Looking to Jesus: The Life and Ministry of Charles Haddon Spurgeon
Brian Hedges | October 28, 2018
Well, thank you for coming tonight. I’m thrilled that you’re here, and many of you are guests who’ve visited us from other churches, and we especially just want to welcome you; we’re glad that you’re here with us tonight.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon was born in 1834, lived in the 19th century, and he was a contemporary with Hudson Taylor, George Mueller, D.L. Moody. There were some great figures in the 19th century, but Spurgeon has been called the most unique personality of the 19th century, and as someone used the phrase just a few minutes ago, he was, indeed, the “prince of preachers.” In the mountain range of gospel preachers, Spurgeon is Mount Everest.
Spurgeon’s sermons in The New Park Street Pulpit, in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, are the largest body of writings by any Christian author, I believe, and certainly in the English language. They fill 63 volumes; they are extensive enough to fill up the 27 volumes of the ninth edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica. It was an amazing output, those sermons.
In addition to that (get this), Spurgeon also wrote over a 130 books, founded over 60 parachurch ministries and institutions. In his 57 years of life, he was more productive than any ten ordinary people. B.H. Carroll, who was a great Baptist theologian, said this about Spurgeon’s combination of gifts; he says, “With whom among men can you compare him? He combined the preaching power of Jonathan Edwards and Whitefield with the organizing power of Wesley and the energy, fire, and courage of Luther.” He was a remarkable man; he was a force of nature.
I want to tell you, studying his life - and I’ve been a student of Spurgeon to some degree for probably 20 years, but I’ve dived deep in the last several months, and especially this week; studying his life has an absolute thrill. What I want to do is just kind of walk you through the basic events of his life in the first half or so of our talk, and then I want to focus in on four aspects of Spurgeon’s ministry that I think are helpful for us today, can inspire us to imitate him as he sought to follow Christ.
The Life of Spurgeon
So, let’s talk about Spurgeon’s life. He was born in Kelvedon, Essex, in England, June 19th, 1834. His parents were most likely poor, because he lived the first six years of his life with his grandparents, in Stambourne. He had a fine relationship with his parents, but he was raised by his grandparents those first six years, probably because they couldn’t afford to raise him. Both his father and his grandfather were Congregational ministers, and it was in his grandfather’s household that he first discovered Puritan literature. He loved The Pilgrim’s Progress in particular. He found a copy of that, with woodcut pictures, engraved pictures, in those early years. He reportedly read it over 100 times throughout his life, and his sermons are just sprinkled with allusions to Bunyan’s pilgrim. He was a student, for the rest of his life (even prior to his conversion), he really was a student of these Puritans.
But he wasn’t actually converted until he was 15 years old. He knew he needed salvation, and that was probably part due to both the faithfulness of his father and grandfather, but especially of his mother. His mother used to read to Charles and to the other siblings books such as Joseph Alleine’s Alarm to the Unconverted and Richard Baxter’s Call to the Unconverted. She would read these books; these were Puritan evangelistic tracts, basically, and she would read these books to them, praying faithfully for the conversion of her children.
Spurgeon one time reminisced and said that he remembered on one occasion her praying thus: “Now, Lord, if my children go on in their sins, it will not be from ignorance that they perish, and my soul must bear a swift witness against them on the day of judgment if they lay not hold of Christ.” “That thought, of a mother’s bearing swift witness against me, pierced my conscience and stirred my heart.”
Now, one of the downsides of Puritan theologians is they developed, over the years, what was called the doctrine of preparationism, where they emphasized so much the things that needed to happen in the heart of a sinner before they came to faith in Christ that sometimes it actually posed obstacles to people coming to faith in Christ, because they were so analytical, they were so introspective, they were always looking inward trying to figure out if they were convicted enough, if they had repented enough, if they sorrowed enough.
Spurgeon fell into that trap. So he went through a really dark period in his early teen years. He wrote about this in a chapter in his Autobiography, called “Through Much Tribulation,” where he just agonized. He thought he had committed the unforgivable sin, he was just agonizing over the ten commandments, he called the Ten Commandments these ten black horses, which were a team that were plowing up his heart. It was preparing him, but it took him longer to come to Christ because he was not hearing a really clear, simple presentation of the gospel.
That happened on a stormy day in January of 1850. The day was either January 6th or 13th, and the scholars are somewhat divided on exactly which day it was. He was headed to church and encountered a snowstorm, so he couldn’t get to the church he was planning to go to, so he turned into a Primitive Methodist chapel on Artillery Street. The pastor didn’t arrive, so a lanky layman took the service and preached a brief sermon from Isaiah 45:22, “Look unto me and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth.”
Spurgeon commented on this; he wrote extensively about this. In fact, he referenced this in his sermons over 280 times in the course of his ministry. It was a formative event. He talked about how this guy, who was relatively uneducated, he wasn’t a trained theologian or a trained preacher, relatively uneducated, got up, and he just preached on this text, “Look unto me, all ye ends of the earth, and be saved.” Spurgeon said he didn’t really have anything else to say, so he just kept saying that over and over and over again.
But he waxed pretty eloquent, and he would say things like this: “You don’t have to be really educated to look, you don’t have to go to college to look; you just have to look, and anybody can look. Even a child can look.” Then he started expressing himself this way, and this is Spurgeon’s memory of it. He said, “The good man followed his text in this way: ‘Look unto me! I am sweating great drops of blood. Look unto me: I am hanging on the cross. Look unto me: I am dead and buried. Look unto me: I rise again. Look unto me: I ascend to heaven. Look unto me: I am sitting at my Father’s right hand. Oh, poor sinner, look unto me; look unto me!’”
