Using Variation and Surprise in Preaching

Charles Spurgeon’s Lectures to My Students is a favorite book of mine. The 19th Century Baptist preacher says things in such a way that he seems to bring home the point in a fresh way each time.

I’ve recently been thinking about not just what we say when we preach but how we say it. In this excerpt from Lectures to My Students Spurgeon hits on two often neglected tools in the preacher’s homiletical tool belt: variation and surprise.

Preachers often fall into the trap of saying the same thing over and over again. We repeat our canned phrases when appropriate. There is nothing wrong with what we are saying but it is just not as helpful as it can be. It would seem that the craft of preaching should demand some degree of thoughtfulness.

There is a great deal of force in that for winning attention. Do not say what everybody expected you would say. Keep your sentences out of ruts. If you have already said, “Salvation is all of grace” do not always add, “and not by human merit.,” but vary it and say, “Salvation is all of grace; self- righteousness has not a corner to hide its head in.”

I fear I cannot recall one of Mr. Taylor’s sentences so as to do it justice, but it was something like this: “Some of you make no advance in the divine life, because you go forward a little way and then you float back again: just like a vessel on a tidal river which …

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Book Review- The Gospel Focus of Charles Spurgeon

Whenever I hear that someone has written something on or given a lecture concerning Charles Spurgeon, I am drawn in. I feel like I am familiar with the stories and most of his work but yet, I can never get enough. I just want to “hear it again.” So, naturally, I was drawn in with this book from Steve Lawson’s A Long Line of Godly Men series.

The book is more theological and philosophical than biographical. Lawson labors to highlight Spurgeon’s theological convictions that shaped his ministry. He does provide some biographical detail, however, the focus is upon what Spurgeon believed and how he applied it.

As you might expect there are quotes abounding in this book. Every sermon and book dripped gospel and was a like neon sign pointing to Christ.

The book is also a compelling call to action, specifically to those who share Spurgeon’s theology (Calvinism). Do you believe in a big God who saves a great multitude from the nations? Then get to work in missions. Do you believe that the preaching of the gospel saves people? Then preach. Do you believe a sovereign God hears and answers prayer? Then pray. Do you believe that you are helpless apart from the Holy Spirit? Then pray and rely upon God.

Let me give you a couple more practical uses for this book. First, it is arranged by topic so you can easily keep this for reference if you need a solid Spurgeon quote for a sermon. Second, there a number of references that …

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What do you do when the power goes out? Keep preaching Christ.

I witnessed something today that I consider a remarkable privilege. It was as if I travelled back in time to colonial New England. And it happened here in the middle of the epicenter if technological development and advancement.

I’m in Los Angeles at Grace Church for the Shepherds’ Conference along with 3,000-plus other pastors, and mid sermon the power went out. The place went black with only emergency lights dimly shining in the cavernous brick auditorium that is Grace Church.

What did John MacArthur do? He grabbed a flashlight and just kept on preaching. He didn’t flinch. He was unflappable.  He literally just kept going. His voice grew with intensity as he unpacked the covenant of redemption. Soon his voice was traveling powerfully to every corner of the room.

Without being trite, let me just say, it was awesome. I felt like I was in an auditorium in Geneva with men leaning in to hear each word Calvin spoke or out in a field in western Massachusettes to hear Whitfield. Dr MacArthur just went on preaching Christ. In Spurgeon fashion he powerfully pleaded with pastors to preach Christ or stop preaching.

Since the power outage prevents access to his words, I’ll give you snippet here:

I just wish that the church would lift up Christ. If anyone would tag your church let it be this, “They were ever and always exalting Christ” you and your church should be known for robust Christology. Do you want to know the secret to Grace Church? These people keep be …

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We want: Calvary Theology, Books, and Sermons!

This sermon and this section in particular was a great blessing to me today. Is Spurgeon’s great longing and prayer beginning to be realized in our day? To some degree you would have to say “yes.”

Read and enjoy!

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I Would Speak of Him with Great Capital Letters!

From a sermon preached by Charles Spurgeon, entitled, He Shall Be Great:

Brothers and Sisters, I admit that there are many points in which He is greater to you than He is to me! But yet, to me He is higher than Heaven, vaster than eternity, more delightful than Paradise, more blessed than blessedness itself!

