Birth and Early Life
Charles Haddon Spurgeon was born on June 19, 1834, to John and Eliza Spurgeon in Kelvedon, Essex, England. Much of his early childhood – from the time he was 18 months until he was six – was spent with his grandparents, who lived in Stambourne. He was taught to read by his aunt, Ann, who was 18. His grandfather was a minister of a Congregational church. He returned to his parents’ home in 1840 after his father became a Congregational church minister himself. His parents had three more children by then, a boy and two girls. He taught them what he had learned from his aunt.
Salvation and Preaching
Spurgeon was 15 when he became convicted of sin. He was caught in a severe snowstorm and found himself in a Primitive Methodist Church in Colchester. The speaker was a layman, who preached using the text “Look unto Me and be ye saved” from Isaiah 45:22. He became a Christian that day: January 6, 1850. He was baptized May 3rd by Rev. W. W. Cantlow, on his mother’s birthday. That summer, he moved to Cambridge to join the St. Andrew Street Baptist Church and had his first experience with public speaking under James Vinter’s influence.
In October of the following year, 1851, Spurgeon took the pastorate of Waterbeach Baptist Chapel. He spent two years there. During that time, the congregation grew exponentially, from around 40 to around 400 attendees. He also began a tract printing ministry during this time, and his “Waterbeach Tracts” became well known.
November of 1853 found Spurgeon speaking to a Sunday School Union in Cambridge. A member of New Park Street Chapel was in attendance and spoke of him favorably. In December of 1853, Mr. William Olney invited him to speak at New Park Street Chapel, to which Spurgeon agreed. He took his message from James 1:17. After three more sermons at that church in January 1854, New Park Street Chapel called Spurgeon to pastor the church, following pastors Benjamin Keach and John Gill. In April, Spurgeon agreed to become the pastor. He was 20 years old.
The congregation there also expanded, and the auditorium, which seated 1200, soon became too small. In August, remodeling began to enlarge the building, and services were moved to Exeter Hall, which seated 5,000. In May 1855, when the chapel’s remodeling was complete, it was discovered that the building was still not large enough, so they decided to build a new church building. The Metropolitan Tabernacle would seat 5,000, and had standing room for another 1,000. In the meantime, the services were held at Exeter Hall and Surrey Gardens Music Hall (which seated 8,000). The Tabernacle was completed in 1861 and dedicated on March 18 of that year.
Spurgeon married Susannah Thompson in 1856. Their only children were twin sons, whom they named Charles and Thomas. One month later, Spurgeon was preaching at a location known as the Surrey Gardens Music Hall – it was his first time preaching there. Someone called out, “Fire!” and the people panicked and stampeded, resulting in several deaths. This was very difficult for Spurgeon and influenced him greatly, causing him to struggle with depression.
In 1857, Spurgeon founded the Pastors’ College, and he served as its president. In 1923, the college moved to South Norwood Hill, London, and was renamed Spurgeon’s College.
Throughout his life, he continued his printing ministry. He printed weekly volumes of sermons for many years, and this practice continued for a number of years after his death. Along with sermons, Spurgeon published other books based on his studies, including Lectures to My Students in 1890, based on lectures from the Pastors’ College, and Treasury of David, a 7-volume devotional on the Psalms, published around 1869, among others.
Spurgeon also founded Stockwell Orphanage, which took in boys beginning in 1867; the orphanage also added girls in 1879. He had ministries to help the poor, offering food and clothing, and a fund to help needy ministers with book purchases.
Spurgeon is best known, however, for his preaching. Each week, he wrote out his sermons fully; however, he preached from a note card rather than reading the sermons. He had stenographers record his actual delivery, and the transcripts were reviewed the next day and published. These sermons are still among the best-selling series of writings published for all time.
He also wrote several hymns, and published a hymnbook in 1866 which he titled “Our Own Hymn Book.” Many of the included songs were Psalms and Hymns by Isaac Watts. The singing in Spurgeon’s church was always a cappella.
Spurgeon, while a Baptist, chose to follow the teachings of John Calvin. However, he was quick to declare that his primary theology was to follow Jesus Christ. He did not insist on only speaking in Baptist churches. In fact, because he spoke at other denominations, he was called the “Prince of Preachers.” He preached at a Free Church of Scotland, and during this time he met and befriended James Hudson Taylor, missionary to China. He directed missionaries and money to Taylor’s China Inland Mission over the following years.
He was quite instrumental in the popularization of the Wordless Book, a book made simply of colors, used to teach those who could not read, or who did not speak the same language, the Gospel message. Spurgeon’s original version contained only three colors: black, which represented sin; red, representing atonement; and white, to represent righteousness. Later, D.L. Moody added yellow for Heaven’s streets of gold, and CEF also added green to show that Christians need to grow in Christ. This five-color variety is the one used most often today.
Spurgeon’s life’s goal was to preach the Gospel, and this he did well. He spoke plainly and clearly according to the Scriptures and refused to compromise the message of the Scriptures. He called down those who did, stating that those who added other things to the Gospel were “downgrading” it.
In later years, his wife experienced poor health and was rarely well enough to go hear Spurgeon preach. He, too, declined in health, dealing with gout, rheumatism, and Bright’s disease (which affected the kidneys). He spent time in Menton, which is near Nice, France, to recover from bouts of these diseases, and on January 31, 1892, he died there. Over the course of his life, Spurgeon is believed to have preached to more than 10,000,000 people, all before microphones and voice amplification were created.
The works of Spurgeon have been printed and reprinted numerous times. They have also been translated into many different languages, including Braille. His works include commentaries, books on prayer, devotionals, poetry, hymns, and an autobiography, among other writings. A partial list of his works is included below:
- Commenting & Commentaries
- All of Grace
- Around the Wicket Gate
- Come Ye Children
- A Defense of Calvinism
- An All-Round Ministry (Addresses to Ministers and Students)
- Eccentric Preachers
- Farmer’s Sermons
- Morning and Evening (Devotional)
- The Passion and Death of Our Lord
- The Treasury of David