Now, there were only a handful of people in the chapel, and after the guy did this he actually singled out Spurgeon, and he looked at him and he said, “Young man, you look miserable, and you’re going to be miserable until you look to Christ. Now look to Christ!”
And all of a sudden the way of salvation was clear to Spurgeon, that it was just a look; it was just simply faith in Christ, looking to him. He didn’t have to do 50 things; he just needed to do this one thing: look to Christ, turn to Christ. And he did, and he was radically saved, never to turn back.
Spurgeon repeated this experience many, many times in his preaching, and as you read his sermons you’ll see that even when he’s not directly alluding to the conversion experience he’s constantly pointing people to look to Christ, to trust in Christ. He became, of course, one of the greatest evangelists of his century.
Following his conversion, Spurgeon joined a Congregational church. He was baptized in 1850, baptized by immersion. It’s interesting; Spurgeon was raised Congregationalist, he was converted in a Methodist chapel, and then later became the foremost Baptist preacher in England. He was not a Baptist by accident, either; it was by choice and by conviction. He was baptized in the river Lark by a Baptist minister, W.W. Cantlow, May 30, 1850.
Near the time of his baptism by immersion his mother said, “Son, I’ve been praying for your conversion, but I wasn’t praying for you to become a Baptist.” He says, “Well, mom, ‘the Lord has done far abundantly above all that you could ask or think.’” That was characteristic humor of Spurgeon; he was really witty and funny.
The young Spurgeon’s heart for ministry was soon apparent. In Newmarket he spent his time visiting poor and sick people, witnessing to his classmates. He taught a Sunday school class of boys, he passed out tracts weekly to a circuit of about 35 homes. He was industrious, even from the beginning; just constantly giving himself to ministry to people.
One time he was teaching the boys in the Sunday school class, and one of them said to him, “This is really dull, teacher; can you pitch us a yarn?” He did. He started telling them stories, and he became a great illustrator. He wrote a whole book called The Art of Illustration, and then multiple books on sermon illustrations. He learned in that training school, working with children, he learned how to communicate and how to communicate in a very vivid way.
His first sermon was preached in August of that year, 1850, and he was actually tricked into it. It was kind of interesting. He was, I think, about 16 years old at this point, and a man named James Vinter was a lay preacher’s association, served with this, and he invited Spurgeon to come with him to a church. He said a young man was there who didn’t have a lot of experience, could use some company. What Spurgeon didn’t know was that he was the young man. So they’re walking to this service, and Spurgeon essentially says to him, “I’m praying for you, that the Lord will bless you as you preach.” The guy said, “No, I’m not the one preaching, you’re the one preaching!”
Well, he kind of started panicking, wondered what he was going to say, and the guy just said, “Well, hey, you can share one of your Sunday school lessons; certainly you can do that.” Spurgeon thought about it and he prayed. He thought, “Well, surely I can tell them about Jesus, so I’ll go and tell them about Jesus.” So he went and he preached his first sermon on 1 Peter 2:7, “Unto you that believe he is precious.”
When he was finished and he announced the hymn, an old lady in the congregation said, “Bless your dear heart, how old are you?” Spurgeon didn’t want to tell her, so he said, “You must wait until the service is over before making such enquiries. Let us now sing.”
When the service was over, she came up to him again and she said, “How old are you?” He said, “I’m under 60.” She said, “Yes, and under 16, too, I think.” He said, “Never mind my age; think of the Lord Jesus Christ and his precious blood.”
That began his preaching ministry. It wasn’t long before he was called to his first pastorate, in Waterbeach. This was in October of 1851; he was 17 years old when he was assigned to supply this Baptist chapel, and in January of 1852 he was actually called to be the pastor there. He served at that church for two years, until May of 1854. During that time the church grew from 40 people to 400. He was an amazing preacher, even then.
In 1853, Spurgeon was invited to preach at the New Park Street Baptist Church in London. This was a prestigious old church. It was a strict Baptist, particular Baptist church, not a general Baptist church, which meant they were Calvinists through and through, 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith. His predecessors included men such as Benjamin Keach, John Gill, and John Rippon; all of these are stalwarts within British Baptist history. They invited Spurgeon to come preach; he thought it was a mistake and said, “You must have mistaken me for someone else.” They said, “No, you’re the person we want,” so he came.
This was a large church in terms of its building; it could seat 1200 people, they had dwindled to about 300 people in a kind of bad part of London. He went, he preached. This is how his biographer Lewis Drummond describes that first day.
“When Charles walked up the pulpit steps of New Park Street Church that December Sunday morning in 1853 with a view to becoming the church’s ninth pastor, the congregation did not quite know what to think. There stood a mere boy, with a round baby face that made him look even younger than his 19 years. In build, he had to stand as tall as possible to measure five foot six inches. Somewhat thickset, like the Dutch, he had a large head, 23 inches round. His teeth protruded and were slightly crossed. His eyes did not match either. No one would ever call him handsome.
“As he got warmed up to his message, he would pull out a bright blue polka-dot handkerchief from his coat and flourish it around as he made a point, looking a bit comical. But how did he preach! With enthusiastic vigor and true spiritual power, he swayed the people.” It seems that everybody in the congregation was impressed, except for a young woman named Susannah, who thought he was rather ridiculous.
But they called him to come. It was a probationary call; he was to come for just a few months, and then they would extend a more definite call. They sped that up once he actually came, and they called him to be pastor, and he did in April of that next year. Shortly thereafter the deacons presented Spurgeon with a dozen white handkerchiefs; evidently they didn’t like the polka-dots.
