Bible Reading and Prayer in the Marriage of Charles and Susie Spurgeon

By / Dec 1

Charles and Susie Spurgeon’s engagement in August of 1854 got off to a great start. There was no elaborate setting with balloons and fireworks—just a simple garden. It seems that Charles never said, “I love you,” to Susie until he was ready to say, “will you marry me?”  Susie said “yes,” and such marked the formal beginning of one of the great love stories in Christian history.

After Charles proposed marriage, Susie found a quiet place, fell to her knees, and she lifted her voice heavenward in prayer and thanksgiving to God “for his great mercy in giving me the love of so good a man.”[1] Her first inclination was to pray. This proclivity toward prayer remained with her for the rest of her life. 

Susie later confessed her inadequacy of carrying such a hefty load—of being the wife of a famed preacher and of being alone when he traveled— except for the “given grace to commit all into the Father’s loving hand, and the granted faith to believe that, ‘He hath done all things well.’”[2]

On their knees with an open Bible, Charles and Susie’s spirituality deepened and steeled them for their journey together. Both recognized the emptiness of popularity and marriage without God’s help. Charles said that even having Susie’s “sweet love” was insufficient if he should “be left of God to fall, and to depart from His ways.”[3]

How did Charles and Susie stay on the pathway of faithfulness to God?

Bible Reading Centered on Christ

Charles and Susie’s devotion to God is evident by the centrality of Christ in their thinking, writing, and practices. Charles wrote,

A man who is a believing admirer and a hearty lover of the truth, as it is in Jesus, is in a right place to follow with advantage any other branch of science. . . . Once when I read books, I put all my knowledge together in glorious confusion; but ever since I have known Christ, I have put Christ in the centre as my sun, and each science revolves around it like a planet, while minor sciences are satellites to these planets.[4]

The Spurgeons’ marriage revolved around Jesus. Where did Charles look for guidance as a husband? He looked to Jesus: “The true Christian is to be such a husband as Christ was to his spouse.”[5] A Christocentric reading of the Scripture informed Charles that he was to love Susie in a “special,” “constant,” “enduring,” and “delighted” manner, for he took Christ as his Savior, his model, and his teacher.[6] And Susie felt that she was married to a man who loved her deeply because he loved Christ supremely. Susie’s marriage caused her to marvel at “the mercy of my God”[7] Charles marveled at the depth of Susie’s spirituality.[8] Both marveled at the glory of Christ.

Susie encouraged readers of her book, Ten Years After, to envision God’s care through the lens of Christ. She knew that spiritual nourishment was found “in Christ, in Christ’s life in thee,” for in him there is “a never-failing spring of comfort and renewing grace, which no heat of sorrow, or scorching wind of earthly care, can ever dry up.”[9]

Charles and Susie’s Christ-centered perspective was honed through their disciplined reading of the Bible. Their approach was simple—they believed the Bible to be true, trustworthy, and sufficient because of the infallibility of God Himself. And, trusting in the reliability of the Bible—they read it faithfully, confidently, and expectantly. Everything that they needed to know about God and about how to love one another was contained in the Bible. Charles imagined that if the Bible merely contained the words of man, it should be discarded. However, he believed the Bible to be “God’s handwriting” and, therefore, authoritative.”[10] Susie said that it was “well to ponder every weighty sentence” of God’s “loving voice.”[11]

Why was Bible reading so important to Charles? He said that it was through the Bible that God speaks to His people.[12] Charles desired that Christians dig deeply into the Bible itself. “If the heavenly gold is not worth digging for, you are not likely to discover it.”[13] Daily, when Charles and Susie read the Bible, they heard the voice of God speaking from the words contained therein. The Bible was the foundation upon which their marriage stood, and it was the wisdom from which their marriage prospered.

For Charles and Susie, meditation on the Bible was the filling of their minds with Scripture: Scripture thought upon, pondered, considered, prayed over. Meditation was not a passive, mind-emptying, or mystical exercise for Charles and Susie; it involved actively marshaling all of their intellectual resources so as to make “sweet truth” of Scripture accessible. Charles proclaimed, “These grapes [Bible passages] will yield no wine until we tread on them.”[14] Meditation was treading on the words of Scripture—pressing out from them the truth about everything that God taught for the purpose of knowing and walking with God.

Prayer

Prayer was “a most precious thing” in the Spurgeons’ home because it brought them into communion with God and channeled inestimable blessings from God to them.[15]

Their faith was simple—they asked God for whatever they needed and trusted that He would supply. Charles believed that God gave promises in the Bible with intent to fulfill said promises to those who asked by faith. He was not advocating for what is today commonly called a prosperity gospel. Quite the opposite; he earnestly read the Bible in context and searched for God’s promises. Discovering them, he asked God to fulfill His promises. Very simply, Charles and Susie prayed expectantly that God, out of His generous kindness and love, would act on their behalf.

When Susie’s mind and body were taxed, she looked “entreatingly to Him who alone could move brain, and heart, and hand.”[16] Though she leaned on her husband for help, she recognized that the source of her ultimate support for every task was the Lord. Sometimes Susie’s prayers were unuttered; they were merely her glances upward with longing eyes.Prayer was her direct line to God—“a telephone from my lips to thy heart and every sigh is recorded there.”[17] Susie didn’t view God as reluctant to hear her prayers for He had invited her to approach Him with a sense of boldness.

Charles prayed spontaneously, and he prayed in connection with his Bible reading. He asked his church members, “Do you wish to begin to be true readers? Will you henceforth labor to understand?” He answered, “Then you must get to your knees. You must cry to God for direction.” This was Charles’s practice, and he found that prayer was a means of “soul enrichment” and “the vessel which trades with heaven and comes home from the celestial country laden with treasures.”[18] In Spurgeon’s thinking, each of the spiritual disciplines build on and complement one another. Pray to understand Scripture, read Scripture to understand prayer, and meditate on Scripture to internalize its truths and to consider how to apply God’s Word in every area of life.

Charles and Susie prayed together “as joint heirs of grace” because “any temper of habit, which hinders this, is evil” and indicative of a pilotless household.[19] Charles, directly connected the effectiveness of his prayers to his love and honor for Susie.”[20] During a particular season in Charles’s life, he felt cold toward God—and he was not content in his coldness. So, he fought, by prayer, for spiritual heat—for passion—for fervent joy in Christ. He knew that in Susie he had a praying wife, one who believed, as he did, that when God blesses his people, He always uses the prayers of His people. “Pray for me, my love; and may our united petitions win a blessing through the Saviour’s merit.”[21] She responded to that particular request with a benediction: “May His blessing rest in an especial manner on you to-night, my dearly-beloved.”[22]

Conclusion

Whether reading the Bible and praying privately or engaging in family worship, Charles and Susie were not half-hearted in their efforts. Susie encouraged readers of her books not to be content with a “sickly, spiritual life” as such dishonors Christ and hurts oneself.”[23] Charles and Susie simply kept “drinking of that [the Bible] living water constantly,” and they were “refreshed and strengthened thereby for suffering or for service.”[24]

Biographer Russell Conwell points to Charles and Susie’s “cheerful trust in God, unshakable love for each other, and a domestic peace such as only the most perfect English homes enjoy.”[25] Though Charles and Susie are a stellar example of marital love, they would not have imagined their home as “perfect.” However, their home was characterized by the peace of God and they were enabled by their spirituality that was rooted in Scripture and directed upward in prayer.


Ray Rhodes, Jr. is author of Susie: The Life and Legacy of Susannah Spurgeon and Yours, Till Heaven: The Untold Love Story of Charles and Susie Spurgeon (Feb. 2021) from Moody Publishers. This article was adapted from Yours, Till Heaven and Ray’s doctoral thesis, “The Role of Bible Intake and Prayer in the Marriage of Charles and Susannah Spurgeon.”


