When I was in seminary, at the zenith of youthful pride, I mentioned to several compatriots that I disapproved of the preaching of C. H. Spurgeon (aka “the Prince of Preachers”—I should have known). My reasons were legitimate concerns about what we call today a “Christ-centered” approach to preaching. In short, the accusation was that Spurgeon would start with a text and then run to the cross as quickly as possible.
In fact, he said as much:
Whenever I get hold of a text, I say to myself, ‘There is a road from here to Jesus Christ, and I mean to keep on His track till I get to Him.’” “Well,” said the young man, “but suppose you are preaching from a text that says nothing about Christ?” “Then I will go over hedge and ditch but what I will get at Him.”
-C.H. Spurgeon, The Soul Winner
My seminary training instilled in me a commitment to let the text be the source of the sermon (a good thing). This meant, especially with Old Testament passages, not inserting a Messianic reference where God hadn’t put one. It meant just preaching the verses of the preaching portion, and giving them the primacy in explanation and application. To be candid, I scoffed at Spurgeon (it pains me to write this).
Then I got older, read more of Spurgeon’s sermons, and preached a lot more. What I found in Spurgeon was not a forced insertion of Jesus where he was not. On the contrary, I found that he preached with a keen awareness of a passage’s context and of the entirety of the Bible. With masterful succinctness, Spurgeon explains what the passage means and then makes several applications with his audience specifically in mind. He often illustrates these applications with memorable or relatable images from everyday life or literature.
I’ve become convinced that the Christ-centered component of Spurgeon’s sermons was a result of his grasp of Biblical theology as a whole. His famous runs to the cross flowed naturally from an understanding that the Bible is one unified story. He persists in calling his hearers to repent of their sins and turn in faith to Jesus, the promised Messiah and savior.
I’m sure I don’t agree with every exegetical decision Spurgeon made. I’m sure I wouldn’t preach a text in precisely the same way he did. I think my main disagreement with him would be in choosing the size of text he would preach on, but even there I would concede his skill in keeping the audience tuned into the context. All in all, I confess my pride in dissing Spurgeon in my youth. The older I get, the more I like Spurgeon’s sermons. When I grow up I think I want to preach like him.