The Free Lances of Christ’s Army: Spurgeon on Bi-Vocational Ministry

By / Sep 14

Speaking to his students on the call to ministry, Spurgeon defined ministry as a work “which requires the dedication of a man’s entire life to spiritual work.” Such full dedication to the work meant “separation from every secular calling… and entitles the man to cast himself for temporal supplies upon the church of God, since he gives up all his time, energies, and endeavors, for the good of those over whom he presides.” But the ministry he had in mind was not a general call to preach. No, this was specifically “the office of the bishopric.” This was a divine and congregational call for a man to devote himself to the office of pastor, to preaching and leading in a local church. But while Spurgeon recognized the high calling of pastoral ministry, this was not the only form of ministry that he envisioned.

In his day, many churches were struggling financially. As London continued to grow, the historic churches were not enough to accommodate the growing districts. New churches were needed. But often the districts that needed the most help were comprised of the poorer population, who could hardly afford to pay for a pastor. As the middle and upper-class moved out to the suburbs or more rural areas, those places also needed new churches. But wealthy Londoners were not any better about their giving. Many were hesitant to give generously towards a new plant.

Amid these challenges, Spurgeon saw a biblical solution: bi-vocational ministers. Writing in The Sword and the Trowel in 1883, in an article entitled “Leaving Secular Business,” Spurgeon makes a case for the importance and dignity of bi-vocational ministry:

The most practicable remedy is to find volunteer laborers who will not need maintenance from the people. This admirable remedy is already largely used, but not so largely as it might be. We have among us numbers of brethren engaged in handicrafts and professions who are endowed with gifts at least sufficient for the gathering of moderate congregations; and some of them display ability equal if not superior to the average of stipendiary pastors. It is an exceedingly great gain to the community when these brethren addict themselves to the ministry of the saints.

What is bi-vocational ministry?

While Spurgeon believed in the office of pastor, he also understood that this was not the only form of ministry in the church. While some congregations were able to call and support a man to devote himself fully to preaching and pastoring, many could not. For these churches, Spurgeon encouraged them not to overlook those who labored bi-vocationally in their midst. These would be men who could support themselves in part through their own secular vocation and devote their evenings and weekends to the ministry of the church.

Spurgeon himself was a bi-vocational pastor in his very first pastorate at Waterbeach. His church paid him just enough to cover his rent in Cambridge, along with “potatoes, turnips, cabbages, apples, and sometimes a bit of meat.” This, along with his tutoring during the week, allowed him to support himself while he pastored the church. And through that bi-vocational ministry, he grew in his preaching and the church experienced a revival.

Spurgeon went on to be called by the New Park Street chapel to be a full-time, paid pastor. There in London, he trained many young men for pastoral ministry and equipped them to follow in his footsteps. But he never forgot about the important work that he did as a bi-vocational pastor. And as he saw churches in pioneering contexts needing more help, he was convinced of the importance of bi-vocational ministry.

So, what did bi-vocational ministry look like? As far as the secular work, Spurgeon saw these ministers as coming from all kinds of professions: “Attending to a store, or an office; driving a plane, or forging a bar; visiting patients, or building houses.” Far from hindering ministry, this kind of honest work created a platform for the man’s ministry. And that ministry could look like many things. It might mean being called as a pastor of a church, as Spurgeon was at Waterbeach. But it might also mean being a city missionary, or an itinerant village preacher, or an evangelist, or more. In all these ministries, Spurgeon saw how thankful the church should be for these tireless servants who poured themselves out freely in the work of the gospel. In many ways, they followed in the footsteps of the apostle Paul, who also ministered bi-vocationally on his missionary journeys.

Theirs is an exceedingly high style and order of Christian ministry: we know of none superior to it. Paul the apostle accounted it his glory that he earned his own bread, and was chargeable to no man. He would by no means come down from his elevation to the lower level of being supported by the gifts of his fellow-Christians. He did not teach that all preachers should belong to this honorable order; on the contrary, he claimed for the giver of spirituals that he should be a receiver of temporals; but he himself personally resolved to belong to the Great Unpaid. He rejoiced that he could say, “Mine own hands have ministered unto my necessities.”

The temptation to leave bi-vocational ministry

But one of the greatest challenges of bi-vocational ministry is the temptation to be dissatisfied with it. It is so easy to envy the additional time and energy that full-time ministers have for their work. It is so easy to desire the responsibility and honor that is given to full-time ministers. It is so easy to think of how much easier life would be if you only had one job.

As a result of such thinking, Spurgeon watched many men transition out of fruitful bi-vocational ministries into unwise ministry situations. It’s not that such a move is always wrong. But rather than appropriately discerning a divine call, many bi-vocational ministers grow dissatisfied and quickly jump into a pastoral call that they never received, bringing harm to them and to churches.

In our day, the church continues to be blessed by the ministry of countless men who serve in bi-vocational ministry as pastors, evangelists, missionaries, and more. And yet many of them also face the temptation of dissatisfaction and are contemplating a transition to full-time vocational ministry.

Seven things to consider before you leave bi-vocational ministry

What would Spurgeon say today for those in bi-vocational ministry, especially those thinking about a transition? He would probably say, “Think carefully before you make the change!” More specifically, he would give these seven considerations:

Recognize the honor that is due to bi-vocational ministry

With devout thankfulness we remember many brethren who have taken and still hold high rank among the free lances of Christ’s army: all honor to them; may their shadows never grow less! Instead of being in the least looked down upon because they do not belong to “the regular clergy,” but are miscalled “laymen,” they are deserving of double honor, for to them the church is under special obligation.

Beware of the change in relationship when you are supported by the church

Spurgeon tells of a man who was fruitfully serving bi-vocationally in a city district as a missionary. The pastor and the church esteemed him in his ministry. But before long “he, too, is bitten with the clerical disease, he looks upon shop-keeping as degradation, he loathes the white apron and longs for the white cravat.” So, without any counsel or careful consideration, he casts himself upon the churches.

… and now, instead of a boon he is a burden, and the godsend is a hindrance. When it turns out that the brother has not sufficient ability or grace to be the leader of a people who have to support him, the support itself scarcely reaches starvation point, and the man becomes disheartened, and useless. It is wonderful what a difference it makes in the estimate of service whether it is remunerated or not; but another thing is by no means astonishing, namely, the different feeling of a man who is giving his work, and to another who is dependent upon the people.

Frequent ministry changes will stunt your ministry

By frequent changes a man becomes Jack-of all-trades and master of none. Transplanted trees never make much growth. Before their roots have well searched the soil of one spot they have to begin upon another, and when they are getting pretty nearly at home in the second garden they have to migrate again. The tree is usually stunted, and the fruit is scanty. A man may be everything and yet be nothing. If among his changes he includes the ministry it is most likely that. This is the feeblest part he has played, and the church may be felicitated when he quits the stage and appears in another character.

Don’t presume on future fruitfulness

A man may glorify God in his calling, and have money to give and time to spare for the cause of truth; but if he enters the paid ministry he may not glorify God, he may have no money to give, and his time may not be worth a brass farthing to anybody.

Consider your ability to fulfill other biblical duties (like supporting your family)

A man who is established in life, with a family about him, usually has many duties incumbent upon him. There are aged relatives to support, and, at any rate, the wife of his bosom and the olive-branches round about his table need looking after. May he make any remove which would unfit him for the fulfillment of these evident claims? We think not. It is always an evil thing to offer to God one duty stained with the blood of another. It is always a pity to leave a certain obligation for an uncertain one.

Examine your motives

It is always suspicious when the pursuit to which we aspire appears to be more honorable than that which we would relinquish. There is such a thing as giving one’s self up to the service of God and our own benefit; and when the two things rather evidently come together a few questions may always be suggested to the thoughtful man by the singular fact. We feel a little jealous of a man’s proposal to glorify God by that. which falls in with his own inclination and conduces to his own comfort. We all too readily insinuate self’ into our desire for the divine honor, and yet we may not be conscious of it.

Have a right understanding of the pressures of pastoral ministry

Do all our eager brethren really know the pressure of mind, and the strain of soul which are involved in preaching to one set of people year after year? Have they any notion of the heart-pangs, and the soul-travail, and the bitterness of disappointment involved in the care of souls? Do they judge it to be so mean an employment that slender gifts and graces will suffice for it? Or do they think that a minister means simply a black coat and a white choker?… The ministry is a high and honorable calling when a man is really fitted for it; but without the necessary qualifications it must be little better than sheer slavery with a fine name to it.

Conclusion

Spurgeon’s point was not to discourage bi-vocational ministers. In dissuading some from pursuing paid ministry, he was not commenting on any deficiency in their existing ministry. Nor was Spurgeon minimizing the responsibility of churches to support their pastors financially (an issue he was passionate about!). Rather, what he sought to fight against was the lie that “lay ministry” was somehow inferior to “professional ministry”; that bi-vocational work was somehow less honorable than paid ministry. In raising these warnings, he wanted to encourage these bi-vocational ministers to see the fruitfulness and importance of their labors.

Instead of being distracted by worldly thinking about titles and positions, Spurgeon wanted bi-vocational ministers to see the crucial role that they played in the church. Especially in pioneering contexts, there was often no other way forward except by the sacrificial labors of Christians who were willing to serve the church freely… and that remains true down to our day. Therefore, Spurgeon’s prayer was that God would raise up many bi-vocational ministers for the church.

While we would thus for the present distress urge our pastors to shake off all notion of being degraded by secular work, we still look for much aid from what are called our “lay brethren.” Instead of fewer of these, we need ten times as many of them: the more the merrier. Success to the guild! May its worthy members become more and more efficient, and supply for our poorer churches that lack of service from which they are greatly suffering.



How Did Spurgeon Fence the Lord’s Table?

By / Sep 7

The sermon is over. The lights dim. As the music begins to play, the pastor issues an invitation, “The tables are now open. No matter who you are or where you’ve come from, if you’ve responded to Jesus, then you can come. As the band plays our last song, feel free to make your way up to one of the tables. This is between you and Jesus.” Here in the 21st century, this has become a standard part of evangelical liturgy – an individualistic view of the Lord’s Supper, with minimal accountability.