[1]C. H. Spurgeon, C.H. Spurgeon’s Autobiography: Complied from His Diary, Letters, and Records, by His Wife and His Private Secretary (London: Passmore and Alabaster, 1897–1900; repr., Pasadena, TX), 2:29.

[2]Mrs. C. H. Spurgeon, Ten Years After! (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1895), 26.

[3]C.H. Spurgeon, Autobiography., 2:26.

[4]Michael Reeves, Spurgeon on the Christian Life: Alive in Christ (Wheaton: Crossway, 2018), 36. Reeves’s quote is from a Spurgeon sermon.

[5]C.H. Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit: Sermons Preached and Revised by C. H. Spurgeon (Pasadena, TX: Pilgrim Publications, 1970–2006), 11:253.

[6]Ibid., 257–8.

[7]C. H. Spurgeon, Autobiography, 2:9

[8]Ibid., 2:10.

[9]Mrs. C. H. Spurgeon, Ten Years After!, 38.

[10]C. H. Spurgeon, The New Park Street Pulpit (Pasadena, TX: Pilgrim, 1970-2006), 1:111.

[11]Susannah Spurgeon, Free Grace and Dying Love: Morning Devotions (1896; repr., Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2013), 64.

[12]C.H. Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit: Sermons Preached and Revised by C. H. Spurgeon (Pasadena, TX: Pilgrim Publications, 1970-2006), 25:631.

[13]Ibid., 631.

[14]C.H. Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit: Sermons Preached and Revised by C. H. Spurgeon, 25:629

[15]C. H. Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, 20:506.

[16]Mrs. C. H. Spurgeon, Ten Years After (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1895), 27.

[17]Mrs. C. H. Spurgeon, A Cluster of Camphire (Springfield, MO: Particular Baptist Press, 2016, reprint from 1898), 40.

[18]C.H. Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit: Sermons Preached and Revised by C. H. Spurgeon (Pasadena, TX: Pilgrim Publications, 1970-2006), 25:629.

[19]C. H. Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit: Sermons Preached and Revised by C. H. Spurgeon (Pasadena, TX: Pilgrim Publications, 1970-2006), 20:506.

[20]Ibid., 506.

[21]C. H. Spurgen, Autobiography, 2:18.

[22]Ibid.

[23]Mrs. C. H. Spurgeon, Ten Years After!, 38.

[24]Ibid., 65.

[25]Russell H. Conwell, The Life of Charles H. Spurgeon: The World’s Great Preacher (Philadelphia: Edgewood, 1892), 236.



Celebrating Thanksgiving by Thanks-Living

By / Nov 24

It is Thanksgiving season once again in America. This is the time of the year when we gather with family and friends to feast together, giving thanks for God’s goodness in the previous year. Here in 2020, however, Thanksgiving comes at a difficult time. For so many, this has been a year of isolation, uncertainty, fear, and even loss. Now, as many states once again enforce restrictions on social gatherings, it seems even Thanksgiving will not escape the troubles of 2020. But what if Thanksgiving was not merely an event, but a way of life?

Spurgeon spoke of thanksgiving hundreds of times in his writings and sermons. But thanksgiving was not an occasional event, rooted on circumstances or holidays or good food. Rather, thanksgiving was to be a part of the Christian life. This is what Spurgeon called thanks-living.

Then, brethren, we ought to be always thanks-living. I think that is a better thing than thanksgiving — thanks-living. How is this to be done? By a general cheerfulness of manner, by an obedience to the command of him by whose mercy we live, by a perpetual, constant, delighting ourselves in the Lord, and submission of our desires to his mind. Oh! I wish that our whole life might be a psalm; that every day might be a stanza of a mighty poem; that so from the day of our spiritual birth until we enter heaven we might be pouring forth sacred minstrelsy in every thought. and word, and action of our lives. Let us give him thankfulness and thanks-living.

This kind of thankfulness was rooted in the character and acts of God. Therefore, amid trials and difficulties, the Christian ever has reason for praising and thanking God for His unchanging goodness. Reflecting on Psalm 107:1, Spurgeon writes,

It is all we can give him, and the least we can give; therefore, let us diligently render to him our thanksgiving. The psalmist is in earnest in the exhortation, hence the use of the interjection “O”, to intensity his words: let us be at all times thoroughly fervent in the praises of the Lord, both with our lips and with our lives, by thanksgiving and thanks-living. JEHOVAH, for that is the name here used, is not to be worshipped with groans and cries, but with thanks, for he is good; and these thanks should be heartily rendered, for his is no common goodness: he is good by nature, and essence, and proven to be good in all the acts of his eternity. Compared with him there is none good, no, no one: but he is essentially, perpetually, superlatively, infinitely good. We are the perpetual partakers of his goodness, and therefore ought above all his creatures to magnify his name. Our praise should be increased by the fact that the divine goodness is not a transient thing, but in the attribute of mercy abides forever the same.

What if before we ever begin our Thanksgiving season, we were to start living thanks before God in a continual state? What if we prayerfully recognized where all things come from every day of the year? Even more, what if our thanksgiving was rooted not in our circumstances, but in God Himself? Giving thanks to God for all His blessings and provisions at Thanksgiving time is a wonderful tradition but continuing this year around becomes more than tradition. It becomes a way of life, made possible by the love of God shown to us in Christ. This is how we can live in a state of constant praise and adoration for our Lord.

Whether your Thanksgiving celebrations this year are marked by festivity or isolation, may Spurgeon’s words and the Word of God show us what true Christian thankfulness is all about.

Thanksgiving is a good thing, thanks-living is a better.



The Pearl of the Psalms: Spurgeon on Psalm 23

By / Nov 17

Psalm 23 is undoubtedly one of the most well-known passages in Scripture.  It adorns walls in faithful churches and fills frames in Christian homes.  David’s song is portrayed in non-religious circles too, making appearances in many secular movies and other entertainment mediums.  Though not often recited in its entirety, few are unfamiliar with the famous “valley of the shadow of death.” 

The noteworthiness of Psalm 23 was not lost on Spurgeon.  In fact, he thought quite highly of it, as is evident by this especially generous compliment: “Of this delightful song it may be affirmed that its piety and its poetry are equal, its sweetness and its spirituality are unsurpassed.”  Spurgeon once referred to Psalm 23 as the “Pearl of the Psalms” in his monthly magazine, The Sword and the Trowel.  This magazine often included an exposition of a psalm, and in the 1866 publication Spurgeon featured Psalm 23.  Below are some of his most touching and eloquent comments on each verse.

1The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

The sweetest word of the whole is that monosyllable, “My.”  He does not say, “The Lord is the shepherd of the world at large, and leadeth forth the multitude as his flock,” but “The Lord is my shepherd;” if he be a Shepherd to no one else, he is a Shepherd to me; he cares for me, watches over me, and preserves me.” The words are in the present tense.  Whatever be the believer’s position, he is even now under the pastoral care of Jehovah.[1]

It is not only “I do not want,” but “I shall not want.”  Come what may, if famine should devastate the land, or calamity destroy the city, “I shall not want.”  Old age with its feebleness shall not bring me any lack, and even death with its gloom shall not find me destitute.  I have all things and abound; not because I have a good store of money in the bank, not because I have skill and wit with which to win my bread, but because “The Lord is my shepherd.”  The wicked always want, but the righteous never; a sinner’s heart is far from satisfaction, but a gracious spirit dwells in a palace of content.[2]

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

What are these “green pastures” but the Scriptures of truth—always fresh, always rich, and never exhausted? There is no fear of biting the bare ground where the grass is long enough for the flock to lie down in it. Sweet and full are the doctrines of the gospel; fit food for souls, as tender grass is natural nutriment for sheep.

