The Posture and Persuasion in the Preaching Of Charles Haddon Spurgeon
A Rhetorical Reading of
The Posture and Persuasion in the Preaching
Charles Haddon Spurgeon
Roger D. Duke
This is Part III of a Three Part Series
This was originally posted and is cross posted at the Spurgeon Center Library
TONE AND PATHOS IN SPURGEON’S ADDRESS
Tone is “. . . a literary technique, that is a part of the composition [or address], that encompasses the attitudes toward the subject and toward the audience implied in a literary work. Tone may be formal, informal, intimate, solemn, somber playful, serious, ironic, condescending, or many other possible attitudes.”[iii] Karen Bernardo states that: “Tone is a difficult literary concept to describe, but not at all difficult to recognize. It refers to the attitude with which the writer [or speaker] approaches his work.”[iv] A literary understanding of tone can be coupled with the Aristotele’s understanding of pathos to examine this second division of the address, then an extremely clear picture emerges of “Compel Them to Come In!” Pathos is “The persuasive appeal . . . to an audience's sense of identity, their self-interest, their emotions.”[v] In the second half of the sermon Spurgeon utilizes six pathos dynamics in his appeal. He trusts these will move his hearers to leave their present unregenerate condition and “flee the wrath to come!” He “accosts” them, “commands” them, “exhorts” them, “entreats” them, “threatens” them, “weeps” over them, and finally “throw[s] [them] into . . . [the] Master’s hands.” [vi]
He accosts them!
The pastor-teacher takes his Lord’s command literally to go out and bring in the lost. The very idea of one accosting a person is rather contrary to other Biblical invitations. In fact he employs a Scripture that should not in any way be seen as an “in your face” encounter: “Come now and let us reason together.”[vii] He masterfully sets up another contrast with this somewhat docile invitation. He paints for his hearer’s consideration three gross and hideous pictures of Christ’s suffering: sweating drops of blood in Gethsemane, suffering tied to a pillar, and hanging upon the cross. Spurgeon pointedly, and what seems literally, steps in front of the persons in “the highway of life.” He stands between them rhetorically to sway them out of the way in which they trod. He pleads earnestly repeating Christ’s own words: “It is finished!”[viii] He then recounts Paul’s word to the Philippian jailor, “Believe on the Lord Jesus and thou shalt be saved.” [ix]
He commands them!
At this point Spurgeon asks a rather sobering question! “Do you still refuse?” [x] He answers his own rhetorical question so his hearers would not misunderstand his concern for their imminent and ultimate dangers. “Then I must change my tone for a minute,”[xi] he declares. He moves to a much more strident position than before. This time he becomes extremely intense: “Sinner, in God’s name I command you to repent and believe!”[xii] He defends his means as Christ’s preacher. Spurgeon wants them to know that he pleads for them in Christ’s place. He shows his “credentials,” his “sincere [personal] affection,” his “commission to preach . . . [Christ’s] gospel,” and his office of “ambassador.” The command: “Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature!” was Spurgeon’s modus operandi. Credentials, MO, and the command all moved him to “annex . . . this solemn sanction” of commanding them to “repent and believe!” [xiii]
He exhorts them!
Spurgeon declares, “Then again will I change my note,” signifying a change of tone. He maintains his extremely high level of passion. He breaks into an extended exhortation in order to garner some level of sympathetic hearing. Spurgeon’s uses personal testimony here in order to persuade. He relates to them what he knows intimately of Christ and how he was moved to come. In the testimonial he reiterates:
He [Christ] came to me times without number, morning by morning, and night by night, he checked me in my conscience and spoke to me by his Spirit, and when at last, the thunders of the law prevailed in my conscience, I thought that Christ was cruel and unkind. O I can never forgive myself that I should have thought so ill of him. But what a loving reception did I have when I went to him. [xiv]
He continues in graphic detail to describe how he thought the Savior would be a God of anger rather than the God of love and compassion who did receive him. Instead of having “his eyes of lightening-flashes of wrath upon me,” [xv] he rather greeted him with a Savior’s eyes full of loving tears. He begs his hearers: “I exhort you, then, to look to Jesus and be [en]lightened. Sinner, you will never regret, —I will be bondsman for my Master that you will never regret it,—you will have no sigh to go back to your condemnation. . . .” [xvi]
He entreats them!
In his spirit, Spurgeon appears to be at his wits end. What to do next? But he is nowhere through with his appeal to those who are lost and outside of Christ. He next makes an appeal—and appeal to their own personal interests. He knows well that an plea to the pride of vanity can work when many other emotive approaches might fail. This he does with a series of rhetorical questions he believes will cause personal introspection: Would it not be better to be reconciled to the God of Heaven rather than being his enemy? What are you gaining by opposing God? Are you happy to be his enemy? Is your self-righteous work a place where you can rest? Will your conscience speak not ill to you? Are you still cold and indifferent [after all my pleading]?[xvii] He cries out lovingly: “I am resolved. . . . My brother I ENTREAT you, I entreat you stop and consider.”[xviii] His passionate desire can be seen as he motions for them to come:
[I]f you be not saved, ye shall be without excuse. Ye, from the grey-headed down to the tender age of childhood, if ye this day lay not hold of Christ, your blood shall be on your own head. . .. Come, I am not to be put off by your rebuffs: if my exhortation fails, I must come to something else. [xix]
He threatens them!
Finally in his exhausting entreaty he describes, as only Spurgeon can, what it means to die without Christ. He imagines “death beds . . . thorny.”[xx] He “picture[s] [him]self standing at your bedside and hearing your cries . . . knowing you are dying without hope.” [xxi] He sees himself “standing by your coffin . . . and looking into your clay-cold face.”[xxii] Finally, he likens their rejection of Christ as “see[ing] you act the suicide this morning.” [xxiii] Could Spurgeon be more poignant and compelling that this? It is paramount for them to understand. Rejecting Christ is in effect—taking their own lives!
He weeps for them and throws them upon the Savior!
The hearer [reader] understands Spurgeon’s anguish and passion of soul by exposure to this sermon. As he closes, he turns to his final two ploys. He weeps for them! Finally, he turns them over to the Lord Christ and His Holy Spirit. He weeps for them to remember. He weeps for them to recollect. “Mothers wrestle for you,” and “father’s anxiety is exercised for you.”[xxiv] They are literally breaking the heart of all Christians who love their souls. Even though, “you . . . have no thought for yourselves, no regard to eternal things.” He alone is the only one who “weeps” over them, and finally “throw[s] [them] into . . . [the] Master’s hands.” [xxv] They will not weep for themselves. So, Spurgeon must ultimately release them to the Christ.
In this final and unexpected dual change of focus; Spurgeon turns his strong concerns away from the sinner to the Savior. He indeed has done all that can possibly be done by mortal preacher. He cries out with what seems to be a breaking-heart of prayer: “We can now appeal to the Spirit. . .. I cannot compel you, but thou O Spirit of God who hast the key of the heart, thou canst compel.”[xxvi] In this his final appeal, he delivers them over to the Savior and the Spirit as he rehearses a familiar passage from John’s Revelation. He uses beautifully descriptive language as he focuses on one of the soul-winners main New Testament passages. The picture is the Savior standing at the heart’s door and knocking.[xxvii] He then refers his hearers to the immediately preceding context of Revelation. In his closing Spurgeon tells them what they doubtlessly have known from so many other previous sermons. The one who stands at the door and knocks also is “he who hath the key of David.”[xxviii] If Christ cannot persuade them by “heart-knocking” He can certainly persuade them by “heart-unlocking.” Spurgeon’s closing paragraph is so very moving and it captures the whole:
I thought it my duty to labour [sic] with you as though I must do it; now I throw it into my Master’s hands. It cannot be his will that we should travail in birth, and yet not bring forth spiritual children. It is with him; he is master of the heart, and the day shall declare it, that some of you constrained by sovereign grace have become the willing captives of the all-conquering Jesus, and have bowed your hearts to him through the sermon this morning.[xxix]
Spurgeon is much the rhetorician. He uses every means within his arsenal of oratory to bring men and women, boys and girls to the Savior. But more importantly than being a rhetor—he is an evangelist. “Take the Gospel to sinners. Carry it to their door. Put it in their way. Do not allow them to escape. . .”[xxx] was his evangelistic mantra. He pours out his very soul as preacher-teacher-evangelist of the Gospel “To Compel Them to Come In!” [xxxi]
[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] Internet, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tone_(literary), retrieved 28 August 2008. [iv] Karen Bernardo, “Tone in Literary Fiction,” Internet, http://www.storybites.com/tone2.htm, retrieved 28 August 2008. [v] “Definition of Pathos,” Internet, http://courses.durhamtech.edu/perkins/aris.html, retrieved 3September 2008. For a complete discussion of Aristotle’s definition of pathos see: Aristotle, On Rhetoric: A Theory of Civic Discourse, trans. George A. Kennedy (New York: Oxford Press, 1991). [vi] Spurgeon, 287-292. [vii] See: Isaiah 1:18. [viii] See: John 19:30. [ix] See: Acts 16:31. [x] Spurgeon, 288. [xi]Ibid. [xii] Ibid. [xiii] Ibid. [xiv] Ibid. [xv] Ibid. [xvi] Ibid. [xvii] Spurgeon, 288-289. [xviii] Ibid, 289. [xix] Ibid. [xx] Ibid. [xxi] Ibid. [xxii] Ibid. [xxiii] Ibid. [xxiv] Spurgeon, 292. [xxv] Spurgeon, 287-292. [xxvi] Ibid. [xxvii] See: Revelation 3:20. [xxviii] Spurgeon, 292. [xxix] Ibid. [xxx] Linda D. Carson, ed. C. H. Spurgeon: Morning by Morning, Meditations for Daily Living (Springdale, PA.: Whitaker House, 1984), 266. [xxxi] Reader’s Note: It must be considered that Spurgeon comes against the “hyper-Calvinists” as he makes his appeal. He notes that “I must stand before my Judge at last.” The poignancy of the entire sermon could be understood by this motivation of the great 19th century pastor-teacher-evangelist. See: pp. 289-290.