Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the pulpiteer par excellence, was born in the quaint city of Kelvedon, which is located in Essex, England on June 19, 1834. ‘When Charles was born, his father John was clerk in a coal yard but also found time to be an honorary pastor of an Independent (or Congregational) church at Tollesbury. There he preached with conviction Calvinistic doctrines as he understood them.” It would be this Calvinistic lineage that he would inherit and would be foundational to his ministry. These biblical truths would even be further reinforced by his mother who would guide and nurture young Charles, along with his other siblings, in the Christian faith.
However, it was approximately fourteen months after his birth that he would be taken to the home of his grandparents in a small village called Stambourne and would spend the next five years learning valuable truths that would shape his life forever. The reason for this sudden move was because of the dire financial situation of his parents. His mother, being just nineteen, had another child a year after young Charles was born, and wasn’t able to afford another mouth to feed. Consequently, they sent young Charles to his grandparents.
His father was a Congregationalist preacher as was his grandfather James Spurgeon, which was the grandparent he lived with until he was five years old. Through the lives of these two men, the gospel was lived out in front of young Charles, which made an indelible impact on him. Together these two homes provided the spiritual and intellectual climate that would nurture this soon to be minister. As a matter of fact, Spurgeon once mused about his five year stay at his grandparent’s house stating, “I could mount on wings as eagles after being fed such heavenly food.” Often times one’s family life provides the incubus for future success and Spurgeon’s home was no exception.
Charles’s father John Spurgeon (1810-1902) would carry on the family tradition laid down by the men of his family and accept the call to preach. John’s dad pastored an independent church in nearby Stambourne where the Spurgeon family had served as preachers since the 17th century, and he would carry on that tradition for twenty five years there. Yet, his tenure there was not without the extra burden of fulltime employment. This bi-vocational minister had to labor as a clerk at a coal yard, while balancing his family and ministry responsibilities. Such a commitment weighed heavy on John. On one occasion John set out to his church to preach one evening and a short time after he left decided to return home. The thought of not being there for his children began to burden his mind with worry. Yet, after returning he heard his young wife calling out to God on behalf of her children and he knew then that the children were in capable hands. He had nothing to fear. This ever so slight trepidation does show that John did struggle at times with his bi-vocational calling. The stress of spreading himself too thin was a lingering problem indeed.
Spurgeon’s mother was a stall worth who was poised to be the one who would ground her children in the faith. She was a woman who had to bear many tragedies during her life that would test her faith. She would have seventeen kids in all, with nine of them dying in infancy. This would bore heavy on her, yet she would keep both hands on the plow as she would continue her undaunted walk with God. It was Mildred Witte Struven who once said, “A clay pot sitting in the sun will always be a clay pot. It has to go through the white heat of the furnace to become porcelain.” God indeed was her strength during these tumultuous times as she would remain steadfast.
His mother was a tremendous believer in prayer. Spurgeon recounts her impact on one occasion stating, “When my father was absent preaching the gospel, my mother always filled his place at the family altar. And in my own family, if I have been absent, and my dear wife has been ill, my sons, while yet boys, would not hesitate to read the Scriptures and pray. We could not have a house without prayer. That would be heathenish or atheistical.’ It is obvious from the aforementioned quotes that Spurgeon’s mother left a legacy for him to follow, which speaks to the power of a mother to shape her children. This is precisely what led James S. Hewett to offer the following illustration that demonstrates the impact of motherhood. He states,
When Robert Ingersoll, the notorious skeptic, was in his heyday, two college students went to hear him lecture. As they walked down the street after the lecture, one said to the other, “Well, I guess he knocked the props out from under Christianity, didn’t he?” The other said, “No, I don’t think he did. Ingersoll did not explain my mother’s life, and until he can explain my mother’s life I will stand by my mother’s God.”
It is hard to argue with a life well lived. It was the mother’s life and the faith that daily sustained her that convinced this young man of God’s existence.
Years later this spiritual upbringing would prove dividends as Spurgeon converted to Christianity on January 6, 1850. Though his conversion wasn’t the direct result of his father and grandfather’s ministry, it was certainly their prayers and well lived lives that sowed gospel seeds that would lead to this eventual harvest. However, it wasn’t a powerful pastor or well-known evangelist who God would choose to lead this great man to faith. Instead, God chose a man of much more humble circumstances to do his bidding that morning. At the Primitive Methodist church a laymen would assume the preaching responsibilities and proclaimed the Gospel to the congregation. God sovereignly used this man as the pastor was snowed in and wasn’t able to attend service. Spurgeon described him as “a very thin-looking man, a shoemaker or tailor or something of that sort… and was obliged to stick to his text, for the simple reason that he had little else to say. “ Yet, a simple phrase would change this man’s life. The lay preacher forcefully proclaimed, “Young man, look to Jesus Christ. Look! Look! Look! You have nothin’ to do but to look and live.” That morning Spurgeon answered that call and have his heart to Jesus Christ.
