Spurgeon and Church Carnivals (updated)

January 1, 2013

I recently ran across a blog post citing Spurgeon to endorse a particular form of “carnival.” He is quoted as saying,

“If you have to give a carnival to get people to come to church, then you will have to keep giving carnivals to keep them coming back.”

The implication was that this was a good thing, that Spurgeon was advocating “carnivals” to attract attention. I’ve since found the same quote used in a similar way on several other sites. Now I’ve no objection to the particular form of carnival that was being promoted (I’m not identifying the post, since my purpose is not to criticize that particular “carnival”—and it was not the use of carnival-style methods to get people to church), but I do object to using a Spurgeon quote (which I’m quite sure is either used far out of context or a fabrication) to advocate it.

I’ve not yet been able to identify this specific quote (or even verify that Spurgeon himself actually said it. The quote is not hard to find on many of the online “quote sites”–but never with any documentation and never any context. I base my judgment on what I know of Spurgeon and his attitude toward church ministry. I’ve had some feelers out trying to identify or verify the carnival quote, thus far without success. But stay tuned; if I find it, I’ll let you know. [See two notes now appended at the end of this post.]

Here, however, are two excerpts (and not just cherry picked quotes) in which Spurgeon describes his attitudes to such things (courtesy of Doug Kutilek*).

“Are you afraid that preaching the gospel will not win souls? Are you despondent as to success in God’s way? Is this why you pine for clever oratory? Is this why you must have music, and architecture, and flowers and millinery? After all, is it by might and power, and not by the Spirit of God? It is even so in the opinion of many.

“Brethren beloved, there are many things which I might allow to other worshippers which I have denied myself in conducting the worship of this congregation. I have long worked out before your very eyes the experiment of the unaided attractiveness of the gospel of Jesus. Our service is severely plain. No man ever comes hither to gratify his eye with art, or his ear with music. I have set before you, these many years, nothing but Christ crucified, and the simplicity of the gospel; yet where will you find such a crowd as this gathered together this morning? Where will you find such a multitude as this meeting Sabbath after Sabbath, for five-and-thirty years? I have shown you nothing but the cross, the cross without flowers of oratory, the cross without diamonds of ecclesiastical rank, the cross without the buttress of boastful science. It is abundantly sufficient to attract men first to itself, and afterwards to eternal life!

“In this house we have proved successfully, these many years, this great truth, that the gospel plainly preached will gain an audience, convert sinners, and build up and sustain a church. We beseech the people of God to mark that there is no need to try doubtful expedients and questionable methods. God will save by the gospel still: only let it be the gospel in its purity. This grand old sword will cleave a man’s chine [i.e., spine], and split a rock in halves.

“How is it that it does so little of its old conquering work? I will tell you. Do you see the scabbard of artistic work, so wonderfully elaborated? Full many keep the sword in this scabbard, and therefore its edge never gets to its work. Pull off that scabbard. Fling that fine sheath to Hades, and then see how, in the Lord’s hands, that glorious two-handed sword will mow down fields of men as mowers level the grass with their scythes.

“There is no need to go down to Egypt for help. To invite the devil to help Christ is shameful. Please God, we shall see prosperity yet, when the church of God is resolved never to seek it except in God’s own way.”

Charles Haddon Spurgeon
Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, 1888, vol. 34, p. 563

“The only multiplication of the Church of God that is to be desired is that which God sends: ‘Thou hast multiplied the nation.’ [Isaiah 9:3] If we add to our churches by becoming worldly, by taking in persons who have never been born again; if we add to our churches by accommodating the life of the Christian to the worldling, our increase is worth nothing at all; it is a loss rather than a gain. If we add to our churches by excitement, by making appeals to the passions, rather than by explaining truth to the understanding; if we add to our churches otherwise than by the power of the Spirit of God making men new creatures in Christ Jesus, the increase is of no worth whatsoever.”

Charles Haddon Spurgeon
Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, 1892, vol. 38, p. 339, sermon #2265

*Doug Kutilek tells me that,

“I have most of the works of CHS on CD-ROM. I just now did a word search on “carnival” and found 54 uses by [Spurgeon], but none that in the least resembled the quote in question.”


Doug put me in touch with Kerry Allen, author of Exploring the Mind and Heart of the Prince of Preachers: C. H. Spurgeon. This is what Kerry tells me about the quote:

“I searched a 50,000 page database of CHS’ works for the words ‘carnival’ and ‘carnivals.’ The words are used dozens of times, but never in any sense close to what you mentioned. Spurgeon is the most widely quoted author in Christian history, but also sadly, the most misquoted! It is bogus as far as I can tell.” [Emphasis added.]

If anyone can document the quote, I’d be very glad to have the bibliographical information and will gladly update this post as appropriate.

2 responses to Spurgeon and Church Carnivals (updated)

  1. Hi, Rod,

    Thanks for this post. I assumed that readers of my post would know that I used the carnival quote/pseudo-quote tongue-in-cheek, and that the way that bibliobloggers use carnivals to “keep ’em coming back” is actually the opposite of what Spurgeon (or pseudo-Spurgeon) had in mind. I’d never advocate “giving carnivals” to get people to come to church. Biblical studies carnivals operate a little differently, of course, so I was seeking to play with the quote a bit subversively, trusting in readers’ general knowledge of both my blog and Spurgeon’s wider ministry and writings to make that clear. But that may have been assuming/asking too much of folks–and tone across the Internet is always difficult if not impossible to discern. So I’m sorry to hear this was received as “the implication was that this was a good thing,” because I don’t think it’s a good thing at all.

    Regarding the quote–I hadn’t been able to verify a primary source for it (just plenty of secondary sources, though nothing yet in print). Realizing that, I tried to hedge my bets in the blog with the “is reported to have said,” which I chose deliberately and which is quite true, that he is reported to have said that. A “Pseduo-Spurgeon”/”pseudepigrapha” comment or clarification probably would have been helpful, since that was really my only point there–that the quote is attributed to him. However, looking back, that hedging is perhaps not enough to have unwittingly put words into his mouth that he may not have spoken. That wasn’t my intention….

    Abram K-J

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