Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Faithful pastor: ever a waiter, never a guest?

A striking statement from Spurgeon's autobiography:
'I once learnt something in a way one does not often get a lesson. I felt at that time very weary, and very sad, and very heavy at heart; and I began to doubt in my own mind whether I really enjoyed the things which I preached to others. It seemed to be a dreadful thing for me to be only a waiter, and not a guest, at the gospel feast. I went to a certain country town, and on the Sabbath day entered a Methodist Chapel. The man who conducted the service was an engineer; he read the Scriptures, and prayed, and preached. The tears flowed freely from my eyes; I was moved to the deepest emotion by every sentence of the sermon, and I felt all my difficulty removed, for the gospel, I saw, was very dear to me, and had wonderful effect upon my own heart. I went to the preacher, and said, "I thank you very much for that sermon." He asked me who I was, and when I told him, he looked as red as possible, and he said, "Why, it was one of your sermons that I preached this morning!" "Yes," I said, "I know it was; but that was the very message that I wanted to hear, because I then saw that I did enjoy the very Word I myself preached." It was happily so arranged in the good providence of God. Had it been his own sermon, it would not have answered the purpose nearly so well as when it turned out to be one of mine.'
There's a lot to think about in this, but I just focus on one facet: Spurgeon admitting his own falling-short, sometimes, of the joy he should have in Christ.

I very much empathize with his statement, and have often felt exactly the same — though I've not put it as well. I've preached Christ's riches to the elect often and with absolute conviction... for my hearers. But my own feeling of those truths, for myself, hasn't been nearly as exultant as it should be.

This is one of the reason, or really two of the reasons, why Spurgeon remains so broadly useful. Luther said that a good theologian is made by oratio, meditatio, and tentatio — prayer, meditation, and temptation. Spurgeon knew all three. He hadn't the leisure of laboratory Christianity. He actually had to live it out. He knew deep, dark depression, and had to battle his way out by God's promises. He never sold a pistol he hadn't fired first.

And, secondly, he admitted it. I think of one preacher, and I simply imagine him doing such. When this worthy brother gives illustrations at all, they're always about others' follies and failures and sins. He evidently has none... or none that he cares to mention.

His preaching doesn't connect with me. Informs, yes; encourages, moves, blesses, no. When I get all perfect and everything, I'll give it another go.

Until then?



Stefan said...

I've certainly heard some preachers say before that they have no idea what the Spirit is doing through their ministry of the Word—they read the text prayerfully, prepare for it, and preach on it, but can't really know what effect the sermon is actually having on those who hear it. It sounds, though, as if Spurgeon might also have been battling with his own melancholy or depression, to boot.

On the other subject, there is also a lot to be said for pastors being honest with the flock about their temptations. It can serve as a safety valve (hopefully less likelihood of an unexpected scandal that scars the entire church); reassure struggling believers; and also demonstrate to non-believers that becoming or being a Christian is not about perfectionist self-improvement. And who are we to pretend that we are better than even the apostles Paul (Romans 7) or John (1 John 1)?

Jeff said...


The much kicked about phrase "God knows my heart" is so very true, but not in the way that those who use it intend. I know that I will never have the joy in Christ that I should have, not in this life anyway. The more one knows of Christ and God's grace, the more one knows of his own depravity.

Paul reveals his own struggles In Romans 7:15-24, and praise in Romans 7:25. I cling to those words. My own struggles could be nothing compared to those that Paul or any great man of the Word.

I can only imagine that the joy that I have pales in comparison to the joy that these men have known.

Praise be to God that my salvation is in Christ. And I hesitate to pray that I should ever know the burden that Spurgeon bore.

DJP said...

Yep. I explored transparency at some length in a series starting here.

Rachael Starke said...

You know, Spurgeon sermons and stories like these do more for my soul on a tough Mom/Wife day than all the gauzy(tm), fluffy books on being a happy Christian mommy at the local "Christian" bookstore put together.

Maybe someone could publish a "Spurgeon for the Christian Woman's Soul" or something.

hobo soup said...

Great post dan. A lasting testimony to C H Spurgeon usefullness. Though dead still speaking.

Stefan said...

Oh, hey, Dan:

Speaking of your Transparency series, you mentioned in part 2 that even some very well-known pastors have preached sermons that left them thinking they'd gone over like lead balloons, only to discover later that the Holy Spirit had used such sermons for His own ends.

The sermon that I heard the effective call of the Gospel in was exactly like that. Our senior pastor said afterwards that he had little confidence in what he'd just preached—midway through Romans 11, heavy on theology and history, with not much application for the folks in the pews—only to see one guy (me) come out of the crowd after service two weeks later to see he'd been reborn in Christ through that sermon.

Two things that came out of that: I learned that there isn't a single verse of Scripture that isn't there for a God-ordained reason; and the episode reaffirmed to him the necessity of expository preaching!

DJP said...

Wow; that's a classic illustration.

Stefan said...

Perhaps it's the sermons where a preacher really doesn't know what impact they're having on his listeners that are the most effective, precisely because he's subordinated his will (to make a particular, calculated point; to see x number of people repent; to convict this guy or that lady) to that of the Holy Spirit, and allowed the Holy Spirit to guide him in his study and preparation, not knowing what the Holy Spirit's particular intentions are.

(Hope that doesn't sound too charismatic.)

Stefan said...


That story only gets better. I'm conflating things in retrospect, but at the time, the dots weren't connected until my baptism, and my testimony was played, in which I mentioned that sermon.

He was preparing to give a lecture on expository preaching a week later, at our inaugural pastor's conference—and my baptism testimony gave him the illustration he needed!

Robert said...

Off your topic perhaps, but I find it instructive that Calvinist Spurgeon walked into a Methodist chapel for a service in the first place, topped off by the fact that he ended up hearing one of his sermons preached there.

DJP said...

Yes, a number of incidents like that strike one from CHS' life.

CR said...

Excellent post.