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Enjoying God Blog


The recent Strange Fire conference generated a lot of discussion concerning the “prophetic” ministry of Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892). Given the fact that Spurgeon was, in all likelihood, a cessationist, the reactions have been interesting! Let me explain.

Spurgeon tells of one particular incident that occurred in the middle of his sermon.

“While preaching in the hall, on one occasion, I deliberately pointed to a man in the midst of the crowd, and said, ‘There is a man sitting there, who is a shoemaker; he keeps his shop open on Sundays, it was open last Sabbath morning, he took ninepence, and there was fourpence profit out of it; his soul is sold to Satan for fourpence!’ A city missionary, when going his rounds, met with this man, and seeing that he was reading one of my sermons, he asked the question, ‘Do you know Mr. Spurgeon?’ ‘Yes,’ replied the man, ‘I have every reason to know him, I have been to hear him; and, under his preaching, by God’s grace I have become a new creature in Christ Jesus. Shall I tell you how it happened? I went to the Music Hall, and took my seat in the middle of the place; Mr. Spurgeon looked at me as if he knew me, and in his sermon he pointed to me, and told the congregation that I was a shoemaker, and that I kept my shop open on Sundays; and I did, sir. I should not have minded that; but he also said that I took ninepence the Sunday before, and that there was fourpence profit out of it. I did take ninepence that day, and fourpence was just the profit; but how he should know that, I could not tell. Then it struck me that it was God who had spoken to my soul through him, so I shut up my shop the next Sunday. At first, I was afraid to go again to hear him, lest he should tell the people more about me; but afterwards I went, and the Lord met with me, and saved my soul’” (Charles H. Spurgeon, The Autobiography of Charles H. Spurgeon [London: Curts & Jennings, 1899], 2:226-27).

Spurgeon then adds this comment:

“I could tell as many as a dozen similar cases [emphasis mine] in which I pointed at somebody in the hall without having the slightest knowledge of the person, or any idea that what I said was right, except that I believed I was moved by the Spirit to say it; and so striking has been my description, that the persons have gone away, and said to their friends, ‘Come, see a man that told me all things that ever I did; beyond a doubt, he must have been sent of God to my soul, or else he could not have described me so exactly.’ And not only so, but I have known many instances in which the thoughts of men have been revealed from the pulpit. I have sometimes seen persons nudge their neighbours with their elbow, because they had got a smart hit, and they have been heard to say, when they were going out, ‘The preacher told us just what we said to one another when we went in at the door’” (ibid., 227).

On another occasion, Spurgeon broke off his sermon and pointed at a young man, declaring: “Young man, those gloves you are wearing have not been paid for: you have stolen them from your employer.” After the service an obviously pale and agitated young man approached Spurgeon and begged to speak with him privately. He placed a pair of gloves on the table and said, “It’s the first time I have robbed my master, and I will never do it again. You won’t expose me, sir, will you? It would kill my mother if she heard that I had becom a thief” (Charles H. Spurgeon, Autobiography: The Full Harvest, 1860-1892 [Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1973], 2:60).

My opinion is that this is a not uncommon example of what the Apostle Paul described in 1 Corinthians 14:24-25. Spurgeon exercised the gift of prophecy (or some might say the word of knowledge, 1 Cor. 12:8). He did not label it as such, but that does not alter the reality of what the Holy Spirit accomplished through him. This information could not be found by Spurgeon from reading the Scripture. But surely we do not undermine the latter's sufficiency by acknowledging that it was God who "revealed" this insight to him. If one were to examine Spurgeon’s theology and ministry, as well as recorded accounts of it by his contemporaries as well as subsequent biographers, most would conclude from the absence of explicit reference to miraculous charismata such as prophecy and the word of knowledge that such gifts had been withdrawn from church life. But Spurgeon’s own testimony inadvertently says otherwise!

In my interaction with cessationist Richard Gaffin concerning the experience of Spurgeon, he insisted that what occurred was merely a “Spirit-prompted insight that occurs incalculably and sporadically” (Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? Four Views, 294). However, the admission that such postcanonical information came from the Holy Spirit is telling. The fact that it may have occurred “incalculably and sporadically” is no argument for its not being a revelatory activity. My reading of 1 Corinthians 14 suggests that most prophetic ministry was incalculable, if by that we mean unpredictable, because it was subject to the sovereignty of God (see v. 30). The fact that such an experience did not “mark” (Gaffin’s word) Spurgeon’s ministry proves only that Spurgeon probably did not have the “gift” of prophecy; it does not prove he didn’t prophesy. So how does one explain the dozen or so instances when this occurred in Spurgeon’s ministry? The fact that he did not seek this experience is irrelevant to whether or not it happened and what it was when it happened.

Finally, in an article he wrote for Sword and Trowel in October 1865, Spurgeon declares:

“Our personal pathway has been so frequently directed contrary to our own design and beyond our own conception by singularly powerful impulses, and irresistibly suggestive providences, that it were wanton wickedness for us to deride the doctrine that God occasionally grants to his servants a special and perceptible manifestation of his will for their guidance, over and above the strengthening energies of the Holy Spirit, and the sacred teaching of the inspired Word. We are not likely to adopt the peculiarities of the Quakers, but in this respect we are heartily agreed with them.

