Thursday, October 22, 2009

Spurgeon, doing that thing Spurgeon does

All of us who love Spurgeon — and (did you know?) I love Spurgeon — sometimes chuckle at how he handles texts. Which is to say, sometimes... he doesn't. That is, he quotes a text, then launches. Launches somewhere else.

I can't remember the specific, but I'm sure I've read a sermon where he says basically, "OK, this isn't what this text says, but here's what I'm thinking:...."

He gets away with it for two reasons:
  1. He's Spurgeon, for pity's sake. And...
  2. He's Spurgeon.
Being Spurgeon, even what he says is likely to be soaked with Biblical truth, though not very expository.

Well, in the October 20 pm reading of Morning by Morning, we see a classic example (emphases added):
“Keep not back.”
— Isaiah 43:6

Although this message was sent to the south, and referred to the seed of Israel, it may profitably be a summons to ourselves. Backward we are naturally to all good things, and it is a lesson of grace to learn to go forward in the ways of God. Reader, are you unconverted, but do you desire to trust in the Lord Jesus? Then keep not back. Love invites you, the promises secure you success, the precious blood prepares the way. Let not sins or fears hinder you, but come to Jesus just as you are. Do you long to pray? Would you pour out your heart before the Lord? Keep not back. The mercy-seat is prepared for such as need mercy; a sinner’s cries will prevail with God. You are invited, nay, you are commanded to pray, come therefore with boldness to the throne of grace.

Dear friend, are you already saved? Then keep not back from union with the Lord’s people. Neglect not the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. You may be of a timid disposition, but you must strive against it, lest it lead you into disobedience. There is a sweet promise made to those who confess Christ—by no means miss it, lest you come under the condemnation of those who deny him. If you have talents keep not back from using them. Hoard not your wealth, waste not your time; let not your abilities rust or your influence be unused. Jesus kept not back, imitate him by being foremost in self-denials and self-sacrifices. Keep not back from close communion with God, from boldly appropriating covenant blessings, from advancing in the divine life, from prying into the precious mysteries of the love of Christ. Neither, beloved friend, be guilty of keeping others back by your coldness, harshness, or suspicions. For Jesus’ sake go forward yourself, and encourage others to do the like. Hell and the leaguered bands of superstition and infidelity are forward to the fight. O soldiers of the cross, keep not back.
There y'go. Fine, challenging, Bibley thoughts, all with one common denominator: they have nothing to do with the text.

Pastors, remember: DO NOT try this unless you are Charles H. Spurgeon!


CR said...

This reminds me of the apostle Paul for some reason. Many may not be aware of this but in Romans 1:8, Paul launches into his letter with the intention of starting a list. He writes: "First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world."

There's only one problem. There is no second, third or finally. He starts with the full intention of a list and then takes right off (forgetting?) about the list and writes one of the most best didactic letters ever. And you know what I say to that? Thank God for that. I think the lesson here is that none of us, including preachers should be stuck to form. We should be filled with the Holy Spirit and be under His influence.

Maybe this is a little different. As a general rule, the preachers should stick to the verse they are preaching but Spurgeon just launches into one of the most important topics ever. And what do I say to that? Thank God he did not stick to the original form.

Rachael Starke said...


First, Dan's Bible credentials squash mine like an elephant tiptoeing on a gnat, but I still have to go out on a limb and challenge the idea that Paul somehow got "sidetracked" by the Holy Spirit, or that the Holy Spirit Himself somehow (I speak as a fool) got distracted and never finished that introductory thought. Which is what I've understod the first 15 verses to be - a pastoral introductory endeavor to state up front his love for the people to whom he is writing. There's a pretty clear break between those initial thoughts and verse 16. Had he known about cool 21st acronyms like HSAT, he might have even used that instead. (I am, of course, really open to having this limb I'm sitting on chopped off with Dan's Bibley hatchet if I'm wrong. Wouldn't be the first time. :) )

But HSAT, :), I have to say that I absolutely agree and I would even go further and say that no teacher/Bible study leader or student should do this!
It drives me up a tree when, for instance, one of the women in our Bible study at "table time" (think circle-time for grown-up ladies) offers up the "what this verse really means to me is...." bromide. And it's only thanks to ten years of marriage to my experienced Bible-teacher husband that I've learned to quietly and sweetly ask "but is that what God means?", instead of screeching something unkind about not caring what it means to them and whacking them over the dead with my ESV Study Bible.

In love. :)

Susan said...

I think R.C. Sproul Sr. once said something to the effect of, "There is only one correct interpretation [of Scripture], but there are many applications." (If I can find my copy of Knowing Scripture I'd know for sure his wording.) Perhaps that's what Spurgeon did: Giving us the applications.

