Over the weekend, I saw an excerpt from C. H. Spurgeon’s sermon “All at It” being passed around on social media. It is a sermon well worth your time to read if you haven’t already. Spurgeon’s text is Acts 8:4-5, 35:
4 Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word. 5 And Philip went down to the city of Samaria and began proclaiming Christ to them… 35 And Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him.
The overall point of the sermon is that it wasn’t merely the apostles who were called to evangelize the world but all Christians. All are supposed to be at the work of evangelism (thus the title “All at It”). Spurgeon is really careful in his exposition, noting that the words in the New Testament for “preach” are used differently than how they are often used today. He explains,
I would call your attention to the translation in the Revised Version, where Philip is said to have “proclaimed” the word. The word “proclaim” is not quite so subject to the modern sense which has spoiled the word “preach.” “Preach” has come to be a sort of official term for delivering a set discourse; whereas gospel preaching is talking, discoursing, and telling out the gospel in any way. We are to make known the word of the Lord.1
Spurgeon’s point is simply this. When we use the word “preach” today, we are often referring to the activity that a pastor engages in from the pulpit on Sunday morning (“a set discourse”). But that is not what is in view in Acts 8:4-5, 35. Rather, the text in Acts is talking about the general work of evangelism that is incumbent upon all Christians. In fact, the word translated as “preaching” in verse 4 is the Greek term euangelizo, which means evangelize. Spurgeon explains further,
We are not all called to “preach,” in the new sense of the term, but we are all called to make Jesus known if we know him.2
In other words, God does not call every Christian to stand behind the pulpit and give authoritative instruction to God’s people.3 Nevertheless, He does call all Christians to the work of evangelizing our friends and neighbors.
Spurgeon insists that there are no exceptions to this. All Christians must be about this work. No one can excuse themselves from this obligation on the basis of their profession, education, or sex. One does not have to be a minister nor seminary-trained nor a man in order to do evangelism. That means that unschooled laymen and lay women must be about this work.
As there were no exceptions on account of educational defects, so were there no exclusions on account of sex. Men and women were to spread abroad the Knowledge of Jesus. We read that, “As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison. Therefore they that were scattered abroad” (and these must have been men and woman) “went everywhere preaching the word.” There are many ways in which women can fittingly proclaim the word of the Lord, and in some of these they can proclaim it more efficiently than men. There are minds that will be attracted by the tender, plaintive, winning manner in which the sister in Christ expresses herself. A Christian mother! What a minister is she to her family! A Christian woman in single life—in the family circle, or even in domestic service—what may she not accomplish, if her heart be warm with love to her Saviour! We cannot say to the women, “Go home, there is nothing for you to do in the service of the Lord.” Far from it, we entreat Martha and Mary, Lydia and Dorcas, and all the elect sisterhood, young and old, rich and poor, to instruct others as God instructs them. Young men and maidens, old men and matrons, yes, and boys and girls who love the Lord, should speak well of Jesus, and make known his salvation from day to day.4
This is a convicting word. It’s also a clarifying one. The Great Commission isn’t just for educated men of the clergy. It is that task of the entire church. There is work to be done, and both men and women are needed for the task. As I read this, it reminded me of the ninth affirmation of the Danvers Statement:
With half the world’s population outside the reach of indigenous evangelism; with countless other lost people in those societies that have heard the gospel; with the stresses and miseries of sickness, malnutrition, homelessness, illiteracy, ignorance, aging, addiction, crime, incarceration, neuroses, and loneliness, no man or woman who feels a passion from God to make His grace known in word and deed need ever live without a fulfilling ministry for the glory of Christ and the good of this fallen world.
Amen. May we be all at it.
1 C. H. Spurgeon, “All at It,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 34 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1888), 518.
2 Ibid., 519.
3 Paul uses a number of words to refer to the authoritative instruction that an elder would deliver to the congregation. One of the most prominent terms for this is didasko, which means to teach. It is in fact this kind of authoritative instruction of the church that Paul forbids to women in 1 Timothy 2:12: “I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet.”
4 Ibid., 520.