Charles Spurgeon was only 19 years old when God called him to serve as the pastor of New Park Street Chapel in London, England. He was single. He had no children of his own and he was pastoring a church filled with families. Spurgeon understood his call to invest in families, even at 19, and by the time he was 21 years old, Spurgeon published his own catechism for the families of his church.
A short introduction precedes the catechism. Spurgeon pens a mere 101 words in this introduction, and yet these few sentences reveal some of his deep pastoral convictions. Through these words, one can discern four ways Spurgeon invested in families as a 21-year-old pastor.
The 101-word introduction reads:
I am persuaded that the use of a good Catechism in all our families will be a great safeguard against the increasing errors of the times, and therefore I have compiled this little manual from the Westminster Assembly’s and Baptist Catechisms, for the use of my own church and congregation. Those who use it in their families or classes must labor to explain the sense; but the words should be carefully learned by heart, for they will be understood better as years pass. May the Lord bless my dear friends and their families evermore, is the prayer of their loving Pastor.
These words introduced Spurgeon’s book, A Puritan Catechism, which followed a sermon he had preached on October 14, 1855. Psalm 90:1 was the text of his message: “Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.” After preaching this passage on “all generations,” Spurgeon announced the publication of this Catechism.
Spurgeon primarily borrowed from the Westminster Shorter Catechism and the London Baptist Catechism. The Westminster Shorter Catechism was published in 1648 for the churches of Scotland, England, and Ireland. The shorter version came a year after the Larger Catechism, which proved even longer than The Westminster Confession of Faith. The London Baptist Confession of Faith was published in 1689. Four years later, in 1693, the Baptist Catechism was published with the purpose of teaching the London Baptist Confession. This catechism is attributed to Benjamin Keach (who had also served as pastor of New Park Street Chapel) and William Collins. Spurgeon compiled his catechism from both the Westminster Assembly’s and the Baptist Catechism.
Spurgeon wrote his catechism in order to cast a vision for the church family and for individual families in his church. He addresses his audience as “families” three times in this short introduction and, through these words, one may appreciate four ways Spurgeon invested in families as a 21-year-old pastor.
1) Spurgeon Led the Families of his Church to Enjoy God’s Word in their Homes
The introduction begins with an address to the New Park Street Chapel family. This is their pastor’s persuasion; his conviction. The assurance of their young pastor aims to grip the reader immediately. The conviction is that families will benefit from using a good catechism in their homes. It is clear that throughout his ministry, Spurgeon led families to teach and enjoy God’s Word together. He later wrote, “The first and most natural responsibility is for Christian parents to train up their own children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.”
The Biblical pattern of equipping families with the Word of God is seen in passages such as Deuteronomy 6:4-9, Psalm 78:1-8, Joshua 24:14-15, Ephesians 6:4, and 2 Timothy 1:5. Jay Strother applies one of these texts to arrive at an illustration for equipping families with the Word of God. Strother examines Deuteronomy 6:7 and the Hebrew phrase, shanan, meaning “to chisel in stone.” Strother concludes that to impress the Word of God on the next generation, one must chisel God’s Word into their lives. Equipping families with the Word of God, therefore, is the ministry of chiseling God’s Word into the hearts of those in one’s household. Strother writes, “A key objective for the entire church is to equip and support parents in making their homes ministry centers for the spiritual growth of their children.”
Spurgeon was a 21-year-old pastor with a vision. He longed to see the families of his church enjoying the Word of God in their homes together. Chiseling God’s Word into hearts became the goal, and he cast this vision throughout his ministry. Moreover, Spurgeon equipped the families he pastored with a resource that would enable them to enjoy, teach, and obey God’s Word in their homes.
2) Spurgeon Equipped Families to Stand Firm in the Midst of a Worldly Culture
The families in Spurgeon’s church lived in a secular world, daily navigating a culture that knew nothing of Christ, his values, or his Word. The current of the cultural streams proved strong then, as they do today. The “increasing errors of the times” often pull families further and further away from God’s truth. One of the ways Spurgeon invested in families, therefore, found him equipping his church to stand firm in the midst of a worldly culture. He wrote, “We should view everything in this world by the light of redemption, and then we will view it correctly.”
Spurgeon considered his catechism as a “great safeguard against the increasing errors of the times.” One can almost imagine this 21-year-old pastor burdened with the words Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus, aiming to protect families from being “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Ephesians 4:14).
Families rooted in the Gospel will stand firm in the midst of increasing errors rather than conform to the worldliness of their culture. Spurgeon wrote:
What a blessing it will be if our children are thoroughly grounded in the doctrine of redemption by Christ! If they are warned against the false gospels of this evil age, and if they are taught to rest on the eternal rock of Christ’s finished work, then we might have a generation following us that will maintain the faith and be better than their fathers.
One of the finest examples of this blessing is found in the lives of four youth presented in Scripture. In the book of Daniel, the reader is introduced to “four Hebrew teenagers.” Although they were forced to live in a secular, godless culture, they stood firm in their faith. These four engaged the culture around them in a way consistent with the Word of God. Daniel Akin summarizes their witness: “Daniel and his friends were forced to be in Babylon, but they would not let Babylon get into them. They made a conscious and determined decision to say no.”
Healthy family ministries today point to this bold determination and then follow Spurgeon’s example of equipping families to do the same. Standing firm in the midst of a worldly culture, however, is not a one-time lesson that can be preached before pastors move on to the next sermon. This is an ongoing discipleship ministry that calls pastors to repeatedly and frequently equip families to stand firm.
