Spurgeon, Charles Haddon
Charles Haddon Spurgeon
With no formal theological training, British Baptist preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834–1892) became the most popular minister of the nineteenth century, regularly attracting crowds of 6,000 each Sunday to his London – based Metropolitan Tabernacle church. In the history of Christianity, no other cleric is more widely read—after Biblical ones—than Spurgeon. He has more material available to readers than any other Christian author, dead or alive.
Born to Family of Ministers
Charles Haddon Spurgeon was born June 19, 1834, in a small cottage in Kelvedon, Essex, England, to John and Eliza (Jarvis) Spurgeon. Before he was a year old, the family moved to Colchester. Spurgeon's father was a minister, who served independent congregations in the area. John and Eliza Spurgeon had 17 children, eight of whom survived infancy. Due to financial constraints, Spurgeon went to live with his grandparents in Stambourne when he was about 18 months old. His grandfather, James Spurgeon, was a popular preacher, who served a congregation in Stambourne for more than 50 years.
Spurgeon grew up in the Stambourne parsonage during a time when England had a "window" tax, whereby homes were taxed by the number of windows they had, the theory being that more expensive houses had more windows. As a child, Spurgeon could not understand why the light of the sun was being taxed. He looked upon the blacked–out windows and darkened rooms with awe.
On Sunday mornings, Spurgeon was put in the parlor with his grandfather as he prepared his sermon. No doubt, this practice helped Spurgeon become well–acquainted with the Christian gospels. In an effort to keep Spurgeon occupied so he would not interrupt his grandfather, he was given a copy of The Evangelical Magazine to read. Years later, Spurgeon's picture and profile appeared in the publication.
After six years, Spurgeon returned to his family in Colchester, though he continued to spend long holidays with his grandparents. Spurgeon's grandmother also influenced his religious studies by offering him a penny for each Isaac Watts hymn he could memorize. Spurgeon was so good she reduced the fee to a half–penny and he still emptied her purse. These memorized hymns turned up in his sermons years later.
Developed Love of Reading
As a youngster, Spurgeon spent a lot of time exploring his grandfather's parsonage and church and found several secret places to hide and escape from life. His favorite getaway was in the attic, in a secret little room he stumbled upon one day that had once served as the minister's den before the windows were covered up. In this dark, little space, Spurgeon discovered countless books and fell in love with Puritan theology.
The Puritans were sixteenth and seventeenth century Protestants who wanted the Church of England to be stricter in its morals. Spurgeon particularly loved Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan, a Puritan who had been jailed for his beliefs. Over the course of his lifetime, Spurgeon read the book more than 100 times. The attic also contained books on Scriptural theology and Christian martyrs. Reading them provided Spurgeon with a solid theological background.
In the attic, Spurgeon fell in love with reading. In his autobiography, posted on the Spurgeon Archive website, Spurgeon described the impact reading had on him: "Out of that darkened room I fetched those old authors when I was yet a youth, and never was I happier than when in their company." This fondness for books lasted a lifetime. By the time he was an adult, Spurgeon read an average of six books a week and was well–read in Puritan theology, natural history, and Latin and Victorian literature. At his death, Spurgeon had 12,000 books in his personal library.
When Spurgeon was about 14, he attended the All Saints' Agricultural College, later St. Augustine's, in Maidstone. Spurgeon later attended a school in Cambridge. He was very serious about his studies. In his biography on Spurgeon, posted on the Spurgeon Archive website, author W. Y. Fullerton stated that later in life, Spurgeon gave a sermon on young men and mentioned his own studiousness: "I might have been a young man at twelve, but at sixteen I was a sober, respectable Baptist parson, sitting in the chair and ruling and governing the church. At that period of my life, when I ought perhaps to have been in the playground, developing my legs and sinews . . . I spent my time at my books, studying and working hard, sticking to it, very much to the pleasure of my schoolmaster."
Heeded God's Calling at 15
Though Spurgeon was the son and grandson of ministers, as a child he never considered the vocation. His entry into the ministry can be blamed on serendipity. It happened in January 1850. Seeking refuge from a severe snowstorm, Spurgeon ducked into a Methodist chapel in Colchester. He was 15. The snow had kept the minister from the service, but a parishioner was reading from Isaiah 45: "Look upon me and be saved." The man turned to Spurgeon and told him he looked miserable and would continue to be unless he obeyed the Bible's text. In that moment, Spurgeon later recalled, he decided to give himself over to God's work and suddenly felt better.
