Cornerstone

​“Charles Spurgeon is arguably the greatest preacher of all time who isn’t Jesus.”

Charles Spurgeon is arguably the greatest preacher of all time who isn’t Jesus, and certainly of the 19th century. He is well known as the “Prince of Preachers” and the “last of the Puritans”. “He preached over 600 times before he was 20 years old. His sermons sold about 20,000 copies a week and were translated into 20 languages” (Piper, Charles Spurgeon). “I find that Mr. Spurgeon must have preached to no less than ten millions of people. During his pastorate he must have received into the communion of the Church between ten and twelve thousand converts” (Carlile, Charles Spurgeon, 13). Not only did he preach, but he also lived out everything he taught others from Scripture.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon was born on June 19, 1834, in Kelvedon, Essex, England as the first of seventeen children. He spent much of his early childhood at the cottage where his grandparents lived in Stambourne. It was here that Charles began to delve into the works of the Puritans. His father and grandfather were both pastors of their own small congregations, and so Spurgeon grew up in the Evangelical faith. As he was exposed to more aspects of Christianity he became increasingly aware of his own sinful nature. He understood completely how God’s justice must be upheld, and he knew that his sin deserved the full brunt of it. He searched everywhere for the solution to his eternal problem. He attended church services at a multitude of the parishes in the area, yearning to hear the answer to his sinfulness.

“On Sunday morning, January 6, 1850, Charles, age fifteen, was walking to church in the little town of Colchester when a snowstorm drove him into a small Primitive Methodist church. Only a dozen people were in attendance, and even the minister could not arrive. A reluctant lay preacher stepped forward to expound Isaiah 45:22: ‘Look unto Me, and be saved, all the ends of the earth.’ This unassuming figure exhorted the small congregation to look by faith to Jesus Christ alone. Fixing his eyes on young Spurgeon, he urged: ‘Young man, look to Jesus Christ. Look! Look! Look! You have nothing to do but to look and live.’ Like an arrow from heaven’s bow, the gospel hit its intended target” (Lawson, Gospel Focus, 5).

Not long after he was saved, the new believer sought to be baptized by immersion. He had learned a bit of Greek, and could not understand how the word “baptize” could mean just to sprinkle water on one’s head as his family believed. It was due to this revelation that he became a Baptist. “My mother said to me, one day, ‘Ah, Charles! I often prayed the Lord to make you a Christian, but I never asked that you might become a Baptist.’ I could not resist the temptation to reply, ‘Ah, mother! the Lord has answered your prayer with His usual bounty, and given you exceeding abundantly above what you asked or thought’” (Spurgeon, Autobiography, 69).

His first preaching assignment came as a surprise to the young convert. He and another man were told to travel to a nearby town, but both assumed that the other was to preach. Spurgeon couldn’t bear to think that the people would go without hearing a message, so he came up with a message on the way and taught it when they arrived. So it was that Charles Spurgeon’s sermons began in a small hut in the presence of fifteen or so townspeople. He continued to travel the countryside, asking to hold services in cottages or preaching in the open air when no venue was available. Spurgeon was learning to preach in the best way possible: by preaching. 

Within a short time, word about this young preacher had spread. He received an invitation to pastor at a church five miles from his hometown in Waterbeach. He was seventeen years old. The town of Waterbeach was known for the drunkenness and profanity of its people, but Spurgeon’s preaching drew most of the city near and it was transformed by the power of the gospel.

Because of his youth Spurgeon was often criticized by older preachers, but the blossoming pastor didn’t let them get under his skin. He often used Scripture to open their eyes to their own arrogance. In fact, one such instance led to a life-changing opportunity:

“In November 1853 he spoke at a meeting of the Cambridge Sunday School Union. He was followed by two other ministers, each of whom referred belittlingly to his youthfulness. One, in fact, was particularly nasty and stated, ‘It is a pity boys do not adopt the Scriptural practice of tarrying at Jericho till their beards are grown, before they try to instruct their seniors.’ When the speaker had concluded Spurgeon secured the chairman’s permission and made a reply. ‘I reminded the audience,’ he says, ‘that those who were bidden to remain at Jericho were not boys, but full-grown men whose beards had been shaved off by their enemies, as the greatest indignity they could be made to suffer, and who were, therefore, ashamed to return home until their beards had grown again. I add that the true parallel to their case could be found in a minister who, through falling into open sin, had disgraced his calling and needed to go into seclusion…till his character had to some extent been restored.’ Spurgeon knew nothing of the man who had attacked him, but he had unwittingly described his condition—the poor man had fallen into sin, and, since his behavior was known to the people, one can but imagine his embarrassment” (Dallimore, Spurgeon, 39).

Impressed by Spurgeon at that meeting, a man named George Gould contacted his friend William Olney, a deacon at the New Park Street Baptist Church in London, and strongly suggested that they considered filling their pastoral vacancy with the young preacher. The deacon agreed, and a letter was sent inviting Charles to come and preach. Spurgeon’s immediate response was humility. “He thought there had been some mistake when he first received the letter of invitation; he did not think that this long established church could actually be interested in hearing such a young, country lad as himself” (Ross, Pictorial Biography, 34).

Spurgeon preached his first sermon on James 1:17, and was continuously asked to return by the deacons. He would not agree to fully serve as the church’s pastor until they had given each other a trial period of three months. They agreed, and so he moved to London at the age of nineteen. The congregation loved him so much that they cut the probationary period short and called a special meeting to offer him the position fully and formally. Spurgeon gladly accepted, but asked that they would continually pray for him, as he was young and inexperienced. Attendance at the church increased dramatically in the first months that Spurgeon preached. Every Sunday, the building was packed full, with people standing outside to listen through the open windows.

Since the congregation had far outgrown the original church building, Spurgeon began preaching in the Surrey Music Hall on October 19, 1856. The building held 10,000 people, but it was still packed full. On March 18, 1861, the congregation moved permanently to the newly built Metropolitan Tabernacle. This new structure seated 5,000 people and had standing room for another 1,000. This is the place where Spurgeon would finish out the rest of his ministry.

On January 31, 1892, the “Prince of Preachers” was taken to his eternal home. It is estimated that over 100,000 people attended memorial services for Spurgeon in London.

His impact on the Kingdom of God is still expanding today, and a few of the ways that stand out are:

If you are interested in learning about other people that God raised up to lead the Church after the Reformation, I will be teaching a free class on August 12th from 1-3pm discussing just that! You can register for this FREE seminar below.

 

 

Sources:

Carlile, J. C. Charles Spurgeon: The Great Orator. Abridged and edited by Dan Harmon. Uhrichsville, Ohio: Barbour Publishing, 1995.

Dallimore, Arnold. Spurgeon.  Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1988.

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

Piper, John. Charles Spurgeon: Preaching Through Adversity. sermon presented at the Bethlehem Conference for Pastors. Bethlehem Baptist Church. Minneapolis, MN. January 31, 1995.

Ross, Bob L. A Pictorial Biography of C.H. Spurgeon. Pasadena, Texas: Pilgrim Publications, 1974.

Spurgeon, Charles H. C.H. Spurgeon’s Autobiography. Pasadena, Texas: Pilgrim Publications, 1992.

Dustin Platte

Dustin is a member of Cornerstone and serves the church as a servant minister.

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