Rev. Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the most widely-known preacher of the age, was born at Kelvedon, County of Essex, England, June 19, 1834. At an early age he was removed to his grandfather's house at Stambourne, in the same county, and remained there several years. His grandfather, who was the pastor of the Independent church of that place, and a man of considerable note for his long-continued and useful labors, was soon impressed with the child's thoughtfulness and keen moral perceptions. Most of the pious people who were acquainted with the family seem to have anticipated a remarkable career for him, and the well-known Rev. Richard Knill, when visiting at Stambourne in 1844, was so struck with the boy's ability and character that he declared to the assembled family his "solemn presentiment that this child will preach the gospel to thousands, and God will bless him to many souls."
Having received a liberal education at a private academy at Colchester, he engaged himself in his fifteenth year as assistant in a school at Newmarket conducted by a member of the Baptist denomination. This engagement led to his first associating himself with Baptists, his family and friends being all Independents. At this time, however, he had not found peace in Christ, although deeply convinced of sin. About the close of the year 1850 his distress of soul greatly increased, and he attended religious services in various places, seeking salvation in vain, until on December 15 he happened to go into a Primitive Methodist chapel in Colchester, and heard a sermon on the text, "Look unto me, and be ye saved." From that hour he rejoiced in salvation. He now felt it his duty to make a profession of his faith in Christ, and to unite himself with the Baptists. Although this step was not altogether pleasing to his family, his father and his grandfather being Pedobaptist ministers, they at length yielded to his wishes, and he was baptized May 3, 1851.
A year afterwards he removed to Cambridge, still continuing to teach as an usher, or assistant master. Having joined the old Baptist church in St. Andrew's Street, of which Robert Hall and Robert Robinson had been pastors, he soon found a congenial sphere of work in connection with "The Lay Preachers' Association." He became a welcome visitor at the thirteen village stations supplied by this body, and in 1852 he was invited by the little church at Waterbeach to assume the pastoral charge. His family and friends wished him to enter a theological seminary, and steps were taken to introduce him to Dr. Angus, the distinguished president of Regent's Park College. Through a misunderstanding the proposed meeting did not take place, and he continued at Waterbeach.
His ministry there was so eminently successful that in the autumn of 1853 the deacons of the ancient church in Southwark, London, the church of Benjamin Keach, Dr. Gill, and Dr. Rippon, were led to invite him to supply the pulpit. For some time the congregation there had been dwindling away, and at his first service there were only 200 attendants in a building capable of holding 1200. The result of the first sermon was a great increase in the evening attendance, and an invitation to come again as soon as possible. After three more Sundays he was asked to supply for six months with a view to a permanent settlement as pastor. He agreed to come for three months. Before the three months had passed away the small minority who had opposed the motion to call him to the pastorate were absorbed into the majority. and on April 28, 1854, he accepted their cordial and unanimous call.
His metropolitan ministry was a grand success from the start. All London was soon talking of the youthful Whitefield who had been discovered in a Cambridgeshire village. From London his fame spread throughout the land. Within a year the church edifice had to be enlarged. During the alterations Exeter Hall was hired, and over-flowing congregations in that spacious and central place attracted towards him the attention and criticism of the press. His "Exeter Hall Sermons" were published and had an extensive sale. Invitations to preach flowed in upon him from all quarters, to which he readily responded.
In 1856, the enlarged chapel having proved utterly inadequate to accommodate the crowds who flocked to hear him, he commenced preaching in the Music Hall of the Surrey Gardens, an immense building, which, although capable of seating 7000, was always densely crowded. Here notable persons of all sorts were frequently seen curiously studying this pulpit phenomenon. But, of course, the Music Hall could not be the home of a church, and in August, 1859, the foundation-stone of the Metropolitan Tabernacle was laid. The structure was completed in March, 1861, and at the conclusion of a series of opening services the entire cost, £31,000 ($150,000), was contributed. Subsequent improvements have enlarged the accommodations, and there are now seats for 5500 persons, and standing-room for 1000 more. It is well known that the congregations always fill the place on Sundays when Mr. Spurgeon preaches. When the church took possession of the Tabernacle there were 1178 members on the roll; there are now upwards of 5500.
Mr. Spurgeon's frequent attacks of illness, and the great increase of the membership, led the church, in 1868, to appoint his brother, the Rev. James Archer Spurgeon, as co-pastor, and this fellowship in service is still harmoniously and prosperously maintained. Besides his pulpit labors, Mr. Spurgeon's pen is ever busy. His contributions to the press and to theological literature rank him with the most eminent masters of style, and are scarcely less effective than his preaching. He is also among the most active leaders in philanthropic work, and princely in his gifts.
An orphanage for boys was commenced in 1867, and one for girls in 1880, at Stockwell, London. In these buildings 500 or 600 fatherless children are received, being admitted between the ages of six and ten years, and remaining until they are fourteen. The most needy applicants are generally preferred by the trustees, without regard to sectarian distinctions. Mr. Spurgeon's remarkable faculty of administration has made the Stockwell Orphanage famous among works of benevolence.
Early in his ministry he commenced at his own charge the enterprise which has developed into the Pastors' College, from which institution some hundreds of students have gone forth as preachers and missionaries. In 1865 he started a monthly magazine, the Sword and Trowel, purposing to make it the foster-parent of the college and orphanage, and the project has proved every way successful. A Colportage Association and Mrs. Spurgeon's Book Fund to provide free gifts of books for poor pastors, are valuable adjuncts to the colossal work of which the Tabernacle is the center. Week by week for upwards of twenty-five years a sermon by Mr. Spurgeon has been published, and not a few of them have had a remarkably large sale. They have been translated into several languages, and their entire circulation is probably unparalleled.
Mr. Spurgeon has two sons, twins. Both are preachers, and one is pastor of a Baptist church at Greenwich, near London.
From The Baptist Encyclopedia... edited by William Cathcart. Rev. ed. Philadelphia: Louis H. Everts, 1883.
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