Lectures to my Students contains no introduction of explanation; it simply starts with a lecture titled “The Minister’s Self-Watch.” Spurgeon affords his reader nothing but the content the students received. As the present-day reader must imagine the context and time period in which Spurgeon was teaching, it is to be expected the he starts with what a man of God is to be. Spurgeon begins his first lecture with salvation and character. From there he moves to the call to ministry, and once these two matters are behind him, Spurgeon is off and running. Speaking to a group of potential pastors, the topic of every lecture centers on what it takes to be a good and successful pastor. He deals with prayer, preaching, continual growth over a lifetime, and many other aspects of ministry. Although he shares few personal stories, it is clear that Spurgeon is teaching from his experience; and by drawing from examples of his day, he is no stranger to what was happening in the Church around him. His approach is serious, as he understands the weight of what his students are training to become. “How diligently the cavalry office keeps his sabre clean and sharp;” writes Spurgeon, “every stain he rubs off with the greatest care. Remember you are God’s sword, His instrument—I trust, a chosen vessel unto Him to bare His name. In great measure, according to the purity and perfection of the instrument will be the success. It is not great talents God blesses so much as likeness to Jesus. A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God” (8). Spurgeon writes each lecture just as a skilled blacksmith would forge a steel sword. His arrangement and progression of thought serve to sharpen the student and the reader in preparation for the task of the preacher.
If the reader keeps the context in perspective, Spurgeon has much to offer. This is to say that while he does not write to modern matters such as the constant eye of the Internet, today’s great study resources, amplification, air conditioning, and the like, his timeless, right-to-the point comments should still hit very close to today’s preachers. For example, Spurgeon writes, “Ludicrous results sometimes arise from sheer stupidity inflated with conceit” (99). Elsewhere he writes, “Sermons should have real teaching in them, and their doctrine should be solid, substantial, and abundant” (70). Early in the lectures he says, “The minister who does not earnestly pray over his work must surely be a vain and conceited man” (48). This kind of teaching is both practical and real. It hits the mark. Clearly this is a man who stood in the pulpit week-in and week-out and most comfortably would teach not from theory but from experience. This is also apparent in the simple advice he offers his students, such as, “A very useful help in securing attention is a pause” (138). It does not get any simpler and yet at other times Spurgeon digs deep into the necessary life and practice of the minister.
One difficulty of Spurgeon’s lectures is his lack of room for any way other than the “Spurgeon way.” Starting on page 129, Spurgeon addresses the atmosphere of the room. Rather than discussing ways to work toward creating an environment that is favorable for the Sunday service, he expresses that the room for preaching should have fresh air and open windows. He rails against architecture that does not allow for high, lofty ceilings or windows that open. This seems to be where his point ends. The student in England who has the benefit of a well-built church building may gain something from hearing that he should open the windows, but the preacher serving in-hiding among an unfriendly nation or the minister who is reduced to preach in a basement or warehouse or even in a stuffy stove-heated tent gains nothing from this teaching. The opportunity might not have been missed had Spurgeon shifted from practical teaching to the theoretical teaching. This shift may have produced a teaching that could have been more applicable across the many circumstances of the Church. The lesson might have produced more fruit had it examined the theory behind the right atmosphere. However, Spurgeon remains in the practical-style through all of his lectures. While the practical experience-based lecture is a great strength, at times it also serves as the book’s greatest weakness.
Despite some of the datedness of Lectures to my Students and some of the missed opportunities, Spurgeon’s work is still a deep well of great information. It is convicting and hard-hitting where it needs to be and then light and humorous at other times. These lectures are a treasure to the both the pastor-preacher in training and the long-time minister alike. Lectures to my Students should be a mandatory addition to any pastor’s bookshelf.
Spurgeon, Charles. Lectures to My Students. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 1954.