Ah Spurgeon! Prince of Preachers. Man of Essex. Short. What’s not to like? Here is a man whose ministry was so significant that 60,000 came to pay their respects when his body lay in state for three days at his church. Newspapers at the time estimated that some 100,000 lined the streets on the day of his funeral, and that his funeral procession was two miles long. Even the pubs closed.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon was born in rural Essex, son and grandson of congregationalist ministers. He received no great education, but was a voracious reader of his grandfather’s books (which contained many works by the Puritans) and learned some Greek.
When he was fifteen, whilst travelling a snowstorm forced him into a Local primitive Methodist chapel where he was deeply affected by the text: “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth, for I am God, and there is none else”. He joined the local Baptist church and was baptised, preaching his first sermon later that year. The next year he became pastor of a church in Cambridgeshire and in 1854, just nineteen, he was called to the pastorate of New Park Street Chapel in Southwark.
It was when he was in London that his preaching came to the attention of a wider audience. People flocked to hear him and his sermons were printed each week, but inevitably there was criticism of his plain style and Biblical basis. Nevertheless, his reputation grew and by 1856 the the 22 year old had moved to temporary accommodation at the Surrey Music Hall. An eyewitness describes the scene:
a congregation consisting of 10,000 souls, streaming into the hall, mounting the galleries, humming, buzzing, and swarming – a mighty hive of bees – eager to secure at first the best places, and, at last, any place at all. After waiting more than half an hour – for if you wish to have a seat you must be there at least that space of time in advance... Mr. Spurgeon ascended his tribune. To the hum, and rush, and trampling of men, succeeded a low, concentrated thrill and murmur of devotion, which seemed to run at once, like an electric current, through the breast of everyone present, and by this magnetic chain the preacher held us fast bound for about two hours.
We will return to this remarkable Victorian at a later stage, but for now note the power of preaching which seeks to bring the Bible to bear on the heart. There is something about truth simply and powerfully communicated.