What are these “still waters” but the influences and graces of his blessed Spirit? His Spirit attends us in various operations, like waters—in the plural—to cleanse, to refresh, to fertilize, to cherish. They are “still waters”, for the Holy Ghost loves peace, and sounds no trumpet of ostentation in his operations…. Not to raging waves of strife, but to peaceful streams of holy love does the Spirit of God conduct the chosen sheep. He is a dove, not an eagle; the dew, not the hurricane.[3]

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Are any of us low in grace? Do we feel that our spirituality is at its lowest ebb? He who turns the ebb into the flood can soon restore our soul. Pray to him, then, for the blessing—”Restore thou me, thou Shepherd of my soul!”

Some Christians overlook the blessing of sanctification, and yet to a thoroughly renewed heart this is one of the sweetest gifts of the covenant. If we could be saved from wrath, and yet remain unregenerate, impenitent sinners, we should not be saved as we desire, for we mainly and chiefly pant to be saved from sin and led in the way of holiness.[4]

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

This unspeakably delightful verse has been sung on many a dying bed, and has helped to make the dark valley bright times out of mind. Every word in it has a wealth of meaning.

Yea, though I walk, as if the believer did not quicken his pace when he came to die, but still calmly walked with God. To walk indicates the steady advance of a soul which knows its road, knows its end, resolves to follow the path, feels quite safe, and is therefore perfectly calm and composed… Observe that it is not walking in the valley, but through the valley. We go through the dark tunnel of death and emerge into the light of immortality. We do not die, we do but sleep to wake in glory. Death is not the house but the porch, not the goal but the passage to it… Many a saint has reaped more joy and knowledge when he came to die than he ever knew while he lived. And, then, it is not “the valley of death, “but the valley of the shadow of death, for death in its substance has been removed, and only the shadow of it remains… Nobody is afraid of a shadow, for a shadow cannot stop a man’s pathway even for a moment. The shadow of a dog cannot bite; the shadow of a sword cannot kill; the shadow of death cannot destroy us. Let us not, therefore, be afraid.  I will fear no evil. He does not say there shall not be any evil; he had got beyond even that high assurance, and knew that Jesus had put all evil away; but “I will fear no evil; …not even the Evil One himself; I will not dread the last enemy, I will look upon him as a conquered foe, an enemy to be destroyed, For thou art with me. This is the joy of the Christian!  …The little child out at sea in the storm is not frightened like all the other passengers on board the vessel, it sleeps in its mother’s bosom; it is enough for it that its mother is with it; and it should be enough for the believer to know that Christ is with him… Thy rod and thy staff, by which you govern and rule your flock, the ensigns of your sovereignty and of your gracious care—they comfort me. I will believe that thou reignest still. The rod of Jesse shall still be over me as the sovereign succor of my soul.[5]

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

The good man has his enemies. He would not be like his Lord if he had not. If we were without enemies, we might fear that we were not the friends of God, for the friendship of the world is enmity to God…Thou preparest a table… Nothing is hurried, there is no confusion, no disturbance, the enemy is at the door, and yet God prepares a table, and the Christian sits down and eats as if everything were in perfect peace. Oh! the peace which Jehovah gives to his people, even in the midst of the most trying circumstances!

May we live in the daily enjoyment of this blessing, receiving a fresh anointing for every day’s duties. Every Christian is a priest, but he cannot execute the priestly office without unction, and hence we must go day by day to God the Holy Ghost, that we may have our heads anointed with oil.

He had not only enough, a cup full, but more than enough, a cup which overflowed. A poor man may say this as well as those in higher circumstances, “What, all this, and Jesus Christ too?”[6]

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

This is a fact as indisputable as it is encouraging, and therefore a heavenly verily, or “surely” is set as a seal upon it. This sentence may be read, “only goodness and mercy, “for there shall be unmingled mercy in our history. These twin guardian angels will always be with me at my back and my beck… Goodness and mercy follow him always—all the days of his life —the black days as well as the bright days, the days of fasting as well as the days of feasting, the dreary days of winter as well as the bright days of summer. Goodness supplies our needs, and mercy blots out our sins. And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. “A servant abideth not in the house for ever, but the son abideth ever.” While I am here I will be a child at home with my God; the whole world shall be his house to me; and when I ascend into the upper chamber, I shall not change my company, nor even change the house; I shall only go to dwell in the upper story of the house of the Lord forever. May God grant us grace to dwell in the serene atmosphere of this most blessed Psalm![7]


[1] S&T 1866:550

[2] S&T 1866:550

[3] S&T 1866:555-551

[4] S&T 1866:551

[5] S&T 1866:551-552

[6] S&T 1866:552-553

[7] S&T 1866:553



“United Adoration”: Spurgeon and Congregational Singing

By / Nov 11

The year was 1855 as controversy brewed about the pews of London over the publication of a hymn-book entitled, The Rivulet. Penned by the local minister Thomas Lynch, the book raised more than a few ministerial eyebrows for its lack of explicit Christian orthodoxy. The hymn-book quickly acquired the epithets, “pantheistic,” “written by a Deist” with “not one particle of vital religion or evangelical piety.” The crux of the issue was not the quality of the poetry, but rather the absence of doctrinal clarity in the lyrics. As Charles Spurgeon cheekily put it, “Certainly, some verses are bad…but others of them, like noses of wax, will fit more than one face.” 

Spurgeon’s main concern with The Rivulet was Lynch’s insistence that the hymnal be used in congregational worship. Spurgeon did not object to using the book in private, but to sing its hymns in the gathering of the saints was unthinkable. He said, “A book may be very excellent, and yet unfit for certain purposes.” In Spurgeon’s view, the book was so devoid of any useful doctrine that its lyrics could not “cheer us on a dying bed.” Though The Rivulet is filled with beautifully crafted lyrics, he claimed that “she who would wash the feet of the God-man, Christ Jesus, with her tears, will never find a companion in this book.” In other words, congregational singing should be centered on the saving work of Jesus.

But this was not a legalistic requirement. Rather, for Spurgeon, God’s salvation was the reason for our singing. Singing was not just another thing to pass the time, more entertainment to indulge the senses. No, singing was an appropriate and responsive act of praise to the God who accomplished salvation for his people in Christ Jesus. Speaking to his congregants, Spurgeon exclaimed, “Ye children of his grace, sing unto your Father’s name, and magnify him who keeps you alive.” As a redeemed sinner, Spurgeon declared that “There is no song like that of redemption.” He insisted our God “must be extolled…and he must have the best of our songs.” Spurgeon noted, “Praise is the beauty of a Christian. What wings are to a bird, what fruit is to the tree, what the rose is to the thorn, that is praise to a child of God.” 

Spurgeon regarded singing as an excellent exercise for internalizing the truths of Scripture. The Bible is a book “whose every leaf is of untold value” and whose “every promise will spring a sonnet.” Spurgeon said that “If we read it aright [Bible]” we might draw out of the Scriptures “matchless music such as no other instrument in the world could ever produce.” For, “The whole revelation of God is the condensed essence of praise.”  

All Christians should aspire to store up the truths of the Bible in their soul. Working towards that end, Spurgeon saw singing as an aid in this endeavor. He said, “there is no teaching that is likely to be more useful than that which is accompanied by the right kind of singing.” 

Spurgeon appreciated something that a lot of churches often overlook: the teaching function of right singing. Not only is it right to respond in praise to God with singing, but singing has the ability to imprint the message of God’s Word deep into our hearts. Those who carry God’s revelation in their hearts “have a springing well within their souls at all times.” Therefore, churches ought to be vigilant in deciding what they sing in their public gatherings.  