In the book Conversions, edited by Hugh T. Kerr and John M. Mulder, Spurgeon described his transformation this way: "There and then the cloud was gone, the darkness had rolled away, and that moment I saw the sun; and I could have risen that instant, and sung with the most enthusiastic of them, of the precious blood of Christ, and the simple faith which looks alone to Him. Oh, that somebody had told me this before, 'Trust Christ, and you shall be saved."'
Just 15, Spurgeon began his service to God by placing religious tracts in envelopes for distribution. He became obsessed with scribbling texts on scraps of paper and dropping them around town. He studied the Bible with renewed passion. Within a year, Spurgeon was preaching and by 17 had accepted a post at a small church in Waterbeach, a small community five miles from Cambridge. By the time he was 20, Spurgeon had preached more than 500 times. By 1854, the "boy preacher," as he was known, was pastor of London's New Park Street Chapel. When Spurgeon arrived, there were 232 members. When Spurgeon died 38 years later, church membership topped 5,000, making it the largest independent congregation in the world at that time. Altogether, 14,460 people joined the church during Spurgeon's tenure.
In 1855, Spurgeon baptized Susannah Thompson and soon married her. In 1856, she gave birth to twin boys, Thomas and Charles Jr. Both became preachers. Due to illness, Spurgeon's wife was incapacitated by the time she was 33 and was unable to attend her husband's sermons. At home, however, she helped out by taking notes for him during the middle of the night whenever he awoke with a revelation.
Spoke to Crowds in Thousands
Spurgeon enjoyed a meteoric rise in his ministry. By 1855, the congregation was so large it could no longer fit inside the Park Street Chapel. The church moved to Exeter Hall but soon outgrew the place. From 1856 to 1859, the congregants met at the Royal Surrey Gardens music hall. Built as a venue for popular concerts, it could accommodate crowds of 10,000. Once, Spurgeon reportedly addressed a crowd of more than 20,000—without any mechanical amplification. He was so popular that at times he urged his own members not to attend services so newcomers could hear him speak. Searching for an appropriate church home, the congregation decided to build its own. The Metropolitan Tabernacle, which could seat 6,000, was dedicated in 1861 and filled to capacity twice each Sunday during Spurgeon's 30–year tenure there. Spurgeon was heavily involved with the plans for the new tabernacle. Because the New Testament was written in Greek, Spurgeon employed Greek architecture in its design. Afterward, many churches around the world followed his lead, adding Greek touches to their designs.
Spurgeon based his sermons on the Bible, preferring to speak from texts that spoke of sin and salvation. A true evangelist, Spurgeon focused his ministry on conversion, paying little attention to liturgy or sacraments. He was also a master at stirring up human emotions. Spurgeon urged people to get baptized and used colorful stories in an attempt to appeal to their mass conscience.
In late nineteenth–century London, hearing Spurgeon speak was all the rage. Visitors to the city flocked to hear the great preacher. Writing in the New York Times on August 3, 1879, correspondent Grace Greenwood described her visit to the Metropolitan Tabernacle, which she called "a curious experience." Greenwood said she only got inside because she had a friend in London who made a "donation" and procured tickets for them. Greenwood said many people were turned away. She noted that Spurgeon's voice had tremendous volume, remarkable clearness, and traveling power. She described his style as devout, humorous, and earnest. She also noted that he was clearly not the best speaker she had ever heard. "Yet, though he lacks some of the qualities which mark our most eminent pulpit orators . . . he has a distinct individuality, a power of his own, a steady grip on men."
Other observers were equally baffled by his success. Spurgeon was by no accounts attractive and charismatic. In a critique of Spurgeon printed in Littell's Living Age in 1857, the author described Spurgeon as "short, and chubby, and rather awkward . . . For so young a man there seems to be a strong tendency in him to grow stout, and should he live another twenty or thirty years, he must take care, or he many be classed among the people who are sometimes described as being nearly as broad as they are long. He knows nothing of the aesthetics of dress; every thing of that sort about him is commonplace, verging upon the vulgar." The author went on to describe his face as homely. In conclusion, the author said Spurgeon was popular simply because his sermons were colloquial and natural, just "one man talking to another." They were also graphic and colorful.
Spurgeon himself may have been aware of his shortcomings. In an article in Christian History, Darrel Amundsen noted that Spurgeon remarked in 1861: "My deacons know well enough how, when I first preached in Exeter Hall, there was scarcely ever an occasion, in which they left me alone for ten minutes before the service, but they would find me in a most fearful state of sickness, produced by that tremendous thought of my solemn responsibility."
