It seems very strange that I would find myself sitting here today writing in defense of someone who has been dead for over one hundred and thirty years, but it sadly seems necessary to respond to the continual attacks upon this man and his character. Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892) nicknamed the “Prince of Preachers” has always been hated and slandered by his enemies, even long after he has been dead. And I think it’s because he stands tall like a giant upon men. His influence after all was significant and broad. There was a time when he represented the mainstream thought of Christianity, having his sermons printed in many of the major newspapers of the world, and producing a large amount of Gospel material. He was sure to draw slings and arrows being such a large public figure.
But what I find interesting today is that the arrows have never stopped being slung in this man’s direction. I have met many men and women that seem to be obsessed with this man and his character and are not content to allow this man to lie undisturbed in his grave. No, they are not content unless they are picking at his dry dead bones and condemning him over and over again for his fallible ways and manner of speech. He’s a big fish, and perhaps the biggest in their minds. This is why there are websites dedicated to exploring his so-called anti-gospel speech and ways. There is even a site that analyzes old photos of Charles and his family looking to see how many fingers he held his cane with, or leaned against a railing with a hand in the pocket, or whatever crazy thing they might come up with to show that this man was a Luciferian satanist! I kid you not, this is where this lunacy has led some of these people. I suppose they don’t have enough time on their hands, or they get some sort of satisfaction through the exposing of perceived errors and can take pride in their public condemnations.
But the most common way people bash upon this dead man, and anyone else that enjoys his material is to take a few choice quotes, and use them to paint a narrative that in my opinion creates a picture that is quite opposite of what I think the man truly was. These quotes usually deal with his “tolerance” or his “compromising’ words toward those who aren’t as seemingly knowledgeable as his critics. These days, most of these attacks I’ve noticed are coming from some in the sovereign grace camp who in my opinion are resting in their abilities to repeat what they have determined is their formula for obtaining salvation. Formulism is a popular form of works righteousness, usually found within the free-will camp. But formulism can exist in just about any group of Christianity. In the sovereign grace camp, the most common form of formulism is the belief that one must be able to articulate completely and clearly how God saves sinners in order to have any assurance that one is born again. One must also be able to articulate the errors of the opposing formulas they stand against. In essence, they are resting in their formula and their abilities, and not the Christ of Scripture who redeemed His elect from before the foundation of the world. But they are mistaken to rest in such formulas, because as my pastor Jim Byrd says, “It’s not what you know… It’s WHO you know.” Salvation can never be found in a formula. And formulists don’t appear to know Christ and I think this is why they continually attack Spurgeon and anyone else who doesn’t abide by their strict formulas (the formula varies from person to person).
Also, the Spurgeon bashers are quick to point out all the seemingly erroneous things this man has said, but I have never seen them point out any of the good things he said that I’m certain with which they would find agreement. As any good heretic hunter knows, in order to obtain a good scalp, you have to be dishonest with your target and your audience (see my article, Nine Dishonest Tactics of Heresy Hunters). So quotes to the contrary that teach the exact opposite of which they intend to frame the man for are ignored. All of Spurgeon’s wonderful sermons on the Gospel are discarded, not examined at all, and even trashed. The vast majority of Spurgeon’s critics probably haven’t even begun to read a fraction of the man’s material. As a side note, I must admit that I haven’t done so either, as his works are certainly voluminous. He’s like the old Dr. Voluminous (John Gill) himself with the fact that he produced many books, commentaries, devotionals, and sermons which are still available for study and edification. I would very much consider myself to be a student of John Gill, his knowledge of the Scriptures are rivaled by few, but his work cannot touch the heart and reveal the love of Christ the way Spurgeon was able. So I have most of Spurgeon’s works (I’m lacking a few books and sermon volumes) and all of Gill’s works in my library. But I digress, most of the things that Spurgeon has produced that stand contrary to the public accusations are flat out ignored, so that a lop-sided straw man figure is painted which is quite easy to destroy. And to my disappointment, the gullible and uneducated seem to lap it all up.
