Who was the “prince of preachers”? On this episode of 5 Minutes in Church History recorded live at Ligonier’s 2018 West Coast Conference, Drs. Stephen Nichols and Steven Lawson look at the life and legacy of Charles Spurgeon.
Stephen Nichols (SN): Welcome back to another episode of 5 Minutes in Church History. On this episode, we are at Seattle, at the Ligonier Ministries West Coast Conference, and I happened to bump into Dr. Steve Lawson. Dr. Lawson, it’s nice to see you.
Steven Lawson (SL): Thank you very much, and it's wonderful to be with you, Steve.
SN: We’ve had you on this show before. I can't remember if we’ve ever talked about Charles Spurgeon.
SL: No, we have not.
SN: Okay, well, now is a good opportunity. You wrote the book The Gospel Focus of Charles Spurgeon in the Long Line of Godly Men series. I know the answer to this question, and it is going to be hard for you to answer in a short time, but why Spurgeon? What’s his significance?
SL: Spurgeon, in my estimation, as well as in the estimation of countless authorities, is the “Prince of Preachers.” He is the greatest preacher—of any language—since the Apostle Paul. He appeared on the scene of history in the nineteenth century at the height of Victorian England, as language and literature were at a zenith. Spurgeon was the heir of the Puritans, as he drank deeply from the theology and the books of the Reformers and the Puritans. In a sense, Spurgeon could not have been Spurgeon if he had appeared before the Reformation or if he had appeared before the Puritans. He needed to stand on their shoulders in order to reach higher. He also appeared at a time in history when the use of the English language was at an all-time high, and so these streams merged together. Plus, he had that robust Reformed theology. Yet, he was evangelistic, and probably the greatest evangelistic pastor to be at one pulpit, at one time, and to stay there throughout his ministry. He pastored for thirty-eight years in London, starting at age nineteen, until his death in 1892.
Spurgeon was a driven man, and not only did he preach Sunday morning and Sunday evening at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, but before that he also preached at massive auditoriums in London that would hold as many as 20,000 people. So, he downsized to go into the Metropolitan Tabernacle that only held 7,000 people. And all this without the aid of a microphone. Spurgeon would also preach throughout the week. He would get on trains, and go to churches all around England, Wales, Scotland, preaching the Word of God and helping young ministers in their ministry. To have Spurgeon come and preach on Monday night or a Tuesday night was the stamp of authentication upon a young man's ministry. I have preached in several churches in England. As I walk in the door, they take me over to the guest register, and they show me where Spurgeon signed the register. He put his arms around a generation of young preachers, and though he never went to Bible college, and though he never went to seminary, he founded his own Pastors College at, I believe, age twenty-one. This was because he had so many young men gathering around him just wanting his influence to rub off on them, and the college was the best way to pull them together, to put them in one place.
He founded the Pastors' College, though he himself had never gone to Bible college. He was a wealth of theology and Bible knowledge. He had virtually a photographic memory. He had one of the greatest private libraries in all of England.
SN: I heard this: Is it true that he is the most prolific author of all time, that he has written more than any other person?
SL: Yes, because he edited his transcripts, which were his sermons, so he did not sit down and write all these sermons. He’d preach a sermon on Sunday, and it was set in front of him, triple spaced, on Monday. He would have one pass at an edit, and the type would be reset. It was sold on the street corners of London as “The Penny Pulpit,” and then it was cabled across the Atlantic and sent as far as Australia. He did not actually sit down and write these sermons, per se, but because of these transcripts, yes, there are more words in print by Spurgeon than anyone else.
SN: It’s very obvious, Dr. Lawson, that we cannot just get all of this into one episode. Let’s come back next week.