The Preaching and Methods of Charles Haddon Spurgeon

Below is a research paper I did recently on the Life & Ministry of Charles Haddon Spurgeon. Out of all the time I have spent at seminary, I think this has been my favorite research paper to write. Through this experience, I learned how much more I like Spurgeon and how much I respect his work (or the work the Lord did through him).

I hope that this paper can be educational for you personal study and inspiring for you ministry. Enjoy! 😀 

The Preaching and Methods of Charles Haddon Spurgeon

 Charles Haddon Spurgeon, a 19th century Baptist preacher and professor, never attended any formal ministry training and was never ordained as a preacher, yet he became on of the greatest preachers that ever lived. Over the course of the life of Spurgeon, he published several thousand sermons, authored many theological books, preached to crowds of up to twenty four thousand, established a seminary, and received the title “Prince of Preachers”.  Although Spurgeon lived in a different time period with different cultural problems than are faced today, there is no dispute that there was something very special about the ministry of Charles Haddon Spurgeon. This paper will seek to examine the ministry of C.H. Spurgeon as a preacher and pastor by taking a closer look at the methods of the man behind the ministry and title.[1]

This will be done through a brief examination of the dedicated life and study of Spurgeon, the preparation and method of Spurgeon’s preaching, and the theology of Spurgeon.

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Spurgeon Portrait

 

The Dedicated Life and Study of Spurgeon

Charles Haddon Spurgeon was born in Kelvendon, Essex, England on June 19, 1834 into a family with a long line of congregational preachers. As one would expect, growing up in a family of congregational preachers, Spurgeon’s boyhood years were filled with prayers and devotional time with the Lord. However, Spurgeon did not come to conversion quickly. Spurgeon wrestled with the concept of the presence of God until the age of fifteen. Then on a snowy night in a small Primitive Methodist chapel during an evening service, the veil was lifted from Spurgeon’s eyes and he came to know Christ. Spurgeon recounts this incident with fond words of recollection saying,

“Then and there the cloud was gone, the darkness had rolled away, and that moment I saw the sun; and I could have risen that instant, and sung with the most enthusiastic of them, of the precious blood of Christ, and the simple faith which looks alone to Him.”[2]

The time before Spurgeon’s conversion was of no loss to the great Prince of Preachers. In his early years with his father and grandfather, Spurgeon was being forged into the avid reader and dedicated researcher that his future ministry would require. It was during this time that Spurgeon was introduced to several theological works from his predecessor’s libraries. One such work was John Bunyan’s Pilgrims Progress, which became a lifelong companion for Spurgeon’s devotional reading and sermon illustrations. This time also built Spurgeon into the veracious consumer of books that he was. It is said that Surgeon’s library consisted of over twelve thousand books, including both religious and non-religious titles. [3]

It was also during this time that Spurgeon’s study habits were formed, which allowed him to read and memorize theories, illustrations, concepts, and principles that would aid his preaching in his future. Although Spurgeon was never afforded the privilege of attending a seminary or receiving a formal theological education, his pursuit of understanding the Scripture and the world around him is clearly profound. There exists no dispute that Charles Haddon Spurgeon’s dedicated study habits were imperative for his ministry. As a result of his wide range of study and constant consumption of information, Spurgeon was able to keep his illustrations and applications fresh throughout the tenure of his preaching career. Even though constant study was hard for Spurgeon, as it is for most, Spurgeon understood and saw the value of his study. At times, he would even show his disdain for it by commenting on his feelings for his study. On one such occasion Spurgeon said, “I scarcely ever prepare for my pulpit with pleasure. Study for the pulpit is to me the most irksome work in the world.”[4]  Although Spurgeon did not always care for his studies; he consistently pushed through to do what needed to be done because He understood the value and importance of the preacher’s study.[5]

