Spurgeon’s Heart for Rural Ministries

By / Apr 7

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

Spurgeon Idealized Rural England

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

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

Spurgeon’s First Time Preaching was in a Rural Area

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

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

Spurgeon’s First Pastorate was in a Rural Area

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

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

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

Urging Younger Preachers Toward Rural Areas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus Did Not Neglect the Rural Areas

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

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

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

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

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

God Gives Strength to Those in Rural Ministries

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

[3]Autobiography 1:200.

[4]Ibid.

[5]Autobiography, 1:228.

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

[7]Ibid.

[8]Ibid., 1:202.

[9]Ibid., 1:202.

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

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

[12]Spurgeon, Autobiography 1:260.

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

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

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

[16]Spurgeon, An All-Around Ministry

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



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

By / Apr 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

By / Mar 24

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

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

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

1870

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

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

1871

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

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

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

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

1872

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

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

1873

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

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

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

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

1874

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

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



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

By / Mar 17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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



Flowers from Spurgeon’s Garden

By / Mar 3

One calm and scenic Saturday afternoon in May of 1857, a young Charles Spurgeon found himself standing underneath a mulberry tree with a fellow minister. The weather was calm, not a leaf stirred. During their conversation a gentle breeze passed through, rustling the leaves above their heads. Spurgeon suddenly interrupted the minister and said with an excited hush, “Stop! keep quiet! don’t speak!—there! My sermon for to-morrow; ‘The sound of a going in the tops of the mulberry trees.’” The next evening, he preached from 2 Samuel 5:24 at the New Park Street Chapel.[1] Under that sermon a man was saved, who would go on to serve as a deacon at the Tabernacle for many years.

Spurgeon was utterly fascinated by nature and often found his most potent illustrations from its bounty. He warned against neglecting God’s revelation in nature, saying, “It appears to me that those who would forbear the study of nature, or shun the observation of its beauties are conscious of the weakness of their own spirituality.”[2] And study Spurgeon did. One friend remarks that it was Spurgeon’s custom to spend countless hours in his personal garden at Westwood, lingering over each plant and flower “as over verses in a chapter of the Bible when commenting thereon.”[3] He would marvel, “is not that exquisite? Look at the veins and colours in these leaves; don’t you think God has put His own thoughts into them?….His autograph is on every leaf and in every flower.”[4]

Spurgeon’s sermons are adorned with illustrations from nature. He often would build whole sermons upon a single observation of a bird, star, flower, or season. To be clear, though Spurgeon was zealous for a robust recovery of natural revelation, he clearly affirmed that only by Scripture can the salvation of God be understood and received. He said, “We do not discover the secrets of Creation by mere reason, or the teachings of science; it is only by revelation that the marvellous story can reach us.”[5] At the same time, he saw no disconnect between God’s revelation in nature and his revelation in Scripture. Rather, the truths of Scripture permeated every centimeter of creation. Spurgeon said, “Moreover, rest assured brethren, that he who wrote the Bible, the second and clearest revelation of his divine mind, wrote also the first book, the book of nature; and who are we that we should derogate from the worth of the first because we esteem the second?”[6] He said, “as I am dwelling in my Father’s house, I ought to take delight in my Father’s works, and I must be a strange sort of child if I think it is a token of my affection for my Father not to care to look at the garden which He has laid out or the house which He has built.”[7]

In 1883, Spurgeon published a book entitled, Flowers from a Puritan’s Garden, where he listed his favorite figures and illustrations from the works of Thomas Manton. In similar fashion, I now wish to pull twelve figures and illustrations from Spurgeon’s Garden that might edify any believer who reads them:

  • “Surveying the midnight skies, I remember him who, while he calls the stars by their names, also bindeth up the broken in heart” (MTP 17:446–47).
  • “The works of creation are pictures to the children of God of the secret mysteries of grace. God’s truths are the apples of gold, and the visible creatures are the baskets of silver” (MTP 8:109).
  • “Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter are God’s four Evangelists, bringing each one a different version of the self-same gospel of divine love” (MTP 19:181).
  • “Storms make oaks take deeper root” (SC 2:173).
  • “A bird is known by his note, and a man by his talk” (SC 1:3).
  • “The daffodils are blooming in the meadows where no man planted them, and the bluebells in the dells where gardener’s spade has nearer come. Yea, and I know right well, that the dew of divine grace and the showers of regenerating love tarry not for man, nor wait for the sons of men” (MTP 19:186–87).
  • “Each blade of grass has its own drop of dew” (SC 1:145).
  • “Providence, like the sea, cannot be directed by man; it can only be controlled by God” (MTP 54:500).
  • “Look forward to your death, ye that are believers in Christ, with great joy. Expect it as your spring tide of life, the time when your real summer shall come, and your winter shall be over for ever” (MTP 8:120).
  • “What fruit would there be upon the trees, what pasture in the meadows, what harvest in the field, if it were not for the rain?” (MTP 13:510).
  • “if you will go like the swallows and the sparrows, and build your nests under the eaves of Christ, who is the temple of God, you shall never have your nest pulled down” (MTP 28:408).
  • “This Bible is the oldest of instructors, and yet it wears the dew of its youth: like the sea, it is ancient as the ages, but time has written no furrow on its brow” (MTP 29:98).

