Blog Entries

Mark Dever’s Foreword to C.H. Spurgeon’s ‘Only a Prayer Meeting’

Mark Dever April 29, 2022

Almost a decade after Spurgeon’s death, his publishers (and Tabernacle members) Passmore and Alabaster brought out a book of 367 pages. It was filled with 40 addresses by Spurgeon, almost all of which were given extemporaneously at his church’s Monday evening prayer meeting. When I came to our congregation (originally named Metropolitan Baptist Church, presumably after Spurgeon’s congregation), I soon rearranged our prayer meeting. One of my most enjoyable reading experiences was earlier this year when I first read Mr. Spurgeon’s book Only a Prayer Meeting! I had bought my copy of the 1976 Pilgrim Publications reprint in 1984 in Inverness, Scotland. But it had lain unread among scores of other volumes of Spurgeon’s works, which, for some reason, got more of my attention.

Then I took it with me on a trip and began to read it on the plane flight across the country from San Diego to DC. It captured my attention. I couldn’t put it down. I found Spurgeon describing his own prayer meeting in terms at many points like our own! And I also read accounts of remarkable providences and Biblical wisdom as Spurgeon exhorted his own people to prayer. And regularly, more than a thousand of them would join him on a Monday evening for their prayer meeting.

Pastors, you will enjoy the outspokenness of Spurgeon in his opinions, even if you may not always share his view. In his first lecture, he is decrying the spectacle of street work of The Salvation Army, accompanied by too many passing false conversions. Spurgeon says, ‘Gold, silver and precious stones are scarce material, not easily found; but then they endure the fire. What is the use of religion which comes up in a night, and perishes as soon?’

Other times, you’ll find yourself chuckling in recognition or agreement. Practical wisdom is found on every page. ‘Let as many as possible take part in the utterance of the church’s desires; the change of voice will prevent weariness, and the variety of subjects will excite attention. Better to have six pleading earnestly, than two drowsily. . . .’ We’ve all been there!

Another part of the wonder of this volume is the plain way with which Spurgeon writes even more as a Christian than as a pastor. What I mean is that his wisdom in being a pastor is merely a subset of his greater and deeper experience as a Christian. In one lecture Spurgeon warns ‘There is even a danger of loving some things which are associated with Christ as much as we love Christ Himself; and we must be on the watch against such a feeling as that.’ That simple observation is what a living Christian feels who loves the ministry God has called him to, but who loves God more, and who (rightly) senses the danger in his own soul of loving the Lord’s work more than the Lord Himself. May God deliver each one of us from such wrong-headed and wrong-hearted professionalism.

His evangelistic arguments with the reluctant believer are powerful, too. Look at the last couple of paragraphs in his address ‘God’s Willingness to Bless Saints and Sinners.’ In the middle of that passage, Spurgeon urges the wavering on to faith—‘Make a dash for it. Believe that Jesus Christ is able to save you. Trust Him, and He has saved you. . . . Cease to look within, and begin to look up.’ Here Spurgeon’s evangelistic heart pours out through his exhortations to pray. He is a challenge to us, and a model for us.

Along the way, Spurgeon attacks worldliness and annihilationism. He attacks giving up too soon. ‘We are called, not to flirt with error, but to fight with it; therefore, let us be brave, and push on the conflict.’ And he teaches the Bible, too. When was the first public worship service in the world? Spurgeon has a whole address on it here! Can children be converted? Yes, he answers! Fistfuls of simple truths are here given out for the reader who will take a few minutes and peruse a chapter. One or two a day, and the whole volume will be read in less than a month. Once I started reading it on that flight I couldn’t put it down until I had read the whole thing!

There is a sad note in this book. Spurgeon could tell that the pouring out of the Spirit he had so long enjoyed was waning toward the end of the 19th century. He writes ‘Thirty years ago, things were very different from what they are now. It was easy to gather a congregation then, compared with what it is now; the spirit of hearing is departing from our cities.’ As we face our own questions of spiritual decline, let’s listen to this wise older brother who has gone before us, about how we can assault the throne of grace ourselves, and lead our congregations to join us in this holy contest.

This article was originally published on the Christian Focus blog here.

Click here to purchase Only a Prayer Meeting: Studies on Prayer Meetings and Prayer Meeting Addresses by C. H. Spurgeon.