spurgeon-Living-By-Revealed-Truth-biggerFrom the time that I first heard of C.H. Spurgeon and read him I have  wondered what he must have sounded like. Listen to this account from a reporter who experienced his preaching first hand…

“Soon as he commences to speak, tones of richest melody are heard. A voice, full, sweet, and musical, falls on every ear, and awakens agreeable emotions in every soul in which there is a sympathy for sounds. That most excellent of voices is under perfect control, and can whisper or thunder at the wish of its possessor. And there is poetry in every feature and every movement, as well as music in the voice. The countenance speaks,— the entire form sympathizes. The action is in complete unison with the sentiments, and the eye listens scarcely less than the ear to the sweetly-flowing oratory.”

What kind of person, husband, and pastor was he?  Why did so many flock to hear him? Tom Nettles, like a master, paints a picture so detailed of  Spurgeon that the prolific preacher’s clarion voice almost jumps off the page at you. If you are a pastor hammered by conflict, petty problems, big problems, physical problems and even denominational tensions you will find this 704 page biography to be more like an indispensable tome. This will be the first book I hand a person thinking about going into pastoral ministry. If you are expecting a simple biography you will be surprised and perhaps this is one of the issues I have with the book.  It could easily be purchased as a simple biography but it’s actually a work of practical theology with Spurgeon’s life as a case study.  I read the book on my kindle and I will absolutely purchase the paper copy because it will be one I go back to again and again for referencing, quotes etc.

Below, I have listed all of the book’s 18 chapters with a quote from each to give you a sample.

1. Birth to New Birth:

“I can bear witness that children can understand the Scriptures,” Spurgeon insisted, “for I am sure that when but a child I could have discussed many a knotty point of controversial theology, having heard both sides of the question freely stated among my father’s circle of friends.”

2. Made for Gospel Ministry:

“Spurgeon entered enthusiastically into every opportunity for service to Christ that he could. He distributed tracts joyfully and consistently while still at Newmarket. He had seventy people that he regularly visited, taking his Saturdays for this visitation as well as tract distribution. He explained to his mother, “I do not give a tract, and go away; but I sit down, and endeavour to draw their attention to spiritual realities.”

3. The Metropolitan Tabernacle:

“My venerable predecessor, Dr. Gill, has left a body of divinity, admirable and excellent in its way; but the body of divinity to which I would pin and bind myself forever, God helping me, is not his system of divinity or any other human treatise, but Christ Jesus, who is the sum and substance of the gospel; who is in himself all theology, the incarnation of every precious truth, the all-glorious personal embodiment of the way, the truth, and the life.”

4. Preaching the Whole Counsel:

According to his later descriptions, Spurgeon did not entirely lay down the pen when getting his sermon ready, but produced brief cryptic notes. Often his only written help was on the front of an ordinary envelope; later in life, needing to write in a bolder hand, whether because of his eyes or his hand he did not say, he used the half of a sheet of note paper. “I sometimes wish that I had never used even this,” he wrote, “for the memory loves to be trusted, and the more fully it is relied upon the more does it respond to our confidence.”

5. Theological Method and Content:

Whatever else he was, Spurgeon was a Christian theologian, and, preeminently as a “Pastor/Theologian,” he must covet the rightness of both the head and the heart of his people.”

6. Spurgeon’s Message of Christ’s Atoning Sacrifice: 

“There are a few men who scoff at the statement and reject the thought of sacrifice,” Spurgeon acknowledged in 1859, but these “never will be more than a few; they can never be many.” The system which “denies the doctrine of atonement by the blood of Jesus … can never succeed [and] they will never convince the masses.” One should not argue against this tendency but rather destroy it “by our own personal determination to preach more earnestly and more consistently ‘Jesus Christ, and Him crucified’.”

7. The Challenge of Church Life and the Governance of Worship:

Spurgeon’s great usefulness and inimitable gifts brought his early death. He could not have survived as well as he did without a sufficient number of devoted and efficient church officers and personal assistants.”