[1] See NPSP 3:317. https://www.spurgeon.org/resource-library/sermons/the-sound-in-the-mulberry-trees/#flipbook/.

[2] MTP 17:446.

[3] W. Williams, Personal Reminiscences of Charles Haddon Spurgeon (London: The Religious Tract Society, 1895), 68

[4] Ibid.

[5] MTP 45:381.

[6] MTP 17:446.

[7] MTP 58:373–74.



Highlights from the First Five Years, S&T 1865-1869

By / Feb 24

The Sword and the Trowel began in January of 1865. Over the next 30+ years, this monthly magazine would become an effective instrument for the organization and cooperation of like-minded Baptists and evangelicals. As we have made the first five years of this magazine available on Spurgeon.org, here are a few articles to get you started. As you read through these magazines, hit us up on Twitter (@SpurgeonMBTS) if you find anything interesting!

(To jump straight to the article, click on the link, then click the “View this Resource” button. Note: Some pages are getting cut off at the bottom and we are working to fix this!)

January 1865 – What Shall Be Done for Jesus? (https://www.spurgeon.org/resource-library/books/the-sword-and-the-trowel-1865/#flipbook/11)

In this sermon, which is not found in the Pulpit set, Spurgeon uses King’s Xerxes command to honor Mordecai as an illustration of how God has exalted His Son, Jesus Christ. After an encouraging meditation on the supremacy of Christ, he moves to a reflection on how Christians may bring honor to Christ by serving him. Of particular note is a letter that Spurgeon shares, written to him by one of the elders of his church, recommending ten ideas for pursuing “a larger outpouring of the Holy Spirit on our Church and congregation.”

August 1865 – Dr. Campbell on Mr. Spurgeon’s Baptismal Regeneration Sermons (https://www.spurgeon.org/resource-library/books/the-sword-and-the-trowel-1865/#flipbook/351)

Alexander Campbell is known for his role in the Campbellite movement in America among Baptists, which eventually broke off to become its own denomination, the Disciples of Christ. Among other things, Campbell taught a credobaptist form of baptismal regeneration, which required baptism for salvation. Therefore, it is no surprise that during the Baptismal Regeneration controversy of 1864, Campbell spoke against Spurgeon for his condemnation of baptismal regeneration. After the controversy had somewhat settled, however, Campbell published a series of letters, presenting a more thoughtful analysis and expressing his support of Spurgeon. Spurgeon appreciated Campbell’s letters and published the introduction in The Sword & the Trowel. Because of Spurgeon’s relationship with Campbell, some Campbellites have sought to show that the two of them were not that far apart in their understanding of baptism.

August 1866 – The Holy War of the Present Hour (https://www.spurgeon.org/resource-library/books/the-sword-and-the-trowel-1866/#flipbook/348)

In this article, published in August of 1866, Spurgeon calls all evangelical Protestants to rally against the growing influence of the Oxford Movement in the Church of England. Though this movement did not identify with the Roman Catholic Church, Spurgeon believed that this embrace of Roman Catholic liturgy and theology in the COE would eventually lead Anglicans back to Rome. And so, Spurgeon called for evangelical leaders to speak and take action against this growing movement, even at a great cost to themselves.

All great movements need the entire self-sacrifice of some one man who, careless of consequences, will throw himself upon the spears of the enemy. Providence has usually raised up such a one just when he was, needed, and we may look for such a person to come suddenly to the front now. Meanwhile, is there not a man of the sort to be found in our churches?

This article would lead to the founding of the Colportage Association, which distributed evangelical tracts and sent gifted evangelists throughout England. It would also be in response to this article that Anne Hillyard would contact Spurgeon about starting an orphanage.

