“Iron sharpens iron; so a man sharpens a friend’s character.” ~Proverbs 27:17
Periodically on this blog, we will look back at some of history’s most inspiring Christians; the pioneers of faith, if you will. We see in scripture where it is wise to learn from other Godly people. In fact, 1st Corinthians 11:1 states: “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.” You see, it is Christ that we follow, but we can also see Christ working through dedicated men and women of God. Nonetheless, we must be very cautious and discerning of who we follow. It can be said, though, that Charles Haddon Spurgeon was a dedicated Christian, and he finished well. He became known as the “Prince of Preachers” who reached many with the message of the Gospel.
The Early Years
“I had far rather be descended from one who suffered for the faith than bear the blood of all the emperors in my veins.” ~C.H. Spurgeon
Spurgeon was born in a small cottage in England on June 19, 1834. His mother, Eliza (Jarvis) Spurgeon, had seventeen children, nine of whom died in infancy. Spurgeon was born when she was only nineteen years old, and Spurgeon’s father was about twenty-four. When Charles Spurgeon was only ten years of age, a visiting missionary said that he would, one day, preach to thousands (which he later did). He came from a long line of Christians, some of whom were preachers. Charles Spurgeon became a Christian at the tender age of fifteen. The misery of sin made him detest it and never turn back after he surrendered to Christ. The text that gripped him at the time of his conversion was Isaiah 45:22 which states: “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else.”
The Bible became most precious to Spurgeon. He loved books ever since he was a child. One of his favorite books was “The Pilgrim’s Progress” by John Bunyan. In his life, he read it over 100 times. His love of books carried on throughout his life. He was an avid reader and writer. He typically read six books per week. His personal library consisted of thousands of volumes. Needless to say, the book that he cherished the most was the Bible. He studied it for many years. In fact, he spent twenty years studying the book of Psalms and wrote commentaries on them in his book, “The Treasury of David”. He said, “Visit many good books, but live in the Bible.”
The Year of 1856
“Whenever God intends on making a man great, He will take that man and break him into pieces first.” ~C.H. Spurgeon
Before the age of twenty, Spurgeon had already preached over 600 times. At the age of twenty-one, he married Susannah (Thompson) on January 8, 1856. Later that year, his wife gave birth to twin boys, Charles and Thomas. He was one of the most well-known preachers of that time. However, this joyous year would not end without tragedy.
Only about a month after his twin sons were born, he was preaching at the Surrey Gardens Music Hall where a massive crowd had gathered to hear him preach. A trouble-maker in the crowd yelled, “Fire! The galleries are giving way!” and panic ensued. Of course, there was no fire – but the crowd did not know that. As the people were scurrying to get out of this large building, it created a stampede and several people were trampled underfoot. When Spurgeon found out that seven people perished in this ordeal, he collapsed under the stress of it. He was physically carried away and taken to a friend’s home where he mourned. An additional 28 people were hospitalized with serious injuries. The newspapers were cruel as they reported of this event, which only deepened the anguish felt by Spurgeon. The emotional devastation took its toll on him throughout his life.
Working for the Lord
“Hear, ye children, the instruction of a father, and attend to know understanding.” ~Proverbs 4:1
In the year following the tragedy of 1856, Spurgeon began a college for Pastors. Additionally, he also spoke to his largest crowd ever, at the Crystal Palace in London. The crowd consisted of 23,654 people, and he spoke without the assistance of amplification or a microphone.
Before this large assembly was to be held, Spurgeon wanted to test the acoustics of the building. So, he stood and loudly proclaimed, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” He did not know, but there was a worker there who heard his words. This worker put down his tools, went home, and came to know Christ – the Lamb of God – for himself.
Countless others came to know Christ through the ministry of Charles Spurgeon. He was a great encouragement to his ever-expanding congregation. He preached at the Metropolitan Tabernacle for well over 30+ years. He never gave an altar call – but instructed those who wanted to seek Christ to meet with him on Monday at his vestry. There was always someone there on Monday to meet with him; and often, several came to seek the Lord. This approach seemed less rushed and more thorough.
He always felt the weight of accountability to God when preaching. He once remarked, “I have preached the gospel now these thirty years and more, and… often, in coming down to this pulpit, have I felt my knees knock together; not that I am afraid of any one of my hearers, but I am thinking of that account which I must render to God, whether I speak his Word faithfully or not.”
As the years progressed, Spurgeon kept working for the Lord and for the greater good of humanity. He founded the Stockwell Orphanage, which later became known as Spurgeon’s Childcare – and it is still in existence today, as is the Metropolitan Tabernacle and Spurgeon’s College.
Facing Opposition and Suffering
“God works all things together for your good. If the waves roll against you, it only speeds your ship towards the port.” ~C.H. Spurgeon
Not only did Charles Spurgeon struggle with depression, but he also struggled with a highly painful arthritic condition in his feet (Gout), as well as kidney disease (Bright’s Disease). His wife, Susannah, was also in poor health and could rarely come to hear her husband preach. He felt that suffering gave a “softening influence” as to make one more tender toward others who suffer.
