Some of my favorite spiritual lifters have been “historical mentors.” We need mighty men and women as role models. Sometimes they are in short supply around us. Biography can warn, instruct, inspire, sharpen our vision and encourage a higher walk with Christ.
The preacher-pastor at Metropolitan Tabernacle in London spoke without a sound system to crowds of 6,000 people weekly for nearly 30 years. Charles Haddon Spurgeon's sermons were read in newspapers, sold all over the world, and bound in books that have been selling thousands for over 100 years. His three-volume Treasury of David is the standard work on the Psalms. Spurgeon, more than 100 years after his early death, is still preaching through his published books. We have edited, by permission, Fred Smith's outstanding eight leadership insights gained from decades of responding to Spurgeon's ministry. My editorial comments below are in (parentheses).
- Dr. Moore
Champions learn to play hurt. A successful Jewish businessman once remarked to me, “Amateurs can produce when they feel like it. Pros can produce when they don't feel like it.” Spurgeon, like many great accomplishers, fought with a thorn in his flesh.
- His wife became an invalid at 33, evidently forcing him to sublimate his sexual drive.
- Later in life he had rheumatic gout, which eventually took his life at age 57. Confined to bed a week at a time by the pain, he would stand to preach on gout-inflected knees.
- Spurgeon suffered deep depressions. He never doubted the gospel message, but he often doubted himself, the messenger. Suffering is essential to sainthood. It is the hurt that opens the heart. When Malcolm Muggeridge neared the end of his life, he reflected, “Looking over my 90 years, I realize I have never made any progress in good times. I only progressed in the hard times.” The furnace had changed his iron into steel.
(When I was pastoring, few in the church knew the emotional hurts and stabs that put me to bed depressed a number of times. At the same time at home we could not share fully the regular trauma and abuse we all experienced from our handicapped son. Paul grew to weigh 270 pounds, violently strong. He was practically blind, and 6 years old mentally. We learned so much from God, working with Paul's anger and mostly his hurts through rejection. Helping Paul memorize and apply scripture became our greatest aide to normalcy.)
PUTTING FAITH FIRST
Spurgeon preached answers, not mere opinions. His faith controlled his knowledge rather than his knowledge controlling his faith. Spurgeon was, first of all, a man of faith. He knew that it is by faith, not knowledge, that we please God. When higher education makes knowledge the orifice through which faith must come, it does us a disservice. Certainly God can use a person of great intellect, but only as long as his faith is even greater.
(Spurgeon said, “Have great faith. Little faith will take your soul to heaven; great faith will bring heaven to your soul.” We read “. . . faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Romans 10:17). There is power in deciding to listen acutely to a sermon and apply it. Faith grows as we personalize a verse into our life.)
SPEAKING OUT OF THE OVERFLOW
Spurgeon's sermons flowed from both a full heart and a full head. He read widely and meditated on his sermon text all week (though he rarely prepared his sermons before Saturday night). He always had more to say than he could possibly include in one message. He spoke out of the overflow. Spurgeon was an artesian well that tapped deeply into God's spiritual aquifer. He knew the joy of learning.
(As a child Spurgeon was paid by his mother a penny for each mouse he caught, and each scripture verse he memorized. These verses flow through his messages. Nothing produces “overflow” like memorizing and meditating on two scripture verses weekly, with review. God will use this habit to build a Niagara of refreshing, healing, life-changing words in you.)
LEARNING WITH A PURPOSE
Spurgeon was functionally, not scholastically, educated. He didn't attend college and was never ordained. I believe he would subscribe to the ideal. It is not a disgrace to lack a degree, but it is a disgrace not to be educated. In industry we have learned that people rarely learn and retain anything that they don't use quickly.
Though he read widely (he amassed a personal library of more than 12,000 volumes), he read with discipline. C.S. Lewis said, “Every life has a limited number of themes.” Spurgeon, like all good communicators, knew the power of his themes. Spurgeon read six books a week, selected according to his interest rather than what some course required. As a six-year-old he read Pilgrim's Progress for the first time. During his 57 years, he read it 100 times. He was steeped in it because he saw him living the journey of Pilgrim's progress as a metaphor of his life.
(We need focus. Can you do any one thing very well? Do you have a major focus you're feeding, sharpening, so that you have passion in sharing it with others? “Jack of all trades; master of none” is the death sentence to an impacting ministry.)
DEVELOPING A KNACK FOR NETWORKING
Spurgeon networked a hundred years before the word came into style. He was a genius at picking friends. Six close friends fed six different streams into his life: Prime Minister Gladstone (the statesman), D.L. Moody (the evangelist), George Mueller (the man of faith and prayer), Lord Shaftsbury (the social conscience), John Ruskin (the intellectual), and William Booth (the activist and founder of the Salvation Army). From them he formed a broad grasp of life and the essence of what was important.
(To maintain any spiritual balance in our twisted world, we need to cultivate Godly friends who are totally honest, don't always agree, and have a passion for something perhaps not on our priority list. Have you committed to being regularly accountable to a few people?)
It is a gift to be able to go one-on-one with individuals, even in a mass audience. Billy Graham does it when he says, “You're not here by accident, you're here by the will of God.” This links him in a one-on-one, personal relationship with the listener. Spurgeon did it by applying the message to segments of the congregation: Are you a laborer? Are you a housewife? Are you a business executive? Are you a governmental official? . . . Spurgeon was not a “preacher,” but an authentic person speaking for Almighty God. (Sharing failures and battles sometimes reaches hearts faster than success stories.)
FOCUSING ON THE BIG ISSUES
Spurgeon was a destination preacher. He once said, “I take my text and make a bee-line to the cross.” Spurgeon believed the cross — God's plan for our salvation — was the heart of Christianity. (Spurgeon once asked a pastor, “Do you believe people will be saved every time you preach the gospel?” “No,” replied the surprised pastor. “That's your problem,” said Spurgeon. “I expect the Gospel to produce fruit every time.”)
TAPPING THE SPIRIT'S POWER
You couldn't hear Spurgeon without feeling something. That something was the power of the Spirit. God's Word was coming through him and not from him. He allowed them to experience his strong emotion. He wasn't afraid for his audience to see and experience what he was experiencing. Spurgeon's legacy is three-pronged: the thousands of people who found Christ under his ministry, the nearly 900 students who learned to preach in his school, and the multiplied thousands of us whom he continues to mentor, both through his messages and his life. (I need daily “debugging,” confessing all sins by name. Then I surrender each part of my life to the control of the Holy Spirit).