January 1867 – The Pastors’ Advocate: An Epistle to the Members of the Baptized Churches of Jesus Christ (https://www.spurgeon.org/resource-library/books/the-sword-and-the-trowel-1867/#flipbook/25)

As one devoted to pastoral training, Spurgeon saw the poor conditions under which many of his graduates labored in Baptist churches. And so, he wrote an open letter to Baptist churches calling them to remove this reproach and to better support their ministers financially.

BELOVED BRETHREN As exceedingly great and bitter cry has gone up unto heaven concerning many of us. It is not a cry from the world which hates us, nor from our fellow-members whom we may have offended, but, (alas that it should be so!)it is wrung from hundreds of poor, but faithful ministers of Christ Jesus who labor in our midst in word and doctrine, and are daily oppressed by the niggardliness of churls among us.

July 1867 – Ourselves and the Annexationists (https://www.spurgeon.org/resource-library/books/the-sword-and-the-trowel-1867/#flipbook/334)

Alongside the decline of theology, Spurgeon noticed a trend towards the minimization of ecclesiological differences. This trend was pictured in a movement in his day working towards the annexing of Baptist and Congregational churches. While these two denominations had a long history of cooperation, their differences in baptism precluded them in the past from being one church. But now as theological convictions were declining, many were pushing for union and accusing all opponents of being schismatic and bigoted. In this article, however, Spurgeon defends the importance of ecclesiological convictions and the need to maintain those boundaries.

November 1868 – Be Just and Fear Not: A Tract for the Elections (https://www.spurgeon.org/resource-library/books/the-sword-and-the-trowel-1868/#flipbook/520)

Outside of the pulpit, Spurgeon did not hesitate to speak up on political issues, and this tract is one example of this. While the author is not explicitly stated, it is clearly connected with Spurgeon. As the vote for the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland approached, Spurgeon wanted to provide a response for the conservatives who opposed this disestablishment. Their argument was that an established church preserved Protestantism in Ireland. Spurgeon, on the other hand, believed that any form of established religion was a form of injustice. Protestants, rather than using the coercive tools of a state church, should work towards religious liberty and grant all people religious freedom, even Catholics.

Better far to be persecuted for righteousness’ sake than to do violence to other men’s consciences under the notion of upholding the truth. In the name of our reformed faith, let no Romanist suffer injustice at our hands, lest our good cause be defiled.

February 1869 – Discipline of the Church at the Metropolitan Tabernacle (https://www.spurgeon.org/resource-library/books/the-sword-and-the-trowel-1869/#flipbook/57)

This article, written by James Spurgeon, Charles’s brother and co-pastor, is the most complete description of the church polity of the Metropolitan Tabernacle. Here, he discusses the offices of elders and deacons in the church, their membership practices, including receiving, removing, and disciplining members, and the organization of the ministries of the church. In his introduction, James makes clear that they do not present their practices as the perfect or only way to organize a church. At the same time, they observe a laxity among other evangelical churches in their discipline and have “limited confidence in letters of commendation from our churches.” Therefore, in presenting their methods, Spurgeon encourages other churches to examine their own polity. Apart from this kind of confidence in each other’s practices, any church cooperation would be ultimately ineffective.

We must have faith in each other’s intentions and integrity, or we shall loosen the pins of church action, and all will lapse into confusion and conflict.



Simeon, Spurgeon, and the Need for Preaching Models

By / Feb 17

Someone somewhere has said, “some things are better caught than taught.” Many would argue that this is true with preaching. It is one thing to learn about preaching in the abstract from books or classroom lectures. It is something else entirely to learn from the example of faithful preachers.

C. H. Spurgeon possessed a remarkable preaching genius that was as original as it was extraordinary. He began preaching at the age of sixteen without the benefit of any formal training, and within just a few years he secured one of London’s most prestigious nonconformist pulpits. There he would preach in the heart of London to thousands upon thousands for nearly four decades. Romantics would say he was born a preacher. Secular historians would say he was the product of external social and cultural forces that coalesced to make him what he was. Of course, believers in the power of the Holy Spirit would say that Spurgeon experienced an unusual anointing from God. The Puritans who Spurgeon so admired liked to call this anointing “unction.” Whatever one may call it, Spurgeon had it, and he had it before he was even old enough to shave.[1]

Though Spurgeon was something of a preaching prodigy who probably would have fared just fine without any teachers, he nonetheless “caught” good preaching from a number of important exemplars. He certainly learned a great deal about preaching from his father and grandfather; the former, an itinerant lay-preacher, and the latter, a nonconformist minister who preached regularly for over fifty years. Spurgeon also benefitted considerably from studying the ministries of George Whitefield and John Wesley.[2] Spurgeon identified Whitefield in particular as his model.[3]

