One of my heroes is Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the famous Baptist pastor of nineteenth century London. In reading Spurgeon, I have become convinced that one of the secrets behind the extraordinary fruitfulness of his ministry and the enduring legacy of his sermons is his relentless focus on the Person of Jesus Christ.
Spurgeon’s Christ-centered focus is evident in the first words he spoke in the Metropolitan Tabernacle, which was built to accommodate the multitudes of people who came to hear him. Setting the tone of the thirty years of ministry which would follow, he said: “I would propose that the subject of the ministry in this house, as long as this platform shall stand, shall be the Person of Jesus Christ. I am never ashamed to avow myself a Calvinist. I do not hesitate to take the name of Baptist. But if I am asked what is my creed, I reply, “It is Jesus Christ.”
Spurgeon was Christ-centered in his preaching and taught his students to be the same. “From every town, village, and little hamlet in England, wherever it may be, there is a road to London… and so from every text in Scripture there is a road to the metropolis of the Scriptures, that is Christ. Your business is, when you get to a text, to say, ‘Now, what is the road to Christ?’ and then preach a sermon, running along the road towards the great metropolis—Christ.” Spurgeon did occasionally err in his exegesis, seeing allegories to Christ where a better hermeneutic would take the reader to Jesus by a different (and perhaps more lengthy) route. But the aim of his counsel is certainly correct.
It is a well-known and indisputable fact that Spurgeon was Calvinistic in his creed. But he saw the doctrines of grace as important only in their relation to Christ. He said: “What is doctrine after all but the throne whereon Christ sitteth, and when the throne is vacant what is the throne to us? Doctrines are the shovel and tongs of the altar, while Christ is the sacrifice smoking thereon. Doctrines are Christ’s garments; verily they smell of myrrh, and cassia, and aloes out of the ivory palaces, whereby they make us glad, but it is not the garments we care for as much as the person, the very person of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
This emphasis, however, did not lead Spurgeon away from doctrinal teaching. It simply kept doctrine subservient to Christ, as the following passage reveals: “If I preach Christ I must preach him as the covenant head of his people, and how far am I then from the doctrine of election? If I preach Christ I must preach the efficacy of his blood, and how far am I removed then from the great doctrine of an effectual atonement? If I preach Christ I must preach the love of his heart, and how can I deny the final perseverance of the saints? If I preach the Lord Jesus as the great Head and King, how far am I removed from divine Sovereignty? Must I not, if I preach Christ personally, preach his doctrines? I believe they are nothing but the natural outgrowth of that great root thought, or root substance rather, the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. He who will preach Christ fully will never lax in doctrine.”
Spurgeon’s Christ-centeredness also impacted the way he evangelized and taught people to seek salvation. How we need to learn from Spurgeon here in our man-centered age of preachers that often give people more psychology than gospel. “Remember, sinner, it is not thy hold of Christ that saves thee – it is Christ; it is not thy joy in Christ that saves thee – it is Christ; it is not even faith in Christ, though that is the instrument – it is Christ’s blood and merits; therefore, look not to thy hope, but to Christ, the source of thy hope; look not to thy faith, but to Christ, the author and finisher of thy faith; and if thou doest that, ten thousand devils cannot throw thee down . . . . Let me beseech thee, look only to Christ; never expect deliverance from self, from ministers, or from any means of any kind apart from Christ; keep thine eye simply on Him; let His death, His agonies, His intercession, be fresh upon thy mind; when thou wakest in the morning look for Him; when thou liest down at night look for Him.”
Spurgeon’s Christ-centeredness sprung from a deep and personal relationship with the Lord. He loved Christ deeply and passionately and his sermons are filled with rapturous exaltation of Christ. He eloquently said, “If you leave out Christ, you have left the sun out of the day, and the moon out of the night, you have left the waters out of the sea, and the floods out of the river, you have left the harvest out of the year, the soul out of the body, you have left joy out of heaven, you robbed all of it's all. There is no gospel worth thinking of, much less worth proclaiming, if Jesus be forgotten. We must have Jesus as Alpha and Omega in all our ministries.”
Perhaps Spurgeon never put it more succinctly than when he said, “if you take Christ out of Christianity, Christianity is dead.”
How can we cultivate this kind of Christ-centeredness in our lives?
First, we must make Christ central in our thinking and doctrine. All doctrines must be seen in relation to Christ, not in isolation from him. When we think about theology proper (the nature of God), we should never forget that we see God most fully in Christ. “We have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). As Jesus told Phillip, “whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). The heart of our soteriology should be union with Christ. Should we preach on justification? Yes. But we are justified “by faith in Christ” (Rom. 5:1). When we speak of election, we should remember that we “are chosen in Christ” (Eph. 1:4). As Spurgeon said, the doctrines are the garments, but Christ is the Person clothed in them.
Second, we must make Christ central in our affections and worship. He must be adored, and loved, and reverenced, and praised, and rejoiced in. All of our boasting should be in Christ alone (Gal. 6:14; 1 Cor 1:31).
Third, we must make Christ central in our living and practice. What we confess in word and profess in worship should be expressed in deeds. It is in the practical realm of everyday living that the authenticity of our love for Christ is tested. The worth of Christ should be displayed in our marriages, vocations, finances, time management, recreation, and relationships.