he is in it or out of it, he ejaculates a petition, sending up his holy desires as well-directed arrows to the skies. He is not always in the act of prayer but he lives in the spirit of it.” (Spurgeon 2010, 43)
            Spurgeon gives advice about how we should handle the text of our sermons. He tells us that we should not be afraid to spiritualize the text sometimes, but when we do we must do it with extreme caution. He warns us, “Within limit, my brethren, be not afraid to spiritualize, or to take singular texts. Continue to look out passages of Scripture, and not only give their plain meaning, as you are bound to do, but also draw from them meanings which may not lie upon their surface.” (Spurgeon 2010, 101)The most important part of our sermon must be the clear presentation of the Gospel. He says, “Brethren, first and above all things, keep to plain evangelical doctrines; whatever else you do or do not preach, be sure incessantly to bring forth the soul-saving truth of Christ and him crucified.” (Spurgeon 2010, 79) While we are presenting the gospel we must do it in manner that does not show this life we live according to Christ as drab or dull, but full of life. Because Christ himself told us, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”(John 10:10b ESV) If we cannot be excited by this then neither will our hearers. Spurgeon says, “It is not the order of nature that rivers should run uphill, and it does not often happen that zeal rises from the pew to the pulpit.” (Spurgeon 2010, 326)

Critique and Evaluation
This text was highly enjoyable to read as a student, and as someone looking to pursue a career as a full-time pastor. His insights are invaluable for anyone doing ministry. When he spoke of people complaining of the want of zeal being the most zealous (Spurgeon 2010, 332), this was inspirational. Another area he touched on was how ministers can sometimes become so cold to those around them because all they chose to do is be with God, but forget to be with people. He tells us, “Take care, also, to be on most familiar terms with those whose souls are committed to your care. Stand in the stream and fish. Many preachers are utterly ignorant as to how the bulk of the people are living; they are at home among books, but quite at sea among men.” (Spurgeon 2010, 337)
Spurgeon did well in his section on ministerial progress when he exclaimed, “In our modes of speech we should aim at being ‘all things to all men.’ He is the greatest master of oratory who is able to address any class of people in a manner suitable to their condition, and likely to touch their hearts.” (Spurgeon 2010, 223) The point he is making is a good one, if we are able to adjust our mode of presentation but not the meaning we become more effective than if we present the material the same way no matter where we are.   In the text he warns against praying too long, which can happen sometimes just as a desire to seem pious. His warning reads, “It is necessary in prayer to draw near unto God, but it is not required of you to prolong your speech till everyone is longing to hear the word ‘Amen.’”
One of the most difficult sections, yet instructive, dealt with the call to ministry. He says, “That which finally evidences a proper call, is a correspondent opening in providence, by a gradual train of circumstance pointing out the means, the time, the place of actually entering upon the work.” My question is how long must we wait for that evidence to appear? Do you have to be called as pastor of a church, or can you begin leading a Bible study to be affirmed? Because he says elsewhere that to be a pastor you must also posses the ability to teach others (Spurgeon 2010, 29).

Personal Application
This text is one that I believe I will look back over time and again in the future. It impacted me in ways that are not easy to describe, there were points in the text that brought doubt about my path in life; then there were times I had great joy about the things I could see the Lord lining up, or doing as Spurgeon was describing them. I have long felt called to become a pastor and questioned the Lord about this because things never seemed to fall in to place for this calling on my life. However, when I read these words I was comforted, “This desire should be one that continues with us, a passion which bears the test of trial, a longing from which it is quite impossible for us to escape, though we may have tried to do so; a desire, in fact which grows more intense with the lapse of years, until it becomes a yearning, a pinning, a famishing to proclaim the Word.” (Spurgeon 2010, 29) After reading this my heart leaped for joy because it described my situation perfectly.
Another area that spoke to my heart dealt with our ordinary conversation. While most men can afford to casually allow a conversation to slip in to ungodliness we must always be watchful of what we say. Spurgeon says, “…a minister, wherever he is, is a minister, and should recollect that he is on duty. A policeman or a soldier may be off duty, but a minister never is.” (Spurgeon 2010, 172) By realizing that I am always on duty then we may use our general conversation as a means of change, because the one person I am speaking with could come to know the Lord through our general conversation and never have stepped foot inside of a church. (Spurgeon 2010, 179)
It was also encouraging to me to read that he was a fan of expository preaching because I tend to enjoy that much more than general topical preaching. These words offered me great encouragement for my current ministry and future service, “I am sure that no preaching will last so long, or build up a church so well, as the expository.” (Spurgeon 2010, 218) Lastly, and far be it from least, was the reminder that we are not just tending after the sheep in the flock , but searching for the lost one to bring back into the fold. He struck a nerve when he said, “In many instances ministerial success is traceable almost entirely to an intense zeal, a consuming passion for souls, and an eager enthusiasm in the cause of God, and we believe that in every case, other things being equal, men prosper in the divine service in proportion as their hearts are blazing with holy love.” (Spurgeon 2010, 325)


Spurgeon, Charles Haddon. Letcures to My Students. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers Marketing, LLC, 2010.