Mark Dever’s Foreword to C.H. Spurgeon’s ‘Only a Prayer Meeting’

By / Apr 29

Almost a decade after Spurgeon’s death, his publishers (and Tabernacle members) Passmore and Alabaster brought out a book of 367 pages. It was filled with 40 addresses by Spurgeon, almost all of which were given extemporaneously at his church’s Monday evening prayer meeting. When I came to our congregation (originally named Metropolitan Baptist Church, presumably after Spurgeon’s congregation), I soon rearranged our prayer meeting. One of my most enjoyable reading experiences was earlier this year when I first read Mr. Spurgeon’s book Only a Prayer Meeting! I had bought my copy of the 1976 Pilgrim Publications reprint in 1984 in Inverness, Scotland. But it had lain unread among scores of other volumes of Spurgeon’s works, which, for some reason, got more of my attention.

Then I took it with me on a trip and began to read it on the plane flight across the country from San Diego to DC. It captured my attention. I couldn’t put it down. I found Spurgeon describing his own prayer meeting in terms at many points like our own! And I also read accounts of remarkable providences and Biblical wisdom as Spurgeon exhorted his own people to prayer. And regularly, more than a thousand of them would join him on a Monday evening for their prayer meeting.

Pastors, you will enjoy the outspokenness of Spurgeon in his opinions, even if you may not always share his view. In his first lecture, he is decrying the spectacle of street work of The Salvation Army, accompanied by too many passing false conversions. Spurgeon says, ‘Gold, silver and precious stones are scarce material, not easily found; but then they endure the fire. What is the use of religion which comes up in a night, and perishes as soon?’

Other times, you’ll find yourself chuckling in recognition or agreement. Practical wisdom is found on every page. ‘Let as many as possible take part in the utterance of the church’s desires; the change of voice will prevent weariness, and the variety of subjects will excite attention. Better to have six pleading earnestly, than two drowsily. . . .’ We’ve all been there!

Another part of the wonder of this volume is the plain way with which Spurgeon writes even more as a Christian than as a pastor. What I mean is that his wisdom in being a pastor is merely a subset of his greater and deeper experience as a Christian. In one lecture Spurgeon warns ‘There is even a danger of loving some things which are associated with Christ as much as we love Christ Himself; and we must be on the watch against such a feeling as that.’ That simple observation is what a living Christian feels who loves the ministry God has called him to, but who loves God more, and who (rightly) senses the danger in his own soul of loving the Lord’s work more than the Lord Himself. May God deliver each one of us from such wrong-headed and wrong-hearted professionalism.

His evangelistic arguments with the reluctant believer are powerful, too. Look at the last couple of paragraphs in his address ‘God’s Willingness to Bless Saints and Sinners.’ In the middle of that passage, Spurgeon urges the wavering on to faith—‘Make a dash for it. Believe that Jesus Christ is able to save you. Trust Him, and He has saved you. . . . Cease to look within, and begin to look up.’ Here Spurgeon’s evangelistic heart pours out through his exhortations to pray. He is a challenge to us, and a model for us.

Along the way, Spurgeon attacks worldliness and annihilationism. He attacks giving up too soon. ‘We are called, not to flirt with error, but to fight with it; therefore, let us be brave, and push on the conflict.’ And he teaches the Bible, too. When was the first public worship service in the world? Spurgeon has a whole address on it here! Can children be converted? Yes, he answers! Fistfuls of simple truths are here given out for the reader who will take a few minutes and peruse a chapter. One or two a day, and the whole volume will be read in less than a month. Once I started reading it on that flight I couldn’t put it down until I had read the whole thing!

There is a sad note in this book. Spurgeon could tell that the pouring out of the Spirit he had so long enjoyed was waning toward the end of the 19th century. He writes ‘Thirty years ago, things were very different from what they are now. It was easy to gather a congregation then, compared with what it is now; the spirit of hearing is departing from our cities.’ As we face our own questions of spiritual decline, let’s listen to this wise older brother who has gone before us, about how we can assault the throne of grace ourselves, and lead our congregations to join us in this holy contest.


This article was originally published on the Christian Focus blog here.

Click here to purchase Only a Prayer Meeting: Studies on Prayer Meetings and Prayer Meeting Addresses by C. H. Spurgeon.



Soul Winning: C. S. Lovett vs. C. H. Spurgeon

By / Apr 5

In 1959, C. S. Lovett, pastor of Baldwin Park Baptist Church, published his guide to personal evangelism, entitled Soul-Winning Made Easy. In it, he describes “the controlled conversation technique,” which “ignores excuses and complete side-steps the explosive area of religious debate.” Instead, Lovett focuses on Revelation 3: Jesus knocking on the door of our hearts and urging sinners to open their hearts to him. Lovett writes, “If he can truly be made aware of Christ waiting at the door of his heart, his responsibility becomes most clear. This makes soul-winning a positive ministry requiring fewer skills. Actually, it is a new frontier which allows Christian obedience to become fun!”

In addition to a gospel presentation, Lovett provides practical directions in evangelism (complete with illustrations). For example, in pressing for a decision, Lovett instructs,

Lay your hand firmly on the subject’s shoulder (or arm) and with a semi-commanding tone of voice, say to him, “Bow your head with me.”

NOTE: Do not look at him when you say this, but bow your head first. Out of the corner of your eye you will see him hesitate at first. Then, as his resistance crumbles, his head will come down. Your hand on his shoulder will fell the relaxation and you will know when his heart yields. Bowing your head first, causes terrific psychological pressure.

This brand of technique-based, results-driven evangelism grew to be quite popular in the 60s and 70s. Soul winning was a phrase that captured the optimism and energy of the movement.

But where did “soul-winning” come from? My guess is that one source of the phrase can be traced back to the ministry of C. H. Spurgeon. In 1897, five years after his death, his associates published The Soul Winner, a collection of sermons and lectures to the Pastors’ College, Sunday School teachers, and his own congregation on evangelism. The title came from a sermon preached in 1869 at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, entitled “Soul Winning,” based on Proverbs 11:30, “He that winneth souls is wise.” Baptists have long admired Spurgeon as the preeminent pastor-evangelist, with many thousands converted under his ministry. So, it only makes sense that “soul winning” would become a popular phrase among those who saw themselves as heirs of his evangelistic ministry.

But were C. S. Lovett’s methods in line with Spurgeon’s teaching on evangelism? What do we learn from Spurgeon about soul winning from his 1869 sermon?

Soul winning is not about a particular technique or style

Revivalistic evangelism emphasizes technique – a form of words, certain gestures, “terrific psychological pressure.” But for Spurgeon, such techniques can provide no guarantee of conversion, nor is God limited by them. Certainly, God can use such things. But Spurgeon taught that effective evangelism could come about in many different styles and methods, using all kinds of people and personalities.

He who actually, really, and truly turns men from the error of their ways to God, and so is made the means of saving them from going down to hell, is a wise man; and that is true of him whatever his style of soul-winning may be.

He may be a Paul, deeply logical, profound in doctrine, able to command all candid judgments; and if he thus win souls he is wise.

He may be an Apollos, grandly rhetorical, whose lofty genius soars into the very heaven of eloquence; and if he wins souls in that way he is wise, but not otherwise.

Or he may be a Cephas, rough and rugged, using uncouth metaphor and stern declamation, but if he win souls he is no less wise than his polished brother or his argumentative friend, but not else. The great wisdom of soul-winners, according to the text, is proven only by their actual success in really winning souls.

Spurgeon rejected any religion which taught that the use of a technique could produce salvation. This was the error of Roman Catholicism, which was creeping into the Church of England in his day.

I am sorry to say that much of legerdemain and trickery are to be met with in the religious world. Why, there are those who pretend to save souls by curious tricks, intricate maneuvers, and dexterous posture making. A bason of water, half-a-dozen drops, certain syllables—heigh, presto!—the infant is a child of grace, and becomes a member of Christ and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven. This aqueous regeneration surpasses my belief; it is a trick which I do not understand: the initiated only can perform the beautiful piece of magic, which excels anything ever attempted by the Wizard of the North. There is a way, too, of winning souls by laying hands upon heads, only the elbows of aforesaid hands must be encased in lawn, and then the machinery acta, and there is grace conferred by blessed fingers! I must confess I do not understand the occult science.

In the end, a belief in soul winning as a technique means that we place our trust in man, robbing God of his glory. Soul winning cannot fundamentally be about human effort, but it must be rooted in God.

Soul winning depends on God to work through human means

At the same time, while God is sovereign over salvation, his people also have an essential role to play. In evangelism, God graciously uses human means to accomplish His sovereign work. While the soul winner knows there are no guaranteed methods of evangelism, he employs all kinds of means to share the gospel. But even as he does so, he is utterly dependent on God in all his efforts. The soul winner’s job is to proclaim Christ faithfully and leave the results to God.

To accomplish such a work, a man must be wise, for to win a soul requires infinite wisdom. God himself wins not souls without wisdom, for the eternal plan of salvation was dictated by an infallible judgment, and in every line of it infinite skill is apparent. Christ, God’s great soul-winner, is “the wisdom of God,” as well as “the power of God.” There is as much wisdom to be seen in the new creation as in the old. In a sinner saved, there is as much of God to be beheld as in a universe rising out of nothing; and we, then, who are to be workers together with God, proceeding side by side with him to the great work of soul-winning, must be wise too. It is a work which filled a Savior’s heart—a work which moved the Eternal mind or ever the earth was. It is no child’s play, nor a thing to be achieved while we are half asleep, nor to be attempted without deep consideration, nor to be carried on without gracious help from the only-wise God, our Savior.

And what is that means by which God works his saving work? It is the proclamation of the gospel. Speaking to preachers, Spurgeon declares,

He will succeed best, who keeps closest to soul-saving truth. Now, all truth is not soul-saving, though all truth may be edifying. He that keeps to the simple story of the cross, tells men over and over again that whosoever believeth in Christ is not condemned, that to be saved, nothing is wanted but a simple trust in the crucified Redeemer; he whose ministry is much made up of the glorious story of the cross, the sufferings of the dying Lamb, the mercy of God, the willingness of the great Father to receive returning prodigals; he who cries, in fact, from day to day, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world,” he is likely to be a soul-winner, especially if he adds to this much prayer for souls, much anxious desire that men may be brought to Jesus, and then in his private life seeks as much as in his public ministry to be telling out to others of the love of the dear Saviour of men.

The soul winner prays and labors expectantly for conversions

On the opposite side of the revivalists are those who preach orthodox sermons but do not expect any conversions. In Spurgeon’s day, these were the hyper-Calvinist groups. They were proper in their theology and had an orthodox understanding of God’s sovereignty. And yet, when it came to evangelism, they could often be cold and dispassionate. Such an attitude could never result in soul winning.

The preacher himself wins souls, I believe, best, when he believes in the reality of his work, when he believes in instantaneous conversions. How can he expect God to do what he does not believe God will do? He succeeds best who expects conversion ever time he preaches. According to his faith so shall it be done unto him. To be content without conversions is the surest way never to have them: to drive with a single aim entirely at the saving of souls is the surest method of usefulness. If we sigh and cry till men are saved, saved they will be.

This is not to say that the preacher can ever presume on God’s grace. We know this because Spurgeon insists that prayer is a necessary ingredient in evangelism. “The soul-winner must be a master of the art of prayer.” Apart from prayerful dependence on God, we should have no reason to expect Him to work. Nonetheless, as those who have prayed for the lost and are preaching the gospel, we do so believing that the gospel “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” The soul winner is not content to merely preach faithful sermons, but he longs to see sinners saved.

