Every preacher has been there, probably last Sunday. The music is playing, people are singing, and the preacher, well he’s praying. Because he’s about to stand and preach. The Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, surely did the same. He was remembered as having prayed, “I believe in the Holy Ghost” while making his weekly pulpit ascent at the 5,000-seat London Metropolitan Tabernacle.
Spurgeon prayed, and rightly so, because he understood their to be a connection – between the Holy Spirit and the preaching event. That is to say, Spurgeon saw a relationship between the operation of the Spirit and the proclamation of the Word.
In his book The Forgotten Spurgeon, Iain Murray recounts:
“The true explanation of Spurgeon’s ministry, then, is to be found in the person and power of the Holy Spirit. He was himself deeply conscious of this. It was not men’s admiration he wanted, but he was jealous that they should stand in awe of God. ‘God has come unto us, not to exalt us, but to exalt Himself.’” (Murray, The Forgotten Spurgeon, 38.)
The Prince of Preachers believed preaching to be a spiritual enterprise – a Holy Spirit endeavor. Spiritual assignments require spiritual attention. Therefore, the Spirit is the sine qua non of gospel preaching, the one ingredient to the preaching event that without which nothing else matters.
“The Holy Spirit is absolutely essential. Without Him our office is a mere name.”
The preaching task is made effective only by a spiritual means – the attention and anointing of the Holy Spirit. The preacher longs for the Spirit’s attendance, that the Spirit might engage and apprehend the souls of men. “Our hope of success, and our strength for continuing the service, lie in our belief that the Spirit of the Lord rest upon us.” (Lectures, 197)
The Spirit must attend. The Spirit makes the dull minds, bright. He makes the dry bones, flesh. And He makes the dead men, live. Only with the Spirit comes an otherworldly power to our otherwise weak and mortal preaching. “We cannot do it without power,” said Spurgeon. (All-Round, 29)
In terms of sermon delivery, how might the Spirit help us in our weakness? Spurgeon suggest the following:
1. Power and Freedom – The Spirit is our Live Coal
As Isaiah’s lips were touched, so must ours be. The Spirit touches our ministry in a way and in a wonder, which no human method or means can avail. Let the Word go! Preach the Word! The preacher has Bible in hand and text in heart. The Spirit works to anoint the preacher to speak with a liberty and freedom to exalt the risen Christ.
“How gloriously a man speaks when his lips are blistered with the live coal from the altar –feeling the burning power of the truth, not only in his inmost soul, but on the very lips with which he is speaking!” (Lectures, 203.)
2. Control and Restraint – The Spirit is our Bit and Bridle
May God control our tongues! May we never eclipse the cross with a misspoken word or a misplaced tone. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in the demonstration and power of the Holy Spirit.” (1 Cor. 2:4) May the Spirit keep us from ourselves, that we might not sin against him.
“We need the Spirit of God to put a bit and bridle upon us to keep us from saying that which would take the minds of our hearers away from Christ and eternal realities, and set them thinking upon the groveling things of the earth.” (Lectures, 203)
3. Strength and Devotion – The Spirit is our Anointing Oil
The Spirit of God relates to our entire course delivery. May there be an intense desire to bring God glory through all we do behind his sacred desk. “You are conscious of a deep sympathy with the people to whom you are speaking,” said Spurgeon, “making you mourn over some of them because they know so little, and over others because they know so much, but have rejected it.” (Lectures, 204-205)
“The Spirit works to maintain our mind of devotion. We continue praying while we are occupied preaching. Look to the hills whence cometh your help all the sermon through… from the first word to the last syllable, we may be looking up to the strong for strength.” (Lectures, 205)
A Final Word on Pride
We all fight it. The notion that we can do this thing we call preaching – in our own strength. That’s called spiritual, ministerial pride. Seminary degrees, preaching experience, and accolades from others – yes we can. No, we cannot.
Fellows preachers, do you long for a power that is otherworldly? Do you long for the supernatural to be in your midst? Then ask the Lord of Hosts to attend your preaching.
“The fact is, the secret to all ministerial success lies in prevalence at the mercy seat.”
Charles Spurgeon prepared his sermons on his knees. “The best and holiest men have ever made prayer the most important part of pulpit preparation,” he said. (Lectures, 45)
Spurgeon knew men prepared sermons, but only God prepared men.
And God is looking for prepared men. Listen to the Prince of Preachers say – “none are so able to plead with men as those who have been wrestling with God on their behalf.” (Lectures, 46) Preacher, your strength comes from outside or you, from on High.
May God not leave us to ourselves. May the Holy Ghost always attend our work, in power and grace. Remember, the preacher alone may stand; but the preacher to whom the Spirit attends, is never standing alone.
This article was written by Neal Thornton and has been adapted from Southeastern Seminary’s Center for Preaching and Pastor Leadership blog.
Check out the newly-released Volume 2 of The Lost Sermons of Charles Spurgeon.
“Gracious God, help me to write and preach this sermons just as if it were my last; if indeed it be not.” – Charles Spurgeon, 1852 (Sermon 134)