Spurgeon, being a man, was fallible and having feet of clay (like me!), and was far from perfect. He has written many things that I don’t agree with, and that principle holds true for any teacher that I hold in high esteem. I’ve been critical of the man in the past for paradoxical theology, holding one set of propositions next to another seeming paradoxical set of propositions, claiming both are true, and swallowing the paradox by faith. This is the thing that I’ve found maddening about Spurgeon, as while I don’t deny there are many great mysteries in the revelation of God, much of these mysteries have been revealed to us in Christ and through the Scriptures and logical deduction. But this really is a minor quibble I have with the man. I have read many sermons by this man, and I find him to be a brother and a champion of the Free Grace of God that is in Christ Jesus. Whatever issues I have with the man’s teachings are minor. I agree with Spurgeon on the most important and central tenet of Scripture. Christ saved. Christ Saves. And there is nothing we can do to merit His favor. Salvation is found in Christ alone by Grace alone through Faith alone for the Glory of God alone!
So when I see the constant bombardment upon this man’s character, especially from supposed sovereign grace believers, it distresses me quite a bit. Their unbecoming barrage is rooted in unfairness, dishonesty, cruelty, and self-exaltation. I may disagree with a man, but I believe in treating everyone with fairness, honesty, kindness, and humility. I believe we should even treat our enemies this way. And therefore I must stand against these character assassins and defend my brother in the Lord, even if he has been dead for generations.
And so the most common complaint you will hear against Spurgeon was that he was too charitable and too tolerant of false religion. The formulists have their litany of quotes to prove their point. Below is the quote I most often find that proves in the minds of the formulists that Spurgeon was a god-hating heretic.
“if there were wanted two apostles to be added to the number of the twelve, I do not believe that there could be found two men more fit to be so added than George Whitefield and John Wesley.” (C. H. Spurgeon’s Autobiography, Vol. 1, p. 173.)
This quote alone is enough to consign Spurgeon to the further-most reaches of hell by the formulists. Wesley was a prominent Arminian whose theology in my opinion, and in the opinion of many others was anti-Gospel. But I believe Spurgeon viewed Wesley as a brother because he was viewed by Spurgeon as being inconsistent with his Arminianism. I have all of Wesley’s works and have examined some of them, and I have found many things in his works that I find to be true and seemingly God honoring. Wesley was a walking paradox, and if you read his material, you can find in all of his awful theology some truths about justification by faith alone and humility before our Sovereign Lord and His grace in Christ. I don’t know what Spurgeon meant by this in his autobiography, as I’m not able to correspond with the man. But perhaps he was being overly kind and overly dramatic with his words. I believe in being fair with people, but not overly kind to a seeming fault. Nevertheless, I certainly cannot condemn him for these words in light of all of his other work. I will try to think the best of him and be thankful for all the good nourishment the Lord has given me through this man. Today’s anti-christian religion of sovereign grace formulism will not allow such charity because it goes against the very core of their belief system. One must not only articulate the Gospel with an absolute perfection, but one must also judge other people “rightly” in order to have assurance of salvation.
God is no liar, but these men are slanderers. They admit, they insist, that unregenerate men can speak the truth, even about the Gospel, but they deny that regenerate men can err, even about the Gospel. They even go so far to say that if a man is mistaken in judging another man to be saved, he himself is unsaved. Thus one's own salvation, according to their twisted and Antichristian doctrine, depends on believing the correct things about some sinner's state of mind, and not about Christ. They have added to the Gospel, an error explicitly condemned by Paul. (John Robbins remarks about sovereign grace formulists like Marc Capenter)
I agree with the departed Robbins one hundred per cent on this point. And I thank the Lord that my salvation is not dependent upon my abilities to judge other people “properly.”
The most disconcerting thing about Spurgeon’s critics is in my opinion their dishonesty with the man. They will rail upon him for a few quotes where he may have been overly charitable with his opponents, accusing him of compromising the Gospel and being tolerant to a fault. But they willingly neglect to point out where he continually spoke against falsehood and error. Here are some quotes where Spurgeon stood strong against the lie of formulism.
