I recently read Charles Spurgeon’s finest work Lectures to My Students. All pastors or those considering ministry should read this book; however, one negative aspect is found in chapter 7 when Spurgeon encourages his readers to spiritualize the Bible within certain limits and boundaries. He vehemently comes against those who are against spiritualizing, those who are against going beyond the plain meaning of the text. To prove his point, he simply details his own opinions. He calls the standard homileticians have set up a “golden calf,” but then he proceeds to set up his own “golden calf” for spiritualizing. He quotes Paul’s finding of metaphors in Hagar and Sarah as a basis for our ability to find allegories in other places besides the two mentioned. The problem with this purported proof is that the Apostle Paul was using Hagar and Sarah as an allegory, pointing to the reality that all humans are either children of promise or children of the flesh. Nothing in the text is spiritualized by Paul without textual warrant since the historic-redemptive significance of Isaac and Ishmael is obvious from the text and redemption history from Genesis to Christ. One could do something similar with Jacob and Esau (flowing from Genesis 3:15). Thus, if one is to spiritualize the text as Paul did, there must be textual warrant. Paul had textual warrant.
Also, Spurgeon encourages ingenuity, imagination, etc. with the text, but without violating “common sense,” “good judgment,” etc. He even criticizes John Gill and others for violating his purported terms. Although I agree with Spurgeon’s criticism, I cannot understand how he can condemn the spiritualizing of others and then argue for his own relative spiritualizing. The problem I have is that Spurgeon gets to determine the definition of “common sense,” “good judgment,” and the boundaries for spiritualizing. The text should form the boundaries for spiritualizing, but Spurgeon spiritualizes without textual warrant. For example, Spurgeon writes,
All our Lord’s mighty works are full of teaching. Take the story of the healing of the deaf and dumb man. The poor creature’s maladies are eminently suggestive of man’s lost estate, and our Lord’s mode of procedure most instructively illustrates the plan of salvation. “Jesus took him aside from the multitude”–the soul must be made to feel its own personality and individuality, and must be led into loneliness. He “put his finger into his ears,” the source of the mischief indicated; sinners are convinced of their state. “And spat”–the gospel is a simple and despised means, and the sinner, in order to salvation, must humble himself to receive it. He “touched his tongue,”–further pointing out where the mischief lay–our sense of need grows on us. “He looked up to heaven”–Jesus reminded his patient that all strength must come from above–a lesson which every seeker must learn. “He sighed,” showing that the sorrows of the Healer are the means of our healing. And when he said, “Ephphatha, Be opened”–here was the effectual word of grace which wrought an immediate, perfect, and lasting cure. From this one exposition learn all, and ever believe that the miracles of Christ are a great picture gallery, illustrating his work among the sons of men (105).
What’s interesting about Spurgeon’s spiritualizing here is that none of the Apostles or New Testament writers took the same liberty in describing any of Christ’s miracles. In other words, Spurgeon believes “the miracles of Christ are a great picture gallery” because Spurgeon believes the miracles of Christ are a great picture gallery. He doesn’t have textual warrant to argue this. Although all that Spurgeon says above is true and can be found elsewhere in Scripture, it cannot be argued from the text Spurgeon uses. The above is Spurgeon’s opinion, not what this passage of Scripture actually says, and his interpretation here is definitely not exposition.
Finally, Spurgeon believes that spiritualizing the text will help keep the audience’s attention, interesting them and keeping them awake (109). The pastor’s concern, however, must be with preaching the truth instead of using his imagination to stretch the text beyond the words and present context simply because he has a lazy congregation. Furthermore, by encouraging pastors to use spiritualizing to keep attention, Spurgeon suggests that the text alone is incapable of keeping the attention of God’s people. I understand Spurgeon’s belief in the depravity of his hearers and their desire to be “kept awake,” but none of the pastors in the Old and New Testaments “spiritualized” for this reason. The prophets, apostles, and Christ in Scripture demanded to be heard, not because of their ability, ingenuity, or imagination, but because they came with a message from God. In my opinion, this chapter seems inconsistent with the rest of the book. It calls into question the sufficiency of Scripture as it is written.
What are your thoughts?