Lastly, Spurgeon saw congregational singing as a means of glorifying God and maintaining unity among the saints. He asserted that “the main object of our singing…must be the glory of God” and that singing was “the mark of a revived church everywhere.” Spurgeon thought that the joyous worship of God resulted in the singing of the saints. He believed our “master-passion” should be the “zeal of God’s house” which is expressed in our singing “heartily as unto the Lord; not with our voices only, but with our very souls.” 

Spurgeon loved music and urged his parishioners to “Pull out the stops of your organ, and let the music fly abroad.” Since “Praise is the beauty of a Christian,” Spurgeon wanted his congregant’s praise to overflow and magnify the glory of the God who redeemed their souls. Thus he felt it his pastoral duty to guide and guard what the congregation sang. It is not only right but fitting that the communion of saints be steeped in true biblical doctrine as they direct their praises upward in a “sense of united adoration.” 



Spurgeon on Union with Christ

By / Nov 3

Charles Spurgeon never ceased to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ throughout his ministry. At the center of this gospel message was the doctrinal and experiential understanding of union with Christ.

For the Prince of Preachers, union with Christ was the lifeblood of the trinitarian work of salvation. He proclaimed, “The first cause of your union with Christ lies in the purposes of God who gave you grace in Christ Jesus from before the foundation of the world.” Being united to Christ through faith was a work “of the will of God and by the operation of the Holy Ghost.” This was the objective, doctrinal foundation of Spurgeon’s conception of the believer’s union with Christ.

But this doctrine is never to be divorced from the experience of the Christian. “[Noting] the essence of the Christian life. ‘Of God are ye in Christ.’ You have no life before the Lord, except as you are in Christ Jesus,” declared Spurgeon. Union with Christ is to be experienced by the Christian in such a way that he has died and been raised with Christ. His life has been hidden with Christ in God. In Christ, he knows true life so that he may join with Spurgeon in saying, “…there is no joy in this world like union with Christ.”

Whether in the depths of theology or the trenches of the Christian life, union with Christ is vital.  Charles Spurgeon has words to stir the affections of the Christian seeking to know his status as one united to Christ and exhortation to the Christian being spurred on from his union with Christ.

“The mystery of the life within the believer, and the root of that life, that vital union with Christ…”

The radix of the Christian is as secret as the life itself. Who can comprehend the mystery of the life within the believer, and the root of that life, that vital union with Christ, that reception of divine grace may, of his very soul out of the wounds of the Savior, who shall explain this? Only this we must say, however grace flows there from Jesus, it must be there, and it must come from Christ, for all the trees of the Lord are full of sap.

“One marvellous privilege which has been bestowed upon us is of peculiar significance; we are one with Christ by close, vital, spiritual union.”

One marvellous privilege which has been bestowed upon us is of peculiar significance; we are one with Christ by close, vital, spiritual union. We are taught of the Spirit that we enjoy a marriage union with Christ Jesus our Lord-shall that union be dissolved? We are married to him. Has he ever given a bill of divorce? There never has been such a case as the heavenly bridegroom divorcing from his heart a chosen soul to whom he has been united in the bonds of grace.

“Our union with Christ is not only lasting, it is everlasting.”

Our union with Christ is not only lasting, it is everlasting. With great boldness we utter the challenge. “Who shall separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord?” It is true that we hold Christ, and that we will hold him tighter still; but the greater mercy is that he holds us, and he will never let us go.

“He that hath union with Christ has union with perfection, omnipotence and glory.”

If thou believest, thou mayest doubt and fear as to thy state, as a man on board a ship may be tossed about; but thou hast gotten on board a ship that never can be wrecked. He that hath union with Christ has union with perfection, omnipotence and glory. He that believeth is a member of Christ: will Christ lose his members? How should Christ be perfect if he lost even his little finger? Are Christ’s members to rot off, or to be cut off? Impossible. If thou hast faith in Christ thou art a partaker of Christ’s life, and thou canst not perish.

“The life in you is Christ in you the hope of glory; and your life is sustained by the fact that you are one with Christ…”

If so, the life in you is Christ in you the hope of glory; and your life is sustained by the fact that you are one with Christ, and suck the nourishment of your life from him just as the branch draws from the trunk the sap whereby it is invigorated and made to live. I trust, brethren, that we are in union with Christ, not in theory, but in fact; not as a matter of doctrine, but as a matter of experience, till we can say, “Christ is in me, and I am in him; the life that I live in the flesh is no more I, but Christ that liveth in me.”

“Our union with Christ is not subject to degrees.”

If, however, you live depending upon the cross of Jesus you can walk with equable comfort at all times; for the cross never shifts its place, the Atonement never fluctuates, it never rises or falls in value. Our union with Christ is not subject to degrees. We are always in him accepted in the Beloved.

“He brought you into Christ; you were a stranger, he brought you near; you were an enemy, he reconciled you.”

And as to the purpose, so to the power of God is your union with Christ to be attributed. He brought you into Christ; you were a stranger, he brought you near; you were an enemy, he reconciled you. You had never come to Christ to seek for mercy if first of all the Spirit of God had not appeared to you to show you your need, and to lead you to cry for the mercy that you needed. Through God’s operation as well as through God’s decree you are this day in Christ Jesus.

“Union with Christ makes you live; keep up your enjoyment of that union, that you may clearly perceive and enjoy your life.”

Union with Christ makes you live; keep up your enjoyment of that union, that you may clearly perceive and enjoy your life. Begin this year with the prayer, “Nearer to thee, my Lord, nearer to thee.” Think much of the spiritual life and less of this poor carnal life, which will so soon be over. Go to the source of life for an increase of spiritual life. Go to Jesus.


Aaron is a Master of Divinity student at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, MO. He is a member or Emmaus Church. He also serves as a research assistant at the Spurgeon Library.



Spurgeon on Pastoral Transitions

By / Oct 27

Founded in 1652, the New Park Street Chapel had been around for over 200 years when they called 19-year-old Charles Spurgeon to be their pastor in 1854. Like many other churches, this historic Baptist church went through many ups and downs throughout its long history. Reflecting on those pastoral transitions, Spurgeon shares nine lessons for pastors and church leaders to consider as they prepare their churches for the next pastor.

1. HAVE A LONG-TERM VIEW OF THE MINISTRY OF THE CHURCH.

I am told that my venerable predecessor, Dr. Rippon, used often, in his pulpit, to pray for somebody, of whom he knew nothing, who would follow him in the ministry of the church, and greatly increase it. He seemed to have in his mind’s eye some young man, who, in after years, would greatly enlarge the number of the flock, and he often prayed for him. He died, and passed away to Heaven, a year or two after I was born. Older members of the church have told me that they have read the answer to Dr. Rippon’s prayers in the blessing that has been given to us these many years.[1]

2. CONSIDER WHETHER THERE IS A QUALIFIED PASTOR ALREADY IN THE CHURCH. 

When Mr. Keach was upon his death-bed, he sent for his son-in-law, BENJAMIN STINTON, and solemnly charged him to care for the church which he was about to leave, and especially urged him to accept the pastoral office should it be offered to him by the brethren. Mr. Stinton had already for some years helped his father-in-law in many ways, and therefore he was no new and untried man. It is no small blessing when a church can find her pastors in her own midst; the rule is to look abroad; but, perhaps; if our home gifts were more encouraged, the Holy Spirit would cause our teachers to come forth more frequently from among our own brethren. Still, we cannot forget the proverb about a prophet in his own country. When the church gave Mr. Stinton a pressing invitation, he delayed a while, and gave himself space for serious consideration; but, at length, remembering the dying words of his father-in-law, and feeling himself directed by the Spirit of God, he gave himself up to the ministry, which he faithfully discharged for fourteen years.[2]

3. DON’T BE AFRAID TO HIRE A YOUNG PASTOR, PROVIDED THAT HE IS QUALIFIED

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.”[3] 