(And just on the way home tonight I was listening to Hebrews and James on my iPod and kept thinking how much worldly influence has dominated my life recently. Thanks for the "keep not back" post, Dan. I think I needed to hear that.)

Becky, slave of Christ said...

The first thing I noticed in this post (really was the first thing, Dan) was the portrait of Spurgeon. I have never seen that particular one before. Loved his devotional, love the way you used it as a warning for preachers today. Way to have your discerning antenna up.

Thanks for the comment about the "what does this verse mean to you" mentality. It drives me ga ga as well. It is distressingly widespread.

CR said...


I apologize if I gave the notion in my comment that the Holy Spirit was distracted. I don't believe I said it.

What I find interesting about Paul when he says first, is that he never says second, neither third. He began by saying first and you would expect a list, but we never get that. I think Paul had a number of things he deliberately wanted to say about himself. And I think it says this about Paul that even though he was one of the greatest minds that has ever lived, he was not a slave to his mind. His heart was as big as his mind. Paul set out to say a number of things: First, second, third...and off he goes forgets that he ever said, First.

Martin Lloyd-Jones said that Paul was guilty of what the stylists would call (and I can't think of the word - wouldn't know how to spell it anyway so I'll just describe it) but it's when a man starts out to write a sentence, he's got to make an argument, he says something, and that makes him think of something else and he goes right off to that something else and he never finishes his sentence or if he doesn't leave it unfinished he'll throw a tremendous digression and then he'll remember what he said and come back and finish his sentence. Martin Lloyd-Jones says Paul was guilty of that.

Bad literary style? Yes, thank God for it. Paul wasn't a literary man but a passionate servant of Jesus. Now that doesn't mean Paul never failed to say the truth that he set out to say. He always did.

And reading Spurgeon's sermon made me think of that. Spurgeon was a great exegete but he was not necessarily an expositor preacher meaning preaching verse by verse. He was topical. Spurgeon, I guess, had a goal to preach on this verse and he goes off in this diversion and it's just a gem. And let me reiterate, I'm not saying that people should not have any style or form especially when it comes to preaching. But I think what can happen at times is that we pay so much attention to style and form that the Spirit is forgotten.

I think what happens at times, the form becomes so important we forget the substance. And it just reminds me of this one important thing and that is: service to God is not primarily meant to beautiful, it's meant to be true.

Al said...

I once had an dear elderly gentleman tell me that if I was ever short on time in my sermon prep. I could just copy Spurgeon's sermon on the text. He then gave me a complete set of Spurgeons sermons. I loved that man.

al sends

DJP said...

But see, that's just the thing: Spurgeon can do it.

Let me re-inflect: Spurgeon can do it.

I love what my friend Pastor Greg Stoever said (in turn quoting someone else) — that Spurgeon was a "freak of grace." (The particular reference was to Spurgeon's practice of picking his Sunday morning text Saturday, and his Sunday evening text on Sunday afternoon.)

Al said...

Oh, I know... I never took his advice, but he gave me a whole set of Spugeon's sermons!!!!!

al sends

CR said...

Quote of the day: "Freak of Grace." Nice one. Gonna remember that one.

Becky, slave of Christ said...

I think your assumption that anyone who begins with first absolutely intends to give a numbered list is presumptuous. It is certainly a commonly used method of denoting items, but it is not always the case. Sometimes people say first to emphasize, before I say anything else, I want to let you know that this is foremost on my heart. HSAT is a mighty handy tool today, as Rachael mentioned, but just because some sort of equivalent to it is missing in Paul's or anyone else's writing, it doesn't follow that they were deterred from their original plan.

CR said...


I don't think I'm being presumptous.

It wasn't or wouldn't be the first time the apostle Paul wasn't deterred from his original plan. We all know that the apostle Paul wanted to go to Spain and the Spirit hindered his plan.

Anyway, the word I was thinking of was anacoluthia. I think D. Martin Lloyd-Jones rightly pointed out that Paul was "guilty" of this. I think Paul had a number of things he deliberately wanted to say about himself but off he goes forgetting that he ever said, "First." But, again, Paul never failed to say the truth he set out to say.

CR said...

Sorry, I don't know if I spelled it right the first time (I was a math and accounting geek) it's anacolutha.

Michelle said...

Oh, my husband and I and our 13 yr old daughter had such a good laugh reading this post. I love Morning & Evening - what a blessing it has been to me (and it makes a wonderful gift for Arminian friends!), but your points were just so true! Also true that because it's the incomparable Spurgeon, any disconnect between the text and the, uh, exposition is easily excused. :)

DJP said...

Oh me too, Michelle. I read it every day. It's a blessing and an encouragement. Some of them in particular are absolutely precious.

Rachael Starke said...

