About the Author
Justin Taylor (PhD, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is the executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher at Crossway. He has edited and contributed to several books, including A God-Entranced Vision of All Things and Reclaiming the Center, and he blogs at Between Two Worldshosted by the Gospel Coalition.
Stephen J. Nichols (PhD, Westminster Theological Seminary) serves as the president of Reformation Bible College and chief academic officer of Ligonier Ministries. He has written over twenty books and is an editor of the Theologians on the Christian Life series. He also hosts the weekly podcast 5 Minutes in Church History.
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A MAN FULL OF LIFE
In person Mr. Spurgeon was of medium height and stout build. He had a massive head and large features of the heavy English type. In repose his face, while strong, might have been called phlegmatic if not dull in expression. But when he spoke it glowed with animation of thought, quick flashes of humour, benignity, and earnestness and every phase of the emotion that stirred within him. He had many elements of power as a preacher. His voice was of marvellous sonority and sweetness. His language with all its simplicity, was marked by faultless correctness and inexhaustible wealth of diction. He was as far as possible from being a rough or course speaker although he had at ready command a vast vocabulary of homely Saxon words. No one from merely reading his sermons, can form any idea of their effect when delivered. ... In listening to Mr Spurgeon, one recognised that the chief element of his commanding force in the pulpit was his profound and burning conviction. The message he gave had for him supreme importance. All his soul went with its utterance. The fire of his zeal was consuming, intense, resistless.
Before we wade into Spurgeon's theology of the Christian life, we must get to know the man himself a little. To do that, I want to get behind the public figure to see something of the man's own personality and character. For there is a unanimous and oft-repeated theme found in the witness of those who had personal dealings with him: Spurgeon was a man who went at all of life full-on. He was not simply a large presence in the pulpit. In life, 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. He was, in other words, a man who embodied the truth that to be in Christ means to be made ever more roundly human, more fully alive. In fact, we need to be clear that his liveliness of character, while expressed in ways particular to him, was not a mere matter of unique or inherited personality: it was a natural but wholly self-conscious expression of his theology. As he put it,
We ought each one to be like that reformer who is described as "Vividus vultus, vividi occuli, vividæ manus, denique omnia vivida," which I would rather freely render —"a countenance beaming with life, eyes and hands full of life, in fine, a vivid preacher, altogether alive."
We ought to be all alive, and always alive. A pillar of light and fire should be the preacher's fit emblem.
It takes no great insight to see that Spurgeon was a big-hearted man of deep affections. His printed sermons and lectures still throb with passion. At times the emotional freight of his sermon would even overcome him, especially when it was about the crucifixion of Christ. Once, when trying to recount how Christ was then "bruised, trodden, crushed, destroyed ... sorrowful, even unto death" he had to break off, saying, "I must pause, I cannot describe it. I can weep over it, and you can too." It was no mere pulpiteer's tactic, though: his private and personal letters to family and friends reveal exactly the same intensity of emotion, and about just the same sorts of issues he would address in public.
Perhaps the best insight into Spurgeon's character comes through the introduction he once gave to his equally large-framed friend, John Bost. Calling Bost "a man after our own heart," he gave what amounts to a remarkably revealing self-description:
John Bost is great as well as large. ... Here is a man after our own heart, with a lot of human nature in him, a large-hearted, tempest-tossed mortal, who has done business on the great waters, and would long ago have been wrecked had it not been for his simple reliance upon God. His is a soul like that of Martin Luther, full of emotion and of mental changes; borne aloft to heaven at one time and anon sinking in the deeps. Worn down with labour, he needs rest, but will not take it, perhaps cannot. ... [I have] found him full of zeal and devotion, and brimming over with godly experience, and at the same time abounding in mirth, racy remark, and mother wit.
This description is revealing in its honest acknowledgment of Bost's (and his own) depression and struggle. For him, to be "large-hearted," with "a lot of human nature" in this fallen world does not mean being a triumphalist, cheerily blustering past all difficulty. Spurgeon could never have done that, as we shall see in chapter 11. Experiencing life in Christ, the Man of Sorrows, must entail suffering. Yet life in Christ must also involve real cheer, "abounding in mirth, racy remark, and mother wit."