4. PROVIDE SPACE FOR FURTHER MINISTERIAL TRAINING

[Stinton] had great natural gifts, but felt in need of more education, and set himself to work to obtain it as soon as he was settled over the church. To be thoroughly furnished for the great work before him, was his first endeavor. Crosby [a Baptist historian] says of him: — “He was a very painful and laborious minister of the gospel, and though he had not the advantage of an academical education, yet, by his own industry, under the assistance of the famous Mr. Ainsworth (author of the Latin dictionary), after he had taken upon him the ministerial office, he acquired a good degree of knowledge in the languages, and other useful parts of literature, which added luster to those natural endowments which were very conspicuous in him.”[4] 

5. ELDERS, LEAD THE CONGREGATION TO PRAY FOR GOD’S GUIDANCE DURING TRANSITIONS AND GUARD AGAINST DISUNITY

The loss of its Pastor is always a serious matter to a Baptist church, not only because it is deprived of the services of a well-tried and faithful guide, but because, in the process of selecting a successor, some of the worst points of human nature are apt to come to the front. All may unite in the former Pastor, but where will they find another rallying point? So many men, so many minds. All are not prepared to forego their own predilections, some are ready to be litigious, and a few seize the opportunity to thrust themselves into undue prominence. If they would all wait upon the Lord for His guidance, and consent to follow it when they have obtained it, the matter would move smoothly; but, alas! it is not always so.[5]

6. OLDER PASTORS, BEWARE OF HANGING ON TOO LONG WITHOUT MAKING PROVISION FOR YOUR SUCCESSOR

In [John Gill’s] later years, the congregations were sparse, and the membership seriously declined. He was himself only able to preach once on the Sabbath, and living in a rural retreat in Camberwell, he could do but little in the way of overseeing the church. It was thought desirable that some younger minister should be found to act as co-pastor. To this, the Doctor gave a very decided answer in the negative, asserting “that Christ gives pastors, is certain; but that he gives co-pastors, is not so certain.” He even went the length of comparing a church with a co-pastor to a woman who should marry another man while her first husband lived, and call him co-husband. Great men are not always wise. However, by his stern repudiation of any division of his authority, the old gentleman held the reins of power till the age of seventy-four, although the young people gradually dropped off, and the church barely numbered 150 members.[6]

7. NEW PASTORS, DEAL GRACIOUSLY WITH THOSE WHO DID NOT VOTE TO CALL YOU

They were agreed that they would write to Bristol for a probationer, and MR. JOHN RIPPON was sent to them. He was a youth of some twenty summers, of a vivacious temperament, quick and bold. The older members judged him to be too young, and too flighty; they even accused him of having gone up the pulpit stairs two steps at a time on some occasion when he was hurried, — a grave offense for which the condemnation could hardly be too severe. He was only a young man, and came from an academy, and this alone was enough to make the sounder and older members afraid of him. He preached for a lengthened time on probation, and finally some forty persons withdrew because they could not agree with the enthusiastic vote by which the majority of the people elected him. John Rippon modestly expressed his wonder that even more had not been dissatisfied, and his surprise that so large a number were agreed to call him to the pastorate. In the spirit of forbearance and brotherly love, he proposed that, as these friends were seceding for conscience sake, and intended to form themselves into another church, they should be lovingly dismissed with prayer and God-speed, and that, as a token of fraternal affection, they should be assisted to build a meeting-house for their own convenience, and the sum of £300 should be voted to them when their church was formed and their meeting-house erected. The promise was redeemed, and Mr. Rippon took part in the ordination service of the first minister. This was well done. Such a course was sure to secure the blessing of God. The church in Dean Street thus became another offshoot from the parent stem, and with varying conditions it remains to this day as the church in Trinity Street, Borough.[7] 

8. BEWARE OF UNDERTAKING LARGE PROJECTS WHEN AN OLDER PASTOR IS UNABLE TO ENGAGE IN IT WITH ENERGY

In 1830, six years before Dr. Rippon’s death, the old sanctuary in Carter Lane was closed, to be pulled down for making the approaches to the present London Bridge. Due compensation was given, but a chapel could not be built in a day, and, therefore, for three years, the church was without a home, and had to be indebted to the hospitality of other congregations. After so long a time for choice, the good deacons ought to have pitched upon a better site for the new edifice; but it is not judging them hardly when I say that they could not have discovered a worse position. If they had taken thirty years to look about them with the design of burying the church alive, they could not have succeeded better… That God, in infinite mercy, forbade the extinction of the church, is no mitigation of the shortsightedness which thrust a respectable community of Christians into an out-of-the-way position, far more suitable for a tallow-melter’s business than for a meeting-house. The chapel, however, was a neat, handsome, commodious, well-built edifice, and was regarded as one of the best Baptist chapels in London. Dr. Rippon was present at the opening of the new house in 1833, but it was very evident that, having now found a place to meet in, the next step must be to find a minister to preside over the congregation. This was no easy task, for the old gentleman, though still revered and loved, was difficult to manage in such matters.[8]

9. PERSEVERE IN HOPE THROUGH PASTORAL TRANSITIONS

Between Gill and Rippon, the congregation knew only two pastors for 117 years[!], largely to the blessing of the church. After Rippon, however, the New Park Street Chapel experienced three short successive pastorates in 17 years, leading to decline. Yet, it would be amid that decline that God would bless His people with another faithful pastor.

 These changes sadly diminished the church, and marred its union. The clouds gathered heavily, and no sunlight appeared; but the Lord had not forgotten His people, and in due time He poured them out such a blessing that there was not room to receive it.[9]

Not every pastoral transition will result in the calling of a pastor like Spurgeon. But transitions are an opportunity for Christians to remember that regardless of what may happen to this particular local church, Christ’s promise will always stand: “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Mt. 16:18).


[1] Autobiography 1:303.

[2] Autobiography 1:306-307.

[3] Autobiography 1:303.

[4] Autobiography 1:307.

[5] Autobiography 1:307

[6] Autobiography 1:309-310.

[7] Autobiography 1:311.

[8] Autobiography 1:314-315.

[9] Autobiography 1:316.


This article was originally posted at historicaltheology.org.



Thank God for Unknown Preachers: The Conversions of Spurgeon and Owen

By / Oct 20

“And I, even I only, am left,” cried the prophet Elijah (1 Kgs 9:15, ESV). Twenty-eight centuries later, Charles Spurgeon likewise lamented his own country. His plight, however, was the lack of Puritan influence in English churches. Often considered the last of the Puritans, Spurgeon once said, “For my part, I think that, nowadays, we are not Puritanic enough” and “I should be glad if we were as worthy to be called Puritans as were the men of the days of Dr. John Owen” (MTP 47:134).

Spurgeon had tremendous regard for John Owen, “the most profound divine who ever lived” (MTP 46:499). Perhaps one reason Spurgeon was drawn to him was because of the many similarities between the two men: both were Englishmen, born to Nonconforming families, grew up as pastor’s kids, were school tutors as young men, began pastoring in a small church, and shared a dislike for Presbyterian polity in favor of congregationalism. Yet, the most peculiar similarity is their common conversion under the preaching of rural, uneducated men.

Spurgeon’s Conversion

A snowstorm descended upon the small town of Colchester, England, on January 6th, 1850. Piercing winds howled and sharp snow pelted against the face of the young fifteen-year-old. No longer able to weather the storm, he turned off the main road onto Artillery street and found shelter in a tiny Primitive Methodist chapel. It was Sunday.

Crossing over the threshold, the young man shook off the snow from his coat, wiped his boots, and sat down. Looking around, he noticed there were only about a dozen people in the chapel. He had heard of the strange Primitive Methodists and their reputation for loud singing, but that didn’t matter to him. If they told him how he might be saved, he couldn’t care less how much they might make his head ache, as long as his heart would cease its aching.

