Charles Spurgeon


Image by/from Alexander Melville

Charles Haddon Spurgeon (19 June 1834 – 31 January 1892) was an English Particular Baptist preacher. Spurgeon remains highly influential among Christians of various[which?] denominations, among whom he is known as the “Prince of Preachers”. He was a strong figure in the Reformed Baptist tradition, defending the Church in agreement with the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith understanding, and opposing the liberal and pragmatic theological tendencies in the Church of his day.

Spurgeon was pastor of the congregation of the New Park Street Chapel (later the Metropolitan Tabernacle) in London for 38 years. He was part of several controversies with the Baptist Union of Great Britain and later he left the denomination over doctrinal convictions. In 1867, he started a charity organisation which is now called Spurgeon’s and works globally. He also founded Spurgeon’s College, which was named after him posthumously.

Spurgeon authored many types of works including sermons, one autobiography, commentaries, books on prayer, devotionals, magazines, poetry, hymns, and more. Many sermons were transcribed as he spoke and were translated into many languages during his lifetime. He is said to have produced powerful sermons of penetrating thought and precise exposition. His oratory skills are said to have held his listeners spellbound in the Metropolitan Tabernacle and many Christians hold his writings in exceptionally high regard among devotional literature.

Born in Kelvedon, Essex, he moved to Colchester at 10 months old. Spurgeon’s conversion from nominal Anglicanism[citation needed] came on 6 January 1850, at age 15. On his way to a scheduled appointment, a snow storm forced him to cut short his intended journey and to turn into a Primitive Methodist chapel in Artillery Street, Newtown, Colchester where God opened his heart to the salvation message. The text that moved him was Isaiah 45:22 – “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth, for I am God, and there is none else.” Later that year on 4 April 1850, he was admitted to the church at Newmarket.

His baptism followed on 3 May in the river Lark, at Isleham. Later that same year he moved to Cambridge, where he later became a Sunday school teacher. He preached his first sermon in the winter of 1850-51 in a cottage at Teversham while filling in for a friend. From the beginning of his ministry his style and ability were considered to be far above average. In the same year, he was installed as pastor of the small Baptist church at Waterbeach, Cambridgeshire, where he published his first literary work, a Gospel tract written in 1853.

In April 1854, after preaching three months on probation and just four years after his conversion, Spurgeon, then only 19, was called to the pastorate of London’s famed New Park Street Chapel, Southwark (formerly pastored by the Particular Baptists Benjamin Keach, theologian John Gill and John Rippon). This was the largest Baptist congregation in London at the time, although it had dwindled in numbers for several years. Spurgeon found friends in London among his fellow pastors, such as William Garrett Lewis of Westbourne Grove Church, an older man who along with Spurgeon went on to found the London Baptist Association.

Within a few months of Spurgeon’s arrival at Park Street, his ability as a preacher made him famous. The following year the first of his sermons in the “New Park Street Pulpit” was published. Spurgeon’s sermons were published in printed form every week and had a high circulation. By the time of his death in 1892, he had preached nearly 3,600 sermons and published 49 volumes of commentaries, sayings, anecdotes, illustrations and devotions.

Immediately following his fame was criticism. The first attack in the press appeared in the Earthen Vessel in January 1855. His preaching, although not revolutionary in substance, was a plain-spoken and direct appeal to the people, using the Bible to provoke them to consider the teachings of Jesus Christ. Critical attacks from the media persisted throughout his life. The congregation quickly outgrew their building, and moved to Exeter Hall, then to Surrey Music Hall. In these venues Spurgeon frequently preached to audiences numbering more than 10,000. At 22, Spurgeon was the most popular preacher of the day.

On 8 January 1856, Spurgeon married Susannah, daughter of Robert Thompson of Falcon Square, London, by whom he had twin sons, Charles and Thomas born on 20 September 1856. At the end of that year, tragedy struck on 19 October 1856, as Spurgeon was preaching at the Surrey Gardens Music Hall for the first time. Someone in the crowd yelled, “Fire!” The ensuing panic and stampede left several dead. Spurgeon was emotionally devastated by the event and it had a sobering influence on his life. For many years he spoke of being moved to tears for no reason known to himself.

Walter Thornbury later wrote in “Old and New London” (1897) describing a subsequent meeting at Surrey:

a congregation consisting of 10,000 souls, streaming into the hall, mounting the galleries, humming, buzzing, and swarming – a mighty hive of bees – eager to secure at first the best places, and, at last, any place at all. After waiting more than half an hour – for if you wish to have a seat you must be there at least that space of time in advance… Mr. Spurgeon ascended his tribune. To the hum, and rush, and trampling of men, succeeded a low, concentrated thrill and murmur of devotion, which seemed to run at once, like an electric current, through the breast of everyone present, and by this magnetic chain the preacher held us fast bound for about two hours. It is not my purpose to give a summary of his discourse. It is enough to say of his voice, that its power and volume are sufficient to reach every one in that vast assembly; of his language that it is neither high-flown nor homely; of his style, that it is at times familiar, at times declamatory, but always happy, and often eloquent; of his doctrine, that neither the ‘Calvinist’ nor the ‘Baptist’ appears in the forefront of the battle which is waged by Mr. Spurgeon with relentless animosity, and with Gospel weapons, against irreligion, cant, hypocrisy, pride, and those secret bosom-sins which so easily beset a man in daily life; and to sum up all in a word, it is enough to say, of the man himself, that he impresses you with a perfect conviction of his sincerity.

