For the past century, Charles Spurgeon’s strengths have often overshadowed his weaknesses. His biographers are largely to blame, painting the preacher as a superhero incapable of vice or vulnerability.
Yet warts reveal as much as dimples do.
Spurgeon had both. He experienced seasons of success, but he also harbored hidden faults — secret sins that sought to undermine his ministry.
Spurgeon’s private life is as worthy of examination as his public life.
“Beloved, make your lives clear. Be you as the brook wherein you may see every stone at the bottom — not as the muddy creek” (MTP 11:455).
What was Spurgeon’s secret sin?
It wasn’t sex.
It wasn’t money.
It wasn’t power.
Spurgeon’s secret sin — his “darling” sin — was pride.
“My pride is so infernal that there is not a man on earth who can hold it in” (Letter to a friend, Autobiography 2:100).
“Pride is yet my darling sin, I cannot shake it off” (Diary, Autobiography 1:146).
“Oh, may I be kept humble! Pride dwells in my heart” (Diary, Autobiography 1:144).
Spurgeon had much to be proud of. Crowds hung on his every word. Biographers lauded his popularity. Kings and queens sought his company. Spurgeon was a red-carpet celebrity.
Yet his Achilles’ heel was not influence. God had answered his youthful prayer “that prosperity and fame may not injure me” (Letter to his father, Angus Library, Oxford). Spurgeon was not seduced by the fame and fortune afforded by a royal London lifestyle.
For Spurgeon, pride emerged in controversy, not notoriety:
“I will tell you when I have been afraid of pride, that is, when I have been in the middle of a fight, and everybody has abused me, including some of whom I have felt that they were not worthy to be set among the dogs of the flock. I fear I have been proud then” (The Metropolitan Tabernacle: Its History and Work, 36).
For someone who would “rather walk ten miles to get out of a dispute than half-a-mile to get into one” (John Ploughman’s Talk, 69), Spurgeon often entangled himself in controversy: the Media Controversy (1855), the Rivulet Controversy (1855-56), the “Divine Life in Man” Controversy (1860), the Baptist Missionary Society Controversy (1863-1866), the Baptismal Regeneration Controversy (1864), and the Downgrade Controversy (1887-1888).
“That demon of pride was born with us, and it will not die one hour before us” (Spurgeon’s Gems, 12).
Spurgeon would know. The Downgrade Controversy killed him prematurely. Was Spurgeon right to withdraw from the Baptist Union? Different scholars give different answers. But few consider the enemy far more threatening to Spurgeon than theological liberalism – self-righteousness.
“Oh, how easy it is to exaggerate a virtue until it becomes a vice” (MTP 23:159).
So how did the Prince of Preachers combat his greatest vice?
1. Feel your Nothingness.
“Be not proud of race, face, place, or grace” (The Salt-Cellars 2:80).
“Let us measure ourselves by our Master . . . then pride will be impossible” (An All-Round Ministry, 303).
“The way to be very great is to be very little” (Lectures to My Students, 2:19).
“I would not advise any of you to try to be humble, but to be humble” (MTP 39:474).
“In the true Church of Christ, the way to the top is downstairs; sink yourself into the highest place” (MTP 39:474).
“A man never lowers himself more than when he tries to lift himself up” (MTP 60:148).
“God will not fill us until we are emptied of self” (NPSP 6:35).
2. Keep Close to Christ.
“Pride cannot live beneath the cross” (Evening by Evening, 155).
“Christ must be the one thought, the one idea, the one master-thought in the believer’s soul” (MTP 13:647).
“Lord help us to master pride” (C. H. Spurgeon’s Prayers, 96).
“Praying is the best fighting, nothing else will keep them down” (Letter to his father, Angus Library, Oxford).
“We have nothing to be proud of; the lowest place is ours; but Lord, we often conceive ourselves to be something when we are nothing” (Pastor in Prayer, 36).
“Whenever self comes up, may we be determined it shall not live, but flee to the precious blood, that we may slay it” (Pastor in Prayer, 74).
3. Embrace Suffering.
“That is the benefit of the furnace to God’s people; it melts, tries, and purifies them” (NPSP 1:274).
“I should have been made as proud as Satan if the Lord had not put me an hour or two under the cloud” (Letter to his father, Angus Library, Oxford).
“If we forget to live at the foot of the cross in deepest lowliness of spirit, God will not forget to make us smart under His rod” (Evening by Evening, 66).
“No matter how dear you are to him, if pride be harboured in your spirit he will whip it out of you. They that go up in their own estimation must come down again by his discipline” (MTP 17:51).
“Many people are humbled who are not humble at all” (MTP 13:243).
A Final Challenge.
Spurgeon’s credibility and ours depends on conquering secret sins. “Pride goes before destruction” (Proverbs 16:18). Or as Spurgeon put it:
“Pride is as safely the sign of destruction as the change of mercury in the weather-glass is the sign of rain” (Evening by Evening, 66).
None of us are invisible to this ancient enemy. In fact, pride often finds its most fertile soil inside the church. Christians can be proud of not being proud:
“There is such a thing as being proud of being humble, and boasting one’s self of being now cleansed from everything like boasting” (ST May 1875:194).
May Spurgeon’s genuine desire for humility be yours and mine today.
“Leave off boasting, Christian; live humbly before thy God, and never let a word of self-congratulation escape thy lips” (MTP 7:119).