Spurgeon, Charles Haddon


b Kelvedon, Essex 1834, d Mentone, S France 1892. Brought up partly by his grandparents, he was deeply influenced by his grandfather, the Independent preacher James Spurgeon in the Essex village of Stambourne. While very young, he would read in the attic about Bunyan and other evangelical heroes. Returning to his parents’ home at Colchester, then Maidstone, where his father John was also a Pastor, he had basic local schooling before himself becoming a junior tutor at Newmarket, learning some philosophy, Lat and Gk. He was converted in a small chapel which he had entered unplanned one snowy night in Jan 1850, while a substitute lay preacher struggled with Isa 45:22, and was baptized that year in the River Lark at Isleham, Cambs. Still only 16, he preached his first sermon at Taversham, and for 2 years ministered to a rapidly growing congregation at Waterbeach Baptist Chapel nr Cambridge. Not yet 20, such were his qualities that he was next invited to be the pastor at New Park Street Ch in S London, after first preaching there in Dec 1853. The building soon proving too small for the numbers who attended, the congregation moved to Exeter Hall (on The Strand, with 4,000 seats), then back south of the Thames to the even larger Surrey Music Hall, 1856–59. Finally, the Metropolitan Tabernacle (‘Spurgeon’s’) was opened in 1861 at the ‘Elephant and Castle’ district of Southwark, as the church’s more permanent home. That year he also addressed a crowd counted at 23,654 at the Crystal Palace. But at the Tabernacle the former ‘boy preacher’ who was becoming the ‘prince of preachers’ addressed some 6000 every Sunday morning and evening for the next 31 years, in an unrivalled ministry of biblical evangelism and teaching. 14,692 members were added to the church, nearly 11,000 by baptism. From 1855 his sermons were regularly printed; in 1865 he founded and edited the monthly Sword and Trowel magazine (a title now adopted by the current ‘Tabernacle’), and among other projects established of The Pastor’s College (subsequently also ‘Spurgeon’s’) for ministerial training, the Stockwell Orphanage in 1867 which led to the founding of Spurgeon’s Homes, and Almshouses in 1868. He compiled Our Own Hymn Book, including 20 of his hymns, for the Tabernacle and churches served by his students. This contained 1130 items, beginning with metrical versions of all the Psalms, whole or in part; the leading contributor by far is Isaac Watts, with 246 of his hymns and Psalm versions. The editor’s Preface expresses his debt ‘to all classes of Christians’ for their hymns, notably ‘Mr D Sedgwick, of Sun Street, Bishopsgate’ in its compilation. Among diverse groups he welcomed to the church were the black ‘Jubilee Singers’ from the American Fisk University for freed slaves, with a mix of spiritual and jazz-style music. Many of his 135 books are still in print; he edited 28 others, and Lectures to my Students and An All-Round Ministry (reprinted 1960) became classic training manuals. In the latter, like Phillips Brooks (qv), Spurgeon has much to say about ‘the preacher’s power’; as with the American, too, this includes ‘if we are to be robed in the power of the Lord, we must feel an intense longing for the glory of God, and the salvation of the sons of men…Love for souls will operate in many ways upon our ministry.’ In 1876 he wrote Commenting and Commentaries, and his own The Treasury of David is an extensive (5-vol) commentary on the Book of Psalms accompanied by ‘Hints to Village Preachers’. A speed-reader himself with a remarkable memory, he nourished himself, next to Scripture, on the 17th-c Puritans, sharing their gift for pithy application as well as thoroughgoing theology. Politically a Liberal, he championed better housing, disestablishment, Sunday observance, restrictions on alcohol sales and the abolition of American slavery.

His later years were overshadowed by the ‘Downgrade’ controversy of the 1880s, when he detected a doctrinal falling off from the Reformed faith among evangelicals generally and the Baptist Union in particular—from which he withdrew in 1887. He suffered from chronic illness and occasional depression as well as much opposition from both secular and religious quarters; towards the end of his life he recuperated at Mentone to escape some foggy London winters. His last sermon was preached in June 1891, after which his health finally failed and he died at the age of 57. A remarkable memorial was erected in his honour in W Norwood cemetery (S London) where he was buried. His autobiography (1897–1900) was revised and reissued in 2 vols in 1962 and 1973. Numerous biographies and a great many related studies have been published; see also under W Y Fullerton. Sometimes an odd anecdote says it all, as when vast crowds thronged to St Paul’s Cathedral for some great national occasion addressed rather inadequately by the then Archbishop of Canterbury. As two noble earls were leaving, one was overheard saying, ‘What was the use of putting up Canterbury to talk to this crowd? They should have got Spurgeon to preach!’. W R Stevenson in Julian commends Sweetly the holy hymn (which now barely survives) but no other texts by CHS. Spurgeon’s College at Norwood, S London, houses a rich collection of memorabilia and mementoes. No.642.

Hymns and songs by Spurgeon, Charles Haddon

Number Hymn Name
642 Among us our beloved stands