A Brief Look at Who Charles Spurgeon Was

LIBERTY UNIVERSITY

 

CHARLES SPURGEON: A BRIEF LOOK AT HIS LIFE AND MINISTRY

 

AN ASSIGNMENT SUBMITTED TO DR. GOZA

CHHI 665-D01

 

 

BY

PAUL HORNE

 

SUFFOLK, VA

May 6, 2015

 

 

“The church does not need to stop for want of instruments, or for want of agencies; we have everything now except the will; we have all that we may expect God to give for the conversion of the world, except just a heart for the work, and the Spirit of God poured out into our midst.”[1]

– Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892)

 

Introduction

 

            Charles H. Spurgeon (or C.H. as he was also known) is known all around the world as the prince of preachers. There is a safe bet that you can ask most any Baptist minister who Spurgeon was and there would be at least some recognition of who the man was. Well over a hundred years since his passing and the man has a legacy that many would love to have in the Christian community. It has been said that outside of the Bible no other Christian author has had as much material published as Mr. Spurgeon. While unable to take into account all of those writings it’s my hope to examine the life and ministry of this great man of God, starting from his birth through his early demise, and looking at the impact his ministry had on those around him.

His Life- The Early Years

            For Charles Haddon Spurgeon life has not always been easy. His was born to a non-conformist minister, on June 19, 1834 in Kelvedon, Essex, England. He was the first born of many children, 17[2] to be exact., not all of them would make it past infancy or few even birth. It would be upon the arrival of the second born Spurgeon child that young Charles would be sent to live with his grandparents in nearby Stambourne, England until the tender age of six[3] some say ten depending on your source. “Even though Spurgeon’s ancestry was Dutch (Spriggen) and Quaker, his home life reflected the devotional life of Victorian England’s Nonconformity.”[4] Both his father and grandfather were pastors in the Congregational church. His grandfather James was considered by most accounts to be a Puritan pastor.[5]

Charles had a deep affinity for his grandfather, and hated to see him vexed. The documentary Through the eyes of Spurgeon recalls the story of one parishioner named Rhoades who had been grieving James while in the process of ministry, and it so concerned young Charles the he went into the bar where the man was having a drink to confront him. After be confronted by the young boy, Rhoades was marching him home angrily and along the way his heart began to melt and by the time they reached the Spurgeon house he was repentant of his ways.[6] Even from a young age Charles had a love of reading, one of his favorite books to read was The Pilgrims Progress by John Bunyan, it has been stated that by the time of his passing he had read this one book over 100 times. [7]

The young Spurgeon was not unknowing of the Gospel, however he had head knowledge just not a heart change, even after attending two different schools. At one of these schools there would be a cook named Mary King that would have a huge impact on Charles. It is said that he learned more from Mrs. King, than he did from any chapel. It would be his discussions with her where he would come not to salvation, but to understanding the doctrines of Grace.[8] It wouldn’t be until he had reached the age of fifteen that Charles would finally commit himself to Christ. It would not be at some massive revival under a talented orator, or in a packed church with a fiery prophet preaching that would bring young Charles to salvation, it would be a man who was a cobbler or possibly a tailor with no real experience in the pulpit[9] that would lead the man who would become the world’s foremost preacher in to the grips of grace.

Steven Lawson summarizes the account as such,

On Sunday morning, January 6, 1850, Charles, age fifteen, was walking to church in the little town of Colchester when a snowstorm drove him into a Primitive Methodist church. Only a dozen people were in attendance, and even the minister could not arrive. A reluctant lay preacher stepped forward to expound Isaiah 45:22: “Look unto Me, and be saved, all the ends of the earth.” This unassuming figure exhorted the small congregation to look by faith to Jesus Christ alone. Fixing his eyes on young Spurgeon, he urged: “Young man, look to Jesus Christ. Look! Look! Look! You have nothing to do but to look and live.”[10]

While a professional may not have given that sermon it was all that was needed to change the heart of the younger Spurgeon. From that point on Charles was on fire for the Lord and wanted to do any and everything he could to further the Gospel of Christ.