Soul winning requires perseverance

Though we believe in “instantaneous conversions,” we also understand that evangelism will require perseverance. Far from soul-winning being something easy and fun, Spurgeon used Bunyan’s allegory to compare soul winning to besieging a city:

How do we win souls, then? Why, the word “win” has a better meaning far. It is used in warfare. Warriors win cities and provinces. Now, to win a soul, is a much more difficult thing than to win a city. Observe the earnest soul-winner at his work; how cautiously he seeks his great Captain’s directions to know when to hang out the white flag to invite the heart to surrender to the sweet love of a dying Savior; when, at the proper time, to hang out the black flag of threatening, showing that if grace be not received, judgment will surely follow; and when to unfurl, with dread reluctance, the red flag of the terrors of God against stubborn, impenitent souls. The soul-winner has to sit down before a soul as a great captain before a walled town; to draw his lines of circumvallation, to cast up his intrenchments and fix his batteries. He must not advance too fast—he may overdo the fighting; he must not move too slowly, for he may seem not to be in earnest, and may do mischief. Then he must know which gate to attack—how to plant his guns at Ear-gate, and how to discharge them; how, sometimes, to keep the batteries going, day and night, with red-hot shot, if perhaps he may make a breach in the walls; at other times, to lay by and cease, and then, on a sudden, to open all the batteries with terrific violence, if peradventure he may take the soul by surprise or cast in a truth when it was not expected, to burst like a shell in the soul, and do damage to the dominions of sin. The Christian soldier must know how to advance by little and little—to sap that prejudice, to undermine that old enmity, to blow into the air that lust, and at the last, to storm the citadel.

To use another image, Spurgeon also compares soul-winning to wooing someone with love, again another task that requires perseverance and wisdom.

There are secret and mysterious ways by which those who love win the object of their affection, which are wise in their fitness to the purpose. I cannot tell you how the lover wins his fond one, but experience has probably taught you. The weapon of this warfare is not always the same, yet where that victory is won the wisdom of the means becomes clear to every eye. The weapon of love is sometimes a look, or a soft word whispered and eagerly listened to; sometimes it is a tear; but this I know, that we have, most of us in our turn, cast around another heart a chain which that other would not care to break, and which has linked us twain in a blessed captivity which has cheered our life. Yes, and that is very nearly the way in which we have to save souls.

Rather than expecting instant results, we should know that evangelism will require persistent effort as we seek to communicate the gospel to others.

Every Christian is called to be a soul winner

Lovett’s purpose for publishing his book was to equip lay Christians with the techniques they needed to share the gospel. Ironically, however, his techniques were more suited for people with the personality of a salesperson (as is evidenced by the illustrations), rather than all Christians. But true soul winning is the responsibility of all Christians, not simply those with a certain kind of personality or who have learned a specific technique.

But I am not talking to ministers, but to you who sit in the pew, and therefore to you let me turn myself more directly. Brothers and sisters, you have different gifts. I hope you use them all. Perhaps some of you, though members of the church, think you have none; but every believer has his gift, and his portion of work. What can you do to win souls?

Conclusion

Today, we might find Lovett’s brand of soul winning humorous. But it made sense in his day, given his context of 19th-century American revivalism and 20th-century modernity and therapeutic culture. But what about Spurgeon? Indeed, there were aspects of Spurgeon’s evangelistic practices that were also influenced by his culture. Spurgeon’s social activism, plain-speaking, and organizational efforts blended with his evangelistic fervor to fit his Victorian context.

And yet, in the points that we see above, Spurgeon’s evangelism was rooted fundamentally not in method but in theology. Spurgeon understood that salvation is from God alone. He believed that the Spirit alone brings about conversion. And salvation will only happen as the gospel of Christ is faithfully proclaimed. So, while Spurgeon may have contextualized his evangelistic practices, he refused to compromise the theological convictions on which they were based. And in the end, it was his theology, not culture, which shaped his evangelism.

For Spurgeon, soul winning meant a clear articulation of the gospel and humble dependence on God for salvation.


HT: Thanks to Challies for the picture.



The Pastor’s Private Prayer

By / Mar 21

So far in this series on pastoral character, we’ve considered the role of the pastor’s piety and the pastor’s holiness upon his ministry. Those articles have largely been cautionary, warning pastors against the particular temptations that come in ministry. But what should a pastor cultivate positively in order to grow in pastoral character? Spurgeon’s first answer would likely be the importance of cultivating communion with Christ, expressed in the pastor’s private prayer.

The Problem: Ministerialism

One of the greatest dangers that the minister faces is the danger of what Spurgeon calls formalism or officialism or ministerialism. Listen to his description:

The worst [snare a minister can face] is the temptation to ministerialism — the tendency to read our Bibles as ministers, to pray as ministers, to get into doing the whole of our religion as not ourselves personally, but only relatively concerned in it. To lose the personality of repentance and faith is a loss indeed…

I hate ministerialism, yet I often find it creeping upon me. One gets inside a pulpit, and begins to feel that he is not as other men are; but I like, if I can, to preach as a sinner to sinners; as one saved by grace to tell the love which Christ had towards me, the chief of sinners, and “less than the least of all saints.” I do not doubt that, as soon as you get out your little book to take with you, you feel like a missionary, and not simply like a sinner saved by grace. But, I pray you, do not feel like a missionary; feel like a sinner who has been washed in the precious blood of Jesus. You will never do good if you go to your work simply because of your office, [rather than] because of your soul being in it, because your heart yearns toward sinners, because you must have them saved. Strive not against any habits that are good; but against that evil tendency which, somehow or other, Satan, who is exceedingly crafty, manages to cast over our very best habits.

In other words, even as we pursue holiness and fight sin, we have to keep the gospel central. We have to cultivate a deep awareness and sorrow over our personal sin and the temptations of our hearts. We have to live in dependence on God’s grace in Christ. And then we speak as sinners saved by grace. This is how our holiness becomes warm and attractive.

Apart from our own personal grasp of the gospel, all our efforts at piety and holiness will become a stumbling block to our own sanctification and ministry. The strange thing is that people don’t always notice ministerialism in their pastor. The unspiritual people in the congregation won’t mind that their pastor doesn’t demonstrate any spiritual life before them. Even while the minister is just keeping up appearances, a church can have a growing budget and the congregation can be entertained. But in the end, as far as the pastor is concerned, it’s all external rituals and no spiritual life.

Spurgeon describes one such situation:

I read the other day, that no phase of evil presented so marvelous a power for destruction, as the unconverted minister of a parish, with a £1200 organ, a choir of ungodly singers, and an aristocratic congregation. It was the opinion of the writer, that there could be no greater instrument for damnation out of hell than that. People go to their place of worship and sit down comfortably, and think they must be Christians, when all the time all that their religion consists in, is listening to an orator, having their ears tickled with music, and perhaps their eyes amused with graceful action and fashionable manners; the whole being no better than what they hear and see at the opera — not so good, perhaps, in point of aesthetic beauty, and not an atom more spiritual. Thousands are congratulating themselves, and even blessing God that they are devout worshippers, when at the same time they are living in an unregenerate Christless state, having the form of godliness, but denying the power thereof. He who presides over a system which aims at nothing higher than formalism, is far more a servant of the devil than a minister of God.

May such words never be said of our ministries.

The Answer: Private Prayer

So what’s the solution? How do we fight against formalism? We fight by cultivating our private prayer lives, our communion with God. And Spurgeon particularly emphasizes prayer… Not just Bible reading, but prayer, i.e. communion with Christ. Prayer, as Calvin puts it, is our chief expression of faith. Prayer is how faith is manifested and expressed. If you don’t believe there is a God or that you need God, then you don’t pray. But if you do believe there is a God who hears, if you believe that you need Him, then the way you express that belief is through prayer.

As good evangelicals, we naturally emphasize the importance of Bible reading, and that’s exactly right. The Bible is where we hear from God. But we need to take all that Bible study and devote ourselves to prayer. Prayer is how we take all that Bible reading and turn it into communion with God, internalizing it and making it ours. And this is especially important for students to hear. Spurgeon wrote,

All that a college course can do, for a student is coarse and external compared with the spiritual and delicate refinement obtained by communion with God. While the unformed minister is revolving upon the wheel of preparation, prayer is the tool of the great potter by which he molds the vessel. All our libraries and studies are mere emptiness compared with our closets. We grow, we wax mighty, we prevail in private-prayer.

The closet is the best study. The commentators are good instructors, but the Author himself is far better, and prayer makes a direct appeal to him and enlists him in our cause. It is a great thing to pray one’s self into the spirit and marrow of a text; working into it by sacred feeding thereon, even as the worm bores its way into the kernel of the nut.

So pastors, teachers, devote time each day to studying God’s Word, for your own personal reading, for your sermon preparation, for Bible study… but always combine that reading with meditation and prayer. This is how you grow in piety. Reflect the truth of that passage back to God in prayer. Allow your Bible reading to be a means of communion with God, rather than merely putting together a lesson or a sermon. This is only possible through private prayer.

Of course, it’s not just in Bible study or for 30 minutes each morning. Rather the pastors’ life should be marked by prayer at every moment.

Whenever his mind turns to his work, whether he is in it or out of it, he sends out a petition, sending up his holy desires as well-directed arrows to the skies. He is not always in the act of prayer, but he lives in the spirit of it. If his heart be in his work, he cannot eat or drink, or take recreation, or go to his bed, or rise in the morning, without evermore feeling a fervency of desire, a weight of anxiety, and a simplicity of dependence upon God; thus, in one form or other he continues in prayer. If there be any man under heaven, who is compelled to carry out the precept — “Pray without ceasing,” surely it is the Christian minister.

Even as Spurgeon told his students this, he recognized his own deficiencies in this area. In fact, he said that he didn’t know of any minister, deacon, or elder who could say that he was “occupied with God in prayer to the full extent to which he might be” and he himself could make no such claim either. If you feel like you are lacking in your own prayer life, don’t lose heart. Let that be your starting point: confess this to God and pray for his help. And then begin taking steps so you can be in prayer more consistently.

These days, with podcasts, audiobooks, our smart devices, we’re losing more and more our opportunities for being quiet and being able to pray. There’s so much we fill our lives with, which means if we are to pray without ceasing, we have to intentionally make space for it. As pastors and teachers of God’s Word, this is how we grow mighty in the Spirit and in Christlikeness… by cultivating a life of prayer.

Apart from a life of prayer and communion with Christ, our ministry remains merely superficial.

The preacher who neglects to pray much must be very careless about his ministry. He cannot have comprehended his calling. He cannot have computed the value of a soul, or estimated the meaning of eternity. He must be a mere official, tempted into a pulpit because the piece of bread which belongs to the priest’s office is very necessary to him, or a detestable hypocrite who loves the praise of men, and cares not for the praise of God. He will surely become a mere superficial talker, best approved where grace is least valued and a vain show most admired. He cannot be one of those who plough deep and reap abundant harvests. He is a mere loiterer, not a laborer. As a preacher he has a name to live and is dead. He limps in his life like the lame man in the Proverbs, whose legs were not equal, for his praying is shorter than his preaching.

Even though we don’t have many insights into Spurgeon’s private prayer life, it’s clear that what he cultivated there flowed out into his public prayers. Spurgeon taught that public prayer was the most important part of the service, even more important than the sermon. Much of what takes place in the “worship service” is geared towards man, rather than God. But in prayer, we are reminded that we have gathered before Almighty God, to worship Him. As he preached in other churches, he often lamented how lacking these services were in prayer.

When Spurgeon led his congregation in prayer, many people noted how those occasions were more powerful and memorable than the sermon. One of his associates recorded,

Many times [Spurgeon] has testified that, when leading the great congregation in prayer, he has been so rapt in adoration, and so completely absorbed in the supplication or thanksgiving he has been presenting, that he has quite forgotten all his surroundings, and has felt even a measure of regret, upon closing his petition, and opening his eyes, to find that he was still in the flesh, in the company of men of like passions with himself, instead of being in the immediate presence of the Most High, sharing in the higher worship of the holy angels and the spirits of just men made perfect.

As one attendant wrote, “His prayer was greater to me than his sermon. In his sermon, he talked with men. In his prayer, he communed with God.” This was no formalism. His people’s hearts were warmed as they listened to and participated with their pastor as he communed with God in prayer. And this was only possible because Spurgeon cultivated a private prayer life, drawing near to Christ in prayer moment by moment.



The Pastor’s Personal Holiness

By / Mar 7

For students of the Pastors’ College, their Friday meetings with C. H. Spurgeon were often a time of joy. But on one occasion, the meeting was marked by solemn heartache. Word had reached Spurgeon that “a minister in whom he had placed great confidence, and who had gone from the college, had greatly fallen.” The students knew that Spurgeon always took matters of personal purity with terrible earnestness. Now, having heard the news, he stood to address his students.

Rolling up his coat-sleeve, and placing his bare wrist on the platform rail, he said, in tones solemn and awful, “Brethren, I would sooner have had this right hand severed from my body than that this should have happened.”

