Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Lifeby C.H. Spurgeon
Length: Approximately 30 hours. To read (911 pages)
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In his masterpiece, Lectures to My Students, Charles Spurgeon passes on a lifetime of wisdom, experience, and theological study to young ministers. Lectures is a mixture of practical, and theoretical homiletics (the study and discipline of preaching), combined with humorous anecdotes, serious testimony, and transparency about the Christian Life. Charles Spurgeon provides a portfolio of experiences and lessons that Seminary cannot. If you want a ground level view of ministry that will challenge and motivate you – look no further.
Who should read this?
Any Christian man who is entering the ministry ought to read this book. Spurgeon addresses numerous aspects of pastoral ministry and preaching. The layman will benefit as well. Christian ministry involves more than just preaching and teaching and Spurgeon’s aged wisdom provides many helpful insights. While it might do the average church goer good to have greater understanding of what their pastors face, it may not be of the most use. However, I would maintain that even those not called to the ministry can benefit spiritually, by gaining insight into a pastor’s life, or raising their own standards for what a minister ought to be. Who knows, some lay people who feel no calling may have that notion challenged. This could be the spark that ignites the fire.
Charles Spurgeon makes it clear who the book is for – theses are transcripts of his lectures given at his preaching college. He makes no bones about the fact that this book is meant for ministers chiefly. Much like today, Spurgeon found himself preaching amidst a famine for God’s Word. Therefore, he gave his lectures and compiled them into a written form with the hopes of instructing future preachers in a more godly manner.
The book is divided into the following parts:
- First Series – 11 chapters (pages 1-215) – The first set is primarily concerned with the characteristics, both spiritual and physical, of preachers.
- Second Series – 10 chapters (pages 219-426) – The second set of lectures is chiefly aimed at dealing with the Spiritual nature of ministry.
III. Third Series – 7 chapters (pages 429-635) – The final set of lectures is devoted to exploring illustrations, anecdotes and other tools for providing color to preaching.
- Appendices – A and B (pages 636-654) – These two appendix entries provide resources that Spurgeon suggests using.
- On Commenting and Commentaries – 4 chapters (pages 655-911) – The final section of the book contains his hand-picked catalogue of commentaries that preachers can source.
As an aside, the physical construction of the book is impressive. The newer version I have (Banner of Truth – published 8/1/2008) is hard bound and feels built to last. Even the paper is high quality! The formatting makes it easy to read as well, all around I certainly recommend this 2008 edition.
Charles Spurgeon takes a casual and light-hearted, yet serious tone throughout this book. He mixes anecdotes, illustrations, theology, quotations of Scripture, personal wisdom, poetry, literary allusions, history, science and the list goes on. His writing is warm and personal, yet authoritative and powerful.
Charles Spurgeon repeats throughout Lectures to My Students that he is seeking to prepare the next generation of preachers to share the gospel. He pulls no punches in his denunciation of weak, bible-less preaching and often ridicules it. Spurgeon also explores every component of preaching: voice, posture, positioning, preparation etc. If you can imagine an aspect of pastoral ministry, he addresses it.
Charles Spurgeon’s got something to say: (1) – there is a dire need for gospel centric preaching, (2) – preaching is a high calling and should be undertaken seriously, (3) – we must always be preparing the next generation for ministry, and that (4) – preachers will be challenged from all directions. These themes undergird the entire book. The biblical roots of this book are woven throughout the whole.
With 911 pages to cover there are too many arguments to sufficiently address them all. However, some stand out. First, Spurgeon advocates for expository, gospel centric preaching. His arguments extend from numerous biblical examples of how Jesus, Paul, Peter and so on all preached – with a text. He goes on to provide illustrations of the power of expository preaching on producing conversions, repentance and changed lives, while simultaneously mocking and denouncing empty preaching. Spurgeon writes with personal experience and biblical authority.
