Apology: The piece below is an incomplete response to Ruth Tucker’s article “Downgrading MacArthur and Spurgeon” found here: https://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2019/11/11/downgrading-macarthur-and-spurgeon
I do not know Dr. Tucker and my response is directed to my understanding of her article. I have not addressed her views on John MacArthur’s comments regarding Beth Moore as my objective is to offer what I believe to be a more accurate representation of Spurgeon. My post below was quickly written and has not been proofed for grammar or style by anyone. Please forgive my mistakes.
I read a column posted today at Patheos by Ruth Tucker that drew comparisons between John MacArthur and Charles Spurgeon as controversialists. It is not my aim to address Tucker’s analysis of MacArthur but rather to consider some of the suggestions that she makes about Charles and Susannah Spurgeon.
Tucker thinks that Spurgeon is “hands off” when it comes to criticism. She surmises that he is so highly valued today, especially by Calvinistic preachers, that he is above criticism.
Though some biographical works of Spurgeon are more hagiographical than straight up biography, one should not so easily dismiss affectionate views of Spurgeon penned from close companions who knew him well. I, for one, have no desire to cast Spurgeon into marble fit more for admiration and worship that for study. Spurgeon himself resisted attempts in his lifetime to create a movement built around his name. His interest was Christ and the Gospel. I also have no desire to impugn his motives nor downplay his remarkable life and ministry.
The lovely monument that marks the burial of Spurgeon at Norwood Cemetery is a product of his deacons desires but it is not reflective of the small stone that he requested. Though he struggled with his “darling sin” pride, Spurgeon was a deeply humble man. He has been often called the “People’s Preacher” because as a man of the country, with rural clay caked beneath his toes, he spoke the language of the common man and woman of England.
Tucker conveys a common perspective of Spurgeon as an uneducated man. While it is true that he was not an academic in the traditional sense of the word, he was certainly not uneducated. He read six substantive tomes each week and he remains one of the most prolific writers in all of Christian history. To suggest that Spurgeon lacked the mental capacity for academic pursuits is simply inaccurate.
That Spurgeon could hold the attention of almost 6,000 people each week at his church and thousands more in other venues is not an indicator that he was some sort of entertainer; fit more for the stage than the pulpit. Spurgeon believed (as we ought to believe) that there is no virtue in being a boring preacher when one has the treasuries of the gospel at his disposal. However, he often lamented those who made a show of the gospel.
Ruth Tucker seems to view Spurgeon as something of a rigid fundamentalist residing in a narrow circle. The reality is that Spurgeon had a large contingency of friendships from a variety of perspectives. He had the paedobaptist George Rogers lead his college and, later in life when he was ill, he had the Presbyterian pastor A. T. Pierson fill is pulpit for an extended period of time. Spurgeon preached at the dedication service of the Presbyterian Church at Mentone, France and enjoyed close fellowship with Presbyterians across the Continent. As well, he considered the Anglican George Whitefield as his historical hero and valued the writings of the Puritans. Spurgeon also held John Wesley in high regard. The truth is, Spurgeon held dear anyone who loved the gospel of Jesus Christ. He celebrated even some Roman Catholic writers and Christian mystics who helped him to see more of the beauty of Jesus. During his last illness, Jews, Catholics, Methodists, Anglicans, Brethren, and many other religious groups prayed for him. He was beloved in small country Baptist churches and was prayed for by worshippers at St. Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey.
Yes, Spurgeon had his critics but his friends were far greater in number. Yes, he had strong words of rebuke for Roman Catholics and Anglicans and for anyone else who undermined the gospel, but he held no personal animosity towards any man in his heart.
The art critic and author John Ruskin, certainly no orthodox Christian, considered Spurgeon one of his closest of friends. Though Spurgeon’s doctrinal lines were clearly defined, established, and uncompromised in his heart, family, and church, he was a welcoming man and people from all walks of life and views were recipients of his warm hospitality. A former slave from Virginia, Thomas Johnson, counted Charles and Susannah as two of his dearest friends and he was in attendance at both of their funerals. Spurgeon was the best of friends to orphans, widows, and the poorest ministers who served across the Continent.
