Aristotle once said, “Rhetoric may be defined as a faculty of discovering all the possible means of persuasion in any subject.” His point is that rhetoric has the same function, as he says, of dialectic. In other words, they are not limited to any particular field of studies but that every person gives arguments to support a claim and moves to the defense or criticism of the opposing views. We are all in a sense dialecticians and rhetoricians, says Aristotle. The nineteen-century English preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon understood precisely what Aristotle was saying. He had no higher education; neither formal theological studies, nor English degrees, yet a master of both. His average weekly routine was to read six books and remember all of them even a year after he had read. Some suggest that he learned to tell stories in a normal Sunday-school setting, where he was “obliged” to tell them. Moreover, early in his life, he became notorious for his way of preaching and his master usage of language. One specific author asserts that “Never has one man stood in one pulpit…with greater worldwide success and lasting impact than Spurgeon.” Spurgeon is one of many, whose master usage of literary methods points to the fact that he was not merely applying the technique blindly, but that he used it because it was part of him. As Farnsworth has stated, “Rhetorical figures start to sound natural once one has spent so much time with them that they come to mind without effort, and finally serve as shapes into which words assemble themselves by instinct when the situation calls for it.” For Spurgeon, it was natural already.
This is the goal of the essay, to demonstrate how fluent the British preacher was in utilizing literary devices such as metaphors, polysyndeton, anaphora, epistrophe, anadiplosis, and epizeuxis. Additionally, Spurgeon’s royal title “Prince of Preachers” does not come, as many have suggested, from merely preaching for four decades and being passionate about it, but from mastering the language and its proper use of it. The focus and the message, then, are characterized here: Spurgeon’s persuasiveness comes from his master usage of the long dead classical rhetoric devices, and it is what gives him the distinguished reputation.
Spurgeon’s Persuasiveness through the Deliberately Usage of Metaphors
As readers shall see, Spurgeon’s use of figures of speech is one of his many literary devices which makes his writing so persuasive. In his book Lectures to My Students, he dedicates a chapter to teach how to use metaphors. “Abstract truth comes before us so much more vividly when a concrete example is given, or the doctrine itself is clothed in figurative language” states Spurgeon. Moreover, he says that “windows greatly add to the pleasure and agreeableness of a habitation. And so do illustrations make a sermon pleasurable and interesting. A building without windows would be a prison rather than a house, for it would be quite dark, and no one would care to take it upon lease.” On this short excerpt, Spurgeon goes from the abstract idea to the palpable image everyone would recognize in daily life. Roy Peter Clark explains this concept by calling it “Ladder of Abstraction.” According to him, “the ladder of abstraction remains one of the most useful models of thinking and writing ever invented. Popularized by S. I. Hayakawa in his 1939 book Language in Action, the ladder has been adopted and adapted in hundreds of ways to help people ponder language and express meaning.” As the reader can see, Spurgeon, from the nineteen-century, was teaching the ladder of abstraction long before 1939 — not with the same name — but the concept of abstract ideas descending to concrete examples was already there. This notion comes from the Bible and how Jesus Christ taught, using illustrations to make his message easily understandable for any layperson that could hear.
In another part of the same chapter, Spurgeon exemplify his deliberately use of metaphor again, “Riding in a third-class carriage some years ago in the eastern counties, we had been for a long time without a lamp; and when a traveller lighted a candle, it was pleasant to see how all eyes turned that way, and rejoiced in the light: such is frequently the effect of an apt simile in the midst of a sermon, it lights up the whole matter, and gladdens every heart.” This instance shows readers another side of the metaphors: the comparison with spiritual implications. Here, the reader notices how Spurgeon compares the light of a candle with an apt simile, creating a very vivid image for listeners, not only to have in their minds but to demonstrate how clarifying it is a figure of speech as a channel between the abstract truth and the real imagery. Spurgeon offers many other examples of metaphoric usage and explains by utilizing illustrations. However, at the same time Spurgeon is incredibly skillful with metaphors, his usage of repetition is also brilliant.
Spurgeon’s Persuasiveness Through Deliberately Usage of Repetition
One of the most used device by Spurgeon to persuade his audience and leave them with an excellent impression on their minds and souls is repetition. However, says Farnsworth, “repetition is one of the most important general ideas in rhetoric…[it has a] wide range of ways in which it can be used: repetition of words and phrases at the beginning or end of successive sentences or clauses, or repetition of sentence structure, of conjunctions, and so forth.” Since repetition is a very ambiguous term, this endeavor will focus on that which is most frequently found in Spurgeon’s writings. A matter of fact, Spurgeon could be entitled the king of “Anaphora,” because there is such an abundance in his texts that it is clear that this technique is intertwined in his being, and that he deliberately makes use of it.
