Charles Spurgeon’s Theological Foundations for Ministry

Introduction

One of the most influential preachers in the history of Christianity is Charles Haddon Spurgeon who preached in England during the 19th Century. His preaching brought many to Christ and even founded orphanages and a college. With all of his preaching, the foundation rests more on what he couldn’t do than what he could. For all his strength, he could not resist the call of God to preach the gospel and minister to the lost. His call to the ministry was built around the sovereignty of God. In God’s sovereignty, God uses willing men who have shown themselves to be qualified and available for his work.

 God is involved

The very first thing that is foundational to everything Spurgeon did is his belief in the sovereignty of God. He was a stout defender of Calvinism with the belief that God has chosen every single person who will be saved. God also chooses who will be ministers of His word and those who will not. God is more involved in our ministry and the working of the church than people can imagine. It is through the sovereignty of God that men are able to be partakers of the covenant of God.

However, men tend to do whatever is possible to remove the sovereignty of God from our daily lives. Speaking of providence and God’s control Spurgeon says,

Take the region of providence and here you find persons, instead of seeing the hand of God everywhere, looking to second causes. They are seeking causes of prosperity and becoming very despondent if they do not appear to exist; or viewing the agents of affliction and becoming angry against them, instead of bowing before the God who has used them for correction. It is easy to make idols out of second causes and to forget the God who is everywhere present, causing all things to work together for good. That this principle should intrude into the church is very sad and yet it is with difficulty excluded.[1]

We see Spurgeon lamenting the concept that God is not in control of the smallest detail. He would argue that the smallest bird, or the number of hairs on one’s head are all controlled by God.

God is helping us

It may seem strange than to see that part of the ministry is that God helps men. If God is in control and is the one guiding men to make choices then isn’t the ministry not up to man? Is it not something brought about wholly by God? Here is where we see God using only those who willing give their life to His cause. Without having a heart that is yielded to God, there will be no ministry. Ministers can do what humans would consider good works that amount to nothing because God is not involved. When yielded to God, the minister is able draw upon the Lord for strength and encouragement, wisdom and compassion and mercy. When the minister is yielded to God the ministry will have God acting through it and will be exactly what God desires. To be able to do this, the Holy Spirit must be upon the minister.

Holy Spirit’s involvement

The Holy Spirit may be the crux of the ministry of God in the life of the minister. Spurgeon would say to ministers, “the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential. Without Him our office is a mere name. We claim no priesthood over and above that which belongs to every child of God…Unless we have the spirit of the prophets resting upon us, the mantle which we wear is nothing but a rough garment to deceive.”[2] This is the means by which God acts upon his ministers and gives them the ability to perform the function of spiritual leader to a congregation. It is through the Holy Spirit pastors have access to the spiritual gifts given by God. It is through the Holy Spirit pastors have the wisdom of God in all matters. It is through the Holy Spirit that pastors are able to preach and instruct and fulfill the great commission given to the Church. “If we have not the Spirit which Jesus promised, we cannot perform the commission which Jesus gave.”[3]

Drawing to God

When considering the means by which men have the authority to preach, it is often thought of in relationship to distance from God. Men It is sin which separates us from our creator, and through the propitiation of Christ on the cross by which a means is made for man to come back to God. As James 4:8 lays out, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” This is part of why Christians talk about having a relationship with God. There is a part that is dependent upon man, but the second half of the verse is of key importance. God draws near to men. Spurgeon sees this as the call of God in two parts. First, in salvation and second in the ministering to God’s Saints. The sovereignty of God plays a huge factor in the relationship Spurgeon has in regards to his own salvation. Spurgeon sees his own sin pulling him away from God, yet God would not leave him alone and would not leave him in his sin.

If God had left me alone and had not touched me by His grace, what a great sinner I should have been! I should have run to the utmost lengths of sin, dived into the very depth so f evil, now should I have stopped at any vice or folly if God had not restrained me. I feel that I should have been a very king of sinners if God had not left me alone. I cannot understand the reason I am saved, except upon the ground that God would have it so. I cannot, if I look ever so earnestly, discover any kind of reason in myself why I should be a partaker of divine grace.[4]

It is only through the act of God that we are able to be drawn in to a relationship with God in the eyes of Spurgeon. God is the one who draws us into relationship with him in the first place. If a man is not saved, they will not be qualified to minister to the Saints. God having drawn a man to Himself is of uttermost importance. God saves men and qualifies them by drawing them to himself that they may be able to save others.

