All of Charles Spurgeon’s advice to the preacher who aims, as he did, to woo for Christ was summed up in an address he gave at the Pastors’ College in 1881, titled “Preach Christ in a Christly Manner.” His students were all expecting him to urge them to preach Christ, and he did not disappoint: “Ministers of the gospel, let Christ be your subject, and let Christ be your model: find in him not only the truth you utter, but the way and life of your utterance.”[1] And yet, he added, “As for Christ’s being our subject, I have spoken upon that theme so many times that there is the less need on this occasion to dwell upon it at any length.”[2] His focus in this address would be on Christ as the model for the preacher.

Christ was zealous for his Father’s business. Zeal for God’s house consumed him so thoroughly that he was in great distress until his mission (that is, his excruciating death) could be accomplished (Luke 12:50; John 2:17). As such, argued Spurgeon, Christ always preached solemnly. “There was weight about every word that he said, meaning in every gesture, force in every tone. He was never a trifler.”[3] Christ, in other words, took in all seriousness the eternal gravity of his task in all his dealing with people. Yet Spurgeon knew how easily that “seriousness” could be misinterpreted by men who are not full of the joy of the Lord. And so he added:

Although our Lord always spoke solemnly, yet never drearily, there is a pleasant interest about his words, for he preached glad tidings joyfully. It was evidently his meat and his drink to do the will of him that sent him. He delighted in his ministry, and in it he found refreshment. I cannot imagine our Saviour during those three years wearing the aspect of one who was tired of his work, or as speaking merely because he was expected to do so, in a dull, monotonous, lifeless manner. His heart was in his sermons, and parables, and gracious talks; he loved to be God’s ambassador, and would not have exchanged his office to rule empires.[4]

Christ also preached meekly. He was not pompous or overbearing, but spoke to sinners as a kind friend to friends. Thus, “scolding in the pulpit, bitterness in conversation, asperity of manner, and domineering over others are not for us, for they are not Christly things.”[5] Of course, that too could be misinterpreted, and so Spurgeon added that while Christ preached meekly, he also did so courageously. His gentle and loving “meekness” cannot be confused with tame harmlessness. He would rebuke sin roundly and not shy from speaking of hell re. But Spurgeon’s point was that in all Christ’s fearless proclamation of the truth, bold never meant “brutal,” and courageous never meant “callous.”

Christ was also uncommonly simple in his use of language. For all his peerless and divine wisdom, he used words that can be readily understood by all. That being the case, well-educated preachers who would preach like him must be very careful to wear their learning lightly. Not that they should lay aside any of their actual wisdom: it is simply that they should use it all to serve the people and not their own egos or reputations. “Aspire to be understood rather than to be admired. Seek not to produce a wondering but an instructed audience.”[6] Once again, Spurgeon had a counterbalance to this piece of advice: “simple” should not mean “vacuous” or “shallow.” The call for simplicity is not an excuse for the intellectually lazy: “Let your teaching be clear as crystal, but deep as the sea.”[7] In plain language, preachers must hold out profound truths. Never vapid or trivial, to be like Christ they must be as solid in matter as they are simple in manner.

Finally—and this, Spurgeon believed, was the most distinguishing mark of the Savior’s preaching—Christ did all this with an intense love for both God and his hearers. His theology was built on prayer and led to worship; his “preaching was his heart set to words.”[8] Spurgeon thus urged his students to preach devotedly and prayerfully. “This is the way to preach. Pray the divine message into yourself, and then preach it out of yourself. Speak with God for men, and then speak with men for God.”[9] Preachers must also share Christ’s heartfelt affection for sinners so that they truly love the ones to whom they proclaim God’s grace and glory. This will transform how they speak to them, as it did for Christ. “When he has to speak sternly, as well as at every other time, his tenderness is apparent. He laments even while he condemns. If Jerusalem must be doomed, its sentence is pronounced by a voice that is choked for utterance.”[10]

Christ, then, was the truest model as well as the truest subject of Christian preaching: “I hold up to you Jesus Christ as the model preacher. I hold up no man beside, and I earnestly advise you never to become slavish copyists of any living preachers. Do you reply that you need a living teacher? I reply that Jesus is a living model; for, blessed be God, he ever liveth.”[11]

Spurgeon was addressing young preachers, but his counsel is fitting for all Christians. As we share the gospel with friends and neighbors, Spurgeon reminds us that it is Christ—in all the multifaceted glories of his person and work—who must be the focal point of our message and the treasure we offer. And as we do that, we will properly adorn our message as we share Christ’s own zeal, Christ’s own courageous meekness and simplicity, and Christ’s own love for both God and neighbor.

Content taken from Spurgeon on the Christian Life: Alive in Christ by Michael Reeves, ©2018. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Il 60187, www.crossway.org.

[1] C. H. Spurgeon, The Sword and Trowel (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1865–1891), 1881, 35.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., 36.

[4] Ibid., 36-37

[5] Ibid., 37.

[6] Ibid., 38-39.

[7] Ibid., 39.

[8] Ibid., 40.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid., 41.

[11] Ibid.

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