Prince of Poets?

Prince of Poets?

A mark of Spurgeon’s preaching was his meditation on God’s word. Like the Puritans before him, Spurgeon turned the diamond of Scripture again and again to reflect the brilliance of its many facets. But his meditation on Scripture wasn’t only a public performance. It was the fruit of his private meditation on Scripture. We see glimpses of that practice in these poems. For example, in the poem “Obedience,” Spurgeon marvels at the way the angelic host tremble before God and fly to obey his word. And yet, their fear and readiness stand in stark contrast to human rebellion. 

Did you know that Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834–1892) was not only a preacher but a poet? In her husband’s Autobiography, Susie Spurgeon wrote, “If there had been sufficient space available, an interesting chapter might have been compiled concerning ‘Mr. Spurgeon as a Poet and Hymn-writer’” (Autobiography, 4:313). If you are at all familiar with his sermons, you’ll know something about Spurgeon’s love for poetry. He once wrote, “No matter on what topic I am preaching, I can even now, in the middle of any sermon, quote some verse of a hymn in harmony with the subject” (Autobiography, 1:43–44).

From Watts to Wesley and Luther to Cowper, Spurgeon used hymns to form much of his theological vocabulary. But beyond hymns, he also enjoyed other forms of poetry. He read through Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, “that sweetest of all prose poems,” at least a hundred times (Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, 45:495). Often, after a long Sunday, he found refreshment by having his wife read to him the poetry of George Herbert, “till the peace of Heaven flows into our souls, and the tired servant of the King of kings loses his sense of fatigue, and rejoices after his toil” (Autobiography, 2:185–86).

But did you know that Spurgeon not only loved poetry but was a poet himself? To be sure, his primary calling was that of pastor and preacher, not poet or hymn-writer. But occasionally, we see his poetic gifts on display. When compiling his church’s hymnbook, Spurgeon didn’t mind composing a few hymns himself, especially when he couldn’t find one suitable for his church. From time to time, he published his poems in The Sword and the Trowel. But for the most part, poetry was not a part of his public ministry. Rather, like his prayer life, it was a part of his private devotional spirituality.

Lost Lyrics

Among the other treasures of the Spurgeon Library, we have a plain, time-worn notebook. There is no title page, but the spine reads,


Inside are 186 handwritten devotional poems that were composed by the preacher throughout his forty-year ministry. What kind of poems are they? They are, first and foremost, prayers and meditations, reflecting Spurgeon’s theological convictions about God, creation, revelation, salvation, the Christian life, eternity, and much more.

These poems are also biographical, many of them drawn from events in Spurgeon’s life. Whether it be theological controversies, the dedication of the Metropolitan Tabernacle, the exhaustion of pastoral ministry, or many other chapters from his fruitful life, these experiences elicited poetry from Spurgeon. In other words, unique among all that he wrote, these poems provide a window into the private and poetic prayer life of the Prince of Preachers.

What can we learn from these poems?

Dependence and Prayer

When you read that Spurgeon preached as many as thirteen sermons a week, largely extemporaneous in delivery and yet full of theological truth and insight, it would be easy to assume that the task came very easily for him. A few hours of preparation on Saturday night, and — voilà! — the sermons are ready. But that’s not what we see in this volume. In poem after poem, we encounter a desperate plea for God to illumine his mind and heart to see Christ. In the poem “Christ Our All,” Spurgeon writes,

Shew us thyself, shew, dearest Lord,
The beauties of thy grace;
And let us in thy blessed word,
Behold thy shining face.
Reveal still more of all thy will,
The wonders of thy law,
And let us while with love we fill,
Behold thee and adore. (Christ Our All, 77)

It is true that Spurgeon was an incredibly gifted and experienced preacher (at the age of nineteen, he had preached over seven hundred sermons!). But beyond rhetorical and homiletical skills, Spurgeon knew that his ministry and his own spiritual life depended on God’s grace to reveal Christ’s shining face in his blessed word. He did not take this sight of Christ for granted, but every time he opened God’s word, he prayed for illumination.

Perhaps one of the most painful reminders of Spurgeon’s dependence on God came through his frequent struggle with illness. Especially as he grew older, Spurgeon groaned under the crushing pain of gout and many other ailments that could knock him out for months at a time. In the poem “Sickness,” Spurgeon laments.

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