So he started preaching. There was a reporter (this was about ten years later) who wrote an article that was an analysis of Spurgeon’s power. I wish that we had a recording of Spurgeon. We don’t. We have a recording of Thomas Spurgeon, who was Spurgeon’s son and sounded somewhat like him. I thought about playing it, but it’s so scratchy, the quality is not good. But you can find this on YouTube; just type in “Thomas Spurgeon preaching” and you can at least get a sense of what his voice would have sounded like. But here’s a description from this article, “An Analysis of Spurgeon’s Power.”
The writer said, “His mastery of plain, direct, vigorous English is wonderful. He preached with a voice whose volume compassed flexibility and musical clearness, permits no sentence to fail of reaching the most distant hearer.” And indeed, without amplification he would sometimes preach to crowds of 5,000, 10,000, even 15,000 on one occasion, and no one ever struggled to hear him.
It was about the same time that controversy and criticism of Spurgeon began to rise. He was ridiculed by newspapers, both secular and Christian alike. There were all kinds of caricatures, such as the one you see on the screen. These are the kinds of things people were saying about this young preacher. The Daily News accused him of “pulpit buffoonery and an utter ignorance of theology.” The Essex Standard said, “His style is that of the vulgar, colloquial, varied by rant. All the most solemn mysteries of our holy religion are by him rudely, roughly, and impiously handled. Common sense is outraged and decency disgusted. His rantings are interspersed with course anecdotes.”
Now, essentially what was going on is they didn’t like the populace style. He preached to the people. He didn’t preach to the elite, he didn’t preach to the educated; he preached to the people. He was a common person, and he preached to common people. The people loved him, while others didn’t. So the Saturday Review called him “a course, stupid, irrational bigot.” His prayers were criticized as “irreverent, presumptuous, and blasphemous.” It’s an amazing thing that people would say that; I’ve read Spurgeon’s prayers; they are some of the most reverent prayers you would ever read.
So they were lying about him, they were criticizing him, they were unfair to him, and it was hard for him, especially in those early years. He said, “Down on my knees have I often fallen, with the hot sweat rising from my brow under some fresh slander poured upon me. In an agony of grief, my heart has well-nigh been broken.”
But his popularity continued to grow, and it was during those early years that the publishing of his sermons began. He was first contributing some articles to magazines. Then several of his sermons were published in what was called The Penny Pulpit. These were sermons, about eight pages long or so, that were published on cheap paper, and they were sold for a penny. The masses read these sermons.
His good friend Joseph Passmore proposed that they start printing a weekly sermon, and Spurgeon enthusiastically agreed. This was the equivalent to a radio ministry in that time; it was a way to make his ministry extend further. So they started printing these sermons January 7th, 1855. From that time - get this, this is an amazing thing: from that time, from January 7th, 1855, until 1917, which was 19 years after his death, there was a sermon by Spurgeon published every week. Sixty-three years’ worth of sermons, every one of them unique, every one of them different. There were no repetitions. That doesn’t even cover all of them; now there’s a publisher that’s publishing the lost C.H. Spurgeon, a projected 12-volume project.
It was just amazing output, and these sermons spread all over England and Ireland and Scotland, of course, but they went to the Continent, they were translated to other languages, they went to the United States, and Spurgeon was quickly becoming the most famous preacher in the world.
When he moved to London, he met Susannah Thompson, whose parents attended the church. She was 21, she was two years older than him, and she didn’t like him at first. There was a couple in the church, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Olney, who pointed Spurgeon to Susannah, they pointed her out, wanted him to get to know her. His main interest in her was her spiritual growth. She was not very committed to Christ; she was a nominal Christian, but had not really had a deep conversion experience. She was not a member of the church. But under his ministry she became convicted, and she was converted.
She said that she “gradually became alarmed at her backsliding state, and then, by a great effort, sought spiritual help and guidance.” She sought it from Spurgeon, and he sent her a copy of The Pilgrim’s Progress; that was his first gift to her. The inscription said, “Miss Thompson, with desires for the progress in the blessed pilgrimage, from C.H. Spurgeon.”
She soon gave him her first gift, which was a complete set of John Calvin’s commentaries, and in June of 1854 they went on their first chaperoned date. Two months later, Spurgeon asked her to marry him. She was baptized February 1855, they were married the next January. They had twin boys, twin sons, Thomas and Charles, both of whom became pastors, both of whom were faithful throughout their lives. You can find online, or at least people have said this (I’ve heard it before) a slander that Spurgeon was so busy in ministry that he lost his children; it’s not true. Spurgeon had faithful, faithful sons. In fact, his son Thomas succeeded him as pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle pulpit after Spurgeon died. Both of these boys loved their father, respected their father, and lived fruitful Christian lives.
In 1856, one month after the birth of the twins - mark that in your mind; if you’ve had children, you know how crazy the first six weeks - nay, three months - nay, one year at least are. You’re not getting sleep. It had to have been the same back then. They had twins. So, one month after having twins, the worst disaster of Spurgeon’s life happened. It took place at the Surrey Gardens Music Hall in London.
The crowds were growing to the point that they could not sustain the crowds in the New Park Street. So, 1200-seat capacity, and thousands were showing up. They were turning people away, people standing at windows - I mean, it was crazy. People wanted to hear Spurgeon preach. So they had expanded the building, they kept growing the building. They finally determined they had to build a new building, and while they were doing that they rented out the Surrey Gardens Music Hall, where ten to twelve thousand people could come to hear him.
On the very first night - this was the very first time he was to preach at Surrey Gardens Music Hall, there are ten to twelve thousand people there, and early in the service someone cries out, “Fire! Fire! Fire! The galleries are falling!” It was probably a prank, a very cruel prank, but what happened was a terrible panic. People panicked, they started running out of the church, there was a stampede. Seven people were trampled to death, and dozens of people were injured. Spurgeon had to be carried out of the place. He was absolutely devastated. It probably resulted in a nervous breakdown. He couldn’t preach for weeks after that. I wonder - the biographers don’t say this, but when I read this I wonder if he had post-traumatic stress disorder, what we would call PTSD today. Spurgeon said, “Perhaps never a soul went so near the burning furnace of insanity and yet came away unharmed.”