“An idler has no right in the pulpit. He is an instrument of Satan in damning the souls of men. The ministry demands brain labor. The preacher must read and study to keep his mind in good trim. Above all, he must put heart work into his preaching. He must feel what he preaches. It must never be with him an easy thing to deliver a sermon. He must feel as if he could preach his very life away before the sermon is done.”[6]

Spurgeon’s study habits should be understood and adopted by all who take the pulpit today. It is vital for missionaries, pastors, evangelists, and preachers to dedicate themselves to the study of God’s Word, as well as the literature of the world around them for the sake of those who do not know Christ and those who are still being discipled in the faith. For those who do not know the Lord, a minister of the Gospel must be culturally relevant in order to communicate effectively the message of the gospel to those who are perishing. How sad would it be for a preacher to have spent all his life in books concerning the “deeper” theological issues, and then to go out and share the good Word only to have his audience shrug him off due to his lofty speech? The study a pastor is equally important for those who are in the process of discipleship in the church as well. It is far too common for a pastor to get comfortable in his pastorate and become lethargic in his study to the point that his illustrations are used so frequently that his congregation knows which one he will use before he uses them. This idle practice often gives the congregation a since of arrogance in their knowledge of the Word and the assumption that they have arrived in their understanding of the biblical message. Because this is not the case, a pastor must keep his study fresh in order to remain applicable to his audience and keep them captivated with new understanding and material. This is evident not only in the witness of Spurgeon, but also in the Scripture itself, as the Apostle Paul studies and relates to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 9:19-24.

 

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Spurgeon Preaching at Surrey Gardens

The Preparation and Method of Spurgeon’s Preaching

Spurgeon’s dedicated preparation and study also led to the formation of his extemporaneous preaching methods. Since Spurgeon possessed a well-trained memory as well as a wide range of study, he never wrote his sermons down beforehand. Spurgeon had other theological reasons for this as well. Spurgeon had a very strong conviction for the Holy Spirit to lead his message from the start. Spurgeon’s reliance on the Holy Spirit in his preaching is made evident through quotes such as: “It were better to speak six words in the power of the Holy Ghost than to preach seventy years of sermons without the Spirit.”[7]  Also, “You might as well expect to raise the dead by whispering in their ears, as hope to save souls by preaching to them, if it were not for the agency of the Holy Spirit.”[8]  Spurgeon clearly emphasized the reliance on the Holy Spirit over the flesh in the preparation and delivery of sermons.

Spurgeon intentionally tried to accomplish reliance on the Spirit in his preaching in several ways. First, was Spurgeon’s selection of the text. Spurgeon was not a book-by-book or verse-by-verse style of preacher. Instead, the famed preacher read a wide variety of Scriptures and waited on the Holy Spirit to make the Scripture that should be preached evident. As a result of this reliance on the Holy Spirit’s revelation of text, this often times led to very last minute text preparation. In most cases, Spurgeon did not settle on a sermon text until the Saturday before a Sunday service or in the afternoon just prior to an evening service. Therefore, Spurgeon clearly was versed in nearly all subjects beforehand so that he could preach wherever the Spirit would lead him. Once the text was selected and confirmed, Spurgeon briefly wrote a few notes on a sheet of paper and then went out to proclaim the Word.

The second evidence is found in Spurgeon’s strong desire to see souls come to know the Lord. Since Spurgeon believed that he could not draw men to the cross and that only the Holy Spirit could, he scarcely relied on the notes that he wrote down for his sermon. Instead he allowed the Spirit to lead the way as he preached. Corresponding to Spurgeon’s understanding of the Spirit leading the service was his high view of Scripture in the sermon. Spurgeon distinctly believed that the proclamation of the Word of God was the first priority in the service and that the only way for the sermon to be better would be to add more Scripture.

“We should resolve that we will quote more of Holy Scripture. Sermons should be full of Bible; sweetened, strengthened, sanctified with Bible essence. Bible hearers, when they hear indeed, come to be Bible lovers.”[9]

Spurgeon was not afraid to cover the obscure or hard topics of Scripture either. Whether Spurgeon was preaching against the sins of the day or his theological critics he understood the Scripture to be the pillar of his sermons. His resolve to preach the Bible and all the truth in it even lead him to preach obscure passages such as Job 6:6[10] in response to some of his critics of the day. Spurgeon said this in regard to preaching the full counsel of God.

