Lectures to My Students – A Review by David Campbell
The three series of lectures by the famous Baptist preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, bound together in Lectures to My Students,1 are doubtless familiar to many in this country and overseas. They were originally published between 1875 and 1894, and therefore were particularly relevant to that time, yet they represent Spurgeon’s mature thoughts on important aspects of the work of the ministry and preaching. The lectures were delivered on Friday afternoons to students in the Pastor’s College, which served Baptist churches in England from 1856. By Spurgeon’s admission and express design they are ‘colloquial, familiar, full of anecdote, and often humorous’. The passage of time has not eroded any of these features and their republication by the Banner of Truth highlights the contemporary relevance of Spurgeon’s approach to gospel preaching.
Perhaps the most obvious feature of the lectures, apart from the style referred to and recognised as Spurgeon’s very own, is their great emphasis on the importance of both a natural and practical presentation of the truth. Again and again this theme is addressed and enforced. Spurgeon, more than any other writer on this subject, shows his abhorrence of mechanical mannerisms and an artificial preaching style. While a balance is clearly needed, this emphasis was undoubtedly an overdue corrective to the clericalism and formalism of many in Spurgeon’s day. We perhaps live in times when the pendulum has swung too far towards irreverence and banality in the pulpit.
The first series, which is possibly the most useful and wide-ranging, deals with the subjects of the call to, and the dignity of, the ministry, the choice of texts, the use of the voice and the minister’s ordinary conversation. Spurgeon famously opposed the practice of preaching series of sermons on the same text, chapter or book. He was noted for his soundly-biblical expositions and his penetrating application of the truth. The abundance of sensible and often highly-amusing instruction lends itself to a thorough reading of this series. Students for the ministry in the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland are examined on this first series by their presbyteries before entering the ministry.
While the first series of lectures is better known than the other two, the first lecture of the second series is arguably the most weighty and significant. Entitled, ‘The Holy Spirit in Connection with Our Ministry’, it contains a biblical overview of the dependence of the ministry on the Holy Spirit and highlights the solemn results of the influences of the Spirit being withdrawn from preachers. While we cannot agree with some of Spurgeon’s statements (on pages 239-240) on the subject of Independent church government, we commend this chapter heartily to readers.
Some of the lectures in the second and the third series, for example those on open-air preaching, preaching posture, and also his references to works useful for illustration, are now dated. Yet the general importance of these subjects will not be lost on present-day preachers reading Spurgeon’s comments, even although they were addressed to his students in Victorian London. Spurgeon is justly famous for his own use of illustration in preaching and most of what he says on this important subject is highly relevant and practical. He advocates the use of illustrations from every possible source, including history, fable, science and the natural world. He encourages what other writers have called the ‘sermonising habit’ and lays out guidance for the discerning and discreet use of illustrative sources.
Importantly for one with a natural wit, Spurgeon warns against humour in preaching. ‘Those of us who are endowed with the dangerous gift of humour have need, sometimes, to stop and take the word out of our mouth and look at it, and see whether it is quite to edification.’ In our day, when the pulpit is much abused with frivolous remarks in the name of illustration and relevance, Spurgeon’s restraint is exemplary. ‘We need the Spirit of God,’ he says, ‘to put bit and bridle upon us to keep us from saying anything that would take the minds of our hearers away from Christ and eternal realities’ (pp. 230-231). The solemnity of the office and function of the gospel preacher cannot escape the attention of those who read Spurgeon with care.
This new edition of Spurgeon’s lectures includes his Commenting and Commentaries, which was originally published for the benefit of his students in 1876. Many of the works referred to are now no longer in print, but Spurgeon’s comments on the use of commentaries in general are insightful and relevant. To those who shun their use, he is scathing: ‘It seems odd that certain men, who talk so much of what the Holy Spirit reveals to themselves, should think so little of what he has revealed to others’ (p. 659). Spurgeon gives first place to Matthew Henry, John Calvin, Matthew Poole, John Trapp and John Gill, in that order. It is instructive to notice that these perhaps remain the most widely-used Bible commentaries.
A preacher must use commentaries with much discretion. Clearly plagiarism is dishonest, betrays laziness and will prove very ineffective. Yet preaching which expounds the Word of God, such as Spurgeon so persistently commended, requires close study of the Scriptures. Spurgeon lived when popular preaching could be topical, hortatory, experiential or doctrinal without being particularly expository. He stressed the imperative of searching for the mind of the Spirit in Scripture and recommended the accumulated wisdom of older divines as aids to this study.
This volume, if not already acquired, should be found in every preacher’s study and will be useful and interesting to others who may have a concern for the effectiveness of the gospel ministry today.
The three series of lectures by the famous Baptist preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, bound together in Lectures to My Students,1 are doubtless familiar to many in this country and overseas. They were originally published between 1875 and 1894, and therefore were particularly relevant to that time, yet they represent Spurgeon’s mature thoughts on important aspects […]
Reproduced from the July 2009 edition of The Free Presbyterian Magazine with kind permission.
Reading Spurgeon 15 December 2020
Charles Haddon Spurgeon was born in Kelvedon, a village in the county of Essex in the east of England, on 19 June, 1834. He went to be with Christ from Mentone, France, on the evening of Sunday 31 January, 1892. During his lifetime he became perhaps the greatest preacher in the English-speaking world, of his […]
Living in the World 6 November 2020
This article is the contents of an address first given in February 2020 at the Westminster Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Newcastle, UK. * * * LIVING in the world. How are Christians to live in the world? The question can be answered in many ways. The topic is potentially vast in scope — that becomes more […]