Why Did God Use Spurgeon?

There is one thing on which many Christians today agree–we need genuine revival. Faced with rising violence, economic recession, and a growing sense of despair, we recognize that our fundamental challenge is not political or social; it is spiritual. And because such challenges require divine insight and strength, we can benefit from reviewing the landscape of Christian history to learn from previous generations. Of the many persons and movements one might consider, Charles Haddon Spurgeon is especially instructive since his legacy demonstrates precisely what is most needed today.

When the 19-year-old Spurgeon received a call to the New Park Street Church in April 1854, the church was fledgling and less than healthy; but within ten months the congregation grew to such a size that it was forced to move to Exeter Hall. Before long even Exeter Hall was inadequate, which caused another move, this time to Surrey Gardens Music Hall, where Spurgeon preached to more than 9,000 men and women each Sunday. The ministry continued to flourish, so much that on October 7, 1857, the Prince of Preachers addressed a record crowd of 23,654 in the famous Crystal Palace. Something extraordinary was happening.

More than Talent

It was March 1861 when Spurgeon’s congregation finally moved to the Metropolitan Tabernacle, where he would preach the next 31 years and personally see more than 14,000 men and women profess faith in Christ. While there, he started an orphanage, the Pastor’s College, and eventually produced an avalanche of published sermons that would circle the globe. Such fruitfulness naturally raises the question: “Why did God use C. H. Spurgeon in such a profound way?”

The exceptional nature of Charles Spurgeon’s gifts is undeniable (as his sermons demonstrate). However, in response to this question, Spurgeon provides a different answer:

If we had the Spirit sealing our ministry with power, it would signify very little about talent. Men might be poor and uneducated, their words might be broken and ungrammatical; but if the might of the Spirit attended them, the humblest evangelist would be more successful than the most learned divine, or the most eloquent of preachers.

After reading this quote, I imagined Spurgeon mounting the Metropolitan’s pulpit, where he customarily repeated to himself, “I believe in the Holy Spirit. I believe in the Holy Spirit. I believe. . . .” Such has been my own practice over the last decade of preaching, following Spurgeon’s example (the only part of Spurgeon that I can effectively emulate). Herein is a lesson. Mental strength and eloquence of speech (for those of you who possess them) may gather large crowds and earn you recognition, but only the power of the Spirit can reach into a human soul to bring transformation. And this, my friends, is what our nation and world needs the most: genuine gospel transformation.

The Reality of Revival

Spurgeon’s ministry was devoted to revival; he would settle for nothing less. In his own words, “Death and condemnation to a church that is not yearning after the Spirit, and crying and groaning until the Spirit has wrought mightily in their midst.” In order for this to happen, however, Spurgeon realized that the Spirit needed to first engage his own soul. Therefore, in his sermon titled “My Prayer,” he remarks:

The prayer before us, “Quicken Thou me in Thy way,” deals with the believer’s frequent need. . . . You yourselves know, in your own souls, that your spirit is most apt to become sluggish and that you have need frequently to put up this prayer, “Quicken Thou me.” If there is a prayer in the book which well becomes my lips, it is just this.

After first seeking personal renewal of God’s Spirit, Spurgeon then prayed for his church. In a message titled “One Antidote for Many Ills,” he says:

This morning’s sermon, then, will be especially addressed to my own church, on the absolute necessity of true religion in our midst, and of revival from all apathy and indifference. We may ask God for multitudes of other things, but amongst them all, let this be our chief prayer: “Lord, revive us; Lord, revive us!”

Examples of this sort of prayer are numerous. The point is simple: pursuing revival was a priority for Spurgeon. And what was the outcome of his request? During the years when Spurgeon prayed, Protestant churches in London enjoyed a 60 percent increase in attendance, exceeding the population growth of the city. At the samt time the Spirit moved powerfully in America, especially in the winter of 1857 and 1858 through the noontime prayer meetings of Fulton Street in Brooklyn, New York. As both sides of the Atlantic welcomed waves of revival, Spurgeon noted in 1859, “At this time, the converts are more numerous than heretofore, and the zeal of the church groweth exceedingly.”

