Friday, 26 March 2021

Charles Spurgeon


Charles Spurgeon was born on 19th June 1834 in Essex.  He was the eldest son of John and Eliza (his mother had seventeen children, nine of who died in infancy).  His father was a congregational pastor serving a small congregation.  The congregation could not afford to pay the full stipend of their pastor so Charles’ dad worked part time as an accountant for a coal merchant. 

When Charles was ten months old his parents moved to Colchester.  Four months later Charles was sent to live with his grandparents in Stambourne, perhaps because the Colchester house was unhealthy for him.  His grandfather was also a pastor, who was loved by the whole village where he served.  He returned to live in Colchester when he was six.  He missed his grandfather, who had told him to look at the moon when he missed him and remember that it was the same moon his grandfather was looking at in Stambourne.

When he was ten years old he had a remarkable experience.  A visiting missionary was touring the area on behalf of the London Missionary Society.  He stayed with his Charles’ grandparents.  This missionary got to know Charles, who was on holiday there.  At six o’clock one morning he called for Charles and took him into the garden, where he talked to him about Jesus.  He then prayed for Charles, kneeling down with his arms around Charles’ neck.  The missionary did this for three successive days.  Before he left Stambourne he said in the presence of the whole family, ‘This child will surely preach the gospel, and he will preach it to great multitudes.’  He added that Charles would surely preach at Rowland Hill’s chapel – the Surrey Chapel, and made Charles promise that when he preached in that chapel he would use Cowper’s hymn, ‘God moves in a mysterious way his wonders to perform.’  Charles would later preach in that chapel many times and kept his promise by using Cowper’s hymn on the first occasion.

As a teenager Spurgeon had no doubts that he was not a Christian.  He was very conscious of this as mother prayed and pleaded with her children to turn to Christ.  He had a very tender conscience and was aware of his sin.  He would often cry himself to sleep as he remembered the wrong things he did, but he would not turn and seek God’s forgiveness.  Not only did he put off turning to Christ, he wondered if God would forgive him.  He was disturbed by some of his blasphemous thoughts.

He started to be very anxious about his spiritual state.  He prayed, but felt that God was turning a deaf ear.  He became almost suicidal.  His mother tried to comfort him by pointing out that there was never anyone who truly sought Christ and was rejected.  He suffered from spiritual anxiety for five years.

One Sunday, in January 1850, when he was fifteen, he set out to walk into the centre of Colchester.  He stepped into a Primitive Methodist Church because of the snow.  The minister of that church had been unable to make it because of the snow, and so one of the members of the congregation spoke instead.  This man was uneducated, and could do little more than repeat the lines of the text, ‘Look to me and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth.’  Seeing the young Spurgeon in the gallery this man addressed him directly: ‘Young man, you look very miserable.  And you will always be miserable – miserable in life and miserable in death – if you don’t obey my text.’  At that moment Spurgeon’s darkness left him.  ‘I could have leaped, I could have danced; there was no expression, however fanatical, which would have been out of keeping with the joy of my heart at that hour.’ 

At this time, he was spending a year at a small boarding school.  He was greatly helped in his new faith by the cook, who was a godly woman with a taste for ‘good strong Calvinistic doctrine’.  His discussion with her were formative in his thinking.  He began to do some evangelistic work – distributing tracts from house to house.  When he moved to a new school in Cambridge he started to teach at a Sunday school in a Baptist church.  He was then recruited to preach at churches in the surrounding area.

He was actually tricked into his first preaching appointment.  The man who organised the preachers asked Charles if he would go to Teversham the following evening, ‘for a young man was to preach there was not much used to services, and very likely would be glad of company.’  Little did he realise that he was the young man in question.  It only came out in conversation with his companion of the way to the meeting.  So, Charles gave his first sermon in a thatched cottage to a handful of farm labourers and their wives.  He preached on the text, ‘unto you therefore which believe he is precious.’

It was not long until he was preaching at such meetings every evening.  In 1851 he was invited to be the pastor of a little Baptist Church in the village of Waterbeach.  Waterbeach had been notorious for its drunkenness and violence.  But soon the chapel was crowded and lives were being reformed.  His fame began to spread throughout the area and he became known as ‘the Boy Preacher of the Fens.’ 

In 1853 he was one of three speakers invited to address the annual meeting of the Cambridge Sunday School Union.  One of the hearers was so impressed with him that he recommended that the deacons of the New Park Street Chapel in London should try to secure him as their pastor.  This church had a long tradition, of about three hundred years, and a building that held twelve hundred people.  However, by that time the congregation was about two hundred.  The people of Waterbeach were sad to see him go.  He was not yet twenty.  He would serve that congregation until his death.