“You cannot leave out that part of the truth which is so dark and so solemn without weakening the force of all the other truths you preach. You rob of their brightness, and their urgent importance, the truths which concern salvation from the wrath to come. Brethren, leave out nothing. Be bold enough to preach unpalatable and unpopular truth.”[11]

Although Spurgeon desired to preach the full counsel of Scripture, he understood that the Word of God is what called men to salvation. Therefore, one of the major aspects of his preaching was expressed in his desire for men to come to know God. This desire then revealed itself in the intentions of Spurgeon to preach in a simple manner for his audience. When Spurgeon would preach, he would recite the Scripture, explain the Scripture and apply the Scripture with his own thoughts and illustrations in a clear way that all could understand. Because Spurgeon himself was saved through simple preaching by a lay minister, he often refers to the way that he was saved in reference to this principle.

“If I was saved by a simple gospel, then I am bound to preach that same simple gospel till I die, so that others may be saved by it. When I cease to preach salvation by faith in Jesus, put me into a lunatic asylum, for you may be sure that my mind is gone.”[12]   

Spurgeon understood that his audience could not respond if they did not understand the message of the gospel. Therefore, he was intentional about making sure that the message was made as clear as possible so that no one could leave one of his services wondering how to come to Christ.

There are many applications that can be brought from Spurgeon’s example and heart in preaching. The first and foremost is the preacher’s reliance on the Holy Spirit in the pulpit. Whether a preacher works from his manuscript notes, an outline or by memory while preaching, it is imperative for him to rely fully on the Holy Spirit to both lead in the message and in the calling of souls.

With reliance on the Holy Spirit, the preacher must also have strong confidence in the Word of the Lord. The preacher must understand that his words and ideas are not nearly as important as the message from God, and therefore must take a back seat to the Scripture. This includes preaching from the hard to understand and difficult verses in the text. Pastors must be committed to preaching the full counsel of God’s Word.

If the pastor is going to be faithful in proclaiming the Word of the Lord, he must be diligent in calling people to salvation. The faithful preacher must imitate our Lord Jesus Christ in concern for those who are lost like sheep without a shepherd (Matt. 9:35; Luke 19:10). With this being the case, the preacher must be intentional in communicating God’s Word effectively to His people. The preacher must be diligent to pronounce the Scripture and its application in a way that captures the attention and engages his audience to act according to God’s Word.

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Spurgeon Preaching at Exeter Hall

The Theology of Spurgeon

Theologically, Spurgeon was a bit of an anomaly in the realm of preachers for his time. Because Spurgeon held the free will of man and the Calvinist concept of God’s election in a balance when he preached, he drew a picture of the relationship of God’s sovereign grace working in relationship with man’s free will for his audiences. His understanding was that God elected humanity to salvation through the response of man from an effectual calling to salvation. Therefore, election and freewill did not conflict but worked together.[13] We can see this in the way that Spurgeon describes the elect,

“I am quite certain that God has an elect people, for he tells me so in his word. And I am equally certain that everyone who comes to Christ will be saved, for that also is his own declaration in the Scriptures. When people ask me how I reconcile them, I usually say there is no need to reconcile them, for they have never yet quarreled with one another.”[14]

Spurgeon believed that a loving God would not predestine anyone to go to hell, and so his approach to ministry was to give free gospel presentations to all who would hear the saving message of Christ, and then trust the Lord to elect those who would receive Him. Through this, Spurgeon was rejecting the idea that man was a fallen creature that could do no good, as total depravity would declare. Instead, Spurgeon’s understanding was that man through his sin has diminished the image of God, rendering himself unable to respond to the gospel without the saving work of God. Spurgeon explains his thoughts on this while describing the rejection of the Gospel by depraved man.

