Spurgeon and the Poor

By / Mar 27

The following excerpt is from the Preface of Spurgeon and the Poor by Alex DiPrima. Learn more about this important new work here.

The American temperance activist John B. Gough stepped off the train in London. He had come to visit England’s greatest preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon. The year was 1879, and the preacher was at the height of his powers. Gough himself had described Spurgeon’s ministry as “a career thus far unparalleled in the history of ministers.”[1] Indeed, there had never been a preacher like him. In his teenage years, he gained a reputation as the famous “boy preacher of the Fens.”[2] He arrived in London at the age of nineteen to command the pulpit of the city’s most historic Baptist church in the heart of the metropolis, just south of the Thames. He preached for nearly forty years from that pulpit to thousands upon thousands, winning souls, planting churches, and ministering to the poor.

During Gough’s visit, Spurgeon provided him with a tour of the Stockwell Orphanage. Ten years prior, Spurgeon began this ministry to orphaned boys with the help of an elderly widow who will appear later in these pages. While the two men were visiting the orphanage, Spurgeon received a call to the bedside of a boy who was terminally ill. As he sat with the dying boy, Spurgeon placed the child’s hand in his and told him, “Jesus loves you. He bought you with His precious blood, and He knows what is best for you. It seems hard for you to lie here and listen to the shouts of the healthy boys outside at play. But soon Jesus will take you home, and then He will tell you the reason, and you will be so glad.”[3] Spurgeon then inched forward in his chair, laid his hand on the boy’s head, and quietly prayed aloud, “O Jesus, Master, this dear child is reaching out his thin hand to find thine. Touch him, dear Saviour, with thy loving, warm clasp. Lift him as he passes the cold river, that his feet be not chilled by the water of death; take him home in thine own good time. Comfort and cherish him till that good time comes. Show him thyself as he lies here, and let him see thee and know thee more and more as his loving Saviour.”[4] After a moment’s pause, he said with a warm smile, “Now, dear, is there anything you would like? Would you like a little canary in a cage to hear him sing in the morning? Nurse, see that he has a canary tomorrow morning. Goodbye, my dear; you will see the Saviour perhaps before I shall.”[5] Gough, who had quietly witnessed the scene, recorded his recollections in his autobiography, writing, “I had seen Mr. Spurgeon holding by his power sixty-five hundred persons in a breathless interest; I knew him as a great man universally esteemed and beloved; but as he sat by the bedside of a dying pauper child, whom his beneficence had rescued, he was to me a greater and grander man than when swaying the mighty multitude at his will.”[6]

The book in your hands is about this greater and grander man—a man who, in a sense, history has obscured amid the widely chronicled sensation his preaching genius created. Ask many evangelicals today about Spurgeon, and they can likely tell you something about his storied preaching. However, how many have heard of Spurgeon’s activities as a philanthropist, activist, or friend of poor orphans and needy widows? How many would imagine that Spurgeon, the famous Prince of Preachers, whose preaching commanded the rapt attention of tens of thousands, took appointments to pray hand in hand with sick children? Yet this is the Spurgeon who was and who must again be reintroduced to the church today.

From the very beginning of his Christian experience, Spurgeon zealously devoted himself to good works. Within days of his conversion at the age of fifteen, Spurgeon began giving his time to ministry among the needy of his community in Cambridgeshire. He filled his days distributing tracts, ministering to the poor, and teaching Bible classes to young children. Spurgeon said of this period in his life, “I could scarcely content myself even for five minutes without trying to do something for Christ.”[7]

The same was true when he arrived in London in 1854 at the age of nineteen. The sprawling metropolis was, to Spurgeon, one towering monument to human need. Almost immediately, Spurgeon established himself as a friend to London’s indigent. Just a few months into his new pastorate at New Park Street Chapel (later to change its name to the Metropolitan Tabernacle), Spurgeon found London in the midst of a deadly cholera epidemic, which would claim the lives of over ten thousand of its citizens. Without hesitation, Spurgeon threw himself into the fray, traveling from house to house to visit the sick and dying. He did this for weeks on end, all the while expecting that he would die from the disease himself, as many in those days believed cholera to be contagious. This concern was insignificant to him in the face of the tremendous need all around him.

As Spurgeon gained more exposure to the acute and diverse exigencies facing London, he aggressively launched dozens of ministries and organizations to combat suffering and poverty in the city. By 1884, these benevolent ministries numbered sixty-six in total and included an orphanage, a ministerial college, subsidized housing for poor widows, a clothing bank, a ministry to prostitutes, several street missions, and a host of children’s ministries.[8] Whether it was London’s widows and orphans, the poor of her many crowded slums and back alleys, or the city’s forgotten blind, Spurgeon opened his arms wide to the needy and the afflicted. In addition, his private philanthropy was prodigious, from supporting needy saints out of his own pocket to providing the means for new churches to be planted. Throughout his life, money flowed freely through his hands into the many benevolent institutions he himself founded.

Still more remarkable is that Spurgeon was not content to advocate only for the afflicted and the oppressed of his homeland. On the eve of the American Civil War, Spurgeon spoke out courageously against the evils of slavery, leading to significant personal criticism, financial loss, and even occasional death threats. Spurgeon’s godly stand against the wicked institution of slavery (which will be considered in greater depth in chapter 11) provides a striking example of what it looks like to fight injustice from biblical convictions and principles.

Even from his deathbed in Mentone, France, when most men would be attending to the details of their estate, Spurgeon steadfastly gave to the church and the poor. His last conscious act was to give one hundred pounds to the Metropolitan Tabernacle thank offering for the support of the church and its various ministries. His final telegram before he died read, “Self and wife, £100, hearty thankoffering towards Tabernacle General Expenses. Love to all Friends.” Spurgeon’s secretary, Joseph Harrald, recorded, “That was his last generous act, and his last message.”[9]

Spurgeon lived a life filled to the brim with good works of benevolence and charity. However, too few today are familiar with this vital aspect of his life and ministry nor the theological convictions that undergirded it. I have written this book because I find in Spurgeon a most compelling example of the proper wedding of faithful gospel preaching with earnest social concern. Evangelicals have frequently failed in correctly understanding the relationship between these two biblical burdens. I am convinced that Spurgeon can help us. He eagerly invites pastors and churches to devote themselves to the fervent preaching of evangelical truth while showing us how that truth moves Christians toward practical concern for the needy. As the subtitle of this book suggests, the gospel compels Christian social concern (Titus 2:11–14).

[1] John B. Gough, Sunlight and Shadow; or, Gleanings from My Life Work (Hartford, Conn.: A. D. Worthington, 1881),407.

[2] C. H. Spurgeon’s Autobiography, Compiled from His Diary, Letters, and Records by His Wife and His Private Secretary (London: Passmore and Alabaster, 1897), 1:199–212. The Fens (or the Fenlands) is a relatively flat and marshy region of East Anglia comprising parts of the counties of Cambridgeshire, Norfolk, and Lincolnshire. It is the region where Spurgeon did most of his early preaching and is just north of where Spurgeon grew up.

[3] Gough, Sunlight and Shadow, 407–8.

[4] Gough, 408.

[5] Gough, 408. This was not an unusual occurrence. Arnold Dallimore notes that Spurgeon “made it a particular point to call on any children who might be in the infirmary, to pray for them and show whatever special kindness he could.” Arnold Dallimore, Spurgeon: A New Biography (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1985), 129.

[6] Gough, 408.

[7] C. H. Spurgeon’s Autobiography, 1:181.

[8] Memorial Volume, Mr. Spurgeon’s Jubilee: Report of the Proceedings at the Metropolitan Tabernacle on Wednesday and Thursday Evenings, June 18th and 19th, 1884 (London: Passmore and Alabaster, 1884), 7–8; C. H. Spurgeon, “Mr. Spurgeon’s Jubilee Meetings,” Sword and the Trowel, July 1884, 373.

[9] C. H. Spurgeon’s Autobiography, 4:371.

