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. 

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Comments:


46 thoughts on “Spurgeon the Drinker: The Rest of the Story…”

  1. Sylvia says:

    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!

  2. Scott says:

    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.

  3. Brannon says:

    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.

    1. P. K. says:

      Every time we practice deception we are sinning. Please remember that. People are set free by Christ. Moderation is key. I have been to many Baptist churches and when it comes to food moderation, gluttony seems to prevail including with Spurgeon. Gout is a symptom of gluttinous behavior. I would be more concerned with that than his one glass of wine now and then. I see no Baptist adequately addressing this issue and it kills more than alcohol and cigarettes combined. Your logic is faulty and deceptive. To say it is ok to have a beer or two now and then does not equate with telling some one to get drunk. Moderation is the word to use with food and drink. Based on your flawed logic Baptist Buffets (you now what I am talking about) have killed more than some guy saying he enjoys a glass of wine in moderation. Spurgeon’s gluttony had more to do with his early demise than anything else. The blog claims he quit smoking but that is not true according to his greatgrandson who has a letter and the cigars from the early 1890’s that he last had with one partially smoked in his final days. http://www.spurgeon.org/misc/cigars.htm

  4. Connie says:

    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!

  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.

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

  7. mdeadly says:

    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.

  8. Alan Raymond says:

    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.

    Cheers!

  9. j Chitty says:

    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

  10. christian says:

    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.

  11. Gozz says:

    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.

  12. Ben says:

    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.”

    1. P. K. says:

      You are deceived or misleading. I read the King James and know it says that a bishop in 1TM 3:3 “Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy…” and a deacon 1TM 3:8 “Likewise must the deacons be grave, not doubletongued, not given to much wine, not greedy…” My Strongs does not show different words. So we can conclude it does not say be careful with grape juice. Clearly the context shows alcohol. A bishop is to abstain from drinking wine and Spurgeon should of heeded that but did not. However it is ok for a deacon to drink wine but not much. God is recommending that deacons use moderation with wine. Why would people contradict God’s word and say all should sustain? The same reason the Pharissees placed all the burdens on people. I am Baptist but I know some error including myself at times. That is why God’s word in context shall prevail and not the 19th century Marxist influenced new gender role model and abstinence movement. The KJV bible does mention new wine (unfermented) but it calls it that new wine. Yes wine is the fruit of the vine and can be unfermented which my KJV refers to as new wine. I believe Spurgeon understood the bible better than most and I wonder why he being a Pastor drank wine. His smoking an occassional cigar would not bother me either but I believe he was past occassional and into a habit. Was his smoking habit sin? I am unsure but if something causes us to stumble in our walk it is sin. So if drinking means going down the bar and becoming a reveler that is sin according to God’s word as would be drinking water and reveling at the bar. If it means enjoying a glass to relax after dinner then I can find no sin. Can you if so cast the first stone.

  13. Michael says:

    I would appreciate knowing the resources from which it is concluded that Spurgeon gave up cigars or drink. I have seen numerous records of his advocation of such, but personally, I have never seen an account of his own that he turned against them. Second-hand accounts obviously do not carry the same validity as one’s own words.

    Without question, the Word certainly speaks against ABUSE of both food and drink, but there are actually more verses that speak in favor of consumption of alcohol than against.

    Also, I find it quite hypocritical when an obese minister rings the rafters with his message against drinking, when he is a living example of one being unable to control his appetite. Take a look around the sanctuary on Sunday at how many overweight people are in our churches, yet we dare not speak against that.

  14. Heath Lloyd says:

    Trevin: I know I am really late to this conversation, but I was led here in reading on CHS.
    I am reminded of a story I read once (cannot remember the source, sorry) about Bob Jones Sr going to England and he met C. S. Lewis. When he came back to the States he said, “He smokes, and he drinks – but I really believe he (Lewis) is a Christian.”
    Imagine.

  15. Jason says:

    There is evidence that Spurgeon chose to abstain from alcohol towards the end of his life. And, rightly so in my opinion. But what is your evidence that he did this with cigars? I am curious really, not questioning the validity of your statement–but rather looking for your proof. I did a bit of researching out of pure curiosity on the subject of his cigar smoking and found that most evidence points to the fact that he never gave up the practice (I won’t say habit). I did however find that from some sources this was said, but it seemed to defend and affirm their position that they (or their predecessor) were right and Spurgeon eventually conceded. Please share!

  16. Kenneth says:

    The thing about Spurgeon abstaining is just incorrect. His own diaries give evidence that he continued smoking to the end of his life. Also, what Ben said about wine and grape juice is just plain wrong. I read Greek and every Greek theologian would tell that is wrong. It is actually one of the worst arguments against the consumption of alcohol. If you don’t believe me read Jesus’ first miracle. He undoubtedly makes fermented wine. Think about. And as far as hurting my witness goes I don’t think that really applies. I use chewing tobacco on occasion and I find it makes me more approachable as a christian in the army because people feel like I won’t judge them. Please don’t take that as my full argument for the use of tobacco. It isn’t even half. Just an example. I’m doing this on my phone and my thumbs are getting tired.

