Thursday, April 23, 2020

A Tribute to Pastor Irving Steggles

This tribute was written by Pastor Ronald Kalifungwa of the Lusaka Baptist Church in Zambia. It is reprinted here with permission.

Irving Steggles was the pastor of the Birchleigh Baptist Church (Gauteng- SA), a member church of SOLA 5 - an Association of God centered  evangelicals in Southern Africa. 

I first heard about lrving Steggles when he was considering a move to South Africa from England. A Reformed Baptist Church in SA that had unceremoniously 'fired' its previous three pastors in quick succession had called him to become their new pastor. A number of pastors where concerned that should he accept that call, he would be setting himself up for a short tenure at that church. Our concerns where duly communicated to him but inspite of knowing about the rather disconcerting situation in that church, he still went ahead and accepted that call and moved to South Africa. And although his pastorate at that church was unsurprisingly short-lived he maintained a fairly good relationship with his former flock up until the time of his death.This spoke of his graciousness.
My next real interaction with Irving was at the Grace Ministers Conference at Mount Grace, in 2006 where l was preaching alongside Derek Thomas and Nelson Kloosterman. He was in the audience and appeared rather 'sleepy', like he was not paying attention to the proceedings.He surprised me when he came up to me to introduce himself and to give me a fairly good feed back on what he was learning from the sermons. "He was paying attention after all" l said to myself.
My relationship with lrving really kicked off at the inaugural African Pastor's Conference in Pretoria. He was the organiser and l preached alongside Errol Hulse (The brain behind the APC) and Robert Dickie (his church was one of the sponsors of the APC). We became friends then and even though l did not not sit on the governing board of the APC, he asked me to help source speakers for the conference in Zambia and elsewhere in Africa.Over the years, we spent a lot of time together travelling between cities and countries on the African continent in our endeavour to train pastors.We prayed together, taught together, ate  together (and drank lots of English Tea), and in one instance in Kenya we even acted as mediators together in a church leader's dispute.
Irving passionately loved the Lord.He was humble (i.e. Although he was a much older man and a more experienced Christian, he occasionally sought my advice on various ecclesiastical and pastoral issues and he seemed to take my advice).He was friendly, loyal to his friends,an encourager of men, consistent and a true man of integrity. He no doubt had his flaws too.He would be the first one to admit that he was a man with feet of clay.
Irving was a devoted pastor. He had many bright moments as a pastor at Birchleigh but He didn't always enjoy a thriving ministry. That notwithstanding, he was always devoted to preaching and to pastoring his people. He had a burden for black communities (i.e. Tembisa) and in various ways tried to support efforts at reaching those communities with the gospel with a view to planting solid biblical churches there. He helped inspire many black young men and women to understand and love the doctrines of grace. He also inspired and supported a number of promising black young men to seek reformed theological training (mainly at London Seminary) with a view to preparing them for future ministry in South Africa. Some of these young men are now serving the South African Church as pastors and elders and deacons.
Irving endeared himself to the saints in Africa at large and Zambia in particular.Through the APC he ministered to many and made several friends on the continent. Regarding Zambia, he was a regular attendee of our Reformed Family Conference to which be brought a number of his flock and even a family member. He also actively supported the African Christian University project.
Irving enjoyed preaching in the Zambian Churches.Over the last three years, whenever he had a opportunity to visit Zambia, he phoned me to ask if l could arrange some preaching opportunities for him. Opportunities where always aplenty in Lusaka. And when he arrived at each of the Churches he would  be ministering at, people generally thought he was not fit to preach because he was walking on crutches and had to be helped to stand up and walk to the pulpit. He seemed fit for the bed. But when he began to preach, there was a clarity, an authority and a demonstration of the Spirit's power that was unmistakable and that made people cling to his words and forget about his apparent weakness.
No one could keep him from the pulpit. My guess is that if he had woken up from his sick bed, he would have gone right back to the pulpit.His zeal for ministry was irrepressible. He seemed to be echoing George Whitefied who once said, "...for as long as the Lord lendeth me breath l will spend and be spent for Him" . Truly our brother spent and was spent for the Lord. May the name of the Lord be praised.
We will sorely miss pastor lrving Steggles, but are comforted to know that he is safe in the arms of Jesus and that we will see him again in the glory.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Christians and the Coronavirus

Christians and the Coronavirus
Josh Hooker

At a time when the globe is gripped with anxiety over the Coronavirus outbreak, it is important for Christians to be turning to the Bible for help and perspective.  Here are a few biblical reflections:

The gospel and God’s punishment of sin

The first thing to realise is that this an opportunity for Christians to explain the gospel to others.  Situations like this one seem to result in a greater honesty among people about their fears.  Often people will tell us that they are not scared of dying, but the reaction to the Coronavirus across the world shows that that is clearly not true.  It shows that the Bible is right in its assessment that people need to be rescued by Jesus not only from death itself, but also from their fear of death (Hebrews 2:14-15).  We need to use this opportunity to talk about the one who gives hope beyond the grave.