Revival in Our Day

As our friends, coworkers, neighbors, and loved ones descend into deeper levels of despair, the church is poised to direct the world’s attention to the gospel of Christ in whom we find the light of spiritual revival. Here is how Spurgeon articulated the vision:

We must confess that, just now, we have not the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that we could wish. . . . We seek not for extraordinary excitements, those spurious attendants of genuine revivals, but we do seek for the pouring out of the Spirit of God. . . . The Spirit is blowing upon our churches now with his genial breath, but it is a soft evening gale. Oh, that there would come a rushing mighty wind, that should carry everything before it! This is the lack of the times, the great want of our country. May this come as a blessing from the Most High!

The revival that Spurgeon describes may very well be on our horizon, unobservable to the naked eye; but through the eyes of faith, against the backdrop of ages past, we may see enough of its glow to believe that it exists. Whether it remains off in the distance, or if it should come near, time will tell. In the meantime, why would we not give ourselves to prayer and proclamation in the hope of seeing genuine revival in our day?

  • Daniel

    I’ll be the first to agree with you that America needs a “revival” of sorts. However, am apprehensive as well. My fear is that such a revival will parallel the 2 “Great Awakenings.” All too often, “revival” simply becomes a variety of emotionalism and/or enthusiasm.

    Quotes like this: “Death and condemnation to a church that is not yearning after the Spirit, and crying and groaning until the Spirit has wrought mightily in their midst” sound somewhat legalistic. I think one has to ask, “how does a church yearn after the Spirit? Is not the Holy Spirit present where Word and Sacrament are preached and administered?”

    When I was in college in New Mexico, I was going to a church-of-sorts where there existed a constant pressure on the individual to be “on fire.” This church delved into the “gifts” and claimed that if someone wasn’t speaking tongues they just didn’t “have enough faith in God” or “they didn’t desire Him enough,” and so on and so forth. I understand that body was one of enthusiasts, no question about it; however, are “non-charismatic” churches that insist on “being on fire” and “we need a REVIVAL” any different than the enthusiasts? Both seem to be pushing for external, emotional manifestations of their “desire” for God as proof of their being on His “side.”

    My fear, for an American revival, is that it would be captured and swept away by either one of these manifestations of enthusiasm and legalism (because that’s exactly what they are). Instead, I hope and pray that there would be a widespread return to the catholic confessions of the Church, the proper distinction and preaching of Law and Gospel, and gratitude for Christ’s gift to the Church.

  • Timothy Stewart

    I am always drawn to the story of Spurgeon’s “Boiler Room” when
    “Five young college students were spending a Sunday in London,
    so they went to hear the famed C.H. Spurgeon preach. While
    waiting for the doors to open, the students were greeted by a
    man who asked, “Gentlemen, let me show you around. Would
    you like to see the heating plant of this church?” They were not
    particularly interested, for it was a hot day in July. But they
    didn’t want to offend the stranger, so they consented. The young
    men were taken down a stairway, a door was quietly opened,
    and their guide whispered, “This is our heating plant.” Surprised,
    the students saw 700 people bowed in prayer, seeking a blessing
    on the service that was soon to begin in the auditorium above.
    Softly closing the door, the gentleman then introduced himself.
    It was none other than Charles Spurgeon.”
    (Taken from, Our Daily Bread, April 24)

    Behind the scenes of any move of God is something like the Boiler Room. Someone, somewhere is praying fervent and importunate prayers. However, as a church planter, it seems the flesh, world and devil feverishly fight against any movement towards such prayer. Prayer that has grit and angst in it. Prayer that asks, seeks and knocks persistently. My prayer is for the grace to pray such as this, and lead others into the same unquenchable desire for “Thy kingdom come and thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

  • http://www.takeacopy.com/ John Dunn

    Sadly, the church has for too long trusted law and the sacraments for what only the Spirit of the living God can powerfully do in the hearts of men.

    • Daniel

      That’s a false dichotomy fallacy (considered an informal logical fallacy). Also, I would ask on what basis do you consider something a failure? I mean if one were to say that in the past the church relied more upon “law” (whatever that’s supposed to mean) and sacraments and somehow failed at it, what constitutes failure in that case?

  • EBG

    Such a great article, Chris. We miss your Spirit-filled ministry in our local body.
    Thanks for reminding us of our own need to pray for revival: personal, church-wide, and spilling over into the lives of the lost.
    Love to your family,

  • http://textsincontext.wordpress.com Michael Snow

    Looking at Spurgeon’s clarity on Christian witness in the world and today’s evangelical compromise with the world system, I do not believe that rival is likely.

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