Can God Use a Ten-Minute, Poorly Delivered Sermon?

Rev. Tony Cooke

The thirteen-year-old boy’s father was a pastor, as was his grandfather. He had been around gospel truth all his life, and yet something still hadn’t “clicked” for him. He was under conviction of sin and was yearning for peace and right relationship with God. His hunger was such that he set out by foot on a Sunday morning with the intention of attending a particular church. However, a snowstorm had made travel so difficult, he turned down a side street and went instead to the nearby Primitive Methodist Chapel in Colchester, England.

Most of the people did not show up for church that Sunday, including the pastor; only a dozen or so were in attendance. So, a deacon — who had walked six miles to be at church — went to the pulpit even though he had never preached before. In terms of eloquence and homiletical skill, it was far from a masterpiece. However, the thirteen-year-old boy’s life was profoundly transformed by the ten-minute inelegant and unpolished sermon on that winter morning in 1850.

Much later, as an adult, Spurgeon (yes, Charles Spurgeon is the boy we are discussing) reflected on that morning:

“I had heard of the Primitive Methodists, how they sang so loudly that they made people’s heads ache; but that did not matter to me. I wanted to know how I might be saved, and if they could tell me that, I did not care how much they made my head ache. At last, a very thin-looking man, a shoemaker, or tailor, or something of that sort, went up into the pulpit to preach. Now, it is well that preachers should be instructed; but this man was really stupid. He was obliged to stick to his text, for the simple reason that he had little else to say. The text was, ‘LOOK UNTO ME, AND BE YE SAVED, ALL THE ENDS OF THE EARTH.’ He did not even pronounce the words rightly, but that did not matter. There was, I thought, a glimpse of hope for me in that text.”

In the simplest way possible, the inexperienced lay-preacher talked of how people were looking at all the wrong things and in all the wrong directions. Spurgeon then said:

“Then the good man followed up his text in this way: — ‘Look unto Me; I am sweatin’ great drops of blood. Look unto Me; I am hangin’ on the cross. Look unto Me; I am dead and buried. Look unto Me; I rise again. Look unto Me; I ascend to Heaven. Look unto Me; I am sittin’ at the Father’s right hand. O poor sinner, look unto Me! look unto Me!’”

Then the deacon did something that shocked young Spurgeon. He looked right at him and said,

“’Young man, you look very miserable.’ Well, I did; but I had not been accustomed to have remarks made from the pulpit on my personal appearance before. However, it was a good blow, struck right home. He continued, ‘and you always will be miserable — miserable in life, and miserable in death — if you don’t obey my text; but if you obey now, this moment, you will be saved.’ Then, lifting up his hands, he shouted, as only a Primitive Methodist could do, ‘Young man, look to Jesus Christ. Look! Look! Look! You have nothin’ to do but to look and live.’”

How did this affect young Spurgeon?

“I saw at once the way of salvation. I know not what else he said — I did not take much notice of it — I was so possessed with that one thought… Oh! I looked until I could almost have looked my eyes away. There and then the cloud was gone, the darkness had rolled away, and that moment I saw the sun; and I could have risen that instant, and sung with the most enthusiastic of them, of the precious blood of Christ, and the simple faith which looks alone to Him.

That happy day, when I found the Savior, and learned to cling to His dear feet, was a day never to be forgotten by me. An obscure child, unknown, unheard of, I listened to the Word of God; and that precious text led me to the cross of Christ. I can testify that the joy of that day was utterly indescribable. I could have leaped, I could have danced; there was no expression, however fanatical, which would have been out of keeping with the joy of my spirit at that hour.”

Though Spurgeon became known as the Prince of Preachers, he was brought to this remarkable salvation experience through a ten-minute sermon that was a delivered in a rough and stumbling manner.

Consider some of Spurgeon’s statements about preaching.

“O brethren, let us if we cannot blow the silver trumpet, blow the ram’s horn, but let the blast always be Christ, Christ, Christ!” 

“There ought to be enough of the gospel in every sermon to save a soul… Always take care that there is the real gospel in every sermon.”

“Brethren, first and above all things, keep to plain evangelical doctrines; whatever else you do or do not preach, be sure incessantly to bring forth the soul-saving truth of Christ and him crucified.”

“I would sooner pluck one single brand from the burning than explain all mysteries.”

“If sinners be damned, at least let them leap to Hell over our bodies. If they will perish, let them perish with our arms about their knees. Let no one go there unwarned and unprayed for.”

“Keep to doctrines which stir the conscience and the heart. Remain unwaveringly the champions of a soaul-winning gospel.”

“The kind of sermon which is likely to break the hearer’s heart is that which has first broken the preacher’s heart, and the sermon which is likely to reach the heart of the hearer is the one which has come straight from the heart of the preacher…”

“I believe that those sermons which are fullest of Christ are the most likely to be blessed to the conversion of the hearers. Let your sermons be full of Christ, from beginning to end crammed full of the gospel. As for myself, brethren, I cannot preach anything else but Christ and His cross, for I know nothing else, and long ago, like the apostle Paul, I determined not to know anything else save Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”

“Our object is to drive the sword of the Spirit through men’s hearts.”

“A sermon, moreover, comes with far greater power to the consciences of the hearers when it is plainly the very word of God—not a lecture about the Scripture, but Scripture itself opened up and enforced.”

Concluding Thought

As a minister, I’m all for studying homiletics and how to best deliver messages. However, eloquence is no substitute for the anointing of the Holy Spirit. It is great for us to have good communication skills, but we never place our reliance on such things. We put our emphasis and trust in lifting up Jesus, and allowing God to draw all men to him. You may have preached messages that you felt were really well delivered, but perhaps you later realized that not much seems to have happened in the peoples’ hearts. On the other hand, you may have struggled through a message, only to find out later that it facilitated a life changing moment for someone