When it comes to heroes, none is greater than the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is everything to me, without Him I am nothing, and in and through His finished work my sin is addressed, forgiven and washed in the blood of the spotless Lamb of God. With that said, one of the greatest influences in my Christian life has been Charles Spurgeon. While Spurgeon does not come anywhere near the Lord Jesus Christ and I do not bow and worship Spurgeon, I do honor and greatly respect Spurgeon. His influence on my life and thought is massive. Moreover, the influence of Charles Spurgeon is felt more than ever today as he is the most published Christian author in church history.[i] Helmut Thielicke helpfully points out the widespread impact and influence of Spurgeon’s ministry noting, “The fire Spurgeon kindled turned into a beacon that shone across the seas and down through generations, was no mere brush fire of sensationalism, but an inexhaustible blaze that glowed and burned on solid hearths and was fed by the wells of the eternal Word. Here was the miracle of a brush that burned with fire and yet was not consumed.”[ii]
A new biography on Spurgeon called Living By Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles Spurgeon by Dr. Tom Nettles, Professor of Historical Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky has recently hit the bookshelves. Dr. Nettles is considered by many to be one of the foremost Baptist historians in America and demonstrates in this biography an enormous amount of knowledge about Spurgeon. This book traces Spurgeon’s life from birth, to conversion, to the great works God did in and through him in his ministry, to the downgrade controversy, and his conduct in his life and death.
What sets this biography apart is that it is more than just a biography. It is a training manual for how the Gospel penetrated into the thought of Spurgeon and how it can do the same in our lives. Spurgeon’s gifts were many, but his skills were all for not without the Gospel. Spurgeon is famous for saying that in his sermons he explained the text and then made a beeline to the Cross. Overall, this biography by Nettles reflects not only the spirit of Spurgeon but also the character of Spurgeon the man. Many people have been deeply blessed by Spurgeon and I count myself as one of those men. To read Spurgeon is to be brought into a world where the Gospel is supreme, where the Word is held in high esteem and preached faithfully, and where by the grace of God and ministry of the Holy Spirit the reader will be challenged and convicted. I echo the prayers of many who have prayed that God would raise up a mighty army of Spurgeons and yet, it is not duplicates of Spurgeon we need. What we need is Christians the world over who are captivated by the Truth of the Word of God and bow in amazement at the God of all grace. Oh for that to happen once again as it would turn the world upside down. This is why I rejoice for this biography/training manual that gives a portrait of how the Gospel penetrated the heart and life of Spurgeon and pulsated through the pulpit of Metropolitan Tabernacle and even now continues to do so through the many articles, books, and sermons Spurgeon wrote and preached.
Allow me to tell you why this biography/training manual is so important. First, this biography is a masterful telling of Spurgeon’s life. Rather than just conveying facts about Spurgeon which it does extremely well, this book reveals as few have done how driven Spurgeon was by the Gospel. This is particular instructive for the Church today given many are unduly driven by the latest fads and programs. Spurgeon was a man who saturated his life and ministry in the Word of God. He was a man who was a giant of the faith for reasons that went well beyond his extraordinary gifts. If ever this statement applied to any man it was Spurgeon, for he was an ordinary man whom God saved and used in an extraordinary way for the glory of God and the advancement of the Gospel. Spurgeon was the rare man who used his knowledge not for himself or to display how intelligent he was but rather he used his theology to further fuel His passion for God and His glory. This is displayed in chapter five where Dr. Nettles looks at Spurgeon’s theological method and content noting how Spurgeon grounded his life and thinking in Scripture.
The final reason why this book is important is the fact that many in our day have a low view of the Word of God. Spurgeon sought to preach the Word of God faithfully to God’s people, week in and week out. Spurgeon, in addressing verbal plenary inspiration, stated it was a fact and not a hypothesis.[iii] He believed the Bible is inerrant, authoritative, and sufficient, and stated concerning the Word of God, “I am the Book of God: Read me. I am God’s writing: Open my pages, for I was penned by God; read it, for He is my Author.”[iv] Spurgeon, preaching on Matthew 4:4, taught that in one’s search for truth, “It is not found in an infallible Church or infallible Apostles or any infallible man, for this is not where infallibility rests, but rather Christians have a more sure word of testimony, a rock of truth upon which they rest, for our infallible standard lies in ‘It is written’.”[v]Spurgeon believed the Bible does not merely contain the Word of God, but that it is the Word of God.”[vi] Spurgeon reinforced his view that the Scriptures were the unique, infallible, and inerrant[vii] Word of God by stating, “It [The Bible] is also a book pure in the sense of truth, being without admixture of error. I do not hesitate to say that I believe that there is no mistake whatever in the original Holy Scriptures from beginning to end there is not an error of any sort in the whole compass of them.”[viii] To Spurgeon, a preacher’s chief aim must be to communicate the Word of God to the people of God. He affirmed this belief by declaring, “The Word of God is not committed to God’s ministers to amuse men with its glitter, nor to charm them with the jewels in its hilt, but to conquer their souls for Jesus.”[ix] Spurgeon firmly believed the Bible was the very Word of God which would break the heart and bring the soul before the throne of God, thus bringing them to a redemptive knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.[x] The Word of God was the foundation for Spurgeon’s entire theological perspective and ministry. To read Dr. Nettles book Living By Revealed Truth is to be confronted by a man in Spurgeon who was absorbed in the Word of God so much so that his vocabulary and language was derived from that Word, with his life reflecting that reality.
