Why I Read: Charles Spurgeon

By: A.T. Walker

“Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” Hebrews 13:7

Charles Haddon Spurgeon was born on June 19th, 1834 in Kelvedon, Essex in England. He became a believer in Christ at the age of 16 and became pastor at Waterbeach Chapel in Cambridge a year later, despite never having any formal theological training. Spurgeon would go on to become the most well known preacher in England during the latter half of the 19th century. At the age of 19, Spurgeon became pastor of the New Park Street Church, later called the Metropolitan Tabernacle, in London. Audiences of 10,000 or more would come to listen to Spurgeon preach, and preach he did, even without the help of a microphone or modern sound equipment. Spurgeon faithfully preached and served the last 38 years of his life before dying on January 31st, 1892 at the age of 57.

I had heard of “the Prince of Preachers” before, but I didn’t really start to read any of his works until a few years ago. God woke me up from a long spiritual slumber and I was desperate for gospel-centered preaching. I started reading some of his sermons and it didn’t take long before I was hooked. Stylistically, he clearly came from a completely different era than the preaching we see today. And while there has been a recent resurgence in gospel-centeredness, this was like nothing I had seen before. I began reading everything I could with his name on it. Here are a few things about the works of Charles Spurgeon that drew me in…

I saw his love for Christ…

He spoke about Christ the way my heart wants to speak about Him. I could feel his love for Christ pour out from every word. His work drove me to dive deeper into the gospel. His ability to draw deep, gospel goodness even out of what appeared to be shallow wells in scripture captivated me. No matter what he was writing about or where in scripture he was preaching, that road always led to Christ. As his fame and popularity grew, it never changed his focus in preaching. When the 5,600-seat Metropolitan Tabernacle (the largest church in existence at the time) was completed, Spurgeon, now just 27 years old, walked into the pulpit. This would have been an easy time for pride or arrogance to creep in or begin preaching a watered-down gospel out of a fear of losing his growing fame. But as he began his sermon, Spurgeon reminded the people who they were really here to see:

“I would propose that the subject of the ministry in this house, as long as this platform shall stand and as long as this house shall be frequented by worshippers, shall be the person of Jesus Christ. I am never ashamed to avow myself a Calvinist; I do not hesitate to take the name of Baptist; but if I am asked what is my creed, I reply, ‘It is Jesus Christ.’ My venerable predecessor, Dr. Gill, has left a body of divinity admirable and excellent in its way; but the body of divinity to which I would pin and bind myself for ever, God helping me, is not his system of divinity or any other human treatise, but Christ Jesus, who is the sum and substance of the gospel; who is in himself all theology, the incarnation of every precious truth, the all-glorious personal embodiment of the way, the truth, and the life.”

I saw his desire to see the lost be found…

Spurgeon’s heart burned for lost souls. Seeing men saved by drove him in his pursuit of Christ, in his study, and in his preaching. Spurgeon once said:

“I remember, when I have preached at different times in the country, and sometimes here, that my whole soul has agonized over men, every nerve of my body has been strained and I could have wept my very being out of my eyes and carried my whole frame away in a flood of tears, if I could but win souls.”

Spurgeon invented “The Wordless Book”, an evangelical tool still used to this day (you can read his sermon on The Wordless Book here). In 1856, Spurgeon founded The Pastor’s College (later renamed Spurgeon’s College in 1923) which trained nearly 900 pastors during his lifetime. The college allowed students to progress at their own pace (even teaching English, math, and science classes if needed) and to be free of financial burdens, as no student was kicked out for lack of payment. Spurgeon taught at the college only once per week on Friday afternoons, but his lectures were published in his classic book “Lectures To My Students”. In 1865, Spurgeon began publishing “The Sword and the Trowel”, a monthly magazine that contained various articles, tracts, poetry, and book reviews. Throughout his life, Spurgeon would become the founder of various orphanages, schools, mission chapels, and numerous other social institutions.

The Lord used Spurgeon to bring many lost souls to Christ, even some who were not expecting to hear from him:

“In 1857, a day or two before preaching at the Crystal Palace, I went to decide where the platform should be fixed; and, in order to test the acoustic properties of the building, cried in a loud voice, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” In one of the galleries, a workman, who knew nothing of what was being done, heard the words, and they came like a message from heaven to his soul. He was smitten with conviction on account of sin, put down his tools, went home, and there, after a season of spiritual struggling, found peace and life by beholding the Lamb of God.”

