Spurgeon on Bribing Kids to Sunday School

When John Pounds bribed an urchin with a hot potato to come and learn to read the Bible, I am sure John Pounds had no idea of all the Ragged schools in London, but there is a clear line of cause and effect in the whole matter. A hot potato might be the coat of arms of the Ragged school Union. When Nasmyth went about from house to house visiting in the slums of London, I do not suppose that he saw in his act the founding of the London City Mission and all the Country Town Missions. No one can tell the end of his beginnings, the growth of his sowings. Go on doing good in little ways and you shall one day wonder at the great results. Do the next thing that lies before you. Do it well. Do it unto the Lord. Leave results with His unbounded liberality of love, but hope to reap at least a hundredfold.

From http://www.spurgeon.org/sermons/2110.htm



  1. Hi Jeff,

    I can’t tell (probably due to my ignorance of Ragged Schools and Nasmyth and Pounds) from this quote if Spurgeon is approving or disapproving of such bribes. Actually on second reading, it sounds approving. Your thoughts?

    1. In the full context, it’s quite clear to me that he is approving. I must not have put enough context around the quote. I was a little surprised and quite encouraged by the statement. In our ministry, we are often accused of “bribing” children to come to church. I know Spurgeon is not Scripture, but it’s nice to have his company in the position we take on this issue. I encourage anyone who works in children’s ministries to read this sermon.

  2. Do you think that your position and that of Spurgeon is identical, based on those two lines about John Pounds? Is there a full orbed encouragement or development of this type of practice in the writing of Spurgeon? I would be interested in other sermons with actual bribe teaching in it.

    I don’t see how the context of his sermon says anything about bribing. It seems the sermon says in essence that you never know what big thing might come out of something that seems insignificant in the short term, i.e., the mustard seed and the tree that comes out of it. In the two appropriate sentences, it seems the “mustard seed” is the offer of a hot lunch (potato) to a hungry child. I grant that Spurgeon seems to be approving of Pounds’ program for his ragged school.

    Also, I wonder, in the long run, if the ragged schools of John Pounds were a net plus in the history of England? Any more than the free public schools of Horace Mann are a plus in the history of the United States? Pounds was a hero of Mann, given lengthy sections in his books. John Dewey established the principles formulated by Mann for socialized education. I recognize that the social work in Victorian England is often viewed as an important consequence of Christian revival, but I have believed and taught that in the long run, most of it did more damage than good.

    1. Hi Kent, and thanks for commenting and challenging me.

      First, no. I do not think that my position is identical to Spurgeons. I was pleasantly surprised to read what he said altogether. As for my position, I think the snack I provide is much LESS a bribe to today’s youth than the hot potato was to the ragged urchins of that day. I’d like to say that the food we eat on the way home is more like a circumstance of bringing people (children) under the preaching and teaching of the gospel. I also would like to read more sermons from Spurgeon on this subject. They would probably be found near the same time of the year since the sermon was intentionally addressed to “Sabbath school teachers.”

      You are correct that the sermon’s point is not about bribing. It IS about not knowing how God can/will use a small word to change lives. I was only pointing out what you granted at the end of your last paragraph.

      What you mention about Pounds is interesting. I had never heard of him (and I’m supposed to be the Doctor of Education!). I think sooner of Robert Raikes. Anyway, I will be teaching a Master’s class on History of Education this summer. So I’ll do some particular research about Pounds, Mann, and Gregory (but that’s a different matter).

      Thanks again.

  3. I agree that a cooked potato is a greater lure than some treat or small toy to bribe a child to hear the Bible. If bribing with a hot potato is right, then bribing is right. It doesn’t matter if it’s a new car, an amusement park, a carnival, a kite, a party, or whatever else used. I agree. The question is: Is bribing right? What if I bribed a child to eat a hot potato with the Bible? Could that work?

    If someone took a few sentences out of the middle of something I preached over my 23 years, I’m sure they would find things I know I don’t agree with. That’s why I would want more from Spurgeon on the doctrine of bribing.


    1. Please clear your head of any prejudices and re-read my reply to your first comment. I agreed with most, if not all of it!

      What do you think of my point that giving someone some food on the way home (1. because it’s been a long time since they ate breakfast; 2. and they’ve had at least 3 Bible lessons or sermons in that same time) could be an acceptable “circumstance” that is practiced while doing the essentials of teaching/preaching the Word?

      I also agree with the context thing. I always say, “I can’t be held accountable for anything I say in public.” 🙂 I know that public speech put into print can be misunderstood. And printed word without voice may be also (so maybe my first sentence is out of place).

  4. Hi,

    Rather late here, but just getting home. I think you’re perhaps reading some kind of ill-temper into my comments that isn’t there, to answer your last line.

    I don’t think I’ve criticized anything you do where you are; just been commenting on what you’ve written. If feeding on the late ride home is the extent of what someone does, I don’t see anything wrong with that. But I thought we were talking about “bribes.” Bribes seem to be offers in advance as an incentive for desired behavior. The “hot potato” Spurgeon called a “bribe.”


  5. This is all good, except one major thing is missing, SCRIPTURE! Spurgoen has become the catch all for our practice, if he did it, then it must be o.k. I remind you of the cigar issue. I would say that the issue of education can only be understood by a study of evolution, the recapitualation theory, and an understandng of humanism. While I know you would not promote the worlds education system for children, we have adopted their model, added verse, and called it Christian school.

  6. Hi Matt,

    Yes, my first comment on this post admits that Spurgeon is not Scripture. I have a “Did God bribe the Israelites?” post percolating in response to the comments here (my percolator takes a long time). Maybe you skipped the comments and also did not read the sermon, but I was pretty much just “enjoying Spurgeon’s company.”

    As to your comments on education, I’m not really understanding what point you are trying to make. I don’t want to respond to something you didn’t really mean. So I’ll leave that part alone.

    May God bless you and your church today,

  7. I don’t think many people would have issue with a snack on the way home or candy for answering questions etc. However, a hot potato to a poor child is akin to a meal at a rescue mission and is a lot different than a trip to the zoo, amusement park, etc.

    1. Yes, and my stance is that 47 weeks out of the year that’s what we do. But some seem to use the 5 weeks when we do more to… (condemn might be too strong a word, but you’ll understand) all of our bus ministering efforts.

Comments are closed.