Charles Spurgeon and A Theology of the Holy Spirit In Preaching

Posted by on Jan 13, 2012 in Charles Spurgeon, Preaching, The Holy Spirit

Charles Spurgeon and A Theology of the Holy Spirit In Preaching

            Spurgeon’s understanding of the connection between the Holy Spirit, prayer and preaching is paradigm shifting. His understanding of the connection between preaching and the ministry of the Holy Spirit is not new, but it does need to be brought to the forefront for the modern reader. John Broadus in On the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons stated that “The ultimate requisite for the effective preacher is complete dependence upon the Holy Spirit.”[1] Dr. Bryan Chapell teaches that the biblical description of the Spirit’s work challenges “All preachers to approach their task with a deep sense of dependence upon the Spirit of God.”[2]

Dr. Sinclair Ferguson notes that “Little attention has been given in recent literature to the role of the Spirit in relationship to preaching.”[3] Dr. Eswine explains that “Spurgeon’s intentional explicitness regarding the work of the Holy Spirit in preaching offers reasonable explorations into deeper caverns of intricacy, which may enable an infant theology on the Holy Spirit to take more steps.”[4]

Charles Spurgeon believed that “the Spirit of God was precious to the people of God, and therefore sought to make the person and work of Christ the main focal point of his preaching and instruction to other preachers.”[5] Dr. Heisler gets to the heart of what happens when the preacher understands the relationship between the Word and the Holy Spirit when he teaches that “When the Word and the Holy Spirit combine, combustion happens and power results.” He continues explaining that “Spirit-led preaching thrives on the powerful and inseparable tandem of the Word and Spirit.”[6]

The biblical foundations for understanding the ministry of the Holy Spirit in preaching comes from John 14:16-17. Jesus, in this passage, identifies the Holy Spirit as the “Spirit of Truth.” The Spirit of Truth is sent by the Father at the request of the Son, and indwells believers as a resident minister who guides believers into all truth. Jesus elaborates on the Spirit as the guide into all truth when he said in John 16:13, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.”

Jesus identified the Spirit’s ministry as a continuation of His own ministry; in fact, John 14:16-18 makes it clear that the Holy Spirit is of the same kind (Deity) as Jesus. The Spirit reveals and glorifies Christ by magnifying Christ’s teaching, Christ’s gospel, and Christ’s work as the grand fulfillment of God’s redemptive plan.[7] The Bible is united in its testimony to Jesus Christ, and the Spirit’s joy is giving witness to this testimony to the people of God. Spirit-led preaching comes into alignment with the Spirit’s ministry of glorifying Jesus Christ by proclaiming the written Word in order to glorify the living Word.[8]

Dr. Greg Heisler notes that “Spirit-led preaching is the biblically defined ministry combined with the theological relationship between the Word and the Spirit. This combination demands Christ-centered preaching.” “The biblical and theological foundation, he explains, for the Word and Spirit in preaching is seen in the fact that the Scriptures are Christ-centered, the Spirit is Christ-centered, and the preacher is to be Christ-centered.”[9]

The Scriptures are Christ-Centered: John 5:39, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me.” Luke 24:27, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”  John 20:30-31, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”[10]

The Spirit is Christ-Centered: John 14:26, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” John 15:26, “”But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.” John 16:13-14, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”[11]

The preacher is to be Christ-Centered: 2 Corinthians 4:5, “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servantsfor Jesus’ sake.” Acts 28:31, “Proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.” 1 Corinthians 1:23, “But we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles.”[12] These three categories form according to Dr. Heisler “the foundation for Spirit-led preaching.”[13]

Spurgeon understood the importance of preaching the Gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit which is why he notes that:

The gospel is preached in the ears of all; it only comes with power to some. The power that is in the gospel does not lie in the eloquence of the preacher; otherwise men would be converters of souls. Nor does it lie in the preacher’s learning; otherwise it would consist in the wisdom of men. We might preach till our tongues rotted, till we should exhaust our lungs and die, but never a soul would be converted unless there were a mysterious power going with it the Holy Ghost changing the will of man. Oh Sirs! We might as well preach to stone walls as preach to humanity unless the Holy Ghost be with the Word to give it power to convert the soul.[14]

Dr. John Stott notes that “preachers must be humble in mind (submissive to the written Word of God), have a humble ambition (desiring an encounter to take place between Christ and His people), and a humble dependence (relying on the power of the Holy Spirit).”[15] Preachers must aim to be faithful to God’s Word by lifting up the glory of Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. The confidence the preacher has must come from heartfelt knowledge of the Word of God by dwelling richly upon the Word, which is truth. Only in this way will the preacher know the Truth they profess and be able to bear testimony about the Cross in demonstration of Word and Spirit.