There is even another a story of a woman who purchased some butter at the market. When she returned home and unwrapped the butter, she discovered that it had been wrapped in a page from one of Spurgeon’s sermons. She converted to Christianity after reading the single page.

I saw his work ethic…

Spurgeon was a man who worked hard for the Lord. Besides shepherding such a large church, he also spent much time conducting marriages and funerals, his weekly sermon preparation, being editor of “The Sword and the Trowel”, overseeing a college and an orphanage, and responding to an average of five hundred letters a week. Spurgeon would preach as many as ten times per week, due to him being reluctant to turn down offers to speak. His sermons were printed and translated into multiple languages and sold thousands of copies a week. By the end of his life, it is estimated that he had preached 3,500 sermons to around 10 million people, all without the benefit of modern technology. His collected sermons fill sixty-three volumes, the largest set of books by one author in the history. He once addressed his rigorous work load by saying:

“We are all too much occupied with taking care of ourselves; we shun the difficulties of excessive labour. And frequently behind the entrenchments of taking care of our constitution, we do not half as much as we ought. A minister of God is bound to spurn the suggestions of ignoble ease, it is his calling to labour; and if he destroys his constitution, I, for one, only thank God that he permits us the high privilege of so making ourselves living sacrifices.”

I saw his suffering…

Throughout his life, Spurgeon faced many trials and much suffering. Not being one to put on airs, He was actually quite open and candid about his pain and weaknesses. Spurgeon was the first of seventeen children, nine of whom died in infancy. As a young man early in his ministry, he suffered from severe anxiety, not from a fear of public speaking, but from a fear the responsibility of being accountable to God as a preacher. He would later confess:

“My deacons know well enough how, when I first preached in Exeter Hall, there was scarcely ever an occasion, in which they left me alone for ten minutes before the service, but they would find me in a most fearful state of sickness, produced by that tremendous thought of my solemn responsibility.”

On the evening of October 19, 1856, Spurgeon was preaching at the Surrey Garden Music Hall. The hall, which was designed to hold 10,000 people, was overflowing with as many as 14,000 people, with thousands more outside trying to get in. Before the preaching began, there was a cry of “Fire!”. With a mass of people trying to exit, a balcony collapsed, and those trying to leave were blocked by the thousands outside trying to get in. When the dust cleared, seven people were dead and twenty-eight suffered serious injuries. Spurgeon would suffer severe bouts with depression the rest of his life because of the incident. But, as hard as these times of suffering were, he found that they made him a better preacher:

“I would go into the deeps a hundred times to cheer a downcast spirit. It is good for me to have been afflicted, that I might know how to speak a word in season to one that is weary.”

Throughout a large portion of his life, Spurgeon suffered from a combination of rheumatism, gout, and Bright’s disease. His wife, Susannah, was also ill and spent years bedridden with a debilitating chronic illness. Spurgeon’s firm belief in the sovereignty of God carried him through such pain and trials. He found comfort in the fact that if God is sovereign, then there are no accidents:

“It would be a very sharp and trying experience to me to think that I have an affliction which God never sent me, that the bitter cup was never filled by his hand, that my trials were never measured out by him, not sent to me by his arrangement of their weight and quantity.”

And he began to see these afflictions as blessings:

“I have learned to kiss the waves that throw me up against the Rock of Ages.”

Spurgeon ended the last sermon he ever preached by reminding us why he was able to bear all the pain and endure all the suffering. He also reminded me why I read the works of Charles Spurgeon:

“Jesus is the most magnanimous of captains. There never was his like among the choicest of princes. He is always to be found in the thickest part of the battle. When the wind blows cold he always takes the bleak side of the hill. The heaviest end of the cross lies ever on his shoulders. If he bids us carry a burden, he carries it also. If there is anything that is gracious, generous, kind, and tender, yea lavish and superabundant in love, you always find it in him. These forty years and more have I served him, blessed be his name! and I have had nothing but love from him. I would be glad to continue yet another forty years in the same dear service here below if so it pleased him. His service is life, peace, joy. Oh, that you would enter on it at once! God help you to enlist under the banner of Jesus even this day! Amen.”

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