THE WINSOME WARRIOR
The name Charles Haddon Spurgeon is familiar to many. Whether one has benefited from his Morning and Evening readings, his written sermons, his Treasury of David, or perhaps simply heard some memorable quote, most would agree that he certainly has and continues to be positively influential. Spurgeon was born in 1834, converted at the age of 16 and commenced his pastoral ministry in 1851. Nicknamed the prince of preachers, Spurgeon was a faithful messenger of the gospel of Jesus Christ. A warrior for the truth and a fisherman for souls, he was a man who was used for the glory of God. After many struggles against those who propagated error and with personal issues of health, Spurgeon died and went to be with the Lord on 31 January 1892.
His life is a testimony to the sovereign grace of God, and even today continues to provide practical lessons for us. There is much that can be learnt from his life and ministry and in this paper it is my goal to provide a brief sketch of his life, and then consider some practical and powerful lessons.
PART 1: THE LIFE OF SPURGEON
Charles Spurgeon was born into a family of preachers. This of course does not automatically result in one’s calling, but in the plan and providence of God, this helped prepare and shape his future ministry.
Born 19 June 1834 Charles Haddon Spurgeon was the firstborn of John and Eliza Spurgeon. He was the first of seventeen children, but only eight survived. Spurgeon spent his early years living with his grandparents. This stage of his life was very dear to him and was used by the Lord is prepare this young man for a future ministry. Spurgeon’s father made the remarks that Charles “never played like other boys and always was studying and reading” (Living by Revealed Truth, p. 30). One of his peers described him as follows, “He was rather deficient in muscle, did not care for cricket or other athletic games, and was timid at meeting cattle on the roads” (The People’s Preacher, p. 19).
In his childhood, one of the formative occasions was the exposure he had to his Grandfather’s library. The books that caught his attention were the works of the Puritans. Even before he could read, he loved the feel of them and the illustrations in some of them. His favourite among the puritan writings was John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. Over the course of his life he read this book around a hundred times. Many of his sermons include references to parts of this book as illustrations. Another favourite was Foxe’s book of martyrs. This book taught him a lot about suffering for Christ (cf. “A Wonderful Transformation”, No. 2983).
During this this time Spurgeon was captivated by nature and learnt a lot from it. When one reads his sermons it is evident that many of his illustrations are borne out of many of his childhood experiences and curiosities. This time in his life was foundational and influential. He was exposed to the challenges of gospel ministry, and seemed to pick up his grandfather’s wit!
On Sunday, January 6, 1850 an event occurred that changed the lives of many. Young Charles Spurgeon set out to attend a particular chapel, however a snowstorm set in. By means of the preaching of God’s Word, the Lord opened this young man’s eyes to his sin and enabled him to find forgiveness in Christ. The text of Scripture that was preached from that morning was Isaiah 45:22. Here is Spurgeon’s recounting the amazing event:
I sometimes think I might have been in darkness and despair until now had it not been for the goodness of God in sending a snowstorm, one Sunday morning, while I was going to a certain place of worship. When I could go no further, I turned down a side street, and came to a little Primitive Methodist Chapel. In that chapel there may have been a dozen or fifteen people. I had heard of the Primitive Methodists, how they sang so loudly that they made people's heads ache; but that did not matter to me. I wanted to know how I might be saved, and if they could tell me that, I did not care how much they made my head ache. The minister did not come that morning; he was snowed up, I suppose. At last, a very thin-looking man,* a shoemaker, or tailor, or something of that sort, went up into the pulpit to preach. Now, it is well that preachers should be instructed; but this man was really stupid. He was obliged to stick to his text, for the simple reason that he had little else to say. The text was,—
"LOOK UNTO ME, AND BE YE SAVED, ALL THE ENDS OF THE EARTH."
He did not even pronounce the words rightly, but that did not matter. There was, I thought, a glimpse of hope for me in that text. The preacher began thus—"My dear friends, this is a very simple text indeed. It says, 'Look.' Now lookin' don't take a deal of pains. It ain't liftin' your foot or your finger; it is just, 'Look.' Well, a man needn't go to College to learn to look. You may be the biggest fool, and yet you can look. A man needn't be worth a thousand a year to be able to look. Anyone can look; even a child can look. But then the text says, 'Look unto Me.' Ay!" said he, in broad Essex, "many on ye are lookin' to yourselves, but it's no use lookin' there. You'll never find any comfort in yourselves. Some look to God the Father. No, look to Him by-and-by. Jesus Christ says, 'Look unto Me.' Some on ye say, 'We must wait for the Spirit's workin'.' You have no business with that just now. Look to Christ. The text says, 'Look unto Me.'" Then the good man followed up his text in this way:—"Look unto Me; I am sweatin' great drops of blood. Look unto Me; I am hangin' on the cross. Look unto Me; I am dead and buried. Look unto Me; I rise again. Look unto Me; I ascend to Heaven. Look unto Me; I am sittin' at the Father's right hand. O poor sinner, look unto Me! look unto Me! When he had gone to about that length, and managed to spin out ten minutes or so, he was at the end of his tether. Then he looked at me under the gallery, and I daresay, with so few present, he knew me to be a stranger. Just fixing his eyes on me, as if he knew all my heart, he said, "Young man, you look very miserable." Well, I did; but I had not been accustomed to have remarks made from the pulpit on my personal appearance before. However, it was a good blow, struck right home. He continued, "and you always will be miserable—miserable in life, and miserable in death,—if you don't obey my text; but if you obey now, this moment, you will be saved." Then, lifting up his hands, he shouted, as only a Primitive Methodist could do, "Young man, look to Jesus Christ. Look! Look! Look! You have nothin' to do but to look and live." I saw at once the way of salvation. I know not what else he said,—I did not take much notice of it,—I was so possessed with that one thought. Like as when the brazen serpent was lifted up, the people only looked and were healed, so it was with me. I had been waiting to do fifty things, but when I heard that word, "Look!" what a charming word it seemed to me! Oh! I looked until I could almost have looked my eyes away. 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".
