Charles Spurgeon was considered the most extraordinary preacher of the 19th century. He was known as the “Prince of Preachers.” He was a dramatic speaker, often pacing the platform, acting out biblical stories, and filling his sermons with sentimental tales of dying children, grieving parents, and repentant harlots. His messages offended many earning him the titles, “the Exeter Hall demagogue” and “the pulpit buffoon.”
His reply, “I am perhaps vulgar, but it is not intentional, save that I must and will make people listen. My firm conviction is that we have had enough polite preachers.”
On certain subjects, he was incapable of moderation: Rome, ritualism, hypocrisy, and modernism—the last of which became the center of a controversy that would mark his last years in ministry.
The “Down-Grade Controversy,” as it came to be known, was started in 1887 when Spurgeon began publicly claiming that some of his fellow Baptist ministers were “down grading” the faith. This was the late-nineteenth century, when Darwinism and critical biblical scholarship were compelling many Christians to re-evaluate their understanding of the Bible. Spurgeon believed the issue was not one of interpretation but of the essentials of the faith. He proclaimed in his monthly, The Sword and the Trowel, “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.”
His wit and sense of humor were legendary. He disliked instrumental music in the church, especially anthems. After hearing a special performance Spurgeon was told that it was music supposedly sung by David. His immediate reply was, “Then I know why Saul threw his javelin at him.” In one of his Friday lectures to his college students the pastor told his students, “When you preach on heaven, have a face that reflects the sweetness of God; when you preach on hell, your normal face will do quite well.”
Some Calvinists called him an Arminian and many Arminians called him a hyper-Calvinist. These attacks mattered little to Spurgeon. What he longed for was to see God pour out His Spirit on His people. He was always calling the church to true revival.
If there is any one remaining tangible evidence of the influence Spurgeon had in his day it can be found in his sermons. In particular, his printed sermons have had a monumental impact for over 100 years. There are 63 volumes of Spurgeon’s sermons in print to this day. Newspapers carried his sermons on a weekly and sometimes daily basis for many years. Well over 100 million of those weekly sermons were sold. If one took into account all of his publications they would fill 200 large books.