Have you ever heard someone say no one will ever be able to top that? Well, this past Friday, I was given a birthday gift no one will ever be able to outdo. Jolene took me to The Spurgeon Library on the campus of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892) was a Baptist pastor at the largest church in London, The Metropolitan Tabernacle, which still exists today. He founded homes for children, a pastor’s college, printed sermons, wrote books, and was a strong defender of truth, to the point of leaving his Baptist denomination because of its going in a very liberal and pragmatic direction.
Charles Spurgeon is my hero. Even now, as a type of this, I am telling myself not to cry. To see his books and paintings of his life was an unforgettable experience. Listening to the curator of the library tell of the life of Spurgeon and talk about different books and what they meant to Spurgeon was overwhelming.
I had seen pictures of the library online, but trust me – nothing compares to seeing it in person. Looking at the paintings, seeing the shelves of Puritan works, commentaries, and copies of Spurgeon’s Sword and the Trowel; reminded me of how deep, how rich, and how far back my Christian faith goes. It is so easy for us to see Christianity in our context, and it’s harmful when we begin to see it through our Western understanding, divorcing Scripture from its cultural context and our doctrine and theology from the ages past in Church history.
The highlight of the day was holding Spurgeon’s copy of John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. John Calvin lived from 1509-1564, he published The Institutes in Latin in 1536 and French in 1541. The definitive editions in 1559 and 1560. Think about that, something published in 1536 impacting and shaping the life of someone in the 1800s. Even now, I am reading through The Institutes. This is such a great example of why Spurgeon was against pragmatism and changing the message to make it “relevant” to his day.
Spurgeon was a man who both comforted and confronted from the pulpit. While comforting the believer and confronting the sinner, he also challenged the backslider. You were a Christian who said the Bible was dry, a Christian who made time for your ledger book and not your Bible – you were called out and told to repent and find joy in the Scripture.
Charles Spurgeon was a staunch defender of Calvinism, a theology greatly frowned upon in today’s church. But don’t accuse Spurgeon of not caring about souls. Spurgeon would point you to his tract against hyper-Calvinism and to the many sermons he preached, declaring the gospel with all his might, calling all to repentance and faith in Christ. He was a defender of the great 1689 London Baptist Confession of faith. In our day, we say Jesus over doctrine, but Spurgeon would say, and I say too, you cannot rightly know Jesus apart from doctrine, after all, doctrine is the teaching of Scripture, and theology, the study of God.
While we might look back at Spurgeon and say that type of preaching will never work, it worked for Spurgeon. He had 5,000 members in his congregation, his sermons were printed weekly, even in America, everyone knew Spurgeon. Spurgeon understood that the preaching of the cross was offensive to the perishing but to those who would be saved it was the most joyous message one would ever hear. Spurgeon believed in the power of the gospel, that is why towards the end of his ministry, during what is known as the Downgrade Controversy, Spurgeon left the Baptist Union. Spurgeon stood for the truth, infallibility, and inerrancy of Scripture, even when it meant leaving the denomination he loved. After his death no one wanted his library, Spurgeon had become taboo. Yet in 2021, I was at the Spurgeon Library, looking at his books, hearing his life story. His day was not kind to him in the end, yet we now remember Charles Haddon Spurgeon as a man of conviction, love, truth, no compromise and, the great Prince of Preachers. It is those who stand in tough times who are ultimately remembered by history.
After being given a tour and sitting in the parlor room talking with the curator, Jolene and I walked around the library one more time. I pointed out to her the works of John Flavel. I pointed out Flavel’s works because he was one of Pastor Steve Solomon’s favorites. Pastor Steve first introduced me to reformed theology. Which over the last twenty years has shaken me out of the word of faith understanding I grew up believing. Reformed theology was so rich and deep in Scripture when I first heard it. Reading A.W. Pink’s, The Sovereignty of God radically challenged my Word of Faith foundations. After years of questioning certain teachings, holding to some reformed theology and some word of faith, here I was standing in The Spurgeon Library, fully convinced of what many call Calvinism.
“I have my own opinion that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified unless we preach what nowadays is called Calvinism. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else. I do not believe we can preach the gospel if we do not preach justification by faith without works; nor unless we preach the sovereignty of God in His dispensation of grace; nor unless we exalt the electing unchangeable eternal, immutable, conquering love of Jehovah; nor do I think we can preach the gospel unless we base it upon the special and particular redemption of His elect and chosen people which Christ wrought out upon the cross.”Charles Spurgeon, 1856
After walking around the library, I stopped at Spurgeon’s pulpit from New Park Street Chapel. I stood there thinking of all that I had seen and heard in the last hour and a half. I thought about my journey from being tossed to-and-fro between the word of faith and reformed theology, with a brief stop in the Nazarene Church. And finally, I thought about Spurgeon’s consistency. As a boy, Spurgeon would look at the pictures in the Puritan books in the family’s library. Later, he would read and love those books, and read Calvin and other reformers, and be convinced of the doctrines of grace. Spurgeon was faithful to the Scripture all of his ministry. He was a faithful and loving pastor, and most importantly, a faithful and loving husband to his wifey, Susie. Standing beside his pulpit, with a sense of awe, humility, honor, and respect, I thanked God for Charles Spurgeon and his example. I thanked God for all of His providence in my life. In all the twists and turns and uncertainties of my growth in understanding His Word. As I looked around one last time, I said, Paul wrote, follow me as I follow Christ. Lord, help me to follow the example of the man I respect so much. My generation is in the midst of its own Down Grade Controversy. Please help me to stand like Spurgeon.
Friday is a day I will never forget. Believe me; there were many more thoughts in my head than I could ever write down. The words I have written don’t even include the conversations we had on the way there and the way back. More than the pictures we took, more than the coffee mug that I bought, my prayer is; that being in that place, seeing not only the legacy of Spurgeon but all those that lined his shelves, will always serve as a reminder that the message of the gospel is always enough. I don’t have to be cool, trendy, cutting edge, relevant, or anything else. The message of the gospel is relevant enough by itself, and all I need to do is give it to all who will hear.
You can see pictures of our trip on my Instagram story highlight.