Paul in 2nd Corinthians 4:12 gets to the heart of why preachers and teachers of the Word of God must be surrendered wholly to the Lord when he says, “So death is at work in us, but life in you.” The challenge of preaching is to grow in the task while giving it away, being willing to die for people so that they may live.[16] Death-to-self is demanding, but necessary in order that the preacher may become like Christ, who died so that His people may live. Furthermore, if preachers will not die to self, the people they minister to will not live. The pulpit is a place to present a translucent soul laid over the vicarious suffering of the Lord Jesus, modeling His sacrifice.[17]

Robert Murray M’Cheyne in a letter to his friend Andrew Bonar taught his friend to the following: “Remember you are God’s sword—His instrument—I trust a chosen vessel unto Him to bear His name. In great measure, according to the purity and reflections of the instrument will be the success. It is not great talents God blesses so much as great likeness to Jesus. A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hands of God.”[18]

Spurgeon’s spirituality emerged from the Word of God. As Raymond Brown expressed it, “His spirituality was essentially a Biblical spirituality.”[19] Spuregon was a man deeply influenced by the Puritans and as such believed that the Gospel was for all of life. Spurgeon “believed in a disciplined spirituality which to him meant diligent, meditative study of the Scriptures.”[20]

Understanding the theology of the Holy Spirit in the life and thought of Spurgeon is important, but it is equally vital for preachers today to know how seriously Spurgeon took his own spiritual growth. Spurgeon’s ministry as this paper has sought to demonstrate was a ministry that was grounded in the Word of God and prayer, and fueled by the Holy Spirit. Spurgeon was a man of God, set ablaze with a passion to declare the majesty of God in the person and work of Jesus Christ.



[1] John Broadus, On the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons, 4th Edition, revised by Vernon L. Stanfield (Harper San Francisco, 1979), 16.

[2] Bryan Chapell, Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1994), 24.

[3]Sinclair Ferguson, The Holy Spirit, Contours of Christian Theology (Downers Grove, Illinois: Intervarsity Press, 996), 277.

[4] Zachary W. Eswine, The Role of the Holy Spirit in the Preaching Theory and Practice of Charles Haddon Spurgeon PhD diss. Regent University, 2003, 228.

[5] Greg Heisler, Spirit-Led Preaching (Nashville, B & H Publishing, 2007), 54.

[6] Ibid., 54.

[7] Ibid., 55.

[8] Ibid., 55.

[9] Greg Heisler, Spirit-Led Preaching (Nashville, B & H Publishing, 2007), 63-64.

[10] Ibid., 62-63.

[11] Ibid., 65.

[12] Greg Heisler, Spirit-Led Preaching (Nashville, B & H Publishing, 2007), 65.

[13] Ibid., 64.

[14] Ibid., 126.

[15]John Stott, Between Two Worlds (Grand Rapids, Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1982), 335.

[16] Steven W. Smith, Dying to Preach Embracing the Cross in the Pulpit, (Grand Rapids, Kregel, 2009), 18

[17] Ibid., 19.

[18] Robert Murray M’Cheyne, Memoir and Remains of the Rev. Robert Murray M’Cheyne Minister of St. Peter Dundee (Hamilton, Adams, & Co., J. Nisbett & Co., And J. Johnstone & Co., London, 1844). 243.

[19] Lecture given by Raymond Brown at the Celebration of Spurgeon’s 150th anniversary of his birth at William Jewell College, Liberty, Missouri.

[20] Lewis Drummond, Spuregon Prince of Preachers (Grand Rapids, Kregel, 1992), 573.

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