Spurgeon knew that the fall of a minister brought great shame to the church and the witness of the gospel. He would rather be maimed than to see such spiritual harm brought to God’s people. So even as he devoted himself to training pastors, Spurgeon urged his students again and again: Fight for personal holiness.

A Higher Standard of Holiness

If you’ve been in ministry for any period of time, you know that there are particular temptations that come from being in that position. Listen to Spurgeon on this:

Upon the whole, no place is so assailed with temptation as the ministry. Despite the popular idea that ours is a snug retreat from temptation, it is no less true that our dangers are more numerous and more insidious than those of ordinary Christians. Ours may be a vantage-ground for height, but that height is perilous, and to many the ministry has proved a Tarpeian rock. If you ask what these temptations are, time might fail us to particularize them; … your own observation will soon reveal to you a thousand snares, unless indeed your eyes are blinded.

In the face of temptations, whether in public or in private, pastors must fight for holiness. They have to maintain a clear conscience before God in all that they do. And yet the call here is not for ordinary holiness, which we would want for all the members of our churches. Instead, there is a higher level of holiness that all ministers should aspire to and attain. Spurgeon writes,

The highest moral character must be sedulously maintained. Many are disqualified for office in the church who are well enough as simple members… Holiness in a minister is at once his chief necessity and his goodliest ornament. Mere moral excellence is not enough, there must be the higher virtue.

To be sure, it’s a wonderful gift to be simply a member of a church in good standing. But just because you are a church member, that doesn’t mean qualify you to lead the church. Rather, pastors are to be an example to the flock, as Peter writes, and this includes your character and spiritual life. You must be an example in your holiness.

The Pastor’s Many Temptations

So what does this look like? Well, you’ll notice in the previous quote, Spurgeon didn’t want to list out all the temptations in the ministry, because there are thousands of them, I’m sure. But in one of his lectures, Spurgeon does give his students a list of things to watch out for, even seemingly “small sins.”

When we say to you, my dear brethren, take care of your life, we mean be careful of even the minutiae of your character. Avoid little debts, unpunctuality, gossipping, nicknaming, petty quarrels, and all other of those little vices which fill the ointment with flies. The self-indulgences which have lowered the repute of many must not be tolerated by us. The familiarities which have laid others under suspicion, we must chastely avoid. The roughnesses which have rendered some obnoxious, and the fopperies which have made others contemptible, we must put away. We cannot afford to run great risks through little things. Our care must be to act on the rule, “giving no offence in anything, that the ministry be not blamed.”

One of the benefits of reading history is that we get to see things from a different perspective. Here Spurgeon urges the minister to be mindful of these temptations because if he is not careful, they will damage his ministry. Each of these points gives us an opportunity to examine ourselves.

  • little debts – How are your finances? Are you living within your means? Are you cultivating contentment with what you have?
  • unpunctuality – Are you managing your time well? Are you finishing your work on time? Do you show up on time to meetings?
  • gossiping – How are you guarding your tongue? As you hear sensitive pastoral information, are you wise and discrete with that information?
  • nicknaming – Are you mindful of name-calling, of using language that offends others? Do you treat people with respect? This is not so much about political correctness, but about caring well for others.
  • petty quarrels, and all other of those little vices which fill the ointment with flies – Are you quarrelsome (especially on social media)? Do you always have to have the last word? Are you impatient in your speech? Do you cultivate peace?
  • The self-indulgences which have lowered the repute of many must not be tolerated by us; The familiarities which have laid others under suspicion, we must chastely avoid – What are the self-indulgences that you tolerate in your life in secret? What are the questionable shows or entertainments that you enjoy? Do you tolerate any secret addictions?
  • The roughnesses which have rendered some obnoxious – Are you marked by gentleness and self-control? Or are you a bully towards others?
  • The fopperies which have made others contemptible, we must put away – Are you tempted to act like a diva in ministry? Do you use the ministry to show off? Is there an element of showmanship in your ministry?

Spurgeon knew that a terrible fall does not begin with one huge temptation. No, it begins with little temptations. As pastors tolerate “little” sins, they grow hardened. Over time, they begin to tolerate other sins, and they end up on a dangerous path.

A Wondrously Attractive Holiness

Given all these points, you could get the wrong idea that the minister is constantly looking over his shoulder and worried about what people think of him. That’s not what’s going on. There is a difference between pursuing holiness and trying to keep up with the moral etiquette of the day. Spurgeon didn’t care much for the latter. London had plenty of high-class gentlemen who were offended by Spurgeon’s common manner and plain speech, and he was happy to offend them. At the same time, Spurgeon didn’t want his students to sink down into coarseness or vulgarity, as so many preachers of his day did. He writes,

By this is not intended that we are to hold ourselves bound by every whim or fashion of the society in which we move. As a general rule I hate the fashions of society, and detest conventionalities, and if I conceived it best to put my foot through a law of etiquette, I should feel gratified in having it to do. No, we are men, not slaves; and are not to relinquish our manly freedom, to be the lacqueys of those who affect gentility or boast refinement. Yet, brethren, anything that verges upon the coarseness which is akin to sin, we must shun as we would a viper. The rules of Chesterfield are ridiculous to us, but not the example of Christ; and he was never coarse, low, discourteous, or indelicate.

It’s also important that as we pursue holiness, we don’t begin to put on airs, to see ourselves as some kind of higher class of Christian, thinking that we are better than those ordinary people. Spurgeon writes,

How shall [a pastor] order his speech among his fellow-men? First and foremost, let me say, let him give himself no ministerial airs, but avoid everything which is stilted, official, fussy, and pretentious. “The Son of Man” is a noble title; it was given to Ezekiel, and to a greater than he: let not the ambassador of heaven be other than a son of man…. There is such a thing as trying to be too much a minister, and becoming too little a man.

Spurgeon’s goal for the Pastors’ College was to produce holy and yet commonplace pastors who would be equipped to speak to and associate with the masses, with the common man, with the working man, not aloof, restrained, socially awkward men, but rather men who attracted people to Christ. Because this was the proper effect of holiness in the preacher’s life – not to turn people away, but to make Christ more attractive:

The life of the preacher should be a magnet to draw men to Christ, and it is sad indeed when it keeps them from him. Sanctity in ministers is a loud call to sinners to repent, and when allied with holy cheerfulness it becomes wondrously attractive.

The holiness that Spurgeon was after is one that is humble and happy and “wondrously attractive,” just like our Savior’s. This is what he sought to model for his students and this is what we should strive for in our lives.



The Pastor’s Character

By / Mar 1

For Spurgeon, the Pastors’ College, out of all the many institutions of the Metropolitan Tabernacle, was the one that was “dearest to his heart.” Every Friday afternoon, after a long week of study, one of the favorite times of the students was when Spurgeon would lecture on a variety of topics related to pastoral ministry. And out of the many topics that he preached on, the one that he emphasized the most was the importance of the pastor’s “eminent piety,” that is his character.

We live in a day when so many gifted pastors and church leaders with large public ministries go astray in their private lives, in their character. And as a result, all that public ministry comes crashing down. This was no different in the 19th century. Spurgeon understood this well and he placed “eminent piety” as his first qualification for his students who were aspiring to be teachers. All who find themselves in the position of being a teacher of God’s Word should follow Paul’s admonition to Timothy: “Pay close attention to your life and your teaching.” This is what Spurgeon called “the minister’s self-watch.”

But why does a pastor’s character matter?

We Are Our Own Tools

Spurgeon puts it this way:

We are, in a certain sense, our own tools, and therefore must keep ourselves in order. If I want to preach the gospel, I can only use my own voice; therefore I must train my vocal powers. I can only think with my own brains, and feel with my own heart, and therefore I must educate my intellectual and emotional faculties. I can only weep and agonize for souls in my own renewed nature, therefore must I watchfully maintain the tenderness which was in Christ Jesus. It will be in vain for me to stock my library, or organize societies, or project schemes, if I neglect the culture of myself; for books, and agencies, and systems, are only remotely the instruments of my holy calling; my own spirit, soul, and body, are my nearest machinery for sacred service; my spiritual faculties, and my inner life, are my battle ax and weapons of war.

When it comes to the ministry of the Word, we are the tool, the instrument for conveying the gospel. That’s not to say that we ourselves are the Good News. No, we are jars of clay, bearing the treasure of the gospel. But at the same time, it matters how we conduct our lives. I think of Paul’s words to Timothy

2Tim. 2:20       In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for noble purposes and some for ignoble. 21 If a man cleanses himself from the latter, he will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.

It is interesting to think about all the other things we think make for an effective minister: the latest laptop, a massive pastoral library, a powerful Bible study software tool, resources to help with sermon illustrations, on and on it goes. There is no shortage of pastoral tools and resources that Lifeway, Crossway, Logos, and everybody else wants to sell you. And in one sense, all those things are fine. But at the end of the day, as a minister of God’s Word, those things are not what carry the gospel. You are the vessel, the instrument of the gospel. As a pastor who owned thousands of books, Spurgeon reminds us that in the end, it’s character and life that matter.

Robert Murray M’Cheyne writing to a minister friend who had gone to study German theology put it like this,

I know you will apply hard to German, but do not forget the culture of the inner man — I mean of the heart. How diligently the cavalry officer keeps his saber clean and sharp; every stain he rubs off with the greatest care. Remember you are God’s sword, his instrument — I trust, a chosen vessel unto him to bear his name. In great measure, according to the purity and perfection of the instrument, will be the success. It is not great talents God blesses so much as likeness to Jesus. A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God.

We all want to be life-long students of theology and Bible and history. We strive to give ourselves to reading, to study, to writing… but as you do all this, “do not forget the culture of the inner man.” Take care of yourself, of your heart, of your soul, of your own nearness to Christ, the way a cavalry officer takes care of his saber.

The Effect of Character on the Ministry

It’s no surprise then that the minister’s character will have an effect on his ministry. Spurgeon writes this,

You all know the injurious effects frequently produced upon water through flowing along leaden pipes; even so the gospel itself, in flowing through men who are spiritually unhealthy, may be debased until it grows injurious to their hearers. It is to be feared that Calvinistic doctrine becomes most evil teaching when it is set forth by men of ungodly lives and exhibited as if it were a cloak for licentiousness…

Like water flowing through lead pipes, a preacher with a bad character will actually bring harm to the message that he preaches. It won’t just nullify his message. It will actually work against it. This is part of Satan’s strategy: not only to send false teachers, but to raise up orthodoxy, but worldly preachers. To raise up those within the church who will preach the gospel faithfully, even powerfully, but then live lives that are immoral; as Paul says, “having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.”

Spurgeon also warns his students against being “clockwork ministers.” Only serving Christ, only being Christians, when they are on the clock.

Here I would not alone warn you of sins of commission, but of sins of omission. Too many preachers forget to serve God when they are out of the pulpit, their lives are negatively inconsistent. Abhor, dear brethren, the thought of being clockwork ministers who are not alive by abiding grace within, but are wound up by temporary influences; men who are only ministers for the time being, under the stress of the hour of ministering, but cease to be ministers when they descend the pulpit stairs. True ministers are always ministers…

“Do as I say, not as I do” doesn’t work for parenting and it doesn’t work for the pastor either. So you can preach a powerful and compelling sermon on the importance of showing hospitality to strangers, but if your people don’t see you modeling that in your life, they won’t take you seriously. You can preach a powerful sermon on the sinfulness of sin and the sweetness of God’s grace, but if they don’t see those truths impacting your life, your life will actually undermine that preaching.  Spurgeon again,

As actions speak louder than words, so an ill life will effectually drown the voice of the most eloquent ministry… Our truest building must be performed with our hands; our characters must be more persuasive than our speech

There’s a principle here: a church generally will follow the example of its pastor. Through their teaching, through their example, pastors play a huge role in setting the culture of the church. Whatever the pastor is passionate about, that will come through, and the congregation usually will follow. As a general rule, the pastor will generally be the most spiritually-minded person in the congregation, because they’re the ones giving themselves to studying and preaching God’s Word. Which means how we live really matters. We want pastors to be men of “eminent piety.”

I think we see this in Spurgeon’s own ministry. One theme that you see again and again in his preaching is his devotion to serving Christ. From the day he was baptized, Spurgeon committed himself to speak for Christ and spending himself for the cause of Christ. Not because he was trying to earn God’s favor, but because he never got over God’s grace to him Christ. And as a preacher, he called his people to give themselves to serving Christ their captain.