Secondly, we should expect global disease as a sign of the times in which we live in -the end times -the time between Jesus’ first and second coming.  If my reading of Revelation is correct (Revelation 6:7-8; 9:1-21) then not only do these verses describe the age in which we live now, but they also show us that God allows these things to happen so that people will turn to him in repentance (Revelation 9:20-21).

Thirdly, we must not understand this outbreak as the punishment of God on a particular people group for their sin, which is somehow worse than that of others.  We must not think that those who have been infected (and have died) are worse sinners than the rest of us.  In Luke 13:1-5 Jesus discusses the fates of some Galileans who died at Pilate’s hands and some people who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them, and states that those who died were no worse sinners than the rest of the population.  He twice states in these verses: ‘I tell you, no!  Unless you repent, you too will perish.’ 

We do not have the right to point fingers at others about God’s judgment because we are all guilty of sin before God and need to turn to him before it is too late.  Tragic events like these happen, the Bible tells us, to warn us all that life is short and that one day soon we will stand before God on the judgment day.  Trusting in Jesus is our only hope of survival. 

To fear sickness and death because of the Coronavirus is to focus on the wrong global disaster.  God has set a day for his coming judgement (Acts 17:29-31).  He loves a rebellious world and waits patiently to bring his final judgement because he wants people to come to repentance (John 3:16; 2 Peter 3:9).  That is the ultimate disaster.  The one we must rightly fear -the anger of a righteous God at our rebellion on his judgment day.  Jesus said ‘…fear him, who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell.  Yes, I tell you, fear him’ (Luke 12:5).  It is only Jesus who can deal with our sin problem once and for all time through his work on the cross.

Christians and God’s sovereignty

The Bible reminds us that God is a good God who loves his people, who protects them and rescues them from danger (e.g. Psalm 116).  But that truth does not mean that Christians are immune to the deadly effects of the Coronavirus; it means rather that God can be trusted to be working in all things for our good (Romans 8:28). 

We live in a fallen world and that reality affects Christians too (Romans 8:20-23).  Christians have, no doubt, died (and will die) because of this virus.  But we can be assured that every day of our lives is mapped out in God’s sovereign plan (Psalm 139:16) and that God always does what is right and good.  He has authority over sickness -even death itself (e.g. Mark 2:1-12; 3:1-6; 5:21-43).  He has a thorough knowledge of us as human beings (Psalm 139:1-6).  He knows where the outbreak began (better than the conspiracy theorists!) and he knows where it will end.  The world is not spinning helplessly out of control.  We can rest in his sovereignty.

How Christians must respond

Let’s think about how we respond as Christians to this crisis. 

First, we must recognise our duty to love.  Jesus summarised the Old Testament law in two statements -love of God and love of neighbour (Matthew 22:34-40).  These commands to love must shape our lives as Christians, especially at this time.  We love God and our neighbour by acting in a way that preserves life.  We must take all the necessary precautions to prevent the spread of the disease.  We must carefully follow the health advice given to us.  Even though we believe in a sovereign God who orders our lives, we have a responsibility to act wisely and well in this situation.  And these commands to love do not just extend to seeking to prevent the spread of the virus.  As Christians we must actively and courageously serve others where we have the opportunity (Mark 10:45).  Christians should be on the frontline in caring for those who are badly affected by this disease.  God cares for the broken-hearted and the grieving (Psalm 34:18; John 11:35).  And so should we.  As people face illness and bereavement Christians have a duty to love as God loves.

Secondly, we must remember where our priorities lie.  Jesus calls us not to worry about our bodies, but to trust God’s providential love and to seek first his kingdom (Luke 12:22-34). 

Thirdly, we must not be afraid of this disease and the worst it can do to us.   We need to remember that Jesus’ victory over the grave means that death is not the last word for Christians (1 Corinthians 15).  We do not need to be scared of dying because this life is not the end; we live in hope of an eternity with Christ (John 10:27-30).  Even in the face of physical death we have hope in the risen Jesus who has taken the sting of death away.

Finally, as we (naturally) feel concerned about the Coronavirus and its effects across the world, let’s remember that we have a God-given way of dealing with anxiety.  We can bring our anxiety about this situation (and every other situation) to the Lord in prayer so that we can know his peace at this troubled time (Philippians 4:6-7). 

As shock waves about this virus are still being felt throughout the world, we need to be reminded as his people that we have not been forgotten by God.  He knows us.  He cares for us.  And he calls us not to be afraid (Luke 12:6-7; 1 Peter 5:7).

[Josh Hooker  serves as theological  trainer, and is based  at Eastside Baptist Church, Windhoek,  Namibia. Josh  serves  the Namibian church in partnership with Crosslinks (UK).  He is married to Cathy, and they have three children.]