Man’s Requirements

Having established that God requires men who have been drawn to God, it is necessary to further describe how these men whom God has called are to be qualified. Spurgeon viewed God as sovereign and while all of the work was done by God there are still requirements he has for men. These qualifications and requirements are not to be taken lightly but are to be the minimum requirements for a man who seeks to minister to the Saints and be used by God.

Saved

It should be one of our first cares that we ourselves be saved men. That a teacher of the gospel should first be a partaker of it is a simple truth, but at the same time a rule of the most weighty importance. We are not among those who accept the apostolic succession of young men simply because they assume it; if their college experience has been rather vivacious than spiritual, if their honours have been connected with athletic exercises than with labours for Christ, we demand evidence of another kind than they are able to present to us…True and genuine piety is necessary as the first indispensable requisite; whatever “call” a man may pretend to have, if he has not been called to holiness, he certainly has not been called to the ministry.[5]

Spurgeon is very clear of the importance of a minister being called into a relationship with God. Holiness is key to being an effective minister. Without first being a man of God, it is impossible to be a man of the cloth. Without having firsthand knowledge of repentance for your sins, it is impossible to lead people along the same path, and those who do not know God end up becoming the blind leading the blind, a most fruitless exercise.

The matter of one’s conversion from sin to God is a key part of any minister. Some have gone from lives of drugs to lives lived boldly for God. Spurgeon would not there is often a desire to revel in the past and glorify our bad choices instead of looking at our sin in the manner it hurts God. To counteract this, Spurgeon urges preachers specifically but Christians as a whole that, “When we tell the story of our own conversion, I would have it done with great sorrow, remembering what we used to be, and with great joy and gratitude, remembering how little we deserve these things.”[6] If we speak of how our past with the mind of God we will note how little we deserve to be called God’s children. The mistake of reveling in the past can often turn people away from God as it can make God out to be a giant killjoy instead of the giver of life. It is important to look at how the life we live now is better than any sin we may have had in the past.

 Have Holy Spirit

Similar to being a saved, it is necessary for the minister to have the Holy Spirit. For “as ministers, the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential.”[7] There is much to be said on this topic and Spurgeon gives a list of areas where we are dependent upon the Holy Spirit. In his lists he includes the necessity of the Holy Spirit for knowledge, wisdom, freedom of utterance, as an anointing oil for the whole delivery of our message, to produce actual effect, as supplication, and as a Spirit of Holiness and discernment.[8] These parts are all in relation to the necessity of the Holy Spirit in the ministry and this is far from a complete list of how the Holy Spirit acts in while Spurgeon does talk about how the Holy Spirit is necessary, he and even Spurgeon says “I have given you a lengthened catalogue of matters wherein the Holy Spirit is absolutely necessary to us, and yet the list is far from complete. I have intentionally left it imperfect, because if I attempted its completion all our time would have expired.[9] The key to Spurgeon’s inclusion of the Holy Spirit is that without the indwelling of the Holy Spirit it is impossible for a ministry to succeed.

Called by God

The desire to become a pastor and ability to teach is one more qualification Spurgeon gives as important for the ministry. The calling of God upon one’s life manifests itself in not just the desire to teach but also the ability to teach. The desire to preach shall be like that of Jeremiah 20:9 who when attempting to keep silent found he could not contain the voice of God from speaking forth. It should also not be something that is here one day and gone the next, “This desire should be one which continues with us, a passion which bears the test of trial, a longing from which it is quite impossible to escape, though we may have tried to do so; a desire in fact which grows more intense by the laps of years, until it becomes a yearning, a pining, a famishing to proclaim the Word.”[10]

This calling of God is also demonstrated not just in the desire to teach, but also in the ability. One may have the desire to teach, but if not equipped to do so the work would be in vain. This is not to say that a seminary education is necessary to teach, for as the Bible says, the foolish things of this world shall shame or confound the wise (1 Corinthians 1:27) which is illustrated in the disciples Jesus chose. The men chosen were not among the elite of the time but were more those who were available. It has often been said that God does not call the qualified but rather he qualifies those He calls. This qualification is then seen in the spiritual gift of teaching and thereby the ability to teach.

What Men are to do

The last thing to cover is the actions men who claim to be called of God to be ministers must do. The man who is allowing God to use him, who is allowing the Holy Spirit to lead the ministry the remainder of what is to be covered will deal specifically with what men are to do. Ministers must be wholly sold out to God, Spurgeon would pray, “if I have a drop of blood in my body that is not His, to let it bleed away; and if there be one hair in my head that is not His, to let it bleed away ; and if there be one hair in my head that is not consecrated to Him, I would have it plucked out.”[11] Spurgeon saw this in two manners, first he was to preach in public, but secondly he felt compelled to share the gospel at all times.