Repetition at the beginning: Anaphora
“Anaphora occurs when the speaker repeats the same words at the start of successive sentences or clauses,” says Farnsworth. The consciousness and naturality by which Spurgeon applies such techniques make his voice uniquely persuasive. Farnsworth explains that the purpose of anaphora is to “return to the same words creating a hammering effect; the repeated language is certain to be noticed, likely to be remembered, and readily conveys strong feeling.” The reader will undoubtedly see this effect in Spurgeon’s usage of anaphora.
In one occasion he shouts, “His blood can cleanse; his righteousness can cover; his beauty can adorn; his prayer can preserve; his advent shall glorify; his heaven shall make you blessed.” As one can see, the hammering effect in the noun “his,” which stresses the importance of whoever that “his” refers to. Another example, even longer, is a whole paragraph, look how Spurgeon highlights the word “may”:
But may ye be established, may every good thing that you have be an abiding thing. May your character be not a writing upon the sand, but an inscription upon the rock. May your faith be no “baseless fabric of a vision,” but may it be builded of stone that shall endure that awful fire which shall consume the wood, hay, and stubble of the hypocrite. May ye be rooted and grounded in love. May your convictions be deep. May your love be real. May your desires be earnest. May your whole life be so settle, fixed, and established, that all the blasts of hell and all the storms of earth shall never be able to remove you.
On the above-quoted passage, Spurgeon persuasiveness points to the same hammering emphasis on encouragement and conviction on the believer’s faith. Again, he repeats the words “you will” eight times, and “he will” five exclaiming:
You will, perhaps, be despised for His sake, but He will not forsake you; you will, perhaps, have days of sickness, but He will come and make your bed in your sickness for you. You will, perhaps, be poor, but your bread shall be given you, and your water shall be sure, for He will provide for you. You will vex Him much and grieve His Spirit. You will often doubt Him— you will go after other lovers; you will provoke Him to jealousy, but He will never cease to love you. You will, perhaps, grow cold to Him, and even forget His dear name for a time, but He will never forget you.
By contrasting the human deeds with the divine response, his style of persuasion becomes even stronger, giving the believer full assurance of a celestial hope. A variation of anaphora is also found in this sentence, “what pomp! What a procession! What a splendor!” Finally, in a sermon called The Great Liberator, Spurgeon repeats the phrase “you shall be free” seven times consecutive within a total of fifteen throughout the whole exposition. But the text is too long to be quoted here. Given the many different forms of repetition found in Spurgeon’s writings, another one named, Polysyndeton, is somewhat recoverable.
Repetition of conjunctions: Polysyndeton
Polysyndeton is frequently used by Spurgeon to emphasize a single point through the repetition of many variables, which demonstrates his master usage of language, and his persuasiveness. Arthur Quinn clarifies polysyndeton as “choosing to have many conjunctions…[it] gives the sense of an ever lengthening catalogue of roughly equal members.” The best way to make this sentence clear is by example. Quinn uses multiples cases on the Bible to demonstrate this device, one of them is in the book of Joshua, which reads: And Joshua, and all Israel with him, took Achan the son of Zerah, and the silver, and the garment, and the wedge of gold, and his sons, and his daughters, and his oxen, and his asses, and his sheep, and his tent, and all that he had: and they brought them unto the valley of Achor (Jo 7:24 KJV). Sometimes, Quinn argues, the series moves from the less important to the more important, sometimes from the general to the specific. More often though, the conjunctions serve as an element of time and space. Furthermore, mistery is another reason authors choose to add an extra “and,” or “in,” or “or.” It seems unnecessary at first, but the more one reads, the more he or she realizes the emphasis added by the technique.
The abundance of the Polysyndeton device in Spurgeon’s writings display how he naturally employs such verbiage. Here is one extract, “It will be in vain for me to stock my library, or organise societies, or project schemes, if I neglect the culture of myself; for books, and agencies, and systems, are only remotely the instruments of my holy calling.” The reason Spurgeon applies the technique is that he desires to emphasize how little importance have that which he repeats and how more significant it is the after content on both occasions. In another example, Spurgeon’s usage of Polysyndeton determines a similar emphasis on the content. It reads, “There are zealots abroad who are not capable of conceiving or uttering five consecutive thoughts, whose capacity is most narrow and their conceit most broad, and these can hammer, and bawl, and rave, and tear, and rage, but the noise all arises from the hollowness of the drum.” Here again, he undermines some peripheral attitude and highlights the after content; which leads to persuasion. To make sure these two cases are not an exception to his usage of the technique, here is one more: “It is not necessary in prayer to string a selection of texts of Scripture together, and quote David, and Daniel, and Job, and Paul, and Peter, and every other body, under the title of thy ‘servant of old.’ It is necessary in prayer to draw near unto God, but it is not required of you to prolong your speech till everyone is longing to hear the word ‘Amen.’” Comparable to the other two instances above, Spurgeon uses a list of conjunctions to minimize the length of the subject, which is prayer, and emphasize what mattered to him. The excerpt is so compelling that readers can even hear Spurgeon’s voice through reading it. This was repetition of conjunctions, but at the same level, Epistrophe is another type of repetition more or less retrievable.
