Kingdom People

December 6, 2006

Spurgeon the Drinker: The Rest of the Story…

Filed under: Church Issues — Trevin Wax @ 7:45 am

tbaco2.jpgIt comes as a shock to many Baptists, but it is true. Our “prince of preachers,” our model for fiery, evangelistic preaching – Charles Haddon Spurgeon – was a drinker and smoker.

Those who advocate drinking and smoking in the Southern Baptist Convention today enjoy knowing that one of our Baptist heroes would seem to have been on their side. You don’t have to visit blogs for long to notice how Baptists who like their beer often trot out Spurgeon as the token saint of drinking.

The stories make for great internet fodder, even today. Who can forget Dr. Pentecost’s public chiding of Spurgeon’s habit from Spurgeon’s own pulpit in 1874? Newspapers record Spurgeon announcing to the crowd that he did not consider smoking a sin, he intended on “smoking a cigar before retiring to bed” that night, and that he would continue to smoke “to the glory of God.”

Many of the Baptists of my own generation have seized stories like this and used them to justify social drinking and smoking today.  Spurgeon has become a hero to many of the drinking Baptists.

But there’s more to Spurgeon’s story. And what often gets left out is the conclusion that Spurgeon came to later on in life.

After Spurgeon’s pronouncement of his “smoking to the glory of God,” English businessmen began to market the cigars that Spurgeon smoked. Spurgeon once entered a store and saw a sign that said, “Spurgeon smokes!” He also heard complaints from parents who were encouraging their children not to drink alcohol or smoke, only to receive the reply, “But Spurgeon does…”

By the 1880’s, Spurgeon’s health was failing, and so the preacher who had once justified his cigar-smoking by claiming a doctor had prescribed it as a relaxant, realized that smoking was doing more harm than good to his body. So, he gave it up.

At the same time, the temperance movement was growing rapidly in England as a response to the widespread problems associated with increasing rates of alcoholism. As Spurgeon dealt with the ravages of alcohol abuse, he began to rethink his stance on drinking.

In one service, he said: “I neither said nor implied that it was sinful to drink wine; nay, I said that, in and by itself, this might be done without blame. But I remarked that, if I knew that another would be led to take it by my example, and this would lead them on to further drinking, and even to intoxication, then I would not touch it.”

So Spurgeon admitted he would give up his Christian liberty in order to avoid leading another astray. And eventually, in the last few years of his life, that’s precisely what he did. Spurgeon became a total abstainer.

“I abstain myself from alcoholic drink in every form, and I think others would be wise
to do the same; but of this each one must be a guide unto himself.”

Interestingly enough, Spurgeon never condemned alcohol as inherently evil. He would have been the first to admit that he enjoyed wine as one of God’s gifts. I’m sure he would never have seen cigar smoking as a sin either. But as alcoholism destroyed families and neighborhoods in England during the late 1800’s, Spurgeon decided that total abstinence was the wisest practice for the cultural context in which he found himself.

And that is why I abstain from alcohol consumption as well. It is not because I believe drinking in moderation to be a sin. I do not. It is not because the Bible commands me to abstain. It does not. 

There are two reasons I have chosen to abstain from alcohol. The first is that in the Southern Baptist Convention, drinking alcohol almost automatically disqualifies one from service and leadership. I’m not willing to forsake potential ministry opportunities within the SBC for a beer. That’s not a hill on which I choose to die. Secondly, I believe that in the cultural context in which we live, abstinence is the wisest way.

I do not condemn my brothers and sisters who disagree with me on this issue. But I do ask to receive the same respect. My conviction is not one born out of legalism or mindless acceptance of tradition. I believe my conviction comes from the same place that Spurgeon’s did – a pastor’s heart sensitive to the needs of those around him and ready to contextualize in order to most effectively preach the Gospel in the world where God has placed us. 


  1. Very intriguing and surprising about Spurgeon. I agree in our times that it is wise to abstain, but I do not condemn others for doing so. I never take the risk of becoming an alcoholic if I never take a drink. Thanks for the great article!

