Second-guessing Spurgeon?!?

Because I’m a thirtysomething neo-Reformedish evangelical, Spurgeon quotes on social media are always an easy thumbs-up for me. If the “prince of preachers” were alive in 2016 and used social media, every tweet and status update would be “liked” and “shared” a billion times by guys just like me. And that’s not just my being a fanboy: Charles Spurgeon was a brilliant writer and passionate preacher of the Gospel. I have always found his work to be rock-solid and worthy of attention.

So when someone second-guesses Spurgeon, I have to admit that my eyebrows go up. 

The other day, Dustin Germain (@paperhymn) tweeted this:

PaperHymn Original Tweet

In normal circumstances, if I had come across the quote by itself, I think I would have just nodded my head and thought something along the lines of, “Absolutely. Preach Jesus!” and then moved on. But when I saw that Dustin had questioned the quote, it forced me to consider it a little more closely.

As Dustin and I tweeted back and forth, he said that the latter part of the quote was the problem–the all-or-nothing, zero-tolerance-policy approach. He argued that even a John MacArthur can preach a sermon without naming the name of Jesus (which I have to admit, I’m skeptical of–so if you can point me to evidence, Dustin, I’d appreciate it). He suggested that pastors should certainly preach Christ from the Old Testament when appropriate, and that an altar-call name-drop of Jesus helps no one. Fair enough.

In the end, we agreed that Christian pastors who make a habit of ignoring Jesus in sermons need to just stop preaching. I think this is true, and I suspect Brother Spurgeon would agree.

Two key questions arose in my mind, as a result of this exchange:

Question One: Do I agree with Spurgeon’s statement, as quoted? The answer is… actually, no. I think the statement is a bit hyperbolic and florid–it’s rhetoric that leaves no room for grace. (Is it possible that Spurgeon was taken out of context? It’s unlikely, but it is possible. That does happen from time to time to Christians on the internet.)

Do I think that a pastor who preaches a sermon without a real Gospel presentation or a mention of Jesus should be immediately disqualified from ministry? No. The blood of Christ covers even botched sermons. If our gracious God can forgive a blown sermon, so can I.

Please do not misunderstand me: That does not give license for “pastors” to proffer worldly, works-based, tips-and-tricks-to-improve-your-life speechifying. And it certainly doesn’t encourage laziness and egocentric posturing and philosophy masquerading as proclamation. I take the preaching office seriously. But we are dust, friends. And even your favorite pastor has feet of clay. It is only by the grace of God that he can open his mouth every week and ANYTHING of value comes out.

So if I were in a church where the pastor just biffed it, and I thought he would listen to me, I would humbly and lovingly remind him that there is nothing in all the world that we need to hear more than an application of the gospel of Jesus Christ to our minds and hearts. We need to be reminded every week that Jesus earned for us a righteousness that we could never earn, that He took away our guilt and shame and condemnation, and that He provides us with power for obedience through the Holy Spirit and hope for resurrection. That, and that alone, will transform us.

Question Two: Should a preacher proclaim the Gospel every time he stands to preach? I would say, yes, absolutely, he should. Every time a minister of the Gospel opens his mouth to preach, it is an opportunity to glorify Jesus and proclaim the Good News–no matter what the Biblical text is. If he fails to do that, he has biffed it. The kick sailed wide-left. No good.

If you preach a sermon that doesn’t clearly hold up Jesus and the Gospel, I just don’t think you’re preaching Christianly. I still believe that. When I used to teach Sunday School every week, I would do my level best to proclaim the Gospel every single time, as clearly as possible, no matter what we were covering. Why? Three reasons:

  • Lost people need it. There were always visitors to the class–friends, family members, co-workers. And many people over the years would only visit once or twice. That hour was often the only time I would ever have a chance to speak into that person’s life. I needed to make sure I used it wisely and told them the most important thing they could ever hear.
  • False converts need it. There were people in my class, week to week, who had grown up in the church and knew all the lingo. Even so, I wasn’t fully convinced that they were believers, because their lives and their words didn’t always match up. So week after week, no matter what we were covering, I would do my best to clearly articulate the Law and the Gospel, our inability to earn righteousness before God, and our utter reliance on Jesus.
  • True converts need it. These Gospel truths are the core of our message, and the foundation of our lives. Even true believers need  to be reminded of their total reliance on God, their need for a Savior, and the redemption they have received in Jesus. Week after week, I would challenge my brothers and sisters to turn from sin and follow Jesus, trusting in His finished work alone for salvation.

