This article is about Spurgeon on preaching and about the preaching of Spurgeon.

Source: The Banner of Truth, 1989. 5 pages.

Spurgeon's View of Preaching

Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892) has been called the 'prince of preachers'. He certainly deserved this description on account of both his marvellous ability as an orator and the remarkable results of his preaching ministry. He was surely the most remarkable Calvinistic Baptist preacher to preach in New Testament times (with the one equally commendable exception of John Bunyan). 'He was the most popular and the greatest preacher of his age' 1 His influence on contemporaries in Britain (and the rest of the world) was astounding. 'The church to which he ministered must have been one of the largest in regular session since the days of the apostles.' It seated 6,000 and was always filled to capacity. 'He seemed to be another Whitefield.' His sermons were reprinted during his lifetime and for many years after this death. They have also been recently republished and are read by many today.2

Preaching is a fundamental element of Christian practice which has played an integral role during the history of the Church. The Judeo-Christian tradition has been full of notable apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-preachers since the beginning of time. God acts in history through the work of preachers, and the most important spiritual turning points (revitalisations) in modern history have occurred in conjunction with great preaching.

Preaching is the proclamation of the word of God to men by men under assignment from God. It is the ordained means for the transmission of the word of God to the world and serves also as an official means of grace for the edification of the church of Christ.3

Biblical directives for preaching are explicit in such passages as Deuteronomy 31, 1 Corinthians 1, 1 Timothy 4, and 2 Timothy 4:1-5 (among other places). 'It (preaching) is not religious discourse to a closed group of initiates, but an open and public proclamation of God's redemptive activity in and through Jesus Christ.'4 Prominent elements of preaching include the sense of divine compulsion associated with it, the transparency of the message and motive (i.e., it does not call for faith through eloquent wisdom), and the proclamation of the kingdom of God that has been revealed.5

The notion of a Christian revival has become quite trite in the minds of many today. Evangelicals often use the term to describe an orthodox movement within the Church which has a limited geographical effect over a brief period of time. There have been a number of these movements throughout the history of the Church, each carrying a distinct theological concern or flavour. The recurring modern tent- or street-revivals are not revivals at all in the classic sense of the word.

Evangelism is good news; revival is new life. Evangelism is man working for God; revival is God working in a sovereign way on man's behalf. To speak of 'holding a revival' is a misnomer. No human being can kindle the interest, quicken the conscience of a people, or generate that intensity of spiritual hunger that signifies revival. All spiritual life, whether in the individual or in the community, in the church or in the nation, is by the Spirit of God ... Revival always involves the preaching of divine judgment, confession of sin, repentance, acceptance of salvation as a free gift, the authority of the Scriptures and the joy and discipline of the Christian life. While revivals do not last, the effects of revival always endure.6

Being the profound individual that he was, living in the particular era of the Church that he did, Spurgeon had a number of strong opinions on the subjects of preaching and revival. The ensuing section will discuss the predominant highlights of his thoughts on the topic of preaching which have been recorded in his sermons, commentaries, and lectures.

Spurgeon on Preaching🔗

Spurgeon was a profoundly Bible-centred preacher. His Calvinistic theology gave him a high regard for the Bible. It also gave him a longing to see sinners receive Christ as their Lord and Saviour and confidence that his Word 'would not return void'. He did not focus on preaching theology but he certainly preached theologically and his text was always applied to the conscience of sinners as well as saints. He generally used a topical, rather than an exegetical, style of exposition. This practice, as well as his willingness to allegorise Scripture, has sometimes upset readers sympathetic to his theology.

Although Spurgeon himself preached in a religious edifice, he was far from being opposed to open-air preaching. In one of his lectures, he gives a brief account of the history of this kind of preaching, beginning with the numerous Old Testament examples, working through New Testament and Church preachers, and concluding '...that open-air preaching is as old as preaching itself'.7With regard to the popular view of such preaching by many in English society, Spurgeon makes the following comment:

In olden times we are told, 'Wisdom crieth without, she uttereth her voice in the streets, she crieth in the chief places of the concourse, in the openings of the gates'; but the wise men of orthodoxy would have wisdom gagged except beneath the roof of a licensed building.8

Spurgeon did not need to develop a plenary apology for open-air preaching. After all, if sinners were being converted under it, no evangelical should complain. Although he preferred indoor preaching rather than open-air preaching, he was adamantly opposed to other innovations such as meeting in tents, mainly because of its poor acoustics (although he approved of the good result that often came under them!).9

He offered his students some important advice concerning this mode of preaching, summing up his discourse by giving a dozen qualifications for open-air preachers.

