Every craftsman must sharpen his tool so his labors will be effective, and every swordsman must whet his blade. This “sharpening” is the topic of the chapter titled “The Minister’s Self-Watch in Spurgeon’s book Lectures to My Students.
Spurgeon said, “We are in a certain sense, our own tools, and therefore must keep ourselves in order. If I want to preach the gospel, I can only use my own voice; therefore, I must train my vocal powers. I can only think with my own brains, and feel with my own heart, and therefore must educate my intellectual and emotional faculties…my own spirit, soul, and body are my nearest machinery for sacred service; my spiritual faculties, and my inner life are my battle axe and weapons of war.”
He then adds a quote that Robert Murray M’Cheyne said in a letter to a minister-friend: “…do not forget the culture of the inner man….Remember you are God’s sword, His instrument…In great measure, according to the purity and perfection of the instrument, will be the success. It is not great talents that God blesses so much as likeness to Jesus. A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God.”
In this chapter on the preacher’s personal holiness, Spurgeon gives us “3 Musts” for the preacher’s life.
First, you must be sure of your salvation. This seems obvious, but it needs saying. There can be no holiness of life unless there is first a regeneration of the heart. Spurgeon said, “True and genuine piety is necessary as the first indispensable requisite; whatever ‘call’ a man may pretend to have, if he has not been called to holiness, he has certainly not been called to the ministry.”
We must take assurance of our salvation seriously. Long before a man ever ascends to the pulpit, he needs to take his place at the foot of the cross and be a humble sinner in need of a Savior’s mercy. Preacher, have you experienced the new birth? Spurgeon warns, “Believe me, it is no child’s play to ‘make your calling and election sure.’ The world is full of counterfeits, and swarms with panderers to carnal self-conceit, who gather around a minister as vultures around a carcass.”
Do not let the semblance of ministry success numb you to the reality of your own spiritual condition. There are enough hypocrites in the world to fill your church a million times over, so we should not be surprised when dozens or even thousands flock to hear the Christianized flattery of a pretender to the faith. Paul warned of as much in 2 Timothy 4:3-4 “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; 4And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.”
Spurgeon emphasized that unregenerate preachers are some of the biggest enemies of the true Gospel. He wrote,
“Alas! the unregenerate pastor becomes terribly mischievous too, for of all the causes which create infidelity, ungodly ministers must be ranked among the first. I read the other day, that no phase of evil presented so marvelous a power for destruction, as the unconverted minister of a parish, with a £1200 organ, a choir of ungodly singers, and an aristocratic congregation. It was the opinion of the writer, that there could be no greater instrument for damnation out of hell than that. People go to their place of worship and sit down comfortably, and think they must be Christians, when all the time all that their religion consists in, is listening to an orator, having their ears tickled with music, and perhaps their eyes amused with graceful action and fashionable manners; the whole being no better than what they hear and see at the opera–not so good, perhaps, in point of aesthetic beauty, and not an atom more spiritual, thousands are congratulating themselves, and even blessing God that they are devout worshippers, when at the same time they are living in an unregenerate Christless state, having the form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.”Lectures, p 11
Spurgeon concludes this section by warning of the terrible death of an unsaved preacher. “Oh! If one must be lost, let it not be in this fashion! To be lost under the shadow of the pulpit is dreadful, but how much more to perish from the pulpit itself!”
He then quotes a sobering passage from John Bunyan’s A Few Sighs from Hell:
“How many souls have blind priests been the means of destroying by their ignorance? Preaching that was no better for their souls than rats-bane to the body, Many of them, itis to be feared, have whole towns to answer for. Ah! friend, I tell thee, thou that hast taken in hand to preach to the people, it may be thou hast taken in hand thou canst not tell what. Will it not grieve thee to see thy whole parish come bellowing after thee into hell? crying out, ‘This we have to thank thee for, thou wast afraid to tell us of our sins, lest we should not put meat fast enough into thy mouth. O cursed wretch, who wast not content, blind guide as thou wast, to fall into the ditch thyself, but hast also led us thither with thee.”Lectures, p. 11-12
Second, you must diligently pursue holiness – or as Spurgeon put it, “Our piety must be vigorous.” We cannot be content with average spirituality. We must be men who doggedly pursue holiness. This is not legalism – this is an understanding that a great deal of our leadership is that of leading by example. How can we lead a church to greater heights of spirituality and holiness if we are not going there first? How can we tell others to follow us as we follow Christ if we are not following Christ in all things? Spurgeon said of preachers, “The highest moral character must be sedulously maintained.”
Why is personal holiness so important for the preacher? Because, for better or worse, he is the representative of the church to the world. If he falls, the cause of the gospel is hurt, and Christ’s name is reproached. Have we not seen this recently with our contemporary evangelical and fundamentalist leaders? Is there not a scandal nearly every year that causes embarrassment to the church of Christ because one of our preaching luminaries has fallen from his celestial abode and become Wormwood to the inhabitants of the earth?
Don’t be so foolish as to think that if you fall, you can repent and get back to where you were. This is evidence of the foolish thinking that attends presumptuous sin. Spurgeon had strong words for fallen preachers: “Open immorality, in most cases, however deep the repentance, is a fatal sign that ministerial graces were never in a man’s character.” You might disagree with those words, but you should at least seriously consider them.
Our piety must be vigorous because our position is more dangerous than others. The pulpit is no shield from temptation, but more of a target. The ministry is a minefield of temptation, and more so than any other Christian, the preacher must walk circumspectly. Your heads are prized trophies that Satan wants to hang on his wall. Spurgeon warned, “Oh, what a conquest will he think he hath got, if he can make a minister lazy and unfaithful.”
Third, you must be consistent in your ministry and in your personal lives. What Spurgeon means is that we must not be different in the pulpit and the church house than we are at home and amongst friends. Do we preach holiness in the pulpit but live profanely in private? Do we preach Christ to the church crowd but are afraid to mention him to our neighbor? Do we demand generosity from our people but live as money-grubbing Scrooges amongst the children of men?
Spurgeon said, “True ministers are always ministers.” This isn’t sanctimony; it’s consistency. I’m not talking about mowing the lawn in your Sunday suit. We do not put on ridiculous airs of religiosity, but neither do we put off the uniform of Christ the moment we step out of the pulpit. We should be approachable, but not abominable; relatable, but not reprobate. No one who meets us in private should be surprised to learn we are preachers by trade.
Let us, like our Savior, be a prophet “in deed and word before God and all the people.” (Luke 24:19)
Spurgeon exhorts us, saying, “The life of the preacher should be a magnet to draw men to Christ, and it is sad indeed when it keep them from him.”
I close with this quote by Richard Baxter: “When your minds are in a heavenly frame, your people are likely to partake of the fruits of it…for your people’s sakes, therefore, look to your hearts.”
- Charles Spurgeon’s Lecture to My Students: https://amzn.to/3aQZkc3
- Richard Baxter’s The Reformed Pastor: https://amzn.to/3pSbqWH
- Andrew Bonar’s biography of Robert Murray M’Cheyne: https://amzn.to/37K73qk
- John Bunyan’s A Few Sighs from Hell: https://amzn.to/3qQJgwk
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