The Marks of Regeneration for Church Membership

By / Feb 27

One of the most important responsibilities of the elders of a church is to examine all who come forward for membership. At the Metropolitan Tabernacle, they implemented an interview process where both lay elders and the pastor would have a chance to meet with every candidate coming forward, culminating with a congregational vote. Given the remarkable fruitfulness of that church’s ministry, this was a lot of people to interview! And yet, Spurgeon never relaxed his church’s membership process but maintained his responsibility to discern a credible profession of faith.

But how did the elders discern whether a profession of faith was credible? What guidelines did Spurgeon provide for his leaders, if any? We get a hint of this in one of Spurgeon’s lectures to his students in The Soul Winner, where he gives the following marks of regeneration.

Conviction of Sin

First, regeneration will be shown in conviction of sin. This we believe to be an indispensable mark of the Spirit’s work; the new life as it enters the heart causes intense inward pain as one of its first effects.[1]

One of the first things an elder should look for in a convert is the conviction of sin. Is there any recognition of the reality of sin in their hearts and the sinfulness of that sin? Is there any sorrow over not only the consequences of sin but sin itself and the offense that it is against God? Spurgeon advises, “When you meet with persons in whom there is no trace of conviction of sin, you may be quite sure that they have not been wrought upon by the Holy Spirit.”

However, it’s important that we do not require this conviction of sin to look or sound a certain way. For some people, this conviction may be accompanied by tears and loud weeping. For others, the same conviction may be quiet and reflective. Spurgeon writes,

Do not be astonished if you find this conviction of sin to be very acute and alarming; but, on the other hand, do not condemn those in whom it is less intense, for so long as sin is mourned over, confessed, forsaken, and abhorred, you have an evident fruit of the Spirit.[2]

Here, the pastor must exercise pastoral judgment and labor to discern true conviction of sin rather than simply emotional responses.

A Simple Faith in Jesus Christ

The production of faith is the very centre of the target at which you aim. The proof to you that you have won the man’s soul for Jesus is never before you till he has done with himself and his own merits, and has closed in with Christ.[3]

One important aspect of this faith to discern is whether or not the individual is trusting in Christ for all his salvation, rather than just a part of it. Here the pastor has an opportunity to teach and foster a greater of assurance of faith for the believer.

Numbers of persons think that the Lord Jesus is available for the pardon of past sin, but they cannot trust Him for their preservation in the future. They trust for years past, but not for years to come; whereas no such sub-division of salvation is ever spoken of in Scripture as the work of Christ. Either He bore all our sins, or none; and He either saves us once for all, or not at all. His death can never be repeated, and it must have made expiation for the future sin of believers, or they are lost, since no further atonement can be supposed, and future sin is certain to be committed. Blessed be His name, “by Him all that believe are justified from all things.” Salvation by grace is eternal salvation.[4]

For some membership candidates, this will be a brand-new thought. Though they might have trusted God for past sins, they have never been called to trust God for the whole of salvation. But the gospel is an ongoing reality in the Christian life. Is there evidence of an ongoing trust of Christ since their conversion? Or do they think that the Christian life is to be lived in their own strength?

To be sure, such assurance should not produce complacency, but there should be evidence of good works that accompany genuine faith. Spurgeon writes, “The sense of being saved, completely saved in Christ Jesus, is not, as some suppose, the source of carnal security and the enemy of holy zeal, but the very reverse.” What we are looking for, then, is “clear evidence in your converts of a simple, sincere, and decided faith in the Lord Jesus.”[5]

Repentance of Sin

Repentance is an old-fashioned word, not much used by modern revivalists. “Oh!”‘ said a minister to me, one day, “it only means a change of mind.” This was thought to be a profound observation. “Only a change of mind”; but what a change! A change of mind with regard to everything! Instead of saying, “It is only a change of mind,” it seems to me more truthful to say it is a great and deep change—even a change of the mind itself. But whatever the literal Greek word may mean, repentance is no trifle.[6]

True conversion will be evidenced by not only a holy hatred of sin, but now by a practical turning away from sin. The inward transformation that has taken place will be evidenced by a change in the external life of the believer.

So when hearing the testimony of the candidate, look evidences of repentance. Reject any notion that a person can receive Jesus as Savior, without receiving Him also as Lord. “True belief and true repentance are twins: it would be idle to attempt to say which is born first.” This is not to say that repentance is ever perfected in this life. While we live in this flesh, we will continue to battle against temptation and sin. But what the pastor is looking for is not perfection, but repentance. Is there an ongoing struggle against sin? Is there any evidence of real change?

In the course of pastoral ministry, you may very well encounter those who, like the Rich Young Ruler, make a profession of faith but refuse to follow Jesus in practical obedience. For such candidates, you should not assure them of their salvation by bringing them into membership but should pastorally warn and call to repentance of faith.

If the man does not live differently from what he did before, both at home and abroad, his repentance needs to be repented of, and his conversion is a fiction.[7]

True Prayer and Obedience

Faith is the great gospel grace; but still we cannot forget that true faith always prays, and when a man professes faith in the Lord Jesus, and yet does not cry to the Lord daily, we dare not believe in his faith or his conversion.[8]

But more than just fighting against sin, we must also look for the positive fruit of obedience. One of the best signs of this is a life of prayer. This may include mealtime prayers and prayer at church, but it should also involve private prayer. For the Christian, prayer is like breathing, and breathing is a sign of life.

Beyond prayer, however, we also want to look for evidence of obedience, even when it is costly.

Has not the Lord said, “He that taketh not up his cross, and cometh after Me, cannot be My disciple”? Mistakes as to what the Lord’s will may be are to be tenderly corrected, but anything like wilful disobedience is fatal; to tolerate it would be treason to Him that sent us.[9]

There will be some acts of obedience that will seem very simple to some but excruciatingly difficult for others. For Muslim background believers, the decision to profess their faith publicly through baptism could be life-threatening. For the new convert engaged to a non-Christian, calling off the engagement could be heart-breaking and deeply disappointing. Pastorally, we want to call people to obedience to Christ, but we also do all we can to bring the church around these new believers as they seek to walk in obedience.


Referring to the membership process at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, James Spurgeon (the associate pastor) writes,

We have found this a means of grace and a rich blessing… We have never yet found it tend to keep members out of our midst, while we have known it of service in detecting a mistake or satisfying a doubt previously entertained.[10]

This is the great blessing of elders who take their responsibility seriously to guard the membership of the church. Those who are brought into membership receive the wonderful gift of assurance. And those who are kept out are called to a clearer hope in the gospel.

[1] Soul Winner, 25.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Soul Winner, 26.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Soul Winner, 27.

[6] Soul Winner, 27-28.

[7] Soul Winner, 28.

[8] Soul Winner, 30.

[9] Soul Winner, 31.

[10] S&T 1869:53.

Spurgeon the Evangelist

By / Feb 16

We typically think of Spurgeon as a bold, fearless preacher who regularly proclaimed the gospel to thousands throughout his 40-year ministry. But when it came to personal evangelism, Spurgeon confessed his timidity,

I often envy those of my brethren who can go up to individuals and talk to them with freedom about their souls. I do not always find myself able to do so…[1]

Spurgeon is not alone. Many Christians, including pastors, who have believed the gospel for decades, still struggle with sharing the gospel. And yet, knowing that Spurgeon also struggled with this makes him a more helpful guide for us. What would Spurgeon say to encourage our personal evangelism?

Be open to evangelistic opportunities

As a busy pastor, Spurgeon did not have time to go out for door-to-door evangelism or pass out tracts. Most of his day-to-day contact was limited to Christians, and any interaction with non-Christians tended to happen in his capacity as a pastor and preacher. Most pastors will find themselves “pulled from the front lines” of evangelism in their work for the church and find it difficult to evangelize.

Even so, Spurgeon would encourage pastors (and all Christians) not to overlook the opportunities that may arise throughout the course of everyday life – an Uber driver, a passenger next to you on a flight, a restaurant worker… or, in Spurgeon’s case, a cabman.