“Nothing that I know of so clearly proves that man’s heart is absolutely estranged from all that is good as that man rejects the gospel of grace, refuses divine mercy, and tramples underfoot the very blood of the Son of God.”[15]

In this theology Spurgeon held to the Calvinistic understanding of limited atonement with a minor tweak. Spurgeon understood the notion that the atonement of Christ would only be effectual for the elect, but that elect were those who called upon the name of the Lord.[16] Spurgeon affirmed this practice through his explanation,

“Our savior has bidden us to preach the gospel to every creature (Mark 16:15). He has not said, “preach it only to the elect,” and though that might seem to be the most logical thing for us to do, yet since he has not been pleased to stamp the elect in their foreheads or put any distinctive mark on them, it would be an impossible task for us to perform. When we preach the gospel to every creature, the gospel makes its own division, and Christ’s sheep hear his voice, and follow him.”[17]

This balance of election and free will is then continued in Spurgeon’s view of the perseverance of the saints. For Spurgeon, the perseverance of the saints was securely linked with the confirmation of God’s elect. Spurgeon often stated this fact in his sermons,

“We never preach the saving power of temporary, unpractical, unsanctifying faith. If a man says, “I believe in Christ, and therefore I shall be saved,” his faith will have to be tested by his life. If, sometime after, he has no faith in Christ, that faith which he claimed to have is proved to be good for nothing. The faith of God’s elect is an abiding faith. “Now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three” (1Corinthians 13:13). Thus true faith is classed among the abiding things; it is undying, unquenchable. If you truly believe in Jesus, it is for life.”[18]

Consequently for Spurgeon, the evidence of salvation is the continuity of faith in the life of the believer and the consistent rejection of sin. In Spurgeon’s theology, the perseverance of the saints is key to understanding the grace of God and the security of a believer.

“I have often said that if any man could convince me that Scripture did not teach the perseverance of believers, I would at once reject Scripture all together as teaching nothing at all, as being an incomprehensible book, of which plain man could make head nor tail, for this seems to be of all doctrines the one that lies most evidentially upon the surface.”[19]

Through C.H. Spurgeon’s unique understanding of the grace of God and the free will of man, he was able to preach the full counsel of God’s Word and also appeal to both the Calvinist and the Arminian believers in his congregation. His theology also aided him in his evangelistic efforts. As Spurgeon believed in the full sovereignty of God, he had full confidence in God’s plan and provision for him. Because Spurgeon affirmed man’s response was a sign of his election, he was able to offer the gospel freely to all who would listen without fear of the non-elect.[20]

Spurgeon’s unique perspective can also be noted as a theological position that focuses on the important value in theology. Spurgeon’s position claims both sides of what could be a divisive argument. His position avoids the conflict and gets down to what theology should be about, glorifying God. Because Spurgeon believed in election through the response of the saints, he viewed himself as the simple tool the Lord used to do His salvation work. Therefore, the Lord received all the glory in the salvation of the saints.

spurgeon-preaching
Spurgeon Preaching

 

Conclusion

Charles Haddon Spurgeon was a uniquely gifted preacher who had an immeasurable impact on the world of Christianity. Even though he did not have a formal education or ordination, his commitment to his studies and to God more than made up for his lack of formal credentials. His commitment is clearly seen in his dedicated life and study methods, his preparation and preaching methods, as well as his theological beliefs.

Even though Spurgeon lived in a time period past with a culture dealing with different trials and temptations, the truth of Spurgeon’s commitment to God and His mission still hold true and have great value in today’s society. There is much to be gained for those who model Spurgeon’s values in ministry and the churches of today would benefit greatly from the godly men who would take up such a calling.

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Spurgeon’s Grave & Memorial

 

Bibliography

 

Lawson, Steven J. The Gospel Focus of Charles Spurgeon The Long Line of Godly Men Profiles. Orlando, Fla.: Reformation Trust Pub., 2012.

