The Secret to Spurgeon’s Evangelistic Ministry
Charles Spurgeon believed that if he was to be used effectively in evangelism, he must have a comprehensive knowledge of the Scriptures. Consequently, his sermon preparation was marked by thorough study of the biblical text. He declared to his students: “Be masters of your Bibles, brethren. Whatever other works you have not searched, be at home with the writings of the prophets and apostles. ‘Let the Word of God dwell in you richly.’” As Spurgeon saw it, a minister’s depth in the Word would ultimately determine the breadth of his ministry.
To gain such profundity, Spurgeon made it his goal to plumb the depths of the Bible. He wrote, “To understand the Bible should be our ambition; we should be familiar with it, as familiar as the housewife with her needle, the merchant with his ledger, the mariner with his ship.” He added, “It is blessed to eat into the very soul of the Bible until, at last, your blood is Bibline and the very essence of the Bible flows from you.” Spurgeon followed his own advice and pursued an extensive understanding of the Scriptures.
Of course, a strong grasp of Scripture did not come automatically. Spurgeon said: “The ministry demands brain labor. The preacher must throw his thought into his teaching, and read and study to keep his mind in good trim.” In other words, power in gospel preaching demands arduous study. He admitted: “I scarcely ever prepare for my pulpit with pleasure. Study for the pulpit is to me the most irksome work in the world.” But he understood that if he refused to pay this high price, he would have no business in the ministry: “An idler has no right in the pulpit. He is an instrument of Satan in damning the souls of men.” Again, he warned: “He who has ceased to learn has ceased to teach. He who no longer sows in the study will no more reap in the pulpit.” Even for a genius like Spurgeon, Bible study was hard work. But depth in the Word is absolutely necessary if there is to be depth of conviction and soundness of conversions.
Despite lacking any formal education, Spurgeon was remarkably well read and exceedingly learned in “a Puritan sort of way.” His personal library in his Westwood home boasted an estimated twelve thousand volumes of Bible commentaries, systematic theologies, linguistic aids, church histories, and Christian biographies. So familiar was Spurgeon with his books that it was said he could walk into his study in the dark and put his hand on any desired work. Lewis A. Drummond states, “He could classify all he read and possessed the unusual gift of instant recall.” This retention enabled him to be a capable thinker and adept scholar.
Hughes Oliphant Old notes that Spurgeon was “a rapid reader who read the English Puritans widely and perceptively. The Puritans produced an amazing amount of literature of different types, and Spurgeon read and reread this literature.” Through this vast reading, Spurgeon acquired a “rare combination of biblical clarity, theological coherence, rhetorical zest, perspicuity of diction, universality of appeal and urgency of application.” As a result, he was well prepared to preach the full counsel of God with extraordinary powers of communication.
Only one so full of Scripture could prepare to preach as Spurgeon did. His voracious reading throughout the week allowed him to enter his study on Saturday evening, select his text for Sunday morning, and prepare to preach. He would draft a rough outline, the only aid he would carry into the pulpit. He repeated the same practice on Sunday afternoon for the Sunday evening sermon. Because he was so saturated with biblical truth, he said that whenever he sat down at his desk, it was as if he was preparing to preach multiple sermons. He confessed, “I believe that, almost any Saturday in my life, I prepare enough outlines of sermons, if I felt at liberty to preach them, to last me for a month, but I no more dare to use them than an honest mariner would run to shore a cargo of contraband goods.” Spurgeon guarded his Saturday evening sermon preparation time, allowing no intrusion. Once, an uninvited guest came to his home to see him while he was preparing for Sunday. When the maid answered the door, this person sent her to Spurgeon, requesting an audience with him. Spurgeon directed her to say that it was his rule to see no one at that time. The visitor replied, “Tell Mr. Spurgeon that a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ desires to see him immediately.” The frightened maid brought the message, but Spurgeon answered, “Tell him I am busy with his Master, and cannot see servants now.” This commitment to Scripture was the standard by which Spurgeon believed all preachers should be judged: “May I beg you carefully to judge every preacher, not by his gifts, not by his elocutionary powers, not by his status in society, not by the respectability of his congregation, not by the prettiness of his church, but by this—does he preach the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation?”
A deep commitment to the Scriptures was the secret to Spurgeon’s evangelistic ministry. Apart from God’s Word, he had absolutely nothing to say.
This excerpt is adapted from Steven Lawson’s The Gospel Focus of Charles Spurgeon.