It is wonderful how God blesses very little efforts to serve Him. One night, many years ago, after preaching, I had been driven home by a cabman, and after I had alighted, and given him the fare, he took a little Testament out of his pocket, and showing it to me, said, “It is about fifteen years since you gave me that, and spoke a word to me about my soul. I have never forgotten your words, and I have not let a day pass since without reading the Book you gave me.” I felt glad that, in that instance, the seed had, apparently, fallen into good ground.[2]

On another occasion, while preaching away, Spurgeon had an opportunity to talk to a waterman.

Having promised to preach, one evening, at a certain river-side town, I went to the place early in the day, as I thought I should like to have a little time in a boat on the river. So, hailing a waterman, I made arrangements with him to take me, and, whilst sitting in the boat, wishing to talk with him about religious matters, I began the conversation by asking him about his family. [3]

This opening led to a conversation about the recent cholera epidemic and the hope of heaven through the gospel. Spurgeon could have easily excused himself from that evangelistic opportunity. After all, he was getting ready to preach later that evening, and this was a time for him simply to relax. Even so, these quiet moments with a waterman were an opportunity for intentional conversation, which eventually led to the gospel.

For those who find evangelism difficult because they don’t have ongoing relationships with non-Christians, pray that the Lord would open your eyes to spontaneous evangelistic opportunities around you. Pray for courage to speak, to hand out a tract or a Bible, or to invite someone to church. As Spurgeon reminds us, “it is wonderful how God blesses very little efforts to serve Him.”

Engage nominal Christians

For those who are regularly surrounded by professing Christians, recognize that there are often still many evangelistic opportunities. Especially in places where Christianity is established in the culture, nominalism may very well be an issue. As Christians, we can rejoice at people’s profession of faith, but never at the cost of assuming the gospel. Rather, we should look for opportunities to engage people’s understanding of the gospel and bring the truth to light where needed.

For Spurgeon, in 19th-century London, this often meant engaging members of the Church of England with the gospel.

Many who are nominally Christians appear to me to believe in a sort of sincere-obedience covenant, in which, if a man does as much as he can, Christ will do the rest, and so the sinner will be saved; but it is not so… Some people have a notion that going to church and chapel, taking the sacrament, and doing certain good deeds that appertain to a respectable profession of religion, are the way to Heaven. If they are put in the place of Christ, they are rather the way to hell; although it is strewn with clean gravel, and there be grassy paths on either side, it is not the road to Heaven, but the way to everlasting death.[4]

The initial goal of engaging nominal Christians is to warn them of the danger they are in. Often, this will mean talking about the danger of trusting in their own works and religious performance. But once that point is established, the evangelist must make the gospel clear. Never take for granted a person’s understanding of the gospel, even if they have grown up in the church. Spurgeon writes,

When I have spoken of my own hope in Christ to two or three people in a railway carriage, I have often found myself telling my listeners perfect novelties. I have seen the look of astonishment upon the face of many an intelligent Englishman when I have explained the doctrine of the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ; I have even met with persons who had attended their parish church from their youth up, yet who were totally ignorant of the simple truth of justification by faith; ay, and some who have been to Dissenting places of worship do not seem to have laid hold of the fundamental truth that no man is saved by his own doings, but that salvation is procured by faith in the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ.[5]

As pastors and Christians called to do the work of an evangelist, sometimes that work will take place among those who are members of our churches; or among church-going neighbors and co-workers. These can be difficult conversations to have, especially if someone is convinced he is a Christian. Yet, apart from a right understanding of the gospel, the nominal are as lost as those who have never heard it. Sometimes the front lines of evangelism are right in our pews.

Create opportunities for personal follow-up

Spurgeon was a powerful preacher and often heard stories of how God worked powerfully through his sermons. Still, in many cases, he was astonished to find how easily people could avoid conviction and miss the point he was trying to communicate.  

One advantage of dealing personally with souls is, that it is not so easy for them to turn aside the message as when they are spoken to in the mass. I have often marvelled when I have been preaching. I have thought that I have exactly described certain people; I have marked in them special sins, and as Christ’s faithful servant, I have not shunned to picture their case in the pulpit, that they might receive a well-deserved rebuke; but I have wondered when I have spoken to them afterwards, that they have thanked me for what I have said, because they thought it so applicable to another person in the assembly.[6]

So, in addition to preaching excellent sermons, Spurgeon created opportunities for people to respond by meeting with him or one of the elders. Usually, this would mean setting aside an afternoon during the week for any new converts or seekers to come and meet with Spurgeon or another leader in the church to talk about the gospel. Spurgeon shares his experience,

From the very early days of my ministry in London, the Lord gave such an abundant blessing upon the proclamation of His truth that, whenever I was able to appoint a time for seeing converts and enquirers, it was seldom, if ever, that I waited in vain; and, usually, so many came, that I was quite overwhelmed with gratitude and thanksgiving to God.[7]

These one-on-one conversations proved to be fruitful evangelistic opportunities, as he answered questions, heard testimonies, and pointed people to the Saviour. On one occasion, Spurgeon was so encouraged in meeting with so many people that he lost track of time and went the entire day without having any break.

I may have seen some thirty or more persons during the day, one after the other; and I was so delighted with the tales of mercy they had to tell me, and the wonders of grace God had wrought in them, that I did not know anything about how the time passed. At seven o’clock, we had our prayer-meeting; I went in, and prayed with the brethren. After that, came the church-meeting. A little before ten o’clock, I felt faint; and I began to think at what hour I had my dinner, and I then for the first time remembered that I had not had any! I never thought of it, I never even felt hungry, because God had made me so glad, and so satisfied with the Divine manna, the Heavenly food of success in winning souls.[8]


Spurgeon had a long and remarkable ministry, but at any given time, there were seasons of varying fruitfulness. “There has been a greater increase sometimes, or a little diminution now and then.” But the overall picture was one of God’s surprising and powerful work through his evangelistic efforts alongside his church. Reflecting over his years of ministry, Spurgeon declared, “I thank God that I have not had to labour in vain, or to spend my strength for nought. He has given me a long period of happy and successful service, for which, with all my heart, I praise and magnify His holy Name.”[9]

We may not be able to see the fruit of our labors in the moment. And we may never experience the same evangelistic results as Spurgeon. Nonetheless, our goal is to remain faithful to the gospel and to our mission while the Lord enables us to serve Him. And one day, when we look back over the years of service, we may well rejoice and be surprised at how God used our small efforts to magnify His Name.

[1] Autobiography 2:131. The following quotes are drawn from chapter 45 of Vol. 2 of Spurgeon’s Autobiography.

[2] Autobiography 2:131.

[3] Autobiography 2:131.

[4] Autobiography 2:134.

[5] Autobiography 2:133.

[6] Autobiography 2:135.

[7] Autobiography 2:137.

[8] Autobiography 2:137.

[9] Autobiography 2:136.

Spurgeon, Darwin, and the Question of Evolution

By / Jan 24

This is part three of a series on Spurgeon’s teaching on animals. See Part 1 here, and Part 2 here.

In contrast to Spurgeon’s wonder at the Creator whose glory shines in all that He has made, Charles Darwin popularized a new theory in the 19th century that argued for the evolution of simpler life forms into more advanced ones through the process of natural selection. In his work, The Origin of Species, Darwin concludes with these words,

There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.[1]

For Darwin, the grandeur of this world was not in the Creator but in the “several powers” of life that has produced so much variety out of a simple beginning.[2] While it does not discuss human origins explicitly, The Origin of Species hints at the link between humanity and the animal world enough to create a stir. The response to Darwin’s theory was mixed. Some rejected it as entirely incompatible with biblical revelation.[3] Others sought to reconcile natural selection with creationism, interpreting it as God’s secondary means for creation.[4] Yet others saw Darwin’s theory as supplanting primitive and miraculous readings of Genesis 1-2 in favor of a more naturalistic understanding of the universe. As people listened to these debates, many observed a growing rift between religion and science.

