In contemporary times, the artistry and practice of rhetoric as a discipline, or at least its perception, has fallen on hard times. With even a cursory “ear” to current events of the evening news or an “eye” to the print media, it is possible to hear and see the “rhetoric of the Democrats,” or the “rhetoric of the Republicans,” or the “rhetoric of Hitler,” or “the Communist’s rhetoric.” Rhetoric is used and defined today in pejorative and negative terms almost exclusively. Rhetoric truly is a misunderstood discipline!
Rhetoric in itself is neither good nor evil. Its usage determines its morality. All of us use rhetoric! Whether we know it or not! We are all rhetoricians—trained or not! After all, “Life is Rhetoric!”
In his work Doctrine that Dances, Robert Smith lauds Aristotle’s categories of rhetoric. He brings back some religious respectability, credibility and usability to rhetoric once again. Smith’s categories of rhetoric are stated as proofs:
The first mode of proof is ethos. That is the integrity, credibility or character of the preacher… [E]thos is the perceived character of a good man speaking well… The second mode of proof is pathos. This is the emotive and passionate sector of the preacher… The third mode of proof is logos. This is the gathering of content and material for the sermon.
Here Smith does a great service to all preachers who want to perfect the artistry of the sermon. He brings “rhetoric right into the church house” anew. Smith employs rhetoric because he understands that it can be used as homiletical theory and praxis for sermonic improvement. If used to define and refine preaching, rhetoric could be very much akin to “finding the pearl of great price” for those who desire to be pulpit craftsmen. Smith stands in a long line of pulpiteers who preserve the “Rhetorical Tradition” and its use in preaching. These, of course, include Augustine of Hippo and the Southern Baptist Convention’s own John Albert Broadus.
Spurgeon’s use of rhetoric in his sermon “Compel Them to Come In!” is easily demonstrated.
POSTURE IN SPURGEON’S ADDRESS
Rhetoric is a many-splendored thing. 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.” 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.”
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.”
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.” 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.” 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.” 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.
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.
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. Spurgeon paints a picture that becomes progressively 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.