By Tom Nettles
Charles Haddon Spurgeon experienced a constant flow of impressions early in life that settled many issues of personal integrity and faithfulness to one’s calling. He recalled clearly how, when allowed to sit in the studies of his grandfather or father, as they prepared to preach on Sundays, he must not speak or fidget so as to be distracting in any way. Their concentration on truth and its application could make the difference in the spiritual well-being of one of their congregation. Preaching meant seeking souls in earnest. It was thus with him. The pulpit ministry could not be commandeered for any purpose other than the pursuit of the glory of God through earnest, even impassioned, gospel proclamation. God could not be glorified when men prostituted the pulpit to their cleverness.
The earnest solicitations of his mother for the salvation of her children, both to them and to God, taught him that no contradiction existed between yearning for and seeking the salvation of sinners while depending upon and submitting to the wisdom and power of God. The true Christian, so Spurgeon learned, always seeks the glory of God as the final outcome of every event of life, and particularly so in the stewardship of gospel proclamation. When no sinners respond to a faithful display of the saving work of Christ, God, nevertheless, does and senses its beauty as a sweet-smelling savour and acceptable sacrifice of service. Though a sinner might not have been saved, the world has been preserved, for only the proclamation of Christ crucified justifies God’s patience with the rebellion of this present age.
The merciful provisions given to his grandfather by virtual strangers in a time of need [his cow had died] showed him the spiritual power of benevolent ministry. Scriptural admonition and theological connection supported the energetic participation of the Metropolitan Tabernacle folks in a variety of such ministries. If we show no tangible compassion for the bodies of people, what evidence is there that we care for their souls? He had an unapologetic evangelistic purpose in the 66 benevolent organizations that operated from the Metropolitan Tabernacle, for a comfortable present is a vain condition without a blessed eternity. He knew that the most appealing to the public was the orphanage work; to him, however, the Pastors’ College held the position of priority in his evaluation.
When he bought a pencil on the promise of later payment, his father learned of the transaction and marched him back to the shop to pay the debt. Debt was a prison for potential thieves and he determined never to be in its grasp. The massive numbers of buildings that were necessary to facilitate the benevolent empire flowing from his ministry always entered their designated service debt-free. His appeal to God’s people for contributions was of the highest tone of stewardship and God-centered ministry. He did not disagree with George Muller’s quietistic approach, but concluded that he must give straightforward public appeals for support. This allowed him to give ongoing descriptions of each ministry, to state its importance in the work of the kingdom, and to help his friends interpret their lives and their possessions in terms of a purposeful stewardship for the glory of God.
That both his grandfather and father, though talented and fully capable of labor in the established church in an appointed parish, maintained their charge in dissenting congregations convinced him of the nobility of losing personal advantage for the sake of truth. Even his departure from their views of infant baptism, when he concluded that only the baptism of believers was appropriately biblical, could not have distressed the sire and the grand-sire, for he followed their commitment to conscience informed by his understanding of divine revelation. So it should be with all, Spurgeon believed, and when men dallied with conscience for the sake of maintaining a privileged position, he sought to expose the hypocrisy with all of the amazing powers of communication at his disposal.
His own conversion convinced him that nothing could replace the internal operations of the Spirit of God in applying the condemning power of the Law to an unregenerate heart or stop the determination of God to bring that soul in humble submission to the cross of Christ for pardon and justification. Both gratitude and confidence saturated his preaching. Though fully persuaded that the Bible’s inspiration and full authority could be defended from a variety of apologetic approaches, his most powerful and urgent appeal in its favor came from his personal experience of what Calvinistic theology denominated the “internal witness of the Spirit.” The Christ of the gospel had saved him. He had seen his sin and knew the Bible’s verdict to be true; he had looked to the Savior, and knew that pardon for sin was true. If these mammoth doctrines of Scripture were true, and, though so offensive to human nature, were, nevertheless embraced with joy by thousands, then all other supportive truth of those two great propositions bore the stamp of divine authority.
The attention and encouragement he received from the plain Christians in early days, their affirmation of his gifts, and their faithful service in their sphere of life, made Spurgeon pay attention to the spiritual gifts of church members, both men and women. Spurgeon celebrated the gifts of the men of his church. His deacons and elders never suffered from lack of commendation by Spurgeon. He expressed appreciation for them, mentioned them by name and pointed to particular ministries in which their labors were keys to success, and mourned their death. His congregation was consistently aware of the deep appreciation he had for the giftedness in the body.
The joyful participation of both his mother and his grandmother in the privations and the victories of the pastoral labors of their husbands taught him to value the particular gifts of women in discharging the glorious stewardship of the gospel. Throughout his ministry Spurgeon found godly women to be a marvelous benefit to the church’s ministry and the progress of the gospel. Mrs. Bartlett’s Bible class for young women produced hundreds of converts and was a constant attraction for the influx of new hearers of the gospel. His wife, Susannah, began a book distribution ministry that brought about substantial increase in knowledge and competence among a class of ministers that were faithful but distressed in their possession of helps for sermon preparation.
His early acquaintance with Fox’s Book of Martyrs and Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress taught him that following the way of truth often meant loss of friendship, misrepresentation, suffering or even death. In a variety of controversies throughout his ministry he frequently hazarded friendships and profitable connections in order to act and speak the truth. The final bout with modernism in the Baptist Union resulted in his resignation from the Union, a censure of his actions by the Union Committee, and a division even within the Conference of graduates from his Pastors’ College.
Spurgeon manifest more than just power with words when he stated, “To me, it seems to be a sufficient reward to a man to know that he is defending a right cause even if he has to die for it. Do you crave the applause of human hands and voices? Do you covet the glance of approving eyes? If so, your self-respect has already fallen below the point which it ought to mark. Are you right in the course you are now pursuing? If you are, you need not ask for anything more. To be right, and yet to be poor;–to be right, and to be abused, or even to be put to death;–is surely sufficient for any follower of the Lord.”
Dr. Nettles is widely regarded as one of the foremost Baptist historians in America. He came to Southern Seminary from the faculty of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. He previously taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. He has just written a biography on Charles Spurgeon entitled, Living By Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles Spurgeon.
Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of nine books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory;Baptists and the Bible, which he co-authored with L. Russ Bush; Why I Am a Baptist, co-edited with Russell D. Moore; and James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman.