“A man who has really within him the inspiration of the Holy Ghost calling him to preach, cannot help it – he must preach. As fire within his bones, so will that influence be, until it blazes forth…he must preach if he has the call of Heaven.” (Spurgeon’s Autobiography)
It is clear that some men and women are set apart by God to accomplish great things for His kingdom, and Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892) was such a man. What an amazing servant of God Spurgeon was! It’s mind-boggling to think how many people are in Heaven today as a result of being touched directly by his ministry during his lifetime, not to mention since he left this world. God providentially placed young Charles in a family that exposed him to the things of God and provided him opportunities for learning at an early age. God also gave him the mind and temperament to become a great leader and teacher of others. As a little boy, he was captured by Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress and Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. He was reading at a very young age, and his biographer, Arnold Dallimore, writes that,
by the time he was nine or ten he was reading and understanding something of such mighty men as John Owens, Richard Sibbes, John Flavel, and Matthew Henry. He was already grasping the meaning of much of their theological argument and was reasoning out the pros and cons within his own mind.
Reading about young Charles brings to mind the picture of the boy Jesus as he was sitting in the synagogue discussing the scriptures with the teachers. Charles was a bright, precocious, and imaginative boy, but also kind and sensitive. He had been feeling the weight of his sinfulness, and at the age of 15, he was listening to a sermon and heard the words of Christ, “Come unto me and be ye saved.” As the preacher exhorted his listeners, “Look to Christ and live,” he immediately felt the chains of his sin fall away and knew that he had received the forgiveness of Christ and was baptized six month later. He grew and matured in his faith and understanding quickly and began a ministry to neighboring villages, visiting people, giving out tracts and sharing the gospel. His speaking abilities were quickly recognized when he began teaching Sunday School, and was called upon to preach as a guest preacher at another church.
When Charles preached this first sermon at the age of just 16, it became clear to him, and to those who heard it, that this was to be God’s calling for his life. The following year, after his second Sunday preaching at another village church, he was invited by the congregation to come and be their regular pastor. He was only 17 years old. Two years later, he was called to fill the pulpit at the New Park Street Church in London, which was without a pastor. The chapel, one of the largest in Britain, was located in a poor and dirty part of the city. The congregation itself was also spiritually impoverished, and its number depleted, and young Spurgeon was exactly what they needed to breathe life into the congregation, nourish and build them up both spiritually and numerically. He ministered there for three months on a trial basis, and it was there that he would continue to serve as pastor for the remainder of his life. The church attendance and membership grew at such a rate that two years after coming to New Park Street it was decided that piece of property be purchased on which to build a new, larger church, which was to be called The Metropolitan Tabernacle. The first service in the new church building was held on March 31, 1861. Spurgeon was just 26 years old at the time, and since he began his ministry, his congregation had grown from less than 100 to 6,000!
To describe at length all the aspects of Charles Spurgeon’s work and ministry over the course of the next 30 years is quite an undertaking. Spurgeon’s tireless efforts in kingdom work extended to pastoral training, evangelism, church planting, the writing and publication of books, sermons, letters, and a monthly magazine, the sale and distribution of Bibles and Christian literature, and the general education to improve the employment status and living conditions in the local community.
One of the first ways Spurgeon’s ministry expanded was in the training of young pastors. Such was the zeal with which Spurgeon preached that he inspired others towards the same calling. Dallimore explains,
In no time, other young men, moved by the spiritual fervor of Spurgeon’s preaching, expressed their desire to have the same training. They too were zealous for God…but were sorely in need of education. In the face of this appeal Spurgeon realized God was placing upon him a heavy responsibility. He had not sought it, but it was now evident that he must found and maintain a ministerial training school, with all the burden and yet all the joy such an enterprise could bring…Spurgeon personally undertook the entire financial responsibility, depending largely on the income received from the sale of his sermons and books.
The Pastor’s College offered courses and even board for free to any students accepted who could not afford to pay anything, upon passing the interview process. As pastors became trained, they were sent out to revive dead churches and start new ones. Meanwhile, evening classes were added to help the undereducated and unemployed improve their living situation, and later expanded to include a home for elderly women and an orphanage. Upon the celebration of Spurgeon’s 25th year at The Metropolitan Tabernacle, the number of institutions, organizations and ministries started by Spurgeon was numbered to be 66!
A little later into his ministry, Charles’ wife Susannah (they were married in 1856) began a ministry of her own: a literature distribution ministry. Spurgeon’s Lectures to my Students was published as a book in 1875, his wife commented that she wished she could get a copy into the hands of every minister in England. Her husband encouraged her to do it, so she worked out a budget that would allow her to set aside money from her housekeeping funds for this purpose. After sending out the first 100 copies, word got out, and donations started coming in for more books and literature. This distribution soon extended to other countries and continued for over 20 years, giving Mrs. Spurgeon a useful ministry in spite of struggling with poor health during much of her life.
The Metropolitan Tabernacle would grow and thrive as a church under Spurgeon for about 30 years. Dalimore writes,
The affections of the members [of the Metropolitan Tabernacle] were entwined around the Tabernacle and its activities. The services of many a church may prove boring, but not so those of this great church. With grand delight people went up from what was often the drudgery of daily life to the house of the Lord on Sunday mornings and Sunday evenings and at least two evenings of the week, and there their hearts were lifted, their minds informed, and their souls inspired…
For hundreds of persons the Tabernacle was the center of their existence. The message they heard there had been the means of transforming their lives, remaking their homes, saving them from sin, and giving them new affections and new joys, and they loved the place and especially love d the man whom God had used in bringing it all about.
Some preachers are tremendous orators from the pulpit, some are great theologians and scholars, and others are wonderful shepherds with a heart for their people. Spurgeon was all of these and more. But it must be remembered that he was none of these if it wasn’t for the work of God in his heart and life, and the movement and blessing of the Holy Spirit in His ministry. And his life was not without challenges and suffering; he personally dealt with bouts of depression, exhaustion, and ill health, but generally was a warm, compassionate, and happy man. I enjoyed the chapter that described Spurgeon’s personal character traits and habits.
If you have been blessed by Spurgeon’s sermons or writings, you will likewise be inspired by this biography of his life. And if you are not familiar with Charles Spurgeon, I strongly encourage you to get acquainted with him and delve into his works! Over 3500 of his sermons have been published in 63 volumes, in collections designated by the church from which they were preached. A few books that I’ve read and personally recommend include:
- All of Grace
- Morning and Evening
- Counsel for Christian Workers (I believe this is taken from Lectures to my Students)
- Spiritual Warfare in a Believer’s Life and others in the Charles Spurgeon Christian Living Classics series (compiled from Spurgeon’s sermons)
- Daily Treasure: 366 Daily Readings from The Treasury of David (Spurgeon’s commentary on the Psalms)
Many of Spurgeon’s works are available to download for free at Spurgeon Gems. Other recommended books about Charles and Susannah Spurgeon include:
- The Forgotten Spurgeon by Iain Murray
- Charles Haddon Spurgeon’s Autobiography
- Yours, Till Heaven: The Untold Love Story of Charles and Susie Spurgeon by Ray Rhodes Jr.
- Susie: The Life and Legacy of Suannah Spurgeon by Ray Rhodes Jr.
- The Spurgeon Center (spurgeon.org)
- The Life & Times of Charles H. Spurgeon (ChristianityToday.com)
- 10 Things You Should Know about Charles Spurgeon (Crossway.org)
- Movie: “The People’s Preacher” (2010) (Youtube)
Have you read any books or sermons by Spurgeon that have been a blessing to you?