Examining the preaching methods of Spurgeon
Kindled Fire: How the Methods of C.H. Spurgeon Can Help Your Preaching by Zack Eswine (Mentor Press: 2006) $17.99.
The pages of church history give us great examples of Christian men and women whose lives can teach and inspire us in our own ministries. Even as we rise to face the unique challenges of presenting the unchanging Gospel in the modern world, we should gladly admit we stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us.
Zack Eswine, professor of homiletics at Covenant Seminary in St. Louis, has written an outstanding book for preachers, using the methods of C.H. Spurgeon as material for our instruction.
Although the 19th century British preacher is now well-known and admired, in his own day he was often vilified by fellow clergy for both his doctrine and his manner of speaking. Furthermore, Spurgeon faced some of the same cultural hindrances to preaching that we face today.
Eswine notes that many preachers in Spurgeon’s day attempted polished oratory in order to attain much-desired respectability in society. While Spurgeon did not lack the mental ability to be a refined orator, he deliberately chose instead to talk plainly, imitating the style of Jesus among the crowds. As a result, Spurgeon’s preaching was considered vulgar and obscene by religious elites. Spurgeon replied, “I am not speaking as some great orator might, but as a brother declaring the Father’s name as best I know it.”
Contrasting his own ministry with those who favored classical rhetoric models of oratory or even music, art and architecture as a means of instructing the masses, Spurgeon said, “We know that the greatest crowd in London has been held together these thirty years by nothing but the preaching of Christ crucified. Where is our music? Where is our oratory? Where is anything of attractive architecture, or beauty or ritual? A “bare service” they call it. Yes, but Christ makes up for all deficiencies.”
Eswine devotes four chapters to showing “The Preacher’s Power” as coming from the Holy Spirit. This section is particularly helpful because all of our Bible knowledge and human skills are worthless apart from the infusion of the Spirit’s power while we preach. Both the preacher and those listening must have the grace of God in order to rightly hear and obey the Word of God.
Spurgeon often suffered in his physical body, and he also struggled with depression. Sitting with his wife on Sunday evenings, he would lament, “I fear I have not been as faithful in my preaching today as I should have been. I have not been as much in earnest after poor souls as God would have me be. O Lord, pardon Thy servant!”
From the depths of his own sorrow, he was able to give profitable instruction to the young ministers he mentored, showing them the reality of burdensome ministry. He taught them to cling unto their salvation in Christ and know that God alone could bear the burden of the salvation of souls.
In this brief review, I have only hit the highlights of this magnificent book. Pastors, I encourage you to purchase a copy in order to find instruction and refreshment. Our own preaching will benefit from thinking deeply about the methods of Spurgeon. (Scott Lamb pastors Providence Baptist Church, St. Louis, and is a regular book reviewer for The Pathway. To respond to this review or to read about other books, visit www.wisdomofthepages.com.)