Spurgeon’s Preaching: A Critique (Greidanus)

Preaching Christ from the Old Testament: A Contemporary Hermeneutical Method Greidanus, Sidney cover image   Charles Spurgeon (d. 1892) doesn’t need much of an introduction in Calvinist circles.  We all know that the Lord used Spurgeon’s preaching to bring many to Christ and to build his people up in the faith.  I’d guess that Spurgeon is one of the most quoted preachers in history.  He’s beloved by many for a good reason: he pointed people to Jesus!

But Spurgeon’s preaching had some serious weaknesses or shortcomings.  I’m one of the few Calvinists who aren’t particularly drawn to read Spurgeon’s sermons because of these weaknesses.  In fact, after reading quite a few of his sermons, they’re not very high on my “to read” list.  Yes, they are devotional, edifying, and have a great emphasis on the gospel.  But Spurgeon’s sermons are not great examples of well-rounded expository preaching.

Sidney Greidanus spent some time discussing Spurgeon’s preaching in Preaching Christ from the Old Testament.  I don’t have time or space to summarize or quote the whole section and the many footnotes, but here are parts of it worth reading:

Even the most generous reviewers will admit that Spurgeon makes many errors in his interpretation of Scripture.  They will usually attribute these errors to his lack of formal theological education and/or lack of time.  But it is also clear that his single-minded concern to preach Jesus Christ often leads him to reading Christ back into the Old Testament text.  In other words, he frequently fails to do justice to the literal sense and the historical context of the Old Testament passages.  He does not ask about the intention of the original author; he does not inquire about the message for Israel.  Instead, he tends to use the Old Testament text as a “springboard” for his message about Jesus Christ.  He can do so all the more readily because he usually selects extremely brief texts (‘singular texts’), a fragment instead of a literary (message)  unit.  …Of the 532 sermons examined by [John] Talbert, ‘Spurgeon used only one verse or a part of one verse of Scripture in almost 70% of the messages….’  Although these brief texts will send people home with a clear idea of the point(s) of the sermon, a textual fragment is usually an open invitation to twist the meaning intended by the inspired author.

…Spurgeon vowed that if he would ever find a text ‘that had not got a road to Christ in it,’ he would ‘go over hedge and ditch but I would get at my Master…’  Frequently Spurgeon fails to see the right road to his Master, and, instead, travels through the swamp of typologizing and allegorizing.  He may warn his students about Origin, but Spurgeon’s own method is arbitrary and lacks any form of control.  He not only teaches that allegorical interpretation is a legitimate form of ‘spiritualizing,’ but he also preaches numerous historical narratives as if they were allegories.  Today we would call this a genre mistake.

Greidanus does give a few more gentle critiques of Spurgeon’s preaching; these are a few I thought were helpful.  I don’t believe Spurgeon was a horrible preacher and that no one should read him.  But I do believe it’s worth mentioning these flaws in Spurgeon’s preaching to help fellow preachers avoid them and to keep readers from adopting them.  Of course, no mere man has ever preached a perfect sermon and no preacher is perfect.  Thankfully God uses imperfect sermons preached by imperfect men to glorify himself and bring people to Christ!

The above quote is found on pages 160-151 of Preaching Christ from the Old Testament.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

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