"Compel Them To Come In" A Rhetorical Reading of a Great Sermon
A Rhetorical Reading of
The Posture and Persuasion in the Preaching
Charles Haddon Spurgeon
Roger D. Duke
This is Part II of a Three Part Series
This was originally posted and is cross posted at the Spurgeon Center Library
POSTURE IN SPURGEON’S ADDRESS
Rhetoric is a many-splendored thing. It is not confined simply to those definitions and constructs rehearsed above. The rhetor endeavors to find the means to persuade each audience in each particular case. One way Spurgeon employs his oratorical abilities is with his use of posture. Posture can be defined as an “attitude [or] a frame of mind,” or an “arrangement of parts: the way that components of an object or situation are arranged in relation to one another.”[iii] [iv] He divides the text of his address into two distinct divisions. He declares: “First, I must find you out; secondly, I will go to work to compel you to come in.” [v]
Spurgeon begins “to find them out” by making a survey of his audience. He does this in a metaphorical as well as actual manner. He considers the audience in attendance and also imagines beyond them as they become representative of all whom he “would compel to come in.” There is a certain measure of double entendre that can be missed with only a cursory reading of the sermon. He instructs his hearers to read and consider the immediately preceding aspects of Luke 14:23. There, he calls their attention to four images. These images from the Biblical text become his component parts, or posture if you will, for the first half of the address. These are: the poor, the maimed, the halt, and the blind.
The evangelist starts with those who are “poor in circumstance.” Then he sets about to describe these from the text of Scripture. He calls all who are “vagrants,” “highwaymen,” and “all . . . [who] have no resting-place for their heads.” Even those “who are lying under the hedges for rest” he exhorts to come in. None shall be excluded, he declares: “Unto you is the word of salvation sent.” [vi]
Our preacher then engineers a decisive contrast. He develops the idea of the “poor” very similarly as does our Lord when he spoke about the “poor in spirit.”[vii] Here he moves from the “physically poor” to those who are “spiritually poor.” He proceeds to describe them as those who have “no faith . . . no virtue . . . no good work . . . no grace and what is poverty worse still . . . no hope.”[viii] Spurgeon assumes the place of the Master himself in such a magnanimous manner and tone. He beckons to them:
Ah my master has sent you a gracious invitation. Come and welcome to the marriage feast of his love. “Whosoever will, let him come and take of the waters of life freely.”[ix] Come I must lay hold upon you, though you be defiled with foulest filth, and though you have nought [sic] but rags upon your back, though your righteousness has become as filthy clouts, yet must I lay hold upon you, and invite you first, and even compel you to come in. [x]
As the text of his sermon is read (or heard) the incredibly compelling passion of Spurgeon’s should be received with the hearing ear even by the most hardened unbeliever. God has sent this preacher on an errand, and he must use all possible means to dislodge the hearers from their life’s circumstance and bring them to safety.
Spurgeon builds upon his prior idea of those who are “poor in spirit” by seeing those who are “maimed.” He states emphatically that this category of folk believe “they could work out their own salvation without God’s help.” They believe ever so strongly they could; “perform good works,” “attend to ceremonies,” and “get to heaven” on their own merits. The picture he paints is so very poignant. Spurgeon refers to the “Law” as a “sword.” It has cut off the hands of the person to whom it is applied and leaves him or her without any ability at all. The person is left completely maimed spiritually. [xi]
These are left without any moral power to perform the good that they might want to do. And the evil that they did not wish was the thing they found themselves doing.[xii] Spurgeon paints a picture that becomes progressive worse as he develops it. Not only is the person void of hands to “perform good deeds,” but they fell “yet . . . [they] could walk [their] way there along the road by faith.” But this too is not possible, for the unbeliever is maimed in the feet as well as the hands. The “sword of the Law” has severed their hands, arms, and feet leaving the person in absolute destitution where they “fe[lt] . . . utterly undone, powerless in every respect to do anything that c[ould] be pleasing to God. In fact you are crying out—” [xiii]
Oh, could I but believe,
Then all would easy be,
I would, but cannot, Lord relieve,
My help must come from thee.[xiv]
Here, Spurgeon turns somewhat away from the Lord’s use of the literalness and adjectival understandings of the halt. The folk of the day would have understood the term’s meaning to be one who was unable to walk. Spurgeon again employs a certain measure of double entendre. He shifts from a descriptor of one with a physical ailment to a descriptor of one who is spiritually unable to decide a personal moral or ethical dilemma. He calls to mind the notable passage about Elijah on Mount Carmel: “How long halt ye between two opinions? If the LORD be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. . . .”[xv] Time does not permit a discussion of his other Biblical examples of “mental halting.” Spurgeon discovers many hearers in their personal “valley of decision.”[xvi] For him, being disabled of mind is much worse than being disabled of body. A physical ailment can possibly be overcome temporally and eternally. But, the “halting” state-of-mind can lead the person to an everlasting condition from which they cannot recover. It is this latter category to whom Spurgeon appeals.
For the fourth time Spurgeon calls forth a literal-ness from our Lord’s parable. He adapts it for his sermon’s single purpose: “To Compel Them to Come In!” But never did he contravene the Lord’s intent. The fact of the matter is—he reinforces it in a way that only Spurgeon could do. He used the “blind” of the parable to designate the lack of “spiritual sight” of his hearers. He declares:
. . . [Y]es, you that cannot see yourselves, that think yourselves good when you are full of evil, that put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter, darkness for light and light for darkness; to you am I sent. You blind souls that cannot see your lost estate, that do not believe that sin is so exceedingly sinful as it is, and who will not be persuaded to think that God is a just and righteous God—to you I am sent. [xvii]
Spurgeon turns at this juncture to his second division of the sermon: “I will go to work to compel you to come in.” [xviii]
[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] Encarta® World English Dictionary [North American Edition] © & (P) 2007 Microsoft Corporation. Internet source: http://encarta.msn.com/dictionary_1861737696/posture.html, retrieved 28 August 2008. [iv] Arrangement is also known as one of the “Canons of Rhetoric.” For a fuller discussion of this aspect of Classical Rhetoric see: Robert Smith, Doctrine that Dances: Bringing Doctrinal Preaching and Teaching to Life, 113-117; or also Aristotle, On Rhetoric: A Theory of Civic Discourse, trans. George A. Kennedy (New York: Oxford Press, 1991). [v] Spurgeon, 286. [vi] Ibid. [vii] See: Matthew 5:3. [viii] Spurgeon, 286. [ix] See: Revelation 22:17. [x] Spurgeon, 286. [xi] Ibid. [xii] See: Roman 7. [xiii] Ibid. [xiv ]This poem is quoted in the sermon text by Spurgeon. [xv] See the entire Old Testament narrative: I Kings 18. [xvi] See: Joel 3:14. [xvii] Spurgeon, 286-287. [xviii] Ibid.