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The Significance of the Psalms for Spurgeon

David McKinley November 2, 2021

For many in society, the Psalms are like comfort food—a little taste of Psalm 23 makes them feel better when discouraged. Or, another psalm may bring a degree of solace during bereavement. However, these ancient songs are intended to provide far more than a quick relief from discomfort. But for Spurgeon, the Psalms meant so much more.

Charles Spurgeon loved the Psalms! He preached over 400 sermons on this collection of writings during his pastoral ministry. He also invested twenty years in authoring a seven-volume exposition entitled The Treasury of David. With the first volume published at the age of thirty-one and the last one published seven years before his death at the age of fifty-five, his work on the Psalter covered many of his pastoral years at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London. It is an outstanding accomplishment. His “magnum opus” is even more impressive, knowing that he wrote much of it while suffering the debilitating pain of gout and other related physical illnesses. When we consider he employed a team of nearly a dozen people to research and translate books into English, his Treasury is remarkable.

In the Preface to the first volume, Spurgeon exclaimed, “The delightful study of the Psalms has yielded me boundless profit and ever-growing pleasure,” and he wanted to pass on the benefits to others.[1] Why were the Psalms beneficial to Spurgeon, and why should they be important for our daily lives? The prefaces to each of the Treasury’s volumes offer us valuable insights for our walk with God.

The Psalms articulate our emotions before God

Since the authors of the Psalter were inspired by God, we may assume that we cannot identify with their feelings and thoughts. However, Spurgeon assures us this should not be the case. As he read through the Psalms, he experienced times of “mourning” and “exalting with David.”[2] Referring to Psalm 51, he comments, “The Psalm is very human, its cries and sobs are born of a woman.” Such a psalm, among others, can stir up our latent emotions so that they can marinate deep in our hearts.[3] However, we may not even be able to express these feelings to God because they are so overwhelming.  The Psalms, fortunately, enable us to articulate a wide range of emotions before him. Whatever we are feeling, the “Book supplies the babe in grace with penitent cries, and the perfected saint with triumphant songs.”[4] Thus, the Psalter serves as a “spokesman of feelings which else had found no utterance. Does it not say just what we wished to say? Are not its prayers and praises exactly such as our hearts delight in? No man needs better company than the Psalms.”[5] These “sacred hymns express all modes of holy feeling.”[6] As Eugene Peterson puts it, “the Psalms speak for us.”[7] They enable us to express our emotions and thoughts in conversations with God.

The Psalms explore our interior life

When we unexpectedly express raw emotions, we may wonder what is going on within us. Like an x-ray or MRI probing one’s body, the Psalms explore what is occurring with our desires, attitudes, thoughts, and the “anatomy of conscience.”[8] Spurgeon aligns with Calvin, who wrote that the Psalter is an “anatomy of all the parts of the soul.”[9] Dallas Willard believes that Psalms are “the great soul book in the Bible, simply because it more than any other deals with life in its depths and with our fundamental relationship to the One who is the keeper of our soul.”[10] This collection of sacred writings perform a thorough examination of every area of our inner life and provide an accurate diagnosis. This is more than a clinical assessment of our inner life because our Physician wants us to be spiritually healthy.

The Psalms provide a map of our life experiences

The Psalter provides a “map of experience”[11] covering the phases of life, including those who are young and elderly. These writings also describe a wide range of possible scenarios ranging from intense conflicts to times of rest. As Spurgeon states, the Psalms’ “breadth of experience stretches from the jaws of hell to the gate of heaven.”[12]As we read the accounts by David and others, we realize their experiences are very similar to ours. We may enjoy intimacy with God and feel abandoned by him. We experience the joys of friendships and the pain of friends who reject us. Fortunately, we do not have to travel this spiritual terrain by ourselves because others who have gone before us serve as our companions in this spiritual journey. When we read the Psalter, we “read and commune with friends human and divine; friends who know the heart of man towards God, and the heart of God towards man; friends who perfectly sympathize with us and our sorrows, friends who never betray or forsake.”[13] In addition to the psalmists, Spurgeon hoped his readers would see him as a “companion” throughout their travel through the “Psalm country.”[14] In today’s parlance, we need spiritual guides who have gone before us and know the terrain so that they may guide us through our journey through life.

The Psalms contribute to our faith community

Spurgeon was concerned that the churches of his time did not place a high value on the Psalter. This should not be so because, in past centuries, the Psalms were read “in all the churches from day to day.” He was affirming the practice of Martin Luther and John Calvin who believed in the Psalter’s important role in shaping worship and prayer in congregational life.[15] This was possible because the ordained ministers knew the entire Psalter “by heart.”[16] Consequently, Spurgeon claims that the “common people” knew the Psalms by memory. The public use of these sacred songs and prayers had a profound influence on the individuals who met with their fellow believers in Jesus Christ.

The Psalms contribute to our spiritual maturity

Whether the Psalms are aiding us in expressing our emotions and words, examining our inner life, describing the terrain of our human experiences, or contributing to our faith community, Spurgeon hoped his exposition would contribute to the “edification of believers”[17] because the Psalms instruct and train us in the Christian life.[18] The study of the Psalter must be approached with the acknowledgment of our need for the Holy Spirit, who makes it possible for us to experience the truths of the psalms.[19] Spurgeon exhorts us: “In these busy days, it would be greatly to the spiritual profit of Christian men and women if they were more familiar with the Book of Psalms, in which they would find a complete armoury for life’s battles, and a perfect supply for life’s needs. Here we have both delight and usefulness, consolation and instruction. For every condition there is a psalm, suitable and elevating.”[20]


The Psalms undoubtedly enriched Spurgeon’s own life. As he neared the completion of the Treasury of David, he wrote, “The Book of Psalms has been a royal banquet to me, and in feasting upon its contents I have seemed to eat angels’ food.” Even though it was a great task to write these many volumes, he confessed that the “writing of this book has been a means of grace to my own heart; I have enjoyed for myself what I have prepared for my readers.”[21] In light of his physical suffering, the overwhelming pressures on his pastoral ministry, and the pain of friends rejecting him, the Psalms strengthened his faith in Jesus Christ.

While the Psalms provide relief for momentary discomfort, they also contribute to our spiritual growth by touching on every area of our being. The Psalter serves as a wise guide to prepare us for the journey ahead with life’s setbacks and opportunities. Finally, these sacred songs shape our community life with our fellow pilgrims, so we may worship Jesus Christ until we see him face to face. 

David J. McKinley is Associate Professor of Practical Theology at the International Theological Seminary in West Covina, California. In past years he has served in pastoral ministry and international missions. He is the author of The Psalms for Everyday Living: A Year of Devotions with Charles Spurgeon’s Treasury of David (published by Wipf & Stock in June 2020).

[1] Charles Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vols. 1-6 (London: Marshall Brothers, n.d.), 1:v.

[2] Treasury, 6:v.

[3] Treasury, 2:v.

[4] Treasury, 6:vi.

[5] Treasury, 5:vi

[6] Treasury, 5:vii.

[7] Eugene Peterson, Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987), 38.

[8] Treasury, 5:vi.

[9] John Calvin. Commentary on the Psalms (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1949), 1:xxxvii. Quoted by Eugene Peterson, Working the Angles, 39.

[10] Dallas Willard. The Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2002), 207.

[11] Treasury, 5:vi.

[12] Treasury, 6:vi.

[13] Treasury, 5:vi.

[14] Treasury, 6:vi.

[15] Timothy Keller and Kathy Keller. The Songs of Jesus: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Psalms (New York, NY: Viking, an imprint of Penguin Books, 2015), vii.

[16] Treasury, 5:vi.

[17] Treasury, 5:vi.

[18] Treasury, 6:v.

[19] Treasury, 2:vi.

[20] Treasury, 6:vi.

[21] Treasury, 5:vi.