Repetition at the End: Epistrophe
According to writer Mark Forsyth, Epistrophe is everything that repeats itself at the end of anything one writes. He contends that “when each clause has the same words at the end, that’s epistrophe. When you finish each paragraph with the same word, that’s epistrophe. Even when it’s a whole phrase or a whole sentence that you repeat, it’s still, providing the repetition comes at the end, epistrophe.” One can notice that while Forsyth explains what an Epistrophe is, he exemplifies with the very same sentence. “The general purposes of epistrophe tend to be similar to those of anaphora, but the sound is different, and often a bit subtler because the repetition does not become evident until each time a sentence or clause ends,” explains Farnsworth.
In the case of Spurgeon, one cannot deny the purposefulness in the application of the technique. Spurgeon declares that “the ground on which a man comes to Jesus, is not as a sensible sinner, but as a sinner, and nothing but a sinner.” The subtler sense of hammering is not how one feels when reading this passage. But it feels though, like nailing a nail with only three strikes. Additionally, Forsyth says that even the rhyme in poetry is an Epistrophe. With that in mind, analyze this excerpt, “Just as I am without one plea, but that Thy blood was shed for me, and that Thou bidst me come to Thee, O Lamb of God, I come.” On that sense, even this sentence is an Epistrophe. However, searching for more evidence, another two variations of repetition is retrievable, Anadiplosis and Epizeuxis, but not to the extent of the other ones.
Anadiplosis and Epizeuxis
Anadiplosis, according to Farnsworth, “is the use of the same language at the end of one sentence or clause and at the start of the next – an ABBC pattern.” He also makes clear that the purpose is to “make the links in the chain seem more secure and perhaps more inevitable. They strengthen the sense that one thing leads to another.” A simple example of Spurgeon’s writings is this: “Look at the world! The world does not object to our being a Christian for a time.” And again, “a simple faith brings the soul to Christ. Christ keeps the faith alive.”
Epizeuxis, on the other hand, is simply the repetition of words consecutively. “Beware! Beware, thou fruitless tree!” Once more, “Come on, come on, you fiends of the pit!” Epizeuxis serves the purpose of calling the listener to pay close attention to what the speaker is saying. Similarly, Jesus used the same device many times to make his audience more attentive: “truly, truly, I say to you.” There are many more examples on this particular device, yet, this essay will limit to only two.
These findings challenge the claim of those who have long assumed that the reason the noble title “Prince of Preachers” has been given to Spurgeon merely because he preached for four decades and had a wide range in his outreach. Honestly, many other preachers had an even longer ministry than Spurgeon, but their names have been forgotten. Furthermore, this interpretation also shows that his master usage of language proves that he did not go out haphazardly, speaking disconnected sentences with no deliberate choice of rhetoric devices and other techniques of persuasion; or else he would be doomed to disappear like many other preachers. As one author has said, “Learning how to organize a long article is just as important as learning how to write a clear and pleasing sentence.” This writer goes on to explain that if the writing is not linear and sequential, it falls apart; If the writing is not logical, it falls apart; If tension is not maintained from one section to the next, it falls apart. Spurgeon’s writings are visibly and logically connected, and at the same time, each metaphor is explicitly well thought out.
Ultimately, these conclusions have significant implications for the broader domain of the English language writers, who wish to develop their literary abilities. Moreover, it may look like these findings concern only a tiny percentage of students and Christian speakers, but in fact, it relates to anyone who cares about using language to influence an audience positively. There are yet much to be found in Spurgeon’s writings; grammar and mechanics are two examples of that yet to be explored. However, the crucial aspect is how one can emulate his writings. Dr. Ray Rhodes help readers understand why Spurgeon was so rich in language and held an arsenal of literary devices in his mind. Rhodes says that the primary reason that Spurgeon was such a great writer was due to his reading habits. In other words, find good books, read it, read different topics, and read as much as you can. Adding to what Rhodes asserts, this essay suggests that Spurgeon’s texts being so rich beyond measure, one must always read his primary sources; observing how he turns a simple phrase — subject, verb, and noun — to the use of rhetorical devices for emphasis. There are complex structures and figures of speech that will need a little of research to understand. However, the best place to start reading Spurgeon is his book Lectures to my Students. To sum then, Spurgeon’s eloquence is not from flowery language and flagrant verbosity, but from purposeful use of the classical rhetorical devices, and his distinguished reputation is unquestionably deserved.
By: Tiago Hirayama. Copyright Reserved.
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