Secondly, he advocates for care in personal preparation for preaching. He doesn’t speak of homiletics so much as he does personal holiness. The man of God must first be a godly man in his eyes. The worker must be instant, in and out of season. Finally, he contends for thorough preparation in all aspects of preaching, focusing on voice, situational awareness and study, to name a few. He argues that in order to have the freedom to be extemporaneous and be used by the Spirit one must be prepared: the preacher must study, pray and practice. His arguments are defended with numerous personal examples, counterexamples and Scripture.
Lectures to My Students is a masterpiece. I have only been preaching for a short time but I can say with certainty that this will certainly remain a favorite. I cannot pronounce it my favorite as Preaching and Preachers, by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones is what ignited my passion for preaching. That said, Lectures has challenged me and given me great insight into preaching. I find myself counting down the days until I can preach next! I think that anyone considering ministry needs to read this book, it remains relevant despite being more than a century old. Spurgeon has challenged me to really improve my preaching and teaching.
The greatest strength of Lectures is the experience of Charles Spurgeon. A lifetime of preaching shines through on every page. He can write with such authority because his own experience and legacy prove him right. Furthermore, his endless supply of witty anecdotes and moving stories will grip you. His experience manifests in numerous ways, for example in the fifth chapter of the second series “Open-Air Preaching – Remarks Thereon”, he warns against preaching with your back against apartments because someone might drop a flower pot on your head! He draws this warning from the personal experience of having known a preacher this happened to. This is only one example of many similar anecdotes.
The great power of Spurgeon is his reliance upon the Bible at every turn, even his most practical considerations are theologically backed. He was motivated solely by the Word of God. Lectures to My Students has secured my confidence through its reliance on Scripture. Spurgeon’s commitment to the Word expresses itself through his exhortations urging students to preach the Word and nothing else. He does not condemn topical preaching, but he rightly argues that it ought to occupy a position subservient to expository preaching.
Thirdly, Lectures to My Students differs from other homiletics works by being exhaustively thorough with the topics it chooses to address. Charles Spurgeon does not complete a chapter without providing biblical basis, practical examples, contemporary and historical anecdotes and illustrations for each principle he puts forward. This is most pronounced, I feel, during the “Third Series” of lectures where he provides innumerable examples of each principle in his 7 chapters.
The greatest weakness of Lectures to My Students is its length. There are few disparaging things one can say about this book, but the massive size can be daunting to the lay reader (I certainly was intimidated by it!). It’s also in a slightly older variation of English which can take some getting used to as well. Reading this book requires a significant time commitment. That being said, one can cherry pick passages or take each lecture individually since they are all complete wholes. These minor flaws hardly tarnish an otherwise flawless work.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Lectures to My Students is a masterpiece. There are innumerable books on preaching, yet this one stands head and shoulders above the rest. For those lost in the wilderness of dull preaching, Lectures to My Students is a pillar of fire.
Hardly a relic from a bygone age, Lectures is a solemn reminder and a powerful exhortation to preach the Word. This should be required reading for everyone who desires to preach. If you haven’t read it, well, what are you still doing here? Go read it!
“Our great object of glorifying God is, however, to be mainly achieved by the winning of souls. We must see souls born unto God. If we do not, our cry should be that of Rachel, ‘Give me children, or I die.” – page 413.
“The ambassadors of peace should not cease to weep bitterly until sinners weep for their sins.” – page 413.
“Pray over the Scripture; it is as the treading of grapes in the wine-vat, the threshing of corn on the barn floor, the melting of gold from the ore.” – Page 95.
“[On commentaries] Of course, you are not such wiseacres as to think or say that you can expound Scripture without assistance from the works of divines and learned men who have labored before you in the field of exposition. If you are of that opinion, pray remain so, for you are not worth the trouble of conversion, and like a little coterie who think with you, would resent the attempt as an insult to your infallibility. It seems odd, that certain men who talk so much of what the Holy Spirit reveals to themselves, should think so little of what he has revealed to others.” – Page 659.