Recently I picked my copy of Spurgeon's Lectures to My Students and happened to open it to a chapter called Earnestness: Its Marring and Maintenance. The whole essay will repay careful study but I simply call your attention to the first few sentences:
If I were asked - What in a Christian minister is the most essential quality for securing success in winning souls for Christ? I should reply, "earnestness": and if I were asked a second or a third time, I should not vary the answer, for personal observation drives me to the conclusion that, as a rule, real success is proportionate to the preacher's earnestness. Both great men and little men succeed if they are thoroughly alive unto God, and fail if they are not so.
Spurgeon goes on at some length about the importance of earnestness, why it matters, and how to obtain it. What he doesn't do in any precise manner is to define it, and I am glad he didn't try for earnestness must no doubt manifest itself very differently in different preachers. In the above quotation, he calls it being "thoroughly alive to God," and I suppose that is about as good a definition as you can find. After reading Spurgeon's comments and meditating on the matter, I think he is quite right that earnestness is a quality that sets a man apart from his peers. I almost want to say, "You know it when you see it or hear it." It is an awesome thing to be in the presence of an earnest man of God.
Very clearly Spurgeon does not mean-nor do I-that the preacher should be somber or heavy or ponderous. Still less does it imply shouting or waving the arms or any of the other familiar stereotypes. And since we know Spurgeon himself had a good sense of humor that sometimes came out in the pulpit, an earnest sermon need not be one free of lighter moments. And certainly being earnest has nothing to do with preaching with a scowl on your face, as if you woke up on the wrong side of the bed and intend to take it out on the congregation.
As far as I can tell, the quality of earnestness means that you truly mean it when you preach, that the sermon is indeed "truth through personality set on fire by the Holy Spirit." Not every sermon we preach will be a masterpiece. Over the course of a lifetime most of us will only preach a few masterpieces. But even a workaday sermon can be earnest if the preacher really means it.
Like all the other
spiritual graces, earnestness comes down from the Father of lights
above, and yet it is a gift we should ask for each week. Some things
can be faked in the pulpit, but earnestness is not one of them. So what
should we do? Read Spurgeon and see what he says. Pray for earnestness.
And then give yourself completely to the sermon you must preach to your
people. Preach so that they know you have held nothing back, that you
gave all you had, that in the name of God you really did mean it.