Alex DiPrima

Social Implications of Spurgeon’s Gospel

A thorough commitment to evangelical and Reformed theology was everything needed in times past to move Christians to compassion and care for the neediest members of fallen humanity. All the resources for a vibrant social ministry are found in the Reformed tradition. But more importantly, they’re found in the Scriptures themselves, which summon Christians to love their neighbors (Mark 12:31), to do good to all (Gal. 6:10), and to be a people zealous for good works (Titus 2:14).

In conservative evangelical circles, “social ministry” can sometimes sound like a four-letter word. Some view Christian activism and ministries of mercy among the poor as an impulse of theological liberalism. This isn’t altogether surprising, as theological liberals often promote social activism as part of the church’s primary purpose in the world. So when one finds a group of Christians passionate about social justice, helping the poor, and feeding the hungry, some may assume they must be theologically liberal or, at least, acting out the instincts of liberalism.
It’s worth noting that political and economic developments, especially in the 20th century, caused a net deflation in the value of Christian social ministry, as many advanced Western countries launched government-subsidized welfare programs to care for their neediest citizens. What some had once understood to be the responsibility of churches and charitable organizations (often founded by conservative evangelicals) was, by the early to mid-20th century, increasingly seen as the responsibility of the wider body politic, mediated through local and national taxation.
It’s at least plausible, then, that the twin developments of the rise of theological liberalism on the one hand and state subsidies on the other sapped conservative evangelicalism of what had been its characteristic zeal for mercy ministry.
Nonetheless, Charles Spurgeon should challenge us in this regard. If his social concern seems unusual today, perhaps it says more about us than about him.
Charles Spurgeon, Liberal?
Though “the Prince of Preachers” by no means championed a social gospel, he oversaw dozens of benevolent ministries in the heart of 19th-century London—organizing free schools for destitute children, advocating for American slaves, and caring for orphans and widows. But was Spurgeon’s social concern an evangelical anomaly, deviating from the Calvinistic tradition in which he was raised? 
Such a question betrays a contemporary consciousness shaped more by modern cultural debates than a serious reflection on the heritage of the Reformed and evangelical traditions. To properly understand Spurgeon’s commitment to social ministry, we must realize he saw care and concern for the needy as springing forth from his understanding of the Bible—as well as from the body of doctrine he’d received from his theological forebears. Without question, Spurgeon saw himself as living out the consistent social implications of Reformed and evangelical theology.
When one studies how many Protestants, beginning in the 16th century, prioritized care for the poor and needy, Spurgeon begins to look more like the norm. Meanwhile, many evangelicals today who are suspicious of social concern appear more like a departure from their historical and theological heritage.
Reformed Benevolence
Consider the Belgic Confession (1561), which requires that churches be properly ordered, in part, “so that also the poor and all the afflicted may be helped and comforted according to their need.” Or the Thirty-nine Articles of the Anglican Church (1571): “Every man ought, of such things as he possesseth, liberally to give alms to the poor, according to his ability.” Or the Second Helvetic Confession (1566): ministers should “commend the necessity of the poor to the church,” and the church should use its resources “especially for the succor and relief of the poor.” Or the Heidelberg Catechism’s (1563) question: “What is God’s will for you in the fourth commandment?” The answer in part is “to bring Christian offerings for the poor.”
Read More
Related Posts:

Spurgeon and the Poor

Spurgeon lived a life filled to the brim with good works of benevolence and charity. However, too few today are familiar with this vital aspect of his life and ministry nor the theological convictions that undergirded it. I have written this book because I find in Spurgeon a most compelling example of the proper wedding of faithful gospel preaching with earnest social concern. Evangelicals have frequently failed in correctly understanding the relationship between these two biblical burdens. I am convinced that Spurgeon can help us. 

The following excerpt is from the Preface of Spurgeon and the Poor by Alex DiPrima. Learn more about this important new work here.
The American temperance activist John B. Gough stepped off the train in London. He had come to visit England’s greatest preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon. The year was 1879, and the preacher was at the height of his powers. Gough himself had described Spurgeon’s ministry as “a career thus far unparalleled in the history of ministers.”[1] Indeed, there had never been a preacher like him. In his teenage years, he gained a reputation as the famous “boy preacher of the Fens.”[2] He arrived in London at the age of nineteen to command the pulpit of the city’s most historic Baptist church in the heart of the metropolis, just south of the Thames. He preached for nearly forty years from that pulpit to thousands upon thousands, winning souls, planting churches, and ministering to the poor.
During Gough’s visit, Spurgeon provided him with a tour of the Stockwell Orphanage. Ten years prior, Spurgeon began this ministry to orphaned boys with the help of an elderly widow who will appear later in these pages. While the two men were visiting the orphanage, Spurgeon received a call to the bedside of a boy who was terminally ill. As he sat with the dying boy, Spurgeon placed the child’s hand in his and told him, “Jesus loves you. He bought you with His precious blood, and He knows what is best for you. It seems hard for you to lie here and listen to the shouts of the healthy boys outside at play. But soon Jesus will take you home, and then He will tell you the reason, and you will be so glad.”[3] Spurgeon then inched forward in his chair, laid his hand on the boy’s head, and quietly prayed aloud, “O Jesus, Master, this dear child is reaching out his thin hand to find thine. Touch him, dear Saviour, with thy loving, warm clasp. Lift him as he passes the cold river, that his feet be not chilled by the water of death; take him home in thine own good time. Comfort and cherish him till that good time comes. Show him thyself as he lies here, and let him see thee and know thee more and more as his loving Saviour.”[4] After a moment’s pause, he said with a warm smile, “Now, dear, is there anything you would like? Would you like a little canary in a cage to hear him sing in the morning? Nurse, see that he has a canary tomorrow morning. Goodbye, my dear; you will see the Saviour perhaps before I shall.”[5] Gough, who had quietly witnessed the scene, recorded his recollections in his autobiography, writing, “I had seen Mr. Spurgeon holding by his power sixty-five hundred persons in a breathless interest; I knew him as a great man universally esteemed and beloved; but as he sat by the bedside of a dying pauper child, whom his beneficence had rescued, he was to me a greater and grander man than when swaying the mighty multitude at his will.”[6]
Read More
Related Posts:

Scroll to top