Spurgeon the Evangelist

By Geoff Chang

We typically think of Spurgeon as a bold, fearless preacher who regularly proclaimed the gospel to thousands throughout his 40-year ministry. But when it came to personal evangelism, Spurgeon confessed his timidity:

“I often envy those of my brethren who can go up to individuals and talk to them with freedom about their souls. I do not always find myself able to do so ….”[1]

Spurgeon is not alone. Many Christians, including pastors, who have believed the gospel for decades, still struggle with sharing the gospel. And yet, knowing that Spurgeon also struggled with this makes him a more helpful guide for us. What would Spurgeon say to encourage our personal evangelism?

Be open to evangelistic opportunities

As a busy pastor, most of Spurgeon’s day-to-day contact was limited to Christians, and any interaction with non-Christians tended to happen in his capacity as a pastor and preacher. Most pastors will find themselves “pulled from the front lines” of evangelism in their work for the church and find it difficult to evangelize.

Even so, Spurgeon would encourage pastors (and all Christians) not to overlook the opportunities that may arise throughout the course of everyday life – an Uber driver, a passenger next to you on a flight, a restaurant worker … or, in Spurgeon’s case, a cabman.

It is wonderful how God blesses very little efforts to serve Him. One night, many years ago, after preaching, I had been driven home by a cabman, and after I had alighted, and given him the fare, he took a little Testament out of his pocket, and showing it to me, said, “It is about fifteen years since you gave me that, and spoke a word to me about my soul. I have never forgotten your words, and I have not let a day pass since without reading the Book you gave me.” I felt glad that, in that instance, the seed had, apparently, fallen into good ground.[2]

On another occasion, while preaching away, Spurgeon had an opportunity to talk to a waterman.

Having promised to preach, one evening, at a certain river-side town, I went to the place early in the day, as I thought I should like to have a little time in a boat on the river. So, hailing a waterman, I made arrangements with him to take me, and, whilst sitting in the boat, wishing to talk with him about religious matters, I began the conversation by asking him about his family. [3]

This opening led to a conversation about the recent cholera epidemic and the hope of heaven through the gospel. Spurgeon could have easily excused himself from that evangelistic opportunity. After all, he was getting ready to preach later that evening, and this was a time for him simply to relax. Even so, these quiet moments with a waterman were an opportunity for intentional conversation, which eventually led to the gospel.

For those who find evangelism difficult because they don’t have ongoing relationships with non-Christians, pray that the Lord would open your eyes to spontaneous evangelistic opportunities around you. Pray for courage to speak, to hand out a tract or Bible or to invite someone to church. As Spurgeon reminds us: “It is wonderful how God blesses very little efforts to serve Him.”

Engage nominal Christians

For those who are regularly surrounded by professing Christians, recognize that there are often still many evangelistic opportunities. Especially in places where Christianity is established in the culture, nominalism may very well be an issue. As Christians, we can rejoice at people’s profession of faith, but never at the cost of assuming the gospel. Rather, we should look for opportunities to engage people’s understanding of the gospel and bring the truth to light where needed.

For Spurgeon, in 19th-century London, this often meant engaging members of the Church of England with the gospel.

Many who are nominally Christians appear to me to believe in a sort of sincere-obedience covenant, in which, if a man does as much as he can, Christ will do the rest, and so the sinner will be saved; but it is not so. … Some people have a notion that going to church and chapel, taking the sacrament, and doing certain good deeds that appertain to a respectable profession of religion, are the way to Heaven. If they are put in the place of Christ, they are rather the way to hell; although it is strewn with clean gravel, and there be grassy paths on either side, it is not the road to heaven, but the way to everlasting death.[4]

The initial goal of engaging nominal Christians is to warn them of the danger they are in. Often, this will mean talking about the danger of trusting in their own works and religious performance. But once that point is established, the evangelist must make the gospel clear. Never take for granted a person’s understanding of the gospel, even if they have grown up in the church. Spurgeon writes:

When I have spoken of my own hope in Christ to two or three people in a railway carriage, I have often found myself telling my listeners perfect novelties. I have seen the look of astonishment upon the face of many an intelligent Englishman when I have explained the doctrine of the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ; I have even met with persons who had attended their parish church from their youth up, yet who were totally ignorant of the simple truth of justification by faith; ay, and some who have been to Dissenting places of worship do not seem to have laid hold of the fundamental truth that no man is saved by his own doings, but that salvation is procured by faith in the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ.[5]

As pastors and Christians called to do the work of an evangelist, sometimes that work will take place among those who are members of our churches; or among churchgoing neighbors and co-workers. These can be difficult conversations to have, especially if someone is convinced he is a Christian. Yet, apart from a right understanding of the gospel, the nominal are as lost as those who have never heard it. Sometimes the front lines of evangelism are right in our pews.

