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Charles Haddon Spurgeon: English Baptist

Charles SpurgeonCharles Haddon Spurgeon: English Baptist; born at Kelvedon (40 miles northeast of London), Essex, [England], June 19, 1834; died at Mentone (13 miles northeast of Nice), France, January 31, 1892. His father and grandfather had been Independent ministers. From the age of seven to fifteen he was educated in a school at Colchester; he spent a few months in an agricultural college at Maidstone in 1842; and in 1849 became usher in a school at Newmarket, kept by a Baptist. As a youth he was subject to inner restlessness and conflict and dated his conversion from December 6, 1850, at the chapel of the Primitive Methodists in Colchester, on which occasion he was deeply stirred and greatly relieved by a sermon preached by a layman on Isaiah 45:22. However, the study of the Scriptures brought further misgivings and he was not content until he was immersed. This took place in the Lark at Isleham May 3, 1851, and he then united with the Baptist communion.

In 1851 he became usher in a school at Cambridge, and entered the lay preachers' association in connection with the Baptist church meeting in St. Andrews Street, Cambridge. Forced by circumstance he preached unprepared his first sermon in a cottage at Teversham near Cambridge, at the age of sixteen. His gifts were recognized at once and his fame spread. He preached in chapels, cottages, or in the open air in as many as thirteen stations in the villages surrounding Cambridge, and this after his school duties for the day were past. In 1852 he became pastor of the small Baptist church at Waterbeach, and in 1854, after preaching, three months on probation, he was called to the pastorate of the New Park Street Church, Southwark, London. Only 100 persons attended his first service; but before the end of the year the chapel had to be enlarged, and he preached in Exeter Hall during the alterations. When the enlarged chapel was opened it proved at once too small, and a great tabernacle was projected. Meanwhile, in 1856, Spurgeon preached at the Surrey Gardens music-hall to congregations which numbered 10,000 people; and at twenty-two he was the most popular preacher of his day. In 1861 the Metropolitan Temple [Tabernacle], seating 6,000, was opened and there he ministered until his death, retaining his popularity and power as a preacher to the end.

Beside preaching, other enterprises made their demand upon his energy. In 1855 he accepted his first student for the ministry; soon a class assembled in his house every week for instruction in theology, pastoral duties, and other practical matters. This work was assigned mainly to a tutor. Out of it grew the Pastors' College, located first in his house; under the Tabernacle, 1861-74; and, after 1874, in the New College buildings. The local mission work of these students in the slums formed the nuclei of new Sunday-schools and churches, a circle of which banded around the central church. Its internal needs were provided by a number of auxiliary associations. Spurgeon was president of a society for the dissemination of Bibles and tracts employing the service of ninety colporteurs. The Stockwell Orphanage was incorporated in 1867 with an endowment of £20,000 given by Mrs. Hillyard. It grew to a group of twelve houses and accommodated 500 children.

The figure of Spurgeon was a composite one. Methodist by conversion, Baptist by profession, he was fundamentally Calvinistic by descent and is sometimes called "the last of the Puritans." He was minded to carry his obduracy even to the extent of disunion among the churches. In 1864 he invited a controversy with the Evangelical party in the Church of England by a powerful sermon, Baptismal Regeneration, a doctrine which he opposed; 300,000 copies were sold, and numerous pamphlets written in reply, the most important was by a Baptist, B. W. Noel, Evangelical Clergy Defended (1864), in which Spurgeon was censured for introducing needless divisions among men of like faith. He, however, ended by withdrawing from the Evangelical Alliance. He also watched with misgivings the growth among Baptists of what seemed to him indifference to orthodoxy, deploring that not enough stress was laid on Christ's divine nature. He opposed what he called the "down-grade" movement of Biblical criticism; and, not being able to win the Baptist Union to his view, he withdrew in 1887, remaining independent until the end of his life, although still a stanch Baptist.

Personally unambitious and unselfish, industrious in his exacting parish service and incessant Biblical study, human in sympathy and sane on social questions, democratic in temperament, he was ever zealous in the gospel of grace and redemption, and fearless in denouncing evil and upholding what he deemed true and right. As a preacher his early success was due to the sensation of his youth, his spontaneous humor, the fervor of his appeals to the conscience, but mostly to his natural gift of oratory. With a clear sympathetic voice and easy gesture, he knew how most effectively to present his appeal for salvation, projected from a shrewd comment on contemporary life and sustained upon his characteristic expository treatment of Scripture derived from the old Puritan divines. He was in later life a great sufferer from gout, and frequently was obliged to leave his pulpit.

The results of Spurgeon's literary labors had an enormous circulation. He conducted The Sword and the Trowel, a monthly church magazine; and published more than 1,900 sermons, including, from 1855, a sermon every week, contained in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, continued after his death (49 vols., London, 1856-1904). Other works were, The Saint and his Savior (London, 1857); Morning by Morning; or Daily Readings for the Family or the Closet (1866); Evening by Evening (1868); John Ploughman's Talk (1869); and John Ploughman's Pictures (1880). Famous also is Our Own Hymn Book, with paraphrases of Psalms (1866). His most important work was The Treasury of David, an exposition of the book of Psalms (7 vols., 1870-1885). In view of his own lack of higher training, he was dependent in Biblical work upon the research of his assistants for scientifical material and on the Puritan divines for method and point of view; and his commentaries are practical and homiletical rather than scientific. Shortly before his death he completed The Gospel of the Kingdom, a popular exposition of Matthew (1893).

Bibliography. Besides Spurgeon's Autobiography, Compiled from his Diary, Letters, Records, by his Wife and his Secretary, 4 vols., London, 1897-1900, there are biographies by: G. H. Pike, new ed., London, 1887, R. H. Conwell, Philadelphia, 1892; J. D. Fulton, Chicago, 1892; G. C. Lorimer, Boston, 1892; R. Shindler, From the Usher's Desk to the Tabernacle Pulpit, New York, 1892; H. L. Wayland, Philadelphia, 1892; J. J. Ellis, new ed., London, 1902; C. Ray, ib. 1903, cf. the same author's A Marvelous Ministry, ib. 1905. Consult further J. Fernandez, Nonconformity in Southwark, London, 1882; W. Williams, Personal Reminiscences of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, New York, 1895; W. M. Higgs, The Spurgeon Family, London, 1906.

From The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge... New York: Funk and Wagnalls Company, 1911.

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