Monday, February 24, 2020


"Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways“ 
Psalm 119:37

Time is a precious commodity, and to spend it wisely is one of the Christian’s  absorbing goals. 
We don’t want to waste our lives.  

So, how do we manage the social media? 
It is very clear that we must manage things before they manage us, otherwise we become slaves of our things.[1]  The Christian is not to be controlled by things, but by the Spirit of God[2]. The social media  greatly challenges  our stewardship of time. 
But not only  of time... 

There are  some subtle challenges  connected to this phenomenon - such as information overload.   So many images and messages  pass through our mind  - each crying out for our attention. It becomes quite bewildering and downright  impossible to sit down and adequately reflect and process all that is being thrown at us from the  many media channels. 

The long history of human innovation proves that every technology has inevitable consequences. It is very difficult to see what a given technology may lead to, and what changes it may produce in society over time. Only time can tell.  
We can  now for instance see the development of consumerism and its related problems. We never thought that  consumerism would produce  an ecological challenge. But consumerism,  fed by the media and advertising is responsible for the plastic pollution that we now face. Everything is packaged atttractively  in plastic  to make it appealing to the consumer, but it leaves us with mountains of plastic that  polluite our soils and seas. 

Intellectually we have become addicted to sound bites. Our attention spans are shorter. Our powers to think through consequences are reduced, because we are  bnow taught to focus on immediate gratification. 

This media  bombardment began  to intensify in the last century with the advent of the Radio and TV. It is now amplified many times over by the advent of the social media. 
Should we be alarmed?  
Should we have reasons for concern?  

Many among us have embraced Facebook … Twitter … SMS… WhatsApp …Google ... Blogger … Others have shunned it. 

Each one has their own reasons.  

I freely confess that I have a love – hate relationship with the social media.  There are times when I think that these   are tremendous forums of information and communication.I have located a number of old,long lost friends via Facebook. I have been able  to see  how people were doing  and stay  in touch  and see their photos. I have been able to send brief communications world- wide, at the drop of a hat. I am enabled to remember people’s birthdays[3].  But there are other times when I find that the social media are too time consuming.  They do have an addictive element.  Also, I confess that never have I felt more connected to the world, and yet, never have I felt more watched. There is more than enough evidence on the world wide web to condemn me for being a Christian.

The social media has revolutionized our world. Facebook is now the most successful civil forum in the world. It was instrumental  in  the    Arab  spring revolution  in  2010 [4] (some called it the Facebook revolution), replacing dictators  and replacing them … well with other dictators.
A new language is appearing.  In 2013, Oxford English Dictionary declared “selfie” to be their Word of the Year.[5] Other new  words are  photobombing and unfriending  and ‘lol’. English, as the most dominant language on the Internet, is becoming a new type of Pidgin English.
The Christian world has not been slow to buy into the social media.  Most churches now have blogs, websites, Facebook pages. It is one of the new ways to let the world know about the gospel of Jesus.  On a number of occasions people have visited our church (and have stayed)  because  they have seen my blog, or our  Church’s  Facebook page.  A number of  my Christian friends use Face Book  and Twitter  to share  Scripture,  and to post  useful  articles  or links  to Christian websites. That is all very positive, and yet, there are subtle dangers!
Tim Chester in his book, “Will you be my Face Book  friend” (2013)  writes, “while  the benefits of  new technologies are immediately apparent, the negatives  are more hidden.[6]   
Let us consider  the apparent  and the more hidden dangers. 
Apparent Dangers
Time wasted on social media.  According to research done, nearly half of FB users (ages 18-34) check in  within minutes  of waking up in the morning. Repeated  checking thereafter absorbs large portions of time.
Constant interruption. We feel the constant need to check our  social media accounts, interrupting valuable time with others. The same is incidentally true for the cell phone. We allow ourselves to be interrupted because the phone rings. We cut conversations with people because the phone rings. The phone rules and overrules. We need to develop a Christian mind on this.   
Not using proper grammar and sentences is affecting the way we express ideas. We are losing  our ability to construct an argument.  
Social Media users  tend to  skim  text  rather than read it.  I am constantly amazed to see how often people misread information posted  on  social media  because they do not read thoroughly. 
A lack of careful analysis and evaluation due to information overload. We know the facts,but we don’t know how to analyze them. We do not engage in  critical thinking.I can think of no better method to promote  critical  thinking  than reading  a book with a pen in hand, interacting,  arguing or agreeing with the writer as I go along. I am forced into a conversation, but in skimming a book I am just looking for information  (which has its place). 
Changing our attitude to learning.  Having Smartphones with their Google capacities means that we can now access information whenever we like.  In that sense technology makes us more efficient.  We do not have to go to a library or find an outdated Encyclopedia Britannica  to get outdated  information, but now have the latest information  at our fingertips.  
But here’s the challenge,  