The minister was snowed up that morning. Luckily for the congregation, a deacon took it upon himself to deliver the sermon. An uneducated shoemaker from the countryside, he climbed up into the pulpit and opened his Bible. Fumbling over the words in his broad Essex accent, he read, “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth” (Isa 45:22, KJV). After about ten minutes, near the end of his improvised sermon, he fixed his eyes on the inquisitive visitor who had stumbled in from the snowstorm and said, “Young man, you look very miserable. Young man, look to Jesus Christ. Look! Look! Look! You have nothin’ to do but to look and live.”

God used these words to pierce the soul of Charles Haddon Spurgeon. At once, the burden fell from his back. As he walked out of that tiny chapel, his head might’ve been aching, but his heart was certainly not. He left neither a better nor a smarter man, but a forgiven man.

Owen’s Conversion

Though he had studied the formidable Puritan giants at Oxford, John Owen felt his soul longing for more that morning. His cousin accompanied him to Aldermanbury to hear the famous Presbyterian minister, Edmund Calamy, preach at St. Mary’s Church in London. Owen and his cousin were well aware of Calamy’s reputation and were eager to hear him preach when they took their seats in the creaky pews of the old church. They soon were let down, being informed that Calamy was absent. In his place, a country preacher would give the sermon.

Upon hearing this, Owen’s cousin urged him to leave and go down the street to St. Michael’s, where somebody more prominent preached. However, something providentially glued Owen to his seat. The preacher’s text was Matthew 8:26, “Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?” During the sermon, Owen’s doubts about his eternal state slowly crumbled. For the first time in his life, his longing soul felt the blessing of full assurance. That morning, his comfort was not found in great learning, but in God’s gracious adoption of sinners into his family, a doctrine Owen would cherish the rest of his life.

The Preacher and the Message

God used a shoemaker to save the Prince of Preachers and a farmer to save the Prince of the English Divines. These conversions illustrate that God’s saving power lies not in the eloquence of the preacher, but in the gospel. It matters not what the messenger looks like if the message he carries is from the King.

Therefore, whether you are a rural pastor, or an itinerant evangelist, or a humble deacon, as long as you have the gospel on your lips, you herald a royal message that cannot fail. Boast not in your own prominence, but in the Lord’s preeminence. And who knows, it may just be that the next Spurgeon or Owen will sit under your preaching.

————

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human beingmight boast in the presence of God. And because of himyou are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’” 1 Corinthians 1:26–31



Spurgeon on Discipleship

By / Oct 13

For Charles Spurgeon, discipleship was not merely a process in the Christian life. Rather discipleship was the essence of the Christian life. From new birth to final breath, the Christian life was a life of discipleship.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ was the catalyst of the new birth, a new birth which commended the life of discipleship. Spurgeon believed that “There is no knowing Christ except through the new birth.” But while he insisted that “ ‘Ye must be born again,’”  he knew that “The word of Jesus must be the object of our faith; into that Word we must enter, and in that Word we must continue.” The Gospel of Jesus Christ was more than just the spark which started the fire of Christian life. Indeed, the Gospel pressed the disciple forward. After being “quickened to newness of life” the Christian would grow into “the fullness of the stature of a man in Christ,” being made a “meet for a habitation of God through the Spirit.”

On this point, Spurgeon lamented that “Discipleship is too often forgotten,” although “it is as needful as faith.” In his view, being a “mere” disciple of Jesus Christ was one of the grandest things in the world. Indeed, in the kingdom of God “discipleship is the highest degree,” the very “patent of nobility.” The aim of this noble calling was to follow Jesus. Spurgeon urged his hearers to “follow Christ in your doctrines” and “believe what he teaches,” to “follow Christ in your faith” and “trust him implicitly with your soul,” and to “follow him in your actions” and “let him be your example and guide.” Simply, faithful following depended on learning from the example of the master. Not only was it wise to “[sit] at Jesus’s feet and [learn] of him,” it was also essential. As Spurgeon claimed, “A man cannot be saved unless he becomes a learner in the school of Christ.”

But, discipleship also required a true and genuine love for Christ, a love kindled by the Holy Spirit. In discipleship, the Holy Spirit was the one who would teach us “to abound in service” and “to do good abundantly to our fellow men.” But the Spirit would also warn us that “we must not fail in worship, in spiritual reverence, in meek discipleship, and quiet contemplation.” For Spurgeon, the matter of genuine devotion to Christ was so important that he remarked, “The bended knee is nothing,” but “the prostrate heart is everything.” He believed that “if the heart be absent the whole [Christian life] will be dead as a stone.” He insisted that the Christian, “must have such love to Christ that, for his sake, [the Christian] could forsake all that [he has].” Love for Christ must burn so bright “all other love shall burn but dimly” by comparison. Such love, divinely kindled, was fueled by gratitude, which “should urge [the disciple] to holiness, and to perfect obedience to him who has given [the disciple] this inestimable blessing!”

Furthermore, faith in the Lord Jesus compelled each disciple to sacrifice for the sake of Christ. Spurgeon knew that discipleship was difficult and acknowledged that “the first requisite of a disciple of Christ [was] wholeheartedness.” He did not pull punches when he described the cost of discipleship. Speaking for Christ, he warned, “you will have to deny yourselves, and to undergo self-sacrifice; for otherwise, if you will not do this, it is no use for you to pretend to be my servants.” Accordingly, Spurgeon pleaded, “Take up your cross! It is a part of the cost of true discipleship.” Concerned with the mass of nominal Christianity  he cried “Take up your cross, my brother, or you cannot be Christ’s disciple,” calling out, “make the change, my brother, or you cannot be the Lord’s disciple.” The simple truth was that where there is no cross there is no crown. Where there is no sacrifice there is no glory, and where there is not suffering for Christ there is no everlasting peace.”

But even as Spurgeon warned about the suffering promised to Christians, he insisted that the affliction experienced by believers was not purposeless. In fact, he urged, “When you and I enter upon a new trouble, we ought to fall on our knees and thank God that he is about to elevate us to a higher grace of discipleship.” He believed that “Sanctified afflictions are spiritual promotions,” and by this meant that Christian suffering, when received by faith, makes believers more like Christ. Spurgeon assured his congregation that the God who saves is the God who sanctifies. The God who predestines is the same God who preserves. The ultimate hope of persevering in faith owed not to the strength of the believer, but to the omnipotent power of God. As Spurgeon said, it is “[God’s] love to you, not your love to him, is the seal of your discipleship.” In recognition of Spurgeon’s zeal for discipleship, here are seven quotes on this topic from the Prince of Preachers.

1. “To follow Christ is the picture of Christian discipleship in every form.”

“To follow Christ is the picture of Christian discipleship in every form. Follow Christ in your doctrines, believe what he teaches; follow Christ in your faith, trust him implicitly with your soul; follow him in your actions, let him be your ensample and guide; follow him in ordinances: in baptism follow him, and at his table follow him.”

2. “Discipleship is too often forgotten; it is as needful as faith.”

“Discipleship is too often forgotten; it is as needful as faith. We are to go into all the world and disciple all nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. A man cannot be saved unless he becomes a learner in the school of Christ, and a learner, too, in a practical sense, being willing to practice what he learns. Only he who does the Master’s will knows his doctrine.”

3. “The bended knee is nothing, the prostrate heart is everything.”

“Many are content with the shells of religion, whereas it is the kernel only which can feed the soul. The bended knee is nothing, the prostrate heart is everything; the uplifted eye is nothing, the glance of the soul towards God is acceptable. The hearing of good words and the repeating of them in prayer or in song, will amount to very little; if the heart be absent the whole [Christian life] will be dead as a stone.”

4. “We do not get tired of living, because there is something new every morning in the goodness of the Lord.”

