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  • Writer's pictureDr. Roger D Duke

A Rhetorical Reading of“ Compel Them to Come In" by Charles Spurgeon-Part I

A Rhetorical Reading of

“Compel Them to Come In:”[i] [ii]

The Posture and Persuasion in the Preaching


Charles Haddon Spurgeon


Roger D. Duke

This is Part I of a Three Part Series

This was originally posted and is cross posted at the Spurgeon Center Library


Aristotle states that, “[R]hetoric . . . does not belong to a single defined genus of [any one] subject . . .. [I]t is . . . clear . . . that its function is not to persuade, but to see the available means of persuasion in each case.”[iii] For him, rhetoric was just like the other arts—even medicine. He goes on to explain: It is not the “function of medicine to create health but to promote this as much as possible; for it is nevertheless possible to treat well those who cannot recover health.”[iv] So then, rhetoric is to the orator similarly what medicine is to the physician. It is only a tool; a tool—to be used—as a means—to an end. And that end—the movement or persuasion of the hearers.

But it seems in contemporary times that the artistry and practice of rhetoric as a discipline, or at least its perception, has fallen on hard times. With even a cursory “ear” to current events of the evening news or an “eye” to the print media, it is possible to hear and see the “rhetoric of the Democrats,” or the “rhetoric of the Republicans,” or the “rhetoric of Hitler,” or “the Communist’s rhetoric.” Rhetoric is used and defined today in pejorative and negative terms almost exclusively. Rhetoric truly is a misunderstood discipline!

Even in religious contexts a disparaging attitude toward rhetoric abounds. Michael Beaty in his recent “Hester Lectures” to the International Association of Baptist Colleges and Universities states:

[I]n those heady West Point days of weekday drills and Saturday morning dress parades, of flower children and peace marches, of Southern pride and shame, of the soaring biblical rhetoric of Martin Luther King, Jr., and of the strident states’ rights rhetoric and self-proclaimed Christian rhetoric of Carl McIntyre and George Wallace, I became aware for the first time of some intellectually discomforting tensions (emphasis added) . . .. [v]

To be completely fair to Beaty, the persuasive tactics of the era of the 1960s were indeed motivated by vitriol. In his address, he contrasts his days at West Point with those of his experiences after transferring to Ouachita Baptist University. There were, at that time, many negative cultural factors of war, race, religion, generational divides, et al. So any persuasive devices employed by antagonists on the opposite side of “lightening-rod” issues were bound to be interpreted as “rhetoric.” Sometimes they were even perceived as propaganda. Because of these negative uses, rhetoric has indeed received some “bad press” and an unnecessarily negative connotation, is accomplished mainly because the one trying to persuade is on the opposite side of some emotional, religious, or political conviction. In some circles, if one employs rhetoric, s/he is even considered as sinister. Rhetoric in itself is neither good nor evil. Its usage determines its morality. All of us use rhetoric! Whether we know it or not! We are all rhetoricians—trained or not! After all; “Life is Rhetoric!”[vi]

In his recently released work, Doctrine that Dances, Robert Smith lauds Aristotle’s categories of rhetoric.[vii] He brings back some religious respectability, credibility, and usability to rhetoric once again. Smith’s categories of rhetoric are stated as proofs:

The first mode of proof is ethos. That is the integrity, credibility, or character of the preacher. . .. [E]thos is the perceived character of a good man speaking well. . .. The second mode of proof is pathos. This is the emotive and passionate sector of the preacher. . .. The third mode of proof is logos. This is the gathering of content and material for the sermon.[viii]

Here Smith does a great service to all preachers who want to perfect the artistry of the sermon. He brings “rhetoric right into the church house” anew. Smith employs rhetoric because he understands that it can be used as homiletical theory and praxis for sermonic improvement. If used to define and refine preaching, rhetoric could be very much akin to “finding the pearl of great price” for those who desire to be pulpit craftsmen. Smith stands in a long line of pulpiteers who preserve the “Rhetorical Tradition” and its use in preaching. These, of course, include Augustine of Hippo and the Southern Baptist Convention’s own John Albert Broadus.[ix] [x] Spurgeon’s use of rhetoric in his “Compel Them to Come In!” is easily demonstrated.

[i] Charles H. Spurgeon, “Compel Them to Come In,” A Treasury of Spurgeon on the Life and Work of Our Lord, Vol. 3, The Parables of Our Lord, (n.p.); (reprint, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1979), 285-292. [ii] The reader is strongly encouraged to obtain a copy of this address and read the sermon for himself. This address possesses such excellent qualities of ethos, pathos, and logos that one rhetorical reading will in no way exhaust or do service to what Spurgeon has accomplished. [iii] Aristotle, On Rhetoric: A Theory of Civic Discourse, trans. George A. Kennedy (New York: Oxford Press, 1991), 35. [iv] Ibid. [v] Michael Beaty, “In Praise of Baptist Colleges,” The Baptist Educator LXXII (Third Quarter 2008, No.4): 5. [vi] It has been the author’s privilege to teach Speech Fundamentals (Public Address at some institutions) for eleven years on the college and university levels. I have a saying that is always employed in my classes. “Life is rhetoric!” I go on to explain that we are nearly always, in most circumstances, trying to persuade others to do something for us or move them on some level. And rhetoric is not just spoken, but it is “the use of the available means of persuasion” as defined by Aristotle in the above discussion. For a fuller idea of the principles of Aristotelian Rhetoric see: Aristotle, On Rhetoric: A Theory of Civic Discourse, trans. George A. Kennedy (New York: Oxford Press, 1991). [vii] For a full discussion of Robert Smith’s understanding of how Rhetoric can be used for Homiletics see the author’s book review @ [viii] Robert Smith, Doctrine that Dances: Bringing Doctrinal Preaching and Teaching to Life (Nashville: Broadman and Holman Academic, 2008), 113-114. [ix] For a fuller discussion of John A. Broadus’s use of Classical Rhetoric in his A Treatise on the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons see: David S. Dockery and Roger D. Duke, eds, John A. Broadus: A Living Legacy (Nashville: Broadman and Holman Academic, 2008). [x] Reader’s Note: It should be considered that Rhetoric is the Art or Artistry of Persuasion as described in the citations above. This particular article is a Rhetorical Reading or Rhetorical Criticism. A rhetorical criticism of a written text, oratorical address, or sermon consists in determining What? the speaker has accomplished. Probably more importantly—is the How? the speaker has done what was done.

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