03 December 2006

The Virtue of Simple Doctrine, Preached Simply

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
posted by Phil Johnson

The PyroManiacs devote space at the beginning of each week to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. The following excerpt is from a sermon titled "Pentecost," preached on Sunday Morning, 24 May 1863.

et me tell you that it is one of the blessed effects of the Holy Spirit to make ministers preach simply. You do not want the Holy Spirit to make them ride the high horse and mount up on the wings of the spread-eagle to the stars; what is wanted is to keep them down, dealing with solemn subjects in an intelligible manner.

What was the theme of Peter's Pentecost sermon? Was it something so intellectual that nobody could comprehend it, or so grand that few could grasp it? No, Peter just rises up and delivers himself somewhat like this—"Jesus Christ of Nazareth lived among you; he was the Messiah promised of old; you crucified him, but in his name there is salvation, and whosoever among you will repent and be baptized shall find mercy."

That is all! I am sure Mr. Charles Simeon in his "Skeleton Sermons" would not have inserted it as a model, and I do not suppose that any college professor alive would ever say to his students—"If you want to preach, preach like Peter."

Why, I do not perceive firstly, secondly, thirdly, and fourthly, to which some of us feel compelled to bind ourselves. It is in fact a commonplace talking about sublime things—sublime things which in this age are thought to be foolishness and a stumbling-block. Well then, may the Spirit of God be poured out to teach our ministers to preach plainly, to set our young men talking about Jesus Christ, for this is absolutely necessary.

When the Spirit of God goes away from a Church it is a fine thing for oratory, because then it is much more assiduously cultivated. When the Spirit of God is gone, then all the ministers become exceedingly learned, for not having the Spirit they need to supply the emptiness his absence has made, and then the old-fashioned Bible is not quite good enough; they must touch it up a bit and improve upon it, and the old doctrines which used to rejoice their grandmothers at the fire-side are too stale for them; they must have an improved and a new theology, and young gentlemen now-a-days show their profound erudition by denying everything that is the ground, and prop, and pillar of our hope, and starting some new will-o'-the-wisp which they set their people staring at.

Ah! well, we want the Spirit of God to sweep all that away. Oh that my dear sister who conducts the female class, and all who are in the Sunday-school, may be helped just to talk to you about Christ. When you get the Spirit of God to come upon you like fire and like a rushing mighty wind it will not be to make you doctors of divinity, and scholars, and great elocutionists; it will only be just for this, to make you preach Christ, and preach him more simply than ever you did before.

C. H. Spurgeon


Douglas McMasters said...

It appears to me that when trust in God's empowering the plain declaration of the gospel departs, confidence in education, eloquence or techniques to persuade enters to fill the void.

I do wonder if some of today's lack of confidence in the gospel isn't so much rejection of it after once knowing it as it is a lack of ever having experienced it in the first place. If someone really felt the power of God in the gospel, there would be no looking elsewhere.

DJP said...

I think Spurgeon himself illustrates both the truth, and the limitation, of his message here.

If anyone thinks CHS is arguing against eloquence, then CHS himself would be a hypocrite. His vocabulary was staggering, his prose profound. Under "eloquence" in the dictionary, SEE SPURGEON, CHARLES H. would not be out of place.

Or if anyone thinks CHS is condemning all outlines -- again, his sermons had outlines. Not as Byzantine, say, as Charnock's Existence and Attributes, but outlines nonetheless.

But no honest reader could note either of those elements and say that they obscured CHS' message. His message was as clear as crystal -- which isn't a bad analogy, given that crystal isn't terribly clear until it's been worked over, polished, and expertly crafted.

I think the point is that all CHS' eloquence and craft served to convey the message, not to lift up the preacher. He did all he did to get the Cross across, to preach Christ, to convey the truth.

Not to excite admiration.

donsands said...

Amen Dan. The prince of preachers was a humble servant, and an example to us all.

Seems that humility is one of those traits when attributed to someone is always difficult, because we still struggle with pride.
Just thinking a little.

Douglas McMasters said...

If I remember correctly, isn't there an account in the "autobiography" of Spurgeon that has two men visiting a famous preacher in London in the morning, with this conclusion: "What a great preacher." And then in the evening, they heard Spurgeon, with this thought, "What a great Christ."

That's eloquence used properly, as a servant to exalt the Saviour.

~Mark said...

I thought of this after reading you post after this one, but after reading this I definitely want to chime in that it seems the preachers who are most able to bring the truth in simplicity, are those with the most knowledge of and submission to, the Truth.

As they say of J. Vernon McGee, keeping the cookie jar down where the kids can reach it! :)

Douglas McMasters said...

Luther got it right:

No. 3975: Church Fathers Do Not Adhere to Scriptures August 24, 1538

Then there was talk about the writings of the church fathers on the Bible and how these left the reader in uncertainty. He [Martin Luther] responded,

“I’m not allowed to make judgments about them because they’re writers of recognized authority and I’m compelled to be an apostate. But let him who wishes read them, and Chrysostom222 in particular. He was the supreme orator, but how he digressed from the thing at hand to other matters! While I was lecturing on the letter to the Hebrews223 and consulted Chrysostom, [I found that] he wrote nothing about the contents of the letter. I believe that as the greatest orator Chrysostom had plenty of hearers but that he taught without fruit. For it ought to be the primary and principal function of a preacher to reflect upon the substance, contents, and sum total of the matter and instruct his hearer accordingly. Once this is done the preacher can use rhetoric and exhort.”

Luther, M. Vol. 54: Luther's works, Table Talk

Charles Churchill said...

I think Spurgeon would have been sick if he had seen what passes for simplicity these days. I think DJP summed it up quite nicely...

Anyway, good post. Thanks for it.
Charles Churchill