Became Influential Christian Author
Around 1865, Spurgeon began publishing a monthly magazine titled The Sword and the Trowel. 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, yet talked at a rate of 140 words per minute for an average of 40 minutes. His sermons were written down by stenographers, printed, and distributed throughout England weekly. They were also cabled to the United States and printed in many newspapers. Spurgeon spoke so strongly against slavery, that in the United States, publishers deleted his remarks on the subject. In 1865, his printed sermons sold 25,000 copies a week and were translated into 20 languages. His sermons continued to be printed weekly until 1917, 25 years after his death.
During his ministry, Spurgeon also wrote several books. Lectures to My Students (1890), is a collection of talks delivered to the students of his Pastors' College. Another important work was Spurgeon's seven–volume Treasury of David, circa 1869, a best–selling devotional commentary on the Psalms. Spurgeon spent 20 years studying the Psalms and rendering his interpretation. His sermons were also re–issued in book form. The first series, called The New Park Street Pulpit, runs six volumes and contains his sermons from 1855–1860. His later sermons were republished as The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit. This 57–volume set includes sermons published from 1861 to 1917 and has sold more than 1 million copies. His books, still in print, continued to sell at the start of the twenty-first century.
While Spurgeon's ministry flourished, his health did not. Spurgeon suffered from bouts of recurring depression and debilitating gout, which sometimes forced him to take retreats for weeks at a time. According to the article Charles Haddon Spurgeon 1834–1892: The Soul Winner, Spurgeon's son believed these ailments were actually beneficial to his ministry. "I know of no one who could, more sweetly than my dear father, impart comfort to bleeding hearts and sad spirits," he once wrote. "As the crushing of the flower causes It to yield its aroma, so he, having endured in the long continued illness of my beloved, mother, and also constant pains in himself, was able to sympathise most tenderly with all sufferers." Spurgeon died on January 31, 1892, in Mentone, France.
Brackney, William Henry, The Baptists, Greenwood Press, 1988.
Conversions: The Christian Experience, edited by Hugh T. Kerr and John M. Mulder, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1983.
Christian History, 1991.
Littell's Living Age, December 5, 1857.
New York Times, August 3, 1879.
Quarterly Journal of Speech, April 1946.
"Charles Haddon Spurgeon 1834–1892: The Soul Winner," The Spurgeon Archive, http://www.spurgeon.org/healthbio.htm (January 2, 2005).
"Did You Know?," The Spurgeon Archive,http://www.spurgeon.org/spurgn2.htm (December 28, 2004).
"Happy Childhood at Stambourne," The Spurgeon Archive,www.spurgeon.org/childhd.htm (January 2, 2005).
"The Spurgeon Country," The Spurgeon Archive,http://www.spurgeon.org/misc/bio1.htm (January 2, 2005).
"Spurgeon, Charles Haddon." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 25, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/spurgeon-charles-haddon
"Spurgeon, Charles Haddon." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved May 25, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/spurgeon-charles-haddon
Spurgeon, Charles Haddon
Charles Haddon Spurgeon, 1834–92, English Baptist preacher. He joined the Baptist communion in 1850. In 1852, at age 18, he took charge of a small congregation at Waterbeach, Cambridgeshire, and, at 20, went to London as pastor of the New Park St. Chapel. His immediate popularity made necessary larger buildings for his audiences, until the huge Metropolitan Tabernacle, erected for his use, was opened in 1861. Around this developed a pastors' college, an orphanage, and missions. Spurgeon's sermons, published weekly from 1854, were collected in 50 volumes. A strict Calvinist, he opposed the doctrine of baptismal regeneration, which caused his withdrawal in 1864 from the Evangelical Alliance. He separated (1887) from the Baptist Union because he believed that modern biblical criticism was threatening orthodoxy. Among his numerous publications are John Ploughman's Talks (1869) and The Treasury of David (7 vol., 1870–85). His autobiography (4 vol., 1897–1900), compiled by his wife from his diary and letters, was edited and condensed (1946) by D. O. Fuller.
See biography by E. W. Bacon (1968).
"Spurgeon, Charles Haddon." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 25, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/spurgeon-charles-haddon
"Spurgeon, Charles Haddon." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved May 25, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/spurgeon-charles-haddon
Spurgeon, Charles Haddon
"Spurgeon, Charles Haddon." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 25, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/spurgeon-charles-haddon
"Spurgeon, Charles Haddon." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Retrieved May 25, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/spurgeon-charles-haddon