A Brief Memoir of C. H. Spurgeon
by Jon Cardwell
As this collection of Mr. Spurgeon’s works are edited in modern language, this edition is designed to reach an audience that may have never heard of Charles Spurgeon; or possibly have heard his name, yet did not really know anything about him. If that is the case for you, this brief memoir will, hopefully, familiarize you just a bit with this nineteenth century minister who is hailed, even today, as “the Prince of Preachers.”
Charles Haddon Spurgeon was born in Kelvedon, Essex, in England on June 19, 1834 to John and Eliza Spurgeon. His father, John, and his grandfather, James, were both ministers in the Congregationalist churches.
Charles Spurgeon fell under conviction and was converted at fifteen years of age. Walking into a small Primitive Methodist assembly in Colchester on January 6, 1850, young Spurgeon heard the layman at the pulpit read from 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.” The Spirit of the Lord moved upon him and brought him repentance and faith right there. Nearly four months later, he was baptized at the River Lark, in Isleham, on May 3, 1850. His mother, Eliza, said to him, “Ah, Charles! I often prayed the Lord to make you a Christian, but I never asked that you become a Baptist.”
Young Charles responded, “Ah, mother! The Lord has answered your prayer with His usual bounty, and given you exceeding abundantly above what you asked or thought.”
1850 proved to be a monumental year for Charles Spurgeon: saved by grace in January, baptized into fellowship in May, and later preaches his first sermon at a cottage in Teversham. Charles would preach his first sermon at Waterbeach Baptist Chapel on October 12, 1851. Waterbeach would eventually become his first pastorate before he turned seventeen years old.
While at Waterbeach, young Spurgeon was “strongly advised” to apply for admission to the Baptist College in Stepney to more fully prepare for ministry. Arrangements were made for Charles to meet with the college’s tutor, Dr. Joseph Angus, in Cambridge at the home of Mr. Daniel MacMillan. As Charles arrived at his appointed time, the housemaid showed him to a room where he waited patiently for a couple of hours. The housemaid told no one of Spurgeon’s arrival while Dr. Angus sat in another room until he could wait no longer and finally left for London. The good doctor was gone when young Charles finally inquired after him. After leaving the MacMillan house, he thought of applying for college admission at once and while walking on the little wooden bridge that leads to Chesterton, a portion of Scripture came strongly to him, “Seekest thou great things for thyself? seek them not” (Jeremiah 45:5). He immediately began to rethink his motives and intentions, as well as his passions and priorities. It seemed that God’s plans and purposes for young Charles Spurgeon did not include a formal college education.
A deacon of London’s New Park Street Chapel was visiting the countryside and heard “The Boy Preacher” expound God’s Word at Waterbeach. He invited Charles to preach at this well-known London church, whose pulpit had been filled previously with renowned pastors, John Gill, Benjamin Keach, and John Rippon. Spurgeon preached his first sermon there on December 18, 1853. After preaching there, Charles was offered a six-month provisional position as interim pastor, but Charles countered with a three-month probation period instead of six because he was concerned that if the congregation didn’t like him, he wouldn’t have to impose upon them any longer than necessary. The Lord’s providence smiled upon the 232-member congregation because they wouldn’t have to wait for six months to call Mr. Spurgeon to the pastorate. Charles Spurgeon accepted the Lord’s call to the New Park Street pulpit and preached his first sermon as the congregation’s settled resident pastor on April 28, 1854. He had not yet reached his twentieth birthday.
Charles Spurgeon met his bride at the New Park Street Chapel, Miss Susannah Thompson of Falcon Square, London. They were wed on January 8, 1856 and honeymooned in Paris, France for ten days in the Spring of that year. Twins, Thomas and Charles, who were not identical, were born to the couple on September 20, 1856.
Although a formal college education was not what the Lord would have for this young minister, he was not uneducated. Spurgeon read as many as six books per week from over 14,000 volumes in his library. He read John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress annually and often sat with his wife, Susannah, reading to one another from the works of the Puritan authors.
By this time, Charles Spurgeon had become the most well known minister in London. Crowds flocked to hear the young preacher and many were convicted and converted under the Spirit’s anointing through the powerful proclamation of Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Souls were saved, not by human “decisions” from man’s “freewill” prompted by planned or purposed tactics, but instead, through the presentation of the clear and quite simply expressed gospel truths of Scripture. Because of the numerous conversions, and his popularity as a preacher of God’s Word, the New Park Street Chapel had already added several services to Sunday’s schedule. Even with the additional services, the congregation had outgrown their facility. In 1856, the Metropolitan Tabernacle Building Committee had already begun meeting for the construction of a larger facility. Meanwhile, the congregation moved to Exeter Hall, and later to Surrey Music Hall. There, Mr. Spurgeon would preach to audiences of more than 10,000 people.
1856 saw also the beginning of what would eventually be called “The Pastor’s College.” The school started with one student-minister, Mr. T. W. Medhurst, with Mr. George Rogers as the teacher. Eventually, The Pastor’s College would grow to over one hundred students per year by the last years of Mr. Spurgeon’s ministry. The theological foundation of the Pastor’s College was Calvinistic in the tradition of the Reformed faith and Baptist in the tradition of the Puritans. Spurgeon was very careful that both staff and students held fast to those doctrines, stating, “We know nothing of new ologies; we stand by the old ways…. Believing that the Puritanic school embodied more of gospel truth in it than any other since the days of the apostles, we continue in the same line of things; and by God’s help, hope to have a share in that revival of Evangelical doctrine which is as sure to come as the Lord Himself.” Many of the students not only filled empty pulpits throughout the British Empire, but also filled pulpits among the eighty or more churches planted by Mr. Spurgeon himself.
The Metropolitan Tabernacle was constructed at Elephant and Castle, in Southwark, with seating for 5,500 and standing room for another 500. The Metropolitan Tabernacle opened with a “Great Prayer Meeting” on March 18, 1861.
The ministry of Charles Spurgeon and the Lord’s congregation under his care were involved in a great many ministries locally and abroad. Orphanages were built and staffed. Mission work was supported to distant lands. Through his friendship and spiritual kinship with James Hudson Taylor, Mr. Spurgeon personally supported the work in China through the China Inland Mission, an interdenominational evangelistic mission founded by Mr. Taylor.
Charles Spurgeon was a man well acquainted with physical suffering, having an opportunity to draw nearer his Lord and trusting in Him alone for solace due to chronic gout, rheumatoid arthritis, and kidney disease (Bright’s disease). When once asked to describe the pain he was in when stricken with rheumatism one winter, Mr. Spurgeon replied very candidly, “Imagine placing your foot in a vice and tightening the vice as far as it will go; then tighten it four more turns.” Because of his oft infirmities, he was a compassionate minister with regard to the sicknesses and afflictions of others, shedding tears over the physical discomforts of others.
Charles Spurgeon preached his last sermon at the Metropolitan Tabernacle on June 7, 1891. Suffering from very poor health because of the symptoms of his ailments, Mr. Spurgeon traveled to Menton, France, on October 26, 1891. Resting in Menton for three months, Charles Spurgeon retired to his bed on January 20, 1892 and passed into glory on January 31, 1892. His remains were taken back to England and were interred and buried at West Norwood Cemetery in London on February 11, 1892.
For nearly 40 years, beginning with his first sermon at Waterbeach Baptist Chapel in the Fall of 1851 and ending with his last sermon at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in the Summer of 1891, the pastoral ministry of Charles Spurgeon saw the publication of several books, thousands of sermons and articles, the establishment of several missions, mercy ministries, and church plants, and 14,692 souls baptized.
“But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:20-21).