Create opportunities for personal follow-up

Spurgeon was a powerful preacher and often heard stories of how God worked powerfully through his sermons. Still, in many cases, he was astonished to find how easily people could avoid conviction and miss the point he was trying to communicate.

One advantage of dealing personally with souls is that it is not so easy for them to turn aside the message as when they are spoken to in the mass. I have often marvelled when I have been preaching. I have thought that I have exactly described certain people; I have marked in them special sins, and as Christ’s faithful servant, I have not shunned to picture their case in the pulpit, that they might receive a well-deserved rebuke; but I have wondered when I have spoken to them afterwards, that they have thanked me for what I have said, because they thought it so applicable to another person in the assembly.[6]

So, in addition to preaching excellent sermons, Spurgeon created opportunities for people to respond by meeting with him or one of the elders. Usually, this would mean setting aside an afternoon during the week for any new converts or seekers to come and meet with Spurgeon or another leader in the church to talk about the gospel. Spurgeon shares his experience:

From the very early days of my ministry in London, the Lord gave such an abundant blessing upon the proclamation of His truth that, whenever I was able to appoint a time for seeing converts and enquirers, it was seldom, if ever, that I waited in vain; and, usually, so many came, that I was quite overwhelmed with gratitude and thanksgiving to God.[7]

These one-on-one conversations proved to be fruitful evangelistic opportunities, as he answered questions, heard testimonies, and pointed people to the Savior. On one occasion, Spurgeon was so encouraged in meeting with so many people that he lost track of time and went the entire day without having any break.

I may have seen some thirty or more persons during the day, one after the other; and I was so delighted with the tales of mercy they had to tell me, and the wonders of grace God had wrought in them, that I did not know anything about how the time passed. At seven o’clock, we had our prayer-meeting; I went in, and prayed with the brethren. After that, came the church-meeting. A little before ten o’clock, I felt faint; and I began to think at what hour I had my dinner, and I then for the first time remembered that I had not had any! I never thought of it, I never even felt hungry, because God had made me so glad, and so satisfied with the divine manna, the heavenly food of success in winning souls.[8]


Spurgeon had a long and remarkable ministry, yet he experienced seasons of varying fruitfulness: “There has been a greater increase sometimes, or a little diminution now and then.” The overall picture, however, was one of God’s surprising and powerful work through Spurgeon’s evangelistic efforts alongside his church. Reflecting over his years of ministry, Spurgeon declared, “I thank God that I have not had to labour in vain, or to spend my strength for nought. He has given me a long period of happy and successful service, for which, with all my heart, I praise and magnify His holy Name.”[9]

We may not be able to see the fruit of our labors in the moment. And we may never experience the same evangelistic results as Spurgeon. Nonetheless, our goal is to remain faithful to the gospel and to our mission while the Lord enables us to serve Him.

And one day, when we look back over the years of service, we may well be surprised and rejoice over how God used our small efforts to magnify His name.

This post originally appeared on the Spurgeon Center’s blog.

[1] Autobiography 2:131. The following quotes are drawn from chapter 45 of Vol. 2 of Spurgeon’s Autobiography.

[2] Autobiography 2:131.

[3] Autobiography 2:131.

[4] Autobiography 2:134.

[5] Autobiography 2:133.

[6] Autobiography 2:135.

[7] Autobiography 2:137.

[8] Autobiography 2:137.

[9] Autobiography 2:136.

Published August 29, 2023

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Geoff Chang

Geoff Chang serves as Assistant Professor of Church History and Historical Theology and the Curator of the Spurgeon Library. He is a graduate of The University of Texas at Austin, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he wrote his dissertation on Charles H. Spurgeon’s ecclesiology. Prior to studying at Midwestern, Geoff worked as a database consultant until he discerned a call to ministry. He is married to Stephanie and they have three children. They enjoy music, good books, working around the house, exploring the outdoors and serving their local church. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter.