“Compel Them to Come In:” The Posture and Persuasion in the Preaching of Charles Haddon Spurgeon

The Halt

Here, Spurgeon turns somewhat away from the Lord’s use of the literalness and adjectival understandings of the halt. The folk of the day would have understood the term’s meaning to be one who was unable to walk. Spurgeon again employs a certain measure of double entendre. He shifts from a descriptor of one with a physical ailment to a descriptor of one who is spiritually unable to decide a personal moral or ethical dilemma. He calls to mind the notable passage about Elijah on Mount Carmel: “How long halt ye between two opinions? If the LORD be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him…” Time does not permit a discussion of his other Biblical examples of “mental halting.” Spurgeon discovers many hearers in their personal “valley of decision.” For him, being disabled of mind is much worse than being disabled of body. A physical ailment can possibly be overcome temporally and eternally. But, the “halting” state-of-mind can lead the person to an everlasting condition from which they cannot recover. It is this latter category to whom Spurgeon appeals.

The Blind

For the fourth time Spurgeon calls forth a literal-ness from our Lord’s parable. He adapts it for his sermon’s single purpose: “To Compel Them to Come In!” But never did he contravene the Lord’s intent. He used the “blind” of the parable to designate the lack of “spiritual sight” of his hearers.

Spurgeon turns at this juncture to his second division of the sermon: “I will go to work to compel you to come in.”

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.” A literary understanding of tone can be coupled with the Aristotle’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.” 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.”

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.” 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!” He then recounts Paul’s word to the Philippian jailer, “Believe on the Lord Jesus and thou shalt be saved.”

He commands them!

At this point Spurgeon asks a rather sobering question! “Do you still refuse?” 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,” 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!” 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 of “Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature!” was Spurgeon’s modus operandi.

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, breaking into an extended exhortation in order to garner some level of sympathetic hearing. Spurgeon’s uses personal testimony here in order to persuade:

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.

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,” 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…”

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 a 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]? He cries out lovingly: “I am resolved… My brother I ENTREAT you, I entreat you stop and consider.”

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Roger Duke
Dr. Roger D. Duke is an ordained Baptist minister. He holds graduate degrees from Harding University Grad School of Religion, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and The University of the South at Sewanee's School of Theology. Duke recently retired early after teaching college and grad school for 20 years to pursue a career in writing and speaking. You can find his works here.