The numbers attending the services began to increase.  On once occasion an alcoholic was attracted was attracted into the building by the sight of the crowds.  An another a prostitute entered on her way to through herself off a nearby bridge.  Each time it was as if the sermon spoke exactly to their situation and they were converted.

A young twenty-two-year-old called Suzannah Thompson caught his eye.  She was surprised to receive a gift from him of an illustrated copy of The Pilgrim’s Progress.  

Extension work was needed for the building to accommodate the increasing numbers.  While the alterations were taking place, the congregation met in the Exeter hall in the Strand for sixteen successive Sundays.  This building could hold about four-and-a-half-thousand and was filled to overflowing every Sunday morning and evening.      

Susie and Charles were married in January 1856.

By May 1856 it was decided that the congregation needed a bigger building.  However, when they wanted to use the Exeter Hall again while building was going on they were told that the owners of the Exeter Hall were not prepared to let their building be exclusively used by the Baptists.  The evening attendance was the largest and so the congregation needed somewhere for this while the new building could be built (which would not be for several years).  They moved that service to the Music Hall in the Royal Surrey Gardens, a building which could hold up to ten thousand people.  A few members of the church were shocked at the very idea of preaching in what they called ‘the devil’s house.’

The first evening in the Surrey Music Hall was on nineteenth October 1856.  That morning as he spoke in the New Park Street Chapel Spurgeon was filled ‘with a mysterious premonition of some great trial that was shortly to befall me.’  That evening as he made his way to the Music Hall he surprised to see the streets thronged with people wanting to enter the building.  The place was so packed that there was no point waiting until the advertised time and Spurgeon began the service ten minutes early.  Things had just got underway when a prankster cried, ‘fire!’  A panic ensured and seven people were killed.  Charles was ten days in a state of severe nervous depression after this and never fully recovered.  This incident was one of the factors that contributed to his long battle with depression, another being his battle with gout in his later years. 

The new church building for the congregation was called the Metropolitan Tabernacle.  The foundation stone was laid in August 1859.  The sales of his published sermons were used as part of the fundraising.  However, in 1860, demand for his sermons in America suddenly dropped after he had denounced slavery in several sermons and letters to the American press. 

Spurgeon developed a team to help him fulfil all his responsibilities.  He was affectionately referred to as ‘the Governor’.  He inspired devotion.  So much so that on one occasion when he spoke sharply to one of the deacons about some fault, the deacon replied, ‘well, that may be true, but I tell you what sir, I would die for you any day.’  Spurgeon apologised for his sharpness.  He was aware that at times he could be overly sharp and worked to correct that flaw.

It has been suggested that his early demise was caused by overwork.  He would often preach ten times a week and many come to him for advice after his sermons (or simply to shake his hand).  He established a preacher’s college and an orphanage.  He tried to spend Christmas day with the orphans and brought presents for all of them.  

Towards the end of 1871 Spurgeon was feeling very depressed.  Apart from gout he was very anxious about his work at the Tabernacle.  He needed to take long breaks from the pulpit.  In the years that followed he needed to take breaks in the south of France.  By the 1870s Susie’s ill heath meant that she was a chronic invalid.  She could no longer attend the Tabernacle, and therefore was out of touch with much of the work that was going on there. 

In 1880 they moved to a new home.  Soon after they were settled in the house was burgled.  The only item of value that was taken was a gold-headed stick which had been given to Spurgeon by a friend.  The thief hammered the gold out of shape, and then tried to sell the stick to a pawnbroker.  However, he had failed to obliterate Spurgeon’s name from it.  The police were arrested but the gold and stick were recovered.  Later Spurgeon received a letter believed to have come from the thief apologising for the burglary and suggesting he get a dog.  So, Punch the dog was added to the household.

A celebration of his fiftieth birthday was arranged for June 1884.  This celebration was to be held at the Tabernacle and the date of this became widely known.  Susie was delighted that her health was good enough to attend, but had to go through the day with the knowledge that a group of Irish Home Rule supporters had threatened to blow up the Tabernacle that day.  The police had decided to keep this secret and that the event should take place.  Only Susie and a couple of others were aware.  Spurgeon was not told until after the event.

Spurgeon was involved in a dispute with his fellow Baptists in 1888.  He felt that the doctrine among his fellow Baptists was been watered down (or down-graded).  After the Baptist Assembly of 1888, his health declined.  His gout was now affecting his lungs.  He struggled with ill-health for the rest of his life.  He died on 31st January 1892, aged 57. 

(information mostly taken from Kathy Triggs).

No comments: