Spurgeon’s Allegorizing

  Charles Spurgeon mentioned to his students that within certain limits it was OK to “spiritualize” a text.  He spent some time explaining this point in Lectures to My Students.  It’s not exactly easy to get a precise definition of what it means to “spiritualize” a text; it has to do with the interpretation of Scripture, which is a huge topic in itself.  However one defines it, there is an overlap between spiritualizing and allegorizing.  In fact, I would argue that Spurgeon’s sermons sometimes contain allegory.

One example is his sermon on Genesis 7:15 which is called “The Parable of the Ark.”  I recently read this sermon in my studies on Genesis 6-9.   While Spurgeon says in the introduction he’s going to give a “parable” on the ark, it’s really an allegory.  Here’s Spurgeon’s allegorical interpretation of the “one window in the ark”:

I have often wondered how all the creatures could see through one window; but I have not wondered what was meant by it, for I think it is easy to point the moral. There is only one window whereby Christians ever get their light. All who come to Christ, and receive salvation by him, are illuminated in one way. That one window of the ark may fitly represent to us the ministry of the Holy Ghost. There is only one light which lighteneth every man who cometh into the world if he be lightened at all. Christ is the light, and it is the Holy Spirit of truth by whom Christ is revealed.

…There was only one window to the ark; and though there were first, second, and third stories to the ark, all saw out of one window; and the little saint, who is in the first story, gets light through the one window of the Spirit; and the saint, who has been brought up to the second story, gets light through the same window; and he, who has been promoted to the loftiest story, has to get light through the same window too. There is no other means of our seeing except through the one window made to the ark, the window of the Holy Spirit. Have we looked through that? Have we seen the clear blue sky above us?

While it is true that the Holy Spirit gives illumination, it is certainly not the meaning of the ark’s window.  The window in the ark was just a window in the ark, not a veiled reference to the Holy Spirit.  In fact, there could have been more than one opening in the ark depending on how one translates the very difficult phrase in Gen. 6:16a.  Some scholars say there may have been an 18 inch (a cubit) opening all around the top.  Whatever the case, Spurgeon clearly missed the meaning of the text.

I’m not saying Spurgeon was a terrible preacher.  He was human and made many mistakes like the rest of us.  And some of his sermons were better than others. I just wanted to point this out to help us avoid the error of allegorizing a text like this.  Αnd it is helpful to remember that even our favorite preachers err and it’s healthy for us to admit that.  This will keep us from emulating their error.  It will also keep us from idolizing our favorite preachers.  And it reminds us that God can [thankfully!] accomplish his purposes through fallible preachers and imperfect sermons.

The above quote by Spurgeon is found in Spurgeon, C. H. The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons. Vol. 53. London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1907, p. 270.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015