Charles Spurgeon was a 19th-century preacher known as the “Prince of Preachers” among many denominations. Spurgeon was mostly involved with the Reformed Baptist tradition, also known as Particular Baptist, and spent a great deal of time opposing the increasingly liberal and pragmatic theological trends in the churches of the day. Many books containing his sermons have been published and read by many generations and Spurgeon continues to inspire people today.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon was born to John and Eliza Spurgeon in Kelvedon near Braintree, Essex on 19th June 1834, although his family relocated to Colchester before his first birthday. Although the Spurgeon family considered themselves Congregationalists, it was not until Charles was 15 that he opened his heart to God. This came about when he was forced to shelter from a snowstorm in a Primitive Methodist chapel. It is said that while he was waiting out the storm, Spurgeon came across the verse Isaiah 45:22 and was immediately converted. "Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth, for I am God, and there is none else."
In May 1850, Spurgeon was baptised in the River Lark at Isleham, Cambridgeshire. The same year, he moved to Cambridge to become a Sunday School teacher. That winter, at 16 years old, he preached his first sermon, and thus began his preaching career. His style and insight into the Bible were said to be far above average, not just for his age but in comparison to preachers in general. In 1851, he was made the pastor of a small baptist church in Waterbeach, Cambridgeshire and published his first book, which focused on the Gospels, in 1853.
Aged 19, Spurgeon was called to become the pastor of New Park Street Chapel, Southwark, London, which had the largest Baptist congregation at the time. Here, his preaching ability became famous and his sermons were so popular that the "New Park Street Pulpit" began to publish one every week, selling them for a penny each. Later, books were published under the same title as the weekly publication, featuring five volumes of Spurgeon’s sermons. It is estimated over 3,600 of his sermons were printed during his lifetime.
Naturally, with greatness came criticism from those who thought Spurgeon’s sermons were too straightforward. Nonetheless, they appealed to the congregation, which had grown to a size of 10,000 by Spurgeon’s 22nd birthday. Unable to fit everyone into the building, the church moved to Exeter Hall on the strand, then the Surrey Music Hall in Newington in order to accommodate everyone.
The year 1856 began positively with Spurgeon’s marriage to Susannah Thompson, however, it ended in tragedy. During one of Spurgeon’s sermons at the Surrey Music Hall, someone in the crowd shouted “Fire!”, which spread mass panic and hysteria. Thousands of people immediately ran for the exit, pushing those in their way and crushing anyone who had fallen. Several died as a result and Spurgeon was mentally affected by the scene for the rest of his life. He admitted to sudden, unexplainable tears, which today doctors may identify as a symptom of depression or PTSD.
Nonetheless, Spurgeon persevered with his preaching and the following year became the father of twin boys: Charles and Thomas. The same year he founded a pastors’ college, which was renamed Spurgeon’s College in 1923, and, in October, preached to his largest congregation yet. The service took place at The Crystal Palace and welcomed an estimated 23,654 people.
Spurgeon’s church could not remain at the Surrey Music Hall forever, so on 18th March 1861, it moved to the purpose-built Metropolitan Tabernacle in Elephant and Castle. The Independent Baptist Church still worships there today. Spurgeon preached there several times a week for the remaining 31 years of his life.
The reason it was possible to publish so many, if not all, of Spurgeon’s sermons, was because he wrote them out before each service. When he reached the pulpit, however, all he had with him were a handful of notecards to prompt him, suggesting he had learnt the sermon off by heart. As well as sermons, Spurgeon wrote a handful of hymns, however, he preferred to use popular songs by other writers, such as Isaac Watts. They were mostly sung a capella due to the lack of an organ in the church.
Spurgeon did not limit himself to Baptist congregations and frequently preached to other denominations. Nonetheless, his sermons often argued against some of the methods of preaching used by the Church of England. One argument was that a person did not have to be baptised in order to experience salvation. Not only did this argument go against the Church of England, but it also angered other Baptist churches. As a result, the Metropolitan Tabernacle removed itself from the Baptist Union, becoming an Independent Baptist Church.
Through his popularity, Spurgeon made many connections with other preachers and philanthropists. He supported the China Inland Mission founded by his friend, James Hudson Taylor, and was inspired by Christian evangelist George Müller to open an orphanage. The orphanage was closed after the Second World War and became Spurgeon’s Child Care charity, which continues to support vulnerable families, children and young people in the United Kingdom.
Spurgeon was vocally against slavery, which lost him a few supporters, particularly those from the United States. “... although I commune at the Lord's table with men of all creeds, yet with a slave-holder, 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.” (Spurgeon, Christian Watchman and Reflector, c.1860)
Although Spurgeon had the support of his family, his wife was often too ill to leave home and attend his sermons. Yet, she outlived her husband who suffered from rheumatism, gout and Bright's disease in his later years. Spurgeon began making regular trips to the French Riviera to ease his symptoms, which is where he was when he died on 31st January 1892. Spurgeon was buried in West Norwood Cemetery, one of the “Magnificent Seven” cemeteries in London. His son, Thomas, took his place as the pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle.
Famous sayings of Charles Spurgeon:
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Rev'd Martin Wheadon