Lent Read-Along: John Ploughman’s Talks by Charles Spurgeon
But observing Lent will be a new thing for me, I’m not Catholic. During the past year and a half of publishing book review videos, I’ve met several Christians in the “BookTube” space. One of those people, Christy Luis, invited me to participate in a read-along for Lent, reading John Ploughman Talks by Charles Spurgeon. We will be joined by two other book reviewers, Allen at The Library of Allenxandria and Victoria at A Musical Bookworm.
What is Lent?
So what is Lent? As I said, I’ve always been in “low” churches without liturgy. Discussing this with a friend once, they said, “All churches have liturgy.” No, they don’t. Baptists and Quakers don’t have liturgy. We don’t do Lent. I had heard people discuss what they were “giving up for Lent,” but I had no idea what the purpose was or what it was supposed to symbolize. I didn’t know what Ash Wednesday was until I read a news article about Rick Santorum and the ashes on his forehead and I didn’t realize Mardi Gras had any connection to Christianity until a friend wrote about the history of Mardi Gras.
In liturgical churches, Lent is the 40-day period before Easter dedicated to repentance and reflection. While fasting and a time of observance had long been part of church practice, those practices and the length of time varied until the Council of Nicea in 325 AD which determined the Lenten observance would be 40 days. This 40-day period was in memory of Jesus’s own preparation for his ministry with his 40-day fast and temptation in the wilderness. (Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13, and Luke 4:1-13)
Who was Charles Spurgeon?
Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892) was a 19th century British Baptist minister. He preached his first sermon at 16 and became the minister of his first church at 18. He was known for his popular sermons given in plain talk and with dramatic flair. He made an impact on the church as well as society at large.
Spurgeon did not go unnoticed in the secular press. On the one hand, his sermons were published in the Monday edition of the London Times, and even the New York Times. On the other hand, he was severely criticized by more traditional Protestants. His dramatic flair—he would pace the platform, acting out biblical stories, and fill his sermons with sentimental tales of dying children, grieving parents, and repentant harlots—offended many, and he was called “the Exeter Hall demagogue” and “the pulpit buffoon.”
Spurgeon replied, “I am perhaps vulgar, but it is not intentional, save that I must and will make people listen. My firm conviction is that we have had enough polite preachers.”
About John Ploughman’s Talks
John Ploughman’s Talks: Everyday Advice Based on Biblical Truth is a collection of essays that uses common sayings and homilies tying them to Biblical truths. Talks, published in 1869 was very popular and was followed up in 1881 with John Ploughman’s Pictures.
From the Preface of John Ploughman’s Talks
In John Ploughman’s Talks, I have tried to talk for ploughmen and common people, Hence refined taste and dainty words have been discarded for strong old proverbial expressions and homely phrases. I have aimed my blows at the vices of the many, and tried to inculcate those moral virtues without which men are degraded and miserable. Much that needs to be said to the toiling masses would not suit well the pulpit and the Sabbath; these lowly pages may teach thrift and industry all the days of the week, in the cottage and the worshop; and if some learn these lessons I shall not repent the adoption of the rustic style.
Ploughman is a name I may justly claim. Every minister has put his hand to the plough, it is his business to break up the fallow ground and cast in good seed. That I have written in a semi-humorous vein shall need no apology if thereby sound moral teaching wins a hearing from the million. There is no particular virtue in being seriously unreadable.
 William Saunders, “History of Lent,” Catholic Education Resource Center, accessed January 26, 2021, https://www.catholiceducation.org/en/culture/catholic-contributions/history-of-lent.html.
 “Charles Spurgeon,” Christianity Today, accessed January 26, 2021, https://www.christianitytoday.com/history/people/pastorsandpreachers/charles-spurgeon.html.
 “C.H. Spurgeon | English Minister,” Encyclopedia Britannica, accessed January 26, 2021, https://www.britannica.com/biography/C-H-Spurgeon.
Reading for Lent
You are invited to join us for this readthrough. We will be discussing this in a Caravan for Discord group. There is a suggested reading schedule, but you are welcome to read as many or as few of the essays as you would like. We will wrap up the readthrough with a livestream on Saturday, April 3rd.
Lent Read-Along Resources
- Print version of John Ploughman’s Talks: I bought this version which also includes John Ploughman’s Pictures, but the supplier does take a few days to ship.
- John Ploughman’s Talks online
- Caravan Club for Discord Read-along group.
Lent Reading Timeline
- Beginning of Lent: Wednesday, February 17, 2021
- Calendar of Readings
- Readthrough livestream discussion: April 3, 2021