  • Why learn or memorize when you can google?  
  • Why learn historical dates when you can look them up on Wikipedia? 
The problem is that we are  prone to no longer want to hold information in our minds, preventing us to make connections between ideas.  
Why learn Bible verses when you have your Bible on the phone?  Yet the Bible itself calls us to meditate on it and retain its words. We are to have the word in our hearts and not on our cell phones, “I have stored up your Word in my heart that I might not sin against you”  (Ps 119:11)
Getting hooked to digital cocaine: If you want to know whether you have an obsessive relationship with the social  media,  here is a quick  checklist [7]:

  •   Do you check your FB page often in a day? 
  • More than 20 mins on FB per day? 
  • Do you find it difficult to imagine a day without social media?  
  • Do you ever  gone online  to check  messages/ FB status during a church meeting? 
  • Do you answer phones or messages during meals or conversations? 
  • Do you keep it in the bedroom ‘on’ all night?

More Subtle Dangers[8]
On FB/ social media I can recreate my world to gain approval.  
I have a forum to reinvent myself to the watching world.  
I can create a new identity by selective reporting; by uploading pictures that portray me in a certain way - usually having a good time or looking good. There are no ugly pictures of me. My life takes place on a stage and I write the script, creating or recreating myself. Doesn’t this sound idolatrous?  I am re-creating myself in my own image? Are you in the process of reinventing yourself? Do you see the subtle process behind this kind of thinking? Who is it that made  you in His image? 

The obvious question here is - "that which I am  seeking to portary to the world- is that really me?" Is your FB image self more attractive or more successful than your real world self?"  The Bible teaches me that I do not need to recreate myself. Jesus recreates me. 
My identity is in Christ   and my Christian mind needs to learn to be content with that.
FB/ social media   can create a very “me centered” world.   

An Australian study entitled, “Who uses FB?“,  found a significant correlation between the use of FB and narcissism (self- love).  The study concluded, “It could be argued that Facebook specifically gratifies the narcissistic individual’s need to engage in self- promoting and superficial behaviour[9]. Think about this every time you post something, “Why am I doing this? What am I trying to achieve? Who is at the center of this post? 

The underlying need of continuous posting on social media may be the seeking of the approval of others. This need to be  ‘heard’ by others, and by what other’s should think of us, can be very intimidating. 

Our overriding concern should be what God thinks of us.  “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ (Gal 1:10). Paul here addresses the fact that the Galatian Christians had allowed themselves to be bullied by the information  which the Judaizers gave them,   into taking on another gospel.  Paul thinks  that they were submitting to  the fear of man  which was crippling their  thinking and therefore their actions, thus becoming legalists,  when in fact Christ had set them free. The Christian view is  that we ultimately  stand and fall before God. God is our ultimate judge  - see Paul again in  1 Corinthians 4:3-5. 

Not only can I recreate myself on FB,  but I can measure myself  through FB. i.e. I can rank myself through the number of  FB  friends  or  the amount of followers on my blog and the comments I receive on my blog, or I can score myself through the amounts of ‘likes’. These  become the index of my self- worth,  and again  we point out  that  the Bible teaches that our   identity and worth and sufficiency  is in Christ.

Self - absorption   can cause depression.  A study at Stanford University  found people often depressed after spending time of FB. [10] Why?  FB  is geared to project positivity. Everything can only be liked.  You see pictures of people having a good time, and on holiday and doing things. There rarely are  pictures of someone feeling bored, unhappy  or miserable. In the meantime  back in my reality, the day that I have had  at  work  seems dull and  sad.   And I feel bad. 

 Superficiality:  Listen to this actual FB entrance  which I  actually read  on FB some years ago:“My beloved wife and companion  died  yesterday”. Response: 2 comments and 8 likes!  
I like the  fact that your wife died yesterday?” That  tends to be the problem with skimming. It  does not produce  analysis. It easily fosters thoughtlessness. 

Temptations: Online flirting can lead to relational breakdown. Apparently more than a third of UK divorce filings in 2011 contained the word “Facebook” [11].
What Is The Spiritual Problem Behind All These  Dangers?

It is ultimately  a lack of contentment  in terms of  who we are  and the way God made us.  This   lack of contentment is rooted in our fallen natures.  Through the fall, we like Cain have become restless wanderers in the earth. We are never happy with ourselves and for this reason the  church father  Augustine  wrote, “Oh Lord’s our hearts are restless, until they are found in Thee!” The Bible teaches us that our heart’s content needs to be rooted  in Christ.
In Philippians 4: 10-13 we find the portrait of a contented man – the apostle Paul,   “I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

These words were written by Paul who sat in prison because of his faith in Jesus Christ. Jealous and corrupt people have done this to him. He is now awaiting possible execution over their false charges. In this prison, Paul writes some of the greatest words on the nature of contentment.  He does this by way of a letter of thanks which he writes to the Christians in Philippi. He wants them to know that he is very happy and thankful to have received their generous gift, BUT he also wants them to know that he feels himself wonderfully sustained by God in this very difficult situation.  His contentment and his happiness is anchored in the LORD.   He doesn’t want them to think that he had been discontented before the gift arrived,  but he does want them to know that their generosity was truly appreciated. So he combines his thanks with this valuable lesson on the secret for contentment.

