Spurgeon on Impressive and Borrowed Sermons

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Justin Taylor recently posted TGC Asks Don Carson: When Has a Preacher Crossed the Line into Plagiarism in His Sermon? Carson starts by explaining that it is always wrong to preach someone else’s sermon as if it were your own. A related question is whether it’s right or wrong for a preacher to admittedly deliver another’s sermon.

While people will disagree whether or not it is proper to borrow sermons, it seems that practice is nothing new since even Charles Spurgeon addressed this topic. While Spurgeon mentions sermon borrowing directly, the whole quote below has implications for preaching borrowed sermons.

“Fourthly, the people must be impressed by our sermons, if they are to be converted. They must not only be interested, and instructed, but they must be impressed; and, I believe, dear friends, there is a great deal more in impressive sermons than some people think. In order that you may impress the Word upon those whom you preach, remember that it must be impressed upon yourself first. You must feel it yourself, and speak as a man who feels it; not as if you feel it, but because you feel it, otherwise you will not make it felt by others. I wonder what is must be to go up into the pulpit, and read somebody else’s sermon to the congregation. We read in the Bible of one thing that was borrowed, and the head of that came off; and I am afraid that the same thing often happens with borrowed sermons – the heads come off. Men who read borrowed sermons positively do not know anything about our troubles of mind in preparing for the pulpit, or our joy in preaching with the aid of only brief notes. A dear friend of mine, who reads his own sermons, was talking to me about preaching, and I was telling him how my very soul is moved, and my very heart is stirred within me, when I think of what I shall say to my people, and afterwards when I am delivering my message; but he said he never felt anything of the kind when he was preaching. He reminded me of the little girl who was crying because her teeth ached, and her grandmother said to her, “Lily, I wonder you are not ashamed to cry about such a small matter.” “Well, grandmother,” answered the little maid, “it is all very well for you to say that, for, when your teeth ache, you can take them out, but mine are fixed.” Some brethren, when the sermon they have selected will not run smoothly, can go to their box, and take out another; but when I have a sermon full of joy, and I myself feel heavy and sad, I am utterly miserable; when I want to beg and persuade men to believe, and my spirit is dull and cold, I feel wretched to the last degree. My teeth ache, and I cannot take them out, for they are my own; as my sermons are my own, and therefore I may expect to find a good deal of trouble, both in the getting of them, and in the using of them.

I remember the answer I received when I once said to my venerable grandfather, “I never have to preach, but that I feel terribly sick, literally sick, I mean, so that I might as well be crossing the Channel,” and I asked the dear old man whether he thought I should ever get over that feeling. His answer was, “Your power will be gone if you do.” So, my brethren, when it is not so much that you have got a hold of your subject, but that it has got hold of you, and you feel its grip with a terrible reality yourself, that is the kind of sermon that is most likely to make others feel. If you are not impressed with it yourself, you cannot expect to impress others with it; so mind that your sermons always have something in them, which shall really impress both yourself and the hearers whom you are addressing.” – C.H. Spurgeon, The Soulwinner (New Kensington: Whitaker House, 2001), 91-93. (Bold emphasis mine.)

“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 therefore, dear brethren, always seek to preach so that the people shall be impressed as well as interested and instructed.” – Ibid., 94.

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tagged as in Church Issues,morality,Sermons,theology

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jasmine December 21, 2010 at 1:16 pm

I understand not plagiarizing, but the mention of another’s sermon or a quote from another doesn’t seem to be such a huge deal. Especially if it relates directly and helps prove the point of the preacher’s sermon.

2 Mark December 21, 2010 at 2:10 pm


I believe the point is not simply quoting from someone else’s sermon, but preaching it instead of preparing the sermon yourself.

3 Cathy M. December 21, 2010 at 3:15 pm

I have ingested no small amount of regurgitated fodder. I’ve find it distasteful and lacking in nourishment. I can only wonder at the heart of a shepherd who refuses to feed his master’s flock with the bountiful provision he’s been given to serve. It’s lazy; and betrays and utter disdain for the flock he’s been privileged to shepherd. If an illustration, or some portion of another man’s writings are borrowed, it should be cited, otherwise it is dishonest. Just my $.02

4 Dan Smith December 21, 2010 at 5:46 pm

It’s amazing to even know this sort of thing exists. I have only had to prepare weekly sermons a few times in my life, mostly on US Navy deployments, but it still boggles my mind that pastors do this. Isn’t there some sort of creativity in the soul of a pastor? OR have we asked them to simply be managers of a local organization?


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