Hanging on my wall just to the left of my desk is a small framed sheet of paper. The fragile paper is the palette upon which in faded purple ink are scribbled the almost unintelligible handwritten notes of a sermon entitled, “The Joyous Return.” Everything about it bears the marks of age. And rightly so! For the sermon was preached on March 1, 1891 at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London by the Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon. The name and influence of Spurgeon has attained near ubiquity among contemporary preachers and students of preaching—and that's to say nothing of the impact he has had on thousands who have read his sermons. It's probably not advisable to try and quantify who is or is not the greatest preacher, but I don't think it's overly ambitious to agree with the consensus of many that he remains the Prince of Preachers.
It was a little over ten years ago that I was first introduced to Charles Spurgeon. At a very pivotal and difficult time in my life my brother recommended that I try reading some of his sermons. I quickly began to devour them as I read under the conviction of sin, the joy of the gospel, the hope of eternity, and a love to Jesus Christ--and it continues to be so. To say that his sermons have had a profound effect on me would be an understatement. I think I probably owe more to his sermons than almost anything else I have read among the uninspired. I have a singular appreciation for the man, his life, and his ministry.
This last Sunday marked the 124th anniversary of his entrance into glory. In honor of that I want to take a little time to reflect on why I appreciate Charles Spurgeon so much. I know that he has not--even in my circles--been without his critics. Some of that criticism is perhaps warranted and others of it, in my opinion, is a little overdone. Nevertheless, I think there is much to be thankful for and though he is dead he still speaks.
CONFIDENCE IN PREACHING
Charles Spurgeon's ministry didn't awaken London and the whole world through fanciful ideas, cheap tricks, or novel models of ministry. He was preeminently a man of the pulpit and believed that the power of God was unleashed in the preaching of the Word. What we need in our own day is renewed commitment to the plain, simple, and Spirit-blessed preaching:
"Ah, my dear friends, we want nothing in these times for revival in the world but the simple preaching of the gospel. This is the great battering ram that shall dash down the bulwarks of iniquity. This is the great light that shall scatter the darkness. We need not that men should be adopting new schemes and new plans. We are glad of the agencies of assistance which are continually arising; but after all, the true Jerusalem blade, the sword that can cut to the piercing asunder of the joints and marrow, is preaching the Word of God. We must never neglect it, never despite it. The age in which the pulpit is despised, will be an age in which gospel truth will cease to be honored. Once put away God's ministers, and you have to a great extent taken the candle out of the candlestick; quenched the lamps that God has appointed in the sanctuary" (from Preaching! Man's Privilege and God's Power).
Charles Spurgeon was an unashamed Calvinist. And he was so because he saw the glory of God written over those five points we commonly call the doctrines of grace. There was no ambiguity in his preaching as to where he stood on this point:
"And I have my own private opinion, that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and him crucified, unless you preach what now-a-days is called Calvinism. I have my own ideas, and those I always state boldly. 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; not 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, I think, can we preach the gospel, unless we base it upon the peculiar redemption which Christ made for his elect and chosen people; 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 believed. Such a gospel I abhor. The gospel of the Bible is not such a gospel as that. We preach Christ and him crucified in a different fashion, and to all gainsayers we reply, 'We have not so learned Christ'" (from Christ Crucified).
PRIORITY OF PRAYER
Charles Spurgeon knew that prayer was necessary. Aside from preaching this is perhaps one of the things I have learned the most from him. For him the regular prayer meeting of the church was one of the most vital things a church could commit itself to:
"Never give up prayer, not even though Satan should suggest to you that it is in vain for you to cry unto God. Pray in his teeth: 'pray without ceasing.' If for a while the heavens are as brass and your prayer only echoes in thunder above your heard, pray on; if month after month your prayer appears to have miscarried, and no reply has been vouchsafed to you, yet still continue to draw night unto the Lord. Do not abandon the mercy-seat for any reason whatever. If it be a good thing that you have been asking for, and you are sure it is according to the divine will, if the vision tarry wait for it, pray, weep, entreat, wrestle, agonize till you get that which you are praying for. If your heart be cold in prayer, do not restrain prayer until your heart warms, but pray your soul unto heat by the help of the everblessed Spirit who helpeth in our infirmities. If the iron be hot then hammer it, and if it be cold hammer it till you heat it. Never cease prayer for any sort of reason or argument" (from Pray Without Ceasing).