 

Pike, G. Holden. The Life and Work of Charles Haddon Spurgeon. 6 vols. London: Cassell & Company, Ltd., 1892.

 

Spurgeon, C. H. Final Perseverance : A Sermon Delivered on Sunday Morning, April 20, 1856 Penny Pulpit No. 2587. London J. Paul, 1856.

 

________. Lectures to My Students [Selections]. Grand Rapids,: Zondervan, 1962.

 

________. The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit; Sermons Preached and Revised. [London]: Banner of Truth Trust, 1969.

 

Spurgeon, C. H., and Tom Carter. 2,200 Quotations : From the Writings of Charles H. Spurgeon : Arranged Topically or Textually and Indexed by Subject, Scripture, and People. Trade pbk. ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 1995.

 

Spurgeon, C. H., and NetLibrary Inc. A Defense of Calvinism. Pensacola, Fla.

Boulder, Colo.: Mount Zion ;

NetLibrary. http://www.netLibrary.com/urlapi.asp?action=summary&v=1&bookid=2009075.

 

Spurgeon, C. H., Susannah Spurgeon, and Joseph Harrald. C.H. Spurgeon: The Early Years, 1834-1859. London,: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1967.

 

 



[1] G. Holden Pike, The Life and Work of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, 6 vols. (London: Cassell & Company, Ltd., 1892).

Steven J. Lawson, The Gospel Focus of Charles Spurgeon, The Long Line of Godly Men Profiles (Orlando, Fla.: Reformation Trust Pub., 2012).

[2] C. H. Spurgeon, Susannah Spurgeon, and Joseph Harrald, C.H. Spurgeon: The Early Years, 1834-1859 (London,: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1967). P87-88

[3] Pike.

[4] C. H. Spurgeon and Tom Carter, 2,200 Quotations : From the Writings of Charles H. Spurgeon : Arranged Topically or Textually and Indexed by Subject, Scripture, and People, Trade pbk. ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 1995). P.162

[5] C. H. Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students [Selections] (Grand Rapids,: Zondervan, 1962).

[6] C. H. Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit; Sermons Preached and Revised ([London]: Banner of Truth Trust, 1969). Vol. 18 P. 485

[7] Spurgeon and Carter, 2,200 Quotations : From the Writings of Charles H. Spurgeon : Arranged Topically or Textually and Indexed by Subject, Scripture, and People. P.102

[8] Ibid. P.157

[9] C. H. Spurgeon, Final Perseverance : A Sermon Delivered on Sunday Morning, April 20, 1856, Penny Pulpit No. 2587 (London J. Paul, 1856.).

[10] “Can that which is tasteless be eaten without salt, or is there any taste in the juice of the mallow?” Job 6:6 ESV

[11] Spurgeon and Carter, 2,200 Quotations : From the Writings of Charles H. Spurgeon : Arranged Topically or Textually and Indexed by Subject, Scripture, and People. P.123

[12] Ibid. P.162

[13] C. H. Spurgeon and NetLibrary Inc., “A Defense of Calvinism,” (Pensacola, Fla.

Boulder, Colo.: Mount Zion ;

NetLibrary). http://www.netLibrary.com/urlapi.asp?action=summary&v=1&bookid=2009075.

[14] Spurgeon and Carter, 2,200 Quotations : From the Writings of Charles H. Spurgeon : Arranged Topically or Textually and Indexed by Subject, Scripture, and People. P.64

[15] Ibid. P.55

[16] Spurgeon and NetLibrary Inc., “A Defense of Calvinism.”

[17] Spurgeon and Carter, 2,200 Quotations : From the Writings of Charles H. Spurgeon : Arranged Topically or Textually and Indexed by Subject, Scripture, and People. P.63

[18] Ibid. P.139

[19] Ibid. P.139

[20] Spurgeon and NetLibrary Inc., “A Defense of Calvinism.”

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