This practice can be traced back to a debate that began in the 17th century and reached a turning point in the 19th century. For most of their history, English Baptists had practiced strict communion, which restricted communion only to those who had been baptized as believers. But in the 19th century, on the heels of the evangelical revival of the 18th century, and as Nonconformists gained influence and increasingly cooperated together, open communion slowly became the majority practice among English Baptists. Those who defended it appealed to the reality of the Universal Church and the need for greater unity among evangelicals. Some Baptists began to push for open membership, promoting an individualized view of the ordinances, separate from the local church.

This was the debate that Spurgeon found himself in as he took up the pastorate at the New Park Street Chapel in London. He grew up in a Congregational family but became convinced of the Baptist position as a teenager. The Baptists he grew up around tended to practice strict communion, but New Park Street practiced open communion. These various factors made Spurgeon sympathetic to both sides of the argument. On the one hand, he cherished a gospel unity that existed beyond his own denomination or church. On the other hand, he also valued the unity and purity of the local church, pictured in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. So how did Spurgeon fence the Lord’s Table?

All members were encouraged to participate regularly at the Table and were given tickets which not only gave them access but helped the elders keep track of their people. While the ticketing system may have been unique given the church’s large size, there was no debate about having church members participate.

The question was what to do with the hundreds of visitors that turned out every Lord’s Day to hear Spurgeon. From the beginning of his London ministry, Spurgeon continued the practice of open communion (which was the practice already in place when he arrived). By allowing paedobaptist visitors to the Table, Spurgeon was opening the door for hundreds of visitors to participate. Given the influence of the Church of England, the majority of the visitors would have been able to claim some kind of baptism from their infancy, even if their profession remained merely nominal.

But Spurgeon refused to be careless in the admission of visitors to the Table. The minutes from the church meeting of August 13, 1856 record the following motion:

It having been reported to our Pastor and the Deacons that certain unworthy persons having partaken of the Lord’s Supper without their knowledge and consent, and that others whom they believe to be Christians but still are walking disorderly by not joining a Christian Church have also been partakers in this divine ordinance.

To prevent therefore such unworthy persons from approaching the Lord’s Table; and also to discountenance any disorderly conduct in Christians the following resolutions were unanimously agreed to:

1st, That tickets be given to all individuals who enjoy trans-communion with us

2nd, These tickets to be collected before the Lord’s Supper with those of the Members

3rd, That no person receive more than three consecutive monthly tickets but to be questioned as to the rightness of their position and dealt with accordingly.

Here we see three ways that Spurgeon sought to fence the Table for visitors:

First, all visitors who wanted to participate at the Lord’s Table needed to be examined by a church officer and receive a ticket. This meant arranging a meeting with a Deacon (later, an Elder) earlier in the week for an interview, where the visitor would be examined for any “unholiness of life, lack of piety, or unsoundness in the fundamental truths of the gospel.” In other words, the visitor would need to demonstrate an understanding of the gospel and give some evidence of repentance and faith.

Second, only those who were members of other evangelical churches were to be admitted. It was not enough merely to have a profession of faith, but these visitors also needed to be accountable through membership in some local church to come to the Table. This meant that Spurgeon’s open communion was only open when it came to the visitor’s baptism, but not their church membership status. Those who professed to be Christians “but still are walking disorderly by no joining a Christian church” were not to be admitted to the Table.

Finally, Spurgeon would not allow visitors to participate at the Lord’s Table indefinitely, but after three months, they would be interviewed once again, and “dealt with accordingly.” These visitors would eventually be encouraged either to join New Park Street or to return to their home churches and be a part of the communion there. According to Spurgeon, this interview resulted in many discussions regarding baptism, and sometimes the decision of the visitor to be baptized and join the church.

Though Spurgeon practiced open communion, he refused to individualize the Lord’s Supper but made it accountable to the local church. His practice still allowed him to give expression to the unity that Christians of different denominations have in the gospel. But at the same time, by fencing the table carefully, visitors who were tempted to view his church as a preaching station came to understand the importance of committing to a local church.

Today, there is a renewed interest in the local church among evangelicals. Whether this is all just a fad or whether this is a return to Biblical teaching will be shown by how carefully and thoughtfully Christ’s ordinances are practiced.



Highlights from The Sword & the Trowel 1875-1879

By / Aug 31

This past spring we published the first ten years of The Sword and Trowel. Today, we are releasing five more years, 1875-1879. These were busy and fruitful years at the Metropolitan Tabernacle. A prominent theme during these years was Spurgeon’s suffering. The “invalid Pastor” dealt with extended bouts of illness that kept him out of the pulpit for weeks and months at a time, forcing him to travel to warmer climates to recuperate his health. But despite these challenges, the church continued to flourish under the care of Spurgeon’s fellow elders and the work of the congregation. The membership of the church reached over 5,000 during these years. His sermons and books continued to be published and distributed all over the world. The institutions of the church also continued to grow as new ministries were established, including a second orphanage for girls and Susannah Spurgeon’s Book Fund for Pastors. The Pastors’ College also began to have an international reach as they sent out of a Portuguese student and received the application of students from America, Canada, and Europe. In 1878, the church celebrated Spurgeon’s 25th year of ministry with a commemorative service and a gift of £6,233, which Spurgeon promptly donated to the ministries of the church.

Amid all these events, The Sword and the Trowel remained one of the primary communication channels for the Metropolitan Tabernacle and all these Spurgeonic enterprises. Here are just a few articles from these five years. As you read through these issues, send us a note on Twitter (@SpurgeonMBTS) if you find anything interesting!

(To jump straight to the article, click on the link, then click the “View this Resource” button.)

1875

Special Comforts for Cross-bearers – Spurgeon read this sermon from 1665 and was so encouraged by it in his own trials that he published a modernized reprint of it.

When your good Lord lays a cross upon your shoulders he has special consolations for your hearts. As the cross leads on to the crown, so some special beams of glory are lent us by the way, to make the cross less irksome and to give us foretastes of the eternal reward. Believers in the Lord, these words are written unto you; take comfort from them as bees suck honey out of flowers.

A Plea for the Pastors’ College – What was Spurgeon’s approach to pastoral training?

It is of the utmost importance to the church that her ministers should be men fully equipped for their sacred work. Under God the church will generally be very much what her ministers make her; for the old proverb, “like priest like people,” may be transferred from priests to pastors, and it will still hold good. When we reflect upon the influence for good or evil exercised by the pulpit, we feel that were all Christian people to concentrate their prayers upon that one point the object would be worthy of all their earnestness.

1876

Laid Aside. Why? – Amid all the ministry opportunities, Spurgeon wrestled with the pain of his suffering. Why would God allow him to be laid aside when there was so much good work to do?

MYSTERIOUS are the visitations of sickness. When the Lord is using a man for his glory it is singular that he should all of a sudden smite him down, and suspend his usefulness. It must be right, but the reason for it does not lie near the surface. The sinner whose every act pollutes the society in which he moves is frequently permitted year after year to spend an unabating vigor in infecting all who approach him. No sickness removes him even for an hour from his deadly ministry; he is always at his post, energetic in his mission of destruction. How is it that a heart eager for the welfare of men and the glory of God should find itself hampered by a sickly frame, and checked in its utmost usefulness by attacks of painful disease?

Street Preaching – Spurgeon was a proponent of open-air preaching. There were many who would never set foot into a church. Therefore, it was necessary for Christians to bring the gospel to them. Times have changed and street preaching may look different today, but there is still wisdom to be gleaned from Spurgeon for our day.

I AM persuaded that the more of open air preaching there is in London the better, if it should become a nuisance to some it will be a blessing to others, if properly conducted. If it be the gospel which is spoken, and if the spirit of the preacher be one of love and truth, the results cannot be doubted: the bread cast upon the waters must be found after many days.

1877

A Church We Know Of – How did things go at the Metropolitan Tabernacle when Spurgeon was away recovering his health?

In due time the pastor was gone — what then? Did matters flag, congregations fall off, and prayer-meetings decline? Far otherwise. Of course there was less of a crowd of outsiders at Sabbath services, but the people, the flock, did not wander; it was their point of honor to fill the house, and let the good men who occupied the pastor’s place feel that they were appreciated.

1878

Certain Churches Revived – In addition to dozens of new church plants from the students of the Pastors’ College, they were also active in revitalizing old churches.

The resurrection and salvation of an old church is often a more difficult task than to commence a new one. They remind us of the man who used profanely to swear, “God mend me,” to whom a Christian man remarked, “It were better if he made you new.” In very many instances our young brethren have been remarkably successful in this work; but it is not easy to say much about it, for except the case is extraordinary, and altogether undeniable, there are always affectionate friends of the old cause and of the former ministers who feel greatly hurt at any statement which appears to bear hard upon them. To them, it may be, the new order of things may even be distasteful, for the noise and stir of large additions, and the introduction of new ways, causes them disturbance of mind, and is hardly counterbalanced by any joy at the manifest increase of numbers and development of resources. Therefore we confine ourselves to those instances in which the growth of the church seems to us at least to be specially remarkable.

1879

Pastorless Flocks – Spurgeon addresses the problem of churches without pastors and provides a way forward.

One of the best things that a church can do is to catch a minister young, and train him for themselves. Some of the happiest and longest pastorates in our denomination commenced with the invitation of a young man from the country to a post; for which he was barely qualified. His mistakes were borne with, his efforts were encouraged, and he grew, and the church grew with him. His pastorate continued for many a year, since he was under no temptation to leave for another position, because he felt at home, and could say, like one of old, “I dwell among mine own people.” If our large churches will not try young men, but must all be provided with tried, experienced, eminent pastors, there will probably be many vacant pulpits.

The Serpent in Paradise – Gambling was a problem in the 19th century as it is in our day. Here, Spurgeon raises his protest against this societal “abomination.”