It has been documented that he suffered from depression and moments of crying for no apparent reason known to him. He was often ashamed of his depression and viewed it as his “worst feature”. He came to a realization within himself that “…sometimes the Christian should not endure his sufferings with a gallant and a joyous heart… that sometimes his spirits should sink within him, and that he should become even as a little child smitten beneath the hand of God.”
Nonetheless, Spurgeon found some good out of suffering with lifelong depression. He said, “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.” In spite of bouts of crippling depression, God still used him in a mighty way.
Not only did he suffer emotionally, but his physical maladies often caused him intense pain. During one of his bouts of affliction, he desperately cried out to God for mercy. He recounted the event by saying:
“When I was racked some months ago with pain, to an extreme degree, so that I could no longer bear it without crying out, I asked all to go from the room, and leave me alone; and then I had nothing I could say to God but this, ‘Thou art my Father, and I am thy child; and thou, as a Father, art tender and full of mercy. I could not bear to see my child suffer as thou makest me suffer, and if I saw him tormented as I am now, I would do what I could to help him, and put my arms under him to sustain him. Wilt thou hide thy face from me, my Father? Wilt thou still lay on a heavy hand, and not give me a smile from thy countenance?’ … so I pleaded, and I ventured to say, when I was quiet, and they came back who watched me: ‘I shall never have such pain again from this moment, for God has heard my prayer.’ I bless God that ease came and the racking pain never returned.”
Throughout Charles Spurgeon’s life, he often faced ridicule, threats, hatred, slander, and the cruel media. However, he soon found his very own opposing him. As Jesus said in Matthew 10:36, “… a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.” Also, in Matthew 24:9, “… and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake.”
Spurgeon had always opposed slavery and spoke out against people owning slaves. This caused him to lose support from many publishers of that time. However, he faced even greater opposition in 1887 when he published an article addressing how many Baptists (of that time) were downgrading the principles of scripture. This controversy became known as the “Downgrade Controversy”. It seemed the influence of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution and other unbiblical theories were impacting the Baptists’ faith. Spurgeon wrote, “Assuredly the New Theology can do no good towards God or man; it, has no adaptation for it. If it were preached for a thousand years by all the most earnest men of the school, it would never renew a soul, nor overcome pride in a single human heart.”
Spurgeon also wrote, “Believers in Christ’s atonement are now in declared union with those who make light of it; believers in Holy Scripture are in confederacy with those who deny plenary inspiration; those who hold evangelical doctrine are in open alliance with those who call the fall a fable, who deny the personality of the Holy Ghost, who call justification by faith immoral, and hold that there is another probation after death… It is our solemn conviction that there should be no pretence of fellowship. Fellowship with known and vital error is participation in sin.” Needless to say, Spurgeon’s church, the Metropolitan Tabernacle, became disaffiliated from the Baptist Union.
Spurgeon said, “Down on my knees have I often fallen, with the hot sweat rising from my brow under some fresh slander poured upon me; in an agony of grief my heart has been well-nigh broken; … This thing I hope I can say from my heart: If to be made as the mire of the streets again, if to be the laughing stock of fools and the song of the drunkard once more will make me more serviceable to my Master, and more useful to his cause, I will prefer it to all this multitude, or to all the applause that man could give.” He also once said, “I’ve learned to kiss the wave that throws me against the Rock of Ages.”
Spurgeon’s Legacy Lives On
“When the time comes for you to die, you need not be afraid, because death cannot separate you from God’s love.” ~C.H. Spurgeon
Charles Spurgeon’s health only continued to decline. He preached his last sermon on June 7, 1891. His illness got to the point where he was sometimes delirious. However, the illness would ebb and flow. In one of Spurgeon’s last addresses, he said, “During the past year I have been made to see that there is more love and unity among God’s people than is generally believed. I feel myself a debtor to all God’s people upon earth…”
Spurgeon knew the end of his earthly life was near. Just a few days before he passed away, he humbly said, “Remember – a plain slab, with C.H.S. upon it; nothing more.” However, it was said that love denied this request. Only a couple of days before his death, he told his secretary, “My work is done.” Not long before he passed into glory, a friend of his, Joseph Harrald, saw angels hovering in the sky. Charles Haddon Spurgeon passed away on January 31, 1892. He was 57 years of age at the time of his death.
During his lifetime, many people came to hear him preach; some of which were the Prime Minister, members of the royal family, members of Parliament, Florence Nightingale, James Garfield (the 20th President of the United States), and many others. Nowadays, Charles Spurgeon is still revered and his legacy is impacting scores of people.
Likewise, may we live for Christ. May we finish well; and may we leave a legacy of faith, encouragement, and hope through Jesus Christ our Lord.