I’m not 100% sure that Charles Haddon Spurgeon is the most important Baptist preacher (so far). I suppose that distinction might belong to John Bunyan. But it has to be close, given how prolific and popular Spurgeon continues to be a century and a half after his death. But then again, as the Forward to Thomas Breimaier’s new book Tethered to the Cross: The Life and Preaching of C.H. Spurgeon points out, categories like ‘greatest’ or most important are “silly. The kingdom of God is not a listicle.” (x)
Nevertheless, Spurgeon is clearly central to modern Evangelical life. And as such this new book is an important work on how Spurgeon read Scripture as he preached, taught, and wrote in 19th Century England.
I’ll admit that I’m not a Spurgeon scholar, and I’m only really lukewarm on Spurgeon’s writings. No doubt this is a moral and personal failing on my part (at least, that’s what people tell me when I tell them my response to reading Spurgeon is kind of… meh). In my defense, I don’t mean that Spurgeon isn’t eloquent and articulate. He certainly is that. What I mean is that the sermons of his that I’ve read aren’t really the place to go to dig into the exposition of the text. (And at that point whoever I’m talking to usually agrees with me about Spurgeon, and hopefully thinks I’m slightly less of a jerk for not having as high of an opinion about the Prince of Preachers as everyone else.) Tethered to the Cross helps explain why that is.
Breimaier’s argument in the book, and based on my very limited experience it sounds like a fairly convincing argument, is that Spurgeon’s sermons, teachings, and writing were less focused on careful exposition of the text and more focused on getting the cross front and center in all things. Of course there’s a way to do that (Biblical theology in its modern sense hadn’t been developed in Spurgeon’s time, so preachers today have more tools at their disposal for this effort), but Breimaier points out that often Spurgeon has to do some exegetical backflips to get each verse and each idea into the cruciocentric place he wants it to be.
This of course doesn’t mean that Spurgeon was teaching falsehoods! Neither I nor Breimaier are saying that! It does mean that there are times when Spurgeon takes a short-cut to the Gospel from his sermon text without doing the hard work of robust exegesis that should be required to get him there.
What we get in Tethered to the Cross is a thorough examination of Spurgeon’s hermeneutical method. We see how he keeps the cross front and center in his preaching (of both Testaments), his teaching (especially through the Pastor’s College), and his publications (especially through the Sword and The Trowel magazine). Breimer has given us a thorough introduction to the thought and method of Spurgeon, and this book is going to be of interest to anyone who wants to understand why Spurgeon wrote and preached the way he did. This book is going to be necessary for future scholarship on Spurgeon, but it is also going to be of interest to pastors who want to draw on Spurgeon, laymen who love his sermons, and those of us who need to work harder at appreciating the treasure God has given us in Spurgeon’s works.