Charles Spurgeon, the Kingdom of God, and Care for ‘The Least of These’

Social ministries and evangelistic efforts, when kept in balance, can greatly magnify a church’s impact in its community.

When I’m on vacation, I sometimes attend a liturgical church.

The ritual is somehow comforting for someone from a Baptist background like me. My favorite ritual is when the priest moves to the very center of the room to read the gospel, symbolizing how the word is to be the center of the church. Of course, for many of these churches (and many less-ritualistic churches), the word isn’t at the center, and this is a symbol without substance.

Things are different when these churches celebrate communion. They believe Jesus literally inhabits the elements, and they act accordingly. The bread and wine are treated with reverence before, during, and after the ceremony.

There is a huge difference between something considered real and something that is merely symbolic. I believe this is an important concept for understanding the life and ministry of Charles Spurgeon and how his theology and practice could impact the church today. While some believe the kingdom of God will occur completely or primarily in the future, Spurgeon firmly believed that the church is the living kingdom now, even as we await its ultimate fulfillment upon Jesus’ return. Spurgeon taught that Jesus was anointed king at his baptism, lived the kingdom during his earthly ministry, and then passed the power and authority of kingdom work to his followers in the Great Commission. Spurgeon said, “This is the perpetual commission of the Church of Christ; and the great seal of the Kingdom attached to it.”[1]

Kingdom language permeates Spurgeon’s descriptions of the church. He describes salvation as being enrolled in Christ’s kingdom,[2] and believers are to serve Christ as “a right loyal subject” of the kingdom.[3] According to Spurgeon, believers are empowered by God to live a kingdom lifestyle here on earth.[4]

This was not empty theology for Spurgeon. He repeatedly called his church to live in the kingdom now. “What manner of persons ought we to be who avow ourselves to be in his holy kingdom!”[5] He clearly viewed Christians as living in the present-tense continuing kingdom that Christ inaugurated.

One of the primary ways Spurgeon taught that the church is supposed to live the kingdom now is through serving the poor and disadvantaged. He believed caring for the poor was a litmus test for true followers of Jesus. While he taught that good deeds would not result in salvation, he was also clear that works such as feeding the hungry and clothing the naked were necessary evidence of true salvation, seeing them as “a wonderful means of separating between the hypocrite and the true Christian.”[6] He said, “Where God has given a man a new heart and a right spirit, there is great tenderness to all the poor.”[7]

On the other hand, he said, “If you do not help the one that you see has the greatest need, I am afraid the love of God dwelleth not in you.”[8] Spurgeon even labeled founding hospitals and erecting orphanages as “ordinary fruits of a belief in Christianity.”[9] Spurgeon viewed helping the “least of these” (Matthew 25:40) and reaching the lost like opposite arms of a scale which must be kept in balance. As he said, “Works of charity must keep pace with the preaching of faith, or the church will not be perfect in its development.”[10] When a person joined his church, The Metropolitan Tabernacle, Spurgeon explained that the new member was expected to actively help others. As he put it in one sermon, “There is a society for finding soup for the poor. Make your own soup. Give it yourself.”[11]

How did this emphasis on living the kingdom work? Spurgeon himself famously established and supported orphanages, homes for poor widows, and a college to train low-income pastors. And it’s possible the church went beyond his example. Church members developed missions in the poorest and most dangerous parts of London, made clothing for pregnant women in need, and provided no-interest loans to impoverished mothers. One of Spurgeon’s deacons estimated there were over a thousand Tabernacle members actively involved in benevolence ministries outside the church every week.

This care for the “least of these” was not detrimental to their evangelism efforts, but in fact, encouraged and supported them. Each of these ministries had the dual goals of aiding the poor and bringing them into a relationship with Jesus. It also worked apologetically. At one point, an agnostic challenged Spurgeon about his belief in God. Spurgeon’s response was to point out how much more effective Britain’s evangelicals were in helping the needy than were the non-Christian organizations.

In this day when many churches view social ministries as divorced from evangelism, Spurgeon’s work with The Metropolitan Tabernacle provides an important counterexample. Rather than decrease the church’s evangelistic ministry, the Tabernacle members’ efforts on behalf of the poor magnified their evangelistic impact. Their sacrificial love and service made their preaching of the gospel even more attractive to unbelievers. Throughout Spurgeon’s ministry, the Tabernacle averaged adding more than one member per day for almost 30 years.

While we may not get results like Spurgeon’s, living for the kingdom the way Spurgeon challenged his church to do would no doubt aid our efforts to reach the world for Jesus.

Editor’s Note: The article is adapted from several of Steve Davis’ papers written in preparation for a doctoral dissertation focusing on Charles Spurgeon’s theology of the Kingdom of God, and was originally published on the ABWE EveryEthne blog on May 13, 2024. Used with permission.

[1] C. H. Spurgeon, The Gospel of the Kingdom: A Commentary on the Book of Matthew (London: Passmore and Alabaster, 1893), 258.

[2] Spurgeon, Kingdom, 23.

[3] Spurgeon, Kingdom, 25.

[4] Spurgeon, Kingdom, 25-26.

[5] Spurgeon, Kingdom, 26.

[6] C. H. Spurgeon, “The Reward of the Righteous,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 12 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1866), 46.

[7] C. H. Spurgeon, “The Fifth Beatitude,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 55 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1909), 400.

[8] C. H. Spurgeon, “The Duty of Remembering the Poor,” in The New Park Street Pulpit Sermons, vol. 2 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1856), 367.

[9] C. H. Spurgeon. The Sword and Trowel: 1884, 469.

[10] C. H. Spurgeon, The Sword and Trowel: 1879 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1879), 524.

[11] Spurgeon, “Love Thy Neighbour,” 306.