But where was Spurgeon in all this?

On one occasion, while spending time with his students at Westwood, one of them asked him, “Are we justified in receiving Mr. Darwin’s or any other theory of evolution?” Spurgeon replied,

Does Revelation teach us evolution? It never has struck me, and it does not strike now, that the theory of evolution can, by any process of argument, be reconciled with the inspired record of the Creation. You remember how it is distinctly stated, again and again, that the Lord made each creature ‘after his kind.’… Besides, brethren, I would remind you that, after all these years in which so many people have been hunting up and down the world for ‘the missing link’ between animals and men, among all the monkeys that the wise men have examined, they have never discovered one who has rubbed his tail off, and ascended in the scale of creation so far as to take his place as the equal of our brothers and sisters of the great family of mankind. Mr. Darwin has never been able to find the germs of an Archbishop of Canterbury in the body of a tomcat or a billy goat, and I venture to prophesy that he will never accomplish such a feat as that. There are abundant evidences that one creature inclines towards another in certain respects, for all are bound together in a wondrous way which indicates that they are all the product of God’s creative will; but what the advocates of evolution appear to forget is, that there is nowhere to be discovered an actual chain of growth from one creature to another, — there are breaks here and there, and so many missing links that the chain cannot be made complete. There are, naturally enough, many resemblances between them, because they have all been wrought by the one great master-mind of God, yet each one has its own peculiarities… Even where one species very closely resembles another, there is a speciality about each which distinguishes it from all others.[5]

A few things can be noted from Spurgeon’s answer regarding his position on evolution. First, Spurgeon believed that the claims of evolution were incompatible with biblical revelation. The text he cites comes from Genesis 1. Spurgeon believed that God created all the various creatures individually, each “after his kind,” rather than by any process of evolution.

At the same time, Spurgeon demonstrates a measure of humility in his answer. He prefaces it by saying, “it never has struck me, and it does not strike me now.” Does this mean that Spurgeon was open to a possible change of view at a future time? His sermons certainly do not give any such indication of ever embracing anything like theistic evolution. Rather, he consistently speaks against Darwinism. For example, preaching in 1865, Spurgeon decried evolution as one of the many “new systems of philosophy and infidelity which are constantly springing up.”[6] In 1861, when delivering a lecture entitled “The Gorilla and the Land he Inhabits,” Spurgeon declared,

I, for my own part, believe there is a great gulf fixed between us, so that they who would pass from us to you (again turning to the gorilla) cannot; neither can they come to us who would pass from thence. At the same time, I do not wish to hold an argument with the philosopher who thinks himself related to a gorilla; I do not care to claim the honour for myself, but anyone else is perfectly welcome to it.[7]

As a preacher, Spurgeon spoke with certainty that the theory of evolution was incompatible with Christian teaching. And yet, among his students, especially those who were wrestling with this question, Spurgeon spoke with humility and was careful not to alienate them over this debated issue.

Second, Spurgeon did not view science and religion as being at odds. Instead, he believed that science, rightly practiced, supported the claims of religion. As Spurgeon considered the theory of evolution, part of his rejection of it came from the fact that scientists had not discovered any “missing links” between the species. Instead, by the standards of scientific observation, the animal world continued to maintain clear lines of distinction. Here, Spurgeon’s answer shows that he did not believe evolutionary theory to be supported by the science of his day. At the same time, he did not believe that science could ever overturn the teaching of Scripture. Spurgeon imagined a young man explaining to his believing grandmother the theory of evolution and asking her,

‘Do you not feel alarmed about your faith?’ ‘No,’ she says, ‘if they were to discover fifty thousand things, it would not trouble me, for ‘I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.’’ You think her a simpleton, perhaps she might far more properly think you the same.[8]

For the Christian, the truth of Scripture is unshakeable, even against fifty thousand new scientific discoveries. When it appears that science contradicts the teaching of Scripture, Spurgeon taught his people to hold fast to the truths of Scripture.

Finally, we see Spurgeon’s rejection of evolution because it fails to account for man’s unique position among the creatures. While evolution taught a link between the animal world and humanity, Spurgeon believed Scripture’s teaching on man being made uniquely in the image of God. No animal has ever “ascended in the scale of creation so far as to take his place as the equal of our brothers and sisters of the great family of mankind.” His anthropology required a clear separation between animals and humans.

Now, Spurgeon affirmed that humans share in creatureliness along with their fellow animals. In his sermons and writings, Spurgeon often illustrated human stubbornness,[9] ingratitude,[10] suffering,[11] dependence,[12] ignorance (demonstrated in man’s belief in evolution!),[13] and other such finite characteristics by likening them to animals. Nevertheless, Spurgeon affirmed that “there [was] a great distinction between mere animals and men, because man hath a soul, and the mere animal hath none.”[14] As those made in the image of God, humanity alone has the promise of immortality,[15] authority to rule over Creation,[16] and the privilege of knowing God and his great love.[17] In other words, while evolution diminished the position of man in relation to animals, Spurgeon affirmed the elevated place of humanity over the animal world as revealed in God’s work of creation and redemption.

[1] Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (London: John Murray, 1859), 492.

[2] Darwin did not consider himself an atheist but tended more towards agnosticism. He did not explicitly deny the person of Christ, but he rejected the idea of divine revelation. See Charles Darwin, Francis Darwin, ed., The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, including an Autobiographical Chapter (London: John Murray, 1887), 304-307.

[3] One example of this is Charles Hodge, who argued that atheism is fundamentally an atheistic worldview. Charles Hodge, What is Darwinism? (New York: Scribner, Armstrong, and Company, 1874).

[4] For one pamphlet defending theistic evolution, see Asa Gray, Natural Selection Is Not Inconsistent with Natural Theology (London: Trubner & Co., 1861).

[5] Autobiography 4:132.

[6] MTP 11:32.

[7] C. H. Spurgeon, The Gorilla and the Land he Inhabits: A Lectured Delivered by the Rev. C. H. Spurgeon in the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington, on Tuesday, October 1st, 1861. Pamphlet, 9.

[8] MTP 11:32.

[9] “Some men are like dull animals that will not go without the whip.” MTP 43:467

[10] “Men are more brutish than the beasts that perish. The lower animals, as men contemptuously call them, acknowledge the hand that feeds them; but men receive the bounty of God through long years, and yet live as if there were no God at all, and feel no gratitude to him whatsoever.” MTP 40:154-55

[11] “Our bodies humble us; and that is about the best thing they do for us. Oh, that we were duly lowly, because our bodies ally us with animals, and even link us with the dust!” C. H. Spurgeon, The Cheque Book of the Bank of Faith (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1888), 104.

[12] “Animals are often taught through their food. When they could not be reached in any other way, they have been instructed by their hunger, and by their thirst, and by their feeding. And the Lord, who knew of what a coarse nature Israel was composed… also taught them by their hunger and by their thirst, by the supply of water from the rock, and by the manna which He rained from heaven.” MTP 39:517.

[13] “Of course, I know that nowadays men are so wonderfully intelligent, that they have discovered that human life has been ‘evolved’ from lower life. We are the heirs of oysters, and the near descendants of apes. It has taken some time to compass the evolution; and yet I will grant that very hard shells are still to be met with, and some men are not much above animals — especially such men as can be duped by this hypothesis.” MTP 36:369

[14] NPSP 4:22.

[15] “If man be a creature, if he only be first among animals, though the most highly organized of all the vertebrate creatures; and if, when he dies, there is an end of him, as there might be of a sheep or a dog, then, looking up to the stars and thinking of man as a mere beast, you need not say with David, ‘Lord, what is man?’ You know what he is. You have got your answer, and a gloomy and a melancholy answer it is. But if man is to live forever and ever, what a noble creature he becomes!” MTP 59:135.

[16] “MAN was made to rule. In the divine original he was intended for a king, who should have dominion over the beasts of the field, and the fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea. He was designed to be the lord-lieutenant of this part of creation, and the form of his body and the dignity of his countenance betoken it. He walks erect among the animals, while they move upon all-fours; he subjugates and tames them to perform his will, and the fear and dread of him is upon all creatures, for they know their sovereign.” MTP 25:373.

