Suffering Taught Him to Look to Christ: Charles Spurgeon (1834–1892) — “Crowds lined the streets, hoping to catch a glimpse of the olivewood casket as it made its way through the streets of south London. On top was a large pulpit Bible opened at Isaiah 45:22: “Look unto Me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth.” It was Thursday, February 11, 1892, and the body of Charles Haddon Spurgeon was being taken for burial.”
For many years, the light of the gospel was veiled beneath Rome’s liturgy that was led by the Latin tongue even when people didn’t understand what was being communicated. The worship of the Roman Catholic Church was filled with obscure phraseology and polished sentences that served as word salads at best while never providing true nourishment of the soul. In short, the Roman Catholic Church withheld the gospel from the people and it was the Reformation that released God’s Word from the dark dungeon of man-centered religion.
We look back beyond what was taking place in the days of the sixteenth century in Europe to the ministry of the apostle Paul. His resume speaks about his high education and training as a pharisee. Paul was no dummy to say the least. With a high pedigree regarding education and a very advanced vocabulary and command over human language—this brilliant pastor-theologian refused to speak over the heads of the people. Instead, he spoke to the people. Listen to the words of Paul as he wrote to the church at Corinth.
And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God (1 Corinthians 2:1–5).
Paul was full of wisdom and had the unique capability of using lofty speech if necessary, but he chose to set aside his capabilities in order to accomplish something of far greater importance. Rather than inviting people to praise his vocabulary and knowledge as a theologian, he wanted to use human speech to direct people to the wisdom, beauty, and majesty of God. Paul’s motive was not to have the people become impressed with him, instead, he desired for the church to be impressed with the Christ who died on the cross. It must likewise be noted that it’s often the mark of a skilled preacher who can articulate grand truths in a simple and yet accurate manner.
Far too many preachers seek to unleash their theologically robust and esoteric vocabulary upon the church without considering the common man and woman among the church who may not get it. In other words, it’s best for the preacher to put the cookies on the bottom shelf as often as possible in order to deliver the truth and unleash God’s gospel.
According to Paul, his words were in “demonstration of the Spirit and of power” and the overall purpose was that the faith of the church would rest in the power of God rather than the wisdom of men. Preachers are not poets. Pastors are not philosophers. It is our duty to make sure the message of Christ is clearly articulated and powerfully communicated so that men, women, boys, and girls might have their faith rooted and grounded in Christ alone.
We must remember, it’s not the eloquence of the preacher, the clever cliches in his sermon, or enticing words of man’s wisdom that brings people to faith—it’s the power of the gospel. Remember, Charles Spurgeon learned that lesson as he walked into the Crystal Palace test the acoustics. Listen to Spurgeon tell the story of what happened that day:
In 1857, a day or two before preaching at the Crystal Palace, I went to decide where the platform should be fixed; and, in order to test the acoustic properties of the building, cried in a loud voice, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” In one of the galleries, a workman, who knew nothing of what was being done, heard the words, and they came like a message from heaven to his soul. He was smitten with conviction on account of sin, put down his tools, went home, and there, after a season of spiritual struggling, found peace and life by beholding the Lamb of God.
Just a few days after that event, 23,654 would gather in that same venue to hear Spurgeon preach. However, just days prior, only one verse was thundered from the pulpit and God used it to convert a lost man. The converted man would tell that story upon his deathbed. The next time you’re preparing a sermon or a lesson to teach in the context of the local church—think about how you can simplify the message and make sure that it’s clearly understood by everyone who will be in attendance. That includes both the carpenter and the surgeon—the little boy and the elderly woman. When you prepare to preach or teach, think about your goal of causing people to be impressed with God rather than you and your gifts.
Today when you walk into St. Pierre in Geneva where John Calvin served as pastor, written on the walls of the cathedral are these words, “post tenebras lux” which means, “After darkness, light.” Our ministries need to be known as ministries of light that point people to the beauty, wonder, and majesty of the God who saves sinners.
Are you becoming more or less of an encourager? “It is imperative that we adopt this mindset and that, even as times get more and more hostile towards true believers, we learn to grow in our encouragement for the sake of our own good and the good of others.”
The category of “women preachers” has drastically risen in recent days and while some celebrate this trend—others are very concerned. How did we arrive at this juncture? Why are more women pursuing the pulpit and why are more Christian leaders promoting this movement? While we can’t be certain about the motives of certain leaders who seem very complicit in this uptick in women preachers, we can be certain that there is reason for concern.
The Increased Numbers
In 2017 Barna Research Group pointed out that there was a rise in the number of women pastors. According to their study, “One of every 11 Protestant pastors is a woman—triple as many as 25 years ago.” In a new statistical analysis, “State of Clergywomen in the U.S.: A Statistical Update” the numbers indicate that within “most Mainline denominations, the percentage of clergywomen has doubled or tripled since 1994.”