If I could speak of Him according to my soul’s desire, I would speak in great capital letters and not in the small italics which I am compelled to use. If I could speak as I would, I would make winds and waves my orators and cause the whole universe to become one open mouth with which to proclaim the praises of Emmanuel! If all eternity would speak as though it, too, were but one tongue, yet it could not tell all the charms of His love and the sureness of His faithfulness and His truth! We must leave off somewhere, but, truly, if it is the point of our estimation of Him, we can never express our overwhelming sense of His honor, His excellence, His sweetness!

Oh, that He were praised by every creature that has breath! Oh, that every minute placed another gem in His crown! Oh, that every soul that breathes did continue to breathe out nothing but hosannas and hallelujahs unto Him, for He deserves all possible praises!

Do you hear the crash of the multitudinous music of Heaven? It is like many waters and like the mighty waves of the sea—and it …

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The (potential) Stinger in the Tail of All that Sin Talk

I am all for communicating sin and the need for Christ. This is biblical. It forms our understanding of the gospel. But sometimes preachers and Christians linger a bit long in the boiler room, inhaling the smoke of the Law without opening the windows of grace. You cannot smile in such a cellar.

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Having Coffee with Calvin is a Good Idea

I am finishing up preaching through the Gospel According to Mark on Sunday mornings. This of course means that I am now knee deep in the cross of Christ. That which has been anticipated is now, in the narrative, being realized.

In my study I have turned to some of my favorite preachers. Incidentally, most of these guys not only have outstanding hair they also lived hundreds of years ago.

As I sat and read John Calvin on the cross of Christ in The Institutes I was reminded again about truth unchanged. I read Calvin and it was like he had done prep work before a morning meeting over coffee. I sat down, opened up my book, and sipped my coffee as the 16th Century stud from Geneva skillfully painted the corners of the theological plate.

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The Bridge of Grace will Bear your Weight!

I was reading The Forgotten Spurgeon the other day and found this quote a tremendous encouragement. It was reportedly spoken by Spurgeon to his friend J.W. Harrald prior to his death:

Ah! the bridge of grace will bear your weight, brother. Thousands of big sinners have gone across that bridge, yea, tens of thousands have gone over it. I can hear their trampings now as they traverse the great arches of the bridge of salvation. They come by their thousands, by their myriads; e’er since the day when Christ first entered into His glory, they come, and yet never a stone has sprung in that mighty bridge. Some have been the chief of sinners, and some have come at the very last of their days, but the arch has never yielded beneath their weight. I will go with them trusting to the same support; it will bear me over as it has borne them. (The Forgotten Spurgeon, p.164)

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Was He Not Always First to Serve, Right Up to the Cross?!

-below is a meditation by Charles Spurgeon that I found particularly encouraging…enjoy!!-

“He humbled Himself.”—Philippians 2:8.

JESUS is the great teacher of lowliness of heart. We need daily to learn of Him. See the Master taking a towel and washing His disciples’ feet! Follower of Christ, wilt thou not humble thyself? See Him as the Servant of servants, and surely thou canst not be proud! Is not this sentence the compendium of His biography, “He humbled Himself”?

Was He not on earth always stripping off first one robe of honour and then another, till,naked, He was fastened to the cross, and there did He not empty out His inmost self, pouring out His life-blood, giving up for all of us, till they laid Him penniless in a borrowed grave? How low was our dear Redeemer brought! How then can we be proud?

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A New Year’s Benediction from Spurgeon

I wish, my brothers and sisters, that during this year you may live nearer to Christ than you have ever done before. Depend upon it, it is when we think much of Christ that we think little of ourselves, little of our troubles, and little of the doubts and fears that surround us.

Begin from this day, and may God help you. Never let a single day pass over your head without a visit to the garden of Gethsemane, and the cross on Calvary.

And as for some of you who are not saved, and know not the Redeemer, I would to God that this very day you would come to Christ. I dare say you think coming to Christ is some terrible thing: that you need to be prepared before you come; that he is hard and harsh with you. When men have to go to a lawyer they need to tremble; when they have to go to the doctor they may fear; though both those persons, however unwelcome, may be often necessary. But when you come to Christ, you may come boldly. There is no fee required; there is no preparation necessary.

You may come just as you are. It was a brave saying of Martin Luther’s, when he said, “I would run into Christ’s arms even if he had a drawn sword in his hand.” Now, he has not a drawn sword, but he has his wounds in his hands. Run into his arms, poor sinner. “Oh,” you say, “May …

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