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Charles Haddon Spurgeon

Charles SpurgeonCharles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892), English Nonconformist divine, was born at Kelvedon, Essex, [England], on the 19th of June 1834. He was the grandson of an Essex pastor, and son of John Spurgeon, Independent minister at Upper Street, Islington.

He went to school at Colchester and Maidstone, and in 1849 he became usher at a school in Newmarket. He joined the Baptist communion in 1851, and his work at once attested his "conversion." He began distributing tracts and visiting the poor, joined the lay preachers' association, and gave his first sermon at Teversham, near Cambridge.

In 1852 he became pastor of Waterbeach. He was strongly urged to enter Stepney (now Regent's Park) College to prepare more fully for the ministry, but an appointment with Dr. Joseph Angus, the tutor, having accidentally fallen through, Spurgeon interpreted the contretemps as a divine warning against a college career. The lack of early systematic theological training certainly had a momentous effect upon his development. Broad in every other respect, he retained to the last the narrow Calvinism of the early 19th century.

His powers as a boy preacher became widely known, and at the close of 1853 he was "called" to New Park Street Chapel, Southwark. In a very few months' time the chapel was full to overflowing. Exeter Hall was used while a new chapel was being erected, but Exeter Hall could not contain Spurgeon's hearers. The enlarged chapel at once proved too small for the crowds, and a huge tabernacle was projected in Newington Causeway. The preacher had recourse to the Surrey Gardens music hall, where his congregation numbered from seven to ten thousand. At twenty-two he was the most popular preacher of his day.

In 1857, on the day of national humiliation for the Indian Mutiny, he preached at the Crystal Palace to 24,000 people. The Metropolitan Tabernacle, with a platform for the preacher and accommodation for 6000 persons, was opened for service on the 25th of March 1861. The cost was over £30,000, and the debt was entirely paid off at the close of the opening services, which lasted over a month. Spurgeon preached habitually at the Tabernacle on Sundays and Thursdays. He frequently spoke for nearly an hour, and invariably from heads and subheads jotted down upon half a sheet of letter paper. His Sunday sermons were taken down in shorthand, corrected by him on Monday, and sold by his publishers, Messrs. Passmore & Alabaster, literally by tons. They have been extensively translated. Clear and forcible in style and arrangement, they are models of Puritan exposition and of appeal through the emotions to the individual conscience, illuminated by frequent flashes of spontaneous and often highly unconventional humour. In his method of employing illustration he is suggestive of Thomas Adams, Thomas Fuller, Richard Baxter, Thomas Manton and John Bunyan. Like them, too, he excelled in his vigorous command of the vernacular. Among more recent preachers he had most affinity with George Whitefield, Richard Cecil and Joseph Irons.

Collected as The Tabernacle Pulpit, the sermons form some fifty volumes. Spurgeon's lectures, aphorisms, talks, and "Saplings for Sermons" were similarly stenographed, corrected and circulated. He also edited a monthly magazine, The Sword and Trowel; elaborate exposition of the Psalms, in seven volumes, called The Treasury of David (1870-1885); and a book of sayings called John Ploughman's Talks; or Plain Advice for Plain People (1869), a kind of religious Poor Richard.

In the summer of 1864, a sermon which he preached and printed on Baptismal Regeneration (a doctrine which he strenuously repudiated, maintaining that immersion was only an outward and visible sign of the inward conversion) led to a difference with the bulk of the Evangelical party, both Nonconformist and Anglican. Spurgeon maintained his ground, but in 1865 he withdrew from the Evangelical Alliance. Subsequently in 1887, his distrust of modem biblical criticism led to his withdrawing from the Baptist Union.

His powers of organization were strongly exhibited in the Pastors' College, the Orphanage (at Stockwell), the Tabernacle Almshouses, the Colportage Association for selling religious books, and the gratuitous book fund which grew up under his care. He received large money testimonials (£6000 on his silver-wedding day and £5000 on his fiftieth birthday), which he handed over to these institutions. He died at Mentone on the 31st of January 1892, leaving a widow with twin sons (b. 1856). One of them, Rev. Thomas Spurgeon, after some years of pastorate in New Zealand, succeeded his father as minister of the Tabernacle, but resigned in 1908 and became president of the Pastors' College.

An Autobiography was compiled by his widow and his private secretary from his diary, sermons, records and letters (1897-1900).

From The Encyclopædia Britannica. 11th ed. New York: Encyclopædia Britannica, 1911.

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