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]

Conversion
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".

Marriage
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. 
·       Spurgeon spoke with unusual directness and used references to everyday life.
·        He spoke with utter  conviction.
·     His preaching was utterly 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  https://www.reformedreader.org/spurgeon/mhrsg.htm
[15] Ernest Bacon: Spurgeon - Heir of the Puritans, p. 67

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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 Windhoe...