[17] “I have sometimes looked at the happiest animals, and I have said to myself, ‘Ah, but yonder poor creature does not know the love of God, and how thankful I am to God that he has given me the capacity to know himself.’” MTP 19:94.

Pastoral Evangelism: What It Is

By / Jan 17

As the one who is called to occupy the pulpit week after week, pastors have a particular opportunity to evangelize the lost and model to the congregation what it looks like to preach the gospel faithfully. While the task of evangelism cannot be limited to the pastor alone, a church’s evangelism does often begin with the pastor. So often, it is the pastor’s preaching of the gospel that will equip his people and set them on fire for evangelism.

We must regard the people as the wood and the sacrifice, well wetted a second and a third time by the cares of the week, upon which, like the prophet, we must pray down the fire from heaven.

Therefore, in speaking to his pastoral students, Spurgeon understood it was imperative that they had a proper understanding of what it meant to preach the gospel. In his book, The Soul Winner, Or How to Lead Sinners to the Saviour, Spurgeon gives three foundational principles for a right understanding of pastoral evangelism.

Evangelism is instructing a man that he may know the truth of God.

First and foremost, evangelism is about teaching others the content and truth of the message of the gospel. Before God works in someone’s heart, he will first work upon his mind through the faithful instruction of the truth of the gospel.

It is ours, then, to give men something worth their hearing; in fact, to instruct them. We are sent to evangelize, or to preach the gospel to every creature; and that is not done unless we teach them the great truths of revelation. The gospel is good news. To listen to some preachers, you would imagine that the gospel was a pinch of sacred snuff to make them wake up, or a bottle of ardent spirits to excite their brains. It is nothing of the kind; it is news, there is information in it, there is instruction in it concerning matters which men need to know, and statements in it calculated to bless those who hear it. It is not a magical incantation, or a charm, whose force consists in a collection of sounds; it is a revelation of facts and truths which require knowledge and belief. The gospel is a reasonable system, and it appeals to men’s understanding; it is a matter for thought and consideration, and it appeals to the conscience and the reflecting powers.

The job of the preacher is not merely to shout at people, “Believe!” Nor is it our goal merely to work our hearers up to an emotional state so that they assent to whatever we tell them. Rather, we must teach and explain what they are to believe.

The field of instruction is wide if men are to be made to know the truth which saves. “That the soul be without knowledge, it is not good,” and it is ours as the Lord’s instruments to make men so to know the truth that they may believe it, and feel its power. We are not to try and save men in the dark, but in the power of the Holy Ghost we are to seek to turn them from darkness to light.

Evangelism involves impressing the truth upon him so that he may feel it

Evangelism is not merely information transfer, leaving a person’s life and emotions untouched. Such a ministry would be useless. Rather, evangelism seeks to engage a person’s heart through the evangelist’s own heartfelt engagement.

A sinner has a heart as well as a head; a sinner has emotions as well as thoughts; and we must appeal to both. A sinner will never be converted until his emotions are stirred. Unless he feels sorrow for sin. and unless he has some measure of joy in the reception of the Word, you cannot have much hope of him. The truth must soak into the soul, and dye it with its own colour. The Word must be like a strong wind sweeping through the whole heart, and swaying the whole man, even as a field of ripening corn waves in the summer breeze. Religion without emotion is religion without life.

While Spurgeon warns against emotional excesses and psychological manipulation, he also recognizes the danger of a heartless, purely intellectual approach to the gospel. If someone rightly understands the gospel, this knowledge will inevitably move their hearts and their affections. Evangelists must appeal, then, both to the mind and to the heart.

You and I must continue to drive at men’s hearts till they are broken; and then we must keep on preaching Christ crucified till their hearts are bound up and when this is accomplished, we must continue to proclaim the gospel till their whole nature is brought into subjection to the gospel of Christ.

The goal of evangelism is the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit to work regeneration

We must keep in mind the distinction between our role to teach the gospel and impress it upon our hearers and the supernatural work of the Spirit to bring one to salvation. The former is our responsibility. The latter is God’s. Apart from the Spirit, we can do nothing to bring another to saving faith.

I have already insisted upon instruction and impression as most needful to soul-winning; but these are not all—they are, indeed, only means to the desired end. A far greater work must be done before a man is saved. A wonder of divine grace must be wrought upon the soul, far transcending anything which can be accomplished by the power of man.

As evangelists, we must have a proper view of our absolute dependence on God and yet our real responsibility to share the gospel. Far from making our role meaningless, it is our confidence in God’s sovereignty over salvation that gives us hope in every evangelistic conversation. Far from making evangelism pointless, we rejoice in the honor of being God’s ambassadors of the gospel.

This might seem at first sight to put human instrumentality altogether out of the field; but on turning to the Scriptures we find nothing to justify such an inference, and much of quite an opposite tendency. There we certainly find the Lord to be all in all, but we find no hint that the use of means must therefore be dispensed with. The Lord’s supreme majesty and power are seen all the more gloriously because He works by means. He is so great that He is not afraid to put honour upon the instruments He employs, by speaking of them in high terms, and imputing to them great influence.


In their preaching, pastors must model this kind of evangelism to their people. They must ensure that their people know the content of the gospel and are able to share it with others. They must model the kind of earnestness that moves the hearts of their people in their love for God and love for the lost. And they must teach their people to pray with an absolute dependence on the Spirit for His supernatural work of regeneration. In so doing, the pastor multiplies his own evangelistic efforts a hundredfold as his people are equipped to share the gospel with others.

Join us for a conference on Evangelism hosted by 9Marks and Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. To learn more and register, go to: https://www.mbts.edu/about/conference/9marks/

Pastoral Evangelism: What It Isn’t

By / Jan 10

Spurgeon often attributed the tremendous growth of his church not to his personal evangelistic efforts, but to his congregation’s.[1] At the same time, he understood that pastors, including himself, also have a duty to share the gospel. Certainly, as those called to preach and lead, pastors will have particular opportunities for evangelism in their work. But whether in the pulpit or out of it, pastors are to always be on-duty for Christ. Spurgeon once charged his students that even in times of relaxation, a minister should “conduct himself as the ambassador of God, and seize opportunities of doing good; this will not mar his rest, but sanctify it.” Pastors should always be looking for evangelistic opportunities. “To be a holy talker for Jesus might be almost as fruitful an office as to be a faithful preacher.”

Spurgeon once prepared a series of lectures to his students on pastoral evangelism, and they were recorded and published after his death in The Soul Winner, Or How to Lead Sinners to the Saviour. In his opening lecture, Spurgeon gives a definition of evangelism (or “soul-winning”). But as important as knowing what evangelism is, a pastor must also know what it isn’t.

Here are three cautions from Spurgeon on what evangelism isn’t:

Evangelism is not to steal members out of other churches.

We do not regard it to be soul-winning to steal members out of churches already established, and train them to utter our peculiar Shibboleth.

There is such a thing as selfishness in our eagerness for the aggrandisement of our own party; and from this evil spirit may grace deliver us! The increase of the kingdom is more to be desired than the growth of a clan. We would do a great deal to make a Paedobaptist brother into a Baptist, for we value our Lord’s ordinances; we would labour earnestly to raise a believer in salvation by free-will into a believer in salvation by grace, for we long to see all religious teaching built upon the solid rock of truth, and not upon the sand of imagination; but, at the same time, our grand object is not the revision of opinions, but the regeneration of natures. We would bring men to Christ, and not to our own peculiar views of Christianity. Our first care must be that the sheep should be gathered to the great Shepherd; there will be time enough afterward to secure them for our various folds.

Evangelism is not to inflate your membership rolls

We do not consider soul-winning to be accomplished by hurriedly inscribing more names upon our church-roll, in order to show a good increase at the end of the year.

