Charles Haddon Spurgeon has been universally recognized within the church of Christ as the “Prince of Preachers,” and not without good reason. Although he accomplished many things as a pastor in London, his preaching ministry was pre-eminent in all that he sought to do, and it is for his preaching that he is remembered most of all.
His preaching was, first and foremost, doctrinal in nature. His theological and doctrinal views were the greatest influence in whatever he did, but especially in his pulpit ministry. And his great concern in that ministry was always for the honor and glory of the God who had saved him and made him what he was. He lived his life in the consciousness of the absolute sovereignty and majesty of almighty God, and those were the things that he never failed to convey in expounding the Scriptures. He could see that the church’s primary need was not simply more evangelism but a return to the preaching of the doctrines of grace, which, for convenience, he was prepared to call “Calvinism.” He could say: “To me, Calvinism means the placing of the Eternal God at the head of things.… If we live in sympathy with God, we delight to hear Him say: ‘I AM GOD AND THERE IS NONE ELSE.’ ”
His zeal for the glory of God was the reason Spurgeon was so fond of the Puritans. Those old writers and preachers opened up the Bible in such a way that the glory of God was presented with a richness and a warmth that thrilled his soul. They made the Scriptures alive to him, and he believed that their writings were one of the greatest inducements to study those Scriptures. So he strove to relate Puritan theology to his own day and to his own ministry in working-class London. He put the thoughts of the seventeenth-century Puritans into plain English for the ordinary man in the street, preaching Puritan doctrine in such a manner that men and women were overwhelmed by a sense of the glory and majesty of God.
In all of his preaching, he was concerned that God should be seen as Creator, Sovereign, Lawgiver—and especially as the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. His greatest sermons are those in which he extols the glories of the person and work of Christ. Because he was a man so taken up with Christ, he always sought to lead his hearers to Jesus. He saw Christ in all the Scriptures, and when he was accused of straining at a text in order to preach Christ from it, his response was: “I would rather see Him where He isn’t than to miss Him where He is!”
On one occasion when he was preaching from Psalm 72:17a—“His name shall endure forever”—his wife thought he was going to die as he extolled the glories of the Savior. He could finish the sermon only in broken, breathless accents—and he fell back, speechless and exhausted, into his pulpit chair, overwhelmed by the majesty and glory of Christ.
If remembering Spurgeon can teach us anything, it is our need of an awareness of the sovereignty and glory of almighty God. Spurgeon recognized that such an awareness humbles the sinner to the dust, exalts the Savior, and makes unbelievers aware that to be a Christian is the most vital thing in all the world. Thus, in all of his preaching, Spurgeon’s desire was that of Moses: “ ‘show me Your glory!’ ” (Ex. 33:18).
Spurgeon’s preaching was, secondly, thoroughly Biblical. There was never a note of hesitancy in his preaching—it was always “Thus saith the Lord!” Throughout his life, Spurgeon retained a firm adherence to, and an unshaken confidence in, the Word of God, and he was persuaded that to preach a whole Christ he needed to preach a whole Bible.
Nearly thirty-five hundred of Spurgeon’s sermons are in print today. Though most of them are topical sermons, he used almost every chapter in the Bible, oddly omitting 2 John. The titles given to his sermons not only provide a sense of the content of his preaching, but they reveal his masterful way of condensing the subject of a sermon into a few brief words.
With the apostle Paul, Spurgeon knew that it has pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that perish, and his overriding concern was to preach the Word, come what may.
His preaching was, thirdly, applied preaching. His sermons are, even today, extremely relevant. People knew that the Word had been directed at them, and that they personally needed to respond to it and do something about it.
Spurgeon would be the first to agree with Robert Murray McCheyne, who said with regard to the act of preaching, “If the rock does not break when the hammer hits it, it is not likely to break afterwards.” He sought to break the rocky hearts of sinners in the very moment of preaching the Gospel, and multitudes were broken and brought to faith in Christ as he preached the Word to them. That is how preaching ought to be, and we need to pray that those who enter the pulpit today will know what it is to “Preach the Word.”
We live in a day and age when there seems to be a concerted effort within the ranks of the professing church to discount preaching as a thing of the past and as something that is irrelevant. Spurgeon’s ministry refutes and gives the lie to those views. In an age when there were no motor cars and little public transport, thousands traveled miles every week to hear the Word preached, and they did so for nearly 40 years.
Speaking of those great men who had gone before him, Spurgeon said this: “It is today as it was in the Reformers’days. Decision is needed. Here is the day for the man, where is the man for the day? We who have had the Gospel passed to us by martyr hands dare not trifle with it, nor sit by and hear it denied by traitors, who pretend to love it, but inwardly abhor every line of it.… Look you sirs, there are ages yet to come. If the Lord does not speedily appear, there will come another generation, and another, and all these generations will be tainted and injured if we are not faithful to God and His truth today. We have come to a turning point in the road. If we turn to the right, mayhap our children and our children’s children will go that way; but if we turn to the left, generations yet unborn will curse our names for having been unfaithful to God and to His Word.”
May the Lord make us faithful in our day, as Spurgeon was in his. Our concern is to glorify the God of Spurgeon—and to make known what the Lord has done through Spurgeon. Our great desire is to see God at work like this once again. But that will not come about, as some may think, simply by our seeking to preach in the way Spurgeon did. We need a demonstration of the power of the Holy Spirit to bring it to pass—nothing else will do. Spurgeon said God lowers the rope of prayer and bids men to pull—and then expectantly await God’s bounty. Let us pull with all our might, trusting His might to bring it to pass.
Rev. William G. Hughes is the pastor of South Glasgow Baptist Church in Glasgow, Scotland.
Tabletalk Magazine, October 2001: Paragon of Preachers: Charles H. Spurgeon (2001), 11–13.