Public speaking is hard. Extemporaneous speaking is even harder. But then again, on any given day, we find ourselves speaking spontaneously about the things that we love: a favorite sports team, a fun memory, a movie we recently enjoyed, and more. Perhaps the secret to extemporaneous speaking is simply to speak on a subject that you love. This is how Spurgeon ended up preaching his very first sermon.
On a Saturday afternoon in the winter of 1850-51, sixteen-year-old Charles Spurgeon learned that he was going to be preaching for the first time in his life that day. He had been invited to accompany a friend to encourage him as he was going to preach in a service in the village of Teversham. But on the way there, they both learned they had been told the same thing! The friend was expecting Charles to preach. And if Charles wasn’t going to preach, then there wasn’t going to be a service, because he certainly wasn’t going to preach. Well, at that point, Charles decided to go for it. And he would preach on a subject he knew well. He wrote in his Autobiography,
It seemed to me that I could surely tell a few poor cottagers of the sweetness and love of Jesus, for I felt them in my own soul. Praying for Divine help, I resolved to make the attempt. My text should be, “Unto you therefore which believe He is precious,” and I would trust the Lord to open my mouth in honor of His dear Son.
And so, young Charles preached his very first sermon, from 1 Peter 2:7a, meditating on the preciousness of Christ. We can get a flavor of what that sermon might have sounded like as he preached on this text again just a couple of years later. This is what he wrote down in his sermon notes:
Now what need is there to enlarge this point, we know that Christ is precious! I will merely give some meditations on it.
Subpoint 1. My Christ is more precious than anything my fellow creatures love.
I see some who live in palaces, wear crowns, live on dainties, sit on thrones. I have heard of Alexanders, Napoleons and Caesars, but I envy them not. Christ is more precious than dominion.
I see others rich, they frown on me. They are groaning after more. They are afraid to use what they have, they have many cares. They must leave it all. They may lose it all, but Christ is better. Shall I give up Christ for gold[?] No.
Christ is more precious than wealth.
Some men have nobler minds. They long for knowledge, they toil that they may measure the earth, survey the heavens, read the ancients, dissolve minerals etc., but Christ to me is better than learning.
Others pant for fame. I shall be forgotten, save by the few whose steps I guided in the path to heaven. But I weep not at that for he is more precious than fame.
Subpoint 2. He is more precious than anything I have myself.
If I have a home, and a fireside, and feel a comfort in them, yet if am called to suffer banishment I have a better home. Christ is better than home.
If I have relatives, mother, father, wife, children, these I value and rightly too. ‘Tis a bitter pang to lose them, but Christ is better than relatives or friends.
He is my Husband, my Brother, my Lover.
I have health, and a precious jewel that is. Take it away and pleasures lose their gloss, but my Jesus is mine still, and he is better than health.
Yea, life itself is valueless in comparison.
When I consider the glory of his nature, the excellence of his character, the greatness of his offices, the richness of his gifts, surely he is precious indeed.
If someone asked you, “Why do you follow Jesus? Why is Jesus precious to you?”, what would you say? In his notes, Charles begins by comparing Jesus with all those things this world admires (dominion, wealth, learning, fame). How often are we tempted to covet and fear these things! And yet we know they do not satisfy and will all pass away. What difference would it make in your life to see Christ as more precious than the world’s treasures?
But in Charles’ second point, we see that our knowledge of the preciousness of Christ is more personal than that. Though we might never acquire the world’s treasures, we do have our own personal treasures (home, relatives, friends, health). And yet, we are learning that Christ is better than these also.
It’s interesting to see Charles speaking of Christ being better than health. He was still young at this point, but throughout his adult life, he would face debilitating sickness and depression. But amid those sufferings, Christ remained his anchor. Charles also talks about Christ being better than friends. Towards the end of his ministry, Charles would take a stand for gospel orthodoxy, and many of his closest friends would turn on him. But even then, Christ is better than friends and even family.
What about you? Have you known Jesus to be precious to you personally, amid pain, loss, and disappointments? So often it is in these times that we learn that Christ is the only One on whom we can build our lives, and those who trust in him will never be put to shame.
You may never be asked to preach a sermon unexpectedly. But whatever your situation, may we always be ready to speak “of the sweetness and love of Jesus,” because we have come to know it for ourselves.
Learn more about Spurgeon’s earliest sermons in The Lost Sermons of C. H. Spurgeon.