Spurgeon on Bible Teaching

Mark Driscoll

Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834–1892) is my favorite mentor outside of Scripture. Visiting his college and the private collection of his library and memoirs was a highlight of my visit to London.

This Child Will One Day Preach the Gospel

Spurgeon was the oldest of seventeen children, though nine died in infancy. Due to financial hardship, at the age of eighteen months he was sent to live with his grandfather, who, like Charles’ father, was a strong-willed Calvinistic preacher. At a young age he began reading his father's and grandfather’s theological books and listening in on their theological conversations with other men. On one occasion the visiting preacher Richard Knill prophesied over Charles, “This child will one day preach the gospel, and he will preach it to great multitudes.” Free public education was not available in his day and so his father paid for a private education for Charles. By the age of ten, Charles was reading the Puritans with great delight.

Spurgeon the Preacher

Spurgeon began preaching shortly after his conversion to Jesus Christ at the age of sixteen. He soon became the best-known Bible preacher in the world in his day, and perhaps the best preacher in the history of the church outside of Scripture, along with John Chrysostom (347–407). Spurgeon preached up to ten times a week and was heard by twenty million people from his pulpit over the course of his lifetime. Four years after his conversion, at the age of twenty, he was appointed the pastor of London’s famous New Park Street Chapel, which was previously led by the distinguished Reformed Baptist theologian John Gill. Spurgeon was such a magnetic draw that the previously struggling church, which had dwindled to a few hundred people, soon outgrew their building and had to move to Exeter Hall, and then to Surrey Music Hall. Spurgeon often preached to crowds of more than ten thousand without any amplification. His church became the world’s largest by the time of his death, meeting in the Metropolitan Tabernacle that they had eventually built. Spurgeon was a committed lifelong student. He had a large library built in his home so that he could study continually and still be near his sick wife. He had a large, round desk with a hinge that permitted him to sit in the middle of it with his beloved books surrounding him.

Spurgeon's Sufferings

Spurgeon was blessed by a rigorous mind and powerful voice but also suffered from poor health. He suffered continually from a variety of ailments, ranging from kidney disease to gout, which occasionally prevented him from preaching and ultimately took his life at age fifty-seven. Additionally, his beloved wife Susannah struggled mightily with poor health. In his seasons of tremendous pain he was forced to pray and trust the goodness of God. Nonetheless, his suffering greatly clarified his understanding of Jesus’ painful atonement and great love for his people. His prayers also sustained him when he was forced to miss up to seven weeks at a time and lie bedridden in pain rather than preach to his congregation. Spurgeon struggled with depression prompted by his poor health and the painful burden he carried for the many pastors who came to him for counsel. Perhaps the darkest period of Spurgeon’s ministry came when troublemakers began falsely crying “Fire!” to a packed congregation that had come to hear him preach, causing a stampede that killed some people who were trampled underfoot.

Spurgeon's Humor

Spurgeon was known to have a robust sense of humor that spilled out into his preaching, much to the consternation of his many critics. Still, Spurgeon shared the Bible’s love of irony and sarcasm, and his great wit endeared him to people who appreciated the fullness of his emotional life. This made him a real human being from whom people enjoyed learning the Bible. Among my favorite Spurgeon quips is his statement that he loved church committees and believed the ideal committee consisted of three people, two of whom stayed home.

Spurgeon the Activist

Spurgeon was committed to activism and social justice, going so far as to preach against slavery, which made him very unpopular in America, where his printed sermons were banned and burned. Spurgeon was also a very merciful man who opened and oversaw an orphanage for needy children. Many called the orphanage the greatest sermon he ever preached. His wife, Susannah, had a particular burden for poor pastors who could not afford books to assist their studies of Scripture. She raised money for a pastors’ book fund that gave away thousands of books to needy pastors.

Spurgeon the Controversialist

Throughout his ministry, Spurgeon came under continual attack because of both his conservative theology and successful ministry. What has come to be known as the “Downgrade Controversy” ultimately led to Spurgeon being kicked out of his own Baptist denomination for his unwillingness to stop teaching such things as eternal torment in a literal hell, the literal truthfulness of Scripture, a literal creation by God, and the perfection and divine inspiration of Scripture. In his final days, Spurgeon was attacked by hyper-Calvinistic legalists and universalistic liberals alike, the former because he freely preached the gospel to all people, and the latter because he did not believe that everyone would be saved.

Spurgeon's Passion for the Lost

The hyper-Calvinists in his day disdained Spurgeon for his passion for lost people to meet Jesus and his continual offering of the gospel of grace to the masses, which led to the baptism of 14,692 converts during his ministry. Despite much mean-spirited opposition, Spurgeon never shied away from calling all men to repentance. He used unconventional means, such as meeting in a public theater (not a church) and preaching from a stage (not a raised pulpit), in an effort to be more culturally relevant in his ministry style. Curiously, however, he forbade the use of choirs, organs, and other musical instruments in his church services. Upon his death, sixty thousand people passed before his open coffin in one day, with a similar crowd the ensuing day. Four memorial services were held in one day for the members of the church, ministers and students, members of other denominations, and the general public, respectively. The road to the cemetery from his church was lined with hundreds of thousands of people whose lives had been touched by the power of the gospel through Jesus’ servant, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.

For Further Study

For those wanting to study Spurgeon more in depth, I have particularly enjoyed the following resources and recommend them to you for consideration:

My wife, Grace, has also enjoyed studying the life of Charles’ bride and recommends the book Mrs. C. H. Spurgeon by Charles Ray.

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