Aug 2, 2010 1895
Charles Spurgeon —1834-1892
If ever there was a parallel to Whitefield in oratorical skills and gospel zeal it was Spurgeon. Even today, more people around the world read Spurgeon than any other religious writer. His ministry embraced the world, though he, himself, rarely travelled further beyond the British Isles than across the English Channel. American newspapers printed his sermons, and multitudes across Europe, Canada, and Australia learned the gospel of justification by faith from the eloquent London preacher.
He founded a Pastor’s College, an orphanage, temperance and clothing societies, a Pioneer Mission, and a Colportage Association. During his thirty-eight year London ministry he added to the church almost fifteen thousand new members.
It is doubtful whether any minister who ever lived (except Calvin) toiled as Spurgeon did. His labours were almost unremitting (though he strove unsuccessfully to preserve a weekly day for a reprieve), and partly responsible for his frequent bouts of illness and early death. There are about one hundred books that bear his name as author. Many of these were compiled from his regular preaching.
He was an evangelical Calvinist, but this never hindered his free offers of grace. A bell-like voice, a mastery of language and his keen sense of humour, contributed to his fascination as a preacher. Converted through the ministry of a lay preacher when only fifteen, he was energized by the gospel to personally present justification by faith to congregations across England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and Western Europe. Over several years he averaged eight to twelve outside services a week, all over the Empire, and Holland and France. His London church so grew that a larger building was needed, and the Metropolitan Tabernacle was completed in 1861.
Through his early years of ministry he faced a tide of slander and vilification, including bitter criticisms by fellow ministers who were jealous of his popularity. In 1865 he preached to approximately twelve thousand people in the Surrey Music Hall. Mischief-makers, without conscience, caused a panic by shouting ‘Fire!’ where no fire was. Seven people died in the confusion, and many were seriously injured. Spurgeon’s grief almost cost him his reason. Only the unceasing ministry of the Holy Spirit restored him, but he bore the emotional and mental scars till his death. ‘Giant Despair’ became his recurring enemy.
From November 1856 to December 1859 ten thousand people crowded the Surrey Hall meetings. London cabbies shouted, ‘Over the river to Charlie’. After the Tabernacle was completed, an average of five thousand people assembled every Sunday, morning and evening. Once a quarter he asked his own people to stay away that others might come. And come they did, jamming the vast Tabernacle. When the Tabernacle was being refurbished in 1867 Spurgeon preached in the Agricultural Hall, Islington with twenty thousand in average attendance. The elite came, including Gladstone, Ruskin, Shaftesbury, Queen Victoria, along with famous globetrotters, statesmen, soldiers, authors, artists and industrial captains. Richard Ellsworth Day in his biography, The Shadow of the Broad Brim, adds to the list: ‘rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief; factory girls, artisans, street women, ne’er-do-wells and drunks; farmers, carter’s boys, shopkeepers and dairy maids.’
But pre-eminently his listeners were the common people. In a letter Spurgeon wrote: ‘The Lord Mayor, a Jew, has been … the Chief Commissioner of Police also … but better still, some thieves, thimbleriggers (a shell game), harlots; … and some are now in the church.’ By the time of his death Baptists had become a world force. A well known Doctor of Divinity wrote a pamphlet about Spurgeon in which the following appeared—words addressed first to Spurgeon, and next to every minister:
‘You have strong faith, and as the result, intense earnestness. In this lies, as in the hair of Samson, the secret of your power. Go on, my brother, and may God give you a still larger amount of ministerial success! “Preach the Word,” the old theology, that “glorious gospel of the blessed God,” for which apostles laboured, and martyrs died. In all your teachings, continue to exhibit the Cross of Christ as occupying, in the Christian revelation, like the sun in our planetary system, the very centre, and imparting to all their light and heat. Tell the people that every doctrine, duty, or promise of the Scriptures stands intimately connected with the Cross, and from that connection, derives its meaning and value to us. Thus exhibiting the whole system of Divine Truth in its harmony and symmetry, what a glorious prospect of honour, happiness, and usefulness presents itself to your view!’ (W. Joseph Harrald, The Autobiography of Charles H. Spurgeon 1854-1860, p. 79).
Here are some fragments from his preaching:
‘My Lord wore my crown of thorns for me, why should I wear it too? He took our griefs and carried our sorrows that we might be a happy people and be able to obey the command, “Take no thought for the morrow.” Ours is the crown of loving kindness and tender mercies and we wear it when we cast all our care on him who careth for us. Take but a thorn out of this crown and use it as a lancet and it will let out the hot blood of passion and abate the fever of pride. It is a wonderful remedy for swelling flesh and grievous boils of sin. He who sees Jesus crowned with thorns will loathe to look upon self, except it be though tears of contrition.
No evil can happen to me, seeming ill is but another form of benediction. If all events shall aid me, what matters in what dress they come, whether of scarlet and fine linen, or sackcloth and ashes … the bitter is sweet and medicine is food. Courage, ye shall meet naught but friends between this and the pearly gates, or if you meet an enemy it will be a conquered one … the winds which toss the waves of the Atlantic of your life are all sure to waft your ship safely into the desired haven. Every wind that rises, whether soft or fierce, is a divine monsoon hurrying in the same direction as your soul’s desires. … God walks in the tempest and rules the storm.’
Spurgeon’s first words at the Tabernacle were these:
‘I would propose that the subject of the Ministry in 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; I do not hesitate to take the name of Baptist; but if I am asked what is my creed, I reply, “It is Jesus Christ.” My venerated 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, 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.’
And now his last words just before his death:
‘If you wear the livery of Christ, you will find him so meek and lowly of heart that you will find rest unto your souls. He is the most magnanimous of captains. There never was his like among the choicest of princes. He is always to be found in the thickest part of the battle. When the wind blows cold he always takes the bleak side of the hill. The heaviest end of the Cross lies ever on his shoulders. If he bids us carry a burden, he carries it also. If there is anything that is gracious, generous, kind and tender, yea, lavish and superabundant in love, you will always find it in him. His service is life, peace, joy. Oh, that you would enter on it at once! God help you to enlist under the banner of Jesus Christ.’
Recommended is the two-volume autobiography The Early Years (Volume 1); and The Full Harvest (Volume 2). —Available from Koorong bookstore.
* This article is an extract from Dr. Ford’s recent book, The Coming Worldwide Calvary: Christ verses Antichrist (2009), pp. 137 140.