This quest differentiated him from other preachers of the day who seemed more concerned with impressing listeners with rhetorical and oratorical expertise, fueled by a desire to be seen as one with intellectual and academic dexterity. The critique often levied toward the practice of academic writing and speaking is that it’s “confusing and dense, that it suffers from a lack of clarity and concision.” Spurgeon sought to communicate the lofty aspects of theological thought in a way that the one of average or below average intellect could comprehend.
Of the many gifts God gave Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892), one was a conviction as to the authority and sufficiency of the Word of God. As such, his forty years of pastoral ministry was marked by a quest for clarity in proclaiming that authority and sufficiency.
Thou book of vast authority! thou art a proclamation from the Emperor of Heaven; far be it from me to exercise my reason in contradicting thee. Reason, thy place is to stand and find out what this volume means, not to tell what this book ought to say. Come thou, my reason, my intellect, sit thou down and listen, for these words are the words of God.
He did not take total umbrage in understanding the times (for he was quite adept at the practice), but insomuch as to help the church understand how to apply the gospel.
Be much with the silly novels of the day, and the foolish trifles of the hour, and you will degenerate into vapid wasters of your time; but be much with the solid teaching of God’s word, and you will become solid and substantial men and women; drink them in, and feed upon them, and they shall produce in you a Christ-likeness, at which the world shall stand astonished.
This quest differentiated him from other preachers of the day who seemed more concerned with impressing listeners with rhetorical and oratorical expertise, fueled by a desire to be seen as one with intellectual and academic dexterity. The critique often levied toward the practice of academic writing and speaking is that it’s “confusing and dense, that it suffers from a lack of clarity and concision.” Spurgeon sought to communicate the lofty aspects of theological thought in a way that the one of average or below average intellect could comprehend. Spurgeon not only taught but exemplified a pastoral passion to provide the Scriptures clearly! Spurgeon practiced and equipped young pastors to preach clearly and persuasively.
1) Know Your People
In order to provide clarity, a pastor must know his people in his church and the audience if outside his church
Try, dear brethren, to get such a style of speaking that you suit yourselves to your audiences. Much lies in that. The preacher, who should address an educated congregation in the language which he would use in speaking to a company of costermongers, would prove himself a fool; and, on the other hand, he who goes down amongst miners and colliers, with technical theological terms and drawing-room phrases, acts like an idiot. . . . Now the costermonger cannot learn the language of the College, let the collegian learn the language of the costermonger.”
Here, Spurgeon risked losing many-an academic, yet his commitment lay more in helping clarify the Scriptures for all rather than any personal accolades he would receive as an intellectual giant.
2) Know Your Calling
Spurgeon believed that the preacher’s ultimate calling was bringing people to Christ. The quest for clarity of content comes from the clarity of calling. He fervently sought to remind pastors and parishioners alike of this primary ministry:
Do you above all things aim at saving souls? I am afraid that some have forgotten this grand object; but, dear friends, anything short of this is unworthy to be the great end of a Christian’s life. I fear there are some who preach with the view of amusing men, and as long as people can be gathered in crowds, and their ears can be tickled, and they can retire pleased with what they have heard, the orator is content, and folds his hands, and goes back self-satisfied. But Paul did not lay himself out to please the public and collect the crowd. If he did not save them he felt that it was of no avail to interest them.
Spurgeon nails the problem in many pulpits—a desire to merely interest their listeners. Spurgeon’s perspective was vertical. Now, should he move toward looking horizontally, the aim was to bring them vertical rather than for the congregation to bring him horizontal. The focus of the “business of the church” is the business of the minister.
The business of the church is salvation. The minister is to use all means to save some; he is no minister of Christ if this be not the one desire of his heart. Missionaries sink far below their level when they are content to civilize: their first object is to save. The same is true of the Sunday-school teacher, and of all other workers among children; if they have merely taught the child to read, to repeat hymns, and so forth, they have not yet touched their true vocation. We must have the children saved. At this nail we must drive, and the hammer must come down upon this head always— If by all means I may save some, for we have done nothing unless some are saved.