Book Review: “Lectures to My Students” by Charles H. Spurgeon (1875)

At The Pastor’s College of the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, founder and president, joined with other great men of God to teach many somewhat-experienced pastors more about the office of the preacher. Lectures to My Students is a three-volume collection of the lectures Spurgeon gave each Friday to his students as a supplemental summary, as a “sharpening of the pin” which the teachers had been crafting in the students all week (Spurgeon, Series A, page v). The following book critique will summarize portions of Lectures, critique and evaluate the collection, and apply the text personally to my own life.

Spurgeon’s major theme in Lectures can be summarized as the encouraging of genuineness in his preachers, a theme which he teaches through both negative and positive principles. Negatively, Spurgeon speaks much of things that his young preachers must simply never do, things they must actively avoid in the areas of praying, preaching, and living. In praying, a preacher must avoid excessive use both of repetitious phrases and of the Lord’s name, just as much as he must avoid the liturgy of memorized public prayers (A49, 58, 54). In preaching, a preacher must avoid both speaking the Word when the Word is yet unclear even to himself (A80), and poorly spiritualizing his messages from Scripture (A80, 106). In living, a preacher must avoid considering himself above the people when out of the pulpit, and he must avoid bad habits like self-importance, self-indulgence, temper, and bigotry, (A181; B31). In Spurgeon’s own, keen words, he reminds his students: “Do not be a dummy” (A185).

Positively, Spurgeon tells his preachers how they must behave in their private lives, their prayer lives, and their public lives. Privately, a preacher must first test his call to know that it is truly of God, he must master God’s Word so as to be not only a preacher but also a theologian, and he must put on good habits like integrity, courage, zeal, powerful dedication, holiness of character, and earnestness (A23, 74; B25, 32-35, 145). Prayerfully, a preacher must pray more than the average Christian, and he must pray with holy familiarity (A40, 58). Publically, with his private and prayer lives already established, a minister must always behave as a minister, he must be sociable, and he must be cheerful (A13, 182, 184).

If a seminary student had a genuine understanding of how the Lord used Charles Haddon Spurgeon as a preacher and author for most of his life, then that student would righty view Lectures as an essential asset to his seminary library. The following paragraphs will evaluate two of the many positive aspects of Spurgeon’s Lectures and critique two negative aspects of the collection.

The many positive aspects of Lectures being too difficult to name individually, this short evaluation will focus on both the author and his lecturing style. C.H. Spurgeon was a man who changed drastically the Christian’s perspectives on finances, preaching, and church itself by using his God-given talents and influence to build and finance the largest Baptist church in history up to that point, the Metropolitan Tabernacle. Spurgeon has been touted as the world’s greatest preacher, he was said to have had a photographic memory, and some have estimated that he personally has more words published in English than any other author in history. Certainly, preachers the world over would like to tap the man’s brain for insights into how, by the grace of God, he could accomplish so much in just one life, and Lectures to My Students is truly the closest and most concise tapping of Spurgeon’s brain those preachers could ever get. The style with which Spurgeon writes is pleasing to both the eye and the mind, for in his own words, his “lectures are colloquial, familiar, full of anecdote, and often humorous” (A, page v). Perhaps one might look forward to Spurgeon’s humor the most, and the following are examples of those lines which strike as perhaps the most clever, yet still tinged with great wisdom: “Ludicrous results sometimes arise from sheer stupidity inflated with conceit” (A105); “It is far better to be industriously asleep than lazily awake” (A182); and “Do not be a dummy” (A185). Humor and Spurgeon’s colloquial style are not all that make Lectures great, however, for the vast range of topics covered from lecture to lecture target directly the needs most preachers face from one service to the next. One might even view Lectures as another form of Spurgeon’s own Morning by Morning, only this is being dedicated to the spiritual health and effectiveness of preachers in particular.

The few negative aspects of Lectures regard the dated feel of Spurgeon’s writing, a datedness most evident in both his lecture topics and his emphasis on certain ministerial concerns. Were a reader to start reading this collection without placing himself in the mindset that Spurgeon wrote these lectures in the late 19th century, he may be surprised to view topics such those in collection B which discuss a preacher’s “Posture, Action, Gesture, etc.” Spurgeon’s writing to a specific crowd in a specific era, however, explains why he found it so important to lecture his young preachers on their delivery, both audible and visual. Spurgeon emphasizes other ministerial concerns in Lectures with which some preachers today might disagree. For example, some might take a stronger stand against spiritualizing than did Spurgeon who encouraged its use “within certain limits and boundaries” (A103). Some might disagree with Spurgeon’s outright rejection of the use of liturgy in churches, despite his fitting point that the apostles themselves and the early church never used such repetitious prayers as those of the liturgy (A54). Others might take offense at Spurgeon’s accusation that preachers can fall into such open sins as self-indulgence, self-importance, or bigotry, though anyone offended by these accusations must first question his own soul as to why the offense came in the first place (B31).

Having thoroughly enjoyed reading selected chapters from Spurgeon’s Lectures to My Students, I have begun to consider how I can best apply the information to my own life. I enjoy training church leaders, but I have never served as the pastor of a church myself. Some might name my spiritual gifts as those of a “pastor/teacher,” though the thought of shepherding a group of believers in a local church setting, just as my own pastor does, has been one thought very far from my mind. I do not have the burden to be an overseer, a shepherd, or even a preacher, but rather a teacher, specifically in the context of leadership development. I am very content with the role God has given me in this life, to meet with young men and pastors outside of the church and to help train them to be the best pastors and church leaders they can be for God. I do so by using the tools with which God has blessed me, tools which would be otherwise unavailable to uneducated men overseas. One of these tools I can and most certainly will use for this purpose of training men in preaching the Word is Lectures. These men need to know how to keep themselves throughout the week, not simply during study time or while they stand behind a lectern. They must learn about public and private prayer from Spurgeon’s own unique perspective. They must understand their own call to preach and pastor a flock. As a teacher I can view their talents, and I can sense their burdens, but I cannot call them to the ministry.

Spurgeon’s lecture topics and points therein are adaptable to many contexts and cultures, and one must not be surprised how the collection has stood so well the test of time. While Lectures is filled with so many wonderful topics for study and discussion, I think it is clear that its survival as a pastor’s tool for over a century and within many different contexts proves how the majority of its points are universal to the core. Truly this collection would be a welcome asset to any pastor’s library.

BIBLIOGRPAHY

Spurgeon, C.H. Lectures to My Students. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1995.

©2012 E.T.

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