Who is Charles Spurgeon?
Charles Haddon (C.H.) Spurgeon (1834 –1892) was a British Particular Baptist preacher. Spurgeon remains highly influential among Christians of different denominations, among whom he is known as the "Prince of Preachers".
He was a strong figure in the Reformed Baptist tradition, defending the Church in agreement with the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith understanding, and opposing the liberal and pragmatic theological tendencies in the Church of his day.
In his lifetime, Spurgeon preached to around 10,000,000 people, often up to 10 times each week at different places. Spurgeon was the pastor of the congregation of the New Park Street Chapel (later the Metropolitan Tabernacle) in London for 38 years. He was part of several controversies with the Baptist Union of Great Britain and later had to leave the denomination.
In 1857, he started a charity organization which is now called Spurgeon's and works globally. He also founded Spurgeon's College, which was named after him posthumously.
Spurgeon was a prolific author of many types of works including sermons, an autobiography, commentaries, books on prayer, devotionals, magazines, poetry, hymns and more. Many sermons were transcribed as he spoke and were translated into many languages during his lifetime. Spurgeon produced powerful sermons of penetrating thought and precise exposition.
His oratory skills held his listeners spellbound in the Metropolitan Tabernacle and many Christians have discovered Spurgeon's messages to be among the best in Christian literature.
Born in Kelvedon, Essex, Spurgeon's conversion to Christianity came on 6 January 1850, at age 15. On his way to a scheduled appointment, a snow storm forced him to cut short his intended journey and to turn into a Primitive Methodist chapel in Colchester where "God opened his heart to the salvation message."
The text that moved him was Isaiah 45:22 – "Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth, for I am God, and there is none else." Later that year on 4 April 1850, he was admitted to the church at Newmarket.
His baptism followed on 3 May in the river Lark, at Isleham. Later that same year he moved to Cambridge, where he later became a Sunday school teacher. He preached his first sermon in the winter of 1850–51 in a cottage at Teversham while filling in for a friend.
From the beginning of his ministry his style and ability were considered to be far above average. In the same year, he was installed as pastor of the small Baptist church at Waterbeach, Cambridgeshire, where he published his first literary work, a Gospel tract written in 1853.
New Park Street Chapel
In April 1854, after preaching three months on probation and just four years after his conversion, Spurgeon, then only 20, was called to the pastorate of London's famed New Park Street Chapel, Southwark (formerly pastored by the Particular Baptists Benjamin Keach, theologian John Gill and John Rippon).
This was the largest Baptist congregation in London at the time, although it had dwindled in numbers for several years. Spurgeon found friends in London among his fellow pastors, such as William Garrett Lewis of Westbourne Grove Church, an older man who along with Spurgeon went on to found the London Baptist Association.
Within a few months of Spurgeon's arrival at Park Street, his ability as a preacher made him famous. The following year the first of his sermons in the "New Park Street Pulpit" was published. Spurgeon's sermons were published in printed form every week and had a high circulation. By the time of his death in 1892, he had preached nearly 3,600 sermons and published 49 volumes of commentaries, sayings, anecdotes, illustrations and devotions.
Immediately following his fame was criticism.
The first attack in the press appeared in the Earthen Vessel in January 1855. His preaching, although not revolutionary in substance, was a plain-spoken and direct appeal to the people, using the Bible to provoke them to consider the teachings of Jesus Christ. Critical attacks from the media persisted throughout his life.
The congregation quickly outgrew their building, and moved to Exeter Hall, then to Surrey Music Hall. In these venues Spurgeon frequently preached to audiences numbering more than 10,000. At 22, Spurgeon was the most popular preacher of the day.
On 8 January 1856, Spurgeon married Susannah, daughter of Robert Thompson of Falcon Square, London, by whom he had twin sons, Charles and Thomas born on 20 September 1856. At the end of that year, tragedy struck on 19 October 1856, as Spurgeon was preaching at the Surrey Gardens Music Hall for the first time. Someone in the crowd yelled, "Fire!"
The ensuing panic and stampede left several dead. Spurgeon was emotionally devastated by the event and it had a sobering influence on his life. He struggled against depression for many years and spoke of being moved to tears for no reason known to himself.
On 18 March 1861, the congregation moved permanently to the newly constructed purpose-built Metropolitan Tabernacle at Elephant and Castle, Southwark, seating 5000 people with standing room for another 1000. The Metropolitan Tabernacle was the largest church edifice of its day and can be considered a precursor to the modern "megachurch".
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, but he always extended the invitation that if anyone was moved to seek an interest in 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. He wrote his sermons out fully before he preached, but what he carried up to the pulpit was a note card with an outline sketch. Stenographers would take down the sermon as it was delivered and Spurgeon would then have opportunity to make revisions to the transcripts the following day for immediate publication. His weekly sermons, which sold for a penny each, were widely circulated and still remain one of the all-time best selling series of writings published in history.
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 a cappella under his pastorate.
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. The orphanage became Spurgeon's Child Care which still exists today.
On the death of missionary David Livingstone in 1873, a discolored and much-used copy of one of Spurgeon's printed sermons, "Accidents, Not Punishments," was found among his few possessions much later, along with the handwritten comment at the top of the first page: "Very good, D.L." He had carried it with him throughout his travels in Africa. It was returned to Spurgeon and treasured by him.
A controversy among the Baptists flared in 1887 with Spurgeon's first "Down-grade" article, published in The Sword & the Trowel. In the ensuing "Downgrade Controversy," the Metropolitan Tabernacle became disaffiliated from the Baptist Union, effectuating Spurgeon's congregation as the world's largest self-standing church. Contextually the Downgrade Controversy was British Baptists' equivalent of hermeneutic tensions which were starting to divide Protestant fellowships in general.
The Controversy took its name from Spurgeon's use of the term "Downgrade" to describe certain other Baptists' outlook toward the Bible (i.e., they had "downgraded" the Bible and the principle of sola scriptura). Spurgeon alleged that an incremental creeping of the Graf-Wellhausen hypothesis, Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, and other concepts was weakening the Baptist Union and reciprocally explaining the success of his own evangelistic efforts.
The standoff even split his pupils trained at the College, each side accusing the other of raising issues which did not need to be raised.
Final years and death
Spurgeon's wife was often too ill to leave home to hear him preach. Spurgeon also suffered ill health toward the end of his life, afflicted by a combination of rheumatism, gout and Bright's disease. He gave up smoking his beloved cigars due to failing health and, for different reasons, had abstained from alcohol in accord with the burgeoning temperance movement in England.
He often recuperated at Menton, near Nice, France, where he died on 31 January 1892. Spurgeon was survived by his wife and sons. His remains were buried at West Norwood Cemetery in London, where the tomb is still visited by admirers. His son Tom became the pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle after his father died.
- "Charles Spurgeon" Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (with minor edits), under GFDL.