I recently read Charles Spurgeon’s arguably finest work Lectures to my Students. I’m convinced that all men in ministry or thinking about ministry should read this book. However, there are a couple negative aspects of this fine work. For example, in chapter 6 Spurgeon tells pastors how to select a text to preach. He argues that God will tell pastors a text to preach; as well as, that a pastor needs to be observant of his congregation in order to discern the texts they need to hear. Believing to possess a Bible that is authoritative, it is interesting that Spurgeon would suggest an extra-biblical leading of God the Holy Spirit for the pastor to know what to preach. After all, if the entire Bible carries authority, and the hearers are all sinners, doesn’t this mean that they need all the word of God they can get? Furthermore, is there any moment of any day that a believer can say that he or she does not need certain pieces of the Bible? Is not the natural tendency of sinners to be prideful and arrogant, to think themselves strong in an area when they are really weak? Thus, as long as a pastor preaches from the Bible, and helps his hearers apply the text to their lives, can he really preach “the wrong text”? I don’t believe any pastor can fail when he preaches the text from its original context into his current context.
Spurgeon also argues that if a man is not given the text extra-biblically from God through some relative leading, then he is arrogantly using his own faculties to choose the text (86). This is an interesting argument considering Spurgeon believes a pastor is capable of discerning the textual needs of his congregants, but is incapable of picking the right text to preach using his faculties. In other areas of this book, Spurgeon encourages his readers to use their faculties to carry out their ministry unto God’s glory. I understand Spurgeon’s high view of the Scriptures, but Spurgeon fails to realize that the reader cannot escape his faculties in choosing a text. Spurgeon even suggests that “when your verse gives your mind a hearty grip, from which you cannot release yourself, you will need no further direction as to your proper theme (85).” The question is “How a man can know that his mind is gripped without using his own faculties?” The answer is that a pastor’s faculties are impossible to divorce from the process. Furthermore, there is no example in the Bible where God “gave a text” to someone to preach, relatively “gripping them with the text” as Spurgeon suggests. Moreover, even if this happens in a pastor’s life, how does one know that God is the one gripping him since the Bible details no similar gripping or even encourages pastors to wait on such gripping? The answer is that a pastor cannot know. Thus, Spurgeon’s suggestions are merely his opinion.
Finally, Spurgeon neglects the way God the Holy Spirit ordered the text for His own glory. In picking a text, does not the text demand to be exposited, since it is organized expositionally? God wrote specific words, in specific sentences, in specific paragraphs, in specific genres, organized in a specific order to detail a specific message. To deny this order is to hear the text differently than the early church would have heard it. They wouldn’t have merely plucked a few sentences here and there; nor would they have waited for a specific leading to a specific sentence. Spurgeon should not ignore the order of God’s word, for whether God divinely tells his hearers what to preach today, one still cannot deny that He ordered the word to be understood the way He organized it. Since He already organized it the way it is written, a preacher has authority from God to preach it the way it is already organized instead of waiting for God to reorganize it through relatively “gripping” the pastor’s mind.
What are your thoughts?