Of the making of books about Spurgeon there is obviously no end, but this one enters the lists as one of the best.
It is a big book, in every sense of the word. Tom Nettles, Professor of Historical Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, USA –who gained wide acclaim for his three-volume history of the Baptists – is back with a monumental and well-documented tome on one of the finest preachers.
Nettles puts his finger on the reason for this from the outset in the words of the great man: ‘I would have every Christian wish to know all that he can know of revealed truth… Do not give way to a faint-hearted ignorance, lest you be great losers thereby’.
We sigh on reading that, wondering why many so-called evangelical preachers have taken the broad way of faint-hearted ignorance, aided and abetted by a false reliance on supposed spirituality. Spurgeon was an advocate of a systematic theological explicitness and a conversion ministry, both in the light of revealed truth. All he did, in the pulpit, the press, his charities or elsewhere, depended on his perception of revealed truth. Central to this was the sureness of the covenant of redemption revealed in Scripture and the certainty of salvation founded on the eternal transactions sealed in eternity by the trinitarian persons. Founded on that, his ministry was nothing but an incoming and an outgoing of revealed truth in his life.
That is the thesis Nettles documents in the various stages, the troubles and joys, the depressions and upliftings, the mockeries and blessings that Spurgeon experienced throughout his life, until exhaustion brought him to its end. From Kelvedon to Norwood Cemetery, Nettles gives us a blow-by-blow account with no detail spared. As expected, there are chapters on preaching the ‘whole counsel’, on the theological method and content of his ministry, on controversy, and of course on the downgrade conflict, which has lost none of its relevance.
Could be speaking of today
Spurgeon was no lover of conflict for itself, but when he wrote: ‘Our warfare is with men who are giving up the atoning sacrifice, denying the inspiration of Holy Scripture and casting slurs upon justification by faith… (about) the truth of God versus the inventions of man’, he could be talking about the present. If Spurgeon’s ministry showed one thing, it is that the gospel never changes and that it is always relevant, however much the world seems to change. Amidst the triumphs and the achievements, there is a poignant chapter of 40 pages on sickness, suffering and depression that reminds us that, in spite of the acclaim, Spurgeon was brought down by the problems a minister experiences, sometimes a c u t e l y. But this world is not a place of punishment, and the waves of trouble serve the refiner’s gold.
This is a book to read and digest, to meditate and come back to. Even in the most routine circumstances Spurgeon encourages us to do what he did – give everything in obedience to the Lord and persevere. There is a one-page Scripture index and a detailed subject index, but unhappily no list of Spurgeon’s writings or of the abbreviations used in the footnotes – surely something to rectify in a new edition.
is a teacher at the Faculté Jean Calvin, Aix-en-Provence, and lives in Eastbourne