Spurgeon’s work went on. A Pastors’ College was founded in 1857 by Spurgeon and was renamed Spurgeon’s College in 1923, when it moved to its present building in South Norwood Hill, London. At the Fast Day, 7 October 1857, he preached to the largest crowd ever – 23,654 people – at The Crystal Palace in London. Spurgeon noted:

In 1857, a day or two before preaching at the Crystal Palace, I went to decide where the platform should be fixed; and, in order to test the acoustic properties of the building, cried in a loud voice, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” In one of the galleries, a workman, who knew nothing of what was being done, heard the words, and they came like a message from heaven to his soul. He was smitten with conviction on account of sin, put down his tools, went home, and there, after a season of spiritual struggling, found peace and life by beholding the Lamb of God. Years after, he told this story to one who visited him on his death-bed.

On 18 March 1861, the congregation moved permanently to the newly constructed purpose-built Metropolitan Tabernacle at Elephant and Castle, Southwark, seating 5000 people with standing room for another 1000. The Metropolitan Tabernacle was the largest church edifice of its day. Spurgeon continued to preach there several times per week until his death 31 years later. He never gave altar calls at the conclusion of his sermons, but he always extended the invitation that if anyone was moved to seek an interest in Christ by his preaching on a Sunday, they could meet with him at his vestry on Monday morning. Without fail, there was always someone at his door the next day.

He wrote his sermons out fully before he preached, but what he carried up to the pulpit was a note card with an outline sketch. Stenographers would take down the sermon as it was delivered and Spurgeon would then have opportunity to make revisions to the transcripts the following day for immediate publication. His weekly sermons, which sold for a penny each, were widely circulated and still remain one of the all-time best selling series of writings published in history.

I would propose that the subject of the ministry of this house, as long as this platform shall stand, and as long as this house shall be frequented by worshippers, shall be the person of Jesus Christ. I am never ashamed to avow myself a Calvinist, although I claim to be rather a Calvinist according to Calvin, than after the modern debased fashion. I do not hesitate to take the name of Baptist. You have there (pointing to the baptistry) substantial evidence that I am not ashamed of that ordinance of our Lord Jesus Christ; but if I am asked to say what is my creed, I think I must reply: “It is Jesus Christ.” My venerable predecessor, Dr. Gill, has left a body of divinity admirable and excellent in its way; but the body of divinity to which I would pin and bind myself for ever, God helping me, is not his system of divinity or any other human treatise, but Christ Jesus, who is the sum and substance of the gospel; who is in himself all theology, the incarnation of every precious truth, the all-glorious personal embodiment of the way, the truth, and the life.
– The kernel of Spurgeon’s first sermon at the Tabernacle

Besides sermons, Spurgeon also wrote several hymns and published a new collection of worship songs in 1866 called “Our Own Hymn Book”. It was mostly a compilation of Isaac Watts’s Psalms and Hymns that had been originally selected by John Rippon, a Baptist predecessor to Spurgeon. Singing in the congregation was exclusively a cappella under his pastorate. Thousands heard the preaching and were led in the singing without any amplification of sound that exists today. Hymns were a subject that he took seriously. While Spurgeon was still preaching at New Park Street, a hymn book called “The Rivulet” was published. Spurgeon aroused controversy because of his critique of its theology, which was largely deistic. At the end of his review, Spurgeon warned:

We shall soon have to handle truth, not with kid gloves, but with gauntlets, – the gauntlets of holy courage and integrity. Go on, ye warriors of the cross, for the King is at the head of you.

On 5 June 1862, Spurgeon challenged the Church of England when he preached against baptismal regeneration. However, Spurgeon taught across denominational lines as well: for example, in 1877 he was the preacher at the opening of a new Free Church of Scotland church building in Dingwall. It was during this period at the new Tabernacle that Spurgeon found a friend in James Hudson Taylor, the founder of the inter-denominational China Inland Mission. Spurgeon supported the work of the mission financially and directed many missionary candidates to apply for service with Taylor. He also aided in the work of cross-cultural evangelism by promoting “The Wordless Book”, a teaching tool that he described in a message given on 11 January 1866, regarding Psalm 51:7: “Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” The book has been and is still used to teach people without reading skills and people of other cultures and languages – young and old – around the globe about the Gospel message.

