The Prince of Preachers

The ‘Prince of Preachers’ was the name given to Charles Haddon Spurgeon, who founded the college of which I was principal for six years. He was born in Essex in 1834 and died in 1892. When he preached his first sermon at the age of sixteen, his listeners realised they were in the presence of a young man with an amazing gift. As a result the following year he was called to be the pastor of a local Baptist church. In 1861 he moved to London, where he became the minister of New Park Street Baptist Church in South London. Very soon this church with seating for 1,200 people became too small and so the congregation built what was known as the Metropolitan Tabernacle (subsequently renamed Spurgeon’s Tabernacle) in Elephant and Castle. Here until his death in 1892 he preached Sunday after Sunday to some six thousand people. His largest meeting drew an audience of twenty-four thousand in the Crystal Palace in 1857, in a time when loudspeakers were unknown in making himself heard in the farthest corner. He was a thoughtful and widely read man.

Spurgeon had a lively and imaginative way of putting things. In the words of one well-known Spurgeonic quote:

To know is not to be wise. Many men know a great deal, and are all the greater fools for it. There is no fool so great a fool as a knowing fool. But to know how to use knowledge is to have wisdom.

Other quotes include: “By perseverance the snail reached the ark”; “You might not always get what you want, but you always get what you expect”; “A dark cloud is no sign that the sun has lost his light, and dark black convictions are no arguments that God has laid aside His mercy”.

Spurgeon, like any of us, was very much a man of his time. For instance, he roundly condemned the Roman Catholic Church. Yet as one biographer wrote, Spurgeon “was a phenomenon of the nineteenth century, a cataract bursting upon the world. As a man, he fizzed with life and good cheer”.

So when I left Spurgeon’s I was delighted to be presented with one of his original sermon notes in a suitable frame. The notes are written in very small writing on the back of a small envelope, 4” by 3”. Dated Sunday 4 January 1874, now some 150 years ago, his text was taken from John 16.11: “He (the Holy Spirit) shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine and shall shew it unto you”. Like many Baptist sermons it was divided into three points : 1. Doctrine; 2. Promise; 3. Precedent for glorifying Jesus. Each major section is divided into a further series of sub-points. For instance, the final section of the sermon has the six points: “Rely on the Holy Spirit”; “Seek clearly to see yourself”; “Speak of the things of Jesus”; “Shew them or explain them”; “Let them be what you have received”; “This year be this your aim”.

Although he wrote out his sermons fully before he preached, he only took the sermon outline into the pulpit. Shorthand writers would take down the sermon as it was delivered and then Spurgeon would have opportunity to make revisions to the transcripts the following day for immediate publication. These printed copies of his sermons would then sell 25,000 copies every week and were translated into more than twenty languages. I am told that the total copies of all his sermons totalled over 100 million.

What an amazing preacher he was. Like Spurgeon I always sought to expound the Scriptures, even if it was a ‘topical’ sermon. Like Spurgeon I also used to always write out in full my sermons. As a young preacher I then took into the pulpit an abbreviated copy of the sermon – albeit my notes were not as brief as Spurgeon’s. Later I normally took the full sermon, with the key points underlined with a coloured highlighter. Unlike Spurgeon, many of my sermons often very much directed to the situation we faced as a church, with the result that I could not easily preach them again in another church. What is more, although I dare to believe that God did use my preaching to bless the congregation, few of my sermons would be worth publishing, and if that were to happen (as it has happened!) then they have been heavily redacted. Spurgeon was indeed an outstanding preacher and was indeed ‘a prince of preachers’.


  1. “Unlike Spurgeon, many of my sermons often very much directed to the situation we faced as a church, with the result that I could not easily preach them again in another church.”. Yes – this, I think, it one of the fundamental differences between a sermon and an academic paper. As we preach, and even if we follow the Lectionary, we seek to present God’s word for the situation in which we find ourselves.

  2. Just a quote from Spurgeon about preaching sermons:

    “Yes, it is Christ, Christ, Christ whom we have to preach; and if we leave him out, we leave out the very soul of the gospel. Christless sermons make merriment for hell. Christless preachers, Christless Sunday school teachers, Christless class leaders, Christless tract distributors—what are all these doing? They are simply setting the mill to grind without putting any grist into the hopper. All their labour is in vain. If you leave Jesus Christ out, you are simply beating the air, or going to war without any weapon with which you can smite the foe.” [2/11/1866; sermon #3288]

  3. Sir…thank you for this article…I too preached sermons to encourage and/or convict our local church. When I had fathomed the shallow Bible knowledge of the church, I determined to preach the majority of my lessons from the Gospels. They reacted with astonishment, not having heard or grasped what our Lord was teaching them.

    Thank you for your review of Spurgeon and for your comments.

  4. What an amazing preacher Spurgeon was in his day, but I’ve no doubt the sermons preached today, especially those pertinent to a particular congregation have just as much impact.! I’d be interested to read some of yours, Paul! I think I’ve only heard you preach once somewhere in the Pennines when I was returning to Bradford from a happy weekend with you both sometime early in 1969, but I must confess to not being able to remember much !

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