But some of his friends thought he didn’t come away unharmed. He would, for the rest of his life, struggle with depression, and one of his friends said, “I cannot but think, from what I saw, that his comparatively early death might be in some measure due to the furnace of mental suffering he endured on and after that dreadful night.” So it was a tragedy. Of course, the press was blaming him for it, and you can just imagine this young preacher, in his early 20s, what he must have been going through.
Nevertheless, in spite of that, he did recover enough to be able to preach, and in 1857, the next year, there was revival. This was a year of revival that spanned the continents. There was revival in the United States, the great prayer revival took place in that year; there was revival in Scotland, and there was revival in England; and Spurgeon was one of the chief people reaping people in this harvest, and the church was just growing like crazy.
He began a pastor’s college, where he was training ministers, was lecturing to them; and lots of other organizations that he developed over the years, including an orphanage, first of all a boys’ orphanage, and then some years later a girls’ orphanage. At one time there were at least 200 orphans, boys, in this boys’ orphanage. He was overseeing this, he was overseeing evangelistic associations, and so on.
He was an amazing man, by all accounts. I want to give you just a couple of other anecdotes, partly just so you get a flavor of what Spurgeon was like. He was a humorous man, and you already picked that up, but here are some of the other rather funny things that he said. He was very witty, never ashamed to make a pun. These are the types of things he would say.
When he spoke about people who had an over-interest in prophecy, such as last times and end times, that kind of thing, he said they had a case, they were crazed with “Daniel on the brain.”
One time when a minister named George Pentecost, who was an American preacher, visited Spurgeon’s church, Spurgeon preached a sermon on holiness. The man was really moved, and Spurgeon invited him to make some remarks about application. So the man did. He got up and he proceeded to say how he was convicted of smoking cigars and was resolved to give it up. Well, Spurgeon was an avid cigar smoker, disagreed with the application, so he stood up and said so. He respected the brother’s conscience, but he said that he enjoyed a good cigar and planned to go home that night and smoke a cigar to the glory of God! Some people, of course, criticized him for that, and that was, of course, before the kind of medical knowledge we have now about the dangers of smoking, but throughout his life Spurgeon could enjoy a good cigar.
Every week Spurgeon rode to his church in a carriage pulled by two horses, Brownie and Brandy. He was criticized by a really strict Sabbatarian for taking his horses to church on Sunday. Spurgeon’s reply was, “My horses are Jewish; they observe the Sabbath on Saturday.”
One time a young man wished to join Spurgeon’s church, but he complained that he had too much flesh. So Spurgeon sent a tailor to measure him, and he had measurements taken for himself as well. He concluded, “I have a lot more flesh than you do; you can join the church!” Spurgeon was a big guy, especially later in life, over 300 pounds.
In his Commenting and Commentaries, which was an amazing book where Spurgeon just surveyed all the commentary, scholarly literature of that day, Spurgeon made all kinds of comments about commentaries. He made a comment on the Puritan John Trapp. I read this years ago, and I thought it was funny at the time. You may not think this is as funny as I thought it was, but I thought it was funny at the time, so I thought I would include it. He said of the Puritan John Trapp, “Some of his remarks are far-fetched and, like the far-fetched rarities of Solomon’s Tarshish, there is much gold and silver, but there are also some apes and peacocks.” Based on the commentaries that I have read, I think that would be true of many commentaries.
One time, when accused of making a joke while preaching, Spurgeon said, “If you just knew how many others I kept back, you wouldn’t have found fault with that one.”
There were also some real idiosyncrasies in Spurgeon. He had some unusual beliefs; for example, he believed in animal death before the Fall, before the Fall of man. I don’t know what the reasons for that were; maybe it was because of the things that were being said scientifically at the time, but at least he entertained that view.
He had a very strong opposition to musical instruments, so with 5,000 people worshipping at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, they never had an organ, they never had a piano; they never had any instruments of any kind. He was adamantly opposed to it. It was a very simple worship. Spurgeon actually produced a hymnal, put together, culled together the best hymns of the past several centuries. I have the hymnal. It has 1,060 hymns in it, and only 35 meters. So, they were singing 1,060 hymns to 35 tunes. It’s really great, in the later volumes of Spurgeon’s sermons, it actually includes the hymns that they sang with a particular sermon. So, when I’m reading the sermons, now, I will often read the hymns that were sung at the same time. Spurgeon was very skilled in choosing hymns that pressed home the truths that they were singing about.
Spurgeon believed that the unregenerate person did not have a spirit, only a soul and body, and that the spirit was created at regeneration, a rather novel view. I don’t know of anyone else that believes that.
This, perhaps, was not an idiosyncrasy at the time, but he was vehemently opposed to the theater, the stage, in any kind. I’m sure he would be shocked (and in some cases would have good reason to be shocked) with entertainments of today, but even in that day he was adamantly opposed to the theater.
Four Features of Spurgeon's Ministry
These are just some of the features of his life, and I’ll tell you a little bit about the end of his life as we draw to a close, but I want now to talk a little bit more about his ministry and some features of his ministry. To structure this, I want to just share what an evangelical scholar named David Bebbington outlined as four crucial doctrines of evangelicalism, especially in 19th-century Britain. This is now known among theologians as “Bebbington’s quadrilateral.” Don’t be afraid of these terms; I’ll explain them.
He said there were four things that marked the evangelicals of that day. I think these are four things that should mark evangelicals today, and indeed, the things that Spurgeon exemplifies for us, things that we can learn from him.