And yet the congregation not only heard this message but they saw it lived out in the life of their pastor. They watched as he preached as many as 14 times in a week, and then came back to lead the prayer meeting and the multiple congregational meetings, and then met with membership applicants, and then raised funds for building the Metropolitan Tabernacle, and then prepared his sermons for publication, and then wrote more books and articles for the magazine, and then visited his orphans. And they watched him doing it all while struggling with gout and discouragement and all kinds of other ailments.

When you see your pastor pouring himself out like that for the cause of Christ, that stirs something within you. I think more than all the sermons he preached, the striking and powerful example of their pastor pouring out his life in ministry week after week, fired up his people to follow his example. And so out of the Tabernacle, 66 charitable gospel ministries were started, most of them by the initiative of members of the church, who simply wanted to do their part to serve Jesus.

Conclusion

So watch your life and doctrine. Yes, the Word is powerful and it is the Word that does the work. But when God calls a preacher, He uses the whole person to minister the Word, to communicate the Word, and that includes not only the doctrine you speak but the life you live.



Learning the Art of Pastoring with C. H. Spurgeon

By / Feb 21

In the 19th century, Charles Spurgeon pastored the largest church in evangelicalism, reaching a membership of over 5,000 towards the end of his ministry. But despite its size, the Metropolitan Tabernacle operated fundamentally like any historic Baptist church. They built an ample meeting space to gather all together weekly for worship and prayer. Spurgeon preached 45-minute sermons. The congregation sang hymns acapella. They held congregational meetings. They maintained a rigorous membership process. They practiced church discipline. By all appearances, Spurgeon’s approach to pastoral ministry was not in itself all that unique. What was notable is that he did it with such a large church.

Of course, the church wasn’t always that large. When he began pastoring in London, the congregation was only a few dozen people. Spurgeon was a solo pastor working alongside five deacons. But the church multiplied under his preaching, reaching a membership of over 1,000 in just five years. This meant that Spurgeon had to adapt on the fly and adjust how he would care for so many people. The structures for a church of under a hundred were no longer sufficient now that it was over a thousand.

But in making those adjustments, Spurgeon never changed his core pastoral convictions. Spurgeon believed in the primacy of preaching and the proper administration of the ordinances. He held to regenerate church membership. He was a firm believer in congregational polity. And he believed in the pastor’s responsibility to shepherd Christ’s flock. Even with so many joining, Spurgeon refused to compromise his convictions about what the church or the pastor is to be.

In many ways, this dynamic of holding fast to convictions while being flexible to adjust to changing circumstances is like a dance. Just as a dance has a basic framework or structure, the pastor needs firm convictions about what the church should be and do. But within that structure, dancers have a lot of room for creativity and adaptation. Likewise, pastors need to be flexible as the needs and circumstances of their congregation change. Pastoring is not a mechanical process of following ten steps to success or the latest formula for growth. Pastoring is an art.

What did this look like for Spurgeon? How did he go about the art of pastoring?

Worship Gatherings

            As an heir of the Reformed tradition, Spurgeon believed that Christ alone reigns over the church through his Word. This truth is to be seen supremely in the church’s worship. While Christians worship God in all of life, when it comes to the corporate gathering of the church, God has revealed how He is to be worshiped. This is what theologians call the Regulative Principle. Like the English Puritans before him, Spurgeon believed that the elements of a church’s worship gathering should only contain what God commands in Scripture. For Spurgeon, this included prayer, congregational singing, Scripture reading, preaching, and the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

            As a result, the services at the Metropolitan Tabernacle were marked by simplicity. While other churches of the day experimented with new forms of entertainments, instruments, styles of preaching, and liturgies from other traditions, the worship at the Tabernacle remained the same throughout Spurgeon’s ministry. In fact, it wasn’t all that different from the church’s worship from its earliest days. As one deacon stated, “the services of religion have been conducted without any peculiarity of innovation. No musical or aesthetic accompaniments have ever been used. The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but they are mighty.”[1]

            But despite its simplicity, the worship at the Tabernacle was not stale or predictable. While the elements of Spurgeon’s liturgy were fixed, he had no problems varying the order of service, from the content of his extemporaneous prayers to the number of hymns, the length of Scripture readings, and more. As Spurgeon planned each service, he allowed the sermon text to guide the themes and emphases of each service. Speaking to his students, he advised them, “vary the order of service as much as possible. Whatever the free Spirit moves us to do, that let us do at once.”[2] Rather than letting the Regulative Principle become a straight-jacket, Spurgeon urged his students to remain sensitive to the leading of the Spirit.

            In many ways, Spurgeon modeled this dynamic in his preaching. Throughout his ministry, Spurgeon was committed to preaching expositional sermons based on Scripture. “Let us be mighty in expounding the Scriptures. I am sure that no preaching will last so long, or build up a church so well, as the expository.”[3] While Spurgeon did allow for topical sermons and other kinds of sermons, he believed that the main diet of a church’s preaching should be expository sermons. As a result, the vast majority of Spurgeon’s 3,563 published sermons are an exposition and application of a Scriptural text.

However, Spurgeon refused to work mechanically through books of the Bible. Instead, every week, the most challenging part of his sermon preparation was prayerfully searching and waiting for the Spirit to lead him to the text that his people need to hear. In other words, Spurgeon believed every sermon he preached to be freshly given to him by God. The result of such a practice is nearly 40 years’ worth of sermons that are remarkable in their originality and diversity of application, illustration, and theological insight. Spurgeon’s sermons adapted to the challenges and circumstances that his congregation faced.

Prayer Meetings

            In addition to the Sunday gatherings, Spurgeon was also committed to having a weekly congregational prayer meeting. Each Monday night, thousands would turn out to pray together for the ministry. Spurgeon believed that prayer was the engine that fueled the work of the church and taught his people to prioritize these meetings.[4]

But prayer meetings were not only necessary; Spurgeon also sought to make them lively. To maintain freshness, he regularly varied the themes of each meeting. By default, the church regularly prayed for the needs of church members, the preaching of the Word, and the salvation of the lost. But throughout the year, the church also devoted meetings for praying for the various ministries of the church – the Orphanage, the Pastors’ College, the many evangelistic and benevolent ministries of the church. When a church was planted, prayer meetings would be devoted to those endeavors. Once a month, the meeting was devoted to praying entirely for missions, and the church often heard from visiting missionaries like Hudson Taylor or Johann Oncken. At times, Spurgeon ordered the meeting around different theological themes.

All of this produced a weekly prayer meeting that was world-renowned. As famous as Spurgeon was for his preaching, those who visited the Tabernacle were often more encouraged by the Monday night prayer meeting than the Sunday services. Visitors from all over the world “carried away with them even to distant lands influences and impulses which they never wished to lose or to forget.”[5]

Church Membership

            As a Baptist, Spurgeon believed the church was to be distinct from the world. And this distinction was to be expressed not through foreign customs or isolated communes but the practice of church membership. The church was to be made up of those who had a credible profession of faith, giving evidence to their new birth. Baptism, then, was the entrance into membership and the Lord’s Supper was the ongoing expression of membership in the church. Whereas many Baptists in his day watered down church membership and disconnected the ordinances from the discipline of the church, Spurgeon held these ecclesiological convictions firmly.

            In his 38 years of ministry, Spurgeon brought over 14,000 people through the membership process at the Tabernacle. Each applicant was interviewed by an elder, met with the pastor, was visited by a church messenger, and voted on by the congregation. Everyone who was baptized at the Tabernacle was brought into church membership. And even as visitors flooded into the church, Spurgeon fenced the Table and required all participants to either be a member of the church or to interview with an elder first.

            At the same time, though the membership process was rigorous, it was never meant to be daunting. Preaching on church membership, Spurgeon warmly declared,

Whenever I hear of candidates being alarmed at coming before our elders, or seeing the pastor, or making confession of faith before the church, I wish I could say to them: “Dismiss your fears, beloved ones; we shall be glad to see you, and you will find your intercourse with us a pleasure rather than a trial.” So far from wishing to repel you, if you really do love the Savior, we shall be glad enough to welcome you.[6]

In interviewing candidates, Spurgeon examined their understanding of the gospel, but he also took into consideration their background and age. His firm convictions regarding regenerate church membership did not make him insensitive to the pastoral needs of each applicant. Youth joining the church had to go through the same process as everyone else, but the elders did not expect from them the maturity of an adult. Those without an education might explain the gospel in a folksy way, but Spurgeon did not require an advanced vocabulary but a credible profession of faith. If any were unable to articulate the gospel, they were not condemned, but arrangements were made to meet with a church member to study the Bible. While Spurgeon held to regenerate church membership, this conviction created opportunities for him to shepherd even in the membership process.

Pastoral Care

            Beyond bringing people in, Spurgeon believed that the membership rolls should mean something. In many churches, the membership rolls had simply become a sentimental record of those who at one time belonged to the church. Sometimes, they contained members who hadn’t attended in decades, had moved away to Australia, or had died! But at the Tabernacle, Spurgeon strived to make the membership roll an accurate representation of those regularly partaking of the Lord’s Supper and walking in fellowship with the Lord and one another.

            With this conviction about his pastoral responsibility, it is this area, perhaps, where Spurgeon needed to exercise the most creativity. As the church grew into the thousands, Spurgeon adjusted by teaching on the biblical office of elders and leading his church to appoint elders for the spiritual care of the church. Apart from the tireless labors of his elders, he believed that the church would have been a sham. Spurgeon also divided the congregation into districts and assigned elders to oversee the different districts. This division of labor allowed the elders to shepherd the congregation meaningfully and not be overwhelmed by the task.

            Members were also given communion tickets that helped track their attendance at the Table. If any member did not attend the Lord’s Supper for three consecutive months, the church clerk would notify the elders, and they would follow up. But non-attendance did not mean immediate removal. Instead, the elders saw this as an opportunity for pastoral care. Often, the non-attendance reflected financial, physical, or spiritual difficulties, and they stepped in to care for these members. The elders strived to exercise patience and wisdom in all these cases. Sometimes, non-attendance was the result of serious, unrepentant sin. In such cases, church discipline would need to be pursued, a matter that once again required great wisdom and care.

Conclusion

            Today, many pastors struggle with holding on to biblical convictions in their ministry. Some pastors have a clear understanding of the gospel but have never been equipped with second-order doctrines of the church. As a result, they find themselves blown about by every wind of doctrine when it comes to the church and pastoral ministry. They have forgotten the framework of the pastoral dance, and as a result, their movements are erratic. Other pastors have clear convictions about pastoral ministry. But within that framework, they exercise their ministry mechanically, with little creativity or dependence on the Spirit.

Spurgeon reminds us that pastoral ministry is an art. Pastors must hold fast to their biblical convictions while demonstrating flexibility, patience, and creativity as they seek to implement those convictions amid their unique settings. Spurgeon’s example does not give us a blueprint for how to pastor. You are not Spurgeon, and your church is not the Metropolitan Tabernacle. As Peter instructed, our task is “to shepherd the flock of God that is among you” (1 Pet. 5:2). Even as we’re challenged and helped by his example, our task is to know our own people and to learn the art of pastoring, as we depend on God through His Word and in prayer.


[1] NPSP 5:350.

[2] Lectures 1:68.

[3] AARM 44

[4] S&T 1881:91.

[5] Autobiography 4:81.

[6] MTP 17:198-199.



A Symbol of the Invisible: Spurgeon and the Animal World

By / Feb 14

Introduction

The 19th century was an age of empire for the Victorians, not only over the kingdoms of men but also over the animal kingdom. Animals were an indispensable part of everyday life. Even as people left the countryside for the city, animals continued to play an integral role in society. As cities expanded and the city population grew, more horses and other beasts of burden were needed to transport goods and passengers.[1] It would not have been unusual to find cows, goats, and other farm animals in urban areas, bringing unsanitary conditions with them.