Life After Conversion

Life for Charles was never the same after he accepted Jesus as Lord of his life. His first real ministry consisted of handing out Gospel tracts in his community.[11] It has never been mentioned as to whether or not he felt a burning desire to be a minister or not. One thing we do know is that St. Andrews Street Baptist Chapel sent him out, and he was not informed he was to preach until he was already on the way to a little cottage in Cambridge.[12] From this sermon he showed an innate ability to preach God’s Word, and at the age of seven-teen he would be offered the pastorate of the church in Waterbeach. During his time there he would see the congregation grow from 40, to close to 450 people in regular attendance. This was a great feat for a small-unknown country pastor to have such a large following.

On December 18, 1853 the young C.H. Spurgeon would receive a call to preach at the prestigious New Park Street Chapel, the church was the largest and most famous Particular Baptist church in all of London.[13] When he was first offered to come and preach for them, they liked his style so much they offered him a six month contract to see how he would do; Spurgeon being humble as he was declined and came back with an offer of three months incase they did not feel he was a good fit. “When he began his ministry in London, most regarded the young pastor of the little known Baptist congregation as merely a country rube.”[14] However that did not deter the young man from preaching the Gospel with power and integrity.

When he started at New Park Street, the chapel was capable of seating twelve hundred people, but sadly it was only averaging less than two hundred people each week. Over just a matter of months the chapel would not be big enough to house the crowds the old “country rube” was drawing in. He was able to speak to the crowds in a fresh manner, because, “…he also used illustrations from life as few before him had. Spurgeon bent novelty and humor to fresh ends. His application of the dynamics to faith to personal and life-situation concerns refreshed and invigorated many by its innovative pertinence.”[15] It should be noted that after his first year at NPSC the church had to be expanded to accommodate more people in the pews, it went from 1200 to 1500 also including standing room for another 500 people. Even with those accommodations there was not enough room to fit all the people who wanted to hear the young phenom preacher. According to Lawson, “Streets became blocked with traffic in the neighborhood around the chapel. London had not witnessed such a meteoric rise since the electrifying preaching of George Whitefield.”[16] All of this came from a man who had no formal theological education, and later in his life he would decline honorary doctorates from several different schools.[17] Charles would pursue a young lady by the name of Susannah Thompson around 1854-55, who happened to be a member of his congregation; they started out as friends and ended up in a romantic relationship. The two would become husband and wife on January 8, 1856. Latter that year she would give birth to twin boys Thomas and Charles Jr. (Charlie), however there were complications after the birth of the twins that would leave Mrs. Spurgeon as a semi-invalid.[18]

The love that Susannah and Charles shared was the kind of love all Christians should aspire to. Apart from the love he had for Christ, Charles doted over Susannah, not in a pitiful way but in the loving husband sort of demeanor you would expect. She would be confined to her home for long periods of her life, unable to hear her dear husband do what he loved.[19] Not only was she a loving and caring wife to the best of her abilities she was also one of his biggest fans, encouraging him in his writing ministry, and also helping to finish his autobiography after his passing.

Refocusing on Charles himself and his ministry, the church began to be so large it was unable to house the Sunday services any longer inside of the New Park Street Chapel, the church began using Exeter Hall for some of its meetings and even over time it became too large to meet there. They would meet at Exeter Hall for around a year for both its morning and evening services on Sunday, but then even Exeter Hall became too small for the growing congregation. Spurgeon then set out to use the largest auditorium possible in London, the Surrey Music Hall in the Royal Surrey Gardens. Spurgeon knew how to draw a crowd, this time not only by his preaching, but by taking on the largest venue in town with the audacity to think he could fill it. Estep says, “The news of this bold move captured the imagination of Londoners from all over the city. Early in the afternoon of October 19, 1856 thousands began to fill the 10,000 or more seats in the building. By the time Spurgeon arrived another 10,000 people were outside.”[20]