“We do not get tired of living, because there is something new every morning in the goodness of the Lord; fresh revelations are brought out by the trials we are called to endure. Thus he increases our knowledge. When you and I enter upon a new trouble, we ought to fall on our knees and thank God that he is about to elevate us to a higher grace of discipleship. Sanctified afflictions are spiritual promotions. When he puts me to greater pain my Lord thinks a fit state to be introduced into an inner chamber.”

5. “There should not be one among us who follows the Lord Jesus Christ in a mean, sneaking, indistinct, questionable way.”

“Now, I want every young man here who is a Christian to make it known by an open avowal of his discipleship. I mean that there should not be one among us who follows the Lord Jesus Christ in a mean, sneaking, indistinct, questionable way.”

6. “We are bound by our discipleship to be at rest. Happiness becomes a duty, and peace a matter of obligation.”

“We are bound by our discipleship to be at rest. Happiness becomes a duty, and peace a matter of obligation. Happy men, who are under bonds to be joyful! We are partakers of life eternal, we come not into condemnation. What delight, what peace flows through our spirits. If it be indeed so that we have commenced the selfsame life which is to be developed in eternal glory, then what gratitude ought to fill us, and how that gratitude should urge us to holiness, and to perfect obedience to him who has given us this inestimable blessing!”

7. “We must have such a love to Christ that, for his sake, we could forsake all that we have; otherwise we cannot be his disciples.”

“In Christ’s days, and afterwards, discipleship usually involved the absolute giving up of everything that his followers had, for those were times of persecution; and if such seasons should come to us, we must have such love to Christ that, for his sake, we could forsake all that we have; otherwise we cannot be his disciples.”



When Revival Comes…

By / Oct 6

The first seven years of Spurgeon’s ministry in London were marked by revival. In addition to the massive crowds coming to hear him preach, hundreds were being converted and joining the church. This was not due to any gimmicks or entertainments, but the plain and powerful preaching of the gospel. In 1858, Spurgeon preached a sermon entitled, “The Great Revival,” where he reflected on the phenomenon of revival. How does revival come?

It all begins with the minister…

When the revival of religion comes into a nation, the minister begins to be warmed. It is said that in America the most sleepy preachers have begun to wake up; they have warmed themselves at the general fire, and men who could not preach without notes, and could not preach with them to any purpose at all, have found it in their hearts to speak right out, and speak with all their might to the people. When there comes a revival, the minister all of a sudden finds that the usual forms and conventionalities of the pulpit are not exactly suitable to the times. He breaks through one hedge; then he finds himself in an awkward position, and he has to break through another. He finds himself perhaps on a Sunday morning, though a Doctor of Divinity, actually telling an anecdote—lowering the dignity of the pulpit by actually using a simile or metaphor—sometimes perhaps accidentally making his people smile, and what is also a great sin in these solid theologians, now and then dropping a tear. He does not exactly know how it is, but the people catch up his words. “I must have something good for them,” he says. He just burns that old lot of sermons; or he puts them under the bed, and gets some new ones, or gets none at all, but just gets his text, and begins to cry, “Men and brethren, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved.”

The old deacons say, “What is the matter with our minister?” The old ladies, who have heard him for many years, and slept in the front of the gallery so regularly, begin to rouse, and say, “I wonder what has happened to him; how can it be? Why, he preaches like a man on fire. The tear runs over at his eye; his soul is full of love for souls.” They cannot make it out; they have often said he was dull and dreary and drowsy. How is it all this is changed? Why, it is the revival. The revival has touched the minister; the sun, shining so brightly, has melted some of the snow on the mountain-top, and it is running down in fertilizing streams, to bless the valleys; and the people down below are refreshed by the ministrations of the man of God who has awakened himself up from his sleep, and finds himself, like another Elijah, made strong for forty days of labor.

Well, then, directly after that the revival begins to touch the people at large. The congregation was once numbered by the empty seats, rather than by the full ones. But on a sudden—the minister does not understand it—he finds the people coming to hear him. He never was popular, never hoped to be. All at once he wakes up and finds himself famous, so far as a large congregation can make him so. There are the people, and how they listen! They are all awake, all in earnest; they lean their heads forward, they put their hands to their ears His voice is feeble, they try to help him; they are doing anything so that they may hear the Word of Life.

And then the members of the church open their eyes and see the chapel full, and they say, “How has this come about? We ought to pray.” A prayer-meeting is summoned. There had been five or six in the vestry: now there are five or six hundred, and they turn into the chapel. And oh! how they pray! That old stager, who used to pray for twenty minutes, finds it now convenient confine himself to five; and that good old man, who always used to repeat the same form of prayer when he stood up, and talked about the horse that rushed into the battles and the oil from vessel to vessel, and all that, leaves all these things at home, and just prays, “O Lord, save sinners, for Jesus Christ’s sake.” And there are sobs and groans heard at the prayer meetings. It is evident that not one, but all, are praying; the whole mass seems moved to supplication. How is this again? Why, it is just the effect of the revival, for when the revival truly comes, the minister and the congregation and the church will receive good by it.

But it does not end here. The members of the church grow more solemn, more serious. Family duties are better attended to; the home circle is brought under better culture. Those who could not spare time for family prayer, find they can do so now, those who had no opportunity for teaching their children, now dare not go a day without doing it; for they hear that there are children converted in the Sunday school. There are twice as many in the Sunday school now as there used to be, and, what is wonderful, the little children meet together to pray, their little hearts are touched, and many of them show signs of a work of grace begun, and fathers and mothers think they must try what they can do for their families: if God is blessing little children, why should he not bless theirs?

And then, when you see the members of the church going up to the house of God, you mark with what a steady and sober air they go. Perhaps they talk on the way, but they talk of Jesus, and if they whisper together at the gates of the sanctuary, it is no longer idle gossip; it is no remark about, “How do you like the preacher? What did you think of him? Did you notice So-and-so?” Oh, no! “I pray the Lord that he might bless the word of his servant, that he might send an unction from on high, that the dying flame may be kindled, and that where there is life, it may be promoted and strengthened, and receive fresh vigor.” This is their whole conversation.

And then comes the great result. There is an inquirers’ meeting held: the good brother who presides over it is astonished, he never saw so many coming in his life before. “Why,” says he, “there is a hundred, at least, come to confess what the Lord has done for their souls! Here are fifty come all at once to say that under such a sermon they were brought to the knowledge of the truth. Who hath begotten me these? How hath it come about? How can it be? Is not the Lord a great God that hath wrought such a work as this?” And then the converts who are thus brought into the church, if the revival continues, are very earnest ones. You never saw such a people. The outsiders call them fanatics. It is a blessed fanaticism. Others say, they are nothing but enthusiasts. It is a heavenly enthusiasm.

Everything that is done is done with such spirit. If they sing, it is like the crashing thunder; if they pray, it is like the swift, sharp dash of lightning, lighting up the darkness of the cold hearted, and making them for a moment feel that there is something in prayer. When the minister preaches, he preaches like a Boanerges, and when the church is gathered together, it is with a hearty good will. When they give, they give with enlarged liberality; when they visit the sick they do it with gentleness, meekness, and love. Everything is done with a single eye to God’s glory; not of men, but by the power of God. Oh! that we might see such a revival as this!

But, blessed be God, it does not end here. The revival of the church then touches the rest of society. Men, who do not come forward and profess religion, are more punctual in attending the means of grace. Men that used to swear, give it up; they find it is not suitable for the times. Men that profaned the Sabbath, and that despised God, find it will not do; they give it all up. Times get changed; morality prevails; the lower ranks are affected. They buy a sermon where they used to buy some penny tract of nonsense. The higher orders are also touched; they too are brought to hear the word. Her ladyship, in her carriage, who never would have thought of going to so mean a place as a conventicle, does not now care where she goes so long as she is blessed. She wants to hear the truth, and a drayman pulls his horses up by the side of her ladyship’s pair of grays, and they both go in and bend together before the throne of sovereign grace. All classes are affected. Even the senate feels it; the statesman himself is surprised at it, and wonders what all these things mean. Even the monarch on the throne feels she has become the monarch of a people better than she knew before, and that God is doing something in her realms past all her thought—that a great King is swaying a better scepter and exerting a better influence than even her excellent example.