Beyond these more common relationships, Victorians also viewed animals with fascination. Domestic pets grew fashionable among all classes, including birds, dogs, cats, and even more exotic animals like monkeys and ferrets. As Britain’s empire expanded, animals from all over the world were brought back to England for public entertainment, leading to the rise of zoos and circuses. The first live hippopotamus in Europe arrived in London in 1850 and became the star attraction of the Surrey Zoological Gardens.[2] By the early 20th century, rather than simply locking animals in an iron cage, they were placed in exhibits that mimicked their original landscapes. These landscapes were still made out of painted concrete, wood, and metal, but the Victorians much preferred to “see captive animals and believe that they [were] somehow happy.”[3]

Animals played an important part in the Victorian economy. Birds, for example, became a booming industry. Even as hunters and collectors pursued exotic specimens for study and sale among the upper-class, the rearing of canaries and nightingales became a domestic industry that could generate a significant income for a lower-class family. This trend spilled over into the world of fashion, where bird feathers and animal skins in women’s hats and clothing became all the rage. Some estimate nearly 40 million pounds of plumage and bird skins imported into the U.K. between 1870 and 1920, an industry worth more than £20m a year at its peak.[4]

Victorian dominance over the animal world was also expressed in animal cruelty. With the rise of modernization, working animals were treated less as living creatures and more as machines to be driven to the ground. [5] Scientific and medical experimentation on animals grew without regard to their suffering.[6] In the entertainment industry, animals continued to be used in all kinds of violent competitions, including shooting matches and cage fights. Such attitudes towards animals filtered down to the general population. From the cab driver who flogged his horses, to the farmer who starved his oxen, to children torturing small creatures for entertainment in an alleyway, cruelty towards animals was widespread in Victorian society.

Alongside these instances of dominion over the animal kingdom, Victorians also developed a concern for animal welfare. With the publication of The Origin of Species in 1859 and The Descent of Man in 1871, Charles Darwin presented an indissoluble link between humanity and the animal world, claiming that “there is no fundamental difference between man and the higher mammals in their mental faculties.”[7] With this new understanding of humanity’s origins came a growing concern for the humane treatment of animals. Legislation and various societies were established to protest and work against animal cruelty. Literary works like Black Beauty presented animals as heroic and noble, even human, under terrible suffering.[8] Beginning in 1860 with the Battersea Dogs’ and Cats’ Home, the first animal shelter was established to care for the large population of stray dogs and cats. Eventually, Battersea would have the support of Queen Victoria as its patron.[9]

Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892) ministered in the heart of the Victorian empire amid the complexities of his society’s relationship with animals. As one historian observed, though Spurgeon was “a man behind his time” in his theology, he was also “a man of his time,” as a Victorian shaped by his cultural context.[10] This dynamic can be seen in Spurgeon’s teaching on animals throughout his life. This paper will demonstrate that, while reflecting his Victorian values, Spurgeon viewed the animal world (and all of nature) as a “symbol of the invisible,” working alongside Scriptural revelation to illustrate and reinforce biblical truths.[11] It will first explore Spurgeon’s personal interaction with animals, then consider his teaching on the animal world.

Spurgeon and the Animal World

Growing up in the village of Stambourne in his grandfather’s manse, animals were a part of everyday life. The family owned a small dairy at the back of the house, which “was by no means a bad place for a cheesecake, or for a drink of cool milk.” [12] Next to the house was a small garden, where Spurgeon would often see his grandfather walking in preparation for his sermons. Though Spurgeon grew up around horses, his favorite was the one in his grandfather’s house. “In the hall stood the child’s rocking-horse… This was the only horse that I ever enjoyed riding.”[13] Even at a young age, Spurgeon was not much of an athlete. He preferred studying books to playing sports and riding horses. However, growing up in the countryside, he loved nature and the outdoors.

As a teenage student, his education involved the study of the animal world. Among the early sermon notebooks kept at Spurgeon’s College, U.K. is a notebook entitled “Notes on the Vertebrate Animals Class Aves.” This incomplete notebook contains Spurgeon’s research, likely as a teenager, on 32 species of birds.[14] He repeatedly cites Georges Cuvier, whose theory of animal development based on natural cataclysms would provide an alternative to Darwin’s theory of natural selection.[15] The notebook is not limited to domestic birds but contains research on birds from all over the British empire, including peacocks, parrots, and penguins. As discoveries were being made in the animal world, these discoveries were published back home, and they shaped the imagination of young students all over England.

After a short but successful pastorate in the agricultural village of Waterbeach, Spurgeon moved to London to be the pastor of the New Park Street Chapel in 1854. The church was located in Southwark, “near the enormous breweries of Messrs. Barclay and Perkins, the vinegar factories of Mr. Potts, and several large boiler works… the region was dim, dirty, and destitute, and frequently flooded by the river at high tides.”[16] The industrial revolution was in full swing in London. Coming from Waterbeach, the pollution and the pressures of city life would have been a difficult adjustment.

Like other busy Londoners, Spurgeon owned a horse and carriage, which he considered “almost absolute necessaries” given his many preaching engagements.[17] However, his interaction with the animal world in London extended beyond mere transportation. In 1857, Spurgeon and his wife, Susannah, purchased a home on Nightingale Lane, Clapham. At that time, it was still “a pretty and rural, but comparatively unknown region.” Amid the growing pressures of pastoral ministry and public attention, his home became a place of seclusion and rest. Susannah recalls, “we could walk abroad, too, in those days, in the leafy lanes, without fear of being accosted by too many people.”[18]

Though the house itself was awkwardly configured, it came with a large garden that made up for any inconveniences. The couple “had the happy task of bringing it gradually into accord with our ideas of what a garden should be.”[19] In addition to cultivating flowers and plants, the Spurgeons turned their yard into a bird sanctuary. On summer afternoons, Susannah would lay out a blanket in the yard filled with birdseed so that the birds might come feast.[20] Amid the busyness of his ministry, Spurgeon found refreshment and renewal in his garden.

When I go into my garden I have a choir around me in the trees. They do not wear surplices, for their song is not artificial and official. Some of them are clothed in glossy black, but they sing like little angels; they sing the sun up, and wake me at break of day; and they warble on till the last red ray of the sun has departed, still singing out from bush and tree the praises of their God.[21]

Though he appreciated the attractions and exhibits of the city, Spurgeon found consistent refreshment in the pleasures of nature. His delight in these birds was not driven by scientific curiosity but a spiritual enjoyment, leading him in praise to God like a church choir. Visitors also noted his fondness for animals. When the Jubilee Singers visited the Spurgeons in 1874, they observed, “We had no sooner entered than he called our attention to the exploits of an enormous cat which sprang through his arms with the agility of a trained athlete; we found, also, that his grounds were rich in birds and domestic animals, for which he and Mrs. Spurgeon have great fondness.”[22] These animals were Spurgeon’s companions in his home, and he introduced them to his guests as one would introduce any other family member.

As the years wore on in London, the pollution worsened. Nightingale Lane soon grew more crowded, and the smoke and fog of London settled there for much of the year, making his garden less of a retreat. As Spurgeon’s health declined, he had to take longer and longer trips to Mentone, France, to recover his health in the warm climate and fresh air. So, in the summer of 1880, when the opportunity arose to purchase the Westwood estate, situated on Beulah Hill above the fog, Spurgeon saw this as God’s kind providence. The large, nine-acre residence came complete with “grass-bordered walks around the house,… a winding pathway sheltered by overhanging trees,… a little rustic bridge, and… a miniature lake.”[23] This estate became a place for ministry, where Spurgeon could gather with his students and meet with visitors.

Like his previous home, he continued to own domestic animals like dogs, cats, and birds. But now, with the larger property, they occasionally had geese in the pond, and Spurgeon even tried his hand at beekeeping.[24] As before, all these animals found their way into his sermons and lectures. Spurgeon’s growing personal library, now housed adequately in his larger study, reflected his broad interest in animals, containing many books on animals and their care.[25] As he grew older, it appears that Spurgeon grew fonder of his pets, especially his dog “Punch.”[26] On one occasion, Spurgeon wrote a letter from Mentone expressing how much he missed Punch and was concerned for him because he heard that he was sick.[27] As one who was often ill himself, Spurgeon expressed sympathy for and found comfort in his pets.

When one reads Spurgeon’s story, it’s clear his divine calling was not to the animal world but to humanity. His ministry involved preaching the gospel to lost men and women. Therefore, it was strategic for Spurgeon to pastor a church in the most populous city of the world in the heart of the British empire, polluted and crowded as it was. At the same time, Spurgeon was not a cosmopolitan city-dweller. Instead, as his love of animals reveals, he was, at heart, a man of the country who loved nature. Though he had been transplanted into the city, Spurgeon looked for ways to create separation from city life so he could find refreshment and encouragement. Far from a utilitarian view of the animal world, these creatures were Spurgeon’s companions, pointing him to their Creator.


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


[1] Gordon, W. J. The Horse World of London. (London: Religious Tract Society, 1893) 102.

[2] Cornish, C. J. Life at the Zoo; Notes and Traditions of the Regent’s Park Gardens. (London: Seeley & Co., 1895), 215-216.

[3] Kathleen Kete, ed. A Cultural History of Animals in the Age of Empire. (Berg, New York: 2011), 95. This innovation would not happen until after Spurgeon’s death. As a result, he found zoos oppressive for the animals. “Each of these creatures looks most beautiful at home. Go into the Zoological Gardens, and see the poor animals there under artificial conditions, and you can little guess what they are at home. A lion in a cage is a very different creature from a lion in the wilderness. The stork looks wretched in his wire pen, and you would hardly know him as the same creature if you saw him on the housetops or on the fir trees. Each creature looks best in its own place.” MTP 17:450

[4] Malcolm Smith, “A Hatful of Horror: the Victorian Headwear Craze that Led to Mass Slaughter,” https://www.historyextra.com/period/victorian/victorian-hats-birds-feathered-hat-fashion/

[5] One example of this cruelty is the treatment of pit ponies, who worked underground all their lives. “I’ve known ponies go all day without a bite or a drink. And working in hot places you know. They used to come into the stables after coal-turning [on the] morning shift. They would have half-an hour’s walk, be put into the stables for a drink and a bit of corn, then out again on the afternoon shift.” http://miningheritage.co.uk/pit-pony/ Web. April 29, 2021.

[6] “There is a certain class of exquisitely painful experiments to which these noble and intelligent animals seem particularly exposed.” These included both “the prolonged tortures of the veterinary schools… where sixty operations, lasting ten hours, were habitually performed on the same animal” and “some strictly physiological experiments upon horses and asses… [without] the use of any anesthetic whatever.” Statement of the Society for the Protection of Animals Liable to Vivisection. (Report of the Royal Commission on Vivisection. Westminster, 1876), 80-81.

[7] Darwin, Charles. The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex. (New York: Appleton & Co., 1871), 34.

[8] Sewell, Anna. Black Beauty: His Grooms and Companions. The Autobiography of a Horse. (London: Jarrold, 1877).

[9] For more on the history of the Battersea Dogs’ and Cats’ Home, see Jenkins, Garry. A Home of Their Own: The Heartwarming 150-year History of Battersea Dogs’ and Cats’ Home. London: Bantam, 2011.

[10] Christian George, The Lost Sermons of C. H. Spurgeon: His Earliest Outlines and Sermons Between 1851 and 1854, Vol. 1 (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2016), 10-21.

[11] C. H. Spurgeon, The Art of Illustration: Being Addresses Delivered to the Students of the Pastors’ College, Metropolitan Tabernacle (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1894), 63.

[12] Autobiography 1:20.

[13] Autobiography 1:14.

[14] George, Lost Sermons, xxxvi.

[15] Other sources that Spurgeon cites are “Penny Cyclopedia,” “Penny Magazine,” and “Print by S.P.C.K.”

[16] Autobiography 1:315.

[17] Autobiography 3:138. When the sale of Spurgeon’s sermons declined in the American South due to his outspoken condemnation of slavery, he considered selling his carriage to continue funding the Pastors’ College, but his deacons and elders refused to allow him to do so. For a humorous account of Spurgeon once cutting off a friend in traffic, see “The Mission to Scavengers,” The London City Magazine, No. 1002, Vol. 85, September 1920, 104.

[18] Autobiography 2:284.

[19] Autobiography 2:286.