At this great time in the ministry of the young preacher, tragedy would strike. Not long after the beginning of this enormous service several men positioned in different areas of the auditorium would yell out fire, causing a great panic. During all the commotion “a balcony collapsed and as people stampeded for the exits, seven people were crushed to death and several more were seriously injured.”[21] Depending upon whom you read, Spurgeon missed anywhere from one Sunday to about four Sundays after this tragedy trying to get his head around all that had happened. This was the first major blow Spurgeon had felt since being in London, he had been ridiculed by newspapers and other pastors, but nothing like this, and it really took a toll on him. “Spurgeon himself was plunged into a spiritual and psychological crisis from which it was feared he would never recover. However, after two weeks of seclusion amidst incessant weeping by day and “dreams of terror by night,” he was back in Surrey Music Hall. However, services were only held in the mornings. For more than three years he preached to an average of 10,000 every Sunday.”[22]

What would take place almost a year after the tragedy is a testament to the power of the Gospel proclaimed, a young twenty- three year old Charles would preach to possibly the largest crowd in history to that point. The date was October 7, 1857, and Charles preached to a massive crowd of 23,654 inside of the Crystal Palace.[23] This was huge for any minister of the Gospel and helped to propel the ministry of Spurgeon further and wider than anyone could have ever anticipated. Upon realizing that New Park Street Chapel was no longer an adequate space to hold all who would come to hear Spurgeon preach, and wanting to have a home of their own again, no longer renting out space, the decision was made to build the Metropolitan Tabernacle.

Upon its completion in 1861 the Tabernacle would be the largest church in the world, having room for five thousand seated and another thousand standing. Charles was in charge of how the building was designed and the naming of the structure. Especially on Sundays every seat was filled, and the walls were lined with people, “For the next thirty-one years the Tabernacle saw an average of 5,000 morning and evening.”[24] Aside from the Tabernacle, what Charles held near and dear to his heart was The Pastor’s College. “Though Spurgeon had no university degree and had not attended seminary, he founded the Pastor’s College when he was only twenty-two years old….For the first fifteen years , Spurgeon personally underwrote the entire cost of the school through the sale of his weekly sermons.”[25] The men who were accepted into the Pastor’s College had to already be ministering somewhere.

Charles’ ministry was not without conflict; he would enter into two major debates in his lifetime, that of baptismal regeneration and the Downgrade Controversy. Also in 1855 Spurgeon would be attacked by the Hyper-Calvinist for his stance on certain issues. It is said that of the two the later would cost him his health and ultimately his life. It should be noted that Spurgeon was unafraid to share his pulpit; on September 20, 1884 he would open it up to G.F. Pentecost, who would preach against smoking and its wilds. This is important because Spurgeon was known to have a cigar before bed; he has been quoted as saying with my liberty I smoke to the glory of God.[26]

Charles was known to suffer with severe bouts of depression, sometimes caused by flare-ups of gout and possibly kidney disease. It has even been speculated that Mr. Spurgeon may have been bi-polar.[27] There were times his depression would get so severe that he would question not only his calling as a pastor, but even his own salvation.[28] However, he would learn much from these times of trails in how to relate to his parishioners better. He also came to the realization that depression can lead to despondency, and that is not a virtue but a vice one holds on to.[29]

As Spurgeon got older his health continued to decline, causing him to miss more and more Sundays in his pulpit. After spending thirty-eight years as a pastor Charles not necessarily old, but no longer young either would step down from being the pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle. He did not do so easily, but in knowing it was what was best for his flock he had been charged with tending. It was 1891 when he retired to the seaside of France where he would write back to his beloved wife, friends, and congregation. He would slip into a comma and pass a few days later on January 31, 1892.[30]

After his passing, his coffin would be taken through the streets of London, which were covered as though a member of the royal family had passed on. “In all, some sixty thousand mourners paid their respects to the this colossal figure. A funeral parade two miles long followed his hearse from the Tabernacle to the cemetery at Norwood, with one hundred thousand people standing along the way.” [31]When he was finally laid to rest he was done so with his Bible open to the very passage that brought him to life so many years before.

