CHARLES HADDON SPURGEON (1834-1892)
When one is commencing a series of short “Bios” of Christians of former days whose lives advertised something of the glory of God, there are some names which almost force themselves upon us. Luther, Calvin, Tyndale, Wesley, Edwards, to name but a few. One who was able to stand shoulder to shoulder with such men is Charles H. Spurgeon, a preacher whose name is as respected today as it was when he was at the height of his powers over one hundred and twenty years ago. Raised by his grandparents in a lopsided old house, the young Charles was a precocious child, with rare abilities in math, art and speech. From his earliest memories he was an avid reader. His grandfather, who was a Congregational preacher and lover of the Puritan divines, had a well-stocked library in a room at the top of the winding staircase of the manse. And in it, more often than not, one might come across the young Spurgeon, engrossed in one of those old tomes.
Reading at a rate of about one page every ten seconds he stored away a prodigious amount of the best theological writing of the previous three centuries. This was to stand him in good stead when in later years he published Commenting & Commentaries, an annotated buyers guide for students at his Pastor’s College in London. In addition to its solid recommendations, the book exhibits some of Spurgeon’s biting humor. Of one Greek scholar’s deprecating portrait of the Apostle Paul he suggested that the famous academician’s comments showed only that he was unable to come to an accurate assessment either of the Apostle or of himself. Another learned volume from Germany could not receive any plaudits since, unfortunately, he was quite unable to keep awake long enough to form an opinion of its contents.
But it was as a preacher that Spurgeon’s star shone brightest. In an age notable for its galaxy of great pulpiteers, Spurgeon was the greatest of all. This assertion can be proven in any number of ways. If one were to look at it in terms of sheer popularity, there was noone who could consistently draw crowds of six thousand (and usually entrance was by ticket only) twice every Sunday, and ‘the wrong side of the Thames’ at that. Then again, Spurgeon’s weekly printed sermons outsold all others, circulating internationally for years after his death. And they are still hugely popular today. If it were a matter of natural ability it is almost universally admitted that Spurgeon’s remarkably expressive baritone voice had no equal. Finally, one might point to his consistency; his unwavering stand for the truth, even when, during the so-called “Downgrade” over Biblical authority, it cost him much personal heartache. Only when it came to exposition would he have to yield the field to his friend and fellow Baptist Alexander Maclaren of Manchester.
Spurgeon’s brilliance can be come across today in any number of books and sermons, many of which are available on-line. Those who have not yet discovered him will mark the encounter. Those who have read him already do not need our recommendation.