Blog Entry

Spurgeon's Evangelical Crucicentrism

By Ed Romine Mar 21, 2019

“Jesus Christ and him crucified should be the Alpha and the Omega of every sermon.”[1]

 

            These words show the conviction of Charles Haddon Spurgeon. For him, the cross was everything. To not preach Christ crucified was to preach a delusion and “a sham.”[2] In fact, he considered Christ-less and cross-less sermons a waste of time. He stated boldly, “A sermon without Christ in it is like a loaf of bread without any flour in it. No Christ in your sermon, sir? Then go home, and never preach again until you have something worth preaching.”[3] Indeed, the Victorian preacher was so consumed with zealously preaching the cross that he said he had “no medicine to prescribe except ‘Christ, Christ, Christ; Jesus Christ and him crucified,’”[4] the sole remedy which “cures all soul sicknesses, while human quackery cures none.”[5] For Spurgeon, the cross and all its salvific power was a “great attractive magnet.”[6]

 

            According to historian David Bebbington, crucicentrism could be defined as “the doctrine of the cross.”[7] In plain terms it is the teaching of “Christ and him crucified.”[8] Indeed, the doctrine of the cross was so central that Bebbington called it the “fulcrum”[9] upon which Evangelicalism hinges. This conviction was so prominent that William Gladstone, a prime minister of England, considered Evangelicalism to be “an aggressive movement”[10] especially concerned with “the cross” and “all that [it] essentially implies.”[11] For Spurgeon, Christ crucified was the “most excellent of sciences.”[12] Jesus Christ was his “sun”[13] and each “science,”[14] or sphere of knowledge, “[revolved] around Christ like a planet.”[15] For Spurgeon, the teaching and preaching of the cross was everything because all other knowledge was subservient to the knowledge of Christ. Therefore, he could enthusiastically proclaim “How often have I wished that I could forget many things which once I thought it necessary to know!”[16]

 

            In Spurgeon’s mind, the crux of the crucifixion was understanding that Jesus bore sin in his body on the cross. So great was this suffering that Spurgeon said “[we] will never be able to comprehend what Jesus suffered when the great flood of human sin came rushing down upon him.”[17] Humanly speaking man may have murdered him, but God was pouring out his righteous justice and wrath owed to man on his own beloved Son. Spurgeon knew that there was “something more in the Saviour’s death than Roman cruelty or Jewish malice.”[18] Rather, the terrible death of Jesus Christ was “a full atonement to the justice of God for the sins of all believers.”[19] Indeed, when Jesus suffered wrath it was the wrath due his people which he took in their place. Spurgeon exclaimed, “There are in the world many theories of atonement: but I cannot see any atonement in any one, except in this doctrine of substitution.”[20] He saw along with Luther and Calvin that substitution was “the sum and substance of the gospel.”[21]  Spurgeon believed and preached substitution with conviction, declaring that Christ “died as the substitute, in the room, place, and stead of all believers.”[22] To evangelicals like Spurgeon, this doctrine was beautiful because “The Lord will never punish twice the same offense.”[23] However, not all believed in substitution. Indeed, many in the gilded Victorian Age saw it as barbarism instead of justice. Accordingly, Spurgeon warned those who “cannot endure the doctrine of a substitutionary atonement” to “beware.”[24] For, to reject substitutionary atonement would be “casting away the very soul and essence of the gospel.”[25] As for those who did place their faith in the substitutionary work of Christ Spurgeon exhorted them to “avow”[26] the substitutionary atonement and to “avow it boldly.”[27]

 

            For Spurgeon, the cross was the center of his hope and life. In his view, “The only pillar of your hope must be the cross.”[28] To mix good works with the proclamation of the cross was unthinkable. Spurgeon exhorted, “Do not think that you are saved because of anything that you have ever done or can ever do for Christ.”[29] His heart longed to exalt Christ crucified even as he exclaimed “The cross is all I ever want for security and joy.”[30] Not surprisingly, Spurgeon saw the blood of Christ as precious. Indeed, this blood was especially precious because of its power, as Spurgeon said, “[it] hath such a divine power to save, that nothing but it can ever save the soul.”[31] This made Christ’s blood “the essence of the preaching of the cross,”[32] since it was through the blood of Jesus that “a full atonement was made.”[33]

 

            In light of this Spurgeon was convinced that “Our first aim in life should be to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ.”[34] Spurgeon rejoiced in the work of Christ, saying, “he has saved me from despair, from sin, from the power of evil, from death, [and] from hell.”[35] For Spurgeon, Christ’s salvific sacrifice provided the ultimate ground for gratitude. Accordingly, Spurgeon exhorted his hearers to “contemplate [Christ’s] holy life and expiatory death,”[36] with the result that Spurgeon could say, “Jesus is dearer to us than the whole race of men,” and so “we bow adoringly at his ever-blessed feet.”[37]

 

            But, Spurgeon also knew that Christ bearing his cross meant that believers were to take up their crosses too. Spurgeon exhorted his hearers to follow after Christ “from the tomb to Olivet, and from the mountain’s brow to heaven’s gate and the right hand of the Father.”[38] And although the path would be filled with trials and tribulations, Spurgeon told his hearers that “You have blessed company; your path is marked with footprints of your Lord.”[39] Therefore, in the strength of Christ believers had the power to “Take up your cross daily and follow him”[40] knowing that “the Cross of Christ is our honor.”[41] And as the Christian life was cruciform, it was imperative for each believer to “not [be] ashamed to take up his cross and follow him.”[42]

 

            As a result, evangelicals believed that gratitude flowed naturally from those redeemed by the blood of the cross. Thus, even the thought of the cross caused Spurgeon to shout “Oh love,  love, what hast thou done! What hast thou not done!”[43] Indeed, the cross was “the loudest proclamation of divine righteousness and the plainest proof of divine love.”[44] It was truly “the greatest wonder of wonders and miracle of miracles which the universe ever saw.”[45]

 

            But this gracious gratitude didn’t just warm Spurgeon’s heart, it also fueled his burning passion for world missions. The majesty of the crucified and risen Christ demanded that “All nations are to glorify the Lord,”[46] but since “this they have not done as yet”[47] missions became the rightful vent of holy zeal and fervor. Even at a young age, Spurgeon could hardly content himself in his zeal for God, as he testified, “I could scarcely content myself even for five minutes without trying to do something for Christ.”[48] He carried tracts with him, read his Bible at every opportunity, and sought to turn conversations to Christ.[49] For Spurgeon, it was “a pleasure to do anything to exalt the name of God.”[50] Furthermore, as he grew he longed to reach “the nations that are far away!”[51] In his view, the penal, substitutionary nature of the atonement ensured that there were sheep not yet found. When Spurgeon looked to the cross he saw the “conquering crucified One,”[52] who had “secured the victory, for thou hast finished the redemption of myriads, and therefore they must be saved!”[53] In this way, the crucified and risen Christ was not only the “motive for attempting the spread of the gospel throughout the world,”[54] but also “the instrument of our victory.”[55]

 

             A life sacrificed to Jesus Christ was the heartbeat of Spurgeon’s spiritual life. Undoubtedly, he encouraged others to live for Christ, saying, “Believer, it ought to be your ambition to please Christ in every act you do.”[56] The man’s main mission was to exalt the cross of Christ, and in so doing, he made much of his resurrected Savior whom he adored. After all, it was Spurgeon who said, “True Christians make much of Christ; indeed, they make all of him.”[57]


Edward G. Romine is a Residency Ph.D. student in historical theology studying Spurgeon at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri. He received his Master of Divinity and Master of Theology degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has been a preacher of the gospel since 2007. He currently serves as a Research Assistant at The Spurgeon Library.

 

 

 

 

 

 


[1] C. H. Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit: Sermons Preached and Revised by C.H. Spurgeon. Vols. 7-63 (Pasadena, TX: Pilgrim Publications, 1970-2006), MTP 21:208.

[2] Ibid.

[3] MTP 50:431.

[4] Ibid., 38:272.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., 29:237.

[7] D. W. Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s (London: Routledge, 1989), 36.

[8] Cf. 1 Corinthians 2:2.

[9] Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain, 38.

[10] William Gladstone, "The Evangelical Movement: its Parentage, Progress, and Issue,” Gleanings from Past Years, 1843-79, Vol. VII. Miscellaneous (London: John Murray, 1879), 207.

[11] Ibid.

[12] C. H. Spurgeon, The New Park Street Pulpit: Containing Sermons Preached and Revised by the Rev. C. H. Spurgeon, 6 Vols. (Pasadena, TX: Pilgrim Publications, 1970-2006), NPSP 1:60.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] MTP 32:417.

[17] Ibid., 38:47.

[18] NPSP 4:66.

[19] MTP 17:423.

[20] NPSP 4:70.

[21] MTP 57:113.

[22] NPSP 4:69.

[23] MTP 31:499.

[24] Ibid., 41:408.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid., 55:523.

[27] Ibid.

[28] NPSP 5:30.

[29] Ibid., 6:442.

[30] MTP 31:501.

[31] NPSP 5:29.

[32] MTP 27:425.

[33] Ibid., 20.

[34] Ibid., 20:168.

[35] Ibid., 41:548.

[36] Ibid., 20:669.

[37] Ibid.

[38] Ibid.

[39] Ibid., 9:127.

[40] Ibid.

[41] Ibid., 128.

[42] Ibid., 25:343.

[43] Ibid., 19:121.

[44] Ibid., 31:142.

[45] Ibid., 48:413.

[46] Ibid., 26:258.

[47] Ibid.

[48] Autobiography 1:180.

[49] Ibid.

[50] MTP 31:258.

[51] Ibid., 11:240.

[52] Ibid., 18:238.

[53] Ibid.

[54] Ibid.

[55] Ibid., 239.

[56] Ibid., 22:395.

[57] Ibid., 25:521.