It 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.
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
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
"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
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
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.