Spurgeon’s preaching was conversational, extemporaneous, and “off the cuff.” He was forceful, winsome, direct, and earthy. He had no patience for the dry, polished lectures many preachers delivered from Victorian pulpits. Spurgeon criticized a sermon that “requires a dictionary rather than a Bible to explain it” (MTP 56:482). His critics accused him of being irreverent and vulgar, but Spurgeon’s goal was not to impress ivory tower academics. “The Lord Jesus did not say, ‘Feed my giraffes,’ but ‘Feed my sheep’”
Charles Spurgeon wore many hats. He was a husband, father, evangelist, author, abolitionist, editor, and college president. By 1884, he had founded sixty-six ministries in London: two orphanages, a clothing drive, a nursing home, a ministry to policeman, and dozens more. But Spurgeon is best remembered as a preacher. Helmut Thielicke said he combined two things: oxygen and grace (Encounter with Spurgeon, 19). His sermons had broad appeal. He spoke in the language of the working-class and packed his sermons with colorful imagery, sharp wit, and illustrations taken from ordinary life.
Spurgeon’s sermons were accessible and affordable – only one pence each. In Scotland, they were sold beside newspaper stands. His sermons were translated into over forty languages:
A Christian in China preferred to “go without a meal than miss this spiritual food” (The Sword and the Trowel,May 1884:246).
A criminal in Jamaica was last seen reading Spurgeon’s tract “Christ the Food of the Soul” just before his execution.
After about fifty or sixty British troops in India passed around Spurgeon’s sermon, they returned it “all black and fringed” (The Sword and the Trowel, October 1879:496).
In Australia, a convict escaped from prion and was converted after he read a “blood-stained” sermon looted from the pocket of his murdered victim.
D. L. Moody said, “It is a sight in Colorado on Sunday to see the miners come out of the bowels of the hills and gather in the schoolhouses or under the trees while some old English miner stands up and reads one of Charles Spurgeon’s sermons” (William R. Moody, The Life of Dwight L. Moody, 456).
Spurgeon’s sermons connected with readers in his day and in ours. But have you ever wondered how Spurgeon prepared his sermons? How much time did he allocate? Did he preach from manuscripts or outlines?
Here are six ways to prepare your sermons like Spurgeon:
- Fiercely Protect Your Preparation Time.
Spurgeon was known for his hospitality and often entertained guests at his home. But on Saturday evenings at 6:00 p.m., Spurgeon dismissed his dinner companions, saying, “Now, dear friends, I must bid you ‘Good-bye,’ and turn you out of this study; you know what a number of chickens I have to scratch for, and I want to give them a good meal to-morrow” (Autobiography, 4:64).
Spurgeon didn’t require large blocks of time for sermon preparation, but he did protect the hours he allocated – even at the risk of being discourteous.
Feeding a flock always demands time in the kitchen.
- Select Short Texts, Then Rotate.
Spurgeon did not preach sequentially through Scripture—few Victorians did. Instead, he believed God would provide him a fresh text every week.
“How shall I obtain the most proper text?” a student once asked him. “Cry to God for it!” Spurgeon replied (Lectures to My Students, 1:90). He practiced what he preached. He often abandoned his study in frustration, crying out for help. “Wifey, what shall I do? . . . God has not given me my text yet” (Autobiography, 4:65).
Sometimes, when I left him on Saturday evening, he did not know either of his texts for Sunday. But he had a well-stored mind; and when he saw his lines of thought, a few catchwords on a half-sheet of notepaper sufficed. Before we parted, he used to offer up a short prayer which was an inspiration to both of us (Autobiography, 4:274).
How did Spurgeon properly identify his text? Here’s his advice: “When a verse gives your mind a hearty grip, from which you cannot release yourself, you will need no further direction as to your proper theme” (Lectures to My Students, 1:88).
Spurgeon selected short texts, usually just a verse or two. He occasionally even preached from half a verse, or even two or three words (see his 1889 sermon on John 11:35, “Jesus Wept,” MTP 35, Sermon 2091).
Spurgeon’s goal was not to cover large swaths of Scripture in every sermon, though he did showcased all of Scripture in each verse. Instead, his goal was to draw out the spiritual nourishment in each bite-sized verse. And he did this masterfully (see his 1883 sermon on Job 6:6, “Is there any taste in the white of an egg?” in MTP 29, Sermon 1730).
Like a diamond when light passes through it, Spurgeon rotated the text to illuminate colorful shards of truth from every angle. He accomplished this by asking the text questions like Who? What? When? Where? Why? and How?
Spurgeon believed each word, each phrase, reveals fresh insights.