Our apology is the necessity of doing something towards ending an abomination which reeks before high heaven, and has been too long permitted to defile the earth; an abomination which has survived the removal of all others like it from among civilized men, as dangerous to society and ruinous to public morals; an abomination for which there is no excuse but the depraved appetite of the immoral public, and no remedy but its universal denunciation by all respectable men. Those who have set up the gaming tables of Monte Carlo have no conscience; it remains for the public to find them one, and this can never be till an enlightened public opinion is formed and expressed. We cannot tell where the following protest may make its way, we do, however, entreat all lovers of common decency, all lovers of their race, to use such influence as they have in assisting the effort to put down this bane of the Riviera, this pest-house of Europe, the gambling establishment of Monte Carlo.



Reflections on Spurgeon’s Pastoral Library

By / Aug 2

One of the Apostle Paul’s assumptions for pastors is that the man of God would be a man of learning. His pastoral calling would, in fact, also be a calling to deep, ambitious study. To handle rightly the word of God and to divide truth from error requires that the elder learn.

For centuries, this kind of learning meant that pastors would be men of books—yes, men of the Book, but also men of other books as well. The pastor would be one whose library was well stocked with everything needed to guard the faith and encourage godliness. After the invention of the printing press, ordinary pastors in Western Europe could acquire a library of several hundred books with relative ease. C. H. Spurgeon was one such minister who built a pastoral library of over 12,000 volumes with the ultimate goal of presenting a more-pure bride to Christ.

C. H. Spurgeon was no ordinary pastor, and neither was his pastoral library. My doctoral research focused on Dutch ministers and their pastoral libraries, and it is clear that his library was orders of magnitude larger than any Dutch minister from the seventeenth century. The average size of a Dutch minister’s library that sold at an auction was 1,138 books. The closest is that of Balthazar Lydius, and he owned just under six thousand books.

Building a pastoral library, Spurgeon thought, should be part and parcel of the work ministry. He even encouraged deacons to find funds to help their pastors build their libraries. He wrote, “A good library should be looked upon as an indispensable part of church furniture; and the deacons, whose business it is ‘to serve tables,’ will be wise if, without neglecting the table of the Lord, or of the poor, and without diminishing the supplies of the minister’s dinner-table, they give an eye to his study-table.”

Spurgeon was also a realist. He recognized that not every minister had the financial capability to acquire several thousand books. For pastors who had fewer books, he provided two pieces of advice: 1. Buy a few, high-quality books; 2. “Master those books you have.” “Read them thoroughly,” he wrote. “Bathe in them until they saturate you. Read and re-read them, masticate them, and digest them. Let them go into your very self. Peruse a good book several times, and make notes and analyses of it. A student will find that his mental constitution is more affected by one book thoroughly mastered than by twenty books which he has merely skimmed, lapping at them, as the classic proverb puts it ‘As the dogs drink of Nilus.’”

Part of my research was analyzing the contents of 17th-century Dutch ministers’ libraries. Unfortunately, records of most pastoral libraries were either never written or the records are now lost. But there are a few exceptions to that. For a Dutch minister in the seventeenth century, if his library was large enough, his widow would on occasion have a book-seller draw up a list of all the books she wanted to auction after his death, and the list would be distributed to other book-sellers to inform potential buyers of the impending auction. In my doctoral research, I have found 236 of these auction catalogs that survive from Dutch ministers’ libraries. (Several hundred other auction catalogs from this era survive for ministers in other Western European countries).

In Spurgeon’s case, however, much of his library is preserved in the Spurgeon Library in Kansas City, MO, and the Library has a catalog of all the books in their collection, over 6,000 volumes. What pastoral wisdom might a pastor glean from Spurgeon’s library?

Every pastor’s library I have come across, including Spurgeon’s, has timeless and timely theological works. The ideal library for a minister was one with a core of certain types of books upon which all ministers had to build (Calvin, Augustine, Luther, etc.) and the printed relics of controversies from their particular era grounding the library in a specific time and place. Spurgeon had both of these in spades. Spurgeon’s library is built on these twin-pillars: books whose theological value has endured for generations and those books whose writing was occasional—they were significant in a particular moment.

Spurgeon, like Dutch ministers before him, also read books that would have been of great importance to his congregation. He wasn’t just a theologian—he was a public intellectual who sought to show his congregation how all of life was to be lived as unto God. In order to do that faithfully, Spurgeon acquired books on medicine, different vocations (mining for instance), and many others. He sought to understand the daily life of his people so that in his pastoral work, he could address specific pastoral needs that might arise.

From just a cursory glance at his library, it seems clear that Spurgeon read books of national and political interest. He had a real interest in the lands Britain was engaged in at the time. There are many books on their colonies, including at least one book of proverbs from India. There is a real possibility that he had these, in part, because he found them interesting. He owned many works of fiction and he also owned a particularly interesting book on Yellowstone National Park. Reading was clearly something he did for leisure in addition to his study. But why these books on nations who were under British rule? Spurgeon considered it his pastoral calling to understand the cultural conversations of the day, and enrapturing news from these far-flung places would have been part of everyday discussions. So in order to serve his congregation, Spurgeon may have considered it well worth the time and effort to acquire and read these books.

Robust thinking is part and parcel of the faithful minister’s calling. That demands that we read books. A library is a tool in pastoral ministry that ought to be used intentionally. Spurgeon used the ubiquitous analogy that books “provide food for the minister’s brain.” He celebrated the idea that churches would band together to provide their ministers with enough income so that they could feast on a steady diet of good, soul-enriching books.

And yet for all that, the one thing that ought not to be forgotten, Spurgeon warned, is that the celestial food of Scripture ought to be our all-encompassing delight. “Visit many good books, but live in the Bible.”


Forrest C. Strickland (Ph.D., University of St Andrews) serves as Adjunct Instructor of History at Liberty University and Adjunct Professor of Church History at Boyce College.



“Dumb Dogs” in the Pulpit: Spurgeon on Borrowed Sermons

By / Jul 5

Iain Murray once observed that Spurgeon wrote and preached so much that people can basically cherry-pick quotes from his works to support virtually any position, even those he would’ve adamantly opposed. Such has been the case with the topic of plagiarizing sermons recently. Every few years, this controversy resurfaces. Some are quick to condemn it, while others attempt to provide a more nuanced response. Sometimes, the latter will point to examples in church history of those who plagiarized sermons, and among those listed is Spurgeon. Did Spurgeon support preaching borrowed sermons?

Spurgeon repudiated plagiarism in the pulpit

Spurgeon was a remarkably original preacher. While ministers in the Church of England still read sermons from the book of homilies, Spurgeon believed that the preacher should depend not on pre-written sermons but the Holy Spirit. This dependence took place not only while preaching but even in sermon preparation. At the heart of Spurgeon’s rejection of plagiarism was his deep conviction that preaching should be led by the Spirit.

Amid a full ministry schedule during the week, Spurgeon carved out time late into the night on Saturdays to work on his sermons. In his lectures to his students, we see that prayerful dependence was at the heart of his preparations.

To me still, I must confess, my text selection is a very great embarrassment— embarras de richesses, as the French say—an embarrassment of riches, very different from the bewilderment of poverty—the anxiety of attending to the most pressing of so many truths, all clamoring for a hearing, so many duties all needing enforcing, and so many spiritual needs of the people all demanding supply. I confess that I frequently sit hour after hour praying and waiting for a subject, and that this is the main part of my study. (Lectures 1:88)

Spurgeon would spend much of the night studying the Scriptures, trying out different “skeletons” (sermon outlines), and praying for the Spirit to guide him in preparing the sermon. During his study, Spurgeon consulted commentaries and other writers, but never as a substitute for the Spirit’s leading. In the end, he looked for spiritual guidance. “Many ministers appear to think that they are to choose the text; they are to discover its teaching; they are to find a discourse in it. We do not think so.”

How different was Spurgeon’s approach from those who simply borrowed another’s sermon!  Spurgeon often rebuked preachers of his day for reading other’s sermons as their own, rather than prayerfully preparing one for their people. To do so was to forego the Spirit’s work in the preacher. Spurgeon clearly repudiated such a practice, and he spoke about it clearly.[1]

Spurgeon believed that those who preached borrowed sermons did so for their own ease and convenience.

There are still plenty who hardly know anything about the gospel. They preach about a great many things, but little or nothing about Jesus Christ. They buy their sermons cheaply, and preach them at their ease; they ask God to teach them what to say, and then pull their manuscripts out of their pockets! We have had to mourn, especially in years gone by, that we could look from parish to parish, and find only “dumb dogs” in the pulpits. And some men, who might have spoken with a little earnestness, if they had liked, let the people slumber under them, instead of preaching the Word with true fidelity, remembering that they will have to give account to God at the last. (MTP 45; Sermon No. 2625)

It is no use for a man simply to have a curacy or something of that sort, buy his manuscripts cheap, come up and read off two sermons twenty minutes long, go home with a good conscience that he has done duty twice, and then say, “Let the whole earth be filled with his glory.” … But you shut yourself up in your study, or what is ten times worse, you do nothing at all, but just take it easy all the week till the Sunday comes, and then borrow a sermon out of an old magazine, or buy one of the helps for ministers, or take down one of Charles Simeon’s skeletons and preach it. My good man, you cannot pray in that fashion. (NPSP 3: Sermon No. 129)

Such preachers asked God for help in their preaching, but their use of bought sermons contradicted their prayers. Their concern was more for their convenience rather than the glory of God, and as a result, the sermons they preached were usually poor and lacking Christ.

Preaching borrowed sermons robs the congregation of a minister who has known the truth of God’s Word firsthand.

In order that you may impress the Word upon those to whom you preach, remember that it must be impressed upon yourself first. You must feel it yourself, and speak as a man who feels it, not as if you feel it, but because you feel it, otherwise you will not make it felt by others. I wonder what it must be to go up into the pulpit, and read somebody else’s sermon to the congregation. We read in the Bible of one thing that was borrowed, and the head of that came off; and I am afraid that the same thing often happens with borrowed sermons – the heads come off. Men who read borrowed sermons positively do not know anything about our troubles of mind in preparing for the pulpit, or our joy in preaching with the aid of only brief notes. (Soul Winner, 92)

Borrowed sermons — pages of other people’s experience — fragments pulled from old or new divines — nothing of their own, nothing that God ever said to them, nothing that ever thrilled their hearts or swayed their souls, — God will not own such teaching as this. (MTP 42; Sermon No. 2460).