Soon after his conversion to Christianity, Spurgeon was installed as pastor of a small Baptist church in Waterbeach, Cambridgeshire in 1850 at the age of sixteen. This would serve as a training ground to hone his skills both as a pastor and preacher. “It was here that he felt that God had unmistakably put his zeal upon his ministry, for in that English Hamlet he claimed his first convert to Christ.” From Waterbeach, Spurgeon moved on to fill the pulpit of the famed New Park Street Chapel at the age of 19, a place where great preachers such as Benjamin Keach and theologian John Gill, once made their home. However, by 1853 the weekly attendance of this great church and dwindled considerably to a little over 200 members. “On December 18, 1853, Spurgeon stood in the pulpit of the famous old church built to seat 1,200 to address a congregation that numbered only eighty.” The impact of this great preacher was immediately felt as the news about his divinely empowered preaching ability began to spread. That evening he would preach once again to a much larger audience. G. Holden Pike was in attendance that night and interviewed those who attended that night. He wrote:
The effect was amazing; impossible to describe the emotions of the congregation; nearly all were raised at last from despondency; after the service people too excited to leave the building gathered in groups talking about securing him as pastor; deacons came out of the vestry and promised to use their endeavors to secure him. Dear old Unity Olney (wife of the deacon, Thomas), a semi-invalid, attended that night and when she got home said to her husband with deep emotion and peculiar emphasis, ‘He will do’.”
The hand of God was obviously upon Spurgeon. After he visited New Park Street Chapel three more times he was installed as pastor. Spurgeon suggested to the congregation that the church appoint him on a probationary period. This was because that if it was discovered that this new found marriage was not a good match, it could be easily dissolved. At a special business meeting he was officially installed as pastor.
The Congregation’s decision proved undoubtedly to be the right one as the congregation grew, and within months was growing to the extent that the 1,200 seat edifice wasn’t able to hold the crows that Spurgeon had attracted. The congregation responded by renovating their current building so it could seat 3,000 people. Until the renovation was complete, the church rented the Exeter Hall, which seated 4,500, and in no time, it too was filled to capacity. After the renovation, the congregation moved back to their original building that had been remodeled, resulting in a hopeless quandary. After a year the decision was made that the church would rent out the largest auditorium in London, which was Surrey Music Hall in the Royal Surrey Gardens. This 10,000 seat auditorium would too be filled to capacity as eager onlookers sought to hear the brilliant orator expound God’s Word.
After holding services for four years at Surrey Music Hall, The New Park Street Chapel finally built the Metropolitan Tabernacle which “could seat 5,000 and could accommodate another 1,000 standing”. To reach the most people possible Spurgeon asked each member of his church to stay home once every three months. This would allow the church to reach more people given its limited seating capacity. How many people could have the churched reached if it has an unlimited seating capacity; a question that is obviously unanswerable. However, one can only wonder considering that he attracted almost 24,000 people while speaking at the National Humiliation Day.
Spurgeon not only touched the lives of his congregation with his dynamic preaching, he also his touched lives worldwide. “He published about four thousand sermons, sales of individual sermons totaled about 25,000 per week, and the sermons were translated into forty languages.” While he would preach a stenographer would take down what he way saying. Then the next day Spurgeon would correct and revise the copy in order to prepare it for publishing. A subsequent revision would be done on Thursday. The following week the sermon would be published in the London and New York newspapers. Consequently, people were able to be edified by his sermons like no other preacher during that era.
Spurgeon’s influence what not only felt in his own day, but is still felt even today as his sermons are available in print and the internet “They remain … the greatest body of evangelical literature by any one author in the English-speaking world and still out sales most others.” His anointing, oratory ability, and passions for souls touched tens of thousands if not millions of people. His enduring legacy continues to live in works that were penned during the heyday of his ministry. “At least 3 of Spurgeon's works, including the multi-volume Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit series, have sold more than 1,000,000 copies. One of these, All of Grace, was the first book ever published by Moody Press (formerly the Bible Institute Colportage Association) and is still its all-time bestseller.”