Blog Entries

John Ploughman’s Proverbs

Justin Bessler February 27, 2020

Charles Spurgeon was a man of many words. Some of his plainest and most poignant were penned under an assumed name of sorts: John Ploughman. This country farmer offered his wit and wisdom in two works: John Ploughman’s Talk and John Ploughman’s Pictures. In both, the homely ploughman proffered his “proverbial talk,” clothing the wisdom of his age in the voice of a terse, farmer’s brogue. His direct tone and style were quaint, humorous, and altogether grave in import.


The ploughman’s proverbs formed an almanac of sorts, with each chapter focusing on a various theme. Spurgeon’s goal, his intense desire, was to relate the wisdom of Scripture with clarity to the common man. Indeed, Spurgeon saw his ministry to the common man as a divine appointment. He went so far as to say, “God has owned me to the most degraded and off-cast…and to them I must keep.” In this way, Ploughman can be imagined as the wisecrack side of Spurgeon, dedicated to cutting it straight, that is, making truth plain yet rich to his readers. In one autobiographical aside the homely Ploughman characterized his relationship to Spurgeon by saying:


He is a man who is used to giving his people many things of a very different sort from anything which a ploughman is likely to turn out of his wallet; but I [Ploughman] have, at his [Minister’s] request, dropped in a few homely proverbs into his thoughts, as he says, “by way of salt;” which is his very kind way of putting it. I only hope I have not spoiled his writing with my rough expressions. If he thinks well of it, I should like a few more of his pieces to tack my sayings to; and the public shall always be honestly told whether the remarks are to be considered as altogether “John Ploughman’s Talk,” or as the writings of two characters rolled into one.


Indeed, this Talk is worth taking a listening to for it provides the opportunity to peer into the thoughts of a twofold tack master. For the general Spurgeon reader, Ploughman provides a unique perspective to life, particularly the Christian’s perspective of the world, the home, and the workplace. Join us as we relish some quotes from the “salty” side of the “Prince of Preachers.”


1. “Every man ought to have patience and pity for poverty; but for laziness, a long whip; or a turn at the treadmill might be better.”


2. “Bring them up bees and they will not be drones.”


3. “If hearers were better, sermons would be better.”


4. “Proud looks lose hearts, and gentle words win them.”


5. “If we cannot get bacon, let us bless God that there are still some cabbages in the garden.”


6. “Every wind is foul for a crazy ship.”


7. “Don’t believe in the man who talks most; for mewing cats are very seldom good mousers.”


8. “Though sinful thoughts rise, they must not reign.”


9. “When God means a creature to fly, he gives it wings, and when he intends men to preach he gives them abilities.”


10. “Better go to bed without your supper than get up in debt.”


11. “Home is the grandest of all institutions.”


12. “Men do not become rich by what they get, but by what they save.”


13. “Elbow grease is the only stuff to make gold with.”


14. “A good character is the best tombstone.”


15. “You may colour a millstone as much as you like, but you cannot improve it into a cheese.”


Justin Bessler is a creative writer and graphic designer who served as a Spurgeon Scholar at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary before graduating with his M.Div. in 2019. Currently he is pursuing doctoral studies in the Ph.D. prgram at MBTS.