Charles Haddon Spurgeon was born on 19th June, 1834 in Kelvedon, Essex, England. He was educated at Colchester and much of his religious training came from his father and grandfather both of were preachers. At the age of fifteen, his conversion to Christianity came on 6th January 1850. He was admitted to the church at New Market on 4th April 1850. His baptism followed in the river Lark at Isleham on the 3rd May. Later that same year he moved to Cambridge, where he later became a Sunday school teacher.
Charles Spurgeon preached his first sermon in the winter of 1850-51 in a cottage at Teversham while filling in for a friend, Cambridge. From the beginning of his ministry, his style and ability were considered to be far above average. In the same year, he was nominated as a pastor of a small Baptist church at Waterbeach, Cambridgeshire, where he published a Gospel tract written in 1853, which was his first literary work. In April 1854, after preaching three months on probation and just four years after his conversion, Charles Spurgeon was called to the pastorate of London's famed New Park Street Chapel, Southwark. At that time, this was the largest Baptist congregation in London, although it had dropped in numbers for several years. He found friends in London among his fellow pastors, such as William Garrett Lewis of Westbourne Grove Church, an older man who along with Charles Spurgeon went on to found the London Baptist Association. Within a few months of his 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. His sermons were published in printed form every week and had a high circulation.
|Waterbeach Baptist Church|
Immediately following his fame was controversy. 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 claims of Jesus Christ. Critical attacks from the media persisted throughout his life. The congregation quickly expanded their building; it moved to Exeter Hall, then to Surrey Music Hall. In these venues Spurgeon frequently preached to audiences numbering more than ten thousands. At twenty-two years old, he was the most popular preacher of the day.
On 8th January 1856, Charles Spurgeon married Susannah, daughter of Robert Thompson of Falcon Square, London and they had twin sons, Charles and Thomas born on 30th September, 1856. At the end of that year on 19th October 1856 tragedy struck, as he was preaching at the Surrey Gardens Music Hall for the first time. Someone in the crowd shouted, "Fire!" The ensuing panic and stampede left several dead. He was emotionally overcome 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. In 1857, he started a charity organization called Spurgeon's which now works globally.
In his lifetime, Charles Spurgeon preached to around 1,00,00,000 people, often up to ten times each week at different places. His sermons have been translated into many languages. He 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 that denomination. He was a prolific author of many types of works including sermons, an autobiography, a commentary, books on prayer, a devotional, a magazine, poetry, hymnist and more. Many sermons were transcribed as he spoke and were translated into many languages during his lifetime.
Charles Spurgeon’s work went on, in 1857, he also founded A Pastors’ College which was renamed as Spurgeon's College after him posthumously in 1923, when it moved to its present building in South Norwood Hill, London. At the Fast Day, 7th October, 1857, he preached to the largest crowd ever – 23,654 people at The Crystal Palace in London. On 18th March, 1861, the congregation moved permanently to the newly constructed Metropolitan Tabernacle at Elephant and Castle, Southwark, seating five thousand people with standing room for another one thousand. The Metropolitan Tabernacle was the largest church edifice of its day and can be considered a precursor to the modern "Megachurch". He continued to preach there several times per week until his death.
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. 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; he 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.
|Spurgeon preaching at the Surrey Music Hall 1858|
Besides sermons, he 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. Thousands heard the preaching and were led in the singing without any amplification of sound that exists today. Hymns were a subject that he took seriously. While Spurgeon was still preaching at New Park Street, a hymn book called "The Rivulet" was published.
On 5th June, 1862, Charles Spurgeon also challenged the Church of England when he preached against baptismal regeneration. However, Spurgeon taught across denominational lines as well. It was during this period at the new Tabernacle that Charles Spurgeon found a friend in James Hudson Taylor, the founder of the China Inland Mission. Charles Spurgeon supported the work of the mission financially and directed many missionary candidates to apply for service with Taylor. He also aided in the work of cross-cultural evangelism by promoting "The Wordless Book", a teaching tool.
Following the example of George Muller, Charles 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. This 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 Charles 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 Charles Spurgeon and treasured by him.
|Spurgeon's grave,West Norway|
A controversy among the Baptists, flared in 1887 with Charles 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 his congregation as the World's largest self-standing church. Contextually, the Downgrade Controversy was British Baptists' equivalent of hermeneutic tensions which were starting to sunder 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. He alleged that an incremental creeping of the Graf-Wellhausen hypothesis, Charles Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection, and other concepts was weakening the Baptist Union and reciprocally explaining the success of his own evangelistic efforts. In the standoff, which even split his pupils trained at the College, each side accused the other of raising issues which did not need to be raised.
Often Charles Spurgeon's wife was too ill to leave home to hear him preach. He too suffered ill health toward the end of his life, afflicted by a combination of rheumatism, gout and Bright's disease. He often recuperated at Menton, near Nice, France, where he eventually died on 31th January 1892. Charles Spurgeon's wife and sons outlived him. His remains were buried at West Norwood Cemetery in London, where the tomb is still visited by admirers. His son Thomas became the Pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle, after he died.
Charles Spurgeon's works have been translated into many languages, including Arabic, Armenian, Bengali, Bulgarian, Castilian, Chinese, Kongo, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Estonian, French, Gaelic, German, Hindi, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Kaffir, Karen, Lettish, Maori, Norwegian, Polish, Russian, Serbian, Spanish, Swedish, Syriac, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu, Welsh, etc. with a few sermons in Moon's and Braille type for the blind. He also wrote many volumes of commentaries, sayings and other types of literature.
William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri purchased Charles Spurgeon's 5,103 volume library collection for £500 ($2,500) in 1906. The collection was purchased by Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri in 2006 for $4,00,000 and is currently undergoing restoration. A special collection of Spurgeon's handwritten sermon notes and galley proofs from 1879–1891 resides at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. His College in London also has a small number of notes and proofs.
He was a British particular Baptist preacher who remains highly influential among Christians of different denominations, among whom he is still 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 in his day. By the time of his death in 1892, he had preached nearly 3,600 sermons and published forty-nine volumes of commentaries, sayings, anecdotes, illustrations and devotions.