Do not, therefore, consider that soul-winning is or can be secured by the multiplication of baptisms, and the swelling of the size of your church. What mean these despatches from the battlefield? “Last night fourteen souls were under conviction, fifteen were justified, and eight received full sanctification.” I am weary of this public bragging, this counting of unhatched chickens, this exhibition of doubtful spoils. Lay aside such numberings of the people, such idle pretence of certifying in half a minute that which will need the testing of a lifetime. Hope for the best, but in your highest excitements be reasonable.

Evangelism is not simply to generate enthusiasm

Nor is it soul-winning, dear friends, merely to create excitement.

When the Spirit of God is abroad, and men’s minds are stirred, there must and will be certain visible signs of movement, although these must never be confounded with the movement itself. If people imagine that to make a dust is the object aimed at by the rolling of a carriage, they can take a broom, and very soon raise as much dust as fifty coaches; but they will be committing a nuisance rather than conferring a benefit. Excitement is as incidental as the dust, but it is not for one moment to be aimed at…

Do not aim at sensation and “effect.” Flowing tears and streaming eyes, sobs and outcries, crowded after-meetings and all kinds of confusion may occur, and may be borne with as concomitants of genuine feeling; but pray do not plan their production.

It very often happens that the converts that are born in excitement die when the excitement is over.


In these cautions, Spurgeon was commenting on various pastoral malpractices in his day. And such temptations continue in our day. In their zeal for seeing the lost saved and their churches built up, pastors too often resort to false substitutes for true evangelism. But if we are to see true, lasting fruit in our ministries, if we are to truly win souls for Christ, we must reject such gimmicks and remain faithful to our calling as ambassadors of the gospel.

(Next – Pastoral Evangelism: What It Is)

Join us for a conference on Evangelism hosted by 9Marks and Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. To learn more and register, go to: https://www.mbts.edu/about/conference/9marks/

[1] “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.” Speeches at Home & Abroad

Four Ways of Serving God During Christmas

By / Dec 8

The Christmas season is a time of rest and celebration. But it is also a time of great opportunity. The workplace is filled with Christmas carols and decorations. Family gatherings bring Christians together with their unsaved loved ones. Neighbors exchange gifts and host neighborhood parties. Opportunities to serve the poor and needy abound. In all of this, what better way for Christians to celebrate Christmas than by imitating the example of their Lord and serving those around them, and by dwelling on the love of the Savior? Spurgeon writes,

We citizens of the New Jerusalem, having the Lord Jesus in our midst, may well excuse ourselves from the ordinary ways of celebrating this season; and considering ourselves to be “holy work-folk,” we may keep it after a different sort from other men, in holy contemplation and in blessed service of that gracious God whose unspeakable gift the new-born King is to us.

In his sermon, “Holy Work of Christmas,” Spurgeon unpacks Luke 2:17-20 and gives “four ways of serving God, four methods of executing holy work and exercising Christian thought.” What are four ways we can serve God during Christmas?

By publishing abroad what we have seen and heard of the Savior

They had seen God incarnate—such a sight that he who gazeth on it must feel his tongue unloosed, unless indeed an unspeakable astonishment should make him dumb. Be silent when their eyes had seen such a vision! Impossible! To the first person they met outside that lowly stable door they began to tell their matchless tale, and they wearied not till nightfall, crying, “Come and worship! Come and worship Christ, the newborn King!” As for us, beloved, have we also not something to relate which demands utterance? If we talk of Jesus, who can blame us? This, indeed, might make the tongue of him that sleeps to move—the mystery of God incarnate for our sake, bleeding and dying that we might neither bleed nor die, descending that we might ascend, and wrapped in swaddling bands that we might be unwrapped of the grave-clothes of corruption. Here is such a story, so profitable to all hearers that he who repeats it the most often does best, and he who speaks the least hath most reason to accuse himself for sinful silence.

By holy wonder, admiration, and adoration

Let me suggest to you that holy wonder at what God has done should be very natural to you. That God should consider his fallen creature, man, and instead of sweeping him away with the besom of destruction, should devise a wonderful scheme for his redemption, and that he should himself undertake to be man’s Redeemer, and to pay his ransom price, is, indeed, marvellous! Probably it is most marvellous to you in its relation to yourself, that you should be redeemed by blood; that God should forsake the thrones and royalties above to suffer ignominiously below for you. If you know yourself you can never see any adequate motive or reason in your own flesh for such a deed as this. “Why such love to me?” you will say. If David sitting in his house could only say, “Who am I, O Lord God, and what is mine house, that thou hast brought me hitherto?” what should you and I say? Had we been the most meritorious of individuals, and had unceasingly kept the Lord’s commands, we could not have deserved such a priceless boon as incarnation; but sinners, offenders, who revolted and went from God, further and further, what shall we say of this incarnate God dying for us, but “Herein is love, not that we loved God but that God loved us.” Let your soul lose itself in wonder, for wonder, dear friends, is in this way a very practical emotion. Holy wonder will lead you to grateful worship; being astonished at what God has done, you will pour out your soul with astonishment at the foot of the golden throne with the song, “Blessing, and honor, and glory, and majesty, and power, and dominion, and might be unto Him who sitteth on the throne and doeth these great things to me.”

By pondering and preserving the love of the Savior

One at least, and let us hope there were others, or at any rate let us ourselves be others—one kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. She wondered: she did more—she pondered. You will observe there was an exercise on the part of this blessed woman of the three great parts of her being; her memory—she kept all these things; her affections—she kept them in her heart; her intellect—she pondered them, considered them, weighed them, turned them over; so that memory, affection, and understanding, were all exercised about these things. We delight to see this in Mary, but we are not at all surprised when we recollect that she was in some sense the most concerned of all on earth, for it was of her that Jesus Christ had been born. Those who come nearest to Jesus and enter the most closely into fellowship with him, will be sure to be the most engrossed with him. Certain persons are best esteemed at a distance, but not the Savior; when you shall have known him to the very full, then shall you love him with the love which passeth knowledge; you shall comprehend the heights, and depths, and lengths, and breadths of his love; and when you shall do so, then your own love shall swell beyond all length and breadth, all height and depth… I desire to bring you to this thought, that if during this season you retiring quiet ones cannot speak to others, or have no desirable opportunity or suitable gift for that work, you may sit still with Jesus and honor him in peace.

By glorifying and praising God in our everyday work

The shepherds went back to the sheep-pens glorifying and praising God. Beloved, it is not office, it is earnestness; it is not position, it is grace which will enable us to glorify God. God is most surely glorified in that cobbler’s stall where the godly worker as he plies the awl sings of the Savior’s love, ay, glorified far more than in many a prebendal stall where official religiousness performs its scanty duties. The name of Jesus is glorified by yonder carter as he drives his horse and blesses his God, or speaks to his fellow laborer by the roadside as much as by yonder divine who, throughout the country like Boanerges, is thundering out the gospel. God is glorified by our abiding in our vocation. Take care you do not fall out of the path of duty by leaving your calling, and take care you do not dishonor your profession while in it; think not much of yourselves, but do not think too little of your callings.

There is no trade which is not sanctified by the gospel. If you turn to the Bible, you will find the most menial forms of labor have been in some way or other connected either with the most daring deeds of faith, or else with persons whose lives have been otherwise illustrious; keep to your calling, brother, keep to your calling! Whatever God has made thee, when he calls thee abide in that, unless thou art quite sure, mind that, unless thou art quite sure that he calls thee to something else. The shepherds glorified God though they went to their trade.

