Home > 1689 London Baptist Confession, C. H. Spurgeon, church history > Current Views About Charles Spurgeon

Current Views About Charles Spurgeon

Spurgeon is of course well known as one of the great Reformed/Puritan-style preachers that still has influence today, and his name frequently comes up in theological discussions.  Seemingly every position wants to claim him as one of theirs—even Arminians like him; the Seventh Day Adventists cite Spurgeon for “support” from his use of types regarding Jesus and the archangel Michael; and amillennialists/postmillennialists to this day want to have Spurgeon on their side (he was historic premillennial, of the classic type with future restoration of Israel, as well documented in Dennis Swanson’s essay here) or at least claim that Spurgeon was inconsistent and “optimistic like a postmill.”

Those well-studied in Spurgeon – his preaching, writing, and overall life – recognize that even Spurgeon was not perfect; he had his weaknesses.  Arden Hodgins, in one of the 1689 Confession series lectures, observed that Spurgeon so over-worked himself and neglected his own physical health—(from the human perspective) had he not neglected his own health, he would have lived longer, for more years or service.  I can certainly see some validity in that observation, having read for myself places where Spurgeon – still in his late 20s – was so focused on doing God’s work that he disdained the idea of even any time on the Sabbath being put to simple physical rest; he must be busy doing the Lord’s work on that day as well, to not allow any time to go to waste.

Similarly, Tom Chantry, in a blog series dealing with one of the points in the 1689 London Baptist Confession, addressed Spurgeon’s weaknesses and limitations—in response to others who brought Spurgeon into the discussion of Divine Impassibility.  Examining Spurgeon’s contradictory statements at two different points of his life, Chantry well observed the following regarding Spurgeon:

Yet knowing that no man is perfect, we know on some level he must be worthy of criticism. He rejected consecutive exposition, choosing instead to preach on random verses each Sunday. His sermon preparation was no model for young preachers, relying on his copious memory and prodigious talents rather than on careful, disciplined labor. As a result, probably, of both of the above, he occasionally dabbled in fanciful exegesis; read through Morning and Evening and see if you don’t repeatedly come to entries of which you say, “That cannot be what that text means!”…
… Spurgeon had certain disadvantages in his use of the Confession. He did not live in the London of the 17th century, when men from many congregations gathered to discuss the doctrines found in the confession. He did not even live in our day, when a resurgence of confessionalism has led to similar discussions. Instead, he labored more or less alone. It is hard to imagine who could have been Spurgeon’s peer, given his unique influence. He had many disciples, but few teachers. On the other hand, he observed the collapse of Baptist doctrine during his own lifetime. By the time he was called home, the Baptist movement was a ruin of its former self.

While reading one of Spurgeon’s sermons this last Lord’s Day (sermon #626, The Waterer Watered, from April 1865), I was reminded of another type of Spurgeon-criticism I observed a few months ago in a pastor’s sermon remarks.  I say “another type of criticism” because the comments simply do not ring true–comments which instead indicate very superficial and incorrect understanding regarding this subject (Spurgeon and his ministry).  This false criticism was the idea that “Spurgeon was such a genius,” and everyone just loved to hear him, and because he was so gifted, so extraordinary, thus Spurgeon was the cause for the idea that “everything centers on the preacher” instead of recognizing that all of the people in the church need to do their part.

That people by nature do tend to focus on the church leader, of course did not begin with Spurgeon.  Yet Spurgeon’s own view was quite the contrary, and he frequently exhorted his people to action and praised them for the work they were already doing: the Sunday School teachers and other laborers at the church, as well as their outreach in the community.  He fully recognized that the success of his church was due not only to himself, but to the work of many others there with him, including the many young men raised up to plant other churches.  The people in attendance at Spurgeon’s church likewise would not have believed such–as evidenced from Spurgeon’s own words to his congregation, about the great outreach done by people at his church.  Sermon #626 is not the first one in which Spurgeon spoke of this, but here are excerpts from this sermon, words specifically directed to the people at his church:

Now, dear friends, up to this time the policy which we have pursued has been this—if members of other churches want to know, we tell them, we have endeavored to water others. Your minister has journeyed all over the three kingdoms preaching the word, and you have not grumbled at his absence. We have undertaken many enterprises for Christ; we hope to undertake a great many more. We have never hindered our strength; we have undertaken enterprises that were enough to exhaust us, to which, by God’s grace, we became accustomed in due season, and then we have gone on to something more. We have never sought to hinder the planting of other churches from our midst or in our neighborhood. It is with cheerfulness that we dismiss our twelves, our twenties, our fifties, to form other churches. We encourage our members to leave us to found other churches—no—we seek to persuade them to do it! We ask them to scatter throughout the land to become the goodly seed which God shall bless. I believe that as long as we do this, we shall prosper. I have marked other churches that have adopted the other way, and they have not succeeded.  This is what I have heard from some ministers—“I do not encourage village stations or, if I do, I do not encourage their becoming distinct churches and breaking bread together. I do not encourage too many young men going out to preach, for to have a knot of people who can preach a little, may, very soon cause dissatisfaction with my own preaching.” . . .

While I speak thus much in your praise, my brethren, let me say, we must keep this up. We must not say, “We have the college to support, and we do as much as other churches for various societies, and we can be content to sit still.” This church will begin to go rotten at the core the moment we are not working for God with might and main. Sometimes I get a pull at my coattail by very kind, judicious friends, who think I shall ask you to do too much. My brethren are welcome to pull my coattail, but it will come off before I shall stand back for a moment!

So let us continue to appreciate Spurgeon and his remarkable insights–while recognizing that he did have faults.  Yet we should understand his actual weaknesses–instead of superficial, incorrect ideas which miss the real story regarding Spurgeon.




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