Don’t Read the Puritans, Read Spurgeon!

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I must confess to having slightly overstated my point in the title of this post. I rejoice in the recent resurgence of interest in the Puritans, who have so much to teach us. Perhaps a better way to capture the thought propelling this post would be “Use Spurgeon to Create a Bridge to the World of the Puritans.” But that would make too long a title!

Spurgeon died just over 120 years ago and was one of the most influential figures in the Victorian era (1837–1901). Although those days may seem a world away from today, they were a time of relatively rapid technological innovation and globalization. They are much more similar to our days than the Puritan era (16th and 17th centuries). 

Many a student will pick up a Puritan work and struggle with the language. In contrast, Spurgeon spoke in such an earthy way that he is both easy to read and compelling in our times. Especially if you are new at reading old books, I urge you to read Spurgeon first, because there you will find the Puritans distilled.

Spurgeon had a library of several thousand Puritan books by the time of his death and had been reading them since he was six. He read several complete books each week and had a remarkable memory for things he had read years previously. He was almost as saturated with the Puritans as he was with the Bible. 

As an example of this that is right up to date is found in a book of Spurgeon which explained old Puritan quotes. Here’s one Puritan quote from the book: “They are dead fish which are carried down the stream.” And here is Spurgeon’s explanation:

Living fish may go with the stream at times, but dead fish must always do so. There are plenty of such in all waters: dead souls, so far as the truest life is concerned, and these are always drifting, drifting, drifting as the current takes them. Their first inquiry is — what is customary? God’s law is of small account to them, but the unwritten rules of society have a power over them which they never think of resisting. (Flowers from a Puritan’s Garden, Logos edition)

How relevant is that fuller quote to our modern discussions about over-contextualization! How it challenges us to not merely follow the changing waters of “the unwritten rules of society”! It is in discerning where our Lord would have us swim in the stream that the work of appropriate contextualization occurs. May Spurgeon’s words from a time not so very different from our own help us in that process!

is author of Raised with Christ (Crossway, 2010) and Hope Reborn (Christian Focus, 2014). He blogs at Patheos and served on the leadership team of Jubilee Church, London. Adrian is a medical doctor and was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia in May 2017. He is passionate about helping Christians learn to approach suffering with hope and compassion.