When Spurgeon was Invited to Preach at Barnum & Bailey Circus

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On one occasion P.T. Barnum, head of the great Barnum & Bailey Circus, invited Charles Spurgeon to speak in the large tent at his traveling circus. Spurgeon’s preaching would often draw crowds exceeding 10,000 people and Barnum saw great opportunity to increase his show attendance if Spurgeon would join him.

Barnum’s pitch to Spurgeon was an attractive one. He offered to supply the musical talent, unless Spurgeon wished to provide his own. Any equipment, side show, or manpower would be at his disposal. And Spurgeon had freedom to speak as long or briefly as he desired.

The only catch was that the Barnum Circus Association would keep all profits from the gate tickets and in return compensate Spurgeon with a thousand dollar per sermon honorarium.

This was a generous offer in Spurgeon’s day and likely would have persuaded many preachers to chase the opportunity.

But not Spurgeon.

He saw through Barnum’s offer and sent him this reply…

Dear Mr. Barnum:

Thank you for your kind invitation to lecture in your circus tents in America. You will find my answer in Acts 13:10.

Very sincerely yours,

Charles H. Spurgeon

I am unsure if Mr. Barnum ever looked up Acts 13:10, but if he had, this is what he would have found: “You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord?”

Spurgeon would never compromise the purity of the Gospel for some coin. May we be ever careful to be of the same mind.

Source: The Gold Mine, Lee Roberson

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12 thoughts on “When Spurgeon was Invited to Preach at Barnum & Bailey Circus

  1. samuel chun

    Hey Garrett,

    This story definitely gives a sense of the magnitude of crowds Spurgeon drew and with the recent release of The Greatest Showman this is a cool side story to know. I am however confused by Spurgeon declining the offer. It would be one thing if the offer was only given to preachers who would be forced to dull their message but this sounds like Spurgeon was allowed to preach whatever and for however long he wanted. The only thing I could think of is if Spurgeon found the circus itself to be in direct contradiction to his message and didn’t want his listeners to be exposed to the show.

    1. garrettk Post author

      Obviously I don’t know exactly what he was thinking, but I would suspect that the invitation to join the circus would require him to be away from his church, which was his primary calling. He also likely saw the invitation as something similar to what Abraham faced with the King of Sodom (Genesis 14:21-24). Spurgeon would not allow any fame to be gained in a way that would cause people to wonder how it happened. Any exaltation Spurgeon knew would be the work of God, not a circus promoter.

  2. J Eric

    I’d wager Spurgeon thought the gospel of Christ alone to be worthy of the crowd and while the worker IS worthy of his wage, this would have been preaching Christ cheifly for pay while riding on the coat tail of Barnum to do it. Christ, is quite literally, no circus act. Brother Charles obviously didn’t care too much of Barnum’s character or morals either(guessing here). Hmmm…wonder how many of today’s “profits” would have turned that kind of exposure and money down??

  3. Mr. C. Lovett

    There really is one born every minute. Did you guys even read the article? It said that the circus guy would provide the music. I don\’t think that any of us would speak at at event where CCM was used. This is the answer right there. And I don\’t think any of us would attend an event where CCM was used even if the speaker passed our standards. Compromise is compromise.

  4. David Thomas

    I fear Mr Lovett has not properly read the article either; Spurgeon could have provided his own music if he wished. No! The Gospel of the Lord Jesus is not to be used as a promotional gimmick for the world. Nor are we to use the world’s lures to promote the gospel, and this is surely something the church should heed more carefully.

  5. Dwight Ropp

    I believe Spurgeon’s response was due to his belief that he discerned what was Barnum’s ulterior motive, to exploit lost souls for extra profit. Spurgeon also may have felt that being involved with it would have painted him as being greedy and thereby guilty of not heeding a verse like Titus 1:7b.
    However, in using Acts 13:10 as the basis of his denouncement of Barnum, it is evident that the two contexts aren’t entirely similar. While the “intelligent” proconsul in Acts 13:7 sincerely “sought to hear the word of God” from Barnabas and Paul, Elymas the sorcerer “withstood them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith” (v.8), which wasn’t really what Barnum was trying to do at all, but which then caused Paul to utter his blunt denouncement of Elymas in verse 10. In any event, if Spurgeon’s conscience was offended by what he saw as greedy motives by Barnum or even by he himself at the expense of the gospel, then I believe it is admirable for Spurgeon to have rejected the invitation.


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