The “barebones ministry” (Tucker’s estimation) of the Metropolitan Tabernacle today is in reality a thriving congregation averaging 1,000 people each Sunday, hundreds on Wednesday evenings, and Sunday school stations throughout the city.
Tucker portrays Spurgeon as ruling with an iron fist and, taking I think from Patricia Kruppa’s dissertation, she refers to him as the “Baptist Pope.” There is no doubt that Spurgeon’s leadership in his church and for years in the Baptist Union was strong, but it was certainly not dictatorial. And, when push came to shove during the Down-Grade Controversy, the Baptist Union overwhelmingly sided against Spurgeon and essentially censured him. Spurgeon scholars today believe that Spurgeon was right to sound the alarm of encroaching liberalism. Time has proven that the undermining effects of such liberalism across Europe and the world has been devastating.
Tucker chastises Spurgeon for not revealing the names of fellow Baptist leaders who were on the downgrade. But what she fails to realize is that Spurgeon, though having such names, made a promise not to reveal them. (For more information see Iain Murray’s The Forgotten Spurgeon) Tucker envisions Spurgeon telling liberals in the Baptist Union to “Get Out.” The reality is that Spurgeon wanted reform in the Union, confessional fidelity, and doctrinal faithfulness. And, it was Spurgeon who, with a broken heart, left the Union. His broken heart was never healed and Susannah revealed that even on his deathbed, the loss of friendships as a result of the controversy troubled him.
Tucker’s last paragraph is troubling to say the least.
One of the reasons that Spurgeon became so popular in the years after his death and since was, interestingly, the power of a woman—the invalid Susannah Spurgeon. Years before he died, she had started a book and sermon fund. Church members gave liberally, and soon his books and other writings were sent to pastors all over the UK and far beyond. What she established is in some ways reminiscent of what Mark Driscoll did with his books in an effort to turn them into bestsellers. His efforts, however, were thoroughly dishonest and the whole scheme backfired. Susannah Spurgeon’s efforts did not. Her work during his lifetime and in the years after his death would do wonders into turning him into one of the most celebrated and influential preachers of all times.
It is true that Susannah is much to be credited for the legacy of Charles Spurgeon. She spent her remaining years after Charles died promoting his writings. It was not, however, simply church members who gave liberally to support Susannah’s fund assisting poor pastors across the Continent and around the world, but donations came from far-flung places. It is stunning and border-line slanderous that Dr. Tucker draws any comparison at all to Mark Driscoll’s successful attempt to get his marriage book to the top of the bestseller list via having his church/ministry purchase thousands of copies. Susannah’s goals in sending Spurgeon’s books around the world were not so that he could achieve best-seller status. Her goals were gospel promotion, assisting poor pastors and missionaries, and extending the faithful legacy of her husband as a help to all who received his books and sermons. What Tucker fails to mention is that much of Spurgeon’s ministry was held up by money from his own funds. He generously, cheerfully, and sacrificially gave to support the work of ministry. He sought no personal glory, wealth, or fame. When Charles Spurgeon died, he left behind funds sufficient to provide for Susannah during the remaining years of her life. When she died, however, there were not many resources left in the Spurgeon estate. However, there were vast resources to be found in the fruit that abounded from orphans saved, widows cared for, and pastors trained. Spurgeon’s legacy lives on, not because he was a narrow-minded fundamentalist, a “Baptist Pope,” nor a pompous self-seeking pastor. Spurgeon’s legacy lives on because he humbly and faithfully stood on Bible, proclaimed Christ, and invested the gospel in a thousand practical ways through his ministry to the “least of these.”
Ray Rhodes, Jr. is author of Susie: The Life and Legacy of Susannah Spurgeon; wife of Charles Spurgeon.