A Marvelous Ministry (Ligonier, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1993) is a multi-author volume with chapters by Geoff Thomas (Wales), David Kingdon (South Africa), Tim Curnow (England) and Erroll Hulse (England). The book includes a biographical overview of Spurgeon’s life and ministry (ch. 2), as well as focused treatments on his “Gospel Invitations” (ch. 2), his “Social Concern (ch. 4), the “Downgrade Controversy” (ch. 5), and his “Activity in Politics” (ch. 6). The thesis of the book is that even though Spurgeon lived and ministered 150 years ago, his life is still relevant for us today to learn many instructive lessons. In fact, one author suggests that, “Spurgeon’s sermons should be returned to throughout one’s life and picked up and read, one a day, for some period, before other things break that plan… A student fresh out of theological seminary could make a study of Spurgeon, read the biographies and as many of his 150 books as he can find” (47).
In reading this, I was encouraged again to emulate Spurgeon’s example of integrity. Thomas notes that “Spurgeon was an open, guileless man. He told a would-be biographer, ‘You may write my life across the sky; I have nothing to conceal’” (68). This is an honesty and integrity that I aspire to in every aspect of life and ministry. (see: Why I Admire Spurgeon’s Position on Cigars and Brandy)
A chapter particular interest was Chapter 4: “Spurgeon and his Social Concern.” Spurgeon said in one sermon, “I would that we who have a purer faith, could remember a little more the intimate connection between the body and the soul… It seems an idle tale to a poor man if you talk to him of spiritual things and cruelly refuse to help him as to temporals” (91–92). Spurgeon never allowed himself to become so narrowly focused on “just preaching the gospel” that he ignored the real social evils going on around him. In the same sermon, he said “We want to be educated into the knowledge of our national poverty; we want to be taught and trained, to know more of what our fellow men can and do suffer” (93). Becoming directly “educated” and acquainted with the real suffering of people around was important to Spurgeon and should be important to us.
Interestingly, Spurgeon gives us a fascinating example of someone with regard to his political convictions in our day when we are told not to get too entangled with politics. Spurgeon “was an unashamed Liberal who was not prepared to hide his political creed under a pastoral bushel” (95). “Liberal” was one of the political parties of the time in contrast with the Tories:
“As a Dissenter and a Liberal, Spurgeon stood against the power and privilege of the political establishment which found its expression in the Tory party… He was emphatically on the side of those who were excluded from the corridors of power because they were Dissenters in religion and as emphatically against those who looked down upon the poor from basins of privilege acquired either by inheritance or wealth.”
All in all, Spurgeon is a model of someone who “did not read his Bible as a pietist who separated religion off into a private realm removed from social and political life.” His activism was widespread: he founded an orphanage and supported it his whole life; this orphanage had its own school; he started an evening school at his church for adults to learn ‘Science, English Language and Literature, Elementary Mathematics, and Bookkeeping” (106).
In all of this, I find myself inspired to put no limits on the kinds of ways to “do good to all” and “love your neighbor as yourself.” The kinds of challenges that people face today: poverty, unemployment, homelessness, are all fair game for anyone in ministry to seek to address, and Spurgeon gives a model for doing so.
The chapter on the “Downgrade Controversy” demonstrates that such effort to address social concerns does not have to come at the expense of orthodox theology whatsoever. This controversy was due to other Baptist ministers beginning to compromise on the doctrine of eternal punishment in hell. Spurgeon fought hard within the Baptist union to fight this theological drift, and in the end withdrew from their fellowship over this issue. However, Hulse points out that even when Spurgeon disagreed deeply with others’ theological convictions, he did so charitably:
He sought to maintain personal contact and sustain a personal relationship with evangelical ministers who compromised and were too weak to uphold the biblical position as outlined above. He reasoned with them. He was patient with them. He broke fellowship with them as far as cooperation was concerned, but he did no sever lines of personal communication with fellow ministers who compromised. He was sorrowful and reluctant in separating from brother ministers who refused to take a stand. (p. 9)
Spurgeon is a model for us of how to engage controversy. “We need to hold the truth and contend for it in a loving manner as he did” (10).
Spurgeon is thus indeed a model of an “all-round ministry.” I don’t have to choose between extensive engagement on social issues and evangelistic preaching of the Gospel: Spurgeon did both exceptionally well. I don’t have to choose to compromise on theology in order to pursue greater good in the community: Spurgeon fought against theological drift while being actively engaged in these other issues. I don’t have to stay out of politics when political realities affect so many aspects the life of my people: Spurgeon was unashamed to wade into political questions and took the side of the marginalized. And finally, I don’t have to do any of these things in fear of what other people will think: Spurgeon lived his life completely in the open, willing to be completely known by all for who he truly was. His life truly speaks to us today.