[20] “We do not allow a gun in our garden, feeling that we can afford to pay a few cherries for a great deal of music, and we now have quite a lordly party of thrushes, blackbirds, and starlings upon the lawn, with a parliament of sparrows, chaffinches, robins, and other minor prophets. Our summer-house is occupied by a pair of bluemartens, which chase our big cat out of the garden by dashing swiftly across his head one after the other, till he is utterly bewildered, and makes a bolt of it. In the winter the balcony of our study is sacred to a gathering of all the tribes; they have heard that there is corn in Egypt, and therefore they hasten to partake of it and keep their souls alive in famine. On summer evenings the queen of our little kingdom spreads a banquet in our great green saloon which the vulgar call a lawn; it is opposite the parlor window, and her guests punctually arrive and cheerfully partake, while their hostess rejoices to gaze upon them.” S&T 1873:244-245.

[21] MTP 24:288.

[22] Gustavus D. Pike, The Singing Campaign for Ten Thousand Pounds; or, The Jubilee Singers in Great Britain (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1874), 86.

[23] Autobiography 4:57.

[24] Autobiography 4:59-60.

[25] In the Spurgeon Library in Kansas City, MO, there are nearly 40 volumes on the topic of animals that once belonged to Spurgeon. See Appendix 1.

[26] A photocard of Punch can be found in the Metropolitan Tabernacle archives in London.

[27] “I wonder whether Punchie thinks of his master. When we drove from the station here, a certain doggie barked at the horses in true Punchistic style, and reminded me of my old friend Punchie sending me his love pleased me very much… Poor doggie, pat him for me, and give him a tit-bit for my sake… I dreamed of old Punch; I hope the poor dog is better… Kind memories to all, including Punch. How is he getting on? I rejoice that his life is prolonged, and hope he will live till my return. May his afflictions be a blessing to him in the sweetening of his temper!… Tell Punchie, `Master is coming!” Autobiography 4:61.



Learning to Pray the Bible with Spurgeon

By / Feb 7

Dinsdale Young, who heard Spurgeon preach and later compiled prayers of his, stated that as memorable as it was to hear Spurgeon preach, it was even more so to hear him pray. What he prayed was even more profound and beautiful than what he preached. Likewise, Charles Cook, who knew Spurgeon’s son Thomas and also published a selection of Spurgeon’s prayers, observed that “Spurgeon’s power did not lie wholly in his exceptional preaching gifts. He was a mighty man of prayer.” Little wonder, then, that the greatest impression on the American evangelist D.L. Moody upon his first visit to the Metropolitan Tabernacle in 1867 was not Spurgeon’s preaching – it was Spurgeon’s praying!

Spurgeon held a high view of prayer, evidenced not only by his teachings and exhortations on it but also by his practice. He preached numerous sermons on prayer, wrote multiple books about it, and gave advice to his pastoral students in lectures on it. He commended prayer to his congregants for personal and family practice and labored especially public prayer. He called public praying “the end of preaching,” even telling students, “If I may have my choice, I will sooner yield up the sermon than the prayer.” Young observed that for Spurgeon, “prayer was the instinct of his soul, and the atmosphere of his life.” In particular, Young recognized Spurgeon’s knowledge and reach of Scripture:

Mr. Spurgeon lived and moved and had his being in the Word of God. He knew its remoter reaches, its nooks and crannies. Its spirit had entered into his spirit; and when he prayed, the Spirit of God brought all manner of precious oracles to mind.

How were those “oracles,” “nooks and crannies,” and “remoter reaches” of the Word manifested in the pulpit prayers of Spurgeon? And how can we learn to do the same?

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

Use direct Scriptural quotations in your prayers

One obvious way was in the use of direct scriptural quotations. Spurgeon quoted extensively from both testaments of the Bible in his prayers, especially from the Psalms and the Gospels. A favorite psalm of his to quote from was Psalm 67. He frequently included verses 3 and 5 from Psalm 67 in the closings of his prayers as he interceded for the salvation of the unconverted, envisioning more people being added to the company of believers and joining with them in praise to God alone who saves. One example can be found in the prayer, “The Love Without Measure or End,”

Lord, save men, gather out the company of the redeemed people; let those whom the Father gave to Christ be brought out from among the ruins of the fall to be His joy and crown. “Let the people praise You, O God, yea, let all the people praise You.” Let the ends of the earth fear Him who died to save them.

Note how in that intercession for the unsaved Spurgeon employed Ps 67:3, 5 as a doxological response to God’s saving act. We can likewise use Scripture quotations in praise to God for his anticipated acts of salvation or deliverance.

From the Gospels, Spurgeon repeatedly quoted from the Lord’s Prayer, specifically the first two lines of it, using those lines in the openings and closings of his prayers as well as in specific intercessions. One of the best examples of this is the prayer, “On Holy Ground.” Near the middle of that prayer, Spurgeon was again interceding for the lost and prayed this:

Oh! how we pray for this, the salvation of our fellow men, not so much for their sakes as for the sake of the glory of God and the rewarding of Christ for His pain. We do with all our hearts pray, “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” Lord, help us to do Your will. Take the crippled kingdom of our manhood and reign You over it.

Notice how Spurgeon weaved lines of the Lord’s Prayer into a prayer for the salvation of others, all the while upholding the glory of God himself as the overarching reason for that salvation! Similarly, we can appropriate God’s words to us in our words of prayer back to God and acknowledge his transcendence and pre-eminence as we do.

Use Biblical allusions in your prayers

Spurgeon’s prayers were replete with many other scriptural quotations, but there was also a more subtle way Scripture found expression in those prayers. Spurgeon alluded to many verses in the Bible, especially from the New Testament (the Pauline epistles in particular). , In his prayers, Spurgeon drew upon verses and passages regarding the people of God being forgiven and accepted and no longer under condemnation (Rom 8:1). Prayers were offered up for the people to be holy (Heb 12:14) and humble, to increase in faith (2 Cor 10:15, Col 2:7, 1 Tm 3:13), to bear the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23), and to become more Christ-like (2 Cor 3:18). Intercession was made for the Church as a whole to be sound in doctrine (1 Tm 4:6; 2 Tm 4:3; Ti 1:9, 2:1) and built up (1 Cor 14:4), experiencing times and seasons of revival and refreshing (Acts 3:19, 20). And for the unsaved and unconverted, Spurgeon prayed for God to have mercy on them and to save them, quickening and drawing all men to himself that all tongues would confess his name (Mk 16:17; 1 Pt 4:11). As you read through Spurgeon’s prayers, read the verses corresponding to them and observe how Spurgeon used allusions to the Bible to pray for others.

Use Scriptural imagery in your prayers

The use of scriptural allusions and quotations in Spurgeon’s prayers was further complemented by yet another fascinating way Spurgeon used scriptural language in his public prayer, namely his appropriation of scriptural imagery. Scripture teems with the imagery of God’s creation, and the pulpit prayers of Spurgeon reflect no less. He canvassed the breadth of the Bible, drawing heavily from the richness and diversity of scriptural imagery, evoking celestial and meteorological images with geographical and geological as well as agricultural ones. He recalled the imagery of animals and human beings themselves. And to those were added military imagery and imagery of the tabernacle and temple.

Celestial imagery included the sun, moon, and stars with their light signifying spiritual growth and transformation into bearers of divine light. Meteorological imagery featured fire (as divine presence), wind (as God’s messenger), and water (for renewal and cleansing). And geographical and geological imagery appeared in the forms and shapes of fountains, rivers, and seas; hills, mountains, and rocks; and flora and foliage – all conjured to represent the people of God and their condition before him. Spurgeon even recalled the names and import of specific places (the Jordan, Bashan, Bochim, Admah and Zeboiim, Mizar and the land of the Hermonites, Ephesus, and Laodicea) to commend or warn the people as needed.

Agricultural imagery of food – both its production and its consumption – also abounded in Spurgeon’s prayers with numerous references to seed and harvest (representing God’s gifts) as well as to fruit (communal joy) and salt (influence), and further, feeding and feasting (signs of God’s goodness). The vitality of animal imagery was used to recount the interaction of God and his people, along with human imagery – of both the human body and human characters. Spurgeon often referred to foot-washing in his prayers. Drawing upon the Old Testament, he recalled the ritual of priests washing their feet before entering the tent of meeting and approaching the altar. And from the New Testament, he repeatedly referred to the act of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet. In both of those images, as well as that of all believers being washed in the blood of Christ, Spurgeon used scriptural bodily imagery to pray for the people of God’s ongoing cleansing. And he evoked the imagery of human characters, both named and unnamed, to address the experiences and spiritual needs of believers and unbelievers. The imagery of the human body and human characters found further expression and application in the military imagery from Scripture that was recalled, specifically, battle imagery addressing God’s saving acts, as well as images from the tabernacle and temple, appropriated by Spurgeon concerning the ingathering and building up of God’s people as a community and, in their assembly, as the dwelling place of God.

Almost every one of the published prayers of Spurgeon’s contains scriptural imagery. And no single prayer contains all of the various categories of imagery that Spurgeon employed. Look to the prayer, “Help from on High,” and you will encounter celestial and geographical images, agricultural and animal images, and tabernacle and military images. And you will also find the human bodily imagery of foot-washing and the priestly washing described in the Old Testament.

Conclusion

Given the abundant scriptural imagery that Spurgeon appropriated in his prayers, together with the multitude of scriptural allusions and numerous scriptural quotations that he included, his prayers, as you might imagine, could be lengthy, especially considering the various needs that Spurgeon remembered in prayer. There are some shorter extant prayers of his, though, that feature the same elements of scriptural content. One such prayer is “Conformed to the Image of the Firstborn,” quoted below. This prayer, brief as it is, yet contains a Scriptural quotation, several images, and multiple allusions. As you read through this prayer, see if you can identify each of those!

We ask that we may be among those who love Christ and keep His commandments. We are very anxious about this: the Lord make us obedient to our blessed Leader. May we follow in His steps. We must complain of ourselves that we are not what we want to be, nor what we should be. Oh we do rejoice in this—that we are not what we shall be, for “When He shall appear, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” Will You be pleased, by Your Spirit, O our Father, to conform us to the image of the Firstborn. Take out of us all tempers that are not according to His gentleness, all spirits that are not after the manner of His obedient, loving, filial spirit. May we be sons in whom You are well pleased. May we behave ourselves in Your house in such a way that You can manifest Yourself to us, and give us answers to our prayers. Help us to delight ourselves in that You may give us the desire of our hearts. We want to be all that believers can be. The Lord grant that the life of faith in us may come to its flower, and not be forever merely in the stalk and root; may we bring forth ripe fruit unto our Lord Jesus Christ by the power of the Spirit of God. Fire us with the heavenly flame. Make us intensely earnest for the increase of the Redeemer’s Kingdom, for the conservation of His truth, and for the exhibition of that truth in all its sanctifying power.

Charles Spurgeon drew upon a vast reservoir of language and imagery in the Bible for all his prayers. Spurgeon’s assortment of scriptural quotations, images, and allusions in his pulpit prayers evidenced an understanding that the language of prayer must be infused with the language of Scripture. Spurgeon grounded the words of his prayers in the Word of God. And in so doing, he provided a model of biblically-based, public intercessory prayer for the Church to follow. By seeing how he incorporated scriptural quotations, allusions, and images in the language of prayer, we can endeavor to do the same and thereby make the language of our prayers to God conform to the language of God.


Jerry Youngblood is a ruling elder at Sovereign Grace Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, NC, where he shares in the ministry of public intercessory prayer. He holds a Master of Arts in Religion degree from Reformed Theological Seminary, where he completed his thesis, “Biblical Language In The Pulpit Prayers Of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, A Model For Intercessory Prayer In Public Worship Today.”



From Mentone to Norwood: The Final Journey of C. H. Spurgeon

By / Jan 31

One hundred thirty years ago, January 31, 1892, at 11:05 pm on a starry Sunday night, the Rev. C. H. Spurgeon left earth’s shores and took his first breath of celestial air. The sky at Mentone, France was unusually bright that night. Mrs. Spurgeon, his wife of thirty-six years, was standing with Spurgeon’s private secretary, Joseph W. Harrald. As she gazed at the planets, Jupiter and Venus, she asked, “I wonder what he thinks of those planets now?” J. W. Harrald replied, “If they are inhabited, he has asked the Lord to let him go, that he may preach the Gospel there.”

