Charles Spurgeon was one of the most prominent preachers and powerful heralds of the Christian Gospel in the history of the Church. The account of Spurgeon’s own conversion is both fascinating and instructive.
From the time he was just a child Charles Spurgeon was heavily burdened by an awareness of his own sinfulness. Throughout several boyhood years he was constantly conscious that in both thoughts and actions he was unable to fulfill the requirements of God’s holy laws. Though he knew Christ had died for the sins of human beings, he saw no application of that truth to himself. He tried to pray, but the only complete request he could utter was, “God be merciful to me, a sinner!”
Though he had never uttered a blasphemy, all manner of cursing God and man began to fill his mind. Then followed severe temptations to deny the very existence of God as well as efforts to convince himself he was an atheist. When all such futile thinking failed, he told himself that he must feel or do something to merit salvation. He wished he might have his back scourged or that he could undergo some difficult pilgrimage to that end.
In 1849, at age fifteen, he entered a school in the town of Newmarket in Essex County, England, as both a student and a part-time teacher. In Newmarket he attended services at one church after another, hoping he might hear something that would help remove his spiritual burden. He later related that, while he heard pastors preach on a variety of themes, they did not address his basic spiritual question and need. “What I wanted to know was, ‘How can I get my sins forgiven?’, and they never told me that.”
That December an outbreak of fever temporarily closed the Newmarket school, and Spurgeon returned home to Colchester for the Christmas season. One Sunday morning early in January he was making his way to one church when a fierce snow storm led him, instead, to enter the Primitive Methodist Chapel located closer to his home. Only about a dozen people were there that morning, and he took a seat near the back, under the gallery.
The regular minister had not been able to make it due to the storm. So when it was time for the sermon a thin man whom Spurgeon supposed to be a shoemaker or a tailor went up to the pulpit. He announced and read the Scripture text for his impromptu sermon, Isaiah 45:22: “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth.” The man obviously had little formal education, and he mispronounced some of his words. But that did not matter to Spurgeon, for upon hearing the Bible verse he thought it contained a glimmer of hope for him.
The lay preacher began to deliver a homespun discourse in his broad Essex dialect: “This is a very simple text indeed. It says, ‘Look.’ Now lookin’ don’t take a deal of pain. It ain’t liftin’ your foot or your finger; it is just ‘Look.’ Well, a man needn’t go to college to learn to look. You may be the biggest fool, and yet you can look. A man needn’t be worth a thