Charles Spurgeon is one of the most popular preachers to tweet, meme, quote . . . and misquote. Here are six sayings falsely attributed to the “Prince of Preachers.”
Spurgeon Misquote #1: “When you can’t trace his hand, trust his heart.”
This quote was popularized in 1989 by Christian singer-songwriter Babbie Mason who wrote “Trust His Heart” with Eddie Carswell. The chorus goes like this:
So when you don’t understand / When you don’t see his plan / When you can’t trace his hand / Trust His heart
In an interview, Mason said the song was influenced by a North Atlanta pastor who “became inspired by the words that Charles Haddon Spurgeon had coined in his writings, ‘God is too wise to be mistaken. God is too good to be unkind. And, when you can’t trace His hand, you can always trust His heart.’”
Spurgeon’s actual wording is found in his sermon “A Happy Christian”:
The worldling blesses God while he gives him plenty, but the Christian blesses him when he smites him: he believes him to be too wise to err and too good to be unkind; he trusts him where he cannot trace him, looks up to him in the darkest hour, and believes that all is well (MTP 13:103).
Spurgeon Misquote #2: “The Word of God is like a lion. You don’t have to defend a lion. All you have to do is let the lion loose, and the lion will defend itself.”
Spurgeon conveyed this idea at least three times, but he never said it exactly this way. The closest instance is found in his 1886 sermon “Christ and His Co-Workers”:
Suppose a number of persons were to take it into their heads that they had to defend a lion, a full-grown king of beasts! There he is in the cage, and here come all the soldiers of the army to fight for him. Well, I should suggest to them, if they would not object, and feel that it was humbling to them, that they should kindly stand back, and open the door, and let the lion out! I believe that would be the best way of defending him, for he would take care of himself; and the best “apology” for the gospel is to let the gospel out (MTP 42:256).
For all three full quotations, see Elliot Ritzema’s helpful post.
Spurgeon Misquote #3: “A lie travels around the globe while the truth is putting on its shoes.”
Spurgeon did say something similar to this. Problem is, others said it first.
In the early eighteenth century, Jonathan Swift (author of Gulliver’s Travels) conveyed the idea in his proverb, “Falsehood flies, and truth comes limping after it.” In 1787, Anglican clergyman Thomas Francklin modified the saying: “Falsehood will fly, as it were, on the wings of the wind, and carry its tales to every corner of the earth; whilst truth lags behind.”
Although Spurgeon could have read these two quotes in books he owned in his library, by the nineteenth century the proverb had become engrafted into the common English culture.
In his 1855 sermon “Joseph Attacked by the Archers,” Spurgeon said,
If you want truth to go round the world you must hire an express train to pull it; but if you want a lie to go round the world, it will fly; it is as light as a feather, and a breath will carry it. It is well said in the old Proverb, “A lie will go round the world while truth is pulling its boots on” (NPSP 1:130).
For additional uses of this quote throughout history, see the Quote Investigator.
Spurgeon Misquote #4: “Anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, but only empties today of its strength.”
Spurgeon did say this, but Alexander Maclaren said it first. In his 1859 sermon “Anxious Care,” Maclaren said, “And what does your anxiety do? It does not empty to-morrow, brother, of its sorrows; but, ah! it empties to-day of its strength.”
Spurgeon gets credited with this quote because he published it (without specific attribution) in volume 1 of The Salt-Cellars:
It has been well said that our anxiety does not empty to-morrow of its sorrows, but only empties to-day of its strength.
Spurgeon Misquote #5: “I have learned to kiss the wave that throws me against the Rock of Ages.”
Sadly, Spurgeon did not say this. The closest quote is found in his 1874 sermon “Sin and Grace”:
The wave of temptation may even wash you higher up upon the Rock of ages, so that you cling to it with a firmer grip than you have ever done before, and so again where sin abounds, grace will much more abound (MTP 54:512).
Spurgeon Misquote #6: “I take my text and make a beeline to the cross.”
This is Spurgeon’s most famous quote. Do a search online and you’ll find dozens of popular Christian blogs, church history articles, and even reputable publications that attribute this quote to Spurgeon.
But Spurgeon did not say this – or even anything close to this.
Most people who have cited this quotation (including myself) did so because Lewis Drummond attributed it to Spurgeon in his 1992 definitive biography, Spurgeon: The Prince of Preachers (p. 223). But unfortunately, Drummond did not provide the original source.
In his 1955 sermon “Nothing But Jesus,” W. A. Criswell said:
And somebody came to Mr. Spurgeon and said, “Mr. Spurgeon, a man who’d heard you preach a lot said you have just one sermon, just one sermon, and you preach that sermon all the time.” And Mr. Spurgeon replied, “That’s right. That’s right.” He said, “Wherever in the Bible I take my text, I make a beeline to the cross and start preaching about the Lord Jesus.”
Criswell’s retroactive citation of this source (The Lutheran Standard, vol. 5, 1965) was published ten years after his 1955 sermon and does not lead to Spurgeon:
Wesley and Spurgeon stand as the two flaming evangelists of modern times. Wesley was converted at thirty-five; he always felt that it was too late: at that age Spurgeon was at the zenith of his world-wide influence and his great renown. Yet at thirty-five, he entered the kingdom. So did Augustine; so did Dante; so did Hugh Latimer and so did many more. Wherefore let every man of thirty make a beeline for the Cross!
Spurgeon would have been familiar with the word “beeline.” It originated in America in the early nineteenth century. By 1891, James M. Dixon defined the idiom “to make a bee-line” as “following a straight course, as a bee is supposed to do” (see Dictionary of Idiomatic English Phrases, 1891, p. 28). But Spurgeon never published the word “beeline” in any of his books or sermons.
Did Spurgeon actually “make a beeline to the cross” in his preaching?
In one sense, yes. In his 1859 sermon “Christ Precious to Believers,” Spurgeon quoted a Welsh minister as saying (this, too, is falsely attributed to Spurgeon):
I have never yet found a text that had not got a road to Christ in it, and if I ever do find one that has not a road to Christ in it, I will make one; I will go over hedge and ditch but I would get at my Master, for the sermon cannot do any good unless there is a savour of Christ in it (NPSP 5:140).
But the answer is also no. In Spurgeon’s personal copy of Frank Cheshire’s Bees & Bee-Keeping (1886) the expression “beeline” is critiqued:
Bees are accomplished fliers, but they never traverse the air with the same directness as many birds, so that the expression “bee line,” used by bee-hunters, needs to be accepted in a modified sense. It is their habit to skim along, in extended sweeps, alternately curving to the right and left.
This modified definition of beeline better characterizes Spurgeon’s preaching. Instead of flying in a straight line, Spurgeon zig-zagged his way through Scripture to the cross.
So while Spurgeon likely never said this statement, it’s consistent to some degree with his hermeneutic.
If you can prove me wrong by locating the original source of the exact citation for any of these quotes, I’ll tip my hat in your direction and perhaps send you some swag from The Spurgeon Library.
Email me at [email protected].
Joel Littlefield will also send a free copy of his newly-released book, Beeline to the Cross, to the first person who can locate the original citation for Spurgeon’s “beeline to the cross” quotation.