The Final Days

The events leading up to Spurgeon’s final days are well documented. No time was wasted getting the ailing Spurgeon to a warmer climate in hopes of his recovery. On Oct 26, 1891, they headed toward the south of France. Mr. and Mrs. Spurgeon, Rev. James A. and Mrs. Nellie Spurgeon (brother and sister- in-Law), and Joseph W. Harrald crossed the English Channel until they came ashore and boarded a luxury train at Calais heading to Mentone, France. The trip was paid for by several friends, including Joseph Passmore, his publisher. It was a journey of about 780 miles. Once they arrived, they checked into the same hotel Spurgeon always stayed in when in Mentone: room number 14 the Hotel Beau-Rivage. Mrs. Spurgeon recorded their times together with walks they would take and the long drives and how his “enjoyment was intense, his delight exuberant” on their outings together. It would be just what he needed on those final days.

On January 20, 1892, C. H. Spurgeon would take his last ride that day and by later that evening he would have an attack of gout that came upon him, mainly in his head, and he would retire to bed early. He would never rise from that bed again. It was around this same time he said to Harrald, “My work is done.” No one wanted to believe this.

For Susannah, the last three months of time together as she said, was “of perfect earthly happiness here in Mentone, before He took him to the ‘far better’ of His own glory and immediate presence.” Susannah was never able to go to this beautiful part of France because of her own sickness and at times being bedridden for long periods of time. In God’s providence, not knowing they were to be his final days, He allowed Susannah to be well enough to take this journey to be with him. It would be their “earthly Eden” for three months. The plain hotel rooms would be made into a beautiful place by Mrs. Spurgeon and Mrs. Thorne (Susie’s assistant) with decorations to make it more comfortable and familiar.

Death

Spurgeon would go in and out of consciousness and soon be with his Lord twelve days later, January 31, 1892. It was a painful reality for they had hopes of his full recovery. But it was not to be. At 11:05 pm., Spurgeon took his last breath. Those in the room would kneel and give thanks for the life that was well-lived. Mrs. Spurgeon, Mrs. Thorne, Mr. Allison, Mr. Harrald, Mr. Samuel, and Dr. Fitzhenry were present. The prayer of Mrs. Spurgeon was notable. Though grieving, she thanked God for the “treasure so long lent to her.” A telegram would be sent to New Zealand to their son Rev. Thomas Spurgeon. It would simply say, “Father in heaven. Mother resigned.” In London, the leaders of the Metropolitan Tabernacle were notified and the news was posted outside of the Tabernacle announcing his death. This was not the news they were hoping for.

In the long days ahead, the planning of the funeral would not be easy. Many hours would be spent bringing his body back home to London for burial. At one time, Spurgeon thought he was to be buried in Mentone but he gave that idea up. He then wanted to be buried on the Orphanage grounds but those plans were changed when the electric company came through.

Sometime before Spurgeon’s last trip to Mentone, he went to Norwood Cemetery with a friend and saw a spot in the corner of the cemetery. It was nothing to look at. But he decided this was the spot. However, a different decision was made back in London by his brother, Rev. James A. Spurgeon who felt his brother should have a more prominent spot. He chose the present spot where he is buried today.

The mausoleum would be built to hold six family members but only Charles and Susannah are entombed there. Sometime after his burial, a bust of his face would be placed on the mausoleum and it was fixed to where it would be looking towards the Metropolitan Tabernacle. At that time (1892) on a clear day, the Metropolitan Tabernacle could be seen from that summit of the hill. Many years after Spurgeon’s death, the very spot where he picked to be buried would be called, “Spurgeon’s corner.” Several of those who stood arm and arm with a young Spurgeon would find their resting place there: Mr. William Higgs, Mr. William P. Olney, and several others. Not far from that spot, his son Thomas Spurgeon is buried, also.

Preparations and Memorials in Mentone

Back at Mentone, preparations were being made for his remains to head back home. The body remained in the hotel on Monday, February 1st. Dr. Fitzhenry came to the Beau-Rivage Hotel at 10 that morning to certify his cause of death. Flowers came in from different places and were placed around the bed and a net was draped over him. One newspaper journalist was permitted to see his remains, “The massive face is all and vigorous even with death upon it, and there is no sign of acute suffering in any feature.” It went on to say, “The expression is one of benign benevolence, and is remarkably peaceful.” Back in London, a prayer meeting was being held at the Metropolitan Tabernacle that was already on the schedule to pray for God’s mercy that the influenza plague would be lifted. Queen Victoria’s grandson Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale had died from the Russian Influenza. Charles Spurgeon, Jr. was suffering from it. The nation as a whole was suffering from the 3rd wave of it, which proved to be the most deadly.

On Tuesday, the 2nd at 5:00 am, Spurgeon’s body was removed from the hotel and taken to the Chapel. At 2:00 pm in the afternoon, the body was prepared by his own physician and friend, Dr. Fitzhenry. His body would remain at the chapel until more instructions would come.

On Wednesday, the 3rd at 3:30 pm his body was laid in a lead coffin and sealed tightly. That lead coffin was placed into a beautiful Olive Wood coffin made from the trees of Mentone, and the lid would be screwed down. Those present were Mr. Allison, deacon of the Tabernacle representing the church, and Mr. Harrald representing Mrs. Spurgeon and the family. Also present were Rev. Mr. Somerville, of the Scotch Presbyterian Church where the first memorial service would be held, Mr. Charles Palmar, British Vice-consul, Mr. Frank, British Pro-Consul, and the Commissary of Police. At four o’clock seals were placed upon the coffin by the British Vice-Consul and the Police Commissary.

On Thursday, the 4th at 8:30 am Spurgeon’s body would be moved to the Scotch Presbyterian Church for a 10:00 am service. There was not a cloud in the sky. Every seat was filled and many remained outside, unable to get in. A few floral arrangements from friends and locals graced the chapel, and palm branches in abundance were on display at Mrs. Spurgeon’s request. Several spoke at this service, too numerous to mention. Rev J. E. Somerville would minister these words,

“A prince and a great man is fallen in Israel… Charles Spurgeon belonged not to the Metropolitan Tabernacle only, nor to London, nor to England, but to all English-speaking countries, and to many others besides. That active life is over here. No more shall that mellow and wondrous voice plead with men, nor the ready pen counsel and delight. The labourer rests. The warrior’s ‘sword’ lies idle, the ‘trowel’ has fallen from the workman’s hand, because the Master has said, ‘COME’.”

Prayers would be offered for Mrs. Spurgeon who was unable to attend any of the services. Mr. Harrald brought a message from her to the mourners to be read. “If you want to tell them anything from me, say, ‘He hath done all things well…” Telegrams came from the Prince and Princess of Wales to Mrs. Spurgeon and would be read at the memorial service. D. L. Moody sent one quoting John 11:25-26. There were many others. At the conclusion of the service, Psalms 72 and 130 would be sung.

The Long Trip back to London

After the one-hour service, the coffin was taken to the rail station for the long journey back to London. The mourners walked to the station behind the horse-drawn coffin. Once it arrived at the station, the scene would be photographed. From this point, they placed the olive wood coffin in a shipping box for safety and loaded it in the rail car. It would not depart for Paris until 11:30 that night. His body was never out of sight. His remains were accompanied by Dr. Fitzhenry to Paris but a death in his family called him away. Another doctor accompanied the body to the English Channel to board the Steamer Seine.

Mrs. Spurgeon stayed at the hotel the rest of the week until Monday at the request of friends to go to the Palazzo Orengo, La Mortola near Ventimiglia, northern Italy. There she would stay for a month with friends before returning back to London. The events, including the loss of her husband, had taken their toll on Susannah. She knew the leaders would follow her request and they did. Two large boxes of palm branches from Mentone would be shipped back to London to be displayed around the coffin of her beloved.

From Friday the 5th through Sunday the 8th, the coffin traveled to the English Channel by rail car to the Dieppe port to be loaded on the Steamer Seine, headed to the port of Newhaven. A serious delay in Paris made the trip much longer.

Arrival in London

The Seine would arrive at Newhaven at 5:00 am Monday morning. Over 100 people and representatives of Newhaven and Seaford Local Boards were present. As the coffin was unloaded, the packing case was removed before being placed on the train heading towards Victoria Station in London. Pieces of the packing case were gathered up by the spectators, who joined in singing the hymn, “Forever with the Lord,” led by Rev. David Lloyd, Congregational minister. Prayers were offered by the Wesleyan minister, Rev. Foster Smith.

The train headed toward London, and soon, Spurgeon was back on his beloved soil. The train carrying the body of the beloved pastor arrived at Victoria Station at 11:10 am. This must have been a sight to behold. The entire body of Deacons and Elders of the Metropolitan Tabernacle arrived in ten carriages, drawn by brown horses in the pouring torrential rain as the heavens opened up, mixed with the tears of these godly men and women. Those weeping thought it proper that the English skies should weep too. Many other mourners were present, and the crowds gathered to see what if they had heard was true. Mr. Dongis, the undertaker had taken the journey from Paris all the way to London. Also present at Victoria Station were Rev. James A. Spurgeon and his wife, Mr. Fullerton, Mr. Smith, and Mr. Charlesworth of the Orphanage. Dr. Pierson who was ministering at the Tabernacle until Spurgeon was well enough to return and Mr. Joseph Passmore, Spurgeon’s publisher, were also present.

Designated men would place the coffin upon their shoulders and place it in the horse-drawn hearse. Those standing around broke into tears, both men and women. They would leave immediately heading through a different route of London where there was less traffic. Inspector Hart led the way, along with a few of the company’s police escorts.

Memorial Services in London

They arrived at the Pastor’s College by 12:45 pm. Despite the heavy downpour, a very large crowd assembled, and hats were removed in respect as the coffin was taken into the Main Hall of the college. “Immediately there was held a short and simple service attended by the officers of the church and a few invited friends.”At 1:00 p.m., the students and pastors had assembled for the first memorial service in London. Dr. Pierson and Rev. J.A. Spurgeon conducted the service and several of the deacons engaged in prayer. The palm branches were laid around the coffin on the floor and flowers brought from Mentone, were used until fresh flowers were brought.

By 3:00 pm in the afternoon, the hall was emptied and the second memorial service, exclusively for the family, was held. Those present were Rev. John Spurgeon, the father of Spurgeon., Rev. J. A. Spurgeon (brother), and Rev. Charles Spurgeon, Jr. (son), who was quite ill. The three married sisters of Spurgeon, Mrs. Jackson, Mrs. Page, and Mrs. Henderson and Miss C. J. Spurgeon who was unmarried, plus several nieces and nephews were also present.

That evening, a prayer meeting was held at the Tabernacle. One of the pastor’s songs was sung by Mr. Chamberlain, “Show Me Thy Face.” At about 10:00 that night, some of the Pastors’ College students lifted up their beloved mentor, teacher, and pastor and carried him into the Metropolitan Tabernacle for the public viewing the next day.

On Tuesday morning, the doors opened promptly at seven. Everything was running smoothly. Down both side aisles, two by two they came past the remains, crying, lifting their hats as they wept going out the side doors of the Tabernacle. All classes of Londoners filed through – the poor, the wealthy, tradesmen of all kinds, and many more.

The Olive coffin was surrounded by flowers and palm branches brought in from Mentone. On the coffin was Spurgeon’s Bible opened to the passage, “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else.” Isaiah 45:22 (KJV). The palm branches were all standing up around the coffin with little tags tied to them that had special notes written. Mrs. Spurgeon’s said, “‘With Christ, which is far better.” I will follow thee, my husband. ‘Undying love from the wife of thy youth.’” Mr. Harrold’s read, “In fondest memory of my dearest earthly friend, my beloved Pastor and father in the faith, and ’the good soldier of Jesus Christ, whose armour-bearer desires to be faithful unto death as his captain was.” Banners on both the upper and lower galleries would read, “I have fought a good fight. I have finished my course. I have kept the faith.” The other on the upper floor read, “Remember the word I’ve said unto you being yet present with you.”

By seven that evening, the Deacons at the doors estimated 50 to 60,000 passed by to pay their respects. Hawkers wasted no time selling portraits of Spurgeon outside the Tabernacle (You may even have one of those in your possession). The evening was over but not the work. Night and day many put long hours to make sure everything was in order; nothing was lacking. From morning till night, there was much to do, but so little time.

On Wednesday, Feb. 10th, sometime the day or night before, communion tickets were given out to members only, for the memorial service at 11:00 am. It would be a great family reunion of sorrowful hearts around their pastor, friend, and leader who stood for truth. At that service, Dr. Angus, of Regent’s Park College would speak. Dr. Pierson would read a letter from Mrs. Spurgeon to the people. Several others would leave their parting thoughts.