A lesser known influence on Spurgeon was Charles Simeon (1759-1836), who Spurgeon dubbed “The famous English clergyman of Cambridge.”[4] In 1850, Spurgeon moved to Cambridge where Simeon had commanded the pulpit of Holy Trinity Church for more than half a century. Simeon was a crucial early influence on Spurgeon in his beginning days as a preacher. Spurgeon preached his first sermons in connection with the Cambridge Lay-Preachers’ Association, and did most of his early preaching in and around Cambridgeshire where the legacy of Simeon was still alive and well fifteen years after his death.

The primary means by which Spurgeon absorbed Simeon’s influence was through his massive multi-volume collection of skeleton outlines, titled Horae Homileticae.[5] In Spurgeon’s Commenting and Commentaries, he commends Simeon’s Horae Homileticae with this note: “Not commentaries, but we could not exclude them. They have been called ‘a valley of dry bones’: be a prophet and they will live.”[6]

The editors of the Lost Sermons of C. H. Spurgeon have identified Simeon’s significant influence on Spurgeon’s earliest sermon outlines.[7] Many of them borrow heavily from Simeon’s sermons, and some even use his words verbatim.[8] It is fascinating to imagine the sixteen year old Spurgeon pouring over Simeon’s sermon outlines in preparation to preach in a nearby village just outside of Cambridge.

But who was Charles Simeon and how did he emerge as a figure of such great influence?

Charles Simeon spent almost his entire adult life in Cambridge.[9] Though his ministry was centered in one place, he nonetheless left an indelible stamp on the wider evangelical world. As a preacher, Simeon published twenty-one volumes of sermon outlines covering the entire Bible. As a college dean, he mentored a host of future ministers and missionaries. As one of the elder statesmen of the evangelical movement in Britain, he participated in various societies, forwarded the cause of missions, and enjoyed seasons of fruitful itinerant ministry. Further, he engaged in close correspondence with other prominent evangelicals such as John Newton, William Wilberforce, Thomas Chalmers, and Henry Venn.

Without question, the central work of Simeon’s life was his preaching ministry. For more than fifty years he expounded the Bible Sunday by Sunday in the pulpit of the historic Holy Trinity Church. When Simeon arrived in Cambridge in the late 1770s, the evangelical movement had barely grazed the Church of England. By his death in 1836, it is estimated that a third of Anglican pulpits were evangelical.[10] Such a massive shift in the established church would have been unthinkable apart from the sustained influence of Charles Simeon. Through his preaching, God was pleased to revitalize a church, raise up a new generation of preachers, and galvanize a movement.  

At the age of twenty-three, Simeon was appointed vicar of Holy Trinity, a church that enjoyed an extraordinary heritage of storied preachers such as Richard Sibbes and Thomas Goodwin. One might assume that the young Simeon was warmly received by his new congregation. This was not so. The circumstances of his appointment were controversial, resulting in the congregation’s bitter opposition toward Simeon for many years.[11] The parishioners deprecated Simeon’s evangelical convictions. Their dislike of their new vicar was such that they made every effort to impede his ability to preach. Regularly, the churchwardens would lock the building to prevent the hearing of Simeon’s sermons. Members of the church not only boycotted his preaching, but some of them even went as far as to lock their pews in the church to prevent others from going to hear the young minister.[12] Such ignoble antics were the norm for Simeon for the first several years of his ministry. Even when some of these more extreme measures subsided, many of his parishioners remained cold toward him and the gospel he preached. In such seasons, Simeon found comfort in Paul’s words to Timothy, “the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil.” Though bruised by the opposition of his flock, Simeon emerged through these trials with a warmhearted commitment to the spiritual good of his congregation.

As a Fellow of King’s College, and later the Dean, Simeon made a steady habit of mentoring young men. These relationships were not primarily academic, but spiritual in nature. Simeon gave most of his time to men who aspired to ministerial service. The most famous of these men was Henry Martyn, who served as Simeon’s curate, and later as a missionary to India.  

Simeon made concerted efforts to mentor young men through various means. He hosted regular tea meetings for anyone interested in asking questions about the Bible.[13] These “conversation parties” normally took place on Friday nights with up to eighty students crammed into a sitting room. There they probed the mind of the veteran preacher regarding Scripture, theology, and pastoral ministry. At these meetings, Simeon made a point of personally acquainting himself with each of his guests. When a young man attended a conversation party for the first time, he seldom left without Simeon greeting him and recording his name in a journal.

Simeon also hosted sermon classes for men called to preach.[14] These smaller gatherings were by invite only. In each session, Simeon would offer a text for consideration. Men would then be charged to produce a sermon outline for the text. After presentations, feedback would follow. Thus, Simeon slowly transmitted his particular brand of evangelical preaching to an entire generation of Anglican ministers.

The pulpit of Holy Trinity was of course the primary means by which Simeon exerted his influence, and his preaching is what remains his most enduring legacy today. The twenty-one volumes of Horae Homileticae capture well Simeon’s method of expository preaching. These sermon skeletons have served preachers for generations, including a young Charles Spurgeon who read Simeon’s sermons as a teenager. Simeon was renowned for his regular verse by verse exposition of biblical texts. He said, “My endeavor is to bring out of Scripture what is there, and not to thrust in what I think might be there.”[15] According to Simeon, true preaching must ultimately possess three chief aims: to humble the sinner, exalt the savior, and promote holiness.[16] For over five decades, Simeon gave himself to this kind of preaching in the pulpit of Holy Trinity. Over the years, thousands came to hear Simeon preach, including hundreds of future ministers who embraced Simeon’s evangelical faith. Even some fifteen years after his death, budding preachers like Charles Spurgeon were still taking in Simeon’s influence.

It should humble aspiring preachers today to know that even someone as uniquely gifted as Spurgeon still sought out preaching models. If preaching is better caught than taught, Spurgeon wanted to catch it from the very best preachers he could find. In Simeon’s sermons, Spurgeon discovered something of a mentor in preaching. Simeon provided the young Spurgeon with a model for how to faithfully preach Christ, and to do so with earnestness, simplicity, and power. Surely Spurgeon would encourage preachers today to rediscover Simeon’s sermons. Though they may once again be considered by some to be a valley of dry bones, Spurgeon assures us, “be a prophet and they will live.”


Alex DiPrima is the senior pastor of Emmanuel Church in Winston Salem, NC. He holds a Ph.D. from SEBTS and wrote his dissertation on the social ministry of C. H. Spurgeon.

Zack DiPrima is a pastoral assistant at Emmanuel Church in Winston Salem, NC. He is currently working on his Ph.D. from SBTS and is studying the ministry of Charles Simeon.


[1] Spurgeon, Autobiography, 1:298.

[2] Spurgeon, Autobiography, 1:176. Spurgeon said, “[I]f there were wanted two apostles to be added to the number of the twelve, I do not believe that there could be found two men more fit to be so added than George Whitefield and John Wesley.’

[3] Spurgeon, Autobiography, 2:66; see also William Williams, Personal Reminiscences of Charles Haddon Spurgeon (London: Religious Tract Society, 1895), 180.

[4] Spurgeon, MTP, 30:179

[5] Charles Simeon, Horae Homileticae: or Discourses (Principally in the Form of Skeletons) Now First Digested Into One Continued Series, and Forming a Commentary Upon Every Book of The Old and New Testament, etc. (London: Holdsworth and Ball, 1832).

[6] Spurgeon, Commenting and Commentaries: Two Lectures Addressed to the Students of the Pastors’ College, Metropolitan Tabernacle, Together with a Catalogue of Biblical Commentaries and Expositions (London: Passmore and Alabaster, 1876), 42.

[7] Spurgeon, The Lost Sermons of C. H. Spurgeon: His Earliest Outlines and Sermons Between 1851 and 1854, Edited with Introduction and Notes by Christian George, Vol. 1 (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2016), 258.

[8] Spurgeon, The Lost Sermons, 295.

[9] The best available biographies on Charles Simeon are Hugh E. Hopkins, Charles Simeon of Cambridge (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1977); Handley C. G. Moule, Charles Simeon (London: Methuen & Co, 1892); and

Derek Prime, Charles Simeon: An Ordinary Pastor of Extraordinary Influence (Leominster, UK: Day One Publications, 2011).         

[10] Derek Prime Charles Simeon: An Ordinary Pastor of Extraordinary Influence, 239

[11] William Carus, Memoirs of the life of the Rev. Charles Simeon, M.A., Late Senior Fellow of King’s College and Minister of Trinity Church, Cambridge (London: J. Hatchard & Son, 1847), 40–3.

[12] Carus, 43–5.

