In 1850, aged sixteen, Spurgeon was tricked into preaching his first sermon. At that time, a small preaching group based at St. Andrew’s Street Chapel in Cambridge was used to supplying preachers for the surrounding villages. Impressed by the recently converted teenager, the leader of the group asked Spurgeon to go to the little village of Teversham the next evening, “for a young man was to preach there who was not much used to services, and very likely would be glad of company."[1]  It was a cunning statement that led him to set off the next day, unsuspecting, with the man he assumed would be preaching. Only then, when he wished the man well, did he find out that he himself was the “young man” scheduled to give the sermon. As they walked, he decided he must speak on the sweetness and love of Jesus, and that his text would be 1 Peter 2:7, “Unto you therefore which believe he [Christ] is precious” (KJV). In that urgent moment, his choice of topic and text was all-revealing, and some twenty years later he wrote, “I am sure it contains the marrow of what I have always taught in the pulpit from that day until now.”[2]

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Spurgeon agreed wholly with the aforementioned words of Richard Sibbes, which he placed before the title page of The Saint and His Savior: “The special work of our ministry is to lay open Christ, to hold up the tapestry and unfold the mysteries of Christ.”[3] And though Spurgeon does not record it, Sibbes would go on to use a courtship image that would be central for Spurgeon’s understanding of preaching: “It is the end of our calling to sue for a marriage between Christ and every soul. We are the friends of the bride, to bring the church to him; and the friends of the church, to bring Christ to them.”[4] Since Christ’s great and eternal purpose—and the very reason for his death—is to win for himself a bride, the preacher’s purpose is, as it were, to woo for Christ. Preachers are called to make Christ known in all his goodness, beauty, and truth, that his people might yield themselves to him, delight in him, and be one with him. They are like Abraham’s servant in Genesis 24, commissioned to find a bride for his son Isaac. “For as truly as Abraham sent his servant to seek a bride for his son, we are commissioned to search for those who shall be brought into the church, and at length, as the bride of Christ, sit down at the marriage-feast in the glory-land above.”[5]

Driven by that understanding of the preacher’s task, Spurgeon’s preaching was purposeful in a way that went beyond education. “Give us sermons, and save us from essays!”[6] he pleaded with his students training for pastoral ministry.

In the pulpit he sought not merely to inform his listeners about the Word of God but also to draw both believers and unbelievers to Christ.

His aim was to see people transformed at the very deepest level, their affections and desires turning away from their naturally cherished sins to Christ. “The object of all true preaching is the heart: we aim at divorcing the heart from sin, and wedding it to Christ. Our ministry has failed, and has not the divine seal set upon it, unless it makes men tremble, makes them sad, and then anon brings them to Christ, and causes them to rejoice.”[7]

Spurgeon felt this so strongly that he was often at his most exasperated when thinking of all the aimless, trotted-out sermons that filled so many of the pulpits of England. “I have often wondered why certain sermons were ever preached, what design the preacher had in concocting them.”[8] With friendly but smarting mockery he compared these preachers to Chinese knife throwers who could throw their weapons and—against all odds—deliberately miss the assistant standing against the wall. “‘Be not afraid,’ says the preacher, ‘I am never personal. I never give home-thrusts.’ Stand quite still, my friend! Open your arms! Spread out your fingers! Your minister has practiced a very long while, and he knows how to avoid troubling you in the least with truth too severely personal.”[9] In grand contrast, he described his own preaching ministry with blistering militancy (warning: it takes some time to calm down after hearing what is a mere description of his preaching): “We do not go out snow-balling on Sundays, we go fire-balling; we ought to hurl grenades into the enemy’s ranks.”[10] You may want to take a moment to recompose yourself now.

As well as distinguishing preaching from mere data-dumping, Spurgeon was clear that “to preach” is not the same thing as “to moralize.” “Remember,” he told his students, “you are not sent to whiten tombs, but to open them.”[11]

The transformation he longed for in his listeners was not merely at the superficial behavioral level (though he wanted to see godly behavior), but also at the very core of their being.

Through preaching the gospel, he wanted to see the spiritually dead come to new life in Christ, and the living to become more gloriously Christlike and alive.

And through such gospel preaching, he was clear, the evils of the times will be addressed: the vicious will become peace-loving and upright, the proud humble, the greedy generous, and the addicts freed.

We have only to preach the living gospel, and the whole of it, to meet the whole of the evils of the times. The gospel, if it were fully received through the whole earth, would purge away all slavery, end all war, and put down all drunkenness and all social evils; in fact you cannot conceive a moral curse which it would not remove, and even physical evils, since many of them arise incidentally from sin, would be greatly mitigated and some of them forever abolished.[12]

Only the gospel of Christ has power to effect that sort of radical transformation in human hearts and lives. But I should explain myself here. As far as I can tell, in all his forty packed years of preaching, he never missed an opportunity to address the unbelievers in his hearing. He was consistently and strongly evangelistic in his preaching. However, in the main it is not possible to divide his evangelistic from his pastoral preaching: the one gospel was his message for all, believer and unbeliever alike.

[1] Autobiog., 1:200.

[2] S&T: 1869, 139.

[3] C. H. Spurgeon, The Saint and His Savior: The Progress of the Soul in the Knowledge of Jesus (New York: Sheldon, Blakeman & Co., 1858), ii.

[4] Richard Sibbes, “Bowels Opened,” in The Complete Works of Richard Sibbes, ed. A. B. Grosart, 7 vols. (Edinburgh: James Nichol, 1862), 2:142.

[5] MTP, 37:589.

[6] ARM,347.

[7] MTP, 27:530.

[8] ARM,116.

[9] ARM, 118. Cf. C. H. Spurgeon, The Soul Winner: How to Lead Sinners to the Saviour (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1895), 55.

[10] Spurgeon, The Soul Winner, 69.

[11] Lectures, 2:230.

[12] S&T: 1877, 71.

Taken from Spurgeon on the Christian Life by Michael Reeves, Copyright © 2018, pp. 65-67. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187,