No living preacher has moved and had his being in such a bright place of world-wide publicity as the famous pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle. To attempt any adequate sketch of the "Pastor's" unique career within the limits of our space would be simply impossible. Nor is it needful that we should essay such a hopeless task. Paying the penalty of greatness, Mr. Spurgeon's every public act, outside of the merest daily routine, has for many years been faithfully chronicled by the Press, sacred and secular alike. He is as much a public possession as is the occupant of the throne of these realms; and his history during later years has been as familiar to the reading community.
To our younger readers, however, a few details of Mr. Spurgeon's early life and ministry will probably be acceptable and full of interest. He comes of a staunch Puritan stock, and is the greatest of a long unbroken line of preachers, that bids fair to stretch down the vista of the future—as far, we may hope, as it does backward into the past. "The great-grandfather of Pastor Spurgeon," says Mr. Stevenson, in his excellent sketch of the Pastor's "Life and Work," "was a pious man, and ordered his household according to the will of God. From that day to this their family has never wanted a man to stand before God in the service of the sanctuary." It is a most interesting and well-known fact, which may, however, be here put on record, that three generations of preaching Spurgeons are at this moment engaged in that service—Pastor Spurgeon's father, his brother, himself, and his two sons.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon was born in the Essex village of Kelvedon on June 19, 1834. After a childhood and boyhood of singular promise, we find him, at the age of fifteen or thereabouts, as usher in a school at Newmarket. There, and at that early age, he espoused and publicly professed the Baptist principles with which his ministry has been so conspicuously identified. His denominational views were adopted shortly after his conversion. In his childhood he had deep convictions of sin; and these appear to have clung to him for a lengthened period. For six months he prayed, prayed agonizingly from the heart; but seemed to receive no answer. He resolved to visit every place of worship in the town in which he then lived (Colchester). After six months' soul-anxiety, as deep as that which is recorded of John Bunyan, he was enabled to lay hold on Christ.
The story of Mr. Spurgeon's conversion shall be told in his own words:—
One snowy day—it snowed so much, I could not go to the place I had determined to go to, and I was obliged to stop on the road; and it was a blessed stop to me—I found rather an obscure street, and turned down a court; and there was a little chapel. I wanted to go somewhere; but I did not know this place. It was the Primitive Methodists' chapel. I had heard of these people from many, and how they sang so loudly that they made people's heads ache; but that did not matter—I wanted to know how I might be saved; and if they made my head ache ever so much I did not care. So, sitting down, the service went on; but no minister came. At last a very thin-looking man came into the pulpit and opened his Bible and read these words: "Look unto Me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth." Just setting his eyes upon me, as if he knew me all by heart, he said, "Young man, you are in trouble." Well, I was, sure enough. Says he, "you will never get out of it unless you look to Christ." And then lifting up his hands he cried out, as only I think a Primitive Methodist could do, "Look, look, look!" "It is only—Look!" said he. I at once saw the way of salvation. Oh, how I did leap for joy at that moment! I know not what else he said; I did not take much notice of it: I was so possessed with that one thought. Like as when the brazen serpent was lifted up, they only looked and were healed. I had been waiting to do fifty things; but when I heard this word, "Look," what a charming word it seemed to me! Oh, I looked until I could almost have looked my eyes away; and in Heaven I will look on still in my joy unutterable. I now think I am bound never to preach a sermon without preaching to sinners. I do think that a minister who can preach a sermon without addressing sinners does not know how to preach.
This sermon was instrumentally the messenger of peace to his soul, and started him on that narrow way into which, by voice and printed page, he has allured so many thousands of his fellow-mortals. Evangelists, who would illustrate the simplicity of God's way of salvation, could not do better than make frequent use of this incident, fraught with such far-reaching issues in the religious history of this century.
