Sermon Preparation: Saturday Night in Spurgeon’s Study

Haggai 1:13
       Then spake Haggai the LORD’S messenger in the LORD’S message unto the people, saying…

C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892): Brethren, it is not easy for me to tell you precisely how I make my sermons. All through the week I am on the look-out for material that I can use on the Sabbath; but the actual work of arranging it is necessarily left until Saturday evening, for every other moment is fully occupied in the Lord’s service.

MRS. SUSANNAH SPURGEON (1832-1903): Up to six o’clock, every Saturday evening, visitors were welcome…At six o’clock, every visitor left. Mr. Spurgeon would often playfully say, “Now, dear friends, I must bid you ‘Good-bye’ and turn you out of this study; you know what a number of chickens I have to scratch for, and I want to give them a good meal tomorrow.”

WILLIAM WILLIAMS (circa 1895): Sometimes he would ask me to wait a little while alone with him, and we would talk some subjects over; then he would say, “You had better go now, my sermon pangs have come.”

MRS. SUSANNAH SPURGEON: So, with a hearty “God bless you!” he shook hands, and shut himself to companion with his God. The inmates of the house went quietly about their several duties, and holy silence seemed to brood over the place. What familiar intercourse with the Saviour he so greatly loved, was then vouchsafed to him, we can never know, for, even while I write, I hear a whisper, “The place whereon thou standest is holy ground.” No human ear ever heard the mighty pleadings with God, for himself, for his people, which rose from his study on those solemn evenings; no mortal eyes ever beheld him as he wrestled with the Angel of the covenant until he prevailed, and came back from the brook Jabbok with the message he was to deliver in his Master’s name. His grandest and most fruitful sermons were those which cost him most soul-travail and spiritual anguish; not in their preparation or arrangement, but in his own overwhelming sense of accountability to God for the souls to whom he had to preach the gospel of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ.

C. H. SPURGEON: I have often said that the difficulty is to fix my mind upon the particular texts which are to be the subjects of discourse on the following day; or, to speak more correctly, to know what topics the Holy Spirit would have me bring before the congregation. I confess that I frequently sit hour after hour praying and waiting for a subject, and that this is the main part of my study; much hard labour have I spent in manipulating topics, ruminating upon points of doctrine, making skeletons out of verses and then burying every bone of them in the catacombs of oblivion, sailing on and on over leagues of broken water, till I see the red lights and make sail direct to the desired haven. I believe that almost any Saturday in my life I make enough outlines of sermons, if I felt at liberty to preach them, to last me for a month, but I no more dare to use them than an honest mariner would run to shore a cargo of contraband goods.

E. J. POOLE-CONNOR (1872-1962): With all his great gifts, he could not preach with ease or power—sometimes he felt he could not preach at all—without the assurance that he was then and there the Divine mouthpiece. When preparing for public service, a dozen subjects would present themselves to his mind; but he must needs wait until some Scripture was impressed upon him as the paramount theme for the occasion, one from which without disobedience he could not escape. It was this feature of his ministry which gave his utterances their peculiarly prophetic character. Like Haggai, he was supremely “the Lord’s messenger in the Lord’s message.”

MRS. SUSANNAH SPURGEON: Sometimes, but not often, he would leave the study for a few moments, to seek me, and say, with a troubled tone in his voice, “Wifey, what shall I do? God has not given me my text yet.” I would comfort him as well as I could; and, after a little talk, he would return to his work, and wait and watch for the Word to be given. It was, to me, a cause for peculiar thankfulness when I was able to suggest to him a passage from which he could preach; and, afterwards, in referring to the sermon, he seemed pleased to say, “You gave me that text.”

C. H. SPURGEON: As soon as any passage of Scripture really grips my heart and soul, I concentrate my whole attention upon it, look at the precise meaning of the original, closely examine the context so as to see the special aspect of the text in its surroundings, and roughly jot down all the thoughts that occur to me concerning the subject, leaving to a later period the orderly marshalling of them for presentation to my hearers.
       When I have reached this point, I am often stopped by an obstacle which is only a trouble to those of us whose sermons are regularly printed. I turn to my own Bible, which contains a complete record of all my published discourses; and, looking at those I have preached upon the text, I find perhaps that the general run of thought is so similar to that which I have marked out, that I have to abandon the subject, and seek another. Happily, a text of Scripture is like a diamond with many facets, which sparkles and flashes whichever way it is held, so that although I may have, already printed, several sermons upon a particular passage, there is still a fresh setting possible for the priceless gem, and I can go forward with my work. I like next to see what others have to say about my text.

D. L. MOODY (1837-1899): It is a great privilege to have the thoughts that these men have been digging for all their lives.

C. H. SPURGEON: As a rule, my experience is that, if its teaching is perfectly plain, the commentators, to a man, explain it at great length whereas, with equal unanimity, they studiously avoid or evade the verse which Peter might have described as “things hard to be understood.” I am much obliged to them for leaving me so many nuts to crack; but I should have been just as grateful if they had made more use of their own theological teeth or nut-crackers. However, among the many who have written upon the Word, I generally find some who can at least help to throw a side-light upon it; and when I have arrived at that part of my preparation, I am glad to call my dear wife to my assistance.

MRS. SUSANNAH SPURGEON: I always found, when I went into the study, an easy chair drawn up to the table, by his side, and a big heap of books piled one upon the other, and opened at the place where he desired me to read. With those old volumes around him, he was like a honey-bee amid the flowers; he seemed to know how to extract and carry off the sweet spoils from the most unpromising-looking tome among them. His acquaintance with them was so familiar and complete, that he could at once place his hand on any author who had written upon the portion of Scripture which was engaging his attention; and I was, in this pleasant fashion, introduced to many of the Puritans and other divines whom, otherwise, I might not have known.

C. H. SPURGEON: She reads to me until I get a clear idea of the whole subject; and, gradually, I am guided to the best form of outline, which I copy out, on a half-sheet of notepaper, for use in the pulpit.


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