It needs a deliberate and judicious reflection to distinguish between the actual and apparent in professedly preternatural intimations, and if opposed to Scripture and common sense, we must neither believe in them nor obey them. The precious gift of reason is not to be ignored; we are not to be drifted hither and thither by every wayward impulse of a fickle mind, nor are we to be led into evil by suppositious impressions; these are misuses of a great truth, a murderous use of most useful edged tools. But notwithstanding all the folly of hair-brained rant, we believe that the unseen hand may be at times assuredly felt by gracious souls, and the mysterious power which guided the minds of the seers of old may, even to this day, sensibly overshadow reverent spirits. We would speak discreetly, but we dare say no less.”

I’m sure we can all greatly appreciate and learn from Spurgeon’s wisdom and caution when it comes to these sorts of experiences. But we should also be greatly encouraged upon reading his comments to pay even closer heed to Paul’s exhortation, “Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy” (1 Cor. 14:1).


Charles Spurgeon is not the only Calvinistic preacher who turns heads on this subject of operating under the Spirit's unction. The following Reformed greats ruffle the feathers of many within the Reformed camp: D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Samuel Rutherford, George Whitefield, and Jonathan Edwards. In fact, I believe the latter, Puritan preacher inspired one professor at Westminster Seminary California to devote an entire chapter decrying Edwards and his loosey-goosey implementation of Reformed piety and practice. I just think there's an aspect of cessationism that attempts to place the Holy Spirit in a box.

Charles Spurgeon will upset the cart of many if they read him, e.g.

An interesting quote from John Wesley in his Journal:
By reflecting on an odd book which I read in this journey, "The General Delusion of Christians with regard to Prophecy," I was fully convinced of what I had long suspected,...That the grand reason why the miraculous gifts were so soon withdrawn, was not only that faith and holiness were well nigh lost; but that dry, formal, orthodox men began even then to ridicule whatever gifts they had not themselves, and to decry them all as either madness or imposture.
[Note, this is a terrible blog format. One cannot proof read a comment, only seeing the last three lines.]

as a classical pentecostal pastor-i agree that not all is lovely in the charismatic ranks. after all of this-i will gladly read Spurgeon,or the puritans, and say farewell to the 21st century reformed pastors. thank God for spurgeon,and farewell to macarthur,and all his helpers at strange fire.

MacArthur recently called what Spurgeon experienced, "one of the follies of the charismatic movement" (link below; 17:00ff). It's unfortunate that he criticizes charismatics for trusting experience as an indicator of truth, but then points to his experience (lack of it) in the same way. I'd be very curious to hear what he makes of Spurgeon.


The question is not "how did Spurgeon's theology inform his understanding of what he experienced?" it's "what did Spurgeon actually experience?" Phil avoids answering that question by throwing out a smoke bomb of irrelevant information. Besides, it is quite clear that Spurgeon was not a cessationist in the same way that the Strange Fire conference speakers are cessationist.

I wrote a response to Phil Johnson's "Providence is Remarkable" breakout at Strange Fire on this very topic. Phil interacts with me in the comments section —


I also like this one (footnoted in my article).

"Another great work of the Holy Spirit, which is not accomplished, is the bringing on of the latter-day glory. In a few more years—I know not when, I know not how—the Holy Spirit will be poured out in a far different style from the present. There are diversities of operations; and during the last few years it has been the case that the diversified operations have consisted in very little pouring out of the Spirit. Ministers have gone on in dull routine, continually preaching—preaching—preaching, and little good has been done.

I do hope that perhaps a fresh era has dawned upon us, and that there is a better pouring out of the Spirit even now. For the hour is coming, and it may be even now is, when the Holy Ghost shall be poured out again in such a wonderful manner, that many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased—the knowledge of the Lord shall cover the earth as the waters cover the surface of the great deep; when his kingdom shall come, and his will shall be done on earth even as it is in heaven.

We are not going to be dragging on forever like Pharoah, with the wheels off his chariot. My heart exults, and my eyes flash with the thought that very likely I shall live to see the outpouring of the Spirit; when "the sons and the daughters of God again shall prophesy, and the young men shall see visions and the old men shall dream dreams."

Perhaps there shall be no miraculous gifts—for they will not be required; but yet there shall be such a miraculous amount of holiness, such an extraordinary fervor of prayer, such a real communion with God, and so much vital religion, and such a spread of the doctrines of the cross, that every one will see that verily the Spirit is poured out like water, and the rains are descending from above. For that let us pray; let us continually labor for it, and seek it of God."

I love Spurgeon's stories, especially in light of all the recent criticism of Driscoll's "pornographic divinations." I doubt they would dare accuse the great Baptist cessationist Spurgeon of having 'thieving divinations' or Elisha of having 'murderous divinations' when God showed him that Hazael would "dash in pieces their little ones and rip open their pregnant women" (2 Kings 8:7). It's sad that many cessationists are unaware of the kinds of prophetic content found in scripture and then are unwilling to accept stories like Driscoll's even when they help people. Spurgeon is a great example.

Is it worth noting though that Spurgeon considered himself to be a cessationist though? Here's a link to a balanced view from the guys at pyromaniacs -

Also, even before I was saved, I was able to "know" some things. I considered these to be coincidences or fortunate insight (perhaps I would have said luck even not knowing the providence of God). I know other people share similar experiences apart from even knowing Christ (De Ja Vu, et cetera). No granted, I know God is sovereign and uses all of his creation according to his purpose but would we say that the unregenerate hunches of some are also prophecy....even when they are wrong about said hunches?

Very nice post. Keep on blogging brother!

Gaffin is not going to let a few ugly facts disturb his beautiful theory!

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