The Preaching Ministry of Charles Spurgeon

The Preaching Ministry of Charles Spurgeon

by Steve Cha

Out of all the prominent Christian leaders that have appeared since the church’s inception, there have been quite few that have been as influential and memorable as Charles Spurgeon. Spurgeon was not regarded as a philosopher, an expository teacher, or a systematic theologian. Rather, Spurgeon was called a preacher. To take it a step further, he has been dubbed as “the Prince of Preachers.” He has also been called the greatest preacher of 19th century England and one of the most avid soul winners in church history. So what made Spurgeon such a good preacher? What made the Prince of Preachers so influential that he was an enormous impact in his era, and even shapes the lives of Christian leaders today? This short essay will answer some of these questions regarding the specific preaching ministry of Charles Spurgeon. It will provide a survey of Spurgeon’s life, his philosophy as a preacher, his techniques, the themes behind his message, and what lessons we should learn from his ministry.

Charles Spurgeon was a Reformed Baptist preacher who had an impressive four decade ministry. He was born on June 19, 1834 in Kelvedon, Essex, Englandto parents of French Huguenot and Dutch Reformed affiliation. He was converted at age 15 and bore much spiritual fruit in a short period of time. His zeal for the word of God was so strong that he dedicated his life to being a minister of God’s Word to his community. The following year at age 16, Spurgeon preached his first sermon in a small cottage at Teversham near Cambridge. By age 19, Spurgeon became the leading pastor of New Park Street Chapel until his death 38 years later. England watched as Spurgeon’s congregation grew from about 200 people to an impressive attendance of 6,000 during his lifetime. The flock became so large that Spurgeon had to move to a larger facility, leading to the construction of the Metropolitan Tabernacle on March 18, 1861, where he ministered until the time of his last sermon on June 7, 1891. Spurgeon died at age 57 on Jan 31, 1892 due to health failure.

Though Spurgeon died at a relatively young age, his impact was well known to the people of his time and to believers today. Spurgeon ministered to a grand total of 10 million people during his lifetime. By the end of end of the 19th century, more than 100 million sermons of Spurgeon’s sermons had been sold in 23 languages, an unmatched figure before and since. Today, this number has surpassed 300 million copies. He is history’s most widely read preacher, with over 3,800 messages and about 135 books (written by Spurgeon) in print.

There are a few key factors that have made Spurgeon’s preaching ministry compelling, powerful, and efficacious. It is appropriate to first begin by summarizing Spurgeon’s philosophy of ministry, or his tools to effective preaching. The foundation to his successful teaching is his belief in the divine authorship, inerrancy, authority, and truth of Scripture. In other words, Spurgeon highly treasured the words of the Bible and would not trust in anything else to accomplish his ministry goals. He once quoted, “I would rather speak five words out of this book than 50,000 words of the philosophers.” By giving high reverence to the authority and exclusivity of Scripture, Spurgeon never compromised when it came to challenges from traditions and church authority. Spurgeon was not a firm believer in shallow entertainment, cheap gimmicks, or emotionalism to draw in crowds, whether they are believers or unbelievers.

A second philosophy of Spurgeon was his commitment to evangelism. He loved theology, but loved evangelism more. He once stated, “I would sooner bring one sinner to Jesus Christ than unpick all the mysteries of the divine word.” Spurgeon believed that the mission of the church and the sole end of his teaching is to invite the unsaved to come to faith, which was a common practice in nearly all of Spurgeon’s sermons. Each of his messages contained an evangelistic fervor, as Spurgeon pleaded with sinners to be saved.

A third philosophy of Spurgeon was his understanding of evangelism in relation to the Doctrines of Grace. At a time and society when Arminian theology was popular, Spurgeon believed in and taught the Doctrines of Grace. In other words, Spurgeon was essentially a Calvinist. He believed in God’s grace (seen in the Five Points of Calvinism) alone that accomplishes a man’s salvation from beginning to end. However, Spurgeon was not a hyper-Calvinist. He believed that men had the responsibility to response, which is why Spurgeon was committed to pleading with men to respond to the gospel to be saved. Spurgeon’s healthy understanding of the balance between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility heavily influenced his approach to evangelism, and made his teaching ministry all the more effective.