8. The Gospel is Evangelism:

Searching for souls was not easy, especially in London, for the native depravity of man had been further degraded in hardness by the vicious life so easily followed and so oppressively dominant.”

9. Use of Evangelists:

To call in another brother every now and then to take the lead in evangelistic services will be found very wise and useful; for there are some fish that never will be taken in your net, but will surely fall to the lot of another fisherman”

10. Theological Foundations for a Benevolent Ministry:

Spurgeon stated strongly that God was concerned about the temporal well-being of his creatures. Readers of The Sword and the Trowel complained when Spurgeon spoke strongly for the benefit of agricultural laborers. He did not apologize nor seek to diminish the urgency of seeking justice in these matters, but affirmed, “We shall, however, always have a tongue for the oppressed as long as we are able to speak.”

11. Personal Theory and Preferences in the Production of Godly Literature:

Spurgeon wanted his literary productions to provide “entertainment and edification.” 7 He looked at nature and saw that the first was normally bound to the second, for God had joined them together. Note the beauty and usefulness of fruit, the flight of a painted butterfly among herbs of the garden, and how the “cerulean blue of the cornflower smiles forth from amid the stalks of the wheat.”

12. Literature about Right, Wrong, and Truth:

In his notice of Cruel Wrong, Spurgeon blasted the double standard often involved in the devastation left in the wake of fornication. “Where the sins of young ‘gentlemen’ are winked at, and poor women alone are made to suffer the shame of sin, incalculable misery must follow.” Amusement at the sowing of “wild oats” on the part of men, as if fornication were a natural and pardonable folly necessary to developing maturity, must be stopped, and the “age must be made to see unchastity on the part of men in the fair, truthful light, as being in every way as evil, and in some respects more evil, than the same offence in women.”

13. Theology and Controversy:

Spurgeon’s controversies fall into three major types. Controversy at the first level came at the point of immediate conflict over scriptural teaching. This involved a clash of messages and a clash of confessions. Spurgeon had much to say in this area and spread his remarks over a wide field including persons, denominations, and movements. The second level of conflict emerged with those that held a confessional position ostensibly, but felt themselves justified in functioning in opposition to it. Sometimes this was because their theology was better than the confession, and led Spurgeon to admonish them to leave their church and place themselves at the behest of divine provision. Others ministered outside the parameters of, or in opposition to, their confessions because they believed less and worse that the confession proclaimed. For these he felt special alarm and was particularly disdainful of their hypocrisy. A third type of controversy focused on the theological differences that he had with other publications, including periodicals and books. For the most part this type involved a single interaction but on occasions resulted in prolonged, and sometimes bitter, insulting exchanges.

14. Destroyed or be Destroyed:

“He often employed such amusing metaphors and felt no inclination to be less aggressive in his ridicule. He felt sure that “the powers of sarcasm, ridicule, and contempt are never more fittingly exercised than upon the fallacies and blasphemies of idolatry.”

15. The Downgrade Conflict:

“Every day affords more and more evidence that while many are true to their Lord, unbelief has sadly eaten into Congregational and Baptist churches.” &   “The Downgrade controversy became a classic display of the dynamics of controversy. Alternate pressures play upon the conscience and reveal the location of the most potent affections. Love of truth, fear of disapproval, care to maintain existing relationships, awareness of public impression—all of these converge, clash, amalgamate, and synthesize to form a complex variety of responses when a clear cause of division moves from the horizon toward the center of our being. This conflict showed that many ministers were either unwilling to come to a full understanding of issues at stake or were willing to compromise truth for the sake of unity. “

16. Spurgeon and Baptists in America: 

“The Texas Baptist in January of 1857 carried a vivid description of this peculiarly Spurgeonic preaching when Spurgeon was twenty-three years old and in the flower of his New Park Street years. The writer said Spurgeon was “of the middle size — thick set in figure, with a deep, capacious chest, and a throat, and tongue, and lip, all formed for vehement oratory.” &  “R.H.S. referred to and expressed his doubts about an accusation that Spurgeon’s pupils were said to “copy him with ludicrous exactness.” Gambrell had heard the same reports and knowing that “the imitative faculty is very strong in the human make-up” gave an amusing spin to the stories about imitation. Gambrell not only loved stories about Spurgeon, he was one of the greatest spin doctors Southern Baptists have ever produced. Introducing an article on “Theology and clothes” he wrote: It is said that Spurgeon once went out with one of his students to preach for him. A very sincere sister said to the great preacher, “Brother Spurgeon, I liked your sermon, except one thing: I did not like your imitating our pastor so much.”

