Spurgeon’s ‘Three R’s’ for Evangelism and Preaching

Many of us are suspicious of using an evangelistic “formula,” but the 19th-century Prince of Preachers had his own.

Over the past few weeks, members of the congregation I pastor have been proclaiming the gospel in the neighborhoods and apartment complexes in the neighborhood surrounding the church.

Over the past few weeks, members of the congregation I pastor have been proclaiming the gospel in the neighborhoods and apartment complexes in the neighborhood surrounding the church.

Executing door-to-door, “cold call” evangelism is not without its challenges in the modern context. Rejections of the gospel run the gamut from angry to flaky. One man told me that he hated religion and religious “zealots” and believed hell was made especially for those of our ilk; another woman said that she adhered to Jewish religion in which her father taught her that faith in any object (“even a rock”) would punch her ticket to heaven. None of my questions about the monotheism of the Old Testament and the Torah’s prohibition of worshiping idols made any difference. I even told her that the Scripture called Jesus the Rock, but she at last politely said goodbye and returned inside the door to her cats. Still, God’s gospel is able to subdue both the rebellious heart—be it seething or silly. I pray that God used us to plant a seed in these two individuals as well as in others whom we have and will visit.

One question some of our members have posed during our community outreach is a good one, but it is a question which makes many of us of a certain theological tribe a bit squeamish: Is there a good outline we may use to help us recall the gospel when we are witnessing to lost people?

There are many such outlines that are thoughtful, careful and biblical which have been used effectively—“Two Ways to Live” and “Evangelism Explosion” (both arise from sound biblical/theological perspectives) come immediately to mind, and I am certain there are others. But recently, in my regular reading of Charles Spurgeon’s sermons, I have discovered an excellent and pithy approach to the gospel, one that is fully biblical and establishes well both man’s universal dilemma and God’s antidote in Christ: Spurgeon’s “Three R’s”: Ruin, Redemption and Regeneration.

This past weekend, I taught this to my people to help them understand the entire scope of the biblical story of God’s redeeming love for sinners in Christ. I commend it to our readers for evangelism and to fellow pastors as realities that must permeate their preaching.

Spurgeon called them “three doctrines that must be preached above all else” and he drew as his text for them “Three third chapters (of Scripture) which deal with the things in the fullest manner”: Genesis 3:14-15 (Ruin), Romans 3:21-26 (Redemption), John 3:1-8 (Regeneration).

Why do I think it makes a good evangelism method? Because each of Spurgeon’s three words begin with “R,” making it easy to recall to memory and each text is a key chapter 3 in the Bible, making the references easy to remember, especially in the nerve-busting throes of personal, face-to-face evangelism.

1. Ruin (Genesis 3:14-15).

This is what man has done. “How did man get in this miserable condition?” Spurgeon asks. R.C. Sproul frames it another way, and his question is one I get often in gospel conversations: “Saved from what?”

In our post-postmodern culture, even (or perhaps especially) in the Bible belt, we must begin here. Biblical illiteracy appears to be at an all-time high globally, thus many have ever considered the obvious truth that there is something desperately wrong in our world, though most all agree with its truthfulness. Beginning here establishes the problem into which God has launched his rescue mission: man has rebelled against his Maker, has broken his Law, and lives under a curse that will one day experience the white-hot, unmediated wrath of God.

But in the second half of verse 15, we hear the faint promise of God’s solution, one that will grow louder and louder as history advances and as the redemption story of the Bible unfolds: The seed of the woman will crush the head of the seed of the serpent. The serpent will bruise the heel of the woman’s offspring, but this promised one will deal the death blow to the snake, killing him as only one can a serpent: a smashed head. This leads naturally to the good news of God’s rescue mission.

2. Redemption (Romans 3:21-26).

This is what God has done. This is the good news that trumps the bad news. In the scope of five verses, Paul articulates what some commentators have called the thesis of Romans or the magna carta of salvation.

In these glorious verses, in a small section of this glorious epistle, Paul establishes: the demands of God’s Law, the futility of works salvation, the Law’s definition of sin, the righteousness of God received by faith in Christ, the reality of justification by faith that is through the redemption of Jesus Christ and his satisfaction of God’s wrath against sin. This paragraph contains the entire matrix of the work of Christ which he accomplished on the cross which provided full pardon from the guilt of sin for every sinner who believes. It is perhaps the most glorious paragraph in human history.

3. Regeneration (John 3:1-8).

This is what God must do in sinners to enable them to believe. It has the distinction of being perhaps one of the most under-taught doctrines in all of evangelicalism. This is the doctrine of the new birth and Spurgeon, as have Reformed evangelicals through the ages, taught that regeneration precedes faith.

In other words, God changes the sinful human heart, sets it free from bondage to sin and enables it to believe that Jesus is indeed the way, the truth and the life. Regeneration, like the entire complex of salvation, is a unilateral work of grace. It was a central theme of Spurgeon’s preaching and in his evangelism and it must be foundational to ours as well, particularly as we think through issues of “results” in evangelism. The reality of regeneration urges us to call sinners to repentance and faith while resting in the work of God who opens blind eyes and unstops deaf ears. It removes the pressure from us and frees us to boldly share the Gospel while knowing that the results are in the hands of a sovereign, benevolent God. Out of a biblical understanding of regeneration, we may call on sinners to repent and be reconciled to God while leaving the results to Him.

Spurgeon’s “Three R’s,” whether you use this scheme or not, should undergird all our evangelism. And like Spurgeon, pastors today should make certain that these three doctrines find a regular appearance in the diet of biblical exposition which they feed to their hungry sheep.

Editor’s Note: A version of this article was originally posted on Founders Ministries. Used by permission.

Jeff Robinson

Jeff Robinson is a senior editor for The Gospel Coalition. A native of Blairsville, Ga., Jeff holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from The University of Georgia, a Master of Divinity in biblical and theological studies and a Ph.D. in historical theology with an emphasis on Baptist history from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky. He is pastor of New City Church in Louisville, KY. Jeff and his wife Lisa have been married for 19 years and have four children.