If sinners be damned, at least let them leap to Hell over our dead bodies. And if they perish, let them perish with our arms wrapped around their knees, imploring them to stay. If Hell must be filled, let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let no one go unwarned and unprayed for.
— Charles Haddon Spurgeon
Of all of our heroes in the Reformed Baptist tradition, there will never be a figure to match the “Prince of Preachers” himself, Charles Haddon Spurgeon. Spurgeon was set apart from other preachers and theologians by his zeal for the gospel and his unflinching allegiance to truth.
Charles Spurgeon’s story begins with a snow storm in London. He was on his way to church one Lord’s Day at the age of 15, when the snow that fell drove him into the nearest church he could find. It happened to be a Methodist church with a pastor who couldn’t make it; that young Spurgeon entered. A layman preached a message that he was unprepared to preach (from Isaiah 45:22), yet God opened Spurgeon’s eyes and heart to the gospel message. After this, Spurgeon began developing doctrine and found himself agreeing with the particular Baptists.
He subscribed to the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith, and did so in a time when there were few ministers doing so. That, coupled with the fact that Charles was nineteen when he began pastoring his first church, meant that he was going to be something of a rock star of preachers, and indeed the crowds followed him for his controversial messages.
Nobody liked him. He was a staunch preacher and defender of the Calvinist faith, but he still would plead with men to be saved. The supposed contradiction was too much for his opponents to take. The old-timey Calvinist ministers thought he was much too liberal to preach the real doctrine of the Scriptures. The liberal pastors thought him much too old-fashioned. So bad was the criticism of young Spurgeon on every side that he once said, “My name is kicked about in the streets like a football.”
The story of Spurgeon is the story of controversies. There were three that defined and characterized his ministry. The first that he found himself wrapped up in was Calvinism itself. Now, if you want to see most Southern Baptists squirm and fuss, all you have to do is mention Calvinism. It seems that the opponents of Calvinism hate it to such a degree that they cannot take even the mention of it. Spurgeon didn’t just mention it. Spurgeon preached it loudly. He proclaimed that if you weren’t a Calvinist, you likely rejected the gospel altogether.
If you think that today’s environment was volatile, look at that environment some time. He preached in the midst of men who hated doctrine, and they let Spurgeon know it. On top of this, he was just a young man. To them, he was only a kid! How could it be that he knew better than them? So, resentment for Spurgeon grew, but he didn’t stop there.
Looking for a fight it seems, he preached a message condemning baptismal regeneration (the belief that the act of baptism will save a sinner). Officially, this should have caused no problems in the Baptist community. However, because of the laxity with which the preachers of the day had preached for so long, baptismal regeneration was widely accepted in Baptist churches. Spurgeon preached rightly, proclaiming that salvation was by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. In this, Spurgeon made more enemies. As it turns out, he actually suffered from depression because of how strongly others opposed his ministry.
His last hoorah came in his condemnation of theological liberalism. Spurgeon saw that liberalism was a slippery slope that no one could safely navigate. If we went a little ways, we would go far. Once the ball got rolling, there was no way to stop it. This controversy would come to be known as the Downgrade Controversy because Spurgeon argued that there was no way to contain liberalism because it would spiral out of control.
The trouble was that he made more and even more enemies. Even his brother opposed him on this and it was too much for Spurgeon to bear. He would die on January 31, 1892.
Spurgeon’s life was marked with controversy and strife. However, it was also marked with a zeal for truth, and his heart had a passion to see people turn from their sin, so they would come to Christ. Indeed, that was the driving force behind his ministry, and I don’t think there will ever be an English-speaking minister to match the influence of Charles Haddon Spurgeon.
Soli Deo Gloria.