Third Series of Lectures to My Students
The Art of Illustration: Being Addresses Delivered to the students of The Pastor’s College, Metropolitan Tabernacle
By C. H. Spurgeon, 1905
Lecture 2: Anecdotes from the Pulpit (continued; read the series)
I shall make up this present address by quoting the examples of great preachers, beginning with the era of the Reformation, and following on without any very rigid chronological order down to our own day. Examples are more powerful than precepts; hence I quote them.
First, let me mention that grand old preacher, Hugh Latimer, the most English of all our divines; and one whose influence over our land was undoubtedly most powerful. Southey says, “Latimer more than any other man promoted the Reformation by his preaching”; and in this he echoes the more important utterance of Ridley, who wrote from his prison, “I do think that the Lord hath placed old father Latimer to be his standard-bearer in our age and country against his mortal foe, Antichrist.”
If you have read any of his sermons, you must have been struck with the number of his quaint stories, seasoned with a homely humor which smacks of that Leicestershire farmhouse wherein he was brought up by a father who did yeoman’s service, and a mother who milked thirty kine. No doubt we may attribute to these stories the breaking down of pews by the overwhelming rush of the people to hear him; and the general interest which his sermons excited. More of such preaching, and we should have less fear of the return of Popery. The common people heard him gladly, and his lively anecdotes accounted for much of their eager attention.
A few of these narratives one could hardly repeat, for the taste of our age has happily improved in delicacy; but others are most admirable and instructive. Here are three of them:
The Friar’s Man and the Ten Commandments
“I will tell you now a pretty story of a friar, to refresh you withal, A limiter of the grey friars in the time of his limitation preached many times, and had but one sermon at all times; which sermon was of the ten commandments. And because this friar had preached this sermon so often, one that heard it before told the friar’s servant that his master was called ‘Friar John Ten Commandments’: wherefore the servant showed the friar his master thereof, and advised him to preach of some other matters; for it grieved the servant to hear his master derided. Now, the friar made answer saying, ‘Belike, then, thou canst say the ten commandments well, seeing thou hast heard them so many a time.’ ‘Yea,’ said the servant, ‘I warrant you.’ ‘Let me hear them,’ saith the master; then he began, ‘Pride, covetousness, lechery,’ and so numbered the deadly sins for the ten commandments. And so there be many at this time, which be weary of the old gospel; they would fain hear some new things: they think themselves so perfect in the old, when they be no more skilful than this servant was in his ten commandments.
St. Anthony and the Cobbler
“We read a pretty story of St. Anthony, which, being in the wilderness, led there a very hard and straight life, insomuch as none at that time did the like. To whom came a voice from heaven, saying, ‘Anthony, thou art not so perfect as is a cobbler that dwelleth at Alexandria.’ Anthony, hearing this, rose up forthwith, and took his staff and went till he came to Alexandria, where he found the cobbler. The cobbler was astonished to see so reverend a father to come into his house. Then Anthony said unto him, ‘Come and tell me thy whole conversation, and how thou spendest thy time.’ ‘Sir,’ said the cobbler, ‘as for me, good works I have none, for my life is but simple and slender; I am but a poor cobbler. In the morning, when I arise, I pray for the whole city wherein I dwell, specially for all such neighbours and poor friends as I have. After, I set me at my labour, where I spend the whole day in getting of my living, and keep me from all falsehood; for I hate nothing so much as I do deceitfulness: wherefore, when I make to any man a promise, I keep it and do it truly: and so spend my time poorly with my wife and children, whom I teach and instruct as far as my wit will serve me, to fear and dread God. This is the sum of my simple life.’
“In this story you see how God loveth those that follow their vocation, and live uprightly without any falsehood in their dealing. This Anthony was a great and holy man, yet this cobbler was as much esteemed before God as he.”
The Danger of Prosperity
“I read once a story of a good bishop, which rode by the way and was weary, being yet far off from any town; therefore seeing a fair house, he went thither, and was very well and honourably received: there were great preparations made for him, and a great banquet; all things were in plenty. Then the man of the house set out his prosperity, and told the bishop what riches he had, in what honours and dignities he was, how many fair children he had, what a virtuous wife God had provided for him, so that he had no lack of any manner of thing, he had no trouble nor vexations, neither outward nor inward. Now this holy man, hearing the good estate of that man, called one of his servants, and commanded him to make ready the horses: for the bishop thought that God was not in that house because there was no temptation there: he took his leave and went his ways. Now when he came a two or three mile off, he remembered his book which he had left behind him; he sent his man back again to fetch that book, and when the servant came again the house was sunken and all that was in it. Here it appeareth that it is a good thing to have temptation. This man thought himself a jolly fellow, because all things went well with him. But he knew not St. James’s lesson: Beatus qui suf ert tentationem, ‘Blessed is he that endureth temptation.’ Let us therefore learn here, not to be irksome when God layeth his cross upon us.”