[13] Abner W. Brown, Recollections of the conversation parties of the Rev. Charles Simeon, M.A., Senior Fellow of King’s College, and Perpetual Curate of Trinity Church, Cambridge (London: Hamilton, Adams, & Co, 1863), 51–3.

[14] Brown, 51–3

            [15] Moule, 97.

[16] Charles Simeon , Horae Homileticae Vol. I, (London: Holdsworth and Ball, 1832), xxi.



Introducing: The Sword and the Trowel

By / Feb 10

By the middle of the 1860’s, the ministry of the Metropolitan Tabernacle was bustling. Church membership was approaching 3,000, with hundreds more joining the church each year. New elders were being appointed to provide spiritual care for the growing church. Spurgeon’s sermons were being published weekly and distributed around the world. Out of the Tabernacle, new charitable and evangelistic ministries were sprouting up as members looked for ways to serve the Lord and reach those around them. Graduates of The Pastors’ College were being sent out to Baptist churches through England and around the world. With so much going on around him, Spurgeon sought to bring a measure of organization to these various efforts. Thus, in January 1865, The Sword and the Trowel was born.

For the rest of his ministry, Spurgeon would serve as the editor of this monthly magazine. In the introduction of the very first issue, Spurgeon describes the armies of Israel gathering around the ark, each tribe with its distinctive banner. Similarly, this magazine was an effort for the Metropolitan Tabernacle to raise their banner:

Even so, in the Church of God, our Lord Jesus and the common salvation are the central point about which believers gather, but the standards of peculiar associations of Christians cannot well be dispensed with. We feel that we need to uplift a banner because of the truth, and with hopeful heart we do so this day. (S&T 1865:1)

But this was not just Spurgeon’s banner. Instead, the magazine reported on “the efforts of those churches and associations, which are more or less intimately connected with the Lord’s work at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, and to advocate those views of doctrine and the Church order which are most certainly received among us.” Though Spurgeon would serve as the editor, this magazine would contain articles and sermons from “many ministers who were students in our College… and their flocks, we trust, will receive a blessing through their stirring words.” (S&T 1865:1-2)

In other words, this magazine represented a new wave of churches arising in England: churches that were firmly centered on the gospel and ordered by a robust Baptist vision of the church. Through The Sword and the Trowel, this distinct vision for ministry would spread throughout the English-speaking world.

But more than a grand vision of church ministry, this magazine also offers a unique perspective into Spurgeon’s pastoral theology. In the preface to his book, Living by Revealed Truth, Tom Nettles provides this summary of the magazine:

While mounds of valuable sermons and addresses from Spurgeon and others appear as the main body of the monthly fascicle, the sections of book reviews and monthly “notes” provide rich sources for understanding Spurgeon’s life, opinions, theology, and view of pastoral ministry. It provides an ongoing commentary on the literature of the day, his views on the life of the church, reports on the multitudinous benevolences that he sponsored and supported directly as well as many others which he had sympathy and sought to encourage others to support. Much of his personal life – joys, conflicts, and suffering – shows up in the notes included in a section noted as “personal.” (Nettles, Living by Revealed Truth, 9)

For many decades now, pastors have benefited from Spurgeon’s sermons for their own spiritual growth and encouragement. However, few have been able to benefit from his “view of pastoral ministry” and “his views on the life of the church.” Many people know that Spurgeon preached to thousands. But few know that he also sought to pastor those thousands. As a local church pastor, Spurgeon dealt with many of the same challenges and questions that we face in our day. As pastors look to church history for mentors in the ministry, The Sword and the Trowel provides valuable insights into the pastoral theology of one faithful pastor.

Up to this point, access to The Sword and the Trowel has been limited. Pilgrim Publications has helpfully provided a re-publication of the magazines, though this set is abridged, incomplete (only from 1865 to 1886), and increasingly more difficult to find. For those wanting to access the originals, very few libraries in the world possess a complete set of The Sword and the Trowel.

So it is with excitement that The Spurgeon Library at Midwestern Seminary is announcing that we are in the process of making our complete collection of The Sword and the Trowel (1865-1902) available digitally through Spurgeon.org. These will not only be unabridged facsimiles, but they will also be the very set that Spurgeon owned in his personal library. You never know what marginalia you might find in one of them!

In making these magazines available once again, our prayer is that Spurgeon’s vision would once again be realized, “urging the claims of Christ’s cause, of advocating the revival of godliness, of denouncing error, of bearing witness for truth, and of encouraging the labourers in the Lord’s vineyard.” (S&T 1865:2)

You can access the first five years of The Sword and Trowel Collection (1865-1869) here.

