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”.