Charles Spurgeon: Pastor-Professor

If you’re a gospel preacher, you’ve heard of Charles Spurgeon. His ministry was unparalleled during his life, and his ongoing influence through his books and written sermons is amazing by any standard. His unique ability to illustrate biblical truth and portray the love of Jesus Christ to sinners has captured readers—fellow preachers and laymen—for generations.

But did you know Spurgeon was a pastor-professor? Among the many endeavors to which Spurgeon gave his time (beyond his pastoral duties, he created over sixty para-church organizations to care for orphans, victims of domestic abuse, and even London’s police force) he considered his work in pastoral training his “life’s labor and delight.” Spurgeon would even say his work in preparing young men for ministry was a “delight superior even to that afforded by ministerial success.”

It wasn’t long into Spurgeon’s pastoral ministry that he witnessed several young men who were saved under his preaching. Among these men were those whose street preaching was bearing the fruit of new conversions. A few folks in Spurgeon’s congregation, however, thought it unwise for these untrained men—a man named T. W. Medhurst in particular—to be preaching publicly. Spurgeon met with Medhurst about his street evangelism and received this reply: “I must preach, sir; and I shall preach unless you cut off my head.” In his introduction to Spurgeon’s An All-Round Ministry, Iain Murrey explains what happened next:

It was this that finally led Spurgeon to the practical decision that he must do something to fit such men for the ministry. Thus in 1855, Medhurst began to come weekly to his pastor for several hours of instruction in theology. He was boarded in the home of another miniser and Mrs. Spurgeon meanwhile practiced “the most rigorous economy in the household” to enable Spurgeon to support Medhurst out of his own salary! In 1857 a second student was added; before long the number grew to eight, then twenty, and finally there were regularly between seventy and a hundred students, taking a two-year course, in the “Pastor’s College” as it became known. By 1891, 845 men had been trained. Of these many broke up fresh ground and formed new churches in England, but others carried the Gospel to the ends of the earth, Morocco, the Falkland Islands, Tasmania, South Africa, the United States being among the many countries that profited by their labours.

Spurgeon’s decision to start the Pastor’s College was due to a need he had observed among London’s theological institutions. Specifically, there was a shortage of schools that trained men in clear, biblical truth and equipped them to preach the doctrines of grace with confidence. It was little use to educate men at institutions that excelled in every other branch of learning or dallied between theological viewpoints but failed to strengthen men’s assurance in the truth. No, gospel preachers needed rock-solid doctrine. “To be effective preachers you must be sound theologians,” Spurgeon would often recite to his students. Only sound doctrine preached with confidence in the power of the Holy Spirit, not the tentative speculations of an academician, would prove effective to convert and save sinners.

Spurgeon, therefore, had no patience for instruction that offered students various theological options and then left each pupil to decide what was most reasonable among the alternatives. Instead, teachers should “forcibly and unmistakably declare the mind of God and show a determined predilection for the old theology, being saturated in it and ready to die for it.” The “old theology” was historic Calvinism, which Spurgeon believed was simply another name for biblical theology.

These convictions didn’t lead Spurgeon to be under-nuanced where nuance was needed to accurately reflect biblical doctrine, nor was he unaware of contemporary theological trends. But he was careful to lead his students down a straight path of gospel certainty rather than training them in such a way that they left his tutelage with doubt and hesitation.

The design of the Pastor’s College has, from the beginning, been to help preachers, and not to produce scholars. Let the world educate men for its own purposes, and let the Church instruct men for its special service. We aim at helping men to set forth the truth of God, expound the Scriptures, win sinners, and edify saints.

An All-Round Ministry

For these reasons, the curriculum of the college was distinctively evangelical. Men would be built up in the truth and then released into the world to proclaim the glories of Christ to a dying world. Literary attainments, academic honors, and scholarly recognition were not the pursuit of a gospel minister. A heart for Christ and the lost, a mastery of the biblical text, and a solid grasp of evangelical theology were all the tools a man needed to establish and strengthen God’s people.

Let us take encouragement from Spurgeon’s example. Among his many labors, he viewed the opportunity to train pastors as a high and glorious opportunity. He also remained faithful to instruct his students in sound doctrine and taught them to value certainty of truth above breadth of study. Of course, Spurgeon was well-read and a man of great learning, much of his attainment in knowledge coming by way of self-instruction. But when it came to theological education, he made sure he didn’t disrupt the transfer of the great deposit by causing confusion or skepticism in his students. May we train the men at TCBS in the same way.