Following the example of George Muller, Spurgeon founded the Stockwell Orphanage, which opened for boys in 1867 and for girls in 1879, and which continued in London until it was bombed in the Second World War. The orphanage became Spurgeon’s Child Care which still exists today. On the death of missionary David Livingstone in 1873, a discolored and much-used copy of one of Spurgeon’s printed sermons, “Accidents, Not Punishments,” was found among his few possessions much later, along with the handwritten comment at the top of the first page: “Very good, D.L.” He had carried it with him throughout his travels in Africa. It was sent to Spurgeon and treasured by him.

A controversy among the Baptists flared in 1887 with Spurgeon’s first “Down-grade” article, published in The Sword & the Trowel. In the ensuing “Downgrade Controversy,” the Metropolitan Tabernacle disaffiliated from the Baptist Union, effectuating Spurgeon’s congregation as the world’s largest self-standing church. Spurgeon framed the controversy in this way:

Believers in Christ’s atonement are now in declared union with those who make light of it; believers in Holy Scripture are in confederacy with those who deny plenary inspiration; those who hold evangelical doctrine are in open alliance with those who call the fall a fable, who deny the personality of the Holy Ghost, who call justification by faith immoral, and hold that there is another probation after death… It is our solemn conviction that there should be no pretence of fellowship. Fellowship with known and vital error is participation in sin.

The Controversy took its name from Spurgeon’s use of the term “Downgrade” to describe certain other Baptists’ outlook toward the Bible (i.e., they had “downgraded” the Bible and the principle of sola scriptura). Spurgeon alleged that an incremental creeping of the Graf-Wellhausen hypothesis, Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, and other concepts were weakening the Baptist Union. Spurgeon emphatically decried the doctrine that resulted:

Assuredly the New Theology can do no good towards God or man; it, has no adaptation for it. If it were preached for a thousand years by all the most earnest men of the school, it would never renew a soul, nor overcome pride in a single human heart.

The standoff caused division amongst the Baptists and other non-conformists, and is regarded by many as an important paradigm.[a]

Spurgeon strongly opposed the owning of slaves. He lost support from the Southern Baptists, sales of his sermons dropped to a few, and he received scores of threatening and insulting letters as a consequence.

Not so very long ago our nation tolerated slavery in our colonies. Philanthropists endeavored to destroy slavery; but when was it utterly abolished? It was when Wilberforce roused the church of God, and when the church of God addressed herself to the conflict, then she tore the evil thing to pieces. I have been amused with what Wilberforce said the day after they passed the Act of Emancipation. He merrily said to a friend when it was all done, “Is there not something else we can abolish?” That was said playfully, but it shows the spirit of the church of God. She lives in conflict and victory; her mission is to destroy everything that is bad in the land.
The Best Warcry, March 4th, 1883′

In a letter to the Christian Watchman and Reflector (Boston), Spurgeon declared:

I do from my inmost soul detest slavery . . . and although I commune at the Lord’s table with men of all creeds, yet with a slave-holder I have no fellowship of any sort or kind. Whenever [a slave-holder] has called upon me, I have considered it my duty to express my detestation of his wickedness, and I would as soon think of receiving a murderer into my church . . . as a man stealer.

Like other Baptists of his time, despite opposing Dispensationalism, Spurgeon anticipated the restoration of the Jews to inhabit the Promised Land.

We look forward, then, for these two things. I am not going to theorize upon which of them will come first – whether they shall be restored first, and converted afterwards – or converted first and then restored. They are to be restored and they are to be converted, too.
The Restoration And Conversion of the Jews. Ezekiel 37.1-10, June 16th, 1864

Spurgeon’s wife was often too ill to leave home to hear him preach. Spurgeon also suffered ill health toward the end of his life, afflicted by a combination of rheumatism, gout and Bright’s disease. He often recuperated at Menton, near Nice, France, where he died on 31 January 1892. He enjoyed cigars and smoked a “F. P Del Rio y Ca.” in his last days according to his grandson. Spurgeon was survived by his wife and sons. His remains were buried at West Norwood Cemetery in London, where the tomb is still visited by admirers. His son Tom became the pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle after his father died.

William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri purchased Spurgeon’s 5,103-volume library collection for £500 ($2500) in 1906. The collection was purchased by Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri in 2006 for $400,000 and can be seen on display at the Spurgeon Center on the campus of Midwestern Seminary. A special collection of Spurgeon’s handwritten sermon notes and galley proofs from 1879-91 resides at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. Spurgeon’s College in London also has a small number of notes and proofs.
Spurgeon’s personal Bible, with his handwritten notes is on display in the library of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY

Spurgeon’s works have been translated into many languages and Moon’s and Braille type for the blind. He also wrote many volumes of commentaries and other types of literature.

Spurgeon near the end of his life.

A five volume set of Spurgeon’s sermons

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