Dinsdale Young, who heard Spurgeon preach and later compiled prayers of his, stated that as memorable as it was to hear Spurgeon preach, it was even more so to hear him pray. What he prayed was even more profound and beautiful than what he preached. Likewise, Charles Cook, who knew Spurgeon’s son Thomas and also published a selection of Spurgeon’s prayers, observed that “Spurgeon’s power did not lie wholly in his exceptional preaching gifts. He was a mighty man of prayer.” Little wonder, then, that the greatest impression on the American evangelist D.L. Moody upon his first visit to the Metropolitan Tabernacle in 1867 was not Spurgeon’s preaching – it was Spurgeon’s praying!
Spurgeon held a high view of prayer, evidenced not only by his teachings and exhortations on it but also by his practice. He preached numerous sermons on prayer, wrote multiple books about it, and gave advice to his pastoral students in lectures on it. He commended prayer to his congregants for personal and family practice and labored especially public prayer. He called public praying “the end of preaching,” even telling students, “If I may have my choice, I will sooner yield up the sermon than the prayer.” Young observed that for Spurgeon, “prayer was the instinct of his soul, and the atmosphere of his life.” In particular, Young recognized Spurgeon’s knowledge and reach of Scripture:
Mr. Spurgeon lived and moved and had his being in the Word of God. He knew its remoter reaches, its nooks and crannies. Its spirit had entered into his spirit; and when he prayed, the Spirit of God brought all manner of precious oracles to mind.
How were those “oracles,” “nooks and crannies,” and “remoter reaches” of the Word manifested in the pulpit prayers of Spurgeon? And how can we learn to do the same?
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Use direct Scriptural quotations in your prayers
One obvious way was in the use of direct scriptural quotations. Spurgeon quoted extensively from both testaments of the Bible in his prayers, especially from the Psalms and the Gospels. A favorite psalm of his to quote from was Psalm 67. He frequently included verses 3 and 5 from Psalm 67 in the closings of his prayers as he interceded for the salvation of the unconverted, envisioning more people being added to the company of believers and joining with them in praise to God alone who saves. One example can be found in the prayer, “The Love Without Measure or End,”
Lord, save men, gather out the company of the redeemed people; let those whom the Father gave to Christ be brought out from among the ruins of the fall to be His joy and crown. “Let the people praise You, O God, yea, let all the people praise You.” Let the ends of the earth fear Him who died to save them.
Note how in that intercession for the unsaved Spurgeon employed Ps 67:3, 5 as a doxological response to God’s saving act. We can likewise use Scripture quotations in praise to God for his anticipated acts of salvation or deliverance.
From the Gospels, Spurgeon repeatedly quoted from the Lord’s Prayer, specifically the first two lines of it, using those lines in the openings and closings of his prayers as well as in specific intercessions. One of the best examples of this is the prayer, “On Holy Ground.” Near the middle of that prayer, Spurgeon was again interceding for the lost and prayed this:
Oh! how we pray for this, the salvation of our fellow men, not so much for their sakes as for the sake of the glory of God and the rewarding of Christ for His pain. We do with all our hearts pray, “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” Lord, help us to do Your will. Take the crippled kingdom of our manhood and reign You over it.
Notice how Spurgeon weaved lines of the Lord’s Prayer into a prayer for the salvation of others, all the while upholding the glory of God himself as the overarching reason for that salvation! Similarly, we can appropriate God’s words to us in our words of prayer back to God and acknowledge his transcendence and pre-eminence as we do.
Use Biblical allusions in your prayers
Spurgeon’s prayers were replete with many other scriptural quotations, but there was also a more subtle way Scripture found expression in those prayers. Spurgeon alluded to many verses in the Bible, especially from the New Testament (the Pauline epistles in particular). , In his prayers, Spurgeon drew upon verses and passages regarding the people of God being forgiven and accepted and no longer under condemnation (Rom 8:1). Prayers were offered up for the people to be holy (Heb 12:14) and humble, to increase in faith (2 Cor 10:15, Col 2:7, 1 Tm 3:13), to bear the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23), and to become more Christ-like (2 Cor 3:18). Intercession was made for the Church as a whole to be sound in doctrine (1 Tm 4:6; 2 Tm 4:3; Ti 1:9, 2:1) and built up (1 Cor 14:4), experiencing times and seasons of revival and refreshing (Acts 3:19, 20). And for the unsaved and unconverted, Spurgeon prayed for God to have mercy on them and to save them, quickening and drawing all men to himself that all tongues would confess his name (Mk 16:17; 1 Pt 4:11). As you read through Spurgeon’s prayers, read the verses corresponding to them and observe how Spurgeon used allusions to the Bible to pray for others.