Christian contentment comes as we find ourselves rooted  and established in Christ.  Christian joy is not conditioned by human approval, or by being liked (or disliked). It is not dependent on   material comforts, a healthy body or a good job.  Christian contentment is rooted in the fact that Jesus loves us, and if He is with us, no matter what we may lack, we have that which matters most.

Let’s  see the social media  for what they are. They are useful, but we must learn to waste  our precious  time not on  these tools, but in real relationships,  firstly with our Tri-une   God, and  then in terms  of  real relationships, to which we are called  by God  in the context of His body the church.

[1] See Galatians 5:1 for warning
[2] See this principle applied  in Ephesians 5:18
[3] while the list grows longer it  becomes more and more impossible to keep up with the birthdays 
[4] Arab Spring is the media's name for a series of uprisings and protests throughout the middle east, beginning in December of 2010 including Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Syria, Tunisia, and Yemen.
[6] Tim Chester: Will you be my Facebook friend p.11
[7] ibid p.17
[8] ibid p.19ff
[9] ibid p.22
[10] ibid p.24  A study done by Alex Jordan
[11] ibid p.30

Sunday, September 22, 2019

The Remarkable Ministry Of Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892)

This paper was delivered in  the context of  the  Grace Preachers Conference (2019), sponsored by the Eastside Baptist Church in Windhoek 

Charles Haddon Spurgeon was born on 19 June 1834  in Kelvedon, Essex,  to John (1810-1902) and Eliza (Jarvis) Spurgeon. Spurgeon's father was an independent pastor[1].  For reasons of financial constraint, little Charles went to live with his grandparents in Stambourne when he was about 18 months old. His grandfather, James Spurgeon (1776-1864), was a popular preacher, who had served the same congregation for more than 50 years.  His grandmother gave him a penny for each hymn by Isaac Watts he could memorize. Charles was so good at memorizing that she  had to cut it down  to a half–penny. These memorized hymns turned up in his sermons years later.  Charles loved books from an early age. He read his grandfather’s theological books and fell in love with Puritan writings even before his conversion. In particular he loved the ‘Pilgrim's Progress’ by John Bunyan (1628-1688) and Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. In his autobiography  and sermons he quotes  from   Bunyan  many times.  His love for books lasted a lifetime. At his death, Spurgeon had 12,000 books in his personal library.[2]

When Spurgeon was only 10 years old, a visiting missionary, Richard Knill, said  that he would one day preach to thousands. This prophecy came true. [3]

This happened on the 6th of January 1850 when he was 15 years old and it is  best  repeated in his own words:   "It snowed so much, I could not go to the place where I had determined to go, and I was obliged to stop on the road, and it was a blessed stop to me - I found rather an obscure street, and turned down a court, and there was a little chapel. I wanted to go somewhere, but I did not know this place. It was the Primitive Methodists' chapel. I had heard of these people from many, and how they sang so loudly that they make people's heads ache; but that did not matter. I wanted to know how I might be saved, and if they made my head ache ever so much I did not care. So, sitting down, the service went on, but no minister came. At last a very thin looking man came into the pulpit and opened his Bible and read these words: "Look unto Me, and be ye saved all the ends of the earth." (Isa 45:22).  Just setting his eyes upon me, as if he knew me all by heart, he said: "Young man, you are in trouble." Well, I was, sure enough. Says he, "You will never get out of it unless you look to Christ." And then, lifting up his hands, he cried out, as only I think, a Primitive Methodist could do, "Look, look, look. It's only look!" said he. I saw at once the way of salvation. Oh, how I did leap for joy at that moment! I know not what else he said: I did not take much notice of it -- I was so possessed with that one thought. Like as when the brazen serpent was lifted up, they only looked and were healed. I had been waiting to do fifty things, but when I heard this word, "Look!" what a charming word it seemed to me. Oh, I looked until I could almost have looked my eyes away."[4]
He was baptized  in the river Lark, near Cambridge on the 3rd May 1850.

In Cambridge he joined St. Andrews Street Baptist Church, where famous Baptists like Robert Hall (1764-1831) and Robert Robinson (1735 – 1790) [5]  had been pastors.  There he taught  in the Sunday school and  also became a member of the Lay Preachers Association. On one Saturday he was assigned to take a service for a small group of people in the village of Teversham.  His first sermon  text came from 1 Peter 2:7. He preached so effectively that an old woman asked him, “How old are you?” Spurgeon said, “I am under sixty.”  “Yes, and under sixteen”, said the old lady. “Never mind my age”, replied the boy preacher, “think of Jesus  and His preciousness.[6]  Spurgeon was a Christ centred preacher all His life.