There were dangers for one so tenderhearted. Spurgeon publicly admitted that his temperamental sensitivity inclined him to be fearful. Combine this with his marked generosity in dealing with people, and he could — and did — sometimes fail in his discernment of character, becoming victim to those who would abuse his financial openhandedness. Yet tenderheartedness should not be confused with weakness: along with expressing his love for Christ and people, Spurgeon could demonstrate a real hatred for wickedness and injustice. Again and again, he spoke of how he would boil with anger at pastoral abuse, church politicking, and false teaching (especially any form of Roman Catholicism). And while he surely struggled, it would be wildly misguided to think of Spurgeon as a fragile pushover. It would be far better to say that tenderness saved him: it kept his robustness of character from steamrolling those weaker than himself, and channeled it for their benefit. His blend of vigor and tenderness made him fascinatingly feisty in showing compassion, as witnessed by this humor-filled letter of complaint to his publisher:
Dear Mr. Passmore,
When that good little lad came here on Monday with the sermon, late at night, it was needful. But please blow somebody up for sending the poor little creature here, late to-night, in all this snow, with a parcel much heavier than he ought to carry. He could not get home till eleven, I fear; and I feel like a cruel brute in being the innocent cause of having a poor lad out at such an hour on such a night. There was no need at all for it. Do kick somebody for me, so that it may not happen again.
Yours ever heartily, C. H. Spurgeon.
There, both in his care for a socially insignificant minor and in the playfulness of his rebuke, is revealed the man's genial and benevolent large-heartedness. It was an aspect of Christlikeness he wanted to see in all believers, and one he believed essential for pastors: "Great hearts are the main qualifications for great preachers." It was something he would speak about at length with his students, and it is worth hearing him at some length (for both his substance and his style!):
It is not every preacher we would care to talk with; but there are some whom one would give a fortune to converse with for an hour. I love a minister whose face invites me to make him my friend — a man upon whose doorstep you read, "Salve," "Welcome;" and feel that there is no need of that Pompeian warning, "Cave Canem," "Beware of the dog." Give me the man around whom the children come, like flies around a honey-pot: they are first-class judges of a good man. ... A man who is to do much with men must love them, and feel at home with them. An individual who has no geniality about him had better be an undertaker, and bury the dead, for he will never succeed in influencing the living. I have met somewhere with the observation that to be a popular preacher one must have bowels. I fear that the observation was meant as a mild criticism upon the bulk to which certain brethren have attained: but there is truth in it. A man must have a great heart if he would have a great congregation. His heart should be as capacious as those noble harbors along our coast, which contain sea-room for a fleet. When a man has a large, loving heart, men go to him as ships to a haven, and feel at peace when they have anchored under the lee of his friendship. Such a man is hearty in private as well as in public; his blood is not cold and fishy, but he is warm as your own fireside. No pride and selfishness chill you when you approach him; he has his doors all open to receive you, and you are at home with him at once. Such men I would persuade you to be, every one of you.
A Life of Joy
Spurgeon was an unmistakably and deliberately earnest man. With a deep concern for the glory of Christ and the fate of the lost, he believed that Christians should be able to say with our master, "Zeal for your house will consume me" (John 2:17; cf. Ps. 69:9). Yet earnestness and zeal, for Spurgeon, were never to be confused with gloominess and melancholy. It is telling and entirely appropriate that a whole chapter of his "autobiography" (really a biography compiled from his diary, letters, and records) is titled "Pure Fun." For, we are told, "it was felt that the record of his happy life would not be complete unless at least one chapter was filled with specimens of that pure fun which was as characteristic of him as was his 'precious faith.'" It is another reason why he was and has remained so magnetic: Charles Spurgeon was fun.
Entirely upsetting the stereotype that the Victorian era was a long, charmless span of dusty prissiness, Spurgeon's writings ripple with mirth. And evidently even they do not do justice to what he was like in person. The editor of his Lectures to My Students would thus be driven to insert attempts at explaining his various impressions and "voices," as he impersonated pompous theologians and fools. Usually, though, one can still sense the humor that cannot quite be caught on a page:
I would say with regard to your throats — take care of them. Take care always to clear them well when you are about to speak, but do not be constantly clearing them while you are preaching. A very esteemed brother of my acquaintance always talks in this way —"My dear friends — hem — hem — this is a most — hem — important subject which I have now — hem — hem — to bring before you, and — hem — hem — I have to call upon you to give me — hem — hem — your most serious — hem — attention."