Nor does it even end there. Heaven is filled. One by one the converts die, and it even gets fuller; the harps of heaven are louder, the songs of angels are inspired with new melody, for they rejoice to see the sons of men prostrate before the throne. The universe is made glad: it is God’s own summer; it is the universal spring. The time of the singing of birds is come; the voice of the turtle is heard in our land. Oh! that God might send us such a revival of religion as this!

The Great Revival,” C. H. Spurgeon, New Park Street Pulpit, 4:164.



Spurgeon’s Hunting Dogs: The Evangelistic Hospitality of the Metropolitan Tabernacle

By / Sep 29

When Charles Spurgeon first arrived in London in the winter of 1853, the New Park Street Chapel had severely dwindled from its historic past. This congregation had once been pastored by men like Benjamin Keach, John Gill, and John Rippon, and had played a leading role among Baptists in Britain. But by 1853, they had seen several pastoral transitions in quick succession. Not only that, but the church had relocated to a problematic place that was hard to access. So, on that cold morning, when Spurgeon mounted the pulpit, there were barely a hundred in that cavernous room which seated twelve hundred.

Yet, that morning, the congregation heard a kind of preaching that they had never heard before:

But reminding you that there is no change in His power, justice, knowledge, oath, threatening, or decree, I will confine myself to the fact that His love to us knows no variation. How often it is called unchangeable, everlasting love! He loves me now as much as He did when first: He inscribed my name in His eternal book of election. He has not repented of His choice. He has not blotted out one of His chosen; there are no erasures in that book; all whose names are written in it are safe for ever. Nor does God love me less now than when He gave that grand proof of love, His Son, Jesus Christ, to die for me. Even now, He loves me with the same intensity as when He poured out the vials of justice on His darling to save rebel worms. [1]

Here was preaching that exalted the majesty of God, and yet was understandable; preaching that proclaimed the reality of sin, and yet held forth the beauty of the gospel. The members were thrilled with what they had heard. When the service ended, they hurriedly pressed the deacons to invite this young man back to preach. One of the deacons remarked that if they wanted this young man to return, they should go home and invite their neighbors to come, lest he be discouraged at their small size! And so, they did. By that evening, the attendance had doubled.

Commenting on this occasion many years later, Spurgeon remarked,

Somebody asked me how I got my congregation. I never got it at all. I did not think it my business to do so, but only to preach the gospel. Why, my congregation got my congregation. I had eighty, or scarcely a hundred, when I preached first. The next time I had two hundred — every one who had heard me was saying to his neighbor, “You must go and hear this young man.” Next meeting we had four hundred, and in six weeks eight hundred. That was the way in which my people got my congregation.[2]

And this would be true not only in those early days but throughout the rest of Spurgeon’s ministry. There is no doubt that Spurgeon was a gifted and faithful preacher. But this is only half of the story. His congregation was also faithful in reaching out to those around them. And this was particularly true when it came to visitors in attendance.

Sometimes, Spurgeon’s preaching would result in a radical conversion where the individual would be ready to meet with the pastor and join the church. But more often, visitors would be intrigued by the preaching and experience a measure of conviction, but have further questions, or doubts, or fears, or all kinds of other concerns that would keep them from meeting with the pastor or an elder. With hundreds of visitors that attended each week, there was no way that Spurgeon could meet with every single one of them. This is why he taught his congregation not merely to visit with one another after the service but to be ready to engage those around them.

One elder in particular modeled this. Spurgeon writes,

One brother has earned for himself the title of my hunting dog, for he is always ready to pick up the wounded bird. One Monday night, at the prayer-meeting, he was fitting near me on the platform; all at once I missed him, and presently I saw him right at the other end of the building. After the meeting, I asked him why he went off so suddenly, and he said that the gas just shone on the face of a woman in the congregation, and she looked so sad that he walked round, and sat near her, in readiness to speak to her about the Savior after the service.[3]

Here, Spurgeon envisions himself as a hunter. In his preaching, he is firing the truth of the gospel at sinners, and the result is that many are wounded, that is, that are under conviction. Now, it was up to his people to talk to those people, like hunting dogs picking up wounded birds.

This is what Spurgeon expected not only from his elders but also from the members of his church. The last thing Spurgeon wanted was for a visitor to sit through a service unnoticed and without being engaged. He writes, “Every believer should be doubly on the alert in watching for souls. None in that congregation should be able to say, ‘We attended that place, but no one spoke to us.’”[4] But this was not merely about greeting visitors and making them feel welcome. Spurgeon wanted his people to talk to visitors about the sermon and the gospel.

I always ask my own congregation to preach Christ in the pews. Get hold of the people who come there and tell them about Christ. I know people are a little starched up about the matter sometimes — a little mahogany comes between them and their fellows, but in the church there should be cordiality — the feeling that a man may venture to speak to his neighbor; to say, at least, “How did you enjoy the sermon?” to start the conversation, and detain him for a little while.[5]

Of course, not every visitor was interested in talking. The church had developed a reputation for engaging visitors, and sometimes people wanted their space. Yet, Spurgeon was willing to risk annoying their visitors if it meant that they were confronted with the gospel. This was the cost of attending the Metropolitan Tabernacle to hear Spurgeon preach.

I do not think any sermon ought to be preached without each one of you Christian people saying, ‘I wonder whether God has blessed the message to this stranger who has been sitting next to me. I will put a gentle question to him, and see if I can find out.’ I have known some hearers to be annoyed at such a question being put to them by an earnest brother. Do not be annoyed, dear friend, if you can help it, because you are very likely to be treated in that way again. It is our custom to do it here, so you will have to put up with it; and the only way to get over the annoyance is to give your heart to Christ, and settle the matter once for all.”[6]

Because of this evangelistic hospitality, over the course of 38 years of ministry, thousands were converted at the Metropolitan Tabernacle. However, this was due to the ministry of not just one man, but the entire church.

Today, pastors are right to labor in their evangelistic preaching. However, it’s also important to remember that this is only half of the picture. Pastors also need to give their people a vision for the role that God has called them to play on Sunday mornings. Even as pastors give themselves to preaching excellent sermons, they should also help their congregations feel the stewardship of the evangelistic opportunities around them. If you are a church member, are there visitors you can talk to after the service about the sermon? Is there a neighbor to whom you can give a sermon link? Or even during this time of the pandemic, could you invite a friend to join the live stream and then offer to have a socially-distanced lunch during the week? Just as pastors faithfully labor to preach the gospel, so should church members do all they can to take advantage of any gospel opportunities around them. 

May Spurgeon’s praise for his congregation be true in our churches today also.

We owe very many of the conversions that have been wrought here to the personal exertions of our churchmembers. God owns our ministry, but he also owns yours. It is to our delight at church-meetings that when converts come they often have to say that the word preached from the pulpit was blessed to them, and yet I think that almost as often they say it was the word spoken in some of the classes, or in the pews; for not a few of you have been spiritual parents to strangers who have dropped in. Do this still.[7]


[1] Spurgeon, Autobiography, 1:325.

[2] Spurgeon, Speeches at Home and Abroad, 65-66.

[3] Autobiography 3:23.

[4] S&T 1872:441

[5] Spurgeon, Speeches at Home and Abroad, 65.

[6] MTP 46:438.

[7] MTP 58:429-430.