While this is mainly Mainline denominations, the trend still demonstrates an uptick across the board. When adding totals from American Baptist Churches USA, Disciples of Christ, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ and United Methodist denominations, the numbers indicate 32 percent of clergy from those denominations in 2017. Compare the most recent percentage total (32%) with numbers from 1994 (15%) and 1977 (2.3%) and the trend is easy to follow. The numbers reveal an explosive growth of women serving in the office of pastor.
It seems that while evangelical churches are still slow to respond to this trend, there is an increase nonetheless. However, if you remove the office of pastor from the statistical analysis within evangelicalism—you would discover that many women are regularly preaching in conferences and church settings. This trend has continued to rise through the popularity of Beth Moore and Priscilla Shirer along with others who are popular within the LifeWay brand and the Southern Baptist Convention. Look for these numbers to drastically grow in the coming days, especially if the recent heated debate on the need to elect a woman as the president of the SBC is any indicator of where this conversation is headed in the future.
What we’re really talking about is race. And so, I think we have a long lasting issue within evangelicalism of people saying ‘Let’s not talk about issues of racial reconciliation, unity, and justice—that would be a distraction from the gospel.’ That’s exactly what was happening in the 19th century as it related to human slavery. That’s exactly what was happening in the 1920s and 1950s as it related to Jim Crow and it persists among us.
According to Russell Moore, the Statement on social justice is merely about race. In an unbelievable slanderous manner, he aligns us with the oppressive and sinful agenda of the Jim Crow era. Not only is that unbelievable, but he didn’t want to address Lauren Green’s point about Voddie Baucham’s involvement with the Statement and his positions as a black man who served as a pastor in the United States for years before moving to Zambia. Furthermore, what Russell Moore didn’t want to discuss is the Statement’s denial in Article XI on Complementarianism where we point to the unique roles of biblical manhood and womanhood and insist that remaining consistent in our positions of complementarianism will not prohibit women from flourishing within the church for the glory of God. Out of a total of fourteen articles in the Statement, only two of them are specifically designed to address the issue of race.
Victimology has replaced theology beneath the banner of social justice. To play the victim card in our culture today is like playing the Ace of Spades in a card game. The victim approach to ladder climbing is both politically correct and extremely powerful. According to specific data, women are claiming to be discriminated against in their work environment—claiming that unreal expectations are placed upon them on a regular basis. Now, with the rise of the #MeToo hashtag, it’s clear that women are speaking out, speaking up, and demanding that when they step up—they must be accepted.
The social justice movement is driving a strong egalitarian agenda down Main Street of evangelicalism. Some would argue that this is an unfair assessment, but let’s be honest, if it’s not egalitarian—whatever we call this trend, it shouldn’t be labeled complementarian. When Beth Moore stepped into the #MeToo world with her twitter account and social media presence, it was like throwing gasoline on an open flame.
A well meaning mentor told me at 25 that people couldn’t handle hearing about sexual abuse and it would sink my ministry. It didn’t. #MeToo
What I’m not suggesting is that women who have been mistreated or abused should remain silent. What I am suggesting is that this social justice agenda is now claiming that we must not only admit wrong in the past by how we have mistreated, discriminated against, oppressed, and held back women from serving in the life of the church—but now we must empower them.
It’s precisely this language of empowerment that is quite disturbing. J.D. Greear released a short video just prior to the 2018 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting at which he was elected as the president of the SBC, and in that video he pointed to the need for empowering women. He likewise tweeted back to Beth Moore and stated that he saw a need for the “tearing down of all hierarchy.” Therefore, it seems clear that many in the SBC, including Russell Moore are committed to this new direction and social justice is the platform that’s being used to make it happen. In a recent post on Instagram, Russell Moore who serves as the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) of the SBC, posted a picture of himself with Beth Moore and Jamie Ivey. The caption for the picture read, “What a joy to get to minister with two heroes in the faith @bethmorrelpm and @jamieivey here at #erlc18!” Now, if you read the comments, you would find a lady (inesmcbryde) who responded with these words:
sooooo jealous that you get to hear her! she was the first woman preacher i ever heard in the USA when i was in college. made my preacher heart awaken! love mama beth. 💜
If God had a plan from the beginning that was spelled out in the Garden of Eden and rooted in creation why must we suddenly change directions now? If the early church recognized God’s intent in the differing roles and responsibilities of women as revealed in the sufficient Word of God—why now are we suddenly hearing a consistent drum beat of empowerment within the social justice conversation?
