Thielicke on Spurgeon: “He tells us that the sun is shining.”


The Eerdmans edition of Charles Spurgeon’s The Soul Winner includes a forward by Helmut Thielicke (1908-1986), a German Lutheran theologian and author of The Evangelical Faith in three volumes.

Thielicke begins by lamenting that few people will read widely and step across the “firmly delineated boundaries” separating the theological camps of fundamentalists, liberals, pietists, and so forth. There are “few intellectual and spiritual adventurers” (5). Fifty years later, I can assure you that nothing has changed. Thielicke acknowledges that his own “dogmatic system” is different from Spurgeon’s, but he is hopeful that Spurgeon’s work will bring a “breath of spring air” and “inner quickening” in our denominations. Thielicke is rather gushing in his enthusiasm for Spurgeon:

I can see that fresh and unpolluted water springs forth in Spurgeon’s preaching. This impression is so strong that it is a secondary question by what theology the source is enclosed, or what system of piping is constructed around it. Here Parthians and Medes and Elamites all hear in their own tongues “the wonderful works of God” (Acts 2:9, 11). This Pentecost miracle relativizes all the theological schools, though we must still take them seriously and are not fanatically to level them down. It is very difficult to convey to readers in advance any true impression of what they may expect in reading The Soul-Winner. I will simply cup my hands for a moment and let a few drops from this ocean run through them. [p. 6]

Thielicke then begins to describe and defend Spurgeon’s style:

The first thing to strike us is the vigor and even the passion of the language. This does not mean that the author is trying to force us. No one should imagine that Spurgeon is just using the loud pedal to try to bring his hearers under the pressure of suggestion or to dominate them psychologically. Our reaction to such a technique would undoubtedly be one of inner resistance. But there is no such resistance. One notes that the emotional element is not deployed here with tactical intentions. It derives from the matter with which Spurgeon deals. He himself has made this admirably clear. If, he says, a man knocks on my door in the middle of the night, wakens me out of sleep, and then tells me in a detached and languid voice that a fire has broken out at the back of my house, I shall probably not take him very seriously, and I may be inclined to pour a jug of water over this disturber of my peace. For when a fire has really broken out, this is so threatening and elemental a matter that we cannot speak of it with detachment and indifference. We are forced to refer to it in urgent and even agitated tones. But the Gospel, too, is exciting, disturbing, even sensational news. To speak of it nonchalantly and languidly is to give the lie to the message with the very tone of one’s voice. In other words, my confession of Christ consists not only in the content of what I say but also in the style or manner in which I say it. [pp. 6-7]

And then Thielicke makes another important observation:

The second point to strike us is that Spurgeon preaches the Gospel, not the Law. He is no Savonarola, lashing the sinners of his day. In this regard it is noteworthy how men generally like to be scolded by a preacher. The great castigators usually have a big following. This is because it gives us pleasure to hear the sins of others mentioned and dramatically corrected with exorcisms. The reason for this very unchristian pleasure, which the great preachers of repentance usually evoke in their hearers, is clear enough. We like to see, not our own sins, but sins of others castigated. …Now Spurgeon can certainly list the sins of his age and of his listeners. But he never does this without first showing how we can be freed from them. He does not recommend moral medicines, which cannot help, and which simply make moral apothecaries rich. He tells us that the sun is shining, and that we must leap into it out of the dark house of our lives. [pp. 7-8]

I love that. “He tells us that the sun is shining.” Thielicke was also appreciative of Billy Graham, as I once blogged: “Billy Graham Among the Theologians.”


  1. I can’t like this enough. My experience when reading through many of Spurgeon’s sermons (a few years ago now) was deeply enriching. And I’m pleasantly surprised to see Thielicke providing the content; I’ve been reading through his very helpful Modern Faith and Thought these past two months.

    • I’ve wanted to read that book. John Wilson uses it frequently in his Introduction to Modern Theology.

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