Charles Haddon Spurgeon was a man who went at all of life full-on. He laughed and cried much; he read avidly and felt deeply; he was a zealously industrious worker and a sociable lover of play and beauty.
Christ and the Bible
Spurgeon was soaked in scripture. You can pick almost any sermon — and most of his letters — to prove the point: scriptural images, idioms, and references crowd Spurgeon’s every paragraph and seemed to spill out of him in an entirely natural and unforced way. It was really the natural consequence of having the highest and warmest view of the Bible.
For Spurgeon, the Bible was the Word and revelation of Christ through which Christ is received and his will made known. To suggest that the Bible might be fallible would be to suggest that Christ is a fallible teacher. Indifference to the Bible would be indifference to him. “How can we reverence His person, if His own words and those of His apostles are treated with disrespect? Unless we receive Christ’s words, we cannot receive Christ.”
The fact that Scripture is the Word of Christ, that its purpose and main theme is Christ, served as a strong melodic line throughout Spurgeon’s thought and ministry. Spurgeon saw that, from beginning to end, Scripture is the Word of and about Christ. ‘We may begin at Genesis and go on to the Book of Revelation, and say of all the holy histories, ‘These are written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.’’
He urged on those who would read the Bible this experiential, Trinitarian, Christ-centred prayer: ‘O living Christ, make this a living word to me. Thy word is life, but not without the Holy Spirit. I may know this book of thine from beginning to end, and repeat it all from Genesis to Revelation, and yet it may be a dead book, and I may be a dead soul. But, Lord, be present here; then will I look up from the book to the Lord; from the precept to him who fulfilled it; from the law to him who honoured it; from the threatening to him who has borne it for me, and from the promise to him in whom it is ‘Yea and amen.’’
Puritanism and Christ
Spurgeon has often been accorded the title Ultimus Puritanorum (“the last of the Puritans”). ‘There never were better men in the world than the Puritans,’ Spurgeon once told his congregation. He felt such affection for them that he had a bowling lawn prepared in his garden so that he might share the favourite sport of such Puritans as Goodwin, Manton, and Owen.
He was emphatic that the purpose of his Pastors’ College was to raise up pastors who would be thoroughly ‘Puritanic’ — an aim we share in preparing men for ministry at Union School of Theology. Yet Spurgeon was a Puritan not through adherence to any theological system or tradition as such but because he believed such theology most glorifies Christ.
Spurgeon’s heartfelt attachment to the Puritans is deeply revealing of what most moved and motivated him. He admired the depth and seriousness of the Puritans as they studied Scripture, God, humanity, and all reality. He set great store by how worshipful and practical Puritan theology was. He especially singled out for praise and study those Puritan preachers and authors who made much of Christ – whose theology was never allowed to become a game for the intelligentsia, but fuelled worship and built up the church.
He placed this quotation from Richard Sibbes before the title page of The Saint and His Saviour, showing how much he valued and approved of the words: ‘The special work of our ministry is to lay open Christ, to hold up the tapestry and unfold the mysteries of Christ. Let us labour therefore to be always speaking somewhat about Christ, or tending that way.’
Christ and Preaching
Spurgeon advised his students always clearly, faithfully, and beautifully to preach Christ ‘not merely his example and the ethical precepts of his teaching, but his atoning blood, his wondrous satisfaction made for human sin, and the grand doctrine of ‘believe and live.’
‘I would never preach a sermon — the Lord forgive me if I do — which is not full to overflowing with my Master. I know one who said I was always on the old string, and he would come and hear me no more; but if I preached a sermon without Christ in it, he would come.
‘Ah! he will never come while this tongue moves, for a sermon without Christ in it — a Christless sermon! A brook without water; a cloud without rain; a well which mocks the traveller; a tree twice dead, plucked up by the root; a sky without a sun; a night without a star. It were a realm of death — a place of mourning for angels and laughter for devils.’
Spurgeon was emphatic that keeping Christ central, prominent, and clear was the reason for the fruitfulness of his ministry. ‘If I had preached any other than the doctrine of Christ crucified, I should years ago have scattered my audience to the winds of heaven. But the old theme is always new, always fresh, always attractive. Preach Jesus Christ.’
Michael Reeves is president and professor of theology at Union School of Theology (www.ust.ac.uk), which has hubs across the UK, making an accredited theological education geographically and financially accessible for all. He is the author of numerous books including Spurgeon on the Christian Life.