I was browsing through the church library Sunday morning and my daughter wandered in wanting to know what I was looking for. I was looking for biographies. I started pointing out some of the books I had already read, when I came across Arnold Dallimore’s biography of Charles Spurgeon. I remembered only one particular thing about that biography and I opened it up to the appropriate section and read it to my daughter. I got a few chuckles out of it, as I had when I originally read it.
Dallimore wrote approximately 178 pages of hagiography before coming to the point of levying some criticisms against Spurgeon. It’s spectacular:
This picture of Spurgeon as a man of unusual holiness is entirely true. Accordingly the statement we must now make will to many seem inconsistent. Nevertheless, it also is true, and we must make it. It is that Spurgeon both smoked cigars and drank alcoholic beverages.
When his smoking began is not known, but in Spurgeon’s time the practice was believed to be beneficial to one’s health. Robert Hall, the famous preacher of the St. Andrew’s Street Baptist Church, Cambridge, had been ordered by his physician to become a smoker, and since Spurgeon lived at Cambridge and attended that church in his teens, he was undoubtedly familiar with this event. Moreover, there were no qualms whatsoever about the practice in the minds of many ministers in the Church of England and the Church of Scotland and in the churches of France and Holland.
Of course, Spurgeon made not the slightest attempt to hide his practice. One press reporter described him as he drove to the Tabernacle each morning, and his account closed with the words ‘enjoying his morning cigar.’ While out on a jaunt with his students one morning, when several of them had lighted pipes or cigars Spurgeon said, ‘Aren’t you ashamed to be smoking so early!’ And they immediately put out their fire. Then he produced a cigar and lit it, and both he and they laughed at his little joke, but his point was that he was in no way ashamed of the practice. It must be emphasized he saw nothing wrong in his smoking and that he did it openly.
But he received a sudden shock.
In 1874, Dr. George F. Pentecost, a Baptist pastor from America, visited the Tabernacle, and Spurgeon had him sit on the platform for the evening service. Spurgeon preached strongly and plainly upon the necessity of giving up sin, in order to success in prayer, and he spoke against the seemingly unimportant little habits many Christians practice that keep them from true fellowship with God.
After concluding his sermon he asked Dr. Pentecost to speak, suggesting especially that he apply the principle he himself had declared.
It is probable Dr. Pentecost did not know that Spurgeon smoked. At any rate, he applied Spurgeon’s principle by telling of his own experience in giving up cigars. He said, ‘One thing I liked exceedingly – the best cigar that could be bought,’ yet he felt the habit was wrong in the life of a Christian and he strove to overcome it. The habit, however, proved so strong that he found himself enslaved, till after much struggling he took his cigar box before the Lord, cried desperately for help, and was given a complete victory. He told, with much praise to God, how he had been enabled to defeat the habit. Throughout his words ran the idea that smoking was not only an enslaving habit, but that the Christian must look on it as sin.
We must assume that if ever in his lifetime Spurgeon was embarrassed it was now! He arose and stated:
‘Well, dear friends, you know that some men can do to the glory of God what to other men would be a sin. And, not withstanding what brother Pentecost has said, I intend to smoke a good cigar to the glory of God before I go to bed tonight.
‘If anybody can show me in the Bible the command, “Thou shalt not smoke,” I am ready to keep it, but I haven’t found it yet. I find Ten Commandments, and it is as much as I can do to keep them; and I have no desire to make them eleven or twelve. The fact is, I have been speaking to you about real sin, and not about listening to mere quibbles and scruples…”Whatsoever is not of faith is sin,” and that is the real point of what my brother Pentecost has been saying. Why, a man may think it is a sin to have his boots blacked. Well then, let him give it up and have them whitewashed. I wish to say I am not ashamed of anything whatever that I do, and I don’t feel that smoking makes me ashamed, and therefore I mean to smoke to the glory of God.’
During a considerable portion of his life Spurgeon also used alcoholic drinks as a beverage.
In his day pure drinking water was difficult to obtain, and in order to avoid contamination most people used beer and ale at their meals. This had been human custom since time immemorial, and there can be little doubt that Spurgeon had been introduced to it as a boy in the homes of his grandfather and his father and that he had grown up accustomed to the practice. In turn, he had not long been in London when we find him using such drinks as beer, wine, and brandy, though in very moderate amounts. And this practice, like that of smoking, he did not in any way attempt to deny or hide.
In these two practices we see that Spurgeon was very human – a man of his times. Moreover, he was not alone in the indulgence. For instance, though John Wesley totally opposed the drinking of tea, hence the term ‘tee-totaler,’ he was something of an authority on the taste of ale. Charles Wesley also indulged, and the picture seems rather incongruous when we see the grand old Methodist warrior during the last years of his life listing his expenditures for drinks for the guests attending his son’s musical concerts. Whitefield’s practice was similar; we find him writing, ‘Give my thanks to that friendly brewer for the keg of rum he sent us.’
I reported these matters regarding Spurgeon with much reluctance. They seemed sadly regrettable in the life of so righteous a man, yet in the name of either Christian honesty or scholarly accuracy they could not be omitted.
-Arnold Dallimore, Spurgeon: A New Biography (Banner of Truth, 1985), pp. 179-183