  17. Kilsally says:

    I was sold the pup that wine was alcohol and new wine was grape jiuce but in acts on the day of pentecost when speaking in tongues they are accused of having drunk new wine inferring they were drunk???? I`m not sold on teetotalism, scripture is clear on drunkeness and clear that we should not make others stumble. I stay away from pubs and clubs and only had a drink once in two years as generally before i was saved drink and drunkenness were one and the same..i drank to get drunk like most young folks do and pretty much i see no reason to drink alcohol except to get drunk so i choose not to drink and because i know once started i will be tempted but scripturally a drink or two is not sin – god made wine good, it is mans actions that make it bad like with all things.

  18. Lily says:

    This is the first time I learned about this thing! Now I know why the greatest preacher of the modern times died at young age. Tsk!Tsk!Tsk!
    What a waste of life just because of vices. But I admire him for later he realized he had to quiet if only to discourage people from going astray. But on himself the damage had been done and so he had to bid this world goodbye earlier than he should. He could have had saved even more souls if he lived even longer.

  19. Lily says:

    I mean “What a waste of life just because of vices. But I admire him for later he realized he had to quit.”

    Sorry!

  20. Kenneth Adams says:

    Read Spurgeon’s book “The Unknown God” pages
    105 to 120. The book is about the Holy Spirit filing the believer. This is Spurgeon’s sermon against the use of alcohol. Christians weaken their testimony greatly with the us of any addictive and health damging liquor, tobacco, drugs, etc.

  21. Jeremy says:

    This is VERY MUCH OUT OF CONTEXT!!!! Sad that you do not understand scripture. This is speaking about evil people who devour or destroy other nations…. can you not see that???? Please study correctly.

  22. Jeremy says:

    I was referring to CONNIE…. not up on how these post work. sorry

  23. Tony says:

    I ain’t no pharisee or legalist but one thing i will say is that people tend to use the bible to approve of their alcoholic drinking when the bible says that DRUNKARDS will not inherit the kingdom of God. AHA! but you will say “I’m not a drunkard, i drink moderately”. I’ll tell you why i think that this is an idiotic statement. First of all the bible says not to commit fornication or adultery. So if you want to enjoy a little pornography without fornicating will you say “Oh I’m not fornicating or committing adultery I’m just looking moderately.” I also did a test not long ago and i bought a Welches 100% concord grape juice bottle and opened it and took some of the grape juice out to take some for communion but then i closed it and left it sitting on top of my cabinet in my room for i don’t know how long(probably a week or more). After all that time it actually fermented on it’s own and began to have that fizzy soda effect. It tasted like grape soda but different and this is when i realized that the strong drink/wine that they used to drink long ago was not the wine and alcoholic drinks people drink today. Their wine probably tasted like soda just like the 100% concord grape juice that fermented after many days. Since it was a small bottle though and half way full I do believe that if i would have drank a large amount(like a quart) that i could have gotten drunk because i felt that it had some NATURAL alcohol in it. So the wine that the bible talks about i believe to be the strong drink that i drank that day that fermented in my room. It tasted nothing like the wine made these days because it had no man made alcohol. Also the bible says nothing about beer. I also don’t see the reason for drinking beer it tastes nasty unless of course you want to get drunk or tipsy. Try it yourself and see what I’m talking about. Buy a welches 100% concord grape juice, open it and take some out and then just let it sit in your room or a cabinet for a week or two to ferment and you will see what I’m saying. I believe this to be the true wine that they drank in those days.

  24. jordan says:

    I truely appreciate the various perspectives we all give to this matter. At the end of it all, I remind myself that EACH one of us (CHRISTIANS) is accountable before God INDIVIDUALLY. Not even as husband and wife, nor a family of “x”. Then I ask myself, What is God’s expectation of me. That I’m able to eat peanuts and live, does not make the one allergic to peanuts more of a sinner. We need to be careful of our convictions. When God commanded His prophet( Hosea) to go marry a “harlot” (prostitute), was no command to all prophets to do the same. CHRISTIANS PLS FOLLOW YOUR CONVICTIONS. AND WHEN IN DOUBT, YOU HAVE THE HOLY SPIRIT OF GOD WHO LEADS YOU INTO ALL TRUTH. Spurgeon was a good servant of God, but JESUS CHRIST He is THE PERFECT servant and our ultimate example.
    Listen to your HEART.

  25. andy says:

    I completely agree with Jordan. We should not force beliefs on others if they believe it to be wrong (this works both ways for the topic in question).

    An interesting passage to read is Romans 14-Mainly talking about food but the principle behind it is the same.