The first of those is crucicentrism, which is just a fancy word for being cross-centered. Cross-centered: focused on the crucifixion of Christ, a stress on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, making possible the redemption of humanity.
The second thing was conversionism. This was the belief that lives need to be transformed through a new birth experience, a born-again experience, and a lifelong process of following Jesus.
Third was activism. This was the demonstration of faith, demonstration of the gospel, in missionary and social reform efforts. Among evangelicals of his day Spurgeon led the charge (perhaps second only to George Mueller of Bristol) in his care for the disenfranchised, the powerless, the poor, the needy people of London.
Fourth of all would be biblicism, a high regard for an obedience to the Bible as the ultimate authority. Put differently, the distinctive characteristics of historical evangelicalism are its Christ-centeredness, its insistence on new birth, its expression of faith through works, and its reverence for Scripture as the inspired, inerrant, authoritative word of God. In all four of these categories, Spurgeon is an amazing model. So I just want to take a few minutes to comment on each one of these and Spurgeon’s distinct emphases.
(1) So, first of all, Spurgeon’s Christ-centeredness. You will find it quickly in almost any sermon you read. A professor at Southern Seminary named Don Whitney teaches church history or spiritual disciplines using church history, and he has challenged his students to just pick up at random a volume of Spurgeon’s sermons… They actually do this in class; they bring in a bunch of Spurgeon’s sermons. Pick a volume, read the last page of the volume, and see if he does not point people to Christ. He invariably does. He is so Christ-centered in his preaching.
Spurgeon’s motto was, “We preach Christ and him crucified.” He actually had this put on a seal, and this is the seal that marked his books at the time. I actually have a first edition of one of Spurgeon’s volumes of sermons, and it has this seal on it. The reprints do as well. It’s a picture, of course, of Moses lifting up the serpent in the wilderness, and then with the words, “We preach Christ and him crucified.” This was the focus of Spurgeon’s preaching.
I want to give you just a couple of quotes that demonstrate the shape that this took, especially in relation to his other theological distinctives.
When they finally built the Metropolitan Tabernacle, a few years into his ministry, in the very first sermon Spurgeon set the course for his entire ministry, and I want you to hear what he said. He said, “I would propose that the subject of the ministry of this house, as long as this platform shall stand and as long as this house shall be frequented by worshippers, shall be the person of Jesus Christ. I am never ashamed to avow myself a Calvinist, although I claim to be rather a Calvinist according to Calvin than after the modern, debased fashion. I do not hesitate to take the name of Baptist. You have there,” pointing to the baptistry, “substantial evidence that I am not ashamed of that ordinance of our Lord Jesus Christ. But if I am asked to say what is my creed, I think I must reply, ‘It is Jesus Christ.’”
He went on to say, “My venerable predecessor, Dr. Gill, has left a body of divinity.” This was a major systematic theology written by the Baptist who had preceded Spurgeon. Spurgeon says, “Admirable and excellent in its way, but the body of divinity to which I would pin and bind myself forever, God helping me, is not his system of divinity, or any other human treatise, but Christ Jesus, who is the sum and substance of the gospel, who is in himself all theology, the incarnation of every precious truth, the all-glorious personal embodiment of the way, the truth, and the life.”
That was Spurgeon’s heart. Now, when you read his sermons, you see that he preached doctrine. He preached doctrine like almost nobody today preaches doctrine. I’ve been reading him a lot the last several months, and it’s just impressed me again how much doctrine he preached, but always with this Christ-centered focus. So, wherever he was in a passage of Scripture, he would find his way to Jesus.
In fact, in one of his sermons he talked about why he did this, and he told a story, an anecdote, about a young man who was preaching, and he asked an older gentleman to comment on the sermon. The older man said, “I didn’t like your sermon very much.”
The young man says, “Why didn’t you like it?”
He said, “Well, you didn’t say anything about Jesus.”
And the young man said, “Well, the text didn’t really say anything about Jesus. I can’t always be preaching about Jesus.”
The older man said to him, “Don’t you know, young man, that from every town and every village and every little hamlet in England, wherever it may be, there is a road to London?”
“Yes,” said the young man.
“Ah,” said the old divine, “and so from every text of Scripture there is a road to the metropolis of the Scriptures, that is, Christ. My dear brother, your business when you get to a text is to say, ‘Now, what is the road to Christ?’ and then preach a sermon, running along the road towards the great metropolis, Christ. And,” said he, “I have never yet found a text that has not got a road to Christ in it, and if I ever do find one that has not a road to Christ in it, I’ll make one. I will go over hedge and ditch, but I would get it my master, for the sermon cannot do any good unless there is a savor of Christ in it.”
That is the way Spurgeon preached. He’s been a great model for me in my preaching ministry as well.
Spurgeon would talk about the relationship of other doctrines to Christ, but he complained that many people had rolled a huge stone of theology over the tomb of a dead Christ. They called it sound doctrine, but it wasn’t, and what needed to come through in the sermon was Christ himself, and that doctrine essentially was a “servant of Christ”; the doctrine, he said, where the “instruments that tended to the altar, but the sacrifice on the altar was Jesus Christ and him crucified.” So he preached Christ incessantly.
He was a Christ-centered preacher, and I think one of the great legacies of Spurgeon to us today is that emphasis, something that we need today in our churches, to preach Christ and him crucified.
(2) Spurgeon was also a great evangelist. He preached for conversions. In one of his lectures to his students he actually did a whole message on the importance of preaching for a verdict, preaching for conversions. One time he was talking to one of his students who complained that he was not seeing conversions. Spurgeon asked him, “What, do you expect to see someone saved every time you preach?”
The guy said, “No,” and he said, “Well, that’s why you don’t have conversions. You’re not expecting it.”