Free will has carried many souls to hell but never a soul to heaven. (C.H. Spurgeon, Sermon No. 224, Samson Conquered)
Our Heavenly Father is not foolishly pitiful, but he is pitiful. Ay, and he is better than that; he is wisely pitiful over the most erring of his children. Our God is no Arminian god; the Arminian’s god is a pitiless god to his children. He is represented as being pitiful enough to all the world, but pitiless to his own children; for, according to the teaching of some, when they sin, he cuts them out of the covenant; and if they transgress, he bundles them out of doors, tells them they are not his children any longer; and because of their transgressions, he will have it that they are none of his, and shall be damned at last, despite the fact that Christ has died for them, that the Holy Spirit has regenerated them, and that they have been justified. He casts them away from his presence, and they are to be lost for ever. He is a pitiless god, but the god of these people is no relation to our God. We do not believe in their god, nor do we fear him, nor bow before him. Our God is constant in his affection, and merciful towards his children; when they go astray, he pities all their guilt and sin. (C.H. Spurgeon, Sermon No. 2639, Our Heavenly Father’s Pity)
The doctrine of justification itself, as preached by an Arminian, is nothing but the doctrine of salvation by works… (C.H. Spurgeon, Spurgeon Sermons Vol. 6, Effects of Sound Doctrine)
I will go as far as Martin Luther, in that strong assertion of his, where he says, “If any man doth ascribe aught of salvation, even the very least, to the free-will of man, he knoweth nothing of grace, and he hath not learnt Jesus Christ aright.” It may seem a harsh sentiment; but he who in his soul believes that man does of his own free-will turn to Christ, cannot have been taught of God, for that is one of the first principles taught us when God begins with us, that we have neither will nor power, but that He gives both; that He is “Alpha and Omega” in the salvation of men. (C.H. Spurgeon, Sermon No. 52, Free Will - A Slave)
I could list many more quotes in support of this man as he exemplified the love of Christ through his words and deeds. But I’m sure the formulists will find something wrong with them, or will provide some other quote that they think in their mind proves that he believed the opposite which will give them the justification they think they have to continually trash this man’s reputation as well as those who are thankful for his material. I will never convince them of their errors, not only in their misplaced criticism, but also in their formulaic approach to salvation, looking to their abilities instead of the Savior for all of salvation. This work must be performed by the Holy Spirit who can take the most arrogant of men, humble them, and bring them to bow before the Savior and rest in His bloody and completed work of redemption upon the Cross.
I’m also thankful for men like Jim Byrd, Don Fortner, Tim James, Drew Dietz, Henry Mahan, and others in my life who have helped to show me the wonderful things to be found in the works of Spurgeon. I too was once overly critical of the man to a fault, and have seen the error of my ways. I’ve learned that the best of men are men at best, and that we should be thankful for what little morsels of meat the Lord provides to us through his dedicated servants. Spurgeon certainly served Christ and His body, never ceasing in his labors, and for that I’m eternally thankful.
I would also remind the reader that when reading or listening to material from any man, whether that be an Internet personality, their pastor from the pulpit, or a famous preacher and theologian like Charles Spurgeon, that they should learn to not chew on the briars. Henry Mahan once said that, “even a donkey knows not to chew on the briars.” We should approach the work of any human author with humility and carefulness. I like what John Newton had to say about the reading of human authors.
Remember your exalted privilege—you have the Bible in your hands, and are not bound to follow books or preachers any farther than what they teach agrees with the Oracles of Truth. We have great reason to be thankful for the instructions and writings of spiritual men—but they are all fallible, even as ourselves. One is our master, even Christ—what He says, we are to receive implicitly—but we do not owe implicit subjection to the best of our fellow-creatures. The Bereans were commended because they would not implicitly believe even the Apostle Paul—but searched the Scriptures to see whether the things which he taught were true. May the Lord give us a spirit of humility and discernment in all things.
When we eat an apple—we usually first cut out the blemishes, then eat what is good, and lastly throw the core away. Such a rule I would observe in reading human authors—the best may be defective, and the wisest may be mistaken. We are not only permitted, but enjoined, to call no man master. - John Newton
And finally to those who constantly rail upon Spurgeon as an arch-heretic of the first order, I’d ask you to think about these words by Mr. Spurgeon. “Regarding being critical, may we always remember that what we criticize others for we are guilty of ourselves (Romans 2:1)! Also remember, 'With the same measure you meter withal it shall be measured to you again' (Luke 6:38)…you will be criticized in the same proportion that you criticize. Even if we have good reason to be critical, there is a desire in our criticism to make our own candle shine brighter by exposing the dimness of others. I wonder how much criticism would escape our lips if we thought of these things.”