It would not be long, as it was soon time to leave the sanctuary to make room for the next service at 3:00 pm which was only designed for the Ministers and Students of all denominations. Close to 5,000 would gather. The hymn, “Come Let Us Join Our Friends Above” was “impressive” to hear all male voices as one report said.

Soon this service would be over to make room for the 7:00 pm evening service for the Christian workers of all denominations. George Williams of the Young Men’s Christian Association spoke. Ira D. Sankey would sing “Sleep On, Beloved, Sleep, And Take Thy Rest.” D. L. Moody could not attend. He was holding a series of meetings in Scotland but sent Mr. Sankey down to London to represent him. Sankey’s lips quivered when he came to the part, “Good-night! Good-night! Good-night!”

Now, the 10:30 pm service for the general public would commence. By 9:30 those with tickets were permitted in. By 10:00 there was hardly a vacant spot anywhere in the Tabernacle. Mr. Fullerton would speak about how millions of hearts were “bleeding for his loss.” Mr. J. Manton Smith, an evangelist would sing “Rock of Ages.” Mr. Ira Sankey would sing, “Only Remembered By What We Have Done.” All would go home that night will sorrowful hearts of what they must do the next day.

The Procession

The funeral took place on Thursday morning, Feb. 11th, beginning with the procession at 11:00 am. On the platform was a bust of Spurgeon. There was a harp of flowers and an anchor made of flowers both from churches in Ireland and Scotland. Twenty boys from the Orphanage were on the platform to sing. Mrs. Spurgeon’s pew was be occupied by Baroness Angela Burdett-Coutts, a British Philanthropist. Members of Parliament, town clerks, the mayor, and Rev. Charles Spurgeon, Jr. were present. There were also delegates from the Salvation Army and too many more to name.

They opened with singing, “Servant Of God, Well Done.” Rev. J. W. Harrold led in prayer and A. G. Brown read passages from Scripture. Another song was sung, “The Sands Of Time Are Sinking.” Dr. Pierson gave the eulogy. “The giant cedar of Lebanon has fallen, and the crash of the downfall shook the whole land, and echoed round the world.” The final two songs were sung: “Forever With The Lord.” This was sung while they carried the coffin with the open Bible down the aisle, to the door of the Tabernacle. As those were leaving to the carriages, the song, “Thou Are Gone To The Grave” was sung. Thousands of handkerchiefs would be wiping their eyes. One final look through their tears as the olive coffin went past them.

The scene outside the Tabernacle was of a double line of police to keep the crowd back. No vehicles, omnibuses, or tramcars were allowed to pass the procession once it started. The coffin carried by eight men was placed in the horse-drawn hearse. Right behind the hearse was Spurgeon’s empty carriage. Close to a hundred carriages would follow behind. Forty of those would be for members of the family, officers of the Tabernacle, and superintendents of the institutions found by their leader. Behind the empty carriage of Spurgeon’s was his son, Charles, with his wife and Rev. A. G. Brown.

The bells of St. Mark’s church, Kennington, and St. Mary’s church, Newington, rang from 11:00 till 3:00 that afternoon. Shops were closed, some windows with portraits and mottos upon them. Flags were flown half-mast. The public houses were closed. It was said you could not find three women who did not have mourning clothes on in London. As the hearse went past the Stockwell Orphanage, there was a platform for the children to sing on as it passed by. Their little hearts were broken as most of them could only weep, feeling like they were orphans again.

The procession pulled out at 12:30 led by two mounted constables. Eight hundred constables from different divisions were there to help keep the road to the cemetery clear. On that day, it would take two hours and five minutes to go to Norwood cemetery, which was only five miles from the Tabernacle (a thirty-minute ride today by car).

The Burial

Only the first five carriages were allowed in the Cemetery. The graveside service required a ticket. The students of the Pastors’ College and the ministers of the institutions were gathered, close to 10,000 people. A patch of blue sky appeared overhead as if to remind them of the ”glory land above.” It was said that a dove flew from the direction of the Tabernacle towards the tomb while Mr. Brown was speaking. Off in the distance on another tombstone was a robin making music. They would soon sing,

“Dear dying Lamb, Thy precious blood shall never lose its power,
till all the ransomed Church of God be saved to sin no more.”

Dr. Brown closed with these words, “Beloved President, Faithful Pastor, Prince of Preachers, Brother Beloved, Dear Spurgeon, we bid thee not ‘farewell,’ but only a little while ‘good night.’ Hard worker in the field, thy toil is ended! Champion of God, thy battle long and nobly fought is over!”

Dr. Pierson prayed and the Bishop of Rochester gave the benediction.

On the coffin were these words on a plaque:

In ever-loving memory of
CHARLES HADDON SPURGEON,
Born in Kelvedon, June 19, 1834,
Fell asleep in Jesus at Mentone, Jan. 31, 1892.
“I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.”

The long trip from Mentone to Norwood Cemetery, about 839 miles, was over. It took almost two hundred and sixty-five hours and included two memorial services in Mentone, six memorial services in London, the main viewing for the public, and the main funeral.

Conclusion

So many things can be gleaned from the events surrounding these events.

  1. He was faithful unto death. Spurgeon was a faithful pastor, a faithful leader, a faithful friend. His ministry was Christ-centered, God-exalting to the Glory of God, and pointing always to Jesus, as the only means of redemption. He was faithful to the truth, to Christ, and to his beloved wife. C.H. Spurgeon persevered to the very end.
  2. His life was surrounded by great helpers. Not only his wife who was faithful by his side until the end, but he had men around him that stood with him from the time he was a young lad right up to the very end. Having the right leaders in ministry is important to get any job done. The leadership lifted his hands when he needed them lifted and supported him in his efforts when he needed times of rest.
  3. He loved his church. He was thinking of his church right up until the time of his death, even sending a Thanksgiving offering on his death bed. And they loved him in return as is evident from the outpouring of affection at his funeral.
  4. He loved his wife. He had such joy the last three months of his life with Susannah. C.H. had poured the gospel into his wife and this was reflected years after Spurgeon’s death. As Ray Rhodes writes, “For thirty-six years, Susie was the happy wife of Charles Haddon Spurgeon. After Charles’s death, Susie remained faithful to God through her service in the Book Fund, by writing, and through her diligence in the extension of the godly legacy that Charles had left behind.”


What Was the Downgrade Controversy Actually All About?

By / Jan 17

“For my part, I am quite willing to be eaten of dogs for the next fifty years; but the more distant future shall vindicate me.”[1] Spurgeon spoke these fateful words at the conclusion of his presidential address at the Annual College Conference, a gathering of current and former students of the Pastors’ College. He voiced them in the midst of the greatest conflict of his life, often referred to as the Downgrade Controversy. He was tired, discouraged, and disillusioned, yet also calm, resolute, and certain. He had made his stand for the truth, and he felt sure he could endure whatever opposition would come, confident in the knowledge that he had his Lord’s approval.

Most people familiar with Spurgeon’s story have at least a working knowledge of the Downgrade Controversy, which in many ways defined the final years of Spurgeon’s life. But if you ask people to identify the exact issues that were under debate, few would be able to name them. So what was the Downgrade all about after all?

In the famous controversy, Spurgeon had four main grievances with the men of his denomination, the Baptist Union. He summarizes them in one of the early articles that precipitated the Downgrade Controversy, “We cannot hold the inspiration of the Word, and yet reject it; we cannot believe in the atonement and deny it;… we cannot recognize the punishment of the impenitent and yet indulge the ‘larger hope.’ One way or the other we must go. Decision is the virtue of the hour.”[2]

Here we see that Spurgeon was concerned that some within the denomination were either flirting with, or in some cases openly promoting the following errors:

  1. The denial of the infallibility of Scripture.
  2. The denial of the necessity and substitutionary nature of Christ’s atonement.
  3. The denial of the existence and eternality of hell.
  4. The affirmation of universalism.[3]

Whatever one may notice about the above list, at least two things should stand out.

First, all four of these issues are doctrinal issues. Second, not only are they doctrinal, but they are matters of basic Christian orthodoxy, of first importance, and have to do with doctrines that have been universally affirmed by the church throughout its history. The infallibility of Scripture, the necessity and substitutionary nature of the atonement, the existence of an eternal hell, and the doctrine of divine wrath for all those who do not possess true saving faith in Christ are doctrines as old as Christianity itself. To deny them is to deny some of the most basic tenets of the Christian faith. In other words, Spurgeon’s stand in the Downgrade Controversy, simply put, was about defending matters of basic Christian orthodoxy. These were the only issues that would lead him to withdraw from his denomination in the autumn of 1887.

That last line is important. It might be asked, why was Spurgeon content to remain so long in the Baptist Union? Someone might answer that he must not have had disagreements with members of his denomination prior to the Downgrade Controversy. But that would of course be wrong, spectacularly so. The truth is Spurgeon maintained many disagreements with men in his denomination on a wide range of other issues for decades before the Downgrade Controversy.

Most of these issues fell under two main categories. First, Spurgeon disagreed with others in the Baptist Union over secondary doctrinal issues. For example, Spurgeon, a vocal proponent of Calvinism, remained in fellowship with men of Arminian persuasion. He disagreed with such men passionately and publicly, yet he continued to associate with them, completely content in doing so. He disagreed with men over the use of instruments in worship, whether or not communion should be open or closed, and how evangelism should be conducted. These and a host of other disagreements over second-tier doctrinal matters could be enumerated, and yet none of them ever suggested to Spurgeon that he should divide from men in his denomination.

The second category of disagreement between Spurgeon and others of his colleagues in the Baptist Union was differences over social, political, and cultural issues. Spurgeon held disagreements with some of the men in his denomination over whether or not ministers should frequent the theater, over the relative use of public schools, and over which political candidates should be supported. He disagreed with others on the temperance movement, the question of Irish Home Rule, the role of state paternalism in economic affairs, British foreign policy, and the best methods for relieving the poor. Many of these disagreements with his peers in the Baptist Union over social and political issues were often private, though sometimes public. At times they came to represent deep personal differences, yet none of these matters ever precipitated a serious division or schism between Spurgeon and his denomination. Spurgeon simply would not allow it to be so.

In light of these simple, yet important historical observations, I draw the following three conclusions:

  1. The Downgrade Controversy was about doctrinal matters that went to the very heart of Christian orthodoxy. Spurgeon would allow only such matters to become the grounds for separation and schism between him and his denomination.
  2. Spurgeon was comfortable being in denominational fellowship with men with whom he held numerous disagreements on second-tier doctrinal matters and on social, political, and cultural issues, as long as he shared basic agreement with them on matters that were essential to evangelical orthodoxy.
  3. Spurgeon believed that in order for true gospel unity to be authentic, there had to be a basic foundation of agreement on matters of primary doctrinal importance, particularly on those doctrines that were at the heart of the gospel itself. However, agreement on secondary doctrinal issues, or still further, agreement on social and political matters, were not necessary for true unity in the gospel to exist. Indeed, to insist on unity in such matters would be to require something more than unity in the gospel for fellowship and partnership.

Many in our day style themselves as modern Spurgeons standing against what they perceive as the various downgrades of today. Yet if they are to resemble Spurgeon himself and his original stand against downgrade in his own denomination, such stands will be on matters of primary doctrinal significance, not matters of legitimate disagreement between brothers and sisters who share the same orthodox doctrine, and in some cases, even the same confession of faith. The fact is Spurgeon was not willing to be eaten of dogs over his views regarding politics or second-order doctrines. Nor did he boast of the distant future’s verdict in these matters. However, with respect to issues of basic Christian orthodoxy, he beckoned the dogs to come, and he looked to Judgment Day for vindication.


[1] C. H. Spurgeon, An All-Round Ministry: Direction, Wisdom, and Encouragement for Preachers and Pastors, (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2018), 281.

[2] C. H. Spurgeon, The Sword and the Trowel (London: Passmore and Alabaster, September 1887): 465.

[3] For more information on the Downgrade Controversy, see Mark Hopkins, Nonconformity’s Romantic Generation: Evangelical and Liberal Theologies in Victorian England (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2006), 193–248.


Alex DiPrima is the Senior Pastor of Emmanuel Church in Winston Salem, NC. He holds a Ph.D. from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in historical theology with an emphasis on the ministry of Charles Spurgeon.