Six Reasons the Savior Was Born in a Stable

By / Dec 1

Every detail surrounding the incarnation is significant. The virgin birth, the parents from Galilee, the journey to Bethlehem, the line of David, the shepherd, the angels, and many others are all strands woven into the tapestry of God’s work of redemption from the creation of the world. Therefore, every detail is worth meditating on, even the smaller ones. In his sermon, “No Room for Christ in the Inn,” preached on December 21, 1862, Spurgeon meditates on Luke 2:7 and the fact that Christ was born in a stable and laid in a manger. Why is this detail significant? He gives six reasons:

To show Christ’s humility

Would it have been fitting that the man who was to die naked on the cross should be robed in purple at his birth? Would it not have been inappropriate that the Redeemer who was to be buried in a borrowed tomb should be born anywhere but in the humblest shed, and housed anywhere but in the most ignoble manner? The manger and the cross standing at the two extremities of the Savior’s earthly life seem most fit and congruous the one to the other. He is to wear through life a peasant’s garb; he is to associate with fishermen; the lowly are to be his disciples; the cold mountains are often to be his only bed; he is to say, “Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man hath not where to lay his head.”

To declare Christ to be the king of the poor

With what pertinacity will workingmen cleave to a leader of their own order, believing in him because he knows their toils, sympathizes in their sorrows, and feels an interest in all their concerns. Great commanders have readily won the hearts of their soldiers by sharing their hardships and roughing it as if they belonged to the ranks. The King of Men who was born in Bethlehem, was not exempted in his infancy from the common calamities of the poor, nay, his lot was even worse than theirs. I think I hear the shepherds comment on the manger-birth, “Ah!” said one to his fellow, “then he will not be like Herod the tyrant; he will remember the manger and feel for the poor; poor helpless infant, I feel a love for him even now, what miserable accommodation this cold world yields its Savior; it is not a Caesar that is born today; he will never trample down our fields with his armies, or slaughter our flocks for his courtiers, he will be the poor man’s friend, the people’s monarch; according to the words of our shepherd-king, he shall judge the poor of the people; he shall save the children of the needy.”

To invite the lowliest to come to him

We might tremble to approach a throne, but we cannot fear to approach a manger… Never could there be a being more approachable than Christ. No rough guards pushed poor petitioners away; no array of officious friends were allowed to keep off the importunate widow or the man who clamored that his son might be made whole; the hem of his garment was always trailing where sick folk could reach it, and he himself had a hand always ready to touch the disease, an ear to catch the faintest accents of misery, a soul going forth everywhere in rays of mercy, even as the light of the sun streams on every side beyond that orb itself. By being laid in a manger he proved himself a priest taken from among men, one who has suffered like his brethren, and therefore can be touched with a feeling of our infirmities.

To show the freeness of his person to all who come

He had not to purchase admittance to the caravanserai, for it was free to all, and the stable especially so. Now, beloved, our Lord Jesus Christ was born in the stable of the inn to show how free he is to all comers. The Gospel is preached to every creature and shuts out none… Class exclusions are unknown here, and the prerogatives of caste are not acknowledged. No forms of etiquette are required in entering a stable; it cannot be an offense to enter the stable of a public caravanserai. So, if you desire to come to Christ you may come to him just as you are; you may come now. Whosoever among you hath the desire in his heart to trust Christ is free to do it. Jesus is free to you; he will receive you; he will welcome you with gladness, and to show this, I think, the young child was cradled in a manger.

To give himself even to those turned into beasts by sin

I believe our Lord was laid in the manger where the beasts were fed, to show that even beast-like men may come to him and live. No creature can be so degraded that Christ cannot lift it up. Fall it may, and seem to fall most certainly to hell, but the long and strong arm of Christ can reach it even in its most desperate degradation; he can bring it up from apparently hopeless ruin. If there be one who has strolled in here this morning whom society abhors, and who abhors himself, my Master in the stable with the beasts presents himself as able to save the vilest of the vile, and to accept the worst of the worst even now. Believe on him and he will make thee a new creature.

To warn us about turning away from Christ

But as Christ was laid where beasts were fed, you will please to recollect that after he was gone beasts fed there again. It was only his presence which could glorify the manger, and here we learn that if Christ were taken away the world would go back to its former heathen darkness. Civilisation itself would die out, at least that part of it which really civilizes man, if the religion of Jesus could be extinguished. If Christ were taken away from the human heart, the most holy would become debased again, and those who claim kinship with angels would soon prove that they have relationship to devils. The manger, I say, would be a manger for beasts still, if the Lord of Glory were withdrawn, and we should go back to our sins and our lusts if Christ should once take away his grace and leave us to ourselves.

“A Symbol of the Invisible”: Spurgeon’s Teaching on Animals

By / Nov 15

This is part two of a series on Spurgeon’s teaching on animals. See Part 1 here.

Perhaps the primary feature of Spurgeon’s thinking on animals is in using the animal world to illustrate spiritual truths. This can be seen particularly in his sermons. During a lecture to his students on preaching, Spurgeon once provided this basis for using sermon illustrations from nature:

There is a certain type of thought which God has followed in all things. What he made with his Word has a similarity to the Word itself by which he made it; and the visible is the symbol of the invisible, because the same thought of God runs through it all. There is a touch of the divine finger in all that God has made; so that the things which are apparent to our senses have certain resemblances to the things which do not appear. That which can be seen, and tasted, and touched, and handled, is meant to be to us the outward and visible sign of a something which we find in the Word of God, and in our spiritual experience, which is the inward and the spiritual grace; so that there is nothing forced and unnatural in bringing nature to illustrate grace; it was ordained of God for that very purpose. Range over the whole of creation for your similes; do not confine yourself to any particular branch of natural history… vary the instruction by stories, and anecdotes, and similes, and metaphors drawn from geology, astronomy, botany, or any of the other sciences which will help to shed a side light upon the Scriptures.

If you keep your eyes open, you will not see even a dog following his master, nor a mouse peeping up from his hole, nor will you hear even a gentle scratching behind the wainscot without getting something to weave into your sermons if your faculties are all on the alert.[1]

During a time when preaching tended to be intellectual and dry, Spurgeon was famous for his memorable and down-to-earth illustrations. As one biographer observed, “Mr. Spurgeon abounds in illustrations – illustrations gathered chiefly from nature.”[2] However, Spurgeon’s use of these illustrations was not merely pragmatic. Rather, in the quote above, Spurgeon gives a theological basis for using these illustrations from nature.

Spurgeon believed that the natural world was particularly suited for illustrating the spiritual world because both came from God. “The same thought of God runs through it all.” In other words, the visible, physical world is a reflection or an expression of God’s character and will. Therefore, “there is nothing forced and unnatural in bringing nature to illustrate grace; it was ordained of God for that very purpose.”

Now, to be clear, Spurgeon held to the inspiration and sole authority of the Holy Scriptures. These outward, visible signs did not illustrate a truth separate from or contrary to Scripture, but only that “which we find in the Word of God.” If someone were to interpret the natural world as proclaiming a message different from Scripture, Spurgeon would reject this as a misinterpretation. Natural revelation was ultimately not sufficient to replace special revelation. But for those whose minds have been regenerated by the Spirit and the gospel, natural revelation can serve as an aide to Scripture, shedding a “side light” to help illuminate its teaching.[3]

Animals Revealing Something About God

Spurgeon often used the animal world to teach his people about the nature and character of God. Though God is infinite and unknowable, the Creator can be partially revealed by contrasting him with his finite creatures. For example, regarding God’s aseity, Spurgeon declares, “God is the only self-existent Being… All else of nature is continually borrowing; vegetables draw their nourishment from the soil, animals from them, or from one another, [and] man from all.”[4] Even as man observes the dependence of animals on the world around them, he is reminded that God alone is self-existent, and therefore, He alone is worthy of praise.

Likewise, the animal world reveals the sovereign wisdom of the Creator. As Victorian scientists made advances in their study of the animal world, this opened whole new vistas into God’s wisdom. One example of this was in the study of ecosystems.

So beautiful is the order of nature, that we cannot want only destroy a race of little birds without suffering from their removal. When the small birds were killed in France, by the peasantry, who supposed that they ate the corn, the caterpillars came and devoured the crops. Man made a defect in an otherwise perfect circle; he took away one of the wheels which God had made, and the machine did not work perfectly; but let it alone, and no jars or grindings will occur, for all animals know their time and place, and fulfill the end of their being.[5]

As science has revealed, all the intricate details of the natural world are intentional, from small birds to caterpillars, and all function in their place according to God’s wisdom. Spurgeon uses this point to illustrate God’s sovereignty not only in nature but over our lives. For the Christian, God’s wisdom and sovereignty should inspire great hope and patience even “when you thought it was all confusion.”

