Presence of Mind in the Pulpit

II Samuel 5:24
       And let it be, when thou hearest the sound of a going in the tops of the mulberry trees, that then thou shalt bestir thyself: for then shall the LORD go out before thee, to smite the host of the Philistines.

MARTYN LLOYD-JONES (1899-1981): You will always find that the men whom God has used signally have been those who have studied most, know their Scriptures best, and given time to preparation.

C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892): If we would have the Lord with us in the delivery of our message, we must be in dead earnest, and full of living zeal. Do you not think that many sermons are “prepared” until the juice is crushed out of them, and zeal could not remain in such dry husks? Sermons which are studied for days, written down, read, re-read, corrected, and further corrected and emended are in danger of being too much cut and dried. You will never get a crop if you plant boiled potatoes. You can boil a sermon to a turn, so that no life remaineth in it.

GEORGE WHITEFIELD (1714-1770): I think that ministers preaching almost universally by notes, is a certain mark they have in a great measure lost the old spirit of preaching. For though all are not to be condemned that use notes, yet it is a sad symptom of the decay of vital religion, when reading sermons becomes fashionable where extempore preaching did once almost universally prevail.

VERNON J. CHARLESWORTH (1839-1915): Rowland Hill used to warn young ministers against going up and down the country “with a sack of dried tongues for sale;” and one having observed to him, that notwithstanding the fault found with dry sermons, there were hopes of their usefulness, for Samson had slain the Philistines with the jaw-bone of an ass. “True, he did,” replied Mr. Hill, “but it was a moist jaw-bone.”

C. H. SPURGEON: In preparing a sermon, wait upon the Lord until you have communion with Christ in it, until the Holy Spirit causes you to feel the power of the truth which you are to deliver. “Son of man, eat this roll.” Before you attempt to give out the Word to others, get it into yourself. Is there not too much dead preaching, and dead church work of all sorts? Do you not know churches which are like the ghostly ship in the legend—the captain, the mate, and all the crew are dead men?

RICHARD BAXTER (1615-1691): Nothing can be more indecent than to hear a dead preacher speaking to dead sinners the living truth of the Living God.

J. W. ALEXANDER (1804-1859): The liveliest preachers are those who are most familiar with the Bible, without note or comment; and we frequently find them among men who have had no education better than that of the common school. It is this which gave such animation to the vivid books and discourses of the Puritans. As there is no poetry so rich and bold as that of the Bible, so he who daily makes this his study, will even on human principles be awakened, and acquire a striking manner of conveying his thoughts. The sacred books are full of fact, example, and illustration, which with copiousness and variety will cluster around the truths which the man of God derives from the same source. One preacher gives us naked heads of theology; they are true, Scriptural, and important, but they are uninteresting, especially when reiterated for the thousandth time in the same naked manner. Another gives us the same truths, but each of them brings in its train a retinue of Scriptural example, history, or a figure by way of illustration; and a variety hence arises which is perpetually becoming richer as the preacher goes more deeply into the mine of Scripture. There are some great preachers, who, like Whitefield, do not appear to bestow great labour on the preparation of particular discourses―

MARTIN LUTHER (1483-1546): A good preacher―should have a ready wit.

C. H. SPURGEON: Presence of mind is greatly to be commended…On one occasion, when [John] Wesley was preaching, he said, “I have been falsely charged with every crime of which a human being is capable, except that of drunkenness.” He had scarcely uttered these words before a wretched woman started up and screamed out at the top of her voice, “You old villain!―will you deny it? Did you not pledge your bands last night for a noggin of whiskey, and did not the woman sell them to our parson’s wife?” [Then she] sat down amid a thunder-struck assembly. Wesley lifted his hands to heaven, and thanked God that his cup was now full, for they had said all manner of evil against him falsely for Christ’s name’s sake.

VERNON J. CHARLESWORTH: When very early in life Rowland Hill was preaching at Devizes, some fellow came to hear him with several snakes in his pocket; watching his opportunity, he threw three at once at Mr. Hill. One coiled on his arm, and another fastened on his neck.

ROWLAND HILL (1744-1833): Perceiving that they were harmless, I merely took them off and threw them behind me, away from the crowd; some the people immediately drove away the sinner, and the result was increased attention and several conversions to God. Soon afterwards the rebel came again to hear me; and he that would have alarmed me by serpents, was himself rescued from the old serpent, and became for many years a steadfast follower of the Lamb of God.

C. H. SPURGEON: On one occasion, having a candle on each side of me in a small pulpit, I was somewhat vigorous, and dashed one of my luminaries from its place. It fell upon the bald head of a friend below, who looked up with an expression which I can see at this moment, and it makes me smile still. I took no more notice of the accident than to weave it into what I was saying; and I believe most of my hearers considered it to have been a striking practical illustration of the remark which accompanied it, “How soon is the glory of life dashed down!”

D. L. MOODY (1837-1899): What the church needs is men who can think on their heels.

J. W. ALEXANDER: But―it may be observed, that these are always persons whose life is a study of the Word.

WILLIAM WILLIAMS (circa 1895): On May 30, 1857, a brother minister was standing with Mr. Spurgeon under a tree. The atmosphere was so calm and still that scarcely a leaf trembled; suddenly a gentle zephyr stirred the leaves above their heads, then there was a rustling sound. Mr. Spurgeon suddenly interrupted [their] conversation with, “Stop! Keep quiet! Don’t speak!—There! My sermon for tomorrow; The sound of a going in the tops of the mulberry trees.” The friend looked up and saw they were standing under a mulberry tree. The sermon was preached on the following evening. It is printed and is Number 317 in the weekly series.* A gentleman who served as deacon at the Tabernacle for many years, but now has been dead some time, told me that this sermon won him to the Saviour.

*Editor’s Note: Spurgeon’s sermons were printed and distributed every week. The Sermon entitled The Sound of the Mulberry Trees was also later included as Sermon #147 in Volume 3 of The New Park Street Pulpit.


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