Spurgeon did expect it, he prayed for it, and he carried a burden for the souls of people every time he came to the pulpit. He was often sick before he preached, he carried this burden so strongly. It’s amazing that here was a Calvinist - and I mean, he was Calvinist all the way, all five points, all the way through the full creed, and yet in his Calvinism he had an earnestness in his preaching for the salvation of people such that he wanted to be free, he wanted to be clear of the blood of all people. He believed in his accountability before God, and he emphasizes that over and over and over again. So his evangelistic preaching is not only doctrinal, it was personal and it was urgent, as he warns people, urges people to come to Christ.
Another thing I’ve been struck with in his preaching is how much he preached about hell. In fact, I would say that of all the sermons that I’ve read or that I’ve heard, no one preached about hell more than Spurgeon, except perhaps for Jonathan Edwards. But his sermons were not scare tactics. He sought to woo and to draw and to invite men and women to the Savior.
One of his most famous sermons was called “Compel Them to Come In,” and it comes from the parable of the great banquet in Luke 14, where the lord of the banquet says to the servant, “Go out into the highways and the hedges and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.”
Spurgeon preached this sermon, and he essentially did that in the sermon. He compelled people in every way he could think of. He reasoned with them, he invited them, then he commanded them. He says, “I command you in the name of God to repent and believe.” Then he exhorted them to flee to Christ, then he threatened them with the consequences if they didn’t. Then he surveyed every reason he could think of of why they maybe would not come to Christ, and then he ends by saying, “I can’t do anything more for you except pray for you.” All the way to the end, he’s just urging people to come to Christ.
Well, a year later, when that sermon was finally published in his volume of yearly sermons, he said that scarcely a week went by where he did not hear of someone being converted by that sermon.
Some of the ultra-Calvinists, the hyper-Calvinists, criticized him for it, for preaching that way. They thought he sounded too much like an Armenian. When it came to points like that, Spurgeon was not bound to the system, he was bound to the text of Scripture, and he would push through and he would preach Jesus Christ.
Spurgeon’s methods of evangelism, I think, are also notable. I had forgotten this, but I just read this earlier this year in a biography, that Spurgeon had a response card that he would ask people to fill out in a service. This was somewhat novel, I think, at that time period. But the response card had John 3:16 written in it, “For God so loved the world that he sent his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life,” but where it says “whoever” there was a blank, and he would urge people to write their names in that card and turn it in.
Now, he did not practice “easy believism.” They were very thorough in how they brought people into the church. They examined enquirers. So before people would be allowed to make a public confession of faith, before they would be baptized, they would meet with elders or officers in the church, and those officers would examine people on three things: their sense of sin and dependence on Christ (they wanted to know that people really did see themselves as sinners, really did trust in Christ); secondly, their intention to live for Christ (they wanted to know that people really were repenting and turning from their sins); and then thirdly, on their embrace of the doctrines of grace, so the theological distinctives of the church. So they were covering repentance, faith, discipleship, and doctrine. They were doing this all before baptism, and year by year hundreds upon hundreds of people were being converted, coming into the church, and then getting busy doing all kinds of work in ministry in the city.
There was great fruit to his evangelistic ministry. Here are just some of the stories, really remarkable stories about how people came to Christ.
One Sunday Spurgeon stated in a sermon, “There may be a young man sitting here who is in a draper’s shop, who is wearing on his hands at the present moment a pair of gloves which he has pilfered from his employers.” Now, understand, there was a crowd of thousands, and the crowd was varying, to some degree, every week. But Spurgeon said that, and there was someone in the crowd who had stolen gloves from his master. It was something like a prophetic moment, where Spurgeon said something that the Spirit had directed him to say, and this young man was converted.
Spurgeon was once counseling a woman whose husband had left her and was fleeing the country. Spurgeon challenged her to believe that her husband would be converted, and at that very time (it was discovered later), on board a ship, the man stumbled across one of Spurgeon’s sermons, read it, was immediately converted, came home, and a few months later he and his wife told Spurgeon what had happened.
Another story tells of a Scottish woman who was under terrible conviction of sin. She tried to actually burn her Bible and a copy of one of Spurgeon’s sermons, but the sermon fell out of the fire twice, and the second time only half burnt. Her curiosity was aroused, she read the sermon, and was saved.
There are stories like this over and over again. One time Spurgeon was to preach at the Crystal Palace, one of the largest halls in London, and that afternoon, before preaching (or maybe it was the day before before preaching), he went into the large auditorium to test the acoustics, and he said, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Unbeknownst to him, there was someone up in one of the upper galleries who was doing janitorial work. That person heard Spurgeon say that and was saved, from hearing Spurgeon point him to the Lamb of God.
Spurgeon also equipped others in evangelism, and I do commend to you the book The Soul Winner, by Spurgeon. It is an amazing book. One of the things I think is amazing about it is how zealous he was, how intense and how earnest he was to win people to Christ. He said that winning souls was something like winning a city in warfare. He said you had to know and seek the captain’s directions to know when to hang out a white flag to invite people to surrender to Christ, when to hang out a black flag threatening them with judgment, and when to hang out a red flag of the terrors of God. He just filled the analogy with everything it would take to actually bring a person to Christ, using all of this warfare imagery.
Then he outlined all the ways that souls could be won, and encouraged people to find their way. He said, “Believe in instantaneous conversions, and keep close to soul-saving truths, and bring others to hear the word, and talk to visitors after the sermon, and buttonhole your acquaintances and relatives, and write letters for your Lord and Master. Preach with your feet and with your life and conduct, and be a master of the art of prayer.”
Indeed, prayer lay at the foundation of everything. The prayer life of Spurgeon is something to be imitated, but especially the praying life of the church. Every Monday evening there was a prayer meeting, and hundreds would come to that prayer meeting. Hundreds of people.
