Rediscovering Spurgeon’s Treasure
Adrian Reynolds has been rereading Charles Spurgeon’s ‘An All Round Ministry’ and thinks it’s still as fresh today as when it was first published. Here he outlines Spurgeon’s sermon on ‘progress’, a subject close to Adrian’s own heart.
Each year from 1865, Charles Spurgeon gathered hundreds of past and present students from his pastors’ college for encouragement, networking and instruction. The addresses he gave at these conferences are considered ‘gold’.
First available as a collection in the UK in 1960, his 1872 to 1890 addresses have recently been relaunched by publishers Banner of Truth. It’s such a challenging and helpful read that I want to simply urge you to buy the book! If a younger generation of FIEC leaders could engage with this material, it would do them a world of good.
One sermon in particular caught my eye. First preached in 1874, it is simply entitled ‘Forward’, a theme Spurgeon took from Moses’ words: “Speak unto the children of Israel, that they go forward.” This is Spurgeon’s version of my briefer (and more superficial) book entitled Progress.
Allow me to summarise Spurgeon’s thoughts on progress in order to whet your appetite for more, and to encourage you to press-on in making progress.
Spurgeon identifies six areas for progress.
1. Progress in mind
We are ‘not worth having at our best’ but we should always strive for better. For Spurgeon this means (1) progress in knowledge: “Study the Bible, dear brethren, through and through, with all the helps that you can possibly obtain.” People generally, he argues, know more today, and so you should too! But he does not limit knowledge to Bible knowledge, for “All that the Father has made is yours and you should learn from it.”
This progress means we must (2) learn to discriminate. This means developing the ability to discern between unhelpful ‘novelties’ and ‘ancient errors’. Just because something is new or old does not make it good and right. Progress also implies that (3) we get better at retaining knowledge – “holding fast that which is good.”
2. Progress in preaching
Preachers should (1) cultivate a clear style. A typical Spurgeon illustration makes this point: “if you look deep into a well, if it be empty, it will appear very deep; but if there be water in it, you will see its brightness”. Spurgeon includes ‘cogency’ in this category, which, for him, means being “natural and living” – railing against much of the forced preaching of the day.
Such progress means also that we should (3) improve in persuasiveness. There are some preachers, he observes, who cannot “grip people and make them feel.” So we must all “learn the art of pleading with men.” Moreover, progress in this area includes (4) contextualisation, though I admit the boy Spurgeon does not use that precise word! For him, it particularly means contextualisation of style, though he does not rule out other forms of the practice.
3. Progress in godliness
[Spurgeon worries his audience may think he is picking on one of them in particular, but he reassures them all that they need this rebuke!] (1) Self-indulgence “has slain thousands” and (2) God will not bless the man who thinks himself self-important. Moreover, (3) levity (which means “trifling with everything”) is a mark of reprobation.
Godliness for preachers also includes (4) avoiding bigotry. Some preachers were “no doubt born of a woman, but they appear to have been suckled by a wolf.” This means not searching out heresies or being warlike in the pulpit towards others. To this he adds progress in (5) integrity, (6) courage, (7) zeal and (8) concentration.
4. Progress in spirituality
Our walk with Christ is integral to our ministry. This means preachers must (1) know themselves and (2) know man, in and out of Christ – in other words, know what the natural man is like and what the saved man can become in Christ Jesus.
5. Progress in work
“The fact that Jesus Christ is to come again, is not a reason for star-gazing, but for working in the power of the Holy Spirit… we must have done with daydreams and get to work!” Spurgeon is characteristically forceful on this point, and it is from this sermon that his well-known quote comes “Brothers, do something, do something, DO SOMETHING.”
6. Progress in sphere of action
Finally, and importantly for us, Spurgeon encourages his charges to move out. For him, that means going to unreached places, made accessible by modern technology. China. India. Japan. We could extend the list and say that we need more and more preachers who are willing to go and break the soil in new places, both home and abroad.
Spurgeon knew what he was talking about. Nothing here is surprising. But it is exhortation that every Christian leader needs to hear. Buy the book. Rediscover the book if you already have it. And, above all, make progress!