If a Christan pastor forgets that, and for whatever reason preaches a Christ-less sermon, he shouldn’t be instantly disqualified. But he may need to take a step back and remember Whom he is serving and what he is called to do.

Just my opinion. But I guess that means I think this Spurgeon quote is wrr…  wrrr…. wrrr… not exactly right.

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Your Turn: Should a pastor proclaim the name of Jesus in every single sermon? Can you preach a Christian sermon without naming the name of Jesus? Do you think the Spurgeon quote is…wrong? Sound off below. 

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5 thoughts on “Second-guessing Spurgeon?!?

  1. Here is my challenge. Go through the book of Proverbs and select every verse or set of verses where it sounds like a general statement, but you can find at least one exception. I’d list some, but you should do the work yourself. What do those results tell you?

    Then give grace to Spurgeon and find the quote in context. Maybe he really meant it as it reads. Sounds awful hyperbolic for anyone to actually consider that is was meant as a rule to be followed by churches everywhere.

    Rather, it seems clear that Spurgeon wanted to tell preachers to be sure to focus on Christ. To find a way to get to Christ no matter what text they preached. My guess is it was a response to a LITANY of Christless preaching, not upon hearing a single exposition without Christ in it. Erring “on this side (preaching Christ every sermon)” will yield far less error than “erring” on the side of not preaching Christ enough. 1 Cor 1:23 is my prooftext. Here is a post which helps you see the man’s heart in the matter:

    http://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/justintaylor/2010/08/04/preach-christ-or-go-home%E2%80%94and-other-classic-spurgeon-quotes-on-christless-preaching/

    Then read God’s Wisdom in Proverbs, by Dan Phillips to help you understand proverbs.

    • That said, I agree with everything you’re saying here. Better to preach Christ “too much” (if there is such a thing) then not enough.

      The point I was making (or at least one of them) was how easily we will nod and like and retweet quotes that come from “our boys” without considering their implications. Yes, in the greater context, I think you’re right, Spurgeon is mainly responding to Christless preaching on the whole, but he made a point of being particular as well. In that specific regard, I think he’s wrrr… he’s wrrrrr… he’s over-stating the case a bit.

    • And GWiP is on my to-be-read shelf, don’t worry. Unfortunately, since DJP recently told the Entreating Favor guys that it wasn’t really a “commentary,” it won’t easily fit in my Challies Reading Challenge list.

  2. The context of the quote:

    “Talking this day with a Brother in the ministry—one who has been many years a preacher—he was telling me that he had been to the British Museum library. He was looking for sermons upon Christ, and in turning the books over, he said, he thought he had found pretty well 500 upon any other subject to one upon the Lord Jesus! Perhaps he was wrong in his estimate. But even supposing he had found but five upon other subjects to one upon the Lord Jesus, would not that account for the fact of the lamentations that are made about the leanness of the pulpit? Leave Christ out? O my Brethren, better leave the pulpit out altogether!
    If a man can preach one sermon without mentioning Christ’s name in it, it ought to be his last—certainly the last that any Christian ought to go to hear him preach! If I saw a notice in the Blackfriars Road that there was a baker there who made a loaf of bread without any flour in it, I should not deal with him. He might say, “Well, I only did it that once.” Never mind, Sir. If you did it once, that is enough. If you could do it once, you have a fatal faculty that renders it impossible for me to confide in you. And if you can get through a sermon without Christ, my dear Friend, you may get whom you like, I shall not help you at your place, at any rate.”

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