Families must be equipped for the ministry of solidifying a biblical worldview in their homes. As Nancy Pearcey wrote, “Christian parents cannot protect their children from ever encountering opposing worldviews, but they can help them develop resistance skills by giving them the tools to recognize false ideas and counter them with a solid grasp of biblical concepts.”Families cannot ignore the threat of the “increasing errors of the times,” but must intentionally oppose all that is in conflict with biblical truth. As Pearcey described this ministry, families must play the role of a missionary, sifting “the indigenous culture carefully, deciding which aspects of the society can be redeemed and which must be rejected.”
3) Spurgeon Challenged Families to Teach and Disciple in the Home
Spurgeon acknowledged the challenge of family discipleship, but he did not shy away from its importance. He recognized that the spiritual leaders of the home would have to “labor to explain the sense.” The proper use of this catechesis would stretch beyond simply memorizing answers of doctrinal questions. Family spiritual leaders would need to explain all that they teach.
The expectation of labor in this regard is further founded in the passage accompanying Spurgeon’s introduction. He quotes 2 Timothy 2:15, writing, “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” Families are to prove themselves as faithful workmen as they “labor to explain the sense” of the catechism so that the truth might be, in Spurgeon’s words, “carefully learned by heart” and “understood better as years pass.”
One recalls the example of Nehemiah 8. Ezra read the law to God’s people. All of the people stood. And in Nehemiah 8:7-8, there is an example of those who labored so that the Word of God might be carefully learned by heart and understood clearly: “The Levites helped the people to understand the Law, while the people remained in their places. They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.”
Spurgeon continued throughout his ministry to challenge families to teach and disciple in the home. Years after the publication of this catechism, Spurgeon wrote in another book, “Christian children mainly need to be taught the doctrines, precepts, and life of the gospel; they require divine truth to be put before them clearly and forcibly.”The young pastor maintained these convictions even as he matured in ministry, adding, “Teach the little ones the whole truth and nothing but the truth, for instruction is the great desire of the child’s nature.”
4) Spurgeon Prayed Blessings for the Families he Pastored
Spurgeon concludes his introduction with a prayer: “May the Lord bless my dear friends and their families evermore, is the prayer of their loving pastor.” Not only did Spurgeon have the wisdom to pray for his church; this 21-year-old pastor specifically invested in families by praying blessings for them, prayers expressed as the overflow of his love for them.
Spurgeon’s prayer for families reflects the heart of the priestly prayer of Numbers 6:24-26: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenanceupon you and give you peace.” Just as Epaphrasstruggled for the church in his prayers (Colossians 4:12), Spurgeon invested in families with a constant prayer on his heart.
Pastors today would do well to follow this example. As Samuel said, “Far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you” (1 Samuel 12:23). Prayer strengthens and enriches family ministries. Churches are greatly impacted, therefore, by the consistent and faithful prayers of a pastor asking for God’s blessings upon the families of their church.
A Young Pastor with a Timeless Example
Paul taught Timothy that a young pastor need not be despised because of his youth. Instead, he is to set an example for the believers (1 Timothy 4:12). Spurgeon lived this calling well, setting an example even as a young, 21-year-old pastor. He invested in families and set them examples for enjoying God’s Word in their homes, standing firm in the midst of a worldly culture, making disciples in the home, and praying for the family. These four ways of investing in families remain timeless examples for pastors today; both young and not so young.
Jonathan Williams is the founder of Gospel Family Ministries, the author of Gospel Family: Cultivating Family Discipleship, Family Worship, and Family Missions, and the senior pastor of Wilcrest Baptist Church in Houston, TX. He lives in Houston with his wife and three children, and is currently pursuing a PhD in Family Ministry through the School of Education at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, TX.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon, A Puritan Catechism with Proofs, (Lexington, KY: Legacy Publications, 2011).
Jack Rogers, Presbyterian Creeds(Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1991), 156.
Peter Masters, Editor, The Baptist Confession of Faith 1689: Or, the Second London Confession with Scripture Proofs from the Edition of C.H. Spurgeon, 1855(London: The Wakeman Trust, 2008), 5.
William L. Lumpkin, Baptist Confessions of Faith(Valley Forge: Judson Press, 1969), 240.
Charles H. Spurgeon, Come Ye Children: Obtaining Our Lord’s Heart for Loving and Teaching Children,(Abbotsford, WI: Aneko Press, 2017), 57.
Jay Strother, “Family-Equipping Ministry: Church and Home as Co-champions,” Perspectives on Family Ministry: 3 Views(Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2009), 151.
Charles H. Spurgeon, Come Ye Children: Obtaining Our Lord’s Heart for Loving and Teaching Children,(Abbotsford, WI: Aneko Press, 2017), 67.
Charles H. Spurgeon, Come Ye Children: Obtaining Our Lord’s Heart for Loving and Teaching Children,(Abbotsford, WI: Aneko Press, 2017), 73-74.
Daniel L. Akin, Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in Daniel(Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2017), 9.
Nancy Pearcey, Saving Leonardo: A Call to Resist the Secular Assault on Mind, Morals, & Meaning(Nashville, Tennessee: B&H Publishing Group, 2010), 270.
Charles H. Spurgeon, Come Ye Children: Obtaining Our Lord’s Heart for Loving and Teaching Children,(Abbotsford, WI: Aneko Press, 2017), 4.