Spurgeon presents a vision for long-term faithfulness. Lectures on ministerial progress, earnestness, and dependence on the Holy Spirit provide a roadmap for a lifetime of faithful ministry. Many today easily get caught up in church-growth metrics and social-media influence; Spurgeon calls pastors to preach the word, work hard, remain prayerful, and entrust the results to God.
The year is 1875. You’re a second-year student at the Pastors’ College. It’s been a long week of rigorous lectures and study on theology, mathematics, literature, rhetoric, biblical languages, and more. You’ve recently launched an evangelistic mission in a needy district of East London, so many of your evenings have been occupied. And as a member of the Metropolitan Tabernacle, you have meetings to attend and people to disciple. But now, it’s Friday afternoon, your favorite time of the week. Why?
Because this is the time you get to hear from Charles Spurgeon up close.
You’re chatting with your classmates when Spurgeon walks in the classroom with a hearty greeting and a large stack of books in his arms. There he is: the most famous preacher of the century. And yet here, he’s simply your pastor. After a word of prayer and brief preliminaries, Spurgeon begins to work through his stack. Out of his own personal reading, here are books he thinks future pastors should know about: new publications, classic works, Bible commentaries, and works of theology, philosophy, hymnody, science, and all kinds of other genres. Books worthy of investment are commended, while more dubious works are properly cautioned. You’ve always enjoyed this time and taken careful notes. Through Spurgeon’s recommendations, you’ve built a theological library and have been introduced to some of your favorite authors.
Then comes the highlight. As a father among his sons, Spurgeon delivers an hour-long lecture on some aspect of Christian ministry: preaching, sermon preparation, personal holiness, dealing with criticism, praying publicly, and much more. But these aren’t dry, academic lectures. No, these are warm, personal, sometimes hilarious, always instructive talks, drawing from Spurgeon’s personal experience and applying the wisdom and truths of Scripture to the work of a pastor. Soon you will be sent off into the difficult work of pastoral ministry. But the memory of these Friday-afternoon lectures will stay with you for many years to come.
It is from these lectures, given by Spurgeon at the Pastors’ College, that we have his classic work Lectures to My Students.
There are four series (or volumes) associated with Lectures. The first contains fourteen lectures, including some of Spurgeon’s most famous lectures on the life of the pastor. These include “The Minister’s Self-Watch,” “The Preacher’s Private Prayer,” and “The Minister’s Fainting Fits.” Several of these lectures also deal with Spurgeon’s favorite topic: preaching. From choosing a text to the importance of the voice, to the danger of wrongly spiritualizing a text, these lectures contain all kinds of practical wisdom from the Prince of Preachers.
The second series contains ten more lectures on an assortment of ministry-related topics, like pastoral growth, preaching for conversions, and dependence on the Holy Spirit. The third series, originally known as The Art of Illustration, contains seven lectures mostly focused on preaching and teaching. Here, Spurgeon teaches on the importance of illustrations and anecdotes, providing wisdom for how to use them and where to find them.
The fourth and final series, also known as Commenting and Commentaries, contains two lectures, one on the importance of “commenting” (public Scripture reading), and the other on the use of commentaries. The rest of the volume offers a catalog of commentaries. Amazingly, Spurgeon provides brief and insightful comments for 1,429 commentaries, on every book of the Bible, covering almost four centuries of Christian scholarship. This was a remarkable achievement in his day, and it stands as a reminder to preachers today of the importance of study.