About That Beeline to the Cross…
“I take my text and make a bee-line to the cross.”
That’s how the great English preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon summarized his preaching method. Spurgeon was a uniquely gifted preacher whom the Lord used mightily in his generation.
A long line of preachers have admired and even attempted to emulate Spurgeon. It’s not uncommon to hear many a young preacher parrot Spurgeon’s line as their own: “make a bee-line to the cross.”
So, here’s my heresy for today: Spurgeon was wrong. We’re not to take a text and make a bee-line to the cross. In fact, if you’ve read a number of Spurgeon’s sermons you’ve no doubt noticed that often he seems to take the long way around. He was no expositor and he seemed to make a bee-line away from the text, which is not the same as making a bee-line to the cross.
All that to say, don’t imitate the incomparable “prince of preachers” when you seek to preach the gospel. Quote Spurgeon liberally. If he’d lived in the age of Twitter he’d have broken the Internet. Borrow his illustrations at will. Only Bunyan had a more vivid way of describing things. If you can, you should allow a little of his humor to infect your sermon. Laughter does a heart good. And as for direct appeal to people to repent of sin and trust in Christ, follow Spurgeon’s earnest example. Even in print generations later his calls to faith are moving.
But, dare I say it, most of us can do better at preaching the cross while preaching the text. Here’s what I mean: Every text has an immediate context, a meaning for its original author and hearers. And not until we’ve revealed that meaning, can we naturally make our way to the cross in a manner that’s responsible to the meaning of that text. To put it the other way around: A bee-line to the cross might just be bad exegesis and a neglect of the Bible. The gospel preacher’s task is to explain what God said and meant in a given text in context, answer what it meant for the original hearers—whether Israel or the early church, then show how it relates to the Person and work of Christ, before applying it to our contemporary hearers.
Taking this approach fosters better understanding of the entire Bible. It unearths Christ in richer ways. More gospel themes emerge and we can avoid the canned “presentations of the gospel” that get tacked onto the end of the sermon. It makes the gospel integral to every text of scripture while treating the text with integrity.
That takes work. And it takes what Sinclair Ferguson calls “an instinct for finding Christ in the Old Testament.” Riding rough shod over a text to “get to the cross” isn’t an instinct. It’s an abuse of the text.
A bee-line is the straightest, shortest course between two points. But sometimes the “straightest, shortest course” actually includes a curve and a turn or two. Chances are if you drive directly home from work today it will not be in a straight line. There will be a turn or two along the way. The gospel preacher shouldn’t take unnecessary turns and curves, like dads who refuse to stop for directions. But the gospel preacher has to know that the Bible itself requires an arc in our thinking in order to understand and preach it well. It’s the beeline that sometimes drives off road, ignoring the curves and wrecking rails.
So, to preach the gospel well, we need to do good text work. And we need to make sure that the points of the text become pointers to the Christ.
Spurgeon said a lot about preaching. A good deal of it is more helpful and fuller in its explanation of his preaching method. If you only settle for the beeline quote, chances are you’ve forgotten Spurgeon’s habit with hyperbole and illustration. And chances are you’ll make some conclusions that he wouldn’t. Get to Christ as efficiently as you can, but along the way stop and smell the biblical flowers in the text. Christ will come forth with more color and fragrance than if you rushed by.