"What a bubbling fountain of humour Mr. Spurgeon had!" wrote his friend William Williams. "I have laughed more, I verily believe, when in his company than during all the rest of my life besides." Few, it seems, expected to laugh so much in the presence of the zealous pastor; but Spurgeon knew this and seemed to take an impish delight in springing comedy on those around him. Grandiosity, religiosity, and humbug could all expect to be pricked on his wit. Sometimes rather more was broken. Spurgeon enjoyed telling the story of how, as a young pastor in Park Street, he had complained to his deacons about how stuffy and stifling it could get in the building, suggesting that they remove the upper panes of glass from some of the windows to let in more air. Nothing was done about it; but then one day it was found that someone had smashed those window panes out. Spurgeon offered a reward of five pounds for the discovery of the offender, who would then be given the money in thanks. This money the pastor then pocketed, being himself the culprit.
But perhaps it is Spurgeon's cigar smoking that best reveals his sunny playfulness as well as his vivacious willingness to enjoy created things. Personally, Spurgeon found great pleasure in cigars; he argued that the Bible gave him liberty to smoke them, and he believed they helped his throat as a preacher. He was sensitively aware, however, that many Christians felt otherwise, and he was keen not to offend or let them stumble over the issue. When his statement that he smoked "to the glory of God" was printed in the newspapers as if it had been a flippant crack, he was sorry that prominence had been given to what seemed to him a small matter, and quickly wrote to explain:
The expression "smoking to the glory of God" standing alone has an ill sound, and I do not justify it; but in the sense in which I employed it I still stand to it. No Christian should do anything in which he cannot glorify God; and this may be done, according to Scripture, in eating and drinking and the common actions of life. When I have found intense pain relieved, a weary brain soothed, and calm, refreshing sleep obtained by a cigar, I have felt grateful to God, and have blessed His name; this is what I meant, and by no means did I use sacred words triflingly.
That said, in the right context he would happily use his cigar to replace religiosity with cheerful enjoyment of Christian liberty. William Williams records a day out he took with his students:
It was a beautiful early morning, and on arriving all were in high spirits — pipes and cigars alight, and looking forward to a day of unrestrained enjoyment. He was ready waiting at the gate, jumped up to the box-seat reserved for him, and, looking round with astonishment, exclaimed: "What, gentlemen! are you not ashamed to be smoking so early?" Here was a damper! Dismay was on every face. Pipes and cigars one by one failed and dropped out of sight. When all had disappeared, out came his cigar-case; he lit up and smoked away serenely. Astonishment was now on every face. One of the party nearest to him said, "I thought you said you objected to smoking, Mr. Spurgeon?" "Oh no," he replied; "I did not say I objected. I asked if they were not ashamed, and it appears they were, for they have put them all out." And he puffed away quite serenely.
Humor flowed from Spurgeon naturally and freely, but he was acutely conscious of both the power and the danger of it. He held that in the pulpit it is "less a crime to cause a momentary laughter than a half-hour's profound slumber," yet his sermons were very far from being a stream of humor. This could sometimes be a challenge for him, as he once confessed to a listener who objected to some pulpit witticism of his: "If you had known how many others I kept back, you would not have found fault with that one, but you would have commended me for the restraint I had exercised." "Were I not watchful, I should become too hilarious." Yet, he explained, "God's servants have no right to become mere entertainers of the public pouring out a number of stale jokes and idle tales without a practical point. ... To make religious teaching interesting is one thing, but to make silly mirth, without aim or purpose is quite another."
For all that, it would be wholly inadequate and superficial simply to think of Spurgeon as chucklesome. Humor, he believed, is normally the fruit of something deeper. Sometimes it can come from no more than high spirits — and this, he admitted, was a temperamental challenge for him.
