On February 8, 1892, tens of thousands of Londoners participated in a funeral procession, which extended over two miles, for a man without any official title, academic degree, military post, or political position: Charles Haddon Spurgeon—a Baptist preacher. Over the years, I have read multiple sermons by Spurgeon and several biographies on Spurgeon. Certain aspects of his ministry have really stood out to me.
A Commitment to the Gospel
In a sermon to pastors, Spurgeon remarks, “Be sure whatever you leave out, that you tell them of the three Rs: Ruin, Regeneration, and Redemption.” These three Rs encapsulate the main thrust of Spurgeon’s preaching. There was no doubt in his mind that the gospel is the good news that God saves sinners from his wrath for his glory through Christ’s substitutionary death. And there was no question in his mind that God had appointed him to proclaim this gospel—to plead with sinners to accept Christ’s terms of peace. This was Spurgeon’s greatest desire. It compelled him and consumed him. For Spurgeon, mercy experienced is mercy proclaimed, mercy received is mercy dispensed, mercy enjoyed is mercy shared. That is to say, the mercy of God stirred in him a sense of eagerness and earnestness in the proclamation of the gospel.
A Commitment to the Bible
Regarding John Bunyan (the author of The Pilgrim’s Progress), Spurgeon writes, “Read anything of his; and you will see that it is almost like reading the Bible itself. Prick him anywhere; and you will find that his blood is Bibline, the very essence of the Bible flows from him. He cannot speak without quoting a text, for his soul is full of the Word of God.” What Spurgeon said of Bunyan, we can say of Spurgeon: “his soul is full of the Word of God.” He believed that, as the Word of God, the Bible is the means by which God reveals himself. It’s the means by which God imparts his grace. Moreover, it’s the way by which Christ comes to us. Fully convinced of this, Spurgeon believed that Scripture stands at the center of the life of the Christian and the church.
A Commitment to the Truth
Related to his conviction that the Bible is the Word of God, Spurgeon ascribed fully to the absolute authority and complete sufficiency of Scripture. He viewed any departure from the teaching of Scripture as a direct attack upon the faith. This conviction became visibly apparent in the 1880s when he faced the rising tide of liberal theology within the Baptist Union. He was concerned about challenges to the plenary inspiration of Scripture, the vicarious atonement of Christ, and the eternal punishment of unbelievers. Rightly perceiving these truths to be at the heart of the gospel, he took an uncompromising stand: “The crisis becomes every day more acute: delays are dangerous; hesitation is ruinous. Whosoever is on the Lord’s side must now show it at once, and without fail.” For the most part, his warnings went unheeded and, as a result, he decided to lead the London Metropolitan Tabernacle out of the Baptist Union. At the root of Spurgeon’s actions were pastoral concerns: “Every man who keeps aloof from the struggle for the sake of peace will have the blood of souls upon his head.” Spurgeon understood that his people were susceptible to doctrinal subterfuge. And, as a pastor, he embraced his calling to instruct in sound doctrine, and refute those who contradict the truth (Titus 1:9).
A Commitment to Justice
In 1860, Spurgeon launched a scathing attack on American slavery, declaring, “America is in many respects a glorious country, but it may be necessary to teach her some wholesome lessons at the point of the bayonet—to carve freedom into her with the bowie-knife or send it home to heart with revolvers. Better far should it come to this issue, that North and South should be rent asunder, and the States of the Union shivered into a thousand fragments, than that slavery should be suffered to continue.” Unsurprisingly, Spurgeon’s fiery criticism of slavery won him little support in the South. As a matter of fact, many people boycotted his books and some even burned his effigy. Despite the open hostility, Spurgeon was undeterred in affirming his position. Believing the gospel to be God’s instrument for change, he denounced sin in its innumerable forms and expressions—whether personal or societal.
A Commitment to Christ
When the London Metropolitan Tabernacle opened in 1861, Spurgeon declared: “I would propose that the subject of the ministry in 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 [...] 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.” For Spurgeon, the heart of Christianity isn’t Reformed doctrines or Baptist distinctives (however important they might be), but the person and work of Christ. He was convinced that there was nothing more soul-satisfying than contemplating Christ and our interest in him. For this reason, he proclaimed Christ, setting forth the beauty of his person, the sufficiency of his work, and the excellence of his offices. “Where there is nothing of Christ,” says Spurgeon, “there is nothing of unction, nothing of savor […]. Leave Christ out of your preaching, and you have taken the milk from the children, you have taken the strong meat from the men; but if your object as a teacher or preacher is to glorify Christ, and to lead men to love him and trust him, why, that is the very work upon which the heart of God himself is set.”