His Preaching and Other Ministries

Charles Spurgeon was a man of many talents, but he took pride in few, loving all the things he did. At heart, he was not just a regular preacher, he was a Calvinist, who also happened to be a dedicated evangelist. At this time in history the two were sometime seen as opposing teams, and Spurgeon was doing everything he could to reconcile them to each other. It did not matter what the text was he was to preach from he ALWAYS pointed back to Christ. His technique was different than what is even taught in most seminaries in modern times, “he never wrote them out beforehand. Hence there style reflected the directness of oral communication rather than that of a literary essay.”[32]

While Charles’ sermons were filled to the brim with orthodoxy, his manner of developing said sermon would terrify some preachers of the modern age. He would not choose a text for Sunday morning until the evening beforehand. He would spend the week in such deep study that it was literally difficult for him to come to a decision on which text to preach. “Spurgeon preached “out of the overflow,” studying topics all week and finally nailing down texts to stand as summaries for his subjects on Saturday evening, and Sunday afternoon. He also wrote his final skeleton outlines for sermons then, discarding dozens in the process of refinement.”[33] Then when it came time to deliver said sermon, he would do it primarily from memory, excluding his outline. He would “read the text, interspersed with brief comments, orally providing his interpretation and commentary. Then he would preach without reference to his notes.”[34] He had what we would want to call a photographic memory.

It should be noted that Spurgeon was not afraid of hard work; “He often preached elsewhere, up to twelve times in some weeks and labored for long eight-teen hour days.”[35]Think about this this for a moment if you will, it is believed that he preached with same fervor no matter where the address was being given. That takes a considerable amount of endurance to preach that many times in one week.

He was not only a pastor/preacher, he was also an author and philanthropist. “At his fiftieth birthday, a list was read of sixty-six organizations he had founded for the purpose of advancing the gospel message.”[36] If Spurgeon were alive today he could possibly be a millionaire from the sale of all his works. What were the most popular of the time were his sermons, which were printed in over 40 different languages and sold close to 25,000 copies each week.[37] Well over a century after his death, there are over 3 hundred million copies of his works in print, more than any other English-speaking author.[38] To help the modern reader understand how much Spurgeon added to the theological conversation of not only his day but our own; “His production has been calculated at twenty-three million words, the equivalent of the twenty-seven volumes of the ninth edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica.”[39]

At heart there was one thing Charles Spurgeon was and you could not change his mind, and the only thing that made him stop was death, he was an evangelist. “Spurgeon’s ministry was first and foremost that of an evangelist. His desire that men might come to know God through faith in Christ was the overruling passion of his life. His was a missionary vision as broad as the world.”[40] Unlike preachers of his day and even some men of modern times Spurgeon felt it was only right to preach the entire Bible, all aspects even the ones men would fight to the bitter end to deny. Lawson observes, “Preaching the gospel, Spurgeon believed, requires announcing all the truths of the Bible—both law and grace, repentance and faith, Christ’s lordship and His saviorhood, self-denial and sin’s forgiveness, even heaven and hell.”[41]

Charles did not believe in the soft sale of the gospel that many of his counterparts had started to endorse. He wanted the hard truths preached, not necessarily in a manner that was difficult to understand, but in a way that did not make a sinner comfortable to be in the presence of its power. To reinforce that Spurgeon was not out to be hard on the sinner it is said, “He maintained that the saving message of Christ is good news that should come through the preacher in loving tones.”[42] While being stern in once sense he also wanted to make sure that love was expressed during the sermon. He did not want one to walk away the same way they had entered. He was always presenting the gospel message every time he preached; “It is virtually impossible to find any Spurgeon sermon that does not have some loving appeal to the unconverted.”[43] Now it may be easy for some to think, in order to present the gospel one has to be harsh and cold hearted, but that is not so. Because the “prince of preachers” was not capable of being cold hearted when delivering the Word of God. “Spurgeon was incapable of making a stoic presentation of the gospel, a cold statement of truths. He was deeply aware that he was not lecturing to students but preaching to sinners.”[44]

Conclusion

            Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892) was the greatest preacher outside of the New Testament the world had ever seen. He set an example that all ministers now and to come would do well to follow. To be bold in the proclamation of the gospel, to love those around us well, to see a need and do something about it. Spurgeon set a standard he found in Scripture for his life and the life of those around him, and he did his very best to live up to that standard. We would do well to have a quarter of the ministry that man had and to leave a legacy as potent. Somehow he found a way to be a strong Calvinist who had a deep love for evangelism, at a time when many thought it was an oxymoron.