We must — some of us especially must — conquer our tendency to levity. A great distinction exists between holy cheerfulness, which is a virtue, and that general levity, which is a vice. There is a levity which has not enough heart to laugh, but trifles with everything; it is flippant, hollow, unreal.
At other times humor can be the defense mechanism of the sad, a light thrown out into the darkness. Sometimes it is the cruel weapon of the proud or insecure, brandished as a sneer or a sarcastic put-down. Sometimes it is the bright weapon of righteousness, lancing both gloom and sin.
I do believe in my heart that there may be as much holiness in a laugh as in a cry; and that, sometimes, to laugh is the better thing of the two, for I may weep, and be murmuring, and repining, and thinking all sorts of bitter thoughts against God; while, at another time, I may laugh the laugh of sarcasm against sin, and so evince a holy earnestness in the defence of the truth. I do not know why ridicule is to be given up to Satan as a weapon to be used against us, and not to be employed by us as a weapon against him. I will venture to affirm that the Reformation owed almost as much to the sense of the ridiculous in human nature as to anything else, and that those humorous squibs and caricatures, that were issued by the friends of Luther, did more to open the eyes of Germany to the abominations of the priesthood than the more solid and ponderous arguments against Romanism.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Spurgeon on the Christian Life"
Copyright © 2018 Michael Reeves.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Series Preface 11
Part 1 Charles Spurgeon
1 A Man Full of Life 25
Part 2 Christ the Center
2 Christ and the Bible 39
3 Puritanism, Calvinism, and Christ 51
4 Christ and Preaching 65
Part 3 The New Birth
5 New Birth and Baptism 85
6 Human Sin and God's Grace 93
7 The Cross and New Birth 105
Part 4 The New Life
8 The Holy Spirit and Sanctification 125
9 Prayer 143
10 The Pilgrim Army 155
11 Suffering and Depression 163
12 Final Glory 175
General Index 181
Scripture Index 187
What People are Saying About This
“As an evangelical Baptist who shares Charles Spurgeon’s understanding of salvation, I naturally welcomed this superb study of the celebrated preacher’s theology and how it applies to the Christian life. But I also resonate with Michael Reeves’s deep concern that Spurgeon be read by a much wider audience than his coreligionists. Responsible for a veritable torrent of words, most of which remain in print a dozen decades after his death, he is one of the great Christian authors of the nineteenth century. And it is only right, therefore, that he be known and read by that wide audience of evangelicals who love his Savior. This book is a tremendous place to start: a draft of refreshment from deep Spurgeonic wellsjust what is needed in our day.”Michael A. G. Haykin, Chair and Professor of Church History, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
“Ask people what first comes to mind when they hear the name Charles Spurgeon, and they will invariably answer with something about preaching. Indeed, Spurgeon is widely considered ‘The Prince of Preachers,’ and deservedly so. But he is so closely identified with powerful preaching that many fail to realize what an eminently godly man he was. Yes, Spurgeon pastored the largest evangelical church in the nineteenth-century world. Yes, his collected sermons extend to more than sixty-three thick volumes, sermons which continue to sell well today. Yes, his fame as a preacher made Spurgeon the most famous name in Christendom during his lifetime. But he should be equally known as a man of deep piety and a vibrant Christian life. Thankfully, Michael Reeves helps rectify Spurgeon’s reputational imbalance with his book Spurgeon on the Christian Life. Superbly researched and winsomely written, it demonstrates how Spurgeonin sickness and in health, in success and in tragedy, in the public eye and in the homesought to live a Christ-centered life according to the Bible. Whether this is your introduction to Spurgeon or he has been a hero of yours for decades, you will be encouraged by this book.”Donald S. Whitney, Professor of Biblical Spirituality and Associate Dean, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; author, Family Worship; Praying the Bible; and Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life
“With accurate and careful brushstrokes, Michael Reeves paints for us a three-dimensional portrait of the preacher and leaves us chanting with Helmut Thielicke, ‘Sell all that you have and buy Spurgeon.’”Christian T. George, Curator, The Spurgeon Library; Assistant Professor of Historical Theology, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; editor, The Lost Sermons of C. H. Spurgeon