Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the Baptist pastor from the mid-late nineteenth century, has grown in popularity in recent years. His popularity has grown particularly among young reformed evangelicals who look to him and seek to emulate his pastoral example. He rose to prominence in his own day and became what would be called today a “celebrity pastor” with a ministry that was known throughout the world. What is most remarkable about his ministry is that he was a Baptist and not an Anglican. He held firmly to the teachings of the Protestant reformers, especially the Puritans. Yet, his influence and teaching on the Christian life has a wider effect than just in Reformed or even Baptist circles. This is what Michael Reeves discusses in his book Spurgeon on the Christian Life (Crossway, 2018).
As part of Crossway’s Theologians on the Christian Life series, the book does not seek to be an exhaustive biography of Charles Spurgeon. Instead, Michael Reeves explores what Spurgeon taught, preached about, and wrote about what it means to follow Jesus. As discussed throughout the book, Spurgeon help firmly to the gospel as the foundation of the Christian life. Reeves discusses this in three parts in the book: Christ the center, the new birth, and new life. First Spurgeon held fast to Christ as the center of his life. He taught and believed that Christ, as revealed in Scripture, is the way to salvation and life.
In his preaching, Spurgeon sought to show that all of the Bible points to Jesus, not just the New Testament. He learned this way of reading the Bible from the Puritans. The Puritan tradition was to take a verse of Scripture and expound on it to its depths and point the reader/listener to Jesus in the process. Spurgeon’s personal library was filled with books written by the Puritans. His favorite Puritan was John Bunyan, the author of The Pilgrim’s Progress, which was Spurgeon’s favorite book second only to the Bible. From Bunyan, he learned what it meant to follow Jesus in all season of life.
Reeves then discusses Spurgeon’s teachings on the Christian life and new birth. Being firmly planted in the reformed/Puritan tradition, Spurgeon believed that humanity was depraved and dead in sin. In order to know God, a person had to be regenerated by the Holy Spirit and walk in repentance and faith in the work of Jesus on the cross. He ministered in a culture where people were born into the Anglican Church and baptized as infants. Christianity for most people in that society was more cultural than it was personal. Spurgeon preached against that mentality and called for regenerate church membership and believers baptism. For Spurgeon, belief in Christ was life-giving, not just culturally beneficial.
Thirdly, Reeves discusses Spurgeon’s teaching on the believer’s new life in Christ and how it applies in all aspects. For Spurgeon the gospel had very practical implications. He believed and taught that the Christian life was one of sanctification. One is not made perfect at the moment of belief, but is made more like Christ throughout life as they walk with Jesus. This was evidenced in his own life through health issues and a deep struggle with depression. He came to see that the Lord was using these aspects of his life to make Spurgeon trust Jesus more. In his deepest days of depression, he could only cling to hope found in the gospel. Spurgeon truly ministered as one who had walked through struggles and could point his people to the Lord in grounded faith. This made his ministry that much more powerful. I believe that this has also helped make Spurgeon relevant to believers beyond his own day.
Spurgeon on the Christian Life is an excellent resource and encouragement on what it means to follow Jesus. Michael Reeves quotes often from Spurgeon’s writings and sermons, which allows the reader to experience Spurgeon’s heart regarding the Christian life. Given the fact that Spurgeon was a pastor, the book lends itself to being an encouragement predominantly for pastors and church leaders. However, the book is also an encouragement to all believers, because Spurgeon openly struggled with health issues and depression which sets an example for all followers of Christ.