Use Scriptural imagery in your prayers
The use of scriptural allusions and quotations in Spurgeon’s prayers was further complemented by yet another fascinating way Spurgeon used scriptural language in his public prayer, namely his appropriation of scriptural imagery. Scripture teems with the imagery of God’s creation, and the pulpit prayers of Spurgeon reflect no less. He canvassed the breadth of the Bible, drawing heavily from the richness and diversity of scriptural imagery, evoking celestial and meteorological images with geographical and geological as well as agricultural ones. He recalled the imagery of animals and human beings themselves. And to those were added military imagery and imagery of the tabernacle and temple.
Celestial imagery included the sun, moon, and stars with their light signifying spiritual growth and transformation into bearers of divine light. Meteorological imagery featured fire (as divine presence), wind (as God’s messenger), and water (for renewal and cleansing). And geographical and geological imagery appeared in the forms and shapes of fountains, rivers, and seas; hills, mountains, and rocks; and flora and foliage – all conjured to represent the people of God and their condition before him. Spurgeon even recalled the names and import of specific places (the Jordan, Bashan, Bochim, Admah and Zeboiim, Mizar and the land of the Hermonites, Ephesus, and Laodicea) to commend or warn the people as needed.
Agricultural imagery of food – both its production and its consumption – also abounded in Spurgeon’s prayers with numerous references to seed and harvest (representing God’s gifts) as well as to fruit (communal joy) and salt (influence), and further, feeding and feasting (signs of God’s goodness). The vitality of animal imagery was used to recount the interaction of God and his people, along with human imagery – of both the human body and human characters. Spurgeon often referred to foot-washing in his prayers. Drawing upon the Old Testament, he recalled the ritual of priests washing their feet before entering the tent of meeting and approaching the altar. And from the New Testament, he repeatedly referred to the act of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet. In both of those images, as well as that of all believers being washed in the blood of Christ, Spurgeon used scriptural bodily imagery to pray for the people of God’s ongoing cleansing. And he evoked the imagery of human characters, both named and unnamed, to address the experiences and spiritual needs of believers and unbelievers. The imagery of the human body and human characters found further expression and application in the military imagery from Scripture that was recalled, specifically, battle imagery addressing God’s saving acts, as well as images from the tabernacle and temple, appropriated by Spurgeon concerning the ingathering and building up of God’s people as a community and, in their assembly, as the dwelling place of God.
Almost every one of the published prayers of Spurgeon’s contains scriptural imagery. And no single prayer contains all of the various categories of imagery that Spurgeon employed. Look to the prayer, “Help from on High,” and you will encounter celestial and geographical images, agricultural and animal images, and tabernacle and military images. And you will also find the human bodily imagery of foot-washing and the priestly washing described in the Old Testament.
Given the abundant scriptural imagery that Spurgeon appropriated in his prayers, together with the multitude of scriptural allusions and numerous scriptural quotations that he included, his prayers, as you might imagine, could be lengthy, especially considering the various needs that Spurgeon remembered in prayer. There are some shorter extant prayers of his, though, that feature the same elements of scriptural content. One such prayer is “Conformed to the Image of the Firstborn,” quoted below. This prayer, brief as it is, yet contains a Scriptural quotation, several images, and multiple allusions. As you read through this prayer, see if you can identify each of those!
We ask that we may be among those who love Christ and keep His commandments. We are very anxious about this: the Lord make us obedient to our blessed Leader. May we follow in His steps. We must complain of ourselves that we are not what we want to be, nor what we should be. Oh we do rejoice in this—that we are not what we shall be, for “When He shall appear, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” Will You be pleased, by Your Spirit, O our Father, to conform us to the image of the Firstborn. Take out of us all tempers that are not according to His gentleness, all spirits that are not after the manner of His obedient, loving, filial spirit. May we be sons in whom You are well pleased. May we behave ourselves in Your house in such a way that You can manifest Yourself to us, and give us answers to our prayers. Help us to delight ourselves in that You may give us the desire of our hearts. We want to be all that believers can be. The Lord grant that the life of faith in us may come to its flower, and not be forever merely in the stalk and root; may we bring forth ripe fruit unto our Lord Jesus Christ by the power of the Spirit of God. Fire us with the heavenly flame. Make us intensely earnest for the increase of the Redeemer’s Kingdom, for the conservation of His truth, and for the exhibition of that truth in all its sanctifying power.
Charles Spurgeon drew upon a vast reservoir of language and imagery in the Bible for all his prayers. Spurgeon’s assortment of scriptural quotations, images, and allusions in his pulpit prayers evidenced an understanding that the language of prayer must be infused with the language of Scripture. Spurgeon grounded the words of his prayers in the Word of God. And in so doing, he provided a model of biblically-based, public intercessory prayer for the Church to follow. By seeing how he incorporated scriptural quotations, allusions, and images in the language of prayer, we can endeavor to do the same and thereby make the language of our prayers to God conform to the language of God.
Jerry Youngblood is a ruling elder at Sovereign Grace Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, NC, where he shares in the ministry of public intercessory prayer. He holds a Master of Arts in Religion degree from Reformed Theological Seminary, where he completed his thesis, “Biblical Language In The Pulpit Prayers Of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, A Model For Intercessory Prayer In Public Worship Today.”