We need doctrinal clarity, definitional clarity, and methodological clarity in evangelicalism on issues related to complementarianism. When the Word of God takes the central place in the life of the local church and the church body is consistently looking to the elders for leadership and shepherding through God’s Word—what will emerge is a healthy church where both men and women flourish for the glory of God. When social justice and any other cultural fad takes the focus off of God’s plan for his church—then the people will walk down a broken road filled with many pains.
Last week I received a phone call that a man I’ve known for many years suddenly passed away. He was young. He was strong. He was skilled at his job. He loved his family, and now—without a moment of notice, he’s in eternity.
We know the script of such stories. They never get any easier. Sad goodbyes are full of pain. So, today, I stood before the grieving family and sought to point them to their hope in Christ. I preached from Mark 12:28-34 and pointed out the sad ending of a man who didn’t finish well. His story is one that should shock us. We read in the text that this scribe approached Jesus with a question, and how Jesus responded to the man is sobering.
It was passion week and Jesus would soon be nailed to a cross on Friday. He had entered Jerusalem on Monday and the streets were lined with Jews proclaiming that their Messiah had come. Yet, by mid-week Jesus was continuing to field questions from skeptics and teachers of the law. Their agenda was to entrap Jesus and find a reason to have him executed. Jesus played along with their game and turned the tables on their questions. In this scene, Jesus was asked a very important question and Jesus provided a very important response.
“Which is the greatest commandment?” That is the question the that came from the Scribe. Immediately Jesus responded by quoting the Shema from the Old Testament. Jesus said:
“The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’  The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:29-31).
When the scribe heard this he responded by complimenting Jesus as the “teacher” who spoke truth. However, the scribe failed to see that Jesus is God in human flesh—the Messiah of Israel. How Jesus responded at this juncture is sobering indeed. Jesus said, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” At that moment, nobody else brought a question to Jesus.
It’s very possible for a football game to be lost by inches. Many athletes have gone home in defeat after being tackled inches from the goal line. Many baseball players have longed for the win only to be thrown out at the plate. Many race car drivers led the final lap of the race only to lose by a couple of inches at the line. Many horse races have ended with one horse losing the race by a nose. It’s very possible to be close and yet lose everything.
The same thing is true, yet far more important, in life. It’s very probable to have religious knowledge just as this scribe did—yet finish life close to the Kingdom but an eternity away. It’s very possible to believe Jesus lived and died and rose from the dead, and still die and go to hell. It’s very possible to attend church and to profess to be a Christian and yet to die and wake up in hell with a lot of knowledge about God—yet without true saving faith.
The sad ending to this scribe is forever recorded in the pages of Scripture. It’s very possible that this man who was asking Jesus questions on Wednesday (not far from the Kingdom) was also among the crowd crying out for Jesus’ crucifixion on Friday. He wasn’t far from the Kingdom, but he is likely in hell today.
What about you? Do you have religious knowledge but lack saving faith? If so, I encourage you to call upon the name of the Lord for salvation. The Lord not only will hear your prayer, but he will save your soul.
After taking a season off through an extremely busy summer filled with travel, speaking engagements, and other responsibilities—the DBG Spotlight is back. It is my desire during these posts to highlight good articles in various different lanes (from ministry and pastoral related articles to the general article for the entire church). I hope you enjoy.
Take just a few minutes to listen to R.C. Sproul explain imputation and the righteousness of God that we receive by faith.
Susie — Tim Challies provides a helpful review of my friend Ray Rhode’s new book on the wife of Charles Spurgeon. You will want to read both the review and the book!
Is Christ Enough? Brief Thoughts on Corporate Representation — “To summarize: one danger of the corporate apology is that it puts a given individual in a position that he or she cannot occupy. I am not the representative of a holy nation-state. I am not the high priest of God’s people. Beyond this, I have no biblical summons to make atonement for sin. I do not apologize for the sins of all people from Maine (including, but not limited to, a love for Moxie).”
Puritan Documentary Video — Joel Beeke points to the full Puritan Documentary trailer. This is one documentary you will want to get your hands on.
Ghana And Kavanaugh — “Presumption of guilt against Black people is why 4,743 Black Americans were lynched between 1882 and 1968. Presumption of guilt is why 40, 000 women were executed during the witch trials in Europe between the 15th and 18th centuries.”
The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel — The website is nearing 10,000 signatures. Don’t miss the resources in form of articles and sermons that have been posted on the site along with a new batch coming over the next couple of days.
Missions Conference for the Church — The 2019 G3 Conference is centered on the theme of missions and will be a wonderful conference for the whole Church. It’s an event designed to encourage and equip the entire family – so make your plans to join us for this wonderful weekend of worship. Speakers will include John Piper, Steven Lawson, Voddie Baucham, Mark Dever, David Platt, Tim Challies, and more. We will have special sessions designed for ladies as well led by Martha Peace and Cindy Currin.