But not only did they do that (I didn’t know this until this week, I read it in a biography), in February of every year they’d have a prayer month, and during the prayer month they would set aside multiple times - sometimes three prayer meetings in a day - multiple times of prayer, where they were seeking God to do a mighty work. It’s no wonder that there was such fruit in his ministry, when you consider the prayerfulness.
(3) But with all that, Spurgeon did not do what a lot of people do today, which is place a division between evangelism and activism, or ministry on the social level. There has been a division, in our country especially, between faith and works, evangelism and social action, ever since the fundamentalist/modernist divide in the early 20th century.
What happened is the modernists, who were theological liberals - they were denying the inerrancy of Scripture, the virgin birth, and the resurrection of Christ and substitutionary atonement - they were denying these truths, but they were preaching what they called the “social gospel.” The social gospel was essentially to “love your neighbor as yourself. Let’s feed the poor, let’s do good.”
So the liberal church went one way, caring about social action, and the evangelical fundamentalist church went the other way, caring about doctrine and evangelism. Spurgeon predates a lot of this, although he began to see this division happening. Spurgeon is a great model of someone who kept these things joined together. So just a couple of comments about Spurgeon’s emphasis and efforts in social ministry.
I’ve already mentioned to you the orphanages. Spurgeon built this orphanage because he was praying that God would do something spectacular, that God would do something mighty, that God would do something unique, and they prayed for provision and for direction of what to do. Someone found Spurgeon and essentially said, “I want to sponsor this. I want to build an orphanage, and I want you to be in charge of it.” He had such a reputation for integrity that people trusted him.
And he did. He built the orphanage. It was amazing campus. There were multiple houses or dorms where these boys lived, each one with a dorm parent. They were little families. They were doing worship together. There were swimming pools on the campus. I mean, they were taking care of these kids, educating them, and they loved him for it.
Spurgeon also maintained a vigorous ministry to the poor, many institutions that helped the poor. In 1878 they spent a thousand British pounds taking care of poor people; Spurgeon’s annual salary, what he kept (he would have made much, much more money than this), was about 200 pounds, so that gives you an idea of the amount of money that was being used to take care of poor people. They were also fully supporting 17 widows in their church.
So these are just some of the kinds of ministries they were doing. They really did care about needy people.
Not only that, Spurgeon was not afraid to delve into more controversial issues, in particular the issue of slavery. In one year they had an escaped slave come and address the congregation. This was a man named John Andrew Jackson, and he spoke at a weeknight service. The congregation was very deeply moved when they heard about this man’s experience, and Spurgeon afterwards called slavery “the foulest blot that ever stained the national escutcheon. It may have to be washed out with blood.” This was right before the Civil War in the United States.
Spurgeon would not allow a slave owner to take communion in their church, and when he discovered that the American publishers of Spurgeon’s sermons were editing out all of the stuff on slavery, Spurgeon wrote a scathing letter, public letter, about this, and he said, “I believe slavery to be the crime of crimes, a soul-destroying sin, and an iniquity that cries for vengeance.”
His statements were so divisive that sales in America plummeted, virtually ending his ministry in the United States. From 1860 to 1865 there were book burnings in the South, where they were burning Spurgeon’s sermons because of this issue.
Spurgeon also made statements against the unethical treatment of Native Americans. He said, “The so-called civilized race has just cause to confess before the Lord its murderous selfishness, which has nearly extirpated one of the families of the earth.”
There were other issues as well, so I’m just giving you these to show that Spurgeon was not ashamed to dive into controversial social issues of his day, even as he prioritized evangelism and the gospel. But he saw these things belonging together, and that someone who is zealous for faith should also be zealous for good works.
(4) At the foundation of all of this was the fourth thing, and that’s Spurgeon’s Bible-centeredness. He was biblical in his ministry. He was devoted to Scripture. He once said of his hero, John Bunyan, that his blood was “bibline.” He said, “Prick him anywhere and he just bleeds Bible,” because anytime he read Bunyan he was quoting text. The same could be said of Spurgeon, and I’ll just highlight a couple of ways that this was evident in his ministry, before we draw to a close.
Of course in his preaching ministry Spurgeon was preaching the Bible. Now, people have sometimes made much of the fact that Spurgeon did not preach expositionally in the way we commonly think of exposition. In other words, Spurgeon did not preach sequentially through books of the Bible. You’ll not find anywhere in Spurgeon’s sermons where he preaches through the book of Romans or through the book of Ephesians or anything like that.
He actually didn’t believe in doing that. His sermons were textual, and rarely would there be a sequential series. A couples of times there were, such as preaching through some of the Beatitudes or preaching through the names of the Messiah in Isaiah 9:6; but most of the time each sermon was unique and was standalone.
However, what Spurgeon did do in virtually every service is he would exposit the full chapter out of which he was preaching. That would come before the sermon. So he would read the whole chapter, do a running commentary on the chapter, and he actually said that sometimes he spent more time preparing that than he did the sermon itself. Many of those commentaries are included in the later volumes of his sermons, and you can see how studious he was. So he did care about texts and their contexts, and he studied vigorously in his preaching ministry.
He was also devoted to Scripture in his writing ministry. His magnum opus was a seven-volume commentary on the Psalms, The Treasury of David. The last book he ever wrote was a commentary on the gospel of Matthew, called The Gospel of the Kingdom.
But Spurgeon especially was devoted to Scripture in taking a stand for the authority of Scripture against compromise, and especially near the end of his life. This brings us to something I have to brief with, but what has been now called the Downgrade Controversy. It was the slide of evangelicals (that’s why it’s called the downgrade), the slide of evangelicals into compromise, that was happening within the Baptist Union there in London.