Qualifications for Open-Air Preachers10🔗

  1. A good voice.

  2. Naturalness of manner.

  3. Self-possession.

  4. A good knowledge of Scripture and of common things.

  5. Ability to adapt himself to any congregation.

  6. Good illustrative powers.

  7. Zeal, prudence, and common sense.

  8. A large, loving heart.

  9. Sincere belief in all he says.

  10. Entire dependence on the Holy Spirit for success.

  11. A close walk with God by prayer.

  12. A consistent walk before men by a holy life.

Spurgeon was a master of rhetoric, drama and logic. Although his vocabulary was extensive by today's standard, his sermons were very understandable and spiritually vivid to his hearers — as the results show.

Spurgeon also developed a considerable number of preaching 'hints' to assist preachers of the Word. These 'aids' are abundant in his commentary on the Psalms and in certain lectures. Spurgeon had a happy gift for connecting the theme or idea of each verse with common-life examples or biblical theology.11 He also made reference to events in Church history and his own sermons. A typical example is found in his hint on Psalm 65:4: 'Blessed is the man whom you choose and cause to approach you'. Spurgeon writes, 'Election, effectual calling, access, adoption, final perseverance, satisfaction. This verse is a body of divinity in miniature'.12 On Psalm 127:4, 'Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one's youth. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them…' he includes the following practical outlines:

Verse 4 — The Spiritual Use of Children🔗

  1. When they die in infancy, awakening parents.

  2. When they go home from Sunday-school carrying holy influences.

  3. When they become converted.

  4. When they grow up and become useful men and women.

Verses 4, 5 — The Dependence of Children upon Parents🔗

  1. For safety. They are in their quiver.

  2. For direction. They are sent forth by them.

  3. For support. They are in the hands of the mighty.

The Dependence of Parents upon Children🔗

  1. For defence. Who will hear a parent spoken against?

  2. For happiness. 'A wise son maketh', etc. Children elicit some of the noblest and tenderest emotions of human nature... 13

Spurgeon was a prolific preacher, lecturer, and writer. Much of what he said has been recorded in books and tracts. He wrote over 350 pages on Psalm 119 alone (without a 'hints' section).

Spurgeon viewed it as the preacher's duty to slay people's sins with the sword of the Word of God. They should '...handle the word of life ... to frighten men to Christ rather than from him'.14.  He warned preachers not to bring Christians into contemptible complacency, so they no longer 'watch' and could hardly 'endure to the end'. The only thing worse than this situation is to persuade professors that they are saved when, in fact, they are not. Spurgeon directed that the doctrines of total depravity, justification by grace through faith, true repentance, and holiness must be continually upheld in preaching. Furthermore, a preacher should apply the Word according to individual situations and circumstances; that is, differently to the unbeliever and the aged Christian, the babe in Christ and the hypocrite. This diverse application of the word requires considerable prudence, discernment, and discrimination by the preacher.15 ' Rightly to divide the word of truth means to tell each man what his lot and heritage will be in eternity.16

The prophets of old were no triflers. They did not run about as idle tellers of tales, but they carried a burden. Those who at this time speak in the name of the Lord, if they are indeed sent of God, dare not sport with their ministry or play with their message. They have a burden to bear `the burden of the word of the Lord' (Malachi 1:1) and this burden puts it out of their power to indulge in levity of life ... The servants of God mean business; they do not play at preaching, but they plead with men. They do not talk for talking's sake; but they persuade for Jesus' sake. They are not sent into the world to tickle men's ears, nor to make a display of elocution, nor to quote poetry; theirs is an errand of life or death to souls immortal. They have a something to say which they must say, which so presses upon them, that they must say it.17

For Spurgeon, preaching was both a very serious and a very solemn matter. Men who undertake preaching must feel an irresistible calling to do so. Preaching the word of the Lord is a burden because it is 'the rebuke of sin', it rebuffs human pride, it conflicts with the vanity of the human intellect, and it concerns the future. Spurgeon bore the burden of souls upon his own shoulders; God impels a man to preach and for preaching the truth he is responsible. 18

Spurgeon preached, 'Where is the blood of the crowd which came together to hear you speak, and you did not preach the gospel to them? Oh, it were better for me that I had never been born than that I should not preach the gospel!'19

