Book Review: Kindled Fire, by Zack Eswine
What can Spurgeon teach us about preaching? To answer this question, you could spend the rest of your life reading the many volumes from Spurgeon’s pen. Or, you could pick up a book that combs through all that material and distills Spurgeon’s thinking about preaching into a single volume.
That is what Zack Eswine’s Kindled Fire does. The subtitle may mislead some to think that the book applies the mechanics of Spurgeon’s personal practices to preaching—for example, Spurgeon’s well-known habit of choosing the Sunday morning sermon text on Saturday night. But actually Eswine wants to put his readers into Spurgeon’s classroom and thus “enable preachers to ‘apprentice’ with Spurgeon for a season in order to learn from him about preaching” (17).
The book divides into four parts that each begin with a clear overview. Part one, “The Preacher’s Story,” focuses on God’s providential calling and gifting of each preacher. To Spurgeon, the “special calling” to this “sacred office” must express itself in an all-absorbing personal desire for the work with no other motive than “the glory of God and the good of souls” (44). Further, this calling is one-sided until demonstrated in practice and confirmed by the church.
In part two, “The Preacher’s Practice,” we learn to “talk in Scriptural language” and use a Scriptural manner, by speaking plainly as the Scriptures do. Here, we also learn of Spurgeon’s categories for preaching—preaching is not only explaining, illustrating, and applying, but testifying personally of the gospel in order to persuadethe hearers.
In part three, “The Preacher’s Power,” Spurgeon teaches us both to trust in the Spirit’s appointed means—the Bible and prayer—and to bow before the Spirit’s mysteries. “The Holy Ghost uses means,” Spurgeon said, “yet my trust is not in the word itself…but in the quickening Spirit who works by it” (168). Eswine observes that “for Spurgeon the antidote for church infection was the igniting of the ‘old truth’ with a ‘fresh baptism of the Holy Spirit'” (177).
Finally, part four, “The Preachers Limitations,” teaches us how to handle criticism, depression, physical malady, and the accompanying attack of the enemy. In these times, Spurgeon said, “I have found it a blessed thing in my own experience, to plead before God that I am His child” (208). The chapter also teaches us of the importance of fellow workers in the ministry. When asked once about the secret of his success, Spurgeon replied, “My people pray for me” (223).
ENCOURAGING AND CHALLENGING PREACHERS
This book is full of powerful quotes from Spurgeon, like this charge to Sunday School teachers:
To stand up in a Sunday-school and say, ‘Now be good boys and girls and God will love you,’ is telling lies…. Dear teachers of the school, whatever you do not know, do know your Lord… and do make it a matter of prayer that you may get a knowledge of Christ and his atoning blood into their young hearts by the Holy Ghost” (142).
The book also contains several interesting anecdotes. For example, Spurgeon had the students of his Pastor’s College live with families who were members of the Tabernacle to keep the young men from the “levity” which often arises from separating a man from “common social life” (215).
There may be better books on Spurgeon, and a preacher may find it more beneficial to spend his limited time in the primary sources, but Eswine has done us a great service by drawing together so much material on Spurgeon into one place. And he has drawn it together in a way that will both encourage and challenge preachers in their work.