Speaking in Public

In regards to speaking in public, it is all well and good for ministers to be in the church but also out of the church. He would look at Jesus as the prime example of how to lead a preaching ministry. “Our Lord, it is true, preached in the synagogues, but He often spoke on the mountainside or from a boat or in the court of a house or in the public thoroughfares. To Him an audience was the only necessity. He was a fisher of souls of the true sort, and not like those who sit still in their houses and expect the fish to come to them to be caught.[12] To Spurgeon it does not matter where a man preaches, but it is of the utmost importance that he not preach exclusively in a church. It is important to go to the lost of the world, we cannot possibly expect the lost to find those who are preaching the word of God, rather as Jesus did, preachers are to go and meet people where they are at and bring them to God.

Burdened to share gospel

This next part is simply what we as ministers are to preach. The pastor is to proclaim the very words of God and proclaim the gospel to the lost and encourage Christians to live lives worthy of the calling of God to Holiness.

If we were commissioned to repeat the language of a king, we should be bound to do it decorously lest the king suffer damage.  But if we rehearse the revelation of God, a profound awe should take hold upon us and a godly fear lest we mar the message of God in the telling of it. No work is so honorable as the proclamation of the gospel of our Lord Jesus, and for that very reason it is weighted with a responsibility so solemn that none may venture upon it lightly or proceed in it without an overwhelming sense of his need of great divine grace to perform his office aright.[13]

 

This is the message God has tasked us to proclaim summed up in one word. Gospel. The Gospel is the good news to anyone who is willing to hear it. Through the Gospel non-Christians hear the words of God and come to a saving faith and through the Gospel Christians are encouraged to live lives of holiness to please the God who saved them  while they were still dead in their sins.

 

While many people limit the scope of the Gospel to the saving work of Christ, Spurgeon though would not limit the Gospel in such a way. Spurgeon does not look at doctrine in this manner. Spurgeon declares in opposition to such thoughts,

We know that some conceive doctrinal knowledge to be of very little importance and of no practical use. We do not think so. We believe that the science of Christ crucified and a judgement of the teachings of scripture to be exceedingly valuable. We think it. Is right that the Christian ministry should be not only arousing but instructing, not merely awakening but enlightening, that it should appeal not only to the passions but to the understanding. We are far from thinking doctrinal knowledge to be of secondary importance. We believe it to be one of the first things in the Christian life, to know the truth and then to practice it.[14]

 

Doctrine was of utmost importance to the working of Spurgeon who would consider the Gospel to be all encompassing the theology of God as espoused in the Bible.

Conclusion

 

When it is all said and done, this is only a brief synopsis of Charles Spurgeon’s theological foundations for ministry. As a Calvinist he would see the working of God in all that happens, through whom nothing can be done. The work of saved men to spread the gospel through the preaching of the word of God anywhere they can with the aid of the Holy Spirit as the guidance and director of the ministry who indwells the minister for the sake of making men Holy as God is Holy.


[1]Charles Spurgeon, The Essential Works of Charles Spurgeon. Daniel Partner, Uhrichsville: Barbour Publishing, 2009. Ed. 17. 686.

[2] Charles Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1954. 186-187.

[3] Charles Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1954. 187.

[4] Ibid. 53

[5] Charles Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1954. 9.

[6] Charles Spurgeon, The Essential Works of Charles Spurgeon. Daniel Partner, Uhrichsville: Barbour Publishing, 2009. Ed. 17.

[7] Charles Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1954. 186.

[8] Ibid. 186-199.

[9] Ibid. 199.

[10] Ibid. 28.

[11] Ibid. 70.

[12] Charles Spurgeon, The Essential Works of Charles Spurgeon. Daniel Partner, Uhrichsville: Barbour Publishing, 2009. Ed. 17, 79.

[13] Charles Spurgeon, The Essential Works of Charles Spurgeon. Daniel Partner, Uhrichsville: Barbour Publishing, 2009. Ed. 17, 923

[14] Charles Spurgeon, The Essential Works of Charles Spurgeon. Daniel Partner, Uhrichsville: Barbour Publishing, 2009. Ed. 17. 412.


One thought on “Charles Spurgeon’s Theological Foundations for Ministry

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s