Spurgeon had been a member of the Baptist Union for years. He had many friends who were members of the Baptist Union. But Spurgeon began to find out that there were members of the union who were pastors of Baptist churches and who could be in the union because they practiced immersion, but yet they did not believe in the authority of Scripture, they did not believe in the substitutionary atonement of Christ, they did not believe in the deity of Christ, they did not believe in eternal punishment and in hell, and they were basically hiding within the Baptist Union. They were holding views, but not holding them publicly.
Spurgeon was incensed. He was angry about this, and he called on the Baptist Union to draw up a confession of faith that would rule this out, so that people could not be in fellowship with them who did not believe the gospel. For the most part, the other members of the Baptist Union thought Spurgeon was overreacting; they would not do it, and Spurgeon eventually resigned.
When he resigned, they censured him. They criticized him for doing this. They thought he was being divisive. Then they finally did draw up a confession of faith, but it was a confession of faith that Spurgeon did not like at all, because it was so vague, it was so broad that anybody could kind of put their own definitions on it and agree to it. It was a compromised document, and one of the deepest wounds, I think, in Spurgeon’s life is, even though he had withdrawn, he was not a member of the Baptist Union at that point, they drew up this confession, and Spurgeon’s brother, James, and co-pastor, seconded the motion to receive and approve that confession. James thought he was doing the right thing, but Spurgeon was convinced he wasn’t.
This battle was the final battle of his life. It just took the life out of him. He was, of course, very sick by this point; Spurgeon was a very sick man. The diseases were catching up with him, but the physical toll and the emotional toll of this battle was killing him.
Just a comment here about Spurgeon’s suffering and then his final days. I haven’t focused on this. One reason is I wanted to focus on other things, one reason is you can listen to John Piper’s biography on Spurgeon, called “Preaching through Adversity,” and get all of the stuff on suffering. I didn’t want to just duplicate what’s already been done.
But Spurgeon suffered incredibly. His assistant, J.W. Harold, said that after the age of 35 Spurgeon missed at least one third of his Sunday morning preaching engagements because he was too sick to preach. There were many times where he would just limp or hobble to the pulpit; sometimes he would have to sit down and preach from a chair. He was afflicted with gout, he was afflicted with Bright’s disease, with rheumatism, and perhaps with other things as well; and on top of that, there was, of course, his ongoing struggles with depression. By the end, this had become very acute, and he was very sick the last year or so of his life, and finally passed away in January of 1892, preceding the death of Susannah by a number of years.
When he died (just to give you a sense of how loved he was), a memorial service was held for him in France, where he had died, Mentone, France; and then a month or so later, or maybe it was just weeks later, when Spurgeon’s remains were brought back to London, there was the coffin, the casket, and something like a visitation. Sixty thousand people came to visit and come through the church and see Spurgeon’s coffin.
On the coffin a Bible lay open at the text which had led to his conversion: “Look unto me and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth.” A couple of days later there were four funeral services, every one of them jam-packed. There were services for different groups of people; a service for the congregation and a service for Christian leaders and a service for others as well; I forget who all they were, but four different services that day.
And Spurgeon’s sermons, of course, continued to be printed for another 19 years, until 1917. The only reason they quit printing then is because it was the middle of World War I, and they were running out of paper, so they couldn’t continue the printing.
Spurgeon was, as we have seen, he was a force of nature, he was an amazing man who was centered on the gospel in every sense of the world and effective in his ministry because of that.
I just want to end with one final quote by Spurgeon. This is one of my favorites of all; this is from his sermon called “Alpha and Omega,” and it is a statement from Spurgeon that I think is a good exhortation for us to end with, and I want you to hear what Spurgeon said.
“Woe to the man who makes anything else the main subject of his ministry! ‘God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto to the world.’ Do not tell me you preach sound doctrine; you preach rotten doctrine if you do not preach Christ. Preach nothing up but Christ, and nothing down but sin. Preach Christ, lift him up high on the pole of the gospel, as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, and you will accomplish your life’s end. But preach orthodoxy or any form of -doxy; if you have left out Christ, there is no manna from heaven, no water from the rock, no refuge from the storm, no healing for the sick, no life for the dead. If you leave out Christ, you have left the sun out of the day and the moon out of the night, you have left the waters out of the sea and the floods out of the river, you have left the harvest out of the year, the soul out of the body; you have left joy out of heaven; yes, you have robbed all of its all. There is no gospel worth thinking of, much less worth proclaiming in Jehovah’s name, if Jesus be forgotten. We must have Jesus, then, as Alpha and Omega in all our ministrations among the sons of men.”
Let’s pray together.
Our gracious Father, we thank you for the life of Charles Haddon Spurgeon; we thank you especially for the Redeemer, the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who saved Spurgeon and to whom Spurgeon continues to point us. He, being dead, yet speaks, and we’re grateful for how Spurgeon continues to point people to Christ today.
Father, I pray tonight that we would take to heart lessons to be learned from Spurgeon’s ministry, his faithfulness to the gospel, his loyalty to sound doctrine and to the authority of your word, and especially his love for Christ, his love for sinners, his faithfulness in evangelism. I pray that you would make us people who are the same.
Lord, may the effect of this message tonight not merely be that our curiosity has been satisfied and we know a little more history; may the effect be that we are freshly inspired to win souls, that we count it our greatest privilege to point others to Christ, that we would be like Spurgeon in continually saying to others, “Look to Christ, all ye ends of the earth, and be ye saved.” I pray for that blessing on our church, I pray that blessing on all the other churches represented here tonight, and for that faithfulness in each one of us as followers of Jesus.
Thank you for the time together tonight, and we pray that you would be glorified in our lives, and we pray it in Jesus’s name and for his sake, Amen.