The Riches of Spurgeon
While the true greatness of a preacher will only be revealed at Christ's tribunal, I would join my opinion with those of many others who make the earthly judgment that Charles Spurgeon was the most effective and useful of preachers since the days of the Apostles. Yes, as highly as I regard Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Knox, Whitefield, Edwards, and many other pulpit giants of the past, I become more convinced with every reading of a Spurgeon sermon that this English Baptist preacher of the 18th century is the preeminent model for one who would be a herald of the Word of God and the Christ of that Word.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon was born in Kelvedon, Essex in 1834. His father and grandfather were both Independent pastors, with roots in both the Dutch and English Dissenting traditions. Like Timothy, from infancy Charles Spurgeon had known the Holy Scriptures: It would not be easy for some of us to recall the hour when we first heard the name of Jesus, wrote Spurgeon, obviously including himself in this beautiful description of a covenant home. In very infancy that sweet sound was as familiar to our ear as the hush of a lullaby. Our earliest recollections are associated with the house of God, the family altar, the Holy Bible, the sacred song, and the fervent prayer. Spurgeon, who was destined to become Britains most illustrious preacher of the century, was converted on a snowy Sunday morning in early 1850 as a result of the less than illustrious preaching of a layman in a Primitive Methodist Chapel in Colchester, Essex. Under a brief and very personally applied development of the text Look unto me and be ye saved all the ends of the earth, Spurgeons heart was changed by sovereign grace. Look! What a charming word it seemed to me! Oh, I looked until I could almost have looked my eyes away. There and then the cloud was gone, the darkness rolled away, and that moment I saw the sun; and I could have risen that instant and sung with the most enthusiastic of them of the precious blood of Christ and the simple faith which looks alone to Him. That joy in almighty saving grace, and that experimental conviction of full, free justification by faith alone in Christ alone would leave an indelible mark on every part of the ministry that was soon to be his.
Spurgeons eminent speaking abilities wedded to his vast knowledge of the Scriptures were almost immediately put to use. Less than two years after his conversion, when Spurgeon was but 17 years of age, he was called to serve as pastor of Waterbeach Baptist Chapel. In 1854 he was called to serve as pastor of New Park Street Baptist Chapel, Southwark, London. Soon that building was filled to overflowing, necessitating the building of the Metropolitan Tabernacle in 1859. Apart from periodic bouts with illness which kept him from his pulpit ministry, Spurgeon preached at the Metropolitan Tabernacle until June 7, 1891, when he preached his last sermon. He died the following January at Mentone, S. France. During his 38 years of ministry in London, 14,692 members were added to the church (Spurgeon interviewed most of them personally!). In addition to his pulpit labors, he began a Pastors College to train men evidently called to preach the Gospel, helped to found the London Baptist Association, established an orphanage (known as Spurgeons Homes), and gave his assistance for the establishment of various other charitable and religious organizations. The Metropolitan Tabernacle, under Spurgeons remarkable leadership, became a veritable beehive of evangelistic and philanthropic activity in London and its environs.
Spurgeon was unashamedly committed to evangelical Calvinism. He fought battles against hyper-Calvinism (considered in detail in Iain Murrays volume Spurgeon vs. Hyper-Calvinism, published by the Banner of Truth Trust) and Arminianism. He also stood firmly against the depreciation of the authority of Holy Scripture in what came to be called The Downgrade Controversy. (The amazingly contemporary nature of these controversies is developed in Iain Murrays work The Forgotten Spurgeon, also published by The Banner of Truth Trust. Both of these volumes by Murray are highly recommended.)
Yet Spurgeon is known best as The Prince of Preachers. Not only did Spurgeon preach to thousands each week, attracting the largest congregations of any minister in the British Isles, but his printed sermons (known as the penny pulpit), issued each week and then appearing in annual volumes for over 40 years, have had the greatest circulation of any printed sermons in history. These sermons, totaling 3,561, fill 63 volumes, some of which extend to 700 pages! They are rightly said to comprise a Body of Divinity within themselves. F. B. Meyer reflects the assessment of many a minister whose preaching tutelage has come by reading these sermons: I can never tell my indebtedness to them. As I read them week by week in my young manhood, they gave me a grip of the Gospel that I can never lose, and gave me an ideal of its presentation in nervous, transparent, and forcible language which has coloured (sic) my entire ministry.
Self-evidently, the 19th century Spurgeon did not possess the many fine insights of philological, hermeneutical, and biblical-theological studies that have been done in the 20th century. Geerhardus Vos was but 29 years of age at the time of Spurgeons death! Spurgeon is not a model of consecutive expository preaching such as that done by Calvin, and revived in our own day by the late D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. (Indeed, Charles Spurgeon rarely preached sermon series of any sort. He is the exemplar par excellence of topical preaching.) Nor is Spurgeon always the best model of grammatical-historical exegesis that is scrupulous about dealing with a text in its context. (One cringes at what Spurgeon does with a text like Genesis 15:11, And when the fowls came down upon the carcasses, Abram drove them away, under the sermon title: Abram and the Ravenous Birds!). And, as a Baptist, Spurgeons views of Gods covenant and His covenantal dealings with families as the basic unit of the church differ from our own (although there are many blessed inconsistencies that are obvious in volumes such as Come Ye Children: A Book for Parents and Teachers on the Christian Training of Children, published by Pilgrim Publications). Nevertheless, as models of thoroughly doctrinal, Bible-enriched, pastoral preaching that exalts Jesus Christ and freely offers Him to listener and reader alike, Spurgeon is unmatched. With good reason many a minister has urged fellow ministers and men preparing for the ministry to read at least one sermon by Spurgeon a week.
Over the course of the next few articles we will delve into some of the aspects of Spurgeons preaching that have made it so powerful and useful, both as it was originally delivered and as Spurgeon though dead still speaks by his printed sermons. There is no single discipline that has helped me keep my preaching fresh and Christ-centered from week to week (except perhaps listening to tapes of fine sermons preached in our own day) than the discipline of letting the great Mr. Spurgeon preach to me as I read selections from the volumes of his sermons. I trust that these articles will whet your appetite for the feast that awaits you in the works of this unique man of God who had an intuitive knowledge of the ways of God and of the needs of the human heart, and in all his preaching his one object was to commend God to men (William Robertson Nicoll, editor of the Expositers Bible).