He's the Shakespeare of preaching - he spoke 150+ years ago, but so many things he writes could have been written 2 hours ago!

CR, the quote from Lloyd-Jones is interesting - I've not heard that word either!

I think that's a little like one of TMC's most beloved OT Profs., Doug Bookman, used to do. We used to call him TangentMan because he knew so much about the OT and OT History, that you could ask him any number of obscure questions and then just sit back and let twenty minutes go by while he went off on 42 tangential historical threads.... and then wound every single one back. It was a thing of beauty to listen to.

But no one else could get away with it.

Anonymous said...

From what I understand about Spurgeon, although not college educated, was extremely well read. By the time he died he had accumulated a large library of puritan books. Also, correct me if I'm wrong but were not his father or grandfather (or both) pastors before him? I don't think he pulled this stuff out of thin air, but he did have considerable talent as a preacher.

John Sellman

Becky, slave of Christ said...

When I said I thought you were being presumptuous, it had nothing to do with Paul’s intentions, or your apparent ability to read Paul’s mind to know what his intentions were. I said you were being presumptuous in assuming that any time a person uses the word first without following it up with second, third, and finally, that person must have been sidetracked. Not true, because of what I said in my last comment concerning possible uses of the word. Read it again.

Because you are so confident in making this point about Paul, I have to say that I disagree with your assessment of Romans 1:8. I can’t see anything in the context (in this case, verses 1-7) that would indicate “Paul had a number of things he deliberately wanted to say about himself,” but lost his train of thought. Paul is known to change directions sometimes, but I just don’t see any evidence of that here. I would respectfully submit that if Martin Lloyd Jones says that Paul is guilty of being sidetracked sometimes, it doesn’t support your argument about this particular passage. Context is important.

In addition, the word first in Romans 1:8 is the Greek (protos) and can be used in several different ways (see Outline of Biblical Usage). Based on the variety of uses of this word, it is conceivable that Paul didn’t get sidetracked at all. It is possible that when he used protos in this passage he wanted them to know how much it meant to him that they were letting the light of their faith so shine that the whole world was hearing of it. I am confident that would mean a great deal to Paul.

Further, consider these uses of protos by Paul:
1 Corinthians 15:3, where the translation actually is “first importance” and refers to the Gospel.
1 Timothy 2:1, where protos is again used by Paul without subsequent numeration. He had just finished telling Timothy to fight the good fight, etc., because of “some who had rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith.” In 2:1 he tells him, “First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men…” Hymenaeus and Alexander had just been handed over to Satan to teach them not to blaspheme. This was serious stuff and the first thing Paul wanted Timothy and others to do was to get on their knees and pray for everybody.

Please consider these passages as well, 2 Peter 1:20 and 2 Peter 3:3, where Peter (not Paul) also uses protos without second, third, or finally. Does his use of the word in this way indicate distraction as well?

In Roy B. Zuck’s Basic Bible Interpretations, Dr. Zuck defines aposiopese as “a sudden break in the sentence as if the speaker were not able to finish.” One example is “Paul did not finish the thought in Ephesians 3:1-2: ‘For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles—surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace.’ The Lord also made a break in a sentence as He wept over Jerusalem (Luke 19:42)…the emotion of the moment probably caused Him to turn from completing this sentence.” My husband thinks Galatians 4:19 might be an example of this as well. I don’t know if this is different from what you are referring to or not, CR.

It takes me a long time to put together a reasoned response, which is why I don’t comment often, but I had to step in this time because I believe you are making a false assertion about Paul’s intentions.

DJP said...

Sellman, I take it you're new? In that case, welcome!

You're absolutely right about Spurgeon. He also read voraciously. But while I take second-place to no one in admiration, I'm just saying what all who read CHS a great deal eventually say: some of his really good sermons were preached on the wrong text.

In this case, he even admits it.

One main difference is that Spurgeon is so soaked both in Scripture and in the finest Christian writings to his time that, even when he strays, the bypath is glorious. A modern preacher strays into some lame story, joke, or rabbit trail. Spurgeon "strayed" into Scripture.

CR said...

Becky: I would respectfully submit that if Martin Lloyd Jones says that Paul is guilty of being sidetracked sometimes, it doesn’t support your argument about this particular passage.

We'll have to agree to disagree Becky. D. Martin Lloyd-Jones makes the same argument about Rom 1:8. I thought he made a convincing case. I wish I could say it was my argument, but it isn't. The only thing original by me is original sin.

Becky, slave of Christ said...

Yes, I am an original in the same way, CR. Where does Lloyd-Jones make his case? I would be interested in seeing what he says about it.

CR said...


Lloyd-Jones teaching on this is in his Romans series which only be can be found at the MLJ Recording Trust.