 

 

Bibliography

Bibliography for Spurgeon Assignment

 

Estep, William Roscoe. “The making of a prophet : an introduction to Charles Haddon Spurgeon.” Baptist History And Heritage 19, no. 4 (October 1, 1984): 3-15. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed March 21, 2015).

 

Lawson, Steven J. The Gospel Focus of Charles Spurgeon. Crawfordsville, IN: Reformation Trust Pubishers, 2012.

 

Morden, Peter J. “C H Spurgeon and prayer.” Evangelical Quarterly 84, no. 5 (October 1, 2012): 323-344. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed March 21, 2015).

 

Nettles, Tom. LIving By Revealed Truth. Christian Focus Publications (Mentor Imprint), 2013.

 

Skinner, Craig. “The preaching of Charles Haddon Spurgeon.” Baptist History And Heritage 19, no. 4 (October 1, 1984): 16-26. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed March 21, 2015).

 

Spurgeon, Charles Haddon. “Awake, awake.” Baptist History And Heritage 19, no. 4 (October 1, 1984): 27-38. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed March 21, 2015).

 

The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons. Vol. 43. London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1897.

Only a Prayer Meeting: Forty Addresses at Metropolitan Tabernacle and Other Prayer-Meetings. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2009.

 

The Pastor in Prayer. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2009.

 

— . The Power of Prayer in a Believer’s LIfe. Edited by Robert Hall. Lynwood, WA: Emerald Books.

 

The Sword and Trowel: 1865. London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1865.

 

Through the eyes of Spurgeon. 2014. Online Video. “http://www.throughtheeyesofspurgeon.com”

 

[1] Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “Awake, awake.” Baptist History And Heritage 19, no. 4 (October 1, 1984): 32.

 

[2] Steven J.Lawson, The Gospel Focus of Charles Spurgeon. (Crawfordsville, IN: Reformation Trust Pubishers, 2012)4.

 

[3] Ibid., 4.

[4] William Roscoe Estep, “The making of a prophet : an introduction to Charles Haddon Spurgeon.” Baptist History And Heritage 19, no. 4 (October 1, 1984) 4.

[5] Through the Eyes of Spurgeon. 2014. Online Video. “http://www.throughtheeyesofspurgeon.com”

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Estep., Prophet, 4.

[10] Lawson, Gospel Focus, 5.

[11] Eyes of Spurgeon.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Lawson, Gospel Focus, 6.

[14]Craig Skinner, “The preaching of Charles Haddon Spurgeon.” Baptist History And Heritage 19, no. 4 (October 1, 1984):17.

[15] Ibid., 17.

[16] Lawson, Gospel Focus, 7.

[17] Through the eyes of Spurgeon.

[18] Lawson, Gospel Focus, 7.

[19] Ibid., 7.

[20] Estep, Prophet., 9.

[21] Ibid., 9.

[22] Ibid., 9.

[23] Lawson, Gospel Focus., 9.

[24] Estep., Prophet., 10.

[25] Lawson., Gospel Focus., 9.

[26] Through the eyes of Spurgeon

[27] Ibid.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Lawson., Gospel Focus., 16-17.

[32] Estep., Prophet., 10.

[33] Skinner., Preaching.,18.

[34] Estep., Prophet., 10.

[35] Skinner., Preaching., 17.

[36] Lawson, Gospel Focus, 15.

[37] Skinner., Preaching., 17.

[38] Lawson., Gospel Focus., 17.

[39] Skinner., Preaching., 18.

[40] Estep., Prophet., 11.

[41] Lawson, Gospel Focus., 65.

[42] Ibid., 68.

[43] Ibid., 69.

[44] Ibid., 77.

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