Arnold Dallimore devotes a four page section of his biography of Charles Spurgon to his use of alcohol and tobacco (the whole section can be found here).
Many of the “young, restless, and reformed” have found in Spurgeon a hero of Christian liberty, and a model for their own desired habits. Some of the older Reformed folks disapprove of both the YRR and their Spurgeon on this matter. For my part, I have always loved Charles Spurgeon, and I deeply admire the way he conducted himself in this area.
I personally don’t use tobacco; I will drink a dark beer now and then; but my appreciation for Spurgeon has nothing to do with his specific positions on these issues, but rather the way in which he held them.
The phrase repeats like a refrain throughout Dallimore:
“Spurgeon made not the slightest attempt to hide his practice… he was in no way ashamed of the practice. It must be emphasized he saw nothing wrong in his smoking and that he did it openly” (179–80).
When a visiting preacher, George F. Pentecost, preached against smoking at the Tabernacle, Dallimore notes that, “we must assume that if ever in his lifetime Spurgeon was embarrassed it was now!” Yet, Spurgeon refused to hide, even in the face of open opposition:
“Well, dear friends, you know that some men can do to the glory of God what to other men would be a sin. And, not withstanding what brother Pentecost has said, I intend to smoke a good cigar to the glory of God before I go to bed tonight…
I wish to say that I am not ashamed of anything whatever that I do, and I don’t feel that smoking makes me ashamed, and therefore I mean to smoke to the glory of God” (180–81).
The same was true of alcohol:
“We find him using such drinks as beer, wine, and brandy, though in very moderate amounts. And this practice, like that of smoking, he did not in any way attempt to deny or hide…
When he took it he made no secret of his course, but freely spoke of it wherever he might be” (182).
I cannot overstate how highly I admire Spurgeon for this, and how tremendous his example has been for me. Right or wrong, Spurgeon was never a hypocrite. You never had to wonder where he stood. He was as straightforward as you could be. He went out of his way to be clearly understood and not to hide his true self. You could disagree with him and debate with him openly because you knew where he stood. Later in life, in fact, he was persuaded to stop smoking and drinking, and he didn’t hide that fact either.
I have been encouraged by Spurgeon to be more honest, not to keep conveniently quiet when a belief or a practice of mine might be unpopular. My appreciation for him has far less to do with the fact that he happened to smoke or drink (or that he was a Baptist, or a Calvinist, or a liberal), but that he was a man of integrity, whatever he was.