A borrowed sermon may have someone else’s experience.  But it doesn’t have the preacher’s experience. Those truths have not been impressed on the preacher. He can only preach “as if” he feels it, not “because” he feels it. As a result, the congregation suffers, and “God will not own such teaching as this.”

God will call preachers to account for preaching Christ-less, borrowed sermons.

Oh the curse on the other hand, that shall rest on a man who, in his last moments, shall have to reflect – “I preached other men’s sermons, and talked of anything but Christ; I lifted up anything but the Lord!” (MTP 8:461)

For such preachers, it won’t matter that these sermons were not their sermons. “They will have to give account to God at the last” for their laziness and for every word of these borrowed sermons.

As one who preached at least four times a week, Spurgeon could easily have lightened his load by preaching borrowed sermons. Even more, as one who often preached away, he could’ve lightened his load by taking old sermons and re-preaching them (though this would’ve likely been detected, given how popular his printed sermons were!). But whether in his own pulpit or away, Spurgeon did not want to rob himself of an opportunity for prayerful dependence on the Spirit. Similarly, Spurgeon encouraged the preachers of his day to repudiate plagiarism and to preach their own sermons.

Spurgeon commended the proper use of printed sermons

Having said all that, Spurgeon lived during the age of printed sermons, and he himself published and sold hundreds of thousands of sermons. Certainly, he believed that there were exceptions where a preacher may read a printed sermon in the pulpit appropriately. People have cited these instances as Spurgeon’s support for plagiarizing sermons, but in fact, these would only be exceptions to the rule.

One exception of this is for those who are just starting in their preaching. Early in his preaching career, when he was seventeen, Spurgeon discovered how instructive it was for him to borrow sermon outlines from preachers like John Gill, Charles Simeon, and others. Spurgeon drew heavily from these sources to fill out his preaching outline, but in the end, given that his outline was only a few pages long, he likely still had to fill out his sermon with much of his own extemporaneous insights and comments. As a young teenager learning to preach, these pre-written sermon outlines provided a helpful starting point. By the time he began pastoring in London, he had preached nearly 700 sermons, and though he was still only nineteen, he no longer needed to rely on Gill and others as he did in his early years.

This would be a practice that he later supported also. In 1877, he visited Bristol College and donated a set of his sermons to the college. One person records the event,

He thought the books he gave would be useful to students, as most of them were sermons; “and if any brother would like to preach them (continued Mr. Spurgeon) I hereby decree he shall not be guilty of plagiarism, as I hand them over to be the property of the college.” (Speeches at Home and Abroad, “Earnest Students”)

Note that Spurgeon here makes an exception. Typically, a preacher preaching another’s sermon would be “guilty of plagiarism.” But in this case, because these are students who are learning to preach, he was happy to grant an exception. Eventually, however, Spurgeon insisted that his own students learn to prepare and preach their own sermons. During their studies at the Pastors’ College, students had to prepare and deliver at least one original sermon for critique. On one occasion, a student attempted to plagiarize his sermon.

It has long been our rule that each brother should read in the College at least one discourse which he has himself composed, and which his comrades are expected to criticize. Any attempt at plagiarism would, therefore, be manifestly unfair; and, if detected, would meet with well-merited condemnation. One man, when it came to his turn, was actually reckless and foolish enough to take one of my printed sermons, — I suppose condensed, — and to read it as though it had been his own composition; and he had to thank his brethren that he was not instantly expelled from the Institution, Several of them at once recognized the discourse; and, as soon as the time for criticism arrived, proceeded to pull it to pieces most mercilessly.

They found fault with the introduction, the divisions, the subdivisions, the illustrations, the application, — with everything, in fact, except the doctrine; — I think that was all right! I was so pleased with the critical acumen displayed that I forgave the offender; but I let it be distinctly understood that, for the future, any student repeating the offense, whether with my sermon or anyone else’s, would be forthwith dismissed in disgrace. (Autobiography 3:148)

Spurgeon dealt graciously with this student but also made it clear that such future action would result in expulsion “in disgrace.”

Another story has been raised concerning Spurgeon’s students and plagiarism. Lloyd Jones tells the story of another student who was caught plagiarizing a sermon, which was thought to belong to Spurgeon. As it turns out, it belonged to William Jay of Bath, but the headings and content matched Spurgeon’s!

“’Wait a minute,’ said Spurgeon, and turning to his library, he pulled out one of the volumes and there was the sermon, the exact sermon-the same text, the same headings, the same everything! What had happened? The fact was that Mr. Spurgeon had also preached William Jay’s sermon and had actually put it into print with other sermons of his. Mr. Spurgeon’s only explanation was that it was many years since he had read the two volumes of Jay’s sermons and that he had forgotten all about it. He could say quite honestly that he was not aware of the fact that when he had preached that sermon he was preaching one the sermons of William Jay. It had registered unconsciously in his memory. The student was absolved of the charge of preaching one of Mr. Spurgeon’s sermons, but was still guilty of theft!” (Preaching & Preachers, 294)

I haven’t been able to track down the source of this anecdote, so it’s not clear how accurate it is. Even so, it’s worth observing that Spurgeon firmly opposes plagiarism even in this story. First, the student who consciously used Jay’s sermon was still “guilty of theft.” Second, Spurgeon did not consciously plagiarize Jay, which is why he tried to explain it. Somehow, through his own sermon preparation, Spurgeon had arrived at the same sermon outline as Jay, and in his delivery, he extemporaneously delivered much of the same content. All this happened, remarkably, from being unconsciously influenced by reading Jay’s sermon many years ago. This raises the related but separate issue of unconscious plagiarism… if you have a photographic memory like Spurgeon, watch out! Had he known, Spurgeon would not have done it. But as it is, he unintentionally erred. In the end, it’s clear that Spurgeon did not intend to copy Jay and would still charge sermon plagiarism as theft.

The other exception that Spurgeon might have allowed was on occasions where an inexperienced deacon or layperson read a printed sermon at a Christian gathering because a preacher is unavailable. The stories abound of sailors reading Spurgeon sermons on the high seas or miners gathering in Colorado on a Sunday to hear a Spurgeon sermon. Many were converted on such occasions, and Spurgeon was always glad to hear these stories. Even in such cases, however, the preacher or reader should have made it clear that this was a printed sermon, rather than original to the preacher (which would’ve been obvious in the case of miners and sailors). But on one occasion, he was willing to excuse a lay preacher who clearly passed off one of Spurgeon’s sermons as his own.

I remember once feeling many questions as to whether I was a child of God or not. I went into a little chapel, and I heard a good man preach. He was a simple workingman. I heard him preach, and I made my handkerchief sodden with my tears as I heard him talk about Christ, and the precious blood. When I was preaching the same things to others I was wondering whether this truth was mine, but while I was hearing for myself I knew it was mine, for my very soul lived upon it. I went to that good man, and thanked him for the sermon. He asked me who I was. When I told him, he turned all manner of colors. “Why,” he said, “Sir, that was your own sermon.” I said, “Yes, I knew it was, and it was good of the Lord to feed me with food that I had prepared for others.” (MTP 32, Sermon No. 1877)

Spurgeon loved Jesus. And he understood that God could use even a borrowed sermon to glorify His Son. Such was the case in the story above. The “simple workingman” had plagiarized his sermon (and was clearly embarrassed by it). Spurgeon did not commend the practice but humbly thanked him for the sermon and praised God for using it for his encouragement.

But Spurgeon was no pragmatist. Though God could work through a plagiarizing preacher, He did so despite the preacher’s dishonesty and laziness. For himself, he sought to maintain a prayerful dependence on God by only preaching his own sermons, and he urged his students and other pastors to do the same.


[1] Many thanks to Phil Johnson, a friend of the Spurgeon Library, for compiling these and many other quotes.



The Church’s Valiant Sons: Spurgeon on Deacons

By / Apr 23

The rumor once spread that Spurgeon had said, “a deacon is worse than a devil, for if you resist the devil he will flee from you, but if you resist a deacon he will fly at you.” It was common in those days for pastors to complain about their deacons. Spurgeon once observed that “many of our ministering brethren bitterly rate them, others tremble at the mention of their very name, and a few put on their armour and prepare to do battle with them wherever they go, as if they were the dragons of ministerial life.”

But Spurgeon took a different approach. He firmly denied that he ever said such a thing to disparage deacons. Rather, he defended them as a gift from Christ to the church.

Whatever there may be here and there of mistake, infirmity, and even wrong, we are assured from wide and close observation, that the greater number of our deacons are an honour to our faith, and we may style them as the apostle did his brethren, the “glory of Christ” … Deprive the church of her deacons, and she would be bereaved of her most valiant sons; their loss would be the shaking of the pillars of our spiritual house, and would cause a desolation on every side. Thanks be to God such a calamity is not likely to befall us, for the great Head of the church in mercy to her, will always raise up a succession of faithful men, who will use the office well, and earn unto themselves a good degree and much boldness in the faith.

Spurgeon could say this because of his own pastoral experience with deacons both in Waterbeach and London.

Deacons at the Waterbeach Chapel

In his pastorate at Waterbeach, Spurgeon found his deacons to be indispensable for the work of the ministry. Spurgeon was a solo, bi-vocational pastor of a village church that grew from a few dozen to over four hundred members. How did he manage the care of the church? Only with the help of his deacons.

The deacons of my first village pastorate were in my esteem the excellent of the earth, in whom I took great delight. Hard-working men on the week-day, they spared no toil for their Lord on the Sabbath; I loved them sincerely, and do love them still. In my opinion, they were as nearly the perfection of deacons of a country church as the kingdom could afford.