    Whatever is not done in faith is sin! I can drink alcohol and believe it is wrong and be sinning and I can be abstaining from alcohol and beleivng that it is wrong not to drink and also be sinning!

    Its all about faith!

    It seems quite an american thing to get hung up on this topic, i’m from London and can see the contextual argument with the drunken culture that absorbs my country from friday night!

  26. Tom Lessing says:

    I’ve heard Reformed Baptists use the excuse: “So what, there’s nothing wrong in drinking wine and beer. Jesus was a winebibber. Drinking to Him was like eating (Mat 11:19).

  27. Tom Lessing says:

    Was the wine Jesus made from water at Cana an alcoholic beverage?

  28. Taiwan 97 says:

    Giving no offence in any thing, that the ministry be not blamed. 2 Cor 6:3

    I know that Spurgeon defended his drinking and smoking tooth and nail…..so his changing his mind really surprises me…..Oh that Holy Spirit.

  29. Taiwan 97 says:

    “I use chewing tobacco on occasion and I find it makes me more approachable as a christian in the army because people feel like I won’t judge them.”

    You never did quote the scripture that we are to be like the world and go down to their level in order to witness. Were you ever worried that they may think of you as a hypocrite?

  30. Taiwan 97 says:

    “Also, I find it quite hypocritical when an obese minister rings the rafters with his message against drinking, when he is a living example of one being unable to control his appetite. Take a look around the sanctuary on Sunday at how many overweight people are in our churches, yet we dare not speak against that.”

    So how does that justify drinking? Are you saying that because people sin with food, I can sin with drink. Do you drink because this is an old argument that I use to use?

  31. Richard Treptow says:

    I think we might say that because the Pastor sins with food, we should pray for him that he can control his appetite. As for drink, it does not mean we can sin with drink (becoming drunk). Drinking as permitted in the Bible is another matter.

  32. Page says:

    This is extremely well said. You are truly exercising your gifts. I am not suprised to read that Spurgeon at least toyed with alcohol since he also experienced depression.

  33. Josh says:

    Spurgeon did give up cigars for a limited time to prove that he could but other then that he did not. Drinking is all about your context. Is it inherently wrong, no. But just because it is not wrong does not always make it helpful. Just be wise.

  34. “Next to the preaching of the Gospel, the most necessary thing to be done in England is to induce our people to become abstainers.”
    – Charles Spurgeon, 1882

    “Charles Spurgeon promoted teetotalism more and more consistently and strongly from the 1880s following a closer examination of the Holy Bible.”

    See all the details:
    http://www.nodrinking.com/charles-spurgeon-everybody-become-abstainers/

  35. Luke Tattersall says:

    Trevin, Thanks for your post regarding Spurgeon and drinking. It is helpful to hear the whole story. I do want to take issue with you on the logic of your conclusion. If the SBC says that you can not hold positions of leadership if you drink alcohol then I would see that as a legalistic and unbiblical position. It is also a position which would see Jesus, Paul and Timothy precluded from leadership in the SBC. That is a hill on which I think I would choose to die.

  36. Jon says:

    I’m a bit confused. What exactly has changed about the context of drinking since Jesus day? Was alcoholism not a problem in the 1st century?

  37. Jesse says:

    The article states “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”. Then it states “my conviction is not one born out of legalism or mindless acceptance of tradition” The first reason given is one born completely out of legalism and human tradition… on what other basis could the position that moderate use of alcohol disqualify a man from office?

  38. Tony says:

    If I ever found myself in a denomination such as the SBC, I would head immediately for the exits and find the nearest Catholic Church–in which the *fullness* of the Christian faith subsists, formed by both Sacred Scripture AND Sacred Tradition, and nourished and sustained by the real (not merely symbolic) Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.

    Once you’ve got the whole truth in place, doctrinally AND practically, then you no longer have to deal with ridiculous disputes about alcoholic beverages!

    Now, heading out for a nice cold craft brew…

  39. samir salve says:

    One cannot justify himself for smoking by quoting the example of Rev Spurgeon without he first being the prince of preachers like Spurgeon!

  40. CR says:

    One of the biggest problems I have with churches is the fact that ministers continue to put out untruths from the pulpit to further a doctrine. I have been a Baptist all my life and still am because I believe we are the closest religion to to teachings of the Bible but the fact is that C. H. Spurgeon never gave up cigars. His great grandson recently posted pictures of his cigar case and a half smoked cigar that were with him in his hotel room at his death. He died from complications of gout and Bright’s disease not from problems with tobacco use. If cigars are smoked properly and not inhaled, they are no more harmful than coffee or grilling in your backyard.
    Check out the Spurgeon Archive at Spurgeon.org.

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Trevin Wax


​Trevin Wax is managing editor of The Gospel Project at LifeWay Christian Resources, husband to Corina, father to Timothy, Julia, and David. You can follow him on Twitter. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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