“A word to the unconverted reader.”
We don’t often think of these words belonging in books written by Christians with a Christian audience in mind. And probably with good reason. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen someone who isn’t a Christian choose to pick up a book by a Christian author for themselves.1 But when I read them at the end of a chapter in Charles Spurgeon’s The Saint and His Savior, they don’t feel out of place. They don’t appear to be a shoe-horned acknowledgement of the possibility—no matter how remote— that a non-Christian might be reading. “Now, if you’re not a Christian…” as we usually read, and whatnot.
Perhaps it’s because Spurgeon was the quintessential gospel-centered preacher.2 Regardless of the text he preached, or the subject of the books he wrote, his aim was to proclaim only Christ and him crucified. So, when he addressed his unconverted readers, what he wrote mattered. He didn’t write to them as an afterthought, or as a mere acknowledgement as so many of us do today. Instead, he wrote to them to explain why what he had just written mattered to them.
For example, when he wrote to Christians of our love to Jesus—a love which grows in us a desire to obey his commandments, an anxiety to make his name known, a desire to defend him against his foes and endure and persevere in whatever situation he places us—he explained what all of this meant for the one reading who does not believe.
And he doesn’t mince words. He reminds such readers that they have been condemning themselves even by reading of these graces enjoyed by others. That the heights and depths of this love of which he wrote is too high for anyone to attain for themselves—only Christ can attain it for them. Of Christ, he says, “He can renew thee, and make thee know the highest enjoyment of the saints.”
He alone can do it, therefore despair of thine own strength; but He can accomplish it, therefore hope in omnipotent grace. Thou art in a wrong state, and thou knowest it: how fearful will it be if thou shouldst remain the same until death! Yet most assuredly thou wilt, unless Divine love shall change thee. See, then, how absolutely thou art in the hands of God. Labour to feel this. Seek to know the power of this dread but certain fact—that thou liest entirely at his pleasure; and there is nothing more likely to humble and subdue thee than the thoughts which it will beget within thee.
Know and tremble, hear and be afraid. Bow thyself before the Most High, and confess his justice should He destroy thee, and admire his grace which proclaims pardon to thee. Think not that the works of believers are their salvation; but seek first the root of their graces, which lies in Christ, not in themselves. This thou canst get nowhere but at the footstool of mercy from the hand of Jesus. Thou art shut up to one door of life, and that door is Christ crucified. Receive him as God’s free gift and thine undeserved boon. Renounce every other refuge, and embrace the Lord Jesus as thine only hope. Venture thy soul in his hands. Sink or swim, let Him be thine only support and he will never fail thee.3
Though we might not want to emulate his language,4 there’s something I think we could all learn Spurgeon’s desire to leave a word for the unconverted reader.
Spurgeon felt the “anxiety” of which he wrote to his fellow believers—the desire to make Christ known. He didn’t write to nonbelievers as an afterthought, or as though a footnote would be sufficient. Instead, he spoke to them knowing the general disposition of their hearts—that they are far from the Lord, that they are condemned under God’s judgment, and that they have only one hope: to turn to Christ, to put their souls in the hands of the one who, “sink or swim,” would be their only support, and would never fail them. They need worry less at the first of growing in love for Christ and obeying him out of that love, but first gaining that love.
Spurgeon’s words to the unconverted reader were the words that matter most to them. So if we are going to write to those who don’t believe—even if the chances are slim that they’ll be reading—an offhand acknowledgement won’t do. We must write to them as Spurgeon did. But in order to do that, we must also feel the same “anxiety” Spurgeon did. Because writing a word to our unconverted readers only “works” when it’s clear we care about the state of their soul.