17. Sickness, Suffering, Depression:

“Such is the stubbornness of our flesh, that the Lord uses for fuel in His furnace sharp and heavy trials of different kinds,” Spurgeon emphasized, with no change of perception over the quarter of a century. “Adversity assumes many forms and in each and all of its shapes the Lord knows how to use it for His people’s benefit.”

18. Conduct in the Face of Death:

Unlike the outbreak of the plague early in Spurgeon’s ministry from which he was spared, providence did not by pass him this time. Whether this outbreak of “influenza” was named properly or not, the ravaging effects of it found a weakened host in Spurgeon. He had just returned from three months in Mentone. While there, struggling with the debilitating illnesses that had tightened their hold on him increasingly for some years, he wrote of his hope that “the afflictions of the Editor” would be not only for his profit but for theirs. He recommended to other sufferers a viewpoint that filled his painful days with confident hope: “Let all the sons and daughters of sorrow know assuredly that the bitters of their portion are weighed and measured by covenant love; and not a drop of wormwood will be wasted if there be grace given to receive it with believing resignation.” 5 Suffering happened according to the will of God in accordance with God’s specific design for each person. He believed that for others, he accepted it for himself.” & “After a prayer by Newman Hall, the orphan boys choir sang as the coffin was slowly taken down the aisle. The open hearse had, on both sides, the words, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.”

If you are involved in local church pastoral ministry this book is not a chicken wing appetizer. It is not full of fancy encouragements and platitudes. It is more like a full course meal of theological engagement. I will be honest, as a pastor, this book presented some  raw and real howitzer like moments of conviction for me. Do not get the ebook. Purchase the paper copy it will be much easier to reference. The back of the book has a Scripture and subject reference that you will find very useful. What that man accomplished in his lifetime is almost unbelievable. Perhaps J.P. Boyce’s (baptist theologian) encounter with him sums it up well…

“In the summer of 1888, Boyce, for the sake of his health, managed a trip to Europe. His daughter, Lizzie, accompanied him and narrated the events of the trip. One Sunday they were able to attend the Metropolitan Tabernacle in order to hear Spurgeon. He was suffering one of his frequent gout attacks, a malady held in common with Boyce, and preached while seated. Boyce and his daughter noticed the great physical likeness between the two men and Boyce commented, “I wish I were as much like him in preaching power.” Afterwards in Spurgeon’s greeting room Boyce and Spurgeon spoke about the Pastors’ College and gout remedies and doctors. Boyce’s emotions began to create physical difficulties for him. His daughter remarks, “Father was so much excited by this interview with the great preacher that he became pale and exhausted, and began to pant for breath; so we had to cut short our stay, and leave for the hotel.” As he went away, Boyce’s eyes filled with tears as he observed, ‘How little I have accomplished, compared with that man! If I can only get well and live a few years longer, I’ll make greater efforts.’ “

My Rating: I enjoy books that are (1) theologically astute (AMEN!), (2) pastorally useful (Amen!) as well as (3) referenceable (Amen!). I want to be able to come back to it again and again. As a small church solo pastor I have no use for books that will waste my time and my money. When I request a book from a publisher to review I have the busy small church pastor in mind.

Living by Revealed Truth is worthy of my three fold amen! It is theologically astute, pastorally useful and referenceable. I walked away from the book feeling as if I had spent some time with Spurgeon and listened to him speak. Give it a read and tell me what you think.

*Christian Focus Publications’ Mentor imprint was gracious enough to provide me with a review copy of this book upon my request.