16 May 2009

Against Eloquence

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
posted by Phil Johnson

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. The following excerpt is from "Acta Non Verba," ("Act, don't speak") an essay Spurgeon wrote for the January 1873 Sword and Trowel."


ine language amuses the ear, as the tinkling of their little bells pleases the continental coach-horses, but it cannot satisfy the soul any more than the aforesaid tintinabulations can supply the place of corn and hay.

The art of arranging words, and balancing sentences, is a mental jugglery, as astonishing when perfectly practiced, as the feats of the Chinese or Japanese artistes who just lately have charmed vast audiences at the Crystal Palace; but cui bono? what is the good of it, and who is the better for it? Who was ever convinced of sin by an oratorical flourish? What heart was led to Jesus, and to joy and peace in believing, by a fine passage resplendent with all the graces of diction? What chaff is to the wheat, and dross to gold, that is the excellence of human speech to the simplicity of the word of God.

For awhile fascinated by the siren voice of vain philosophy and affected culture, many of the churches have drawn perilously near to the rocks of heresy and doubt, but divine grace is visiting them, and they will shake off the spell.

Everywhere there is a cry for the gospel, for men who will preach it in the love of it, for ministers who will live it, and inoculate others with its life: the church is growing sick of essayists, and asks for men of God. She is weary of word-spinners, and pretenders to deep thought, and she cries for men full of the Holy Spirit, who are lovers of the word and not speakers only. Soul-winners will soon be in demand, and your genteel essayists will have to carry their dry goods to another market. Sane men do not need fiddlers, while the life-boat is being manned to save yonder perishing ones from the devouring deep.

The intensely practical character of Christianity might be inferred from the life of its founder. In Jesus we see no display, no aiming at effect, nothing spoken or done to decorate or ornament the simplicity of his daily life. True, he was a prophet, mighty in words as well as in deeds; but his words were downright and direct, winged with a purpose, and never uttered for speaking's sake.

Nobody ever looks at Jesus as an orator to be compared with Cicero. "Never man spake like this man." He was not of the schools. No graver's tool had passed over his eloquence. In his presence Demosthenes is seen to be a statue, carved with great skill, and the very counterfeit of life; but Jesus is life itself,—not art's sublimest fac simile of nature, but the living truth.

C. H. Spurgeon


12 comments:

Boerseuntjie said...

1 Corinthians 2:10-16
"But God HAS REVEALED them to us THROUGH His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so NO ONE KNOWS THE THINGS of God EXCEPT the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the ... Read moreSpirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been FREELY GIVEN to us BY God.
These things we also speak, NOT IN WORDS WHICH MAN’s WISDOM TEACHES BUT which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; NOR CAN HE KNOW THEM, because they are spiritually discerned. But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one. For “who has known the mind of YAHWEH that he may instruct Him?” But we have the mind of Christ."

-----
1 Corinthians 1:17-25
"Christ did...send me...to preach the gospel, NOT WITH WISDOM OF WORDS, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect.

For THE MESSAGE OF THE CROSS IS FOOLISHNESS to those who are perishing, but to us WHO ARE BEING SAVED IT IS THE POWER OF GOD...it is written:
... Read more


“ I WILL DESTROY the WISDOM OF THE WISE,



And bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.”

Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? HAS NOT GOD MADE FOOLISH THE WISDOM OF THIS WORLD? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world THROUGH WISDOM DID NOT KNOW GOD, it pleased God THROUGH THE FOOLISHNESS OF THE MESSAGE PREACHED TO SAVE THOSE WHO BELIEVE... but WE PREACH CHRIST CRUSIFIED, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, BUT TO THOSE WHO ARE CALLED, both Jews and Greeks, CHRIST THE POWER of God AND THE WISDOM of God. Because the foolishness of God is WISER THAN MEN, and the weakness of God is STRONGER THAN MEN."

-------
1 Corinthians 1:26-31
For you see your calling, brethren, that NOT many WISE according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble,ARE CALLED. But God HAS CHOSEN THE FOOLISH THINGS of the world TO PUT TO SHAME THE WISE, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world ... Read moreand the things which are despised God HAS CHOSEN, and the things which are not, TO BRING TO NOTHING the things that are, THAT NO FLESH SHOULD GLORY IN HIS PRESENCE. But OF Him YOU ARE IN CHRIST JESUS, who BECAME FOR US WISDOM from God—AND RIGHTEOUSNESS and sanctification AND REDEMPTION— that, as it is written, “He who glories, LET him GLORY IN YAHWEH.”