    Comment by Sylvia — December 6, 2006 @ 8:47 am

  2. It’s funny that some of the baptists who are biggest into “contextualizing” to best reach the culture are the very ones who most harshly criticize those who have “contextualized” by deciding that abstinence is the best way.

    Comment by Scott — December 6, 2006 @ 8:54 am

  3. Unfortunately for Spurgeon, he was not privy to the high tech epidemiological studies on tobacco and alcohol dependence that we are today. Recent studies reveal that 1/3 of the people who try tobacco become dependent and 1/6 of the people who try alcohol become dependent. Dependency equals lung cancer, pancreatic cancer, hepatic encephalopathy, cardiomyopathy, liver cancer…not to mention the financial drain that dependency has on our health care system and the role it plays in family dynamics. These facts are the real cultural context that we live in. For those Baptist bloggers who promote their favorite beer, they need to know that for every six people who take their advice and go out and try that beverage, one of them will destroy himself, his family, and possibly others who just happen to be on the same highway as he. This, unfortunately, is the real cultural context that we live in.

    Comment by Brannon — December 7, 2006 @ 4:32 pm

  4. Yesterday I was having my devotional and one of the passages that I read was from Habakkuk… and after I read Trevin’s thoughts regarding Spurgeon, I wanted to share with you all this verse: “Woe to him who makes his neighbors drink – you pour out your wrath and make them drunk, in order to gaze at their nakedness!…”
    This is soooo true!

    Comment by Connie — December 8, 2006 @ 2:20 pm

  5. Quoting Trevin: So Spurgeon admitted he would give up his Christian liberty in order to avoid leading another astray. And eventually, in the last few years of his life, that’s precisely what he did. Spurgeon became a total abstainer.

    I think this is a mis-statement of Christian liberty. Christian liberty is the freedom to consider our brothers as more important than ourselves, freedom from blind selfishness, etc. Abstaining from alcohol for the sake of the brethren is not a denial of Christian liberty, but an exercise of it, in my opinion.

    Comment by Guillaume McDowell — December 22, 2006 @ 2:05 am

  6. Brannon: I’d be interested to read the sources of your statistics.

    Comment by Guillaume McDowell — December 22, 2006 @ 2:07 am

  7. If i were in a denomination such as the SBC that is marked with the false teaching of teetotalism, I would see to it that everyone that heard me teach from the pulpit knew for certain I was no teetotaler, in order to preserve two things:

    1. The fundamental truth articulated by the Lord Jesus that evil come not from outside the body, but from with the hearts of men; and,

    2. Christian liberty.

    Comment by mdeadly — January 27, 2007 @ 4:20 am

  8. […] But is abstinence from alcohol (I like calling it a “boycott,” as my position on the issue resembles John Piper’s and Charles Spurgeon’s) a new “Law” that threatens […]

    Pingback by Let Grace Abound in Us, Fellow Seminary Students | Said At Southern Seminary — August 20, 2007 @ 11:08 pm

  9. […] But is abstinence from alcohol (I like calling it a “boycott,” as my position on the issue resembles John Piper’s and Charles Spurgeon’s) a new “Law” that threatens […]

    Pingback by Let Grace Abound in Us, Fellow Seminary Students « Kingdom People — October 8, 2007 @ 4:05 pm

  10. I enjoyed reading this, and I would warn the other participants about the dangers of quoting one scripture to the exclusion of others. It is clear from the Bible that wine is good, and is it is good to enjoy it – Psalms 104:15. It is equally clear that Jesus enjoyed wine, and was not in the least worried about the “damage” being done to His ministry because he imbibed. Um, it was his first mracle, you know. And, whether you like it or not, God commanded the Hebrews, in various places in the OT, to bring Him wine, and to sit down and enjoy “strong drink” in front of Him (Lev 23, Numbers 15 and 18, Deut 14 – it goes on and on). The idea of diluting wine with water, as some folks say we should do at the Lord’s Supper, was a symbol of corruption in the Bible (Isaiah 1). It is clear that some on this website are trendy, cultural Christians, who are more than happy to let their unbelieving society determine what is permissible or not to a believer, and to let the unrgenerate decide what is pleasing to God and what isn’t. At least be honest about it and own it. Abstention of alcohol, for some here, is a measure of rightness before God. My measure is the completed work of Christ, and nothing else. So good luck to you! Now, I believe I will go enjoy a good beer before I finish preparing my Sunday school lesson for tomorrow.