Mr. Spurgeon's first sermon was preached when he was sixteen years of age. In his eighteenth year he commenced a brief, but markedly successful, pastorate at Waterbeach, near Cambridge. In the autumn of 1853 Mr. Spurgeon came to London to supply the pulpit at the Baptist Chapel, New Park Street, Southwark, for one Sunday. The chapel, which had sitting accommodation for upwards of a thousand persons, presented anything but an encouraging appearance to the preacher; for we have been credibly informed that the congregation, all told, numbered about two hundred on that occasion. But such was the impression made upon the faithful few by the whole service, and especially by the sermon, that in the evening the congregation was nearly doubled, and the people wondered at what they heard. The deacons then invited Mr. Spurgeon for three alternate Lord's-days; and afterwards the church unanimously requested him to occupy the pulpit for six months, with a view to the pastorate. This arrangement, however, was soon superseded by the church unanimously electing him as their pastor.
The letter of Mr. Spurgeon, in which he formally accepted the unanimous call to the pastorate after a three months' probation, appears in Mr. Stevenson's sketch [Pastor C. H. Spurgeon: His Life and Work. Passmore & Alabaster], and a very remarkable production it was for a young man of scarce twenty years old; it had in it all "the promise and potency" of his subsequent career. We are indebted to the sketch for many particulars given here. The following paragraphs will suffice to tell all that need be told as to one feature of Mr. Spurgeon's London ministry, which has now extended over a period exceeding five-and-thirty years:—
Before three months of the new pastorate had expired, the fame of the young minister had spread over the metropolis: crowds of people flocked to his chapel at every service, and the newspapers week by week for some time were asking, Who is this Spurgeon? For months that question was a puzzle to many minds; but one thing was certain, he had secured the ear and the attention of the public, who waited upon his ministry by thousands.
From the commencement of his labours in the metropolis he had a happy manner of turning to good account passing occurrences. Great national events. royal marriages, deaths, or public calamities, furnished in their turn subjects on which he spoke; and out of which he drew lessons of practical good for his hearers. This disposition he manifested before his sermons began to be regularly published. In the autumn of his first year's pastorate he preached a sermon from the words, "Is it not wheat harvest to-day?" The sermon attracted attention; was much talked about by his hearers; and during the following week it appeared in The Penny Pulpit, under the title of "Harvest Time," and had a large sale. This led the publisher shortly afterwards to print another of his sermons, under the title of "God's Providence." The public at once took to his sermons; and by the end of the year about a dozen had thus been issued. This greatly increased his popularity; for many who had not heard him, read those sermons, were interested in them, and soon found opportunity to go and hear him.
The demand for his sermons being considerable, Mr. Spurgeon made arrangements with the first friend he met in London, who was a printer, and a member of his church, to commence the publication of one sermon of his every week, beginning with the new year, 1855. Through the good providence of God the sermons have appeared continuously, week by week, without interruption, with a steady, large, and improving circulation, which is in itself a marked indication of divine favour. No other minister the world has ever known has been able to produce one printed sermon weekly for so many years. The work still goes on with unabated favour and unceasing interest. Their present sale is 25,000 copies weekly."
Within one year not only was the chapel in New Park Street filled to its utmost capacity, but every Sunday hundreds were disappointed at not being able to gain admittance. The chapel therefore had to be enlarged; and Exeter Hall was occupied for about three months whilst the enlargement was being made. The crowds being as great as ever when the services were resumed in the enlarged chapel, it was found necessary to hire the very large Music Hall in the Royal Surrey Gardens.
Here occurred, at the first Sunday evening service, October 19, 1856, a sad calamity. A false alarm of fire having been raised, a panic ensued, resulting in the death of seven persons, twenty-eight others being injured. The preacher himself received so severe a shock to his nervous system that he was utterly prostrated for a time. By the great mercy of God he recovered sufficiently to occupy the pulpit in the chapel on October 31, and gradually regained his wonted health. To avoid all fear of further panic, it was arranged that the services at the Music Hall should be held in the morning instead of the evening of the Lord's-day. Although that part of the day is least favourable for large congregations, the multitude came Sunday after Sunday, to the number of ten thousand at a service, to listen to the story of redeeming love as they had never heard it told before.
The year 1856 was a remarkable one in the life of Mr. Spurgeon. It was the year of his marriage; the year also in which he preached his grandfather's jubilee sermon, and one of the centenary sermons in Whitefield's Tabernacle, in Tottenham Court Road. We have already referred to the Surrey Gardens' catastrophe which occurred in the October of the same year. On January 8, Mr. Spurgeon was married, by Dr. Alexander Fletcher, to Miss Susannah Thompson, daughter of Mr. Robert Thompson, of Falcon Square, London. Never did two persons unite hands and hearts more suited to each other in mind, disposition, and mutual love: twin boys, Charles and Thomas Spurgeon, are the only issue of their marriage.
The story of the erection of the Metropolitan Tabernacle will always furnish an inspiriting example of the rapid growth of the work of God under the hand of a consecrated preacher. The foundation-stone of the new building was laid on August 16, 1859. It was opened, free of debt, in March, 1861; the cost of the erection having been £31,000. The sitting accommodation is for 5,500 persons, while there is room for another 1000 people in the aisles, &c. The membership of the church which was, at the time of the opening, 1,178, has since grown to over 5,500; and many useful schemes for the benefit of the poor at home and abroad are carried on by the followers of Christ in fellowship there. Arising also from the work carried on at the Tabernacle, the Pastor's College was brought into existence. This Institution is devoted to the training of young men for ministerial work; and its students are to be found in all parts of the world. The Stockwell Orphanage was also founded for the care of orphan children of both sexes, and is sustained and largely, supported by friends of Mr. Spurgeon in all lands. The inmates number between 200 and 300 healthy children, who find in the Institution a home. The buildings are erected so that the "family" system obtains. We can only mention the Almshouses; the Colportage Society; and the Loan Building Fund. Even these do not exhaust the catalogue of good works carried on by the hard-working pastor and his beloved people.
Quite a library of Spurgeonic literature has arisen, all of it marked by the strong characteristics of the illustrious author. The publishers' catalogue is before us, and if we begin to particularize we shall scarce know where to stop. In the region of HOMILETICS we have the thirty volumes of the "Tabernacle Pulpit," besides many volumes of selected sermons. We have several extracted volumes of 'Illustrations for Preachers and Teachers," and yet others of "Gems" and "Gleanings." There are his well-known companion devotional books, "Morning by Morning" and "Evening by Evening," and also his "Interpreter," selected passages of Scripture for use in Family Worship, accompanied by a running commentary: each of them is prized in many a Christian household. There are his four volumes of "Lectures to Students." There are his popular "Talks" and "Pictures" by "John Ploughman." There is the monthly Sword and Trowel, in which the editor's fresh and breezy utterances are always a chief attraction. And lastly, passing over many minor publications, there is Mr. Spurgeon's magnum opus,"The Treasury of David," an Original Exposition of the Book of Psalms—in its seven copious volumes. As we scan the catalogue our wonderment grows at the exceeding magnitude and multiplicity of the works that God has enabled this one man to write, and plan, and perform. We can only say, "This also cometh from the Lord, who is mighty in counsel and excellent in working."
For the wonderful story of Mrs. Spurgeon's BOOK FUND we must refer the reader to the most pathetic and beautiful Records of that work published annually for the last few years.
Perhaps a few figures may help the reader to judge of the work involved in this "labour of love." During eleven years, about 11,000 grants of books were made, consisting of 90,080 volumes. Single sermons supplied to Ministers for village distribution, 117,487. To Missionaries abroad Mr. Spurgeon's sermons are regularly posted, to the number of nearly 10,000 a year; and very highly do they prize both the gift and the loving sympathy of which it is an expression.
The narrative of the Book Fund deserves a whole article to itself; but these fascinating "Records" are within the reach of all.
To the deep sorrow of all who know him, personally or by reputation, Mr. Spurgeon has been a great sufferer these past years from a painful rheumatic affection that sometimes lays him completely prostrate. From time to time he is compelled to sojourn under the sunny skies of Southern France, in order to find restoration and fresh supplies of health for future service.
From The Christian Portrait Gallery containing over one hundred life-like illustrations with biographic sketches. London: Morgan and Scott, [1900?]