-----

2 Corinthians 1-7
And I, brethren, when I came to you, DID NOT COME WITH EXCELLENCE OF SPEECH OR OF WISDOM declaring to you THE TESTIMONY of God. For I determined not to know anything among you EXCEPT JESUS CHRIST AND HIM CRUSIFIED. I WAS with you IN WEAKNESS, IN FEAR, AND IN MUCH TREMBLING. And MY SPEACH AND MY PREACHING WERE NOT WITH PERSUASIVE ... Read moreWORDS OF HUMAN WISDOM, but IN DEMEONSTRATION OF the Spirit AND OF POWER, that your faith SHOULD NOT BE IN THE WISDOM OF MEN but IN THE POWER OF GOD.

However, we SPEAK WISDOM AMONG THOSE WHO ARE MATURE, yet NOT THE WISDOM OF THIS AGE, nor of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. But WE SPEAK THE WISDOM OF GOD IN A MYSTERY, the HIDDEN WISDOM WHICH GOD ORDAINED BEFORE THE AGES FOR OUR GLORY..."

Soli Deo Gloria - Preach the Word in season AND OUT OF SEASON!

Your fellow bondslave for Christ Alone,
W

DJP said...

Someone will observe (so why not me?) that there's at least formal irony in Spurgeon, of all people, apparently protesting "against eloquence." I once read of a word-count of Spurgeon's own vocabulary, and the number was staggering. (Wish I remembered the source.)

But I think the point is that one artist plies every color and every brush and every technique in the hopes that people will come away, saying, "What an artist!"...

...while another does the same, but all the tools and techniques are self-consciously and with great discipline devoted to the one great aim that viewers will be overwhelmed with the beauty of his subject.

Spurgeon is of the latter sort.

Joshua Cookingham said...

Isn't that always the way though? Those who preach against the vain use of something(i.e. Paul with Philosophy) are usually masters of the very same thing, they just don't blow their own horn.

God bless.

Tim said...

I was thinking the same thing, DJP and Joshua. There is no shame in being an accomplished wordsmith, as long as the gift is employed in the service of the King rather than in the service of one's own vanity.

Jay said...

I'm sure someone here knows the details of ths Spurgeon story better than I- but here goes...

A travelor to England made a point to hear the two most popular preachers of the day - after hearing the first he left the service thinking "What a wonderful speaker." After hearing Spurgeon he left thinking "What a wonderful Savior."

Rick Frueh said...

Who better But Spurgeon to recognize the liabilities as well as the effectiveness of eloquence.

C.B. Shearer said...

Oh how I wish I had read this last February(see link). I had this debate in my Homiletics class, here is what I wrote about it: http://trustobey.blogspot.com/2009/02/wisdom-and-eloquence-in-preaching.html

Many of my open-air and topical sermons have been preached so many times that they are honed and tweaked with eloquence, lyrical harmony, and emphatic pauses and exlamations...I was wondering if I was becoming a hypocrite in my own preaching.

I just realized that if the words are merely the tool, then using them skillfully is not wrong, as long as the end goal is the glory and exhaltation of Christ. But if the words are the goal, and the glory of the speaker is the purpose, then they certainly are wrong.

I especially love Spurgeon's exhortation towards evangelism; Spurgeon, a man who could make a dictionary blush for inferiority, said, "Do something, do something, do something."

Good article; great Saviour,
Canyon

DJP said...

Also, CB, Scripture itself. Literary masterpiece, some books absolutely stunning in intricacy and artistry.

Sir Brass said...

I love this line of Spurgeon's:
"She is weary of word-spinners, and pretenders to deep thought, and she cries for men full of the Holy Spirit, who are lovers of the word and not speakers only."

I love the parallels to "Be doers of the word and not hearers only."

Rick Frueh said...

I have heard eloquent nonesense,

and,

I have heard ungrammatical profundity.

Spurgeon was eloquent profundity. He is the only preacher whose written messages have made me cry. There are only certain eloquent sermons from Spurgeon that I am not fond of. :lol:

Rob Steele said...

Paul had a gift for words too, and he too protested that it wasn't the point. When he says love is better than angel tongues, he's not saying anything against angel tongues. They're good as far as they go and it's better to have one than not. But (big but) it ain't the main thing.

David Sheldon said...

Evidently it is hard to say anything after you have read a Spurgeon message. He liked his sermons as brisk as his afternoon tea! We get the benefit.