A fourth philosophy of Spurgeon was his commitment to the Holy Spirit as the basis for his energy, wisdom, and evangelistic success. He once said, “To us, as ministers, the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential. Without Him our office is a mere name.” As much as he was gifted in his oratory ability and knowledge with Scripture, Spurgeon always felt the constant need to believe in the Holy Spirit to humble him and grant him success in his preaching. He believed that God the Spirit did everything from balancing his gospel presentation to making his message compelling for the audience. In essence, Spurgeon’s entire ministry was subject to the Holy Spirit’s guidance, since he firmly believed that submission to the Spirit was foundational to any preacher’s ministry.

Spurgeon’s preaching style is one of the things that have made Spurgeon memorable as a minister of God’s Word. He always preached with a fiery passion that made his messages flame out to the hearts of the congregants. He was a loud, articulate, and bold orator who kept the attention of his audience throughout the service. Although Spurgeon used sermon notes to teach, he was never bound to it, as he always spoke spontaneously as the Holy Spirit led him. His messages were full of creative commentary, appropriate anecdotes, repetition of thematic phrases, and exhortations. He was comprehensive in his messages, displaying a good balance in topics such as heaven and hell, law and grace, and God’s sovereignty and human responsibility.

The range of topics covered by Spurgeon is astounding, since he had an encyclopedic knowledge of and response to most every theological issue. Spurgeon was not an exegete like John Calvin and John MacArthur in the sense that he preached through the Bible in consecutive order, verse-by-verse. Spurgeon did preach on Bible verses, however he crafted each week’s message from a different book of the Bible. Most of his messages were theologically themed, although it was always based on a chosen passage which best captures that particular theme, and Spurgeon was faithful to exposit that verse in its context. The range of topics covered by Spurgeon varied, but Spurgeon preached many messages that capture his philosophy of ministry. These messages include Sovereignty and Salvation (which speaks about God’s sovereign work in salvation and the need of humans to respond in faith), Christ Crucified (the wisdom of the world in contrast to the wisdom and necessity of the Cross), The Power of the Holy Ghost (God’s indispensable involvement in the success of the church and the Great Commission), Heaven and Hell (the reality of the afterlife and a salvific theme that speaks to both the religionist and antinomianist), and Gospel Missions (faithfulness to the Scripture as the basis for an apostolic church). Whatever it is that Spurgeon preached, there were a couple of common themes that were evident. One, of course, was reverence for God’s Word that gives God all His due glory. Another was the urgent call to salvation. Every message had an evangelistic intent to it, which demonstrates the reality of Spurgeon’s commitment to reaching the lost, for that was his “chief business as a Christian minister.”

That are many things we can learn from Charles Spurgeon, which characterize his strengths as a preacher. First of all, Spurgeon provides an inspiring model for preaching, both the philosophy behind successful preaching and the delivery and content of such messages. Spurgeon also demonstrates the importance of feeding on God’s Word and being knowledge in it for both preaching and defending the Christian faith against attacks. His constant dependence on the Holy Spirit is also a great lesson for any Christian to practice, since a failure to do this can led to pride and inadequate equipping for ministry. Spurgeon’s commitment to the inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture is also a timeless model of any servant of God who wishes to do what is pleasing in God’s sight and to make an impact in the congregation. Finally, the end goal of all teaching must be evangelism, which is another benefit of Spurgeon’s approach to preaching. Spurgeon’s plea for sinners to come to saving faith at the end of his message exemplifies a heart faithful to the Great Commission, which is something that the modern church can always use more of. Effective evangelism and edification must always take into consideration the balance between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility, so as to avoid the unbiblical tendencies of hyper-Calvinism and Arminianism. 

  • Jack

    I have many preachers that I admire and Spurgeon is one of the best in my library.