Spurgeon: Prince of Preachers

By Lewis Drummond
Grand Rapids : Kregel (1992). 895 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Dennis Swanson
4.2 (Fall 1993) : 229-231

The Centenary of the death of Charles Haddon Spurgeon has been the occasion for the release of several Spurgeon-related works. Drummond's Spurgeon: Prince of Preachers is among the more prized of these. Drummond has the most extensive biography of Spurgeon since G. Holden Pike's two-volume set published in 1899. The biography follows an analogy between Spurgeon and the character "Christian" in John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, one of Spurgeon's favorite books. So "this new biography of Charles H. Spurgeon picks up pithy poems, places and personalities of Bunyan's classic allegory and makes them the motif of Spurgeon's life and ministry" (13). Each of the thirteen chapter-titles is a quotation from Progress. Drummond follows his plan with effectiveness and clarity.

He has done his homework and has produced a readable and well-documented biography. His thorough discussion of Spurgeon covers both major and minor aspects of his life. The excellent appendices, dealing mainly with the "Downgrade Controversy," reflect expert use of original sources from the Baptist Union and private correspondence. As did Carlile in his 1933 biography, Drummond conclusively shows that Spurgeon clearly possessed all the evidence necessary to prove the existence of modernism among many pastors in the Baptist Union. Spurgeon was "capable of substantiating" (701) the charges, but when S. H. Booth, moderator of the Baptist Union, urged confidentiality on personalities involved in his correspondence with Spurgeon, for better or for worse, Spurgeon honored his request.

A few modifications would improve this already excellent work. Reportedly, Spurgeon preached at the service commemorating the restoration of Bunyan's tomb on May 21, 1801 (346). This date was over thirty years before Spurgeon's birth. The correct year was 1864. Another deficiency is the many long quotations that are poorly identified or not referenced at all (e.g., 326, 382, 532). Also, space-conservation was undoubtedly a factor in the already long book, but the use of a "fractional width" format tends to run letters together and make reading sometimes difficult. Perhaps a two-volume work would have been more serviceable.

Drummond deserves praise for the chapter on "Spurgeon's Theology" (chap. 12), the highlight of the book. He writes, "In the pure sense of the word, Spurgeon never wrote any theological works. At any rate, he never systematized his thought in writing. Therefore, to discover his theology of the Bible one must glean it through his sermons and other writings" (615). Spurgeon produced more published works than any other Christian in history, so sorting out his theology is a laborious task, one that this biographer has accomplished admirably. His own personal convictions seem to have prejudiced His conclusions about Spurgeon's doctrine sometimes. For example, he equates "hyper-Calvinism" with the doctrine of double predestination (641) without distinguishing between active and passive reprobation, the latter being the clear position of Spurgeon (ibid.). Spurgeon rejected "hyper-Calvinism," which rejects the need to preach the gospel actively to the lost, but he firmly embraced the total sovereignty of God in election. He balanced his position by teaching that God ordains both the end (i.e., salvation of the elect) and the means (i.e., human instrumentality in preaching the gospel). He expressed it this way: "That God predestines, and that man is responsible, are two things that few can see. They are believed to be inconsistent and contradictory; but they are not. . . . These two truths cannot be welded into one upon any human anvil, but one they shall be in eternity" (ibid.)

As a challenge to today's world of theological morass and doctrinal compromise, Drummond's biography portrays a man of single-mindedness and theological consistency. The present scene needs more men like Spurgeon–men of vision, energy, and ability, but above all, men who put God's glory and honor and the truth of the Scriptures above all considerations of earthly life.