Coming alongside Spurgeon, these deacons not only served the church, but they also mentored their teenage pastor in the ministry, often encouraging him, but at times rebuking him. On one occasion, a deacon wisely confronted Spurgeon on his careless choice of words in the pulpit.

Mr. King once gave me a kindly hint in a very delicate manner. He did not tell me that I should speak more guardedly in the pulpit; but when I left his house, one Monday morning, I found a pin in my Bible, stuck through Titus 1. 8: “Sound speech, that cannot be condemned; that he that is of the contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say of you.” Nothing could have been in better taste. The wise rebuke was well deserved and lovingly taken. It was so deftly given that its value was thereby increased indefinitely. Mr. King was a deacon of deacons to me, and to the Waterbeach Church.

These wise deacons proved to be instrumental in Spurgeon’s growth and maturation as a pastor, preparing him for a much larger sphere of ministry.

Deacons at the New Park Street Chapel

When he took up the pastorate in London at the New Park Street Chapel, he found similarly faithful deacons. Of course, this is not to say that everything always went smoothly. There were at times disagreements between the headstrong young pastor and the aged, experienced deacons, especially early on. Before he even arrived in London, a disagreement arose over the issue of ordination. The deacons wanted their new pastor to be ordained by the association and to take the title of “Reverend.” Spurgeon, however, believed that his ordination came from the congregation and was content simply to be known as their pastor. He was willing to submit to their wishes but expressed his disapproval of these extra-biblical traditions.

Later, as crowds flocked to hear Spurgeon, the auditorium grew dangerously crowded and unbearably hot. He pressed his deacons to open the windows to allow for more fresh air and to make plans for expansion, but they dragged their feet on any changes to their historic building. At times, Spurgeon lost his patience with his deacons.

One night, in 1854, while preaching there, he exclaimed, “By faith, the walls of Jericho fell down; and by faith, this wall at the back shall come down, too.” An aged and prudent deacon, in somewhat domineering terms, observed to me, at the close of the sermon, “Let us never hear of that again.” “What do you mean?” I inquired; “you will hear no more about it when it is done, and therefore the sooner you set about doing it, the better.”

As the solo elder of the church, Spurgeon knew that he was responsible to lead, and sometimes this meant leading forcefully. Though he may have been right, he didn’t always communicate with perfect wisdom and patience. But despite these challenges, as Spurgeon reflected on his ministry, he knew that his deacons were a great blessing to him and to the church. Their wisdom brought balance to his zeal. Without them, he would not have been able to care for the church and would have been left without a great source of comfort. “At every remembrance of these brethren we thank God. Some ministers have found their trials in their deacons; it is but right to say that we find in them our greatest comfort, and we earnestly desire that every church should share in an equal blessing.”

The Work of Deacons

For the first five years of his pastorate, Spurgeon relied heavily on his deacons. As the solo pastor, he counted on his deacons to help not only with administrative tasks, but also with the spiritual care of the church. Even as the church grew rapidly, these deacons interviewed prospective members, helped with visitation, acted as messengers to associational meetings, examined cases of church discipline, and more. But as the church continued to grow, Spurgeon believed that more help was needed. So in 1859, he led the congregation in calling men to serve in the office of elder. Initially, some deacons would serve in both offices of elder and deacon, but over time, the two offices became more distinct with the spiritual care of the church given to the elders and the practical care of the church given to the deacons

With this division of labor set in place, the deacons now divided the various administrative tasks among themselves.

The work is divided so as to secure the services of all, and prevent the neglect of anything through uncertainty as to the person responsible for its performance. One honored brother is general treasurer, and has been so for many years — long may he be spared to us; another takes all out-door work, repairs of the exterior, keeping the gates, appointing doorkeepers, etc.; another has all indoor repairs; while others watch over the interests of the new churches which are springing from our loins; and one brother as a good steward sees to the arrangement and provision of the weekly communion, and the elements required for the Lord’s table; thus with a common council we have separate duties.

Though Spurgeon’s deacons regularly met to coordinate their work, their responsibilities were largely carried out individually. Some of these responsibilities involved recruiting members of the congregation to serve as “doorkeepers” or assisting with the Lord’s table. One of the deacons worked with the elders in facilitating church plants “which are springing from our loins.” The deacon who served as general treasurer interacted with many portions of the church as he organized the church’s finances. In these and many other practical ways, the deacons’ selfless service kept this large church and all her institutions running smoothly.

The Character of Deacons

While deacons needed to be skilled in administration, Spurgeon believed that character was even more important. 1 Timothy 3 lays out the qualifications of a deacon, and Spurgeon saw all these qualifications as non-negotiable. At the same time, in his experience of ministry, Spurgeon saw additional characteristics that were especially important for deacons.

At the top of the list was that deacons to be men of peace, working for the unity of the church, rather than division. Deacons characterized by such grace

would be sure to rule well, and reduce chaos to order by the mere force of Christian patience. Few men believe in the power of non-resistance, but our faith in it is unbounded: he who can yield will conquer, and he who will suffer most for the sake of love will wield the greatest power if he will but bide his time.

Of course, this didn’t mean that such a deacon would allow people to take advantage of the church, or “allow the minister to draw twice the amount of his salary.” This would be a perversion of the qualification. At times, a deacon must confront and speak firmly. Yet, at the same time, “the kind, gentle, but earnest deacon is invaluable. He is as an angel in the church, and does more than angel’s service. Excellent man!”

Additionally, while the elders were tasked with the responsibility of teaching, deacons also had opportunities for discipleship and other kinds of Word ministry. After all, deacons are required to “keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience.” Therefore, Spurgeon encouraged his deacons to use their teaching gifts in their diaconal ministry and beyond. Deacons should not be pure administrators. Rather, their practical ministries provided a platform for the gospel.

We like a [deacon] all the more if, like Stephen, he can both care for the widows and preach the gospel. It would be well for our country churches if more of the deacons would exercise their gifts, and keep the village stations supplied with sound doctrine.

Though Spurgeon had plurality of elders, this was unusual among Baptists of his day (though not among the earliest Baptists). He was aware that many fellow Baptist pastors still labored as the solo elder with a board of deacons. Especially in such churches, Spurgeon recognized the importance of these deacons holding on to the deep truths of the faith and laboring alongside their pastor in the ministry of the Word.

Finally, Spurgeon believed that deacons must be characterized by humble, persevering faithfulness. After all, “seldom are their names mentioned in public, and yet they are the mainstay of the church, the regulators of her order, and the guardians of her interests. Some of them have held the fort in troublous times: they have seen a dozen pastors come and go, but they abide at their posts, faithful under discouragement, hopeful under difficulty. They deserve great praise…” Perhaps in writing such a description, Spurgeon had in mind a particular group of deacons very dear to his heart.

Conclusion

When Spurgeon first came to the New Park Street Chapel in December 1853, the church was in serious decline. A previous pastor had relocated the congregation to an awful part of town. The church had been through several successive short pastorates. Now, only a few dozen gathered in the cavernous hall each week. One of the deacons had just written to the Baptist association reporting no growth in the membership and asking for their prayers.

Yet, among those who stayed were faithful deacons like William Olney and James Low. These men continued to “[hold] the fort in troublous times,” serving, shepherding, and praying for God’s grace. And in His providence, it was Olney who heard from a friend about a boy-preacher out in Cambridge who was causing a stir. It was Olney who invited him to supply the pulpit, despite his youthfulness and countrified manners. And because of these deacons’ humble perseverance and faithfulness, the history of their church would be forever changed.



Spurgeon’s Heart for Rural Ministries

By / Apr 7

While many young pastors long for an influential ministry in the population centers to increase their platform and reach more people, Spurgeon believes they should embrace rural ministries. From his upbringing to his first ministry post, Spurgeon would look back with much affection to the time he spent in these rural areas—areas that those in the cities would ignore or outright forget. Spurgeon’s ministry was laced was references to his rural upbringing.

Spurgeon Idealized Rural England

Spurgeon was born in Kelvedon in Essex on June 19, 1834. Early in his childhood, he went to live for a time with his grandfather James in Stambourne, approximately 60 miles from London’s center, and developing a love for “his beloved Fenlands.” For Spurgeon, this rural area was a place where he learned and ultimately submitted to his Lord Jesus and, as we shall see, surrendered to God’s call to ministry. Thomas Breimaier noted that Spurgeon “would idealize rural England,”[1]  specifically Stambourne, the place where he lived with his grandparents, James and Sarah. God used his relatives and neighbors in these areas to show Him the wonders of Christ and ministry, and Spurgeon believed that others could be of use in those areas as well. After all, Christ plants His church in all manner of places.

Find the Church of Christ wherever you will, and you shall find her scorned and despised of man. Find her in Scotland, and her Covenanters have to hide themselves in the midst of the mountain, and read the Word of God by the lightning flash, to escape from the dragoons of Claverhouse. Find her in England and where was she? Not in the cathedrals of her cities, but in the dungeons of her rural towns like Bedford with John Bunyan; not among the great and noble who were the persecutors, but among the poor and conscientious who were the persecuted.[2] 

Spurgeon’s First Time Preaching was in a Rural Area

Spurgeon first preached at a small home in Teversham, no more than 15-16 years of age. He was on the receiving end of the Preachers’ Association’s leader James Vinter’s plans to have Spurgeon preach without his consent and knowledge. Spurgeon remembered that “Bishop” Vinter wanted him to accompany someone to Teversham, “for a young man was to preach there who was not much used to services, and very likely would be glad of the company.”[3] The young man to preach was Spurgeon himself, who would have balked at such a notion had Vinter phrased this task differently! He preached one of his Sunday School talks.

He described the place of the gathering as a “low-pitched room of the thatched cottage where a few simple-minded farm-labourers and their wives were gathered together; we sang, and prayed, and read the Scriptures, and then came my first sermon.”[4] God used that first preaching occasion to send Spurgeon on a trajectory to preach as a vocation.

