I almost feel like I’m blaspheming here.
I have dared to give a thumbs down to a book on “The Prince of Preachers,” Charles Spurgeon, authored by an elder evangelical statesman, Iain Murray. This demands some explanation as well as some qualifications.
During my first year of seminary, I asked one of my favorite professors, Dr. Scott Manetsch, a noted professor and scholar of church history, for a good biography of Jonathan Edwards. While I don’t remember his words verbatim, the gist of what he said was that a top-notch biography of Edwards did not exist as of yet, but that one was on the way in less than a year. (George Marsden’s Jonathan Edwards: A Life came out in 2003 and is absolutely outstanding.) I had heard some good things about Iain Murray’s biography of Edwards and asked whether it was worth reading, and Dr. Manetsch’s ended up being spot-on for Murray’s biography of Edwards as well as The Forgotten Spurgeon. He said that it would be good for “devotional reading,” but would not be satisfying for a person seriously interested in a historical study of Edwards.
In reading Murray’s Spurgeon, I constantly felt as though I were wading through devotional material and systematic theology in search of the historical Spurgeon. The qualification that quickly needs to be added is that as devotional material it is quite good. But the best substance in the book comes from Spurgeon’s pen, not from Murray’s, and so I feel as though my reading time would have been better spent going straight to the source and reading some of Spurgeon’s sermons.
The most enjoyable portions of the book were chapters 2-4, where Murray explores Spurgeon’s devotion to the doctrines of grace (i.e. “Calvinism”) and his steadfast opposition to Arminianism, which Spurgeon clearly believed to be an affront to the biblical gospel. Spurgeon’s incisive statements against Arminianism are powerful and are sure to inspire a few good fist pumps from any Reformed reader (e.g. “Arminianism does not fully disclose the Biblical testimony concerning the condition of sinners and it does not do justice to the terrible extent of their needs” ). Still, at times it seems as though Murray, in these chapters, is not so much writing a biography of Spurgeon as he is arguing for Calvinism, using Spurgeon as his primary source of polemic.
So, while it is difficult to give a thumbs-down to a book with so much good content, if you are interested in Spurgeon, you would be better served going straight to the source and reading Spurgeon’s sermons, or checking out Lewis Drummond’s biography.