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Are you afraid that preaching the gospel will not win souls? Are you despondent as to success in God’s way? Is this why you pine for clever oratory? Is this why you must have music, and architecture, and flowers and millinery? After all, is it by might and power, and not by the Spirit of God? It is even so in the opinion of many.

Brethren beloved, there are many things which I might allow to other worshippers which I have denied myself in conducting the worship of this congregation. I have long worked out before your very eyes the experiment of the unaided attractiveness of the gospel of Jesus. Our service is severely plain. No man ever comes hither to gratify his eye with art, or his ear with music. I have set before you, these many years, nothing but Christ crucified, and the simplicity of the gospel; yet where will you find such a crowd as this gathered together this morning? Where will you find such a multitude as this meeting Sabbath after Sabbath, for five-and-thirty years? I have shown you nothing but the cross, the cross without flowers of oratory, the cross without diamonds of ecclesiastical rank, the cross without the buttress of boastful science. It is abundantly sufficient to attract men first to itself, and afterwards to eternal life!

In this house we have proved successfully, these many years, this great truth, that the gospel plainly preached will gain an audience, convert sinners, and build up and sustain a church. We beseech the people of God to mark that there is no need to try doubtful expedients and questionable methods. God will save by the gospel still: only let it be the gospel in its purity. This grand old sword will cleave a man’s chine [i.e., spine], and split a rock in halves.

How is it that it does so little of its old conquering work? I will tell you. Do you see the scabbard of artistic work, so wonderfully elaborated? Full many keep the sword in this scabbard, and therefore its edge never gets to its work. Pull off that scabbard. Fling that fine sheath to Hades, and then see how, in the Lord’s hands, that glorious two-handed sword will mow down fields of men as mowers level the grass with their scythes.

There is no need to go down to Egypt for help. To invite the devil to help Christ is shameful. Please God, we shall see prosperity yet, when the church of God is resolved never to seek it except in God’s own way.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon
Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, 1888, vol. 34, p. 563

HT: Rodney Decker

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23 thoughts on “Why Spurgeon Thought the Plain Preaching of the Gospel Was Sufficient to Grow a Church”

  1. Alex Philip says:

    Wow! That was electrifying! But I ask this sincerely: Is this not also a masterful example of oratory itself?

  2. Stephen Gonzalez says:

    ?? Am I wrong in assuming he’s talking about a Sunday service right?

    I am convinced Sunday morning preaching is not sufficient to attract people and build up the church to make disciples. I definitely believe in the power of the gospel through us proclaiming it but Sunday services are not sufficient to making disciples. In fact a Sunday service is probably the least effective method in trying to make a full fuctional disciples of Jesus among not yet believers and believers in Christ

    But hopefully I misunderstood what he was saying. I assumed it because he speaks of music, art, flowers, architecture etc All that to me speaks of a service.

    1. Ted Bigelow says:

      Wow. You might want to go back and read it again.

      1. Stephen Gonzalez says:

        I get the point. I read the quote through the lens of the title. I do see what he means by trying to add to the power of the gospel by attracting people with art, music etc

        I still would say, “preaching the gospel plainly” on a Sunday service is not sufficient to build up the church and attract people.

        It does appear clear to me when he says preach he is specifically talking about a gospel centered sermon in a church service.

    2. Kathy Snyder says:

      Stephen, the gospel does not need to be wrapped up in ornamentation in order to transform people by its power. People with hearts made new through the gospel will then go out and love as Jesus loved. Love that, in the world’s eyes, looks foolish is indeed attractive. The plainly-preached gospel is foundational and is thus sufficient.

      1. Stephen Gonzalez says:

        I agree with you in that. The gospel is powerful to change us. I just think it’s unbiblically to think the preaching that happens in a sermon on a Sunday service is sufficient to do those things. I think it’s clear the preaching on a Sunday service is what Spurgeon is talking about or at least what Justin Taylor is trying to say through his quote. Once again if I am missing it please help me see it.

