Although my preparations for this blog include keeping a list of possible topics sufficient to fill several months of weekly posts, I’ll confess that even earlier today I was not entirely settled upon a topic for this week. As regular readers of this blog know, on the fourth weekend of each month I usually write on a topic having to do with my Christian faith. These posts generally attract very few readers (after all, I have little real expertise in theology), but I enjoy writing about these things all the same. Still, I found myself unsure of what to address today. Then, after encountering and sharing a humorous reference to Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892) on social media this afternoon, a gentleman that I met a few weeks ago remarked that he “hadn’t pegged [me] for a fan of Spurgeon.” I quickly replied that I did, in fact, admire the “Prince of Preachers” very much, enough so that we chose Haddon as one of our son’s middle names. That brief “virtual conversation” was enough to prompt me to formulate and share three reasons that I personally admire this man, one of the greatest preachers of all time.
- Spurgeon held the person and work of Jesus Christ to be the central focus of scripture, and even of every biblical text.
“I take my text and make a beeline to the cross.” (Charles Haddon Spurgeon, source unknown)
That Christ is the central figure of all of scripture is, of course, not a notion that is unique to Spurgeon. Christianity in general and Reformed theology in particular have held that the entire Bible points to Christ, by telling us of our sin and need for a Savior, by promising and prophesying about that Savior, by telling us of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection and the importance of these, and by telling us that he will come again to judge the living and the dead. While Spurgeon’s Christocentric readings of certain texts were sometimes strained, his unwavering desire to direct men, women, and children to the only “name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12) was exactly right.
- Spurgeon held to a theologically robust Calvinism.
“I have my own private opinion that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified, unless we preach what nowadays is called Calvinism. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else. I do not believe we can preach the gospel, if we do not preach justification by faith, without works; nor unless we preach the sovereignty of God in His dispensation of grace; nor unless we exalt the electing, unchangeable, eternal, immutable, conquering love of Jehovah; nor do I think we can preach the gospel, unless we base it upon the special and particular redemption of His elect and chosen people which Christ wrought out upon the cross; nor can I comprehend a gospel which lets saints fall away after they are called, and suffers the children of God to be burned in the fires of damnation after having once believed in Jesus. Such a gospel I abhor.” (Charles Haddon Spurgeon, A Defense of Calvinism)
As a Baptist, Spurgeon would not have been viewed as sufficiently “Reformed” by some in the Presbyterian and Continental Reformed traditions, but I would contend that he stands rather firmly in that stream of Protestant Christianity. Spurgeon subscribed to the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith, a near-copy of the Presbyterians’ Westminster Confession of Faith except in the areas of baptism, church government, and the relationship of church and state. With regard to his understanding of salvation in general and the doctrine of election in particular, Spurgeon was an unabashed predestinarian, what would in modern parlance be called a “five-point” Calvinist. That he combined these views with such passion for evangelism and missions gives the lie to those who claim that Calvinism is somehow incompatible with evangelistic zeal. If modern Calvinists lack that same zeal the problem is with us, not with Calvinism.
- Spurgeon cared more for the lost than for others’ opinions of him.
“Now, with regard to myself; you may some of you go away and say, that I was Antinomian in the first part of the sermon and Arminian at the end. I care not. I beg of you to search the Bible for yourselves. To the law and to the testimony; if I speak not according to this Word, it is because there is no light in me. I am willing to come to that test. Have nothing to do with me where I have nothing to do with Christ. Where I separate from the truth, cast my words away. But if what I say be God’s teaching, I charge you, by him that sent me, give these things your thoughts, and turn unto the Lord with all your hearts.” (Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “Sovereign Grace and Man’s Responsibility”)
One does not have to follow Calvinistic theologians (or the sycophants who sometimes hang around them) for very long before they figure out that we Calvinists pride ourselves on intellectual rigor and tightly formed logical arguments. Perhaps our tendency to lose evangelistic zeal has more to do with an overdeveloped concern to say everything just right than with an actual lack of concern for unbelievers. In any case, Spurgeon rightly eschewed all of that. While the verbiage found in the volumes of transcribed sermons that have come down to us can sometimes seem a bit lofty to modern Americans, it was quite accessible to the mostly British listeners of all social classes who flocked to hear Spurgeon preach throughout the latter half of the nineteenth century. In the end, Spurgeon was more concerned that he point people to Christ than that academic theologians would be satisfied with his Calvinistic and Reformed bona fides.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon loved the Lord Jesus Christ, and powerfully commended him and his glorious Gospel to all that would listen. In turn, God graciously used his eloquent yet simple preaching to draw thousands of people unto himself. I am definitely a “fan of Spurgeon,” and you should be, too!