Coming up next: Highlights from the 1st 5 years of The Sword and the Trowel.



Praying for a Golden Age of Gospel Preachers

By / Feb 1

We often hear in the media of the blunders of false preachers spinning tales of over-spiritualized ecstasy and practices that have no reference in the Bible. We hear tele-evangelists begging for money to be given to them so they may impart some blessing to the watcher. Many dare to teach without even using the Word of God. While such teachers are growing in popularity and number day-by-day, many churches find themselves looking for a faithful preacher of the Gospel to shepherd them during these uneasy times. How many churches have been without a pastor for months, even years, and are still waiting for a faithful preacher of God’s Word? For all these people, Spurgeon offers a word of hope.

Preaching in the fall of 1874 on, ‘the Power of the Risen Saviour,’ he longs for another golden age of preachers by the power of the Holy Spirit. And to all those longing with him, Spurgeon calls them to pray:

Often do I pray, and I doubt not the prayer has come from you too, that God would raise up leaders in the church, men full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, standard-bearers in the day of battle. The preachers of the gospel who preach with any power are few; still might John say, ‘Ye have not many fathers.’ More precious than the gold of Ophir are men who stand out as pillars of the Lord’s house, bulwarks of the truth, champions in the camp of Israel. How few are our apostolic men! We want again Luthers, Calvins, Bunyans, Whitfields, men fit to mark eras, whose names breathe terror in our foemen’s ears. We have dire need of such. (MTP 20:751)

Prayer for a faithful preacher is the key. Of all the things that Christians ought to pray for, this should be at the top of the list. Rather than taking faithful preachers for granted, Christians should pray that God would “raise up leaders in the church.” What do these leaders look like? We need pastors committed to a steady diet of preaching and rightly dividing the Word of God as it says in 2 Timothy 2:15. If we are to see an age of “standard-bearers” come about again, these “bulwarks of the truth” should be full of faith and the Holy Ghost, powerful preachers of the Gospel, men who stand out as pillars of the Lord’s church, and men of integrity.

Now, Spurgeon was known in his day as a powerful preacher of God’s Word. For him to call his people to pray for a resurgence of faithful preachers must have seemed strange. Many in his congregation experienced the saving work of Christ as they listened to their pastor preach. Yet, Spurgeon understood that he was the exception and not the norm. Many churches either limped along with dry and gospel-less preaching or were taken in by innovations and distractions from the Word of God. Like our day, the spiritual landscape of London, England, and the world was marked by a lack of faithful preaching. And so, Spurgeon called on his people to pray.

But for all those who longed for God’s Word to flourish, Spurgeon believed that we could pray with great hope. Why? Because it is the Lord Jesus Christ who gives gifts of preachers to his church. He is not dependent on us, but is able to bring back again “a golden age of preachers.”

They are the gifts of Jesus Christ to the church, and will come in due time. He has power to give us back again a golden age of preachers, a time as fertile of great divines and mighty ministers as was the Puritan age, which many of us account to have been the golden age of theology. He can send again the men of studious heart to search the word and bring forth its treasures, the men of wisdom and experience rightly to divide it, the golden-mouthed speakers who, either as sons of thunder or sons of consolation, shall deliver the message of the Lord with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven. When the Redeemer ascended on high he received gifts for men, and those gifts were men fitted to accomplish the edification of the church, such as evangelists, pastors, and teachers. These he is still able to bestow upon his people, and it is their duty to pray for them, and when they come, to receive them with gratitude. Let us believe in the power of Jesus to give us valiant men and men of renown, and we little know how soon he will supply them. (MTP 20:751)

If your church is marked by faithful pastors who are committed to God’s Word, then give thanks to Christ for his good gifts. And pray for other churches, even as you continue the work of raising up those who are able to teach. If your church is looking for a pastor, then heed Spurgeon’s words. Pray as a church for Christ to give the gift of a faithful preacher. Do not relegate this matter to the pastoral search committee. Come together as a church to pray and ask God to bring you a powerful, faithful, Spirit-filled man. And then pray that you would be ready to follow that preacher as he preaches God’s Word. May our churches be marked by another golden age of faithful preachers.



