Tom Nettles highlights Charles Spurgeon’s commitment to Scripture in new book

Communications Staff — October 24, 2013

Charles Haddon Spurgeon’s commitment to live and minister in light of all Scripture says provides a model for all Christians, said Baptist historian Tom Nettles, who recently published a biography on the 19th century British Baptist preacher.

“Spurgeon’s ministry grew out of a love for the Scripture and a love for doctrine that everyone should share,” said Nettles, professor of church history at Southern Seminary, in an interview about his 700-page book, Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles Haddon Spurgeon.

According to Nettles, this love for Scripture should be especially true for pastors. Spurgeon let Scripture dictate all he did, and pastors today should seek a similar role for Scripture in their ministries.

“It should be everything,” Nettles said. “You shouldn’t do anything that Scripture doesn’t condone. You shouldn’t avoid anything that Scripture doesn’t condemn. You shouldn’t preach anything that you could not verify with Scriptural exposition.”

Nettles glimpsed Spurgeon’s commitment to Scripture by focusing his research on Spurgeon’s monthly publication, Sword and Trowel, which Nettles thinks previous biographies have overlooked.

Spurgeon served as pastor of New Park Street Chapel, later named Metropolitan Tabernacle, in London, 1854-1892.

“He wrote most of those, and so he explains month-by-month what’s going on in Metropolitan Tabernacle or in other churches” said Nettles. “You get all these little views about how he viewed church life. … I think that adds a depth to Spurgeon’s life that sometimes I didn’t find in other biographies.”

The underused Sword and Trowel is not the only thing previous Spurgeon biographers have overlooked. According to Nettles, Spurgeon’s theological ability and consistency has not received its proper due. This, in fact, is what gave Nettles the title for the book.

“Spurgeon has not been taken seriously enough as a theologian who governed his life and his ministry on the basis of theological principles,” Nettles said.

“Some historians have not sorted out the fact that he had a very strong theology of evangelism, and a strong theology of human responsibility as it related to divine sovereignty,” Nettles said. “There were theological reasons for what he did. That’s the reason I’ve titled the book Living by Revealed Truth.”

Spurgeon’s trust in God’s sovereignty played an important role in how he reacted to the profound suffering and tragedy in his life. Spurgeon knew, from passages like Romans 8:28-29, that God works all things for the good of those who love him, to the end of conforming them to the image of Christ.

“He was so committed to the sovereignty of God that he knew that God had a purpose in everything. He did not question God in his dealing with him,” Nettles said. “He wasn’t afraid to quote Romans 8:28 in hard suffering. God is saying that he is in control, he’s fashioning us into the image of his Son. What more could we want in our suffering?”

Spurgeon’s commitment to doing ministry in light of Scripture is also evident in his heavy involvement in benevolence ministries. Eventually, Spurgeon’s Metropolitan Tabernacle housed as many as 66 such ministries.

“And all of them, as far as Spurgeon was concerned, had a theological foundation,” Nettles said. “All of these things rose out of his love for the gospel.”

With all of the ministries that Spurgeon supported, and with his vast output as a preacher, writer and administrator, Nettles concedes that Spurgeon’s life could discourage readers who have little hope of such productivity. But there’s much from Spurgeon’s example that deserve attention and emulation.

“There’s one sense in which we say, ‘Don’t try to be Spurgeon, because you can’t,’” Nettles said.  Regardless, “I think we need to try to love the gospel the way he did, be insistent on biblical foundations for all we do the way he did, we should be energetic for the gospel as he was.”

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