Later Spurgeon came to the conviction that he needed to be baptised as a believer. His parents were not of the baptist persuasion, so his mother said to him, “I often prayed the Lord to make you a Christian, but I never asked that you might become a Baptist”. With classic Spurgeonic wit, he replied to his mother, “Ah, mother! The Lord has answered your prayer with His usual bounty, and given you exceeding abundantly above what you asked or thought”.
He preached his first sermon at the age of fifteen and people began to notice that he was gifted in preaching. At the age of 17 he became the pastor of a small congregation in Waterbeach, a small rural town. After receiving a letter in 1853 Spurgeon’s life was about to change in a remarkable way. He was invited to fill the pulpit at the New Park Street Chapel in London for a brief time. This invitation came as a complete surprise to Spurgeon, and the thought of leaving his small but beloved flock was hard for him. It was on 18 December 1853 when Spurgeon preached his first sermon at the New Park Street Chapel. Very soon after his arrival (25 January 1854) they asked him to fill the pulpit for six months upon probation. The church grew very quickly and only a few months in this probation, the church called him as their new Pastor. Upon his arrival, there were a few hundred attending the 1200 church building. Very quickly they had no more room for the people. The building was swelling as people came to hear the preaching of God’s Word. This was a historic church. Some of its previous ministers were Benjamin Keach (1640-1704), John Gill (1697-1771), and John Rippon (1750-1836). It was this church where Spurgeon would preach the gospel of Jesus Christ for thirty-eight years.
This fast growing congregation moved to a temporary home. They rented Exeter Hall in London. This building could hold over 4,000 people and it didn’t take long for it to fill it every Sunday morning and night. On 8 January 1856 he married his beloved Susannah. Nine months later (20 September 1856) on had twin boys, Charles and Thomas. With the church continuing to get larger, they moved to the Surrey Music Hall. This grand building could seat over 10,000 people. At the very first service a tragedy took place. On 19 October 1856, Spurgeon began to preach his very first sermon in this building a troublemaker called out “Fire!” Causing a panic, people stampeded out and a number of people died. Spurgeon didn’t know this at the time, and tried to continue, and was informed latter. This news devastated him and he lived with the pain of this the years that followed. After some time, arrangements were made for the Surrey Music Hall to also rent out their facilities for a number of amusement and entertainment programs. Because this was on the Lord’s Day, Spurgeon could not go along with this. So on 11 December 1859 they held their very last service there and moved back to the Exeter Hall. Interestingly, a fire destroyed the Surrey Music Hall in 1861. Plans were being made for the construction of their own building. It was then on 18 March 1861 the Metropolitan Tabernacle was completed and this building could seat 6,000 people and it was filled every service for the duration of his ministry. There was one occasion when he preached a sermon at the Crystal Palace on 7 October 1857, to a crowd of 23,654 people without amplification!
The life and ministry of Spurgeon had much fruit, but it was not without challenges. The challenges that he experienced were from the unbelieving world, those in churches, and by means of physical ill health. These challenges occurred throughout his life, but they primarily took place in two stages of his ministry – the early days and the latter days. Iain Murray calls these stages … When it came to criticism, Spurgeon once said in one of his early sermons, “I am quite certain that the safest way to defend your character is never to say a word about it” (“The World Turned Upside Down”, 9 May 1858). Thirty years later after he weathered many harsh criticisms he said in another sermon,
“Brother, if any man thinks ill of you, do not be angry with him; for you are worse than he thinks you to be. If he charges you falsely on some point, yet be satisfied, for if he knew you better he might change the accusation, and you would be no gainer by the correction. If you have your moral portrait painted, and it is ugly, be satisfied; for it only needs a few blacker touches, and it would be still nearer the truth” (“David Dancing Before the Ark Because of His Election”, 1 July 1888).
Here are some of the challenges he experienced. He received bad press from a number of newspapers. They published unkind cartoons of him and called him some harsh names (eg. “the pulpit buffoon”). In 1864 Spurgeon engaged in a debate to counter the false teaching of Baptismal Regeneration. Spurgeon preached the sermon entitled “Baptismal Regeneration” on 5 June 1864.