They Never Told Me That…

A desperate Charles Spurgeon went hopping from church to church to come to understand how he must be saved.  But instead as he tells it:

One man preached Divine sovereignty, but what was that sublime truth to a poor sinner who wished to know what he must do to be saved.  There was another admirable man who always preached about the law, but what was the use of plowing up ground that needed to be sown.  Another was a practical preacher…but it was very much like a commanding officer teaching the maneuvers to a set of men without feet…what I wanted to know was, ‘How can I get my sins forgiven?’ and they never told me that.  (Charles Spurgeon, quoted byArnold Dallimore in Spurgeon: A New Biography, 18)

Finally our glorious Lord led Spurgeon to a small Primitive Methodist chapel to hear the preaching of what he called a man that was “really stupid”.  He was not trained in preaching—in fact he was not even the pastor.  The pastor was “snowed up”.  But this man stuck to the text and said over and over again—“Look unto Jesus”.  You can read the full story in Spurgeon’s words here.  God used this simple sermon to convert Spurgeon.

Now there are a two errors that we could make in considering Spurgeon’s story.  The first error is to dismiss what Spurgeon is saying and continue with myopic preaching (or even day to day speech).  Every preacher, Sunday school teacher, friend, counselor, spouse, co-worker, can be guilty of proclaiming truths that are around the cross but never actually proclaiming the gospel itself.

Every preacher should heed what Spurgeon lamented in his searching for an answer to the fundamental question, ‘how can I get my sins forgiven?’.  Of course there is more to the gospel and more to the Christian life.  But having a right relationship with God is fundamental to everything else.  So we must be very careful that in all of our preaching and proclaiming we don’t talk about the gospel but actually explain the gospel.  (I know I’ve been guilty of this far too many times).

The second error is to overemphasize Spurgeon’s experience to the neglect of preaching the whole counsel of God.  I’ve heard some preachers say things like, “I just preach the gospel”.  And what that means is that week in and week out the entirety of the sermon is about answering the question—“How do I get saved”.  Meanwhile, you have hundreds of sheep that are starving to death, unequipped for their own gospel proclamation, and not hearing how the gospel and its implications impacts every sphere of life.

Oddly enough—or perhaps not oddly at all—we find the balance in the preaching of Spurgeon.  He taught on divine sovereignty, he taught on the law, he taught on Christian living, he motivated people for missions, he preached the whole counsel of God.  But he also rightly believed that every sermon and every facet of the Christian life is fundamentally about Christ and His gospel.  So I think Spurgeon would say “preach divine sovereignty but do so as a means to shine a spotlight on the beauty of Christ, preach the law but only as a means of leading people to the fountain of grace, preach the Christian life but only as a result of the Lord changing a life, etc. etc.”

Simply put…when I stand before the Lord I’d be okay with somebody under my charge having their mind blown about the beautiful reality of the expansiveness of divine sovereignty and then hearing them say, “Pastor Mike never really taught us this”.  But what I wouldn’t be okay with are people under my charge standing before the Lord with really sweet doctrine, a list of missions activities, and AWANA pins being shocked when the Lord of glory says, “I never knew you”.  I don’t want them to go to hell being able to say, “Pastor Mike never told us how to have forgiveness of sins”.


  1. cb scott says

    Erwin Lutzer, wrote a book entitled: Is God On America’s Side? Within the content of that book he shared this story; “A Muslim family in Texas recently converted to Christ at great personal cost. They attended a large church with the hope that they would hear a word that would give them encouragement and hope. Instead the pastor—evidently an evangelical—preached a sermon on the benefits of good nutrition.” Lutzer further stated, “I wish I could say that this is an isolated and extreme example, but the fact is that the Gospel has taken second place in many churches.”

    Lutzer is a contemporary pastor to all of us. Spurgeon is a pastor of past generations of whom most of us would certainly admire. There is a great similarity in the stories of Lutzer and Spurgeon. It seems the message of the Gospel and the truths of the biblical revelation can be easily abandoned for what some may think more savory as fare for the palette.