In a day where the authority of the Bible is once again being challenged, what is needed is Christians across the world to herald the unchanging and timeless message of the Word of God. Spurgeon’s influence endures in evangelicalism today not because he was a perfect man. Like all of us, Spurgeon was a saint and sinner, yet his legacy remains because of his faithfulness to the Word of God and the Gospel of the Lord Jesus. You and I may never ever have the influence of a Spurgeon, but that does not mean we cannot make a difference in the lives of others. We can and will make a difference in the lives of others only if we rely on the Word of God. If one were to look across church history at the great men and women of God, men and women God has used powerfully in the life of the Church, a consistent pattern emerges, namely that of faithfulness to the Word of God and the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. In a day when the Word of God and even the Gospel is being dismissed as outdated and irrelevant, the Church has a Word that is unchanging and behind that message is a God who is faithful, true, just, merciful, loving and yet whose wrath burns against sinners and is only appeased or satisfied through the bloody death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. What is needed in the Church today is a vision of ministry as Spurgeon’s was—thoroughly grounded in the Word of God, captivated by the Gospel, for the purpose of building up the Church and loving the bride of Christ whom Jesus redeemed through His shed blood and who now empowers His people through the ministry of the Holy Spirit to testify of Himself for His praise.
While much, much more can be said not only about Revealed by Truth but also about Spurgeon the man, the one thing that stands apart from Spurgeon outside of his view of Scripture is that his ministry was one that displayed a high view of God, of Jesus, and that had deep roots in a proper understanding of the Holy Spirit. Spurgeon’s spirituality emerged from the Word of God. As Raymond Brown rightly notes regarding Spurgeon, “His spirituality was essentially a Biblical spirituality.”[xi] Spurgeon was a man deeply influenced by the Puritans and as such believed that the Gospel was for all of life. He “believed in a disciplined spirituality which to him meant diligent, meditative study of the Scriptures.”[xii]
Reading Dr. Nettles Living by Revealed Truth has reminded me once again of how God uses ordinary people in extraordinary ways for the glory of His name. While Spurgeon was a man of deep intellect and who had a passion for the Word of God and the Gospel of God, all his considerable gifts bowed before the sovereignty of God and were used in the service of His Kingdom. That is a legacy all Christians can leave by the grace of God if we are faithful to the Word of God and the Gospel.
I highly recommend this biography by Dr. Nettles because it is grounded as Spurgeon would have wanted in the Word of God, with a firm discussion of how Spurgeon worked out what he thought about a variety of topics from Scripture. Second, this biography is biblical theology on fire. By that I mean Nettles displays how the Word of God fueled Spurgeon’s passion for reading while keeping Scripture supreme in his thoughts and affections. The Puritans were men and women who understood that doctrine was for all of life. In this book, Nettles does a brilliant job of demonstrating the influence of the Puritans on Spurgeon’s own life and thinking. Finally, this biography is important because it gives a vision of ministry grounded in God’s Word and in prayer, fueled by the Holy Spirit. If we desire to be used powerfully as Spurgeon was in his day, we must be lovers of Jesus who were grounded in the Word of God, prayer and fueled by the Holy Spirit. May God make that a reality in our lives and may He renew in us a love for His Word, His Gospel, by His Spirit for the glory of God.
Go pick up Living By Revealed Truth: The Life And Pastoral Theology of Charles Spurgeon for to do so is to be swept away into a world where the Word of God is central, where the Gospel is faithfully proclaimed and where you will be confronted with a vision of ministry that honors God and brings Him all the glory. In my opinion, when one combines the scope of this biography with its intention to instruct its readers in a vision of ministry that glorifies God, it will not only break fresh ground on the life of Spurgeon, it will also set a new standard for how to write biographies. This approach does not just tell the story of a great man of God, it also demonstrates what drove that man to do the things he did for God. When one combines these factors, it results in one of the finest, if not the best biography I’ve read on Spurgeon as well as one of the best biographies I’ve ever read period. Nettles’ effort will become the new standard for biographies on Spurgeon and will encourage, educate and bless its readers. I pray it gains a wide readership among the people of God, from layman to scholars to everywhere in between. May God use this biography in powerful ways to flame a passion for the Word of God and the gospel of the Lord Jesus in our generation for the praise of His name.
Author: Tom Nettles
Publisher: Christian Focus (2013)
I received this for free from Christian Focus book review program for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
[i] Eric W. Hayden. “Did You Know: A Collection of True and unusual facts about Charles Haddon Spurgeon.” Christian History, 10:1, #29, (February 1991).
[ii] Helmut Thielicke, Encounter with Spurgeon, trans. John W. Doberstein (Cambridge, MA: James Clarke & Co., 1964) 1.
[iii] Charles H. Spurgeon, The Greatest Fight in the Word. Conference Address (London: Passmore and Alabaster, 1895), p. 27
[iv] Charles Spurgeon, The New Park Street Pulpit, Vol. 1 (1855), p. 110.
[v] Charles Spurgeon, The Treasury of the New Testament, Vol. I, p.28.
[vi] The Newcastle Daily Chronicle, June 24, 1891.
[vii] Spurgeon believed that inerrancy applied only to the original autographs (manuscripts).
[viii] Charles Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Vol. 35, 1889, p. 257.
[ix] Charles Spurgeon, The Treasury of the New Testament, Vol. III, p.863.
[x] Lewis Drummond, Spuregon Prince of Preachers (Grand Rapids, Kregel, 1992), 624.
[xi] Lecture given by Raymond Brown at the Celebration of Spurgeon’s 150th anniversary of his birth at William Jewell College, Liberty, Missouri.
[xii] Lewis Drummond, Spuregon Prince of Preachers (Grand Rapids, Kregel, 1992), 573.