The animal world also reveals something of God’s wisdom and patience in teaching his creatures all of their varied skills and instincts.

God not only teaches beasts, he also teaches fish, and I never heard of any man who could teach a fish as God does. The fishes of the sea know exactly the day of the month when they ought to begin to go round the English coast; and the herrings and the mackerel come exactly to the time, though nobody rings the bell to say to them, “It is such a day of the week, and such a month of the year; and you ought to swim away.” When the time comes for them to go back again, away they go, and they seem to understand everything that they should do. If God can teach even the fish of the sea, what a wise Teacher he must be![6]

Spurgeon refuses to attribute animal behaviors simply to natural, evolutionary forces. Instead, he envisions a God closely involved with his creatures, instructing them in everything they do. And if this is true for herrings and mackerel and all the other creatures, how much more should people made in the image of God be taught by Him? Spurgeon’s point in this illustration was to encourage his hearers to go to God as the great Teacher of their souls.[7]

Finally, the animal world also reveals God’s powerful and gracious beneficence toward his creatures. Reflecting on Psalm 104:28, Spurgeon writes,

THIS sentence describes the commissariat of creation. The problem is the feeding of “the creeping things innumerable, both small and great beasts,” which swarm the sea, the armies of birds which fill the air, and the vast hordes of animals which people the dry land; and in this sentence we have the problem solved, “That thou givest them they gather.” The work is stupendous, but it is done with ease because the Worker is infinite; if he were not at the head of it, the task would never be accomplished. Blessed be God for the great Thou- of the text. It is every way our sweetest consolation that the personal God is still at work in the world: leviathan in the ocean, and the sparrow on the bough, may be alike glad of this, and we, the children of the great Father, much more.[8]

Once again, he marvels at God’s intimate involvement with the animal world, feeding “the vast hordes” of creatures in every part of the world. For any human to attempt such a task would be impossible. But God does it day after day, as a comforting reminder to His children that “the personal God is still at work in the world.” As those who are prone to worry and to doubt God’s goodness, we must remember that “He who cares for birds and insects will surely care for men.”[9] In these and many other examples, Spurgeon turns to the animal world to reveal something of the power and goodness of God.

This paper was presented at the Andrew Fuller Center Conference in May 2021You can read the rest of the presentation here.

[1] Spurgeon, The Art of Illustration, 63.

[2] William Walters, Life and Ministry of the Rev. C. H. Spurgeon (London: Walter Scott, 1882), 261.

[3] “The works of creation are pictures to the children of God of the secret mysteries of grace. God’s truths are the apples of gold, and the visible creatures are the baskets of silver” MTP 8:109.

[4] Autobiography 1:322.

[5] MTP 52:98-99.

[6] MTP 57:484.

[7] “God is a needful Teacher. It is really necessary that every one of us should be taught of God; for, if we are not, somebody else will teach us, and that somebody else will so teach us that we shall lose our souls for ever.” Ibid.

[8] MTP 55:289.

[9] MTP 17:392.

Spurgeon: A Fighter and a Lover

By / Nov 2

Charles Spurgeon should not be interpreted as a theological sadist, deriving pleasure from pummeling his doctrinal opponents. That he was a notable defender of the faith, is without question. He fought against baptismal regeneration and the undermining of essential evangelical doctrines, which he saw as threats to the gospel. He was outspoken and took strong stands on many issues, but his primary target was false teachings that tinkered with the fundamentals of the faith, doctrines such as the deity of Christ, the inspiration of Scripture, and the reality and horrors of Hell. Beyond that, he enjoyed a rather broad communion with fellow gospel-lovers with whom he disagreed on secondary or tertiary doctrines. If one loved and treasured the gospel, Spurgeon claimed him as a friend.

Spurgeon fearlessly defended truth while displaying gospel unity. One example is evident in his book review of The Doctrines of Annihilation and Universalism, viewed in the Light of Reason, Analogy, and Revelation by Thomas Wood of the Wesleyan Conference. Spurgeon writes, “part of his [Wood’s] argument bears hard upon Calvinists, but we can very well endure all that he can say on that point, and yet thank him for service rendered in slaying the deadly error.” Spurgeon was a Calvinist. Wood was Arminian. Significant differences stand between Calvinism and Arminianism. Spurgeon even closely equated Calvinism with the gospel. That said, even with his high regard for Calvinistic theology, he was most concerned about the “deadly error” which undermined the gospel. In fighting the serious errors of annihilation and universalism, he was one with his fellow gospel advocate, Thomas Wood.

Spurgeon valued Wood’s book, finding essential agreement with its main arguments. To deny eternal punishment for the wicked was to cut at the heart of the gospel that saves men from such judgment. Spurgeon, the Calvinist, understood the stakes and stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Thomas Wood, the Arminian, in opposing damnable heresy.

Reflecting on Wood’s book Spurgeon wrote,

The new doctrines have certainly gone tolerable lengths now, and from annihilation to restoration has been a mere foot-race. We expect soon to hear that the ungodly are to be exalted at once to heaven, and the righteous sent to outer darkness. Why not? All the sympathies of our modern divines are with the unbelieving; the gospel which they preach to them is, ‘doubt and be saved,’ and therefore we may naturally look for a heaven prepared for loose thinkers, who are so brave as to despise all creeds and believe in nothing whatever. The blameworthy folks would seem to be those simple people who believe in plenary inspiration, who feel sin to be a terrible evil, and who therefore believe in eternal punishment: to such narrow-minded bigots our liberal modern thinkers award a place more hot than heavenly. Everybody is received as a Christian nowadays by the Broad School except those who are so in deed and of a truth.

The Broad School included those who were embarrassed by old orthodoxy and who were intoxicated by intellectualism and worldly favor. Such required them to position themselves as more cultured and intellectual than bumpkins who still believed in antiquated theology, communicated in evangelical certainties expressed in the historic creeds and confessions. These Broad School men were, Spurgeon argued,

  1. More sympathetic to the broadmindedness of unbelievers than to simple people who accepted old settled orthodox views. 
  2. Proclaimers of a gospel of doubt which they preached to unbelievers. Doubt was a virtue to the “Broad School.” Dripping with sarcasm, Spurgeon wrote that their “heaven [is] prepared for loose thinkers who are so brave as to despise all creeds and believe in nothing whatever.” 
  3. Elitists who despised “simple people who believe in plenary inspiration, who feel sin to be a terrible evil, and who therefore believe in eternal punishment.”
  4. Proud of their broadness of thought, imagining that everybody was a Christian except those who held historically accepted doctrines that were articulated and defended in creeds and confessions. 

Clearly, Spurgeon was a fighter; he fought earnestly for the faith.

We do not claim to be unsectarian, if by this be meant the absence of all distinctive principles, and a desire to please parties of all shades of opinion. We believe and therefore speak. We speak in love, but not in soft words and trimming sentences. We shall not court controversy, but we shall not shun it when the cause of Christ demands it.”

Spurgeon was solidly on the side of “simple people who believed in plenary inspiration” and the essential doctrines of the Christian faith. And he was willing to align himself in battles for truth with gospel-loving Christians such as Thomas Wood, with whom he differed on important but somewhat lesser matters. Spurgeon was a fighter and a lover. In this, he is instructive to us on where and how to draw battle lines.

Ray Rhodes, Jr. is the author of Susie: The Life and Legacy of Susannah Spurgeon and Yours, till Heaven, both from Moody Publishers. He is also the author of the upcoming (2024) biography of Charles Haddon Spurgeon from Broadman and Holman Academic Publishers. Follow Ray on Twitter @susiespurgeon1, Facebook @susiespurgeonbook, Instagram @Spurgeonbook, and at www.rayrhodesjr.com. Email Ray at btnpub@gmail.com.