Spurgeon’s First Pastorate was in a Rural Area

In his Autobiography, Spurgeon looked back at how God used him even as a young lad in that farming community of Waterbeach. “Have you ever seen the poverty, and degradation, and misery of the inhabitants, and sighed over it? . . .  But was it ever your privilege to walk through that village again, in after years, when the gospel had been preached there? It has been mine.”[5] It was here where Spurgeon first pastored on October 7, 1851 at the tender age of 17, serving there for two years as their pastor. Waterbeach, located near Cambridge and approximately 70 miles northeast of London, was far away from the cultural center of England (and the world, one might add). Yet, the taste of seeing God change so many hardened sinners into followers of Christ reminded Spurgeon that God was at work in every area. As such, this set a course for Spurgeon to a continued reliance on the gospel of Jesus, regardless of his situation. Hear William Estep’s words:

Waterbeach meant more to Spurgeon than just a place to preach. It was here that he felt that God had unmistakably put his seal upon his ministry, for in that English hamlet he claimed his first convert for Christ. His first pastorate also became his divinity school. His inherited Calvinism had been underlined and reinforced by a cook in the Agriculture College. To her he often referred in words of tribute and gratitude for what she had taught him. In Waterbeach, his intensive pursuit of his vocation with its opportunity for ready application of lessons learned in the study became the necessary preparation for what was to become his life’s work, his London pastorate.[6]

While Spurgeon’s ministry and fame would come during his 38-year ministry in London, the largest city in the world at that time, it was at Waterbeach (as Estep noted) where God would confirm his calling. “I would rather bring the poorest woman in the world to the feet of Jesus than I would be made Archbishop of Canterbury.”[7] He had no desire to climb the ecclesiastical ladder as was often the case with other ministers in the Anglican church. In fact, his heart always stayed with those who could offer little due to their status in the culture.

Urging Younger Preachers Toward Rural Areas

Spurgeon’s heart always stayed with those forgotten communities, even urging younger preachers in his Pastors College to take advantage of the opportunities these areas presented. In one rather lengthy paragraph in the first volume of his Autobiography, he closes the section of his account at Teversham this way:

Are there not other young men who might begin to speak for Jesus in some lowly fashion—young men who have hitherto been mute as fishes? Our villages and hamlets offer fine opportunities for youthful speakers. . . . If they go out and tell from their hearts what the Lord has done for them, they will find ready listeners. Many of our young folks want to commence their service for Christ by doing great things or nothing at all; let none of my readers become victims of such an unreasonable ambition.[8]

Spurgeon’s advice serves young, aspiring ministers well even today. Even from an early age, Spurgeon refused to ignore those whom others disregarded or had forgotten. And in this case, even as Spurgeon moved to the historic New Park Street Church in England’s capital, the city did not diminish his love for those in the country. But more than this, he knew that, “he who talks upon plain gospel themes in a farmer’s kitchen, and is able to interest the carter’s boy and the dairymaid, has more of the minister in him than the prim little man who keeps prating about being cultured, and means by that—being taught to use words which nobody can understand.”[9]

The rural areas sharpen the preaching of many a young preacher to help them remain biblically precise while helping those who do not have the benefits of education such as farmers and laborers understand the Word of God in their own language. These experiences helped Spurgeon connect with the lower and middle class of London, much to their delight.

Spurgeon’s preaching emerged not in the ivory towers of Cambridge but in the lowly villages surrounding it. He was more concerned with feeding sheep than giraffes. . . . Even after moving to London, Spurgeon retained his early earthy idioms and used illustrations common to the Victorian experience.[10]

The rhetoricians and orators that occupied London’s pulpits failed to connect to the common citizen like Spurgeon did, and looked upon Spurgeon with contempt. Robyn Carswell rightly reflected on how Spurgeon’s critics viewed him.

On many Sundays, crowds that numbered over ten thousand attended his sermons. However, Spurgeon was not without his critics. The press, Anglican ministers, and even members of his own denomination took many opportunities to disparage the young Baptist minister. They thought his technique and style were vulgar and base, and antithetical to proper worship and religious decorum. Despite his detractors and their frequent and malicious attacks, Spurgeon’s success escalated.[11]

The vulgarities and baseness to which Carswell refers originate from Spurgeon’s rural upbringing. Whereas other preachers in the city sought to impress the elite of society with their academic and high-flown oratory, Spurgeon would use illustrations that connected to the average person, regardless of their station in life. The experiences he had in the rural areas planted a seed in his heart for his sermons (and, as a result, the gospel) to use whatever means necessary to bring clarity to the preaching of the Word. Thus, whenever any delivery or doctrine of preaching arose that confused the Word, Spurgeon did not hesitate to address this problem.

In a sermon in 1860 quoted in his Autobiography, he lamented the “new theology” that took hold in all-too-many pulpits:

I have often thought, that the best answer to the new theology is, that the true Gospel was always preached to the poor . . . I am sure that the poor will never learn the Gospel of these new divines, for they cannot make head or tail of it; nor will the rich either. After you have read one of their volumes . . . it sours your temper, it makes you feel angry, to see the precious things of God trodden underfoot . . . we can allow a thousand opinions in the world, but that which infringes upon the doctrines of a covenant salvation, through the impudent righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ–against that we must, and will, enter our hearty and solemn protest, as long as God spares us.[12]

Spurgeon’s willingness to preaching the gospel to the poor in person in a way that they could understand not only expressed his pastoral heart to have all embrace the gospel, but also demonstrated a trajectory that began in those early ministry years in those rural areas.

Whether you live in London or in any other great town amidst reeking sin, or dwell in the country amidst the dense darkness which broods over many rural districts, you are under bonds to be up and doing. It may be a cross to you, but for Jesus’ sake you must uplift it, and never lay it down till the Lord calls you home.[13]

Jesus Did Not Neglect the Rural Areas

Spurgeon reminded his congregation that Jesus Himself did not neglect the rural areas. In an 1873 sermon, Spurgeon recounted a time when Jesus once again put the religious leaders in their place, observed that:

… in argument he had proved their folly, and had crumpled them up till they were like so many bruised bulrushes; but there he paused, he did not pursue the conflict further, but retired to Galilee, into the lone places and rural districts of the country, and preached there the gospel.[14]

God provides a remnant of believers in rural areas as well, and have been on the receiving end of persecution by religious leaders:

Cases of persecution are by no means rare. In many a country village squires and priests rule with a high hand, and smite the godly villagers with a rod of iron. “No blankets, no coals, no almshouse for you, if you venture into the meeting-house. You cannot live in my cottage if you have a prayer-meeting in it. I will have no religious people on my farm.” We who live in more enlightened society, little know the terrorism exercised in some of the rural districts over poor men and women who endeavour conscientiously to carry out their convictions and walk with Christ.[15]

Though religious persecution came at the hands of the “village squires and priests” because of their walking with Christ, Spurgeon reminded all who heard that Jesus saw their situation and would bring comfort and strength in those times of trouble. Yes, Jesus saw the plight of believers in rural areas as well.

God Gives Strength to Those in Rural Ministries

In Spurgeon’s book An All-Around Ministry, a series of lectures he delivered to the students at his Pastors College, he spoke to those who would preach and minister in areas of low visibility. Yet, his experience in serving in these types of areas helped him encourage those students who were doing so as well. In this lengthy paragraph, Spurgeon shows how well he knows the challenges that arise from such ministries.

Faith in God enables many of you, I know right well, to bear much hardship, and exercise much self-denial, and yet to persevere in your ministry. My heart rejoices over the many brethren here whom God has made to be winners of souls; and I may add that I am firmly persuaded, concerning many here present, that the privations they have undergone, and the zeal they have shown in the service of their Lord, though unrewarded by any outward success, are a sweet savor unto God. True faith makes a man feel that it is sweet to be a living sacrifice unto God. Only faith could keep us in the ministry, for ours is not a vocation which brings with it golden pay; it is not a calling which men would follow who desire honor and rank. We have all kinds of evils to endure, evils as numerous as those which Paul included in his famous catalogue of trials; and, I may add, we have one peril which he does not mention, namely, the perils of church-meetings, which are probably worse than perils of robbers. Underpaid and undervalued, without books and without congenial associates, many a rural preacher of the gospel would die of a broken heart, did not his faith gird him with strength from on high.[16]

This last sentence in that quote resonates in the heart of every rural preacher. “Underpaid and undervalued, without books and without congenial associates, many a rural preacher of the gospel would die of a broken heart, did not his faith gird him with strength from on high.” Spurgeon outlines the internal and external challenges rural ministries bring, tempting young preachers to stay away to pursue a ministry with a higher visibility, higher pay, and higher respect from congregants and fellow ministers alike. Yet, Spurgeon reminds them that, “though unrewarded by any outward success,” God sees, and God knows—that ministry, indeed, is a “sweet savor unto God.”

Spurgeon recognized that those rural areas are mission fields populated with souls in need of rescue. Yes, God may call one to serve in population centers as God called Spurgeon to London. Yet, Spurgeon never forgot those dear souls as the cities often do. And God does not forget. Are you willing to serve Christ in these forgotten areas so that they may see and know Christ as their Lord?

O mosses and hill-sides of Scotland, in the Covenanting times, many believed on him there! Talk not so exceeding proudly, O ye cathedrals or ye great tabernacles; for many have believed on Jesus by the highway side, out on the village green, or under the spreading oak. Out in the desert of southern France, where men fled for their lives to hear the gospel, many believed on Jesus. In what place cannot Jesus triumph?[17]

Jesus can and will triumph in every place. How thankful we are that Spurgeon reminds us of that reality.


Matthew R. Perry (Ph.D., Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Kansas City, MO; D.Min., The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY) serves as Lead Pastor of Arapahoe Road Baptist Church in Centennial, CO; and also Affiliate Faculty at Colorado Christian University in Lakewood, CO.


[1]Thomas Breimaier, Tethered to the Cross: The Life and Preaching of C.H. Spurgeon (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2020), 21-22. 

[2]Spurgeon, “Fire! Fire! Fire!” MTP 7:397 (1861).

[3]Autobiography 1:200.

[4]Ibid.