    Comment by Alan Raymond — March 8, 2008 @ 12:12 pm

  11. Hello,
    Thanks for the insight on a great Man of God. I have heard the stories of Spurgeons release of alcohol and tobacco, but do not have a quoatable source. Do you have it? This would be most appreciated.
    Blessings JC

    Comment by j Chitty — June 20, 2008 @ 4:12 pm

  12. I find the SBC demand that no one drink a bit absurd. It is ironic that the SBC, which criticizes Catholicism for non-Biblical tradition, seems obsessed with clinging to its own non-Biblical traditions. It saddens me that we have created a baptist popery that has its own dietary restrictions replete with its own version of Catholic guilt.
    The health argument is probably the worst one the SBC trots out (i.e. drinking is bad for your health). Why? Because the average Bptist is at least 30 lbs over-weight and spend an awful lot of time eating copious amounts of fried foods and patries at various fellowship meetings.

    Comment by christian — August 11, 2008 @ 8:10 pm

  13. christian: –
    That is so funny!
    And so true.
    However, considering our times and the damage alcohol has and is doing, it would seem prudent for a Christian to consider carefully his drinking habits in front of others.

    Comment by Gozz — October 14, 2008 @ 7:53 pm

  14. Great information. My dad was a pastor when I was younger and when I became a teen I questioned everything I had been taught. Some of it was correct and some lacked biblical authority. On the issue of drinking alcoholic beverages I discussed it with my dad at length multiple times. I was not convinced from his arguments including health, example for others, the dastardly history of booz, irreversible acts or events that can take place while under the influence, your personnal walk with Christ or the disappointment he personnally would have. All of these arguments and moral standards are not effective when an 18 year old is only interested in having someone show them absolute truth and furthermore are hard to defend from a tetotaler stand point because they are all subjective. My dad’s most effective discussion and education of the subject was based on the core of God’s Word. All other arguements although complementary, are sideline discussions of the base issue of, “does the bible say that consuming alcoholic beverages is wrong?” My dad asked me to find grape juice mentioned in the bible. I started to realize the base issue when I realized that the word “wine” in the bible covers multiple types of beverages as well as being used for similies. Wine represents both fermented and non-fermented drinks made from grapes. Having this knowledge, the next step was to see where the two were used differently in the context of the scriptures. Using the King James Bible and a Strongs Concordance I then went to each text and found that each time the word wine was used to indicate something that should NOT be consumed it referred to the fermented state and each time the scripture referred to wine TO BE consumed such as “for they belly’s sake” it referred to the un-fermented state.
    I was sold. I think most people don’t get the opportunity to look into the greek or hebrew definitions or some have a bias and readily accept at face value the suggestion of “moderation” makes it ok to God. Everything must be done it moderation, but that does not apply to something that God has said not to do such as murder, lust, coveteousness, drinking alcoholic beverages etc.
    Sometimes even if we know what is right and wrong we still attempt to justify our wrong because we love it.
    One of the things that are abominable (different than simply wrong) to God are lying lips. Even if we do things that are wrong, we still have to acknowledge that they are wrong and not lie to ourselves.
    “…teach my people the difference between the Holy and profane”
    The base issue of “is it right or wrong?” and “now that I know it is wrong will I stop?” is addressed by the greatest commandment.
    “…Love the Lord thy God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.”
    The peripheral discussions and those that involve others are addressed by the second greatest commandment.
    “…Love thy neighbor as thyself”
    “…on these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

    Comment by Ben — October 20, 2008 @ 4:10 am

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