THE FREE OFFER OF THE GOSPEL
Charles Spurgeon's Calvinism never hindered him from proclaiming the free offer of the gospel. Sometimes, and quite unfortunately, a belief in God's eternal election or the particular redemption of Christ, have hindered an open proclamation of the gospel to all people. That wasn't the case with Spurgeon:
"I intend to do as Peter did, for I regard Christ's commission to his disciples as binding upon us today: 'Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.' I cannot tell whether every creature in all creation to whom I preach is elect or not, but it is my business to preach the gospel to everyone I can reach, resting assured that all of them who God has chosen to eternal life will certainly accept it" (from Preaching Christ Crucified).
"But I think I hear you say, 'I fear I have no right to come to Jesus.' I will ask you this: have you any right to say that till you have been denied! Did you ever try to go to Christ? Has ever rejected you? If then you have never received a repulse, why do you wickedly imagine that he would repel you? Wickedly, I say, for it is an offense against the Christ who opened his heart upon the gross, to imagine that he could repel a penitent. Have you any right to say, 'But I am not one of those for whom mercy is provided'? Who told you so? Have you climbed to heaven and read the secret records of God's election? Has the Lord revealed a strange decree to you, and said, 'Go and despair, I will have no pity on you'? If you say that God has so spoken, I do not believe you. In this sacred book is recorded what God has said, here is the sure word of testimony, and in it I find it said of no humble seeker that God hath shut him out from his grace" (from Bread Enough and to Spare).
CONCERN FOR THE LOST
Charles Spurgeon, in keeping with his commission as a preacher, was an evangelist of the highest sorts. He plead for the souls of those he came into contact with:
"Oh, my brothers and sisters in Christ, if sinners will be damned, at least let them leap to hell over our bodies; and if they will perish, let them perish with our arms about their knees, imploring them to stay, and not madly to destroy themselves. If hell must be filled, at least let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go there unwarned and unprayed for" (from The Wailing of Risca).
"Ah me, all souls of men are lost by nature. You might walk through the streets of London and say of the masses of men you meet upon those crowded pavements with sighs and tears--'Lost, lost, lost!' Wherever Christ is not trusted, and the Spirit has not created a new heart, and the soul has not come to the great Father, there is a lost soul. But here is the mercy--these lost souls can be won. They are not hopelessly lost; not yet has God determined that they shall forever abide as they are. It is not yet said, 'He that is filthy, let him be filthy still,' but they are in the land of hope where mercy may reach them, for they are spoken of as capable of being won. They may yet be delivered, but the phrase hints that it will need all our efforts: 'He that winneth souls'" (from The Soul Winner).
LOVE FOR JESUS
Charles Spurgeon's sermons shone with the radiance of the glory of Jesus Christ. It is impossible--I'm persuaded--to read a single one of his sermons without coming away not having had Christ exhibited to the eye of faith:
"Dear hearer, I would send thee away with this one query in thine ear--Is Christ thy desire? Couldest thou say, with David, 'He is all my salvation and all my desire'? Could you gather up your feet in the bed, with dying Jacob, and say, 'I have waited for thy will, O God'? By your desire shall you be known. The desire of the righteous shall be granted. Delight thyself also in the Lord, and he shall give thee the desire of thine heart" (from The Desire of All Nations).
"If I look into the chambers of my inner nature, I see all manner of deficiencies and deformities, and I may well be filled with dismay; but when I see Christ there, my heart is comforted, for he will both destroy the works of the devil, and perfect that which he has begun in me. I am a sinner, but my heart rests on its Savior; I am burdened with this body of sin and death but behold my Savior is formed in me the hope of glory. I am by nature an heir of wrath, even as others, but I am born into the second Adam's household, and therefore I am beloved of the Most High, and a joint-heir with Christ. Is there Christ in thy heart beloved? Then everything that is there that would make thee sorrow may also suggest to thee a topic for joy. The saint is grieved to think that he has sin to confess, but he is glad to think that he is enabled to confess sin. The saint is vexed that he should have so much infirmity, yet he glories in infirmity because the power of Christ doth rest upon him. He is grieved day by day to observe his wanderings, but he is also rejoiced to see how the Good Shepherd follows him and restores his soul. So that all the evils and short comings in me which make me weep also make me glad when Jesus is seen within. For all I see within myself lacking or sinful, I see a sufficient remedy in Christ who is all in all" (from Christ is All).