Soon he was taking other preaching appointments and one of the places where he began to preach regularly was the little Baptist chapel of Waterbeach, about 8 kilometres from Cambridge.  The members of this little church were so taken in with him that they called him   to be their pastor in 1851, when he was only 17 years old.  His very first sermon as pastor was from Matthew 1:21, “You shall call His name JESUS: for He shall save His people from their sins.” [7]  Notice again, his focus on the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. God used  him  greatly there. There was a marked  spiritual and moral transformation of  Waterbeach village,  which was  known for its  drunkenness and vices.[8]

In 1854, much to the dismay of his people at Waterbeach Baptist chapel, he was called to become the pastor of London's New Park Street Chapel.  The origins of this church go back to 1650. Many notable Baptist pastors  served there:  Benjamin Keach (1640-1704) who had a hand in producing the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith), Dr.John Gill (1697- 1771), a  great Baptist scholar,  and  Dr. John Rippon[9] (1751-1836).  New Park Street Baptist Chapel was one of three leading churches of the 113 churches belonging to the London Baptist Association.[10]

C. H. Spurgeon, then only 19 years old, was torn away  from the people who had come to love him so dearly in such a short time.  New Park Chapel, although it had a long and distinguished history,  and some famous ministers had,  by this time,  shrunk considerably. When Charles Spurgeon first preached there, only 80 people were present. There would have been more people  gathered at Waterbeach Baptist chapel  on the Lord’s day.[11]  But his preaching from James 1:17 was so well received, that many more came back to hear him in the evening, preaching from Revelation  14:5 - “They are without fault before the throne of God”. Not for a long time had the congregation heard Christ preached in this way.  His future wife, Susanna Thompson was present that night. She thought little of him at that time, because he looked more like a country bumpkin than a reverent preacher.

And thus a remarkable ministry began at the New Park Street Chapel in March 1854, a ministry which lasted for 38 years, until his death in 1892. The church grew very rapidly, from the outset, and in 1855 the membership had doubled in size. By 1856 the church membership was close to 900. [12] By 1875 the membership was 4500 and at his death in 1892 there were 5300 members on the roll.
It is hard to imagine that by the age of twenty-two, he was the most popular preacher in England, and remained so for the latter half of the 1800s. He became known as the "Prince of Preachers".


In 1855, Spurgeon baptized Susannah Thompson and, after proposing to her in her grandmother’s garden, he soon married her in 1856. Soon thereafter she gave birth to twin boys, Thomas and Charles. Both became preachers. Due to a chronic illness,  Susie, as he affectionately called her, was incapacitated and housebound  by the time she was 33 years old. Despite her health challenges she was a very active woman. She laid the foundation stone of the Pastors college which  he started and she  started her book fund, to supply  needy pastors with good books! By the time she died in 1903, through the Book Fund and the Pastor’s Aid Fund, Susie had raised enough money in her married life to give away over 200,000 books to impoverished pastors. She also provided funds, clothing, stationery, and other necessary items for them. She urged fellow Christians to rise up and help relieve the pathetic circumstances plaguing the homes of many faithful servants who struggled to survive. She was a wonderful encourager to Charles. At times when he came home exhausted and depressed she would read to him from Richard Baxter’s ‘The Reformed Pastor’.[13]

At this time the congregation had become so large that it could no longer be accommodated in the New Park Street Chapel. The church services moved to Exeter Hall, which could seat 5000 but soon also outgrew the place. From 1856 to 1859, the church met at the Royal Surrey Gardens music hall. It could accommodate 12,000 people – and Spurgeon preached to all without a microphone! Spurgeon's voice apparently had tremendous volume, remarkable clearness, and traveling power.  His style was devout, humorous, and earnest. It is said that he was once testing the acoustics  in this huge  building when  no one was around  and he shouted, “Behold the Lamb of God which takes away the sins of the world.” A workman was later to tell Spurgeon that he had heard the words while working in the rafters, and had been led to conversion.

The Surrey Gardens   Tragedy[14]

On the  19th October 1856, on a Sunday afternoon  ten to twelve thousand eager worshipers squeezed into the Hall when the doors opened at 6:00 p.m. Another ten thousand were outside unable to get in. It was the largest crowd ever gathered under a roof to hear this Baptist preacher.  
After a few words of greeting came a prayer and a hymn. Then, in his usual style, Spurgeon read the Scriptures with a running commentary. He always did this in his New Park Street services; it was a common procedure in many Baptist churches. The congregation sang another hymn and then Spurgeon began his long pastoral prayer. After the “Amen”, someone maliciously shouted, “Fire! Fire! Fire! The galleries are giving way! The place is falling! The place is falling!”  A terrible panic ensued as people  tried to escape the building, and in that process  they trampled upon each other, crushed one another, jumped over the rail of the galleries, while the banisters of one of the stairs gave way and many were injured.  Seven people  died  on that occasion and twenty-eight had been taken to a local hospital seriously injured.