[5]Autobiography, 1:228.

[6]William R. Estep, “The Making of a Prophet: An Introduction to Charles Haddon Spurgeon,” Baptist History and Heritage 19:4 (1984), 8.

[7]Ibid.

[8]Ibid., 1:202.

[9]Ibid., 1:202.

[10]Christian George, ed., The Lost Sermons of Spurgeon, Vol. 1,  xx.           

[11]Robyn Carswell, “Charles Spurgeon: The Prince and the Paupers,” Historia (2005), 118.

[12]Spurgeon, Autobiography 1:260.

[13]Spurgeon, “Up from the Country, Pressed into Service,” MTP 31:1853  (1885).

[14]Spurgeon, “The Gentleness of Jesus,” MTP 19:1147 (1873).

[15]Spurgeon, “Suffering and Reigning with Jesus,” MTP 10:547 (1864).

[16]Spurgeon, An All-Around Ministry

[17]Spurgeon, “A Cheering Incident at Bethabra” MTP 32:1924 (1886).



The Surprising Work of God in Waterbeach – The Lost Sermons of C. H. Spurgeon Vol. 5

By / Apr 1

Ebenezer Smith was a youth himself when 17-year-old Charles Spurgeon became the pastor of Waterbeach chapel. Because the congregation could not afford to pay Spurgeon much, he continued working as a tutor during the week in Cambridge. But he would visit his people in the evenings and on the weekends, and he made it a practice to stay the night with different members of the church each Saturday in order to get to know them. That included staying with Smith’s family multiple times. Smith’s own conversion could be traced to one such evening when Charles prayed with him and challenged him to pray also.

But as important as that was, there was another evening that was even more memorable. Many years later, Smith recounted,

On another occasion he could not sleep on Saturday night, and early in the morning ere the light had dawned he awoke me. The perspiration was streaming from his forehead, he told me he had seen a vision of Hell. He described the last things, the Judgment, the wailing, the torments and the shriek of the lost, until I grew frightened.

The next morning he preached his marvelous sermon on the Final Conflagration, one of the most awful sermons that was ever heard from a Christian pulpit. Men and women swayed in agony. It was a mental torture unknown in our churches to-day. It seemed as though he shook his audience over the Pit, until the smoke of God’s wrath filled their eyes and made them weep, and entered their throats until they gasped for mercy. It was not done for effect. The power lay in the fact that it was real to the preacher. He had lived through a nightmare of a terrible experience and it was being used to a holy purpose. He was deeply in earnest and men knew it. He never preached a religion he had simply learned, but a truth that had been cut into his soul by a deep and rich experience. (Ebenezer Smith, Two Centuries of Grace, 15-16)

Something unusual was happening there in Waterbeach, under Spurgeon’s preaching. There have been times in history when God has powerfully raised up preachers and brought about a revival. One thinks of the famous revival in Northampton under Jonathan Edwards, or the Great Awakening under the preaching of Wesley and Whitefield, or the ministry of Martyn Lloyd-Jones at Westminster Chapel. The history books record these stories, and many others like them, in great detail.

But throughout history, there have also been many other occasions of genuine revival that have received less attention. And yet they are no less (as Edwards calls it) the surprising work of God. Such is the case of Spurgeon’s ministry in Waterbeach from 1851-1854. In those short three years, the church grew from a few dozen to over 400 through the sermons of this “boy preacher.” Spurgeon describes the “wonders” that God worked in that small village:

In a short time, the little thatched chapel was crammed, the biggest vagabonds of the village were weeping floods of tears, and those who had been the curse of the parish became its blessing. Where there had been robberies and villainies of every kind, all round the neighborhood, there were none, because the men who used to do the mischief were themselves in the house of God, rejoicing to hear of Jesus crucified. I am not telling an exaggerated story, nor a thing that I do not know, for it was my delight to labor for the Lord in that village. It was a pleasant thing to walk through that place, when drunkenness had almost ceased, when debauchery in the case of many was dead, when men and women went forth to labor with joyful hearts, singing the praises of the ever-living God; and when, at sunset, the humble cottager called his children together, read them some portion from the Book of Truth, and then together they bent their knees in prayer to God. I can say, with joy and happiness, that almost from one end of the village to the other, at the hour of eventide, one might have heard the voice of song coming from nearly every roof-tree, and echoing from almost every heart. I do testify, to the praise of God’s grace, that it pleased the Lord to work wonders in our midst. (CHS, Autobiography 1:227)

For over 150 years, the story of the Waterbeach revival has remained hidden in history. But now, with the publication of The Lost Sermons of C. H. Spurgeon, that story is being told again. This week marks the publication of Volume 5 of the Lost Sermons. In here, you will find not only “The Great Conflagration,” but many other sermons that God used to bring about the Waterbeach revival. Our hope is that with this publication, these sermons have the opportunity to once again impact a new generation of Christians.

Learn more about The Lost Sermons of C. H. Spurgeon, Volume 5.



Highlights from the Second Five Years, S&T 1870-1874

By / Mar 24

Last month, we published the first five years of The Sword and the Trowel on Spurgeon.org. Today, we are releasing the second five years, from 1870-1874. During these years, Spurgeon’s ministry continues to expand as his students graduate from the Pastors’ College, churches are planted, missionaries are sent out, the orphanage and book distribution ministries continue to grow, and more. Amid these busy and fruitful years, The Sword and Trowel is one of the primary communication channels for all these Spurgeonic enterprises.

Here are a few articles worth checking out in these second five years. As you read through these magazines, hit us up on Twitter (@SpurgeonMBTS) if you find anything interesting!

(To jump straight to the article, click on the link, then click the “View this Resource” button.)

1870

How Shall We Sing? – Spurgeon on how to encourage congregational singing

COULD we rule the service of song in the house of the Lord, we should, we fear, come into conflict with the prejudices and beliefs of many most excellent men, and bring a hornet’s nest about our ears. Although we have neither the will nor the power to become reformers of sacred music, we should like to whisper a few things into the ear of some of our Jeduthuns or Asaphs, who happen to be “chief musicians” in country towns or rural villages.

1871

The Ministry Needed by the Churches, and Measures for Providing – A summary of Spurgeon’s philosophy of pastoral ministry

No one can doubt that the spiritual condition of the Christian church is very much affected by the character of its ministry. For good or for evil, the leaders do actually lead to a very large extent. Doubtless the hearers influence the preacher, but for the most part the stronger current runs the other way. “Like priest, like people,” is a well-known and truthful proverb, applicable with undiminished force to those who scorn the priestly title.

Use the Pen – Spurgeon’s encouragement to Christians to use writing as a tool for ministry

Every man who addresses his fellow creatures with the voice should try his hand at pen and paper, if only for his own sake; it will correct his style, give it more accuracy, more condensation; probably, therefore, more weight. The possibility of doing good to the souls of men is a grand incentive which needs no other to supplement it, and such a possibility beyond all question exists when warmhearted thought is expressed in telling language, and scattered broadcast in type among the masses. Young men, look to your goosequills, your Gillets;, or your Waverleys, and see if you cannot write for Jesus.

1872

Advice Gratis (and part 2)- Here’s a mailbag where Spurgeon answers all kinds of questions related to ministry and the Christian life

UPON one or two matters we shall this month give our readers our advice gratis, and at least we shall feel sure that it is worth the fee charged for it, if not more. When a man has been more than twenty-one years in the ministry he may be considered to be of age, and upon some points, it may no be foolish to “ask him.” We shall be quite willing in future numbers to give such answers as we can to any queries of sufficient importance for general edification. Though by no means skilled in the law, we have some experience, in matters concerning the gospel; and wilt in this paper and succeeding ones give replies to certain queries which have reached us. Should any tender consciences feel aggrieved by receiving that for which they have not paid, they can forward the usual six shillings and eight pence to the Stockwell Orphanage.

1873

Acta Non Verba – Spurgeon on the role of action in the Christian life

The intensely practical character of Christianity might be inferred from the life of its founder. In Jesus we see no display, no aiming at effect, nothing spoken or done to decorate or ornament the simplicity of his daily life. True, he was a prophet, mighty in words as well as in deeds; but his words were downright and direct, winged with a purpose, and never uttered for speaking’s sake.

John Ploughman on Mothers – Spurgeon’s encouragement to Christian mothers

MOST men are what their mothers made them. The father is away from home all day, and has not half the influence over the children that the mother has. The cow has most to do with the calf. If a ragged colt grows into a good horse, we know who it is that combed him. A mother is therefore a very responsible woman, even though she may be the poorest in the land, for the bad or the good of her boys and girls very much depends upon her. Just as she bends the twigs the trees will grow. As is the gardener such is the garden, as is the wife such is the family. Samuel’s mother made him a little coat every year, but she had done a deal for him before that. Samuel would not have been Samuel if Hannah had not been Hannah. We shall never see a better set of men till the mothers are better. We must have Sarahs and Rebekahs before we shall see Isaacs and Jacobs. Grace does not run in the blood, but we generally find that the Timothies have mothers of a godly sort.

1874

A Few Words Upon Objections to Revivals – Spurgeon distinguishes between revivalism and true revivals.

We deprecate most solemnly the excesses of certain revivalists; we lament the foolish rant and false doctrine which have poisoned former movements in certain quarters, but our solemn conviction is that the present gracious visitation which many parts of England and Scotland are enjoying is of the Lord, and should be hailed with delight by all gracious men. ‘God speed it,’ we say, ‘and make all the world to feel its power to the confusion of the hosts of evil and to the exaltation of the Son of God.’



“How do I know I’m called?” Spurgeon and the Call to Pastoral Ministry

By / Mar 17

“How do I know if I’ve been called to pastoral ministry?” This was a question that Spurgeon frequently encountered. As the president of the Pastors’ College, Spurgeon interviewed a lot of young men aspiring to pastoral ministry, and he had to turn many of them away. Some criticized Spurgeon for having such a strict view of the pastoral call. After all, in that day, as in our day, there was a great need for gospel ministers. But Spurgeon understood that pastoral ministry was not something to be entered into lightly.

When I think upon the all but infinite mischief which may result from a mistake as in our vocation for the Christian pastorate, I feel overwhelmed with fear lest any of us should be slack in examining our credentials; and I had rather that we stood too much in doubt, and examined too frequently, than that we should become cumberers of the ground.

In saying this, Spurgeon was careful to distinguish pastoral ministry from the evangelistic and discipling ministry that every Christian is to engage in. All of God’s people are called to represent Him in whatever context He places them. But the call to pastoral ministry is something more specific. Spurgeon explains it in this way:

I do not… allude to occasional preaching, or any other form of ministry common to all the saints, but to the work and office of the bishopric, in which is included both teaching and bearing rule in the Church, which requires the dedication of a man’s entire life to spiritual work, and separation from every secular calling, (2 Timothy 2:4); and entitles the man to cast himself for temporal supplies upon the church of God, since he gives up all his time, energies, and endeavors, for the good of those over whom he presides. (1 Corinthians 9:11); (1 Timothy 5:18.)

In other words, this is a call “to the work and office of the bishopric” or pastor or elder, terms Spurgeon (and the New Testament) used interchangeably. Here, he differentiates between lay elders and those who are separate “from every secular calling” and cast themselves “for temporal supplies upon the church of God.” Spurgeon prized the lay elders and deacons in his church and believed that the ministry of the church would be impossible with them. At the same time, he recognized a distinct role of the main preacher of God’s Word, the minister, or pastor of the church. It was a call to this kind of ministry that Spurgeon worked hard to examine.

So how does one know if he has been called to pastoral ministry? Spurgeon offers four things to look for in your life:

#1 – “An intense, all-absorbing desire for the work.”

In order to a true call to the ministry there must be an irresistible, overwhelming craving and raging thirst for telling others What God has done to our own souls… If any student in this room could be content to be a newspaper editor, or a grocer, or a farmer or a doctor, or a lawyer, or a senator, or a king, in the name of heaven and earth let him go his way; he is not the man in whom dwells the Spirit of God in its fulness, for a man so filled with God would utterly weary of any pursuit but that for which his inmost soul pants. If on the other hand, you can say that for all the wealth of both the Indies you could not and dare not espouse any other calling so as to be put aside from preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, then, depend upon it, if other things be equally satisfactory, you have the signs of this apostleship.

Spurgeon is reflecting on Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 3: “This saying is trustworthy: ‘If anyone aspires to be an overseer, he desires a noble work.’” Notice, Paul is not saying you aspire to a position, or to a title, this is about desiring a noble work. So for those who aspire to being an overseer (or bishop), it’s important to examine that aspiration. Why do I have this desire? Is it because I want to be influential? Is it just because I’m tired of my current job? Is it because nothing else has worked out? Or is it because I am floored by what God has done for me in Jesus Christ and I want to give my life to telling others about it? There can be a hundred different reasons why people want to be a pastor… what is it that you want?

#2 – “There must be aptness to teach and some measure of the other qualities needful for the office of a public instructor.”

Out of all the qualifications of an elder in 1 Timothy 3, it’s notable that all the ones listed there are also qualities that are generally expected of all Christians. Certainly, elders are to be more mature in those qualities so that they can be examples to the flock. But there’s nothing unique about that list, except for one. Elders are to be “able to teach,” or “apt to teach.” Nowhere else do we see this as being expected of all Christians. But elders are to be able to teach God’s people. Spurgeon states,

Whatever you may know, you cannot be truly efficient ministers if you are not “apt to teach.”

Brethren, I long that we may all be “apt to teach.” The Church is never overdone with those whose “lips feed many.” It should be our ambition to be “good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” We all know certain able ministers who are expositors of the Word, and instructors of believers. You always bring something away when you hear them. They trade in precious things; their merchandise is of the gold of Ophir. Certain passages of Scripture are quoted and set in a new light; and certain specialties of Christian experience are described and explained. We come away from such preaching feeling that we have been to a good school. Brethren, I desire that we may each one exercise such an edifying ministry!

At the same time, teaching is not the full extent of the pastor’s ministry. Other qualifications and abilities are needed also. Spurgeon reminded his students:

Mere ability to edify, and aptness to teach is not enough, there must be other talents to complete the pastoral character. Sound judgment and solid experience must instruct you; gentle manners and loving affections must sway you; firmness and courage must be manifest; and tenderness and sympathy must not be lacking. Gifts administrative in ruling well will be as requisite as gifts instructive in teaching well. You must be fitted to lead, prepared to endure, and able to persevere. In grace, you should be head and shoulders above the rest of the people, able to be their father and counselor. Read, carefully the qualifications of a bishop, given in 1 Timothy 3, and in Titus 1. If such gifts and graces be not in you and abound, it may be possible for you to succeed as an evangelist, but as a pastor you will be of no account.

So if you aspire to the work of ministry, cultivate and grow in the qualifications of an elder, particularly the ability to teach God’s Word.

#3 “one must see a measure of conversion-work going on under his efforts.”

As Paul writes in 1 Cor. 3 – “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.” In other words, in all of our ministry, we are utterly dependent on God for any spiritual life, any spiritual growth. And we should hope to see God work through us before we are confirmed in our call to ministry. Spurgeon writes,

There must be some measure of conversion-work in your irregular labors before you can believe that preaching is to be your life-work… It is a marvel to me how men continue at ease in preaching year after year without conversions. Have they no bowels of compassion for others? No sense of responsibility upon themselves? Dare they, by a vain misrepresentation of divine sovereignty, cast the blame on their Master? Or is it their belief that Paul plants and Apollos waters, and that God gives no increase? Vain are their talents, their philosophy, their rhetoric, and even their orthodoxy, without the signs following. How are they sent of God who bring no men to God?

That’s not to say that we should ever presume on God’s work or try to manipulate people to respond to the gospel. At the same time, no preacher should be content with a ministry that never sees anybody converted or edified. Spurgeon writes,

I hope it will never get to be your notion that only a certain class of preachers can be soul-winners. Every preacher should labor to be the means of saving his hearers. The truest reward of our life work is to bring dead souls to life. I long to see souls brought to Jesus every time I preach. I should break my heart if I did not see it to be so. Men are passing into eternity so rapidly that we must have them saved at once… If our preaching never saves a soul, and is not likely to do so, should we not better glorify God as farmers, or as tradesmen?

Now here’s a little secret: Spurgeon didn’t see his first convert until after he became a pastor. It wasn’t until he had been pastoring at Waterbeach for many months, on his 100th preaching occasion, when Hannah Spalding was converted under his ministry.

So I don’t think Spurgeon is giving us a hard & fast rule. But there is something to be said if you are on staff at the church, and teaching & preaching, and after 2, 5, 8 years, you are not seeing any conversions or any fruit from your teaching… then perhaps the Lord never called you.

Here’s where ministry is different from any secular calling. In secular callings, you can work hard, learn skills, and accomplish great things in the world. But when it comes to the work of ministry, if your goal is to see sinners saved and see Christians edified and mature in Christ, then you are utterly dependent on God and the work of the Holy Spirit. You walk into that pulpit week after week utterly powerless to accomplish that task on your own. That’s what you’re signing up for!

#4 – “that your preaching should be acceptable to the people of God.”

In other words, a church needs to call you to be their pastor. Just as Paul called the churches in Galatia to examine their pastors and to kick out any pastor that was preaching a false gospel, so in our day, churches have the responsibility and authority, on Christ’s behalf, to evaluate teachers, and to call pastors for the work of the ministry. Speaking to a room full of eager young preachers, Spurgeon warns them to be patient.

God usually opens doors of utterance for those whom he calls to speak in his name. Impatience would push open or break down the door, but faith waits upon the Lord, and in due season her opportunity is awarded her. When the opportunity comes then comes our trial. Standing up to preach, our spirit will be judged of the assembly, and if it be condemned, or if, as a general rule, the church is not edified, the conclusion may not be disputed, that we are not sent of God. The signs and marks of a true bishop are laid down in the Word for the guidance of the church; and if in following such guidance the brethren see not in us the qualifications, and do not elect us to office, it is plain enough that however well we may evangelize, the office of the pastor is not for us.

Which means that the church is one of the best places for someone to test their call to ministry. Not the seminary. Not the campus ministry. Not the denominational office. But the church. Other venues can be useful. But ultimately, it’s the church that extends the pastoral call. So don’t make the mistake where the first time you serve the church is when they call you as the pastor. Rather, if you are a Christian, your life should be built around the ministry of the church in service to the church in whatever way is needed. And being called as a pastor is just the next step in that. Again, Spurgeon writes,

Young men who have never preached are set apart to the ministry, those who have never visited the sick, never instructed the ignorant, and are totally devoid of any knowledge of gospel experience except the little of their own, are supposed to be dedicated to the Christian ministry. I believe this to be a radical and a fatal error. Brethren, we have no right to thrust a brother into the ministry until he has first given evidence of his own conversion, and has also given proof not only of being a good average worker but something wore. If he cannot labor in the church before he pretends to be a minister, he is good for nothing. If he cannot whilst he is a private member of the church perform all the duties of that position with zeal and energy, and if he is not evidently a consecrated man whilst he is a private Christian, certainly you do not feel the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit to bid him enter the ministry.

Conclusion

These four qualifications serve as a kind of caution for those aspiring for pastoral ministry. Don’t rush in. Examine yourself and your ministry. Be patient. But what if all four of these characteristics are manifested in your life? Then they become a source of strong assurance. If you see these qualifications in your life, including having been called by a congregation to be their pastor, then all that’s left is for you to believe that God has commissioned you to preach the gospel and lead His people.

It is essential to a minister’s faith [to] believe in our own commission to preach the gospel. If any brother here is not assured of his call to the ministry, let him wait till he is sure of it. He who doubts as to whether he is sent of God goes hesitatingly, but he who is certain of his call from above demands and commands an audience; he does not apologize for his existence, or for his utterances, but he quits himself as a man, and speaks God’s truth in the name of the Lord.