Although the sermon itself was the central preaching element for Spurgeon, he also addressed some minor details such as using appropriate posture, gesture, and action when delivering the sermon. 'Life is made up of little incidents, and success in it often depends upon attention to minor details. Small flies make the apothecary's ointment to stink, and little foxes spoil the vines, and therefore small flies and little foxes should be kept out of our ministry.' 20

He thought that many men were awkward in the pulpit because of fear, nervousness, impotence, bad habits, or difficulty in finding the next word. He said that the preacher should work to rid himself of these things. His posture should be natural, and he should look directly at his hearers' faces.21

It is not so much incumbent upon you to acquire the right pulpit action as it is to get rid of that which is wrong. If you could be reduced to motionless dummies, it would be better than being active and even vigorous incarnations of the grotesque, as some of our brethren have been.22

Preachers should avoid being excessive, stiff, mechanical, coarse, unnatural or artificial.23
Spurgeon, using his great wit and eloquence, runs through a number of examples of these preaching vices, including the following example.

Occasionally it is exhibited at religious meetings, where the speaker is a man of local importance, and feels that he is monarch of all he surveys. In this case the thumbs are inserted in the armholes of the waistcoat, and the speaker throws back his coat and reveals the lower part of the vest. I have called this the penguin style, and I am unable to come up with a better comparison.24

Spurgeon promoted naturalness and truthfulness in cultivating a preacher's action. 'Our object is to remove the excrescences of uncouth nature, not to produce artificiality and affectation; we would prune the tree and by no means clip it into a set form.' 25

The conversion of sinners was the great aim of preaching for Spurgeon. The most essential quality for ensuring this aim is earnestness (i.e., seriousness). 'Brethren, you and I must, as preachers, be always earnest in reference to our pulpit work'.26  Thus, a serious manner should engulf the preacher when he is engaged in preaching and when he is overseeing the results of it. Earnestness must be real, and be built on faith and sound doctrine. Nothing is more solemn and serious than the impending Day of Judgment.27 'We must see souls born unto God. If we do not, our cry should be that of Rachel, "Give me children, or I die.'''28

Spurgeon used illustrations and anecdotes very effectively in his sermons. He derided those ministers of his day who belittled the use of anecdotes while preaching the gospel. He pointed out that many of Christ's parables were anecdotes. 29He recorded numerous examples of how many of the greatest preachers in the history of the Church used simple anecdotes to drive home deep truths. 30


  1. ^ D. W. Bebington's article in Tim Dowlay, ed., Eerdmans Handbook to the History of Christianity, p. 529. 
  2. ^ S. M. Houghton, Sketches from Church History, p. 228.
  3. ^ Carl G. Kromminga's article in Everett F. Harrison, ed., Baker's Dictionary of Theology, p. 414
  4. ^ R. H. Mounce's article in J. D. Douglas, ed., New Bible Dictionary, p. 961. 
  5. ^ Ibid., pp. 961-962.
  6. ^ F. Carlton Booth's article in Everett F. Harrison, ed., Baker's Dictionary of Theology, p. 460.
  7. ^ Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students, p. 234. 
  8. ^ Ibid., p. 254.
  9. ^ Ibid., pp. 258-259. 
  10. ^ Ibid., p. 269.
  11. ^ Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, Volume 1, pp. 8-9.
  12. ^ Op. cit., Volume 2, p. 107. 
  13. ^ Op. cit., Volume 3, p. 96.
  14. ^ Spurgeon, 'Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth, Spurgeon's Expository Encyclopedia, Volume 12, p. 252
  15. ^ Ibid., pp. 252-261.
  16. ^ Ibid., p. 261.
  17. ^ Spurgeon, 'The Burden of the Word of the Lord; Op. cit., Volume 12, pp. 263-264.
  18. ^ Spurgeon, 'The Burden of the Word of the Lord; Op. cit., Volume 12, pp. 263-264.
  19. ^ Ibid., p. 269.
  20. ^ Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students, p. 272. 
  21. ^ Ibid., pp. 274-286.
  22. ^ Ibid., pp. 273-274.
  23. ^ Ibid., pp. 273-274.
  24. ^ Ibid., pp. 296-297.
  25. ^ Ibid., p. 302.
  26. ^ Ibid., p. 305.
  27. ^ Ibid., pp. 306-320. 
  28. ^ Ibid., p. 337.
  29. ^ Ibid., p. 363. 
  30. ^ Ibid., pp. 364-396.

Add new comment

(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.
(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.