Charles Spurgeon became so seriously depressed over the tragedy that he almost wished himself dead. The thought that he had in some sense  contributed to  the death and injury of several people absolutely devastated him. For many years he spoke of being moved to tears for no reason known to himself.
At this time  also  he was often slandered by the press, but instead of affecting his ministry, it made him even more popular with the common man. 

The Metropolitan Tabernacle

In the meantime the congregation had built the Metropolitan Tabernacle, which could seat 5,000. The building  was  dedicated on Monday afternoon, March 25th 1861, at which time he was only 25 years old. Spurgeon’s text on that occasion was  taken  from Acts 5:42, ”And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and  to preach Jesus Christ.” His opening words  at the dedication of the building, by way of an excerpt  were (and again notice the Christ centred, Christ exalting  preaching of Spurgeon):

“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.” [15]

For three weeks the opening services and meetings continued. The Metropolitan Tabernacle was the largest church building 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, as was common in many  evangelical churches of that day, but he always extended the invitation that if anyone was moved to seek 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.

The ‘Sword and the Trowel’  and his Books

Around 1865, Spurgeon began publishing a monthly magazine, entitled, The Sword and the Trowel, which he edited for 27 years. During the height of his ministry, Spurgeon spoke 10 to 12 times per week. He typically took just one page of notes into the pulpit and preached  for an average of 40 minutes. His sermons were written down by stenographers and then they were edited by him, and printed, and distributed throughout England weekly as well as being sent by telegraph to the United States  where they were  printed in many newspapers.

Spurgeon authored several books. Among his most read and used are, Lectures to My Students (1890) - a collection of talks delivered to the students of his Pastors' College. The Treasury of David (1869) was his best–selling devotional commentary on the Psalms.  This work  took him 20  years  to complete. His  sermons were  re–issued in book form. The first series, called “The New Park Street Pulpit”, consisted  of 6  Volumes and contains his sermons from 1855–1860. This was followed by the publication of  his 57–volume, known as  The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit”, sermons published from 1861 to 1917.  

Although throughout his career Spurgeon preached to large audiences, his greatest influence was by means of the written page -  his weekly published sermons. These sermons  amounted to sixty-three volumes.  By 1899 more than a hundred million copies of his sermons had been printed in twenty-three languages.
Today— more  than  a century after Spurgeon’s death—there is more material in print by Charles Haddon Spurgeon than by any other Christian author, living or dead.

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 acappella under his pastorate.

Charitable  Institutions

Many charitable institutions grew up around the Tabernacle, including an orphanage, a pastors' training college, and organizations for the distribution of religious tracts. Following the example of George Müller, 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.  

Downgrade Controversy

During the last decade of his life, Spurgeon fought against what he called the "Downgrade Movement", that is, the rise of higher criticism, liberalism, and rationalism within Baptist circles in England,  by which many pulpits  had begun to  "downgrade" the Bible,  and  therefore the principle of Sola Scriptura. He withdrew from the Baptist Union in 1887, remaining independent, but he retained his Baptist convictions until his death. Although he never sought controversy, he never shied from it. In his own words, "Controversy for the truth against the errors of the age is the peculiar duty of the  preacher."

Health and Suffering

Charles Spurgeon was not a healthy man. He suffered from frequent depression, rheumatism, gout, and Bright’s disease (a kidney disease) which sometimes forced him to take retreats for weeks at a time.  We noted too   that  Spurgeon's wife was often too ill to leave home to hear him preach.

Final years and Death

Spurgeon often recuperated at Menton, near Nice in  France, where he died on 31 January 1892 (aged 57). He lies buried at West Norwood Cemetery in London. When Spurgeon died, all of London mourned. Spurgeon lay in state at the Metropolitan Tabernacle for three days—as 60,000 mourners filed past. On the day of his burial, shops and pubs closed their doors. Flags flew at half-mast. As the hearse made its way to the cemetery, 100,000 people lined the way to witness a funeral procession that stretched more than 4 kilometres.
His son, Thomas, became the pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle sometime  after his father died.

Summary and Conclusion

Dr. Albert  Mohler writes [16]: His unprecedented ministry defies summarization … Before he was twenty a significant church in London called him as pastor. Within two years he was preaching to audiences of 10,000 people; at twenty-two he was the most popular preacher of his day. By the time he was twenty-seven, a church seating 6,000 people had been built to accommodate the crowds which flocked to hear him preach. For over thirty years he pastored the same church without decrease in power or appeal.” What can explain the power and substance of this ministry? Spurgeon was, it must be granted, a particularly effective preacher. His voice was often described as “silvery” in its effect and intonation. His voice was powerful enough to be heard clearly by as many as 20,000 persons without amplification. His voice was heard by an estimated 10 million persons during his ministry — all before the invention of radio and television.

