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Charles Spurgeon on Attractive Preaching

Joe Thorn recently wrote...

Many, if not most, of my readers are in seminary or ministry so I thought I would share a few quotes on preaching - again. This morning I was reading, “Preaching for the Poor,” an amazing sermon by Charles Spurgeon. Later in the week I want to get to his thoughts on preaching the Gospel to the poor specifically, but today I wanted to share what he had to say about preaching itself.

The “Prince of Preachers” argues that when the Gospel is preached it “must be preached attractively…,” and that means following the example of Jesus. He said, “we must preach as Christ did; we must tell anecdotes, and stories, and parables, as he did; we must come down and make the gospel attractive.”

For Spurgeon, what makes the Gospel attractive is a combination of earnestness and comprehensibility. He said,

Christ Jesus was an attractive preacher; he sought above all means to set the pearl in a frame of gold, that it might attract the attention of the people. He was not willing to place himself in a parish church, and preach to a large congregation…, but would preach in such a style that people felt they must go to hear him. Some of them gnashed their teeth in rage and left his presence in wrath, but the multitudes still thronged to him to hear and to be healed. It was no dull work to hear this King of preachers, he was too much in earnest to be dull, and too humane to be incomprehensible.

Of course, when one makes the argument that preaching should be attractive/relevant it is generally well-received or rejected outright. I find little if any middle ground. To many critics it sounds like unhealthy accommodation; an inappropriate desire to be “cool,” or “relevant.” But Spurgeon knew of this kind of reaction and explained,

If we adopt such a style they will call us clownish, vulgar, and so on. Blessed be God, we have long learnt that vulgarity is a very different thing from what some men suppose. We have been so taught, that we are willing to be even clowns for Christ’s sake, and so long as we are seeing souls saved we are not likely to alter our course.

He goes further and says, “Why is it that God has blessed other men to the stirring of the people, to the bringing about of spiritual revivals, to the renewal of the power of godliness? We believe it has always been owing to this — under God’s Spirit — that they have adopted the phraseology of the people, and have not been ashamed to be despised because they talked as common people did.”

This is about relevance and contextualization. Despite what some critics would have us believe, these are good words. I agree with Spurgeon when he said, “Preaching must reach the popular ear; and to get at the people it must be interesting to them, and by the grace of God we hope it shall be.” Of course this is a form of cultural accommodation, but it is not the corruption of the message, nor the abandonment of the Gospel. Yes, in every generation there is the danger, and the present reality of, loosing the Gospel. But it is the Gospel itself that moves us to preach comprehensibly to our culture, because we want the good news to be properly understood and received.

So, with Spurgeon, when we call for relevant, or “attractive” preaching, we are simultaneously calling for a preaching of the pure Gospel.

There is such a thing as preaching science and philosophy attractively, but not preaching the gospel. Mark, it is not preaching, but it is preaching the gospel that is the mark of Christ’s dispensation and of his truth. Let us take care to preach fully the depravity of man, let us dwell thoroughly upon his lost and ruined estate under the law, and his restoration under the gospel… Let us take heed, then, for it is a serious matter, that when the people listen to us, it is the gospel that we preach.

You can find an online copy of this sermon at the Spurgeon Archive.

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