Monday, March 25, 2013

Book Review: Spurgeon: A New Biography, by Arnold Dallimore

As a pastor, I have an incredibly high admiration for the life and ministry of Charles Spurgeon. His preaching, writing, and leadership stand out among the all-time greats of Christian history. Were I to be granted a "double portion" of any one man's spirit, as Elisha sought from Elijah, I might just choose C.H. Spurgeon.

This biography by Arnold Dallimore is an excellent introduction to the life and ministry of the "Prince of Preachers." Reading through this brief work will give the reader a swift but sufficient introduction to the primary life events, theological moorings, and major accomplishments of this stalwart Christian hero.

As Dallimore traces the incomparable Spurgeon from his progenic childhood, beyond his meteoric rise as a young Baptist pastor, and through his grueling sufferings of both body and soul (the Downgrade Controversy was especially wearing on the London Calvinist), the reader gets the impression that Spurgeon was nearly apostolic.

In fact, the reason that I gave this work four stars instead of five is that it verges on hagiography. Throughout, nearly the only "weakness" that Dallimore can detect in the life of C.H. Spurgeon is that he smoked cigars and had an alcoholic beverage from time to time! Certainly, this work is an attempt, however admirable, to cast Spurgeon in the purest of lights and to give him his due among the venerable men of Christian history.

I too love much about Spurgeon: his pleading for souls, his resistance to the creeping influence of liberal theology, and his ardent defense of Calvinism and the doctrines of our Puritan forefathers. But as a pastor myself, I might have been even MORE encouraged (if that were possible) to hear about a single time that Spurgeon had failed at something--even if just once in his life!

Instead, Dallimore casts Spurgeon as almost impeccable in both life and character. "The man who lived in CONSTANT fellowship with God manifested in his daily life ALL the fruits of the Spirit. Here love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control were EVER present, and with them there was a hatred of their opposites--a loathing of EVERY form of sin" (p. 179, emphasis added). Wow.

I left the book wondering: did Spurgeon have any Achilles heal at all? Did he succeed as a father and husband as he did as an author and mega-church pastor? (Notably, almost nothing is said of Spurgeon raising his sons in the home). Did the unfaltering success of his publications and preaching success ever cause him to need to repent of pride?

Dallimore's work was thorough, interesting, and compelling throughout. Overall, I would highly recommend this work as a good introduction to C.H. Spurgeon, but I would caution all who read it to not compare themselves too rigorously to Dallimore's protagonist. None of us will be able to stand next to him.

Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida.

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