His voice was, though unique, not the secret of his pulpit power.  There were many other Victorian preachers that were gifted with powerful voice-boxes and gifts of  communication.  The popular appeal of Spurgeon’s preaching could be traced, in part, to his unique method of preaching messages, which were both rich in substance and clear in presentation. 
·        He spoke with unusual directness and used references to everyday life.
·        He spoke with utter  conviction.
·        His preaching was Christ centered. He said, “I take my text and make a beeline to the cross". 
·       He would often preach as many as five to seven sermons a week, but the Sunday sermons at the Metropolitan Tabernacle consumed most of his energies in preparation. Spurgeon would seek texts for his Sunday sermons throughout the week, seeking through prayer, Bible reading, and conversation with friends (especially  with  Susannah) to find the most appropriate text for Sunday’s sermons.
·        On Saturday night, he would  excuse  himself away from family and friends by six o’clock and remain in his study until the morning message was in outline form. From that outline, Spurgeon would preach an extemporaneous message lasting from forty-five minutes to an hour, on average.
·        He always preached  with  the expectation that people should be converted  under his ministry. A student at  the  pastor’s college once asked Spurgeon how he could focus more clearly on bringing unbelievers into the faith. “Do you expect converts every time you preach?”, Spurgeon asked. The student quickly retorted, “Of course not.” “That is why you have none,”  said Spurgeon.
·        Spurgeon trusted that God would use the substance of his message to penetrate the hearts of his hearers. He warned his students to evaluate their sermons by content — and not by structure or design. He said,  “To divide a sermon well may be a very useful art, but how if there is nothing to divide? … The grandest discourse ever delivered is an ostentatious failure if the doctrine of the grace of God be absent from it; it sweeps over men’s heads like a cloud, but it distributes no rain upon the thirsty earth; and therefore the remembrance of it to souls taught wisdom by an experience of pressing need is one of disappointment, or worse.” “Brethren,” he pleaded, “weigh your sermons. Do not retail them by the yard, but deal them out by the pound. Set no store by the quantity of words which you utter, but try to be esteemed for the quality of your matter.” 
·        Spurgeon strongly held to Calvinist theology, even as he extended  the free offer of the gospel to all.  When he was asked how he could reconcile his understanding of  divine election and his evangelistic appeal, Spurgeon retorted quickly: “I do not try to reconcile friends.”

That quality of vigor and vitality produced one of the most remarkable ministries of the church. Upon Spurgeon’s death, a Southern Baptist Pastor, B. H. Carroll  delivered an address celebrating his British colleague’s life and ministry. He said, “With whom among men can you compare him? He combined the preaching power of Jonathan Edwards and Whitefield with the organizing power of Wesley, and the energy, fire, and courage of Luther. In many respects he was most like Luther. In many, most like Paul.”

[1] Independent here means  that he did not belong to the established church (i.e. Anglican). He could have been  a Baptist, Congregationalist, Presbyterian or Methodist
[2] William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri purchased Spurgeon's  library for £500  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.
[3] C.H. Spurgeon: The early years,p.27
[4]  This  is an abbreviated  testimony. The best account of his conversion can be found in his Autobiography, Vol. 1,  The Early Years , Banner of Truth  (1976),  Chapter 7, p. 79ff
[5] Robert Robinson: author of the hymn, “Come thou Fount of every blessing” ; influential Baptist scholar who made a lifelong study of the antiquity and history of Christian Baptism.
[6] Ernest Bacon: Spurgeon -  Heir of the Puritans, p.29
[7]  Autobiography:   Ch. 15, p. 191;the outline of the sermon is found  on pp. 195/6
[8] Autobiography:  Banner of Truth, Chapters 15-18
[9] John Rippon had a long ministry there, for 63 years. Frequently, before his death in 1836 he would pray for a successor who would be used to restore the church to brighter days. Three ministers came and went   and the congregation shrank  from about 1200 to a mere 200 (Autobiography,p. 262)
[10] Ernest  Bacon:  Spurgeon - Heir of the Puritans , p.36
[11] Autobiography:  p.263 (see also footnote)
[12] Autobiography: p.335 footnote
[13] Ernest Bacon: Spurgeon -  Heir of the Puritans, p.46
[14] This section which I  have abbreviated  is quoted from,  "Spurgeon, Prince of Preachers", by  Lewis Drummond
[15] Ernest Bacon: Spurgeon - Heir of the Puritans, p. 67

A Tribute to Pastor Irving Steggles

This tribute was written by Pastor Ronald Kalifungwa of the Lusaka Baptist Church in Zambia. It is reprinted here with permission. Irv...