29 May 2009

A word from CHS as you hone your sermons

posted by Dan Phillips
I heard one say the other day that a certain preacher had no more gifts for the ministry than an oyster, and in my own judgment this was a slander on the oyster, for that worthy bivalve shows great discretion in his openings, and knows when to close. (Charles H Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students)

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Anonymous said...

I recall something I heard Elisabeth Eliot say one time..."It's always a good idea to keep your mouth shut."

DJP said...

That is true.

But I believe CHS more has in mind getting a sermon going, and ending it. My recollection from reading Haddon Robinson's book on preaching years ago is this bit of advice: when you start, start with a bang; when you stop, stop all over.

Tim Knotts said...

"Better to keep your mouth closed and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt" -Mark Twain

DJP said...

Very true but, again, not Spurgeon's point.

Rhology said...

If I didn't know better, I'd say that was a rather British insult.

DJP said...

Mine, or CHS'? I certainly mean none.

But, while he was a font of mercy to struggling saints, Spurgeon was absolute molten death on anything he saw as an incompetent or inept preacher.

Matt said...


donsands said...


Never heard that before, and me living near the Chesapeake Bay all my life. That's just not right.

Seems the 40 minute sermon is just about right; give or take 10 minutes.

How about Ezra preaching with priests helping out for 8 hours?

DJP said...

Mm, again, true; but I don't think that is his point, either — though Spurgeon had some definite (and funny) opinions about sermon-lengths, as he did about most things.

His point is that a sermon should be definite and aimed, like a gunshot. It should start powerfully and pointedly, and go somewhere, and conclude forcefully.

I couldn't find it to quote exactly, but in another place CHS likened some preachers, in concluding their sermons, to a sailor who drifts back and forth, back and forth, looking for somewhere to land. He says we shouldn't. Know where you're going, head there, get there, land there.

donsands said...

"Know where you're going, head there, get there, land there."

I like that. And it doesn't need to expository preaching; though that would be the best way to preach methinks.

I wonder how long Spurgeon preached back in those days?

David said...

Well said. Out this way, there's a contingent that opens up the Bible, chapter by chapter (and God bless 'em for that!) and just talks through it. Stories, explanations, a little Greek, whatever comes to mind.

But that's not faithful exposition, and who knows if the gospel ever shows up?

Solameanie said...

. . . absolute, molten death . . . Now I LIKE that phrase! What images it conjures up!

ncc said...


My first comment ever here, after being greatly blessed by the Pyros for a little more than a year now!

*Ahem* Anyway, on how long Spurgeon may have preached back then, you could try taking one of his sermons, recite out loud at 2 words per minute, gradually increasing to 4 words per minute as you get to the climax. That might give you a rough idea. Have fun at it!

Roy said...

Often wondered if Pyro would take on Spurgeon's methodology itself.

While not all his printed sermons, have read several volumes. He used the Springboard method: use any text one likes to dive into a topic. Talk on that topic. Say lots of biblical, good stuff. Use illustrations. Have outline that gives form and direction. But dive might be jacknife, sommersault, full twist, with no connection to text. Not exegetical preaching, for sure.

End result? Imho audience comes away not hearing what the Book says, but someone's summary of ideas about the Book.

stratagem said...

That bit of advice from CHS is an open and shut case. Must be something magical about that name Haddon.
So preachers: Know when to talk; know when to clam up - and don't be shellfishly long-winded.

Becky, slave of Christ said...

NCC: Did you mean 2 words per minute or per second? Per minute would be an awfully slow and painful exercise.

Herding Grasshoppers said...


love the sailing analogy... "Make for the port!"

We've often likened (inept) speakers to an airplane, circling and circling the airport, and wanted to shout out, "Lower the landing gear, and bring that baby down!"

I am ever grateful for the preacher/teacher who knows what he intends to say and does it. Which seems more likely to occur with good preparation.


PS My husband (an architect) is fond of quoting the wife of Faye Jones (a famous architect), who said something like, "I couldn't help but notice, dear, as you carried on, that you passed up several golden opportunities to conclude."

DJP said...

Julie, this is one that sticks in my mind partly because the wording is clever and memorable, but also partly because of the impact it had one me.

I took some convincing on this. I would put a lot of labor into the body of my sermon, but less into the opening, and far less into the conclusion.

Spurgeon and others helped me see the importance of starting with a bang, heading somewhere, getting there powerfully, and quitting with focus and decisiveness and clarity.

ncc said...

Oops terrible mistake. It's per second, not per minute. Thanks Becky.

Herding Grasshoppers said...


You obviously took it to heart - we see it in the clarity and focus of your writing.


donsands said...

"Anyway, on how long Spurgeon may have preached back then, you could try taking one of his sermons, recite out loud at 2 words per second, gradually increasing to 4 words per second as you get to the climax. That might give you a rough idea. Have fun at it!" ncc

I may just do that. And he preached to 6,000 people without any PA system, nor microphones. Amazing. I wish I could go back in time and visit, and hear one of his Sunday sermons.

ncc said...


Another person I'd have loved to hear preach is George Whitefield, whose voice was said to could have been heard 2 miles away (if I remember correctly the figure).

After knowing that was the speed the Spurgeon preached, somehow I tried to match my reading speed to that, as far too often I go way way slow. I found it actually helped.

Rhology said...


I meant his.

Becky, slave of Christ said...

ncc: I feel the same about Whitefield. I always think of that story when I am listening to Steve Lawson's powerful preaching.

Not too long ago, I quoted the account of Franklin on Whitefield from The Light and the Glory. I had 2 miles in my mind too, though I didn't find it in this passage.

John said...

Lets see...sound disipation is relative to the square of the distance, and a normal conversation is approx. 70dB, so for Whitfield to be heard conversationally at two miles...he would have to be speaking louder than a 72000 lb. thrust CF6-80E1 jet engine. Impressive.

Kirby L. Wallace said...

Omigosh! What a great quote!

P.S. ... I love my word-verification challenge for this post: "afterma"....

ne1 care to complete it? hah hah

FishHawk said...

Pyromaniacs has been included in this weeks A Sunday Drive. I hope this helps to attract even more new visitors here.


Sir Brass said...


Interesting about the dichotomy in Spurgeon's attitude towards struggling saints vs. his attitude towards those he saw as inept and unqualified preachers.

I'd say such a dichotomy flows from the same source: a desire to see God glorified.

God is glorified when His people are comforted and consoled by His Word, and His glory is robbed from Him when one whom He has not gifted for ministry climbs to the pulpit. Such an ungifted man also does harm to God's people by his ineptness.

Just as an unskilled driver can kill innocent bystanders by his own LACK of ability, so can an inept preacher HARM his listeners by his lack of gifting.

A man who has actually been gifted for the ministry then should have the same attitude: guard, comfort, teach, and strengthen the flock; and protect the office of undershephard from those not gifted for it.

stratagem said...

I wonder if his use of the clam as a analogy, is due to the fact that two of his three names are close to being seafood-related. You know, Haddon, Haddock; and Spurgeon, Sturgeon?
Is this off-topic?