“Look unto me and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth, for I am God, and there is none else.” (Isa. 45:22)
— by Anthony Whitlatch
Few throughout the history of Christianity in London, England have had as profound an impact on the Protestant church as Charles Haddon Spurgeon.
Born June 19th 1834, in Kelvendon, England (in the county of Essex), to John and Eliza Spurgeon, Charles was the first of seventeen children (nine of whom died at birth). At eighteen months old, Charles was sent to live with his grandparents in Stambourne, England. C.H. Spurgeon’s grandfather, James Spurgeon, was the minister at the non-conformist meetinghouse in Stambourne (a congregational community no aligning with the Anglican Church). Charles obviously received much influence from his grandfather in these early years and in subsequent years as he returned to spend holidays in Stambourne. One story C.H. Spurgeon recounts later in life is his first encounter with the “bottomless pit” (Revelation 9). As he read this story aloud, he recalls asking his grandfather about the bottomless pit, but receiving no answer. After multiple nights reading the same passage and asking the same question about the “bottomless pit,” his grandfather finally inquired the reasoning for Charles’ questioning. In response young Spurgeon asked, “If the pit has no bottom, where would all those people fall who dropped out at the lower end?“ From a young age, Spurgeon wrestled with the depravity of the human soul believing there was no depth which a man could sink which he could not sink deeper yet into depravity. This haunted Spurgeon. As an adult, he recounts having nightmares about the “bottomless pit.”
When Charles returned home (age six), his parents were living in Cholchester, England, and he had two sisters and one brother. His father was a normal English businessman by week and the minister of the congregational church in Cholchester by weekend. Although obviously influenced by his father’s ministering in the church, Charles’ mother also had a large influence in Charles’ as she pleaded to God on his behalf. Once his father told Charles a story of returning home to a praying wife who was pleading for her children, and specially interceding for Charles, her firstborn and strong-willed son. On another occasion, Charles recalls his mother praying this prayer with her young children, “Now, Lord, if my children go on in their sins, it will not be from ignorance they perish, and my soul must bear swift witness against them at the day of judgement if they lay not hold of Christ.” As Spurgeon recounts this story he says, “The thought of a mother bearing swift witness against me pierced my conscience and stirred my heart.” No doubt, the faithful intercession of Charles’ mother played a large roll in the salvation and ministry of C.H. Spurgeon.
On January 6th 1850 (age fifteen), Spurgeon was pushed into Primitive Methodist Chapel by a snow storm. This small congregation (fifteen members) and this unknown (except to God) preacher would provide for young Mr. Spurgeon his grasping of “salvation by faith.” As the preacher read from the Scriptures, “Look unto me and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth, for I am God, and there is none else,” (Isa. 45:22) he then looked at Spurgeon in the crowd and said, “Young man, you look very miserable…. 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… Young man, look to Jesus Christ! Look! Look! Look! You have nothin’ to do but to look and live.” It was on this day that the ruler of this world (Satan) lost the battle for one man’s soul and this one man would go on build the Kingdom of God in London and throughout England.
After his conversion he was convicted, through reading the Scriptures, of his need to be baptized, so he requested permission from his parents. On May 3rd 1850, he walked eight miles to be baptized by Mr. W.W. Cantlow, the closest baptist minister.
In August 1850 (same year as his conversion and baptism), he headed for Cambridge to attend school. At Cambridge, Spurgeon began teaching Bible in outlying towns. After Bible study in the morning and school work the rest of the day, he would travel in the evening preaching what he learned in the morning. Recognition from this activity earned him the Pastorate at Waterbeach Church in October 1851 (age sixteen). In December 1853 (age 18), He was invited to guest teach at New Park Street Church in London. He was so enjoyed by the congregation and the leaders were so impressed by his teaching ability, they offered (and he accepted) the pastorate of the largest baptist church in London, at the time, in 1854 (age nineteen).
Within one year, Spurgeon packed New Park Street Church and they began construction to expand. Meanwhile, the congregation moved to Exeter Hall where Spurgeon was packing the 4000-5000 seat hall (this was the newspaper report from their second meeting at Exeter Hall).
By 1856, after failing to return to their home church (the congregations meeting at Exeter Hall were too big for their “expanded” building), they began construction on the Metropolitan Tabernacle. For three years (1856-1859), while the Tabernacle was constructed, Spurgeon’s congregation met at Royal Surrey Gardens, a concert hall seating 10,000-12,000. He packed the Gardens twice every Sunday. The Tabernacle, 5,000 square feet larger then the Royal Surrey Gardens, had 3600 seats + 1000 more fold-able seats and an estimated 1000 more found their way into standing room only. From August 1860 to June 1891, Spurgeon ministered to hundreds of thousands the Metropolitan Tabernacle.
Theologically Spurgeon was Calvinist primarily, but when asked, his doctrine was Jesus Christ. Confounded by the vastness of the Bible, he often found too much in his study to teach. He had conviction about believers baptism and therefore criticized the Anglican church for infant baptism. Most of his ministry was with the Baptist denomination, but eventually he resigned from the Baptist Union in 1877 claiming that they were allowing those who downgraded the Bible, miracles, the work of Christ, and creation into their community. He said to be in fellowship with these people was to live in sin. In separating, Spurgeon’s church became the largest independently ran congregation in all of England.
For forty years and nine months, Spurgeon rocked Christendom with his teaching. His influence to the London community alone can he seen in that 60,000 people who showed up for his three day viewing upon his death. 100,000 people lined the streets for two miles between the Tabernacle and the cemetery, flags were flown at half staff and shops and pubs were closed on the day when C.H. Spurgeon was returned to the ground with a Bible laid on his casket opened to Isa 45:22:
“Look unto me and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth, for I am God, and there is none else.”
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Resources on Spurgeon
- Tom Nettles – living by revealed Truth (Christian Focus)
- Spurgeon, Memories of Stambourne
- Spurgeon, The Saint and His Saviour
- Spurgeon, “Compel them to come in”
- Fullerton, W.Y. Charles Haddon Spurgeon: A Biography. http://www.spurgeon.org/misc/biopref.htm