Spurgeon on Extemporaneous Preaching

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(Originally posted at my former preaching blog on February 11, 2008.  What are your thoughts?  Lots of comments ensued on this one.)

I was reading through Volume 1 of Charles Spurgeon’s Autobiography. He stunned me with a practice he developed early in his ministry at New Park Street in London when he was just 19 years old. Here is the quote:

Ever since I have been in London, in order to get into the habit of speaking extemporaneously, I have never studied or prepared anything for the Monday evening prayer-meeting. I have all along selected that occasion as the opportunity for off-hand exhortation; but I do not on such occasions select difficult expository topics, or abstruse themes, but restrict myself to simple, homely talk about the elements of our faith. When standing up, on such occasions, my mind makes a review, and enquires, “What subject has already occupied my thoughts during the day? What have I met with in my reading during the past week? What is most laid upon my heart at this hour? What is suggested by the hymns or the prayers?” … I do not see why a man cannot speak extemporaneously upon a subject which he fully understands. … The thought of a man who finds himself upon his legs, dilating upon a theme with which he is familiar, may be very far from his first thought; it may be the cream of his meditations warmed by the glow of his heart. Having studied the subject well before, though not at that moment, may deliver himself most powerfully; whereas another man, sitting down to write, may only be penning his first ideas, which may be vague and vapid.” (pp. 267-268)

What stunned me? First, that he admitted to intentionally speaking extemporaneously before his people. There have been times when I have had to speak in this fashion, especially on Sunday nights, when the week has been wrought with various issues and even tragedies. But for Spurgeon to intentionally speak this way is amazing and even intriguing. He makes a great case.

Secondly, Spurgeon shows that his personal study affected his public exhortations. This understand is so good for the church to see — a pastor not resting on his theological laurels but continually studying, continually learning, continually growing. Our people need to see us as pastors as ones who continually preach the Word and also hit the books — and I believe this is part of Paul’s exhortation to preach the Word “in season and out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2). We should not just read about the subject of our sermons but read about various other subjects as well. Preachers should be the most well-read individuals on the planet — with the Scriptures being the first in line, of course. Which leads to the third observation:

If the occasion arose where he had to speak extemporaneously, could we? Would we have anything of substance to say? I am an expository preacher. This is God’s calling on my life. But I must be such a student of the Scriptures and even the culture (which comes in a distant second in priority) that if the opportunity presented itself and someone asked, “Our speaker could not make it due to __________. But since you are here, could you preach?” My mind should not be absorbed with ESPN, politics, Internet, or other trivial issues that mar our time in history. If I have an easier time talking about the NFL than I do about the inspired Word of God, I must repent right now and ask God to transform my priorities. (As an aside, Russ Moore preached an excellent sermon recently on proper priorities — you must listen!)

I would enjoy some feedback from all you preachers and expositors. When you read over Spurgeon’s quote here, what did you think? I hope you will share — this could be a good discussion!


One thought on “Spurgeon on Extemporaneous Preaching

    Levi Durfey said:
    December 31, 2010 at 11:03 am

    I just found your blog yesterday. Good stuff. I like your writing style and content.

    This article really challenged me to be better at my weekly Bible and Book reading and to journal my discoveries more so I can be ready to preach at a moments notice. I’ve decided to do much the same thing as Spurgeon at our weekly prayer meeting to, as he said, get into “the habit of speaking extemporaneously.”

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