C.H. Spurgeon

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Humble & Authentic Preaching (A Retro-post by C.H. Spurgeon)

Tuesday, January 30th, 2018

“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.” 1 Corinthians 15:10

“Dear brethren, may we, every one of us, be as far removed as possible from anything like egotism, which is hateful to the last degree. It is to be hoped that vanity is rare in ministers, for vanity is the vice of novices, and may be sooner excused in young students than in actual teachers of the Word. Experience, if it be worth having, exterminates a man’s vanity; but so bad is our nature, that it may increase his pride if it be an experience sweetened with success. It were hard to say which is the greater sin, vanity or pride, but we know which is the more foolish and ridiculous. A proud man may have some weight, but a vain man is light as air, and influences no one. From both these egotisms may we be kept, for they are both injurious to ourselves and hateful to God. Too frequent an intrusion of self is another form of egotism to be avoided. I hope our sermons will never be of the same order as those which were set up by a certain printing office, and the chief compositor had to request the manager to send for an extra supply of capital I’s. The letter ‘I’ is a noble vowel, but it may be sounded too loudly. Great ‘I’ is very apt to become prominent with us all; even those who labour after humility can barely escape. When self is killed in one form, it rises in another, and, alas, there is such a thing as being proud of being humble, and boasting one’s self of being now cleansed from everything like boasting.

What Is Man That Thou Art Mindful Of Him?

Brethren, I hope that however useful God may make us in our spheres, we do not conceive ourselves to be vastly important, for indeed we are no such thing. The cock was of opinion that the sun rose early every morning on purpose to hear him crow; but we know that Sol did nothing of the kind. The world does not revolve, the sun does not blaze, the moon does not wax and wane, the stars do not shine, entirely for the especial benefit of any one brother here, however admirable he may be in his own place; neither does Christendom exist for the purpose p 247 of finding us pulpits, nor our own particular church that it may furnish us a congregation and an income; nay, nor does even so much as one believer exist that he may lay himself out for our sole comfort and honour. We are too insignificant to be of any great importance in God’s great universe; he can do either with or without us, and our presence or absence will not disarrange his plans.

C.H. Spurgeon by A. Melville; public domain (Wikimedia Commons) https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/97/Charles_Haddon_Spurgeon_by_Alexander_Melville.jpg

Servants, Not Celebrities

Yet for all that, our subject is individuality, and we hope that each man will recognise and honourably maintain his personality. The proper recognition of the ego is a theme worthy of our attention. I will make a word if I may: let egotism stand for proud, vainglorious, intrusive selfhood, and let egoism stand for the humble, responsible, and honest selfhood which, finding itself in being, resolves to be at the divine bidding and to be at its best, to the glory of God. In this age, when crowds follow their leaders, and bold men easily command a following; when the flocks cannot move without their bell-wethers, and rough independence is rarely to be found, it is well for us to be self-contained, whole men and not limbs of a body, maintaining ourselves in the integrity of personal thought, conscience, manner, and action. Monopolisers now-a-days almost push the individual trader out of the market: one party cry up wood as the only material for building the house of the Lord, and another sect with equal zeal extol their own hay and stubble. We shall not by all their efforts be induced to cease from building with the few precious stones which the Lord has entrusted to us; nor shall even our brethren who so admirably pile up the gold and silver persuade us to hide away our agates and carbuncles. We must each build with such material as we have, neither, if the work be true and honest, ought we to censure others or condemn ourselves because our labour is after its own kind . . .

Preaching The Gospel To One’s Self

A penitent mourning for sin fits us to preach repentance. ‘I preached,’ says John Bunyan sometimes, ‘as a man in chains to men in chains, hearing the clanking of my own fetters while I preached to those who were bound in affliction and iron.’ Sermons wrung out of broken hearts are often the means of consolation to despairing souls. It is well to go to the pulpit at times with ‘God be merciful to me a sinner’ as our uppermost prayer. Some mourners will never be cheered till they see the preacher smite on his own breast, and hear him confess his personal sense of unworthiness. It would not be right, however, for us to stay upon such low ground, for we preach the gospel, and not the law; we are bound, therefore, to rejoice because we feel the power of the blood of Jesus upon our own consciences, giving us peace and pardon in him. Our joy will give life to our message. We have also tasted of the honey of communion with Jesus: we have not, perhaps, feasted upon handfuls of it, as some of our Samsons have done, but we have at least, like Jonathan, dipped the end of our rod into it, and our eyes are enlightened, so that our hearers can see them sparkle with joy while we tell them how precious Jesus is. This gives emphasis to testimony. When we speak as ministers and not as men, as preachers p 248 instead of penitents, as theologians instead of disciples, we fail: when we lean our head too much upon the commentary and too little upon the Saviour’s bosom, when we eat too largely of the tree of knowledge and too little of the tree of life, we lose the power of our ministry. I am a sinner, a sinner washed in the blood myself, delivered from the wrath to come by the merit of my Lord and Master—all this must be fresh upon the mind. Personal godliness must never grow scant with us. Our own personal justification in the righteousness of Christ, our personal sanctification by the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, our vital union with Christ, and expectancy of glory in him, yea, our own advancement in grace, or our own declension; all these we must well know and consider.

Authenticity In The Pulpit

We must never preach to others with a counterfeit voice, narrating an experience we have not enjoyed, but if we feel we have backslidden ourselves, we must rally to the mark, or penitently speak from the stand-point we actually occupy. On the other hand, if we have grown in grace, it is wicked to conceal what we have tasted and handled, and affect a mock humility; in fact, we dare not do so, we cannot but speak what Christ has taught us. We must speak out of the God-given fulness within, and not borrow from another; better far to be silent than to do that. We must be true to our personal condition before God, for perhaps the Lord allows the state of heart of his ministers to vary on purpose that their roving paths may lead to the discovery of his wandering sheep. I have sometimes traversed a portion of the pilgrim path by no means to be desired, and I have groaned in my soul, ‘Lord, why and wherefore is it thus with me?’ And I have preached in a way which made me lie in the dust, fearing that the Lord had not spoken by me, and all the while he was leading me by the hand in a way I knew not, for the good of his own. There have come forward ere long one or two who have been just the people God intended to bless, and they were reached by the very sermon which cost me so dear, and grew out of an experience so bitter. ‘He carried me in the spirit,’ says one of the prophets, and such carryings, so often as they occur, are matters for praise. Not so much for our own good or edification so much as for the benefit of our fellow men are we borne into valleys of dry bones and chambers of imagery. We must watch these phases of soul, and be true to divine impulses. I would not preach upon the joy of the Lord myself when I feel broken-hearted, neither would I enlarge upon a deep sense of indwelling sin while rejoicing in a full sense of cleansing by the word. We must pray the Holy Spirit to keep up and elevate our individual life in its connection with our ministry. We must ever remember that we are not preaching doctrine which is good for others merely, but precious truth which has been proved to be good for ourselves. We may not be butchers at the block chopping off for hungry ones the meat of which we do not partake; but we must ourselves feed upon it, and must show in our very faces what fattening food it is which we present to the starving sons of men.”

C. H. Spurgeon, “Inaugural Address For The Pastor’s College Conference of 1875,” in The Sword and Trowel: May, 1875. (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1875), 246–248. [Italics original; boldface subdivisions mine.]