    Mike Leake, I think your warning is good for us all who stand before people and say, “Thus saith the Lord.” Thank you again for a good post.

  2. Greg Harvey says

    Simple, practical advice: find how (and make sure) each presentation you make–sermon, lesson, or even business meeting–ties directly to the Gospel, explain that and present the plan of salvation as you do that.

    Never miss an opportunity to present it and use this blog as an excuse to do it if you don’t already. When God puts in our hearts the urge to seek him out, he’ll always direct our footsteps towards someone who can help fulfill that urge.

    Or as in Paul’s Macedonian call via a dream, God will direct OUR steps to FIND them. But what they need is what Spurgeon needed: knowledge regarding the forgiveness of sins through the shedding of the blood of Jesus Christ.

    You never know when the next Spurgeon will be on your doorsteps urgently seeking salvation. Could you be convicted of successfully giving him the information that led to him becoming the Prince of Preachers? Or just of the crime of not doing so?

    • says

      I like that you call it a crime.

      Ambassadors of the King that are not faithful to proclaim the King’s message of reconciliation are guilty of high treason.

    • cb scott says

      Greg Harvey,

      A personal question, if I may? Did you once serve within in the administration at SWBTS?

        • cb scott says

          Greg Harvey,

          The reason I asked is because of a comment you made earlier, maybe in another thread, wherein you employed the name of Ben Cole. Upon reading that comment, I seemed to remember him introducing you to me during one of the several SBCs we attended together, yet forgetting which one that may have been.

          Is it possible that he did introduce you to me or have I confused you with another person?

          • Greg Harvey says

            I’ve never met Ben and the only SBC Annual Meeting I’ve been near was the Phoenix one circa 2003. So I’m going go have to conclude that either you had a Pauline-like “Macedonian” dream or it might not have happened.

            I mentioned Ben mainly because he was vocal regarding emoticons. I’ve been too close to the Internet since before it was available to the broad public to avoid them polluting my typing. So I make sure to invoke Saint Ben when I think I used them too much.

          • cb scott says

            Greg Harvey,

            Thank you for your gracious reply. Obviously, I have you mistaken for another person with the first name of Greg.

            Nonetheless, allow me to complement you on your comments and insights here at Voices. I enjoy reading what you present relating the various topics posted here.

          • Greg Harvey says

            CB: Thanks. I certainly put the wrists above the keyboard and I try to keep my worst instincts in check as I push the keys. I confess to being surprised at times how these conversations stimulate thoughts I didn’t realize were there.

            To the extent that they’re edifying to myself or others, I hope you won’t mind if I give the Holy Spirit credit. God arranged the circumstances of my life for the background and I believe he prompts the thoughts I didn’t think before that are the foreground of my comments. (I will take responsibility for when I prompt an act of moderation, on the other hand.)

            I will add that the advice regarding always presenting the plan of salvation was “caught” from my dad in his teacher training and by example in his teaching, preaching, and church support efforts.

  3. says

    A very well written and thought provoking reminder for all of us…

    What is truly shocking in the quote you gave “I never knew you” is that he is addressing this to those who thought they had “done many wonderful works” for him. How very troubling to consider that according to these verses (Matt. 7: 15-23) not only will “many” of those who set in church Sunday after Sunday not be saved, but “many” who preach to them will also not be saved.

    Just because someone puts the prefix “Rev.” on the front of their name does not mean they are a “Minister of Christ”.

    And just because someone pitches a tent beside the road and calls themselves _______ Church does not mean they are a part of the “Body of Christ”.

    Good Stuff Mike…

  4. John Dunlap says

    I, like many others, have enjoyed visiting other denominational groups, but I get frustrated in sitting under one pastor or another who seem to ‘specialize’ in one aspect of the gospel to the exclusion of any other. I beg please preach the whole council of God. Teach holiness and make disciples and to those who need the message of salvation see that they hear it. Preach the Word, pray for increase, teach the word, enjoy the ever increasing family.