    3. Wyeth says:

      Stephen, I believe you read and understood rightly. Spurgeon said, “the gospel plainly preached will gain an audience, convert sinners, and build up and sustain a church.” And, I think Spurgeon was right. Sadly, I suspect very few pastors believe as Spurgeon believed. Most would probably agree with you that preaching during a service of worship is insufficient to “gain an audience, convert sinners, and build up and sustain a church.” And that lack of faith in the power of the preached word, more than anything else, probably explains why we don’t have more preachers like Spurgeon in our day.

      1. Stephen Gonzalez says:

        I do agree it is insufficient but let me explain why. 1) I don’t equate what the bible describes as preaching the gospel with a sermon necessarily 2) I believe we need the church, that is all the people of God equipped to proclaim the gospel in all of life in the everyday. Sunday is apart of that but shouldn’t be seen as the primary way.

        Everyday life is where the real normative preaching of the gospel should be and where people will be changed to become full functional disciples.

        I see this most fully in the life of Jesus and Paul, Sunday is huge, I love it and hope everything we do on Sunday there stirs us up to love and treasure Jesus but I do believe the most effective and consistent preaching needs to happen in the everyday in community.

        Hopefully you see I love and agree in the supremacy of preaching the gospel but Sunday as primary is an overstatement that can’t be defended by the bible. At least from what I see :)

        Peace and grace

  3. Dan says:

    Wow, very powerful. Thanks for sharing!

  4. David L. says:

    Spurgeon has got it right.

    What gets lost in the contextualization discussion is a proper processing of the cultural presupposition that assumes what Church “should” look like; and we feel it necessary, through contextualization, to show the world that we really are normal (dare I say, “cool”) people just like them and not so strictly orthodox as they might expect.

    I would argue that this concern is unecessary for the unchurched and over-churched alike. When we use the term “over-churched” today, we are not referring to the pretense of a Roman Catholic liturgy but mostly to legalistic theology in very contextualized Churches within American Evangelicalism.

    When we attempt to reach the over-churched we are essentially saying that we are bringing them the “long lost” Doctrines of Grace. Cultural context is not an issue for them as much as being spiritually fed and to reach out to the over-churched through contextualization is to merely pander to assumed subjective preferences … preferences that are usually those of the ministers.

    Contextualization is almost a moot point when it comes to reaching the unchurched. Firstly, the unchurched usually have an expectation of what Church will look like, either from growing up in the Catholic Church or from Hollywood (if the latter instance is the informer of their expectation then it could be argued that a more orthodox context is more beneficial [See: ‘Leap of Faith’])l their view of the Church is usually very orthodox. This expectation should not be viewed as a barrier if they attend a service. For the un-churched, the more contextualized services could actually be interpreted on their part as unnatural, instead of relatable. I think the argument could be made that, though neither are wrong, orthodox services might be more contextual for the post-modern American culture.

    If the gospel (the Word of God) is taught from the pulpit and we, the congregation, are faithful to show true brotherly corporate love and are faithful to Biblical, ecclesiastical ordinances then I would argue that context matters very little and contextualization that seeks to contextualize a post-modern culture can actually achieve diminishing returns. What the American over-churched need to learn is how to lay down personal preference that have become non-negotiable, this is achieved through the gospel. What the unchurched need is the gospel preached in knowledge and love to a congregation acting out this knowledge and love corporately. Context is nothing more than preference and preferences are always negotiable.

  5. Aaron says:

    I agree with this article but most guys cannot preach like Spurgeon! If you stink as a preacher it’s doubtful that you will have similar results guys.

    1. Kathy Snyder says:

      Define “stink”. If the pastor is a poor leader, then perhaps you are right. But if he is devoted to love and service, that will speak volumes, regardless of his oratory talent (or lack thereof).

  6. Harvester says:

    I would quickly add that we must also back the preaching up with PRAYER. I know Spurgeon had his furnace room…do we?

  7. Michael Snow says:

    And Spurgeon did not preach the Gospel only: “…We are justified by faith, and not by the works of the law.…At the same time, it is a dangerous state of things if doctrine is made to drive out precept,** and faith is held up as making holiness a superfluity.”

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Justin Taylor, PhD

Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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