“The Additions of Superstition”: Spurgeon’s Critique of the Mass

By / Jan 26

Sounding like the start of a bad joke, Spurgeon once said, “Imagine Paul or Peter attending mass.” After observing the movements and rituals of the priests, “Paul would pluck Peter by the sleeve, and say, ‘Our Master did nothing like this when he took bread and gave thanks and brake it.’ Peter would reply, ‘Very different this from the guest-chamber at Jerusalem!’”[1] A lion for the truth and a guard dog of right doctrine, Spurgeon continually defended the Lord’s Supper from Roman Catholic distortions, as well as calling fellow Protestants back to obeying the simple and plain commands of Christ. But his concern was not merely liturgical. Rather, Spurgeon understood that our teaching and practice of the Lord’s Supper connects with our understanding of the gospel. This was no less true for the Roman Catholic mass. Spurgeon pointed out three errors in particular:

First, the Mass turns the table of our Lord into an altar. Spurgeon said, “That which was only a table, they have made into an altar, and that which was a supper and nothing more, they have changed into a celebration.”[2] Rather than picturing a simple supper, the Roman Mass is an elaborate ceremony. In this ceremony, the sacrifice is re-enacted and Christ is offered to God once more for sins.[3] As a result, at the center of this ceremony is not a table, but an altar. Protestants, however, reject this understanding of the Mass. Of his sacrifice, “there is no continuation wanted.”[4] One of the ways to guard against such teaching is simply to recognize that in the Lord’s Supper, we come to a table, not an altar. Spurgeon said, “Use it as a table of fellowship and communion, but never dream of it as an altar. The one altar which sanctifieth the gift is the person and merit of our Lord Jesus Christ, and nothing else.”[5] It is around this table where believers can gather around and enjoy their fellowship in the finished work of Christ.

Second, the Mass diminishes Christ’s person and work. Without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sin. The pseudo-sacrifice of Christ in the Mass ignores the once-for-all nature of the sacrifice accomplished on Golgotha. For, Christ “never said, ‘Do this as the perpetual repetition of my death.”[6] Rather, the Catholic Mass is a sacrifice devoid of blood. No less, it is devoid of the blood of the Savior, the only man that can cleanse us from our sin. Spurgeon said, “Take the blood away, and the communion of the Lord’s Supper has gone; there remains nothing but the Popish mass which is so blasphemously called an unbloody sacrifice for the quick and dead.”[7] For, “They blaspheme the sacrifice of Christ who imagine that any man, call him priest or not, can continue, repeat, or complete that sacrifice for sin. It is finished, and our Lord has gone into his glory. Sin is put away by his bearing it in his own body on the tree.”[8]

Finally, the Mass neglects the role of faith in the Lord’s Supper. Roman Catholics believe that grace is communicated to people in the mere act of consuming the consecrated bread and wine. Spurgeon thought it was absurd to believe grace would be communicated merely through the physical act of eating and drinking. Rather, this took away from the sufficiency of Christ’s death and made those partaking of the Supper faithless, not faithful. He asked, “Does grace operate through the stomach, and save us through our bowels?” No, but instead, “I receive the body and blood of Christ when my soul believes in his incarnation, when my heart relies upon the merit of his death, when the bread and wine so refresh my memory that thoughts of Jesus Christ and his agonies melt me to penitence, cheer me to confidence, and purify me from sin.”[9]

Spurgeon did not hold back criticism when he perceived that the gospel was at stake. Like a shepherd fending away wolves from the sheep, so Spurgeon guarded the doctrine and piety of his flock. This was true especially when it came to the ordinances of the church. Spurgeon said, “A church ceases to be a church of Christ in proportion also as she alters the ordinances of God.”[10] Why? Because the ordinances communicate the gospel.

Therefore, Spurgeon not only warned against the Roman Catholic mass but against any church tradition that would distort the Lord’s Table. In every denomination, whether Protestant or otherwise, there is a temptation to add to Christ’s commandments. But when it comes to baptism and the Lord’s Supper, our calling is not innovation, but faithfulness. May churches today proclaim the gospel powerfully from their pulpits and display the gospel clearly through the ordinances.

“Clear away all the additions of superstition, they are but the dust and the rust which have accumulated during the ages, and they spoil and mar the purity of Christ’s own ordinance. Our great concern must be, to observe it exactly as he has delivered it unto us, in accordance with his own injunction, ‘This do in remembrance of me;’—not something else in its place.”[11]


[1] MTP 34:445.

[2] Ibid.

[3] See session 22 of the Council of Trent that defines the dogma of the Sacrifice of the Mass.

[4] MTP 24:461

[5] MTP 14:520.

[6] MTP 34:446.

[7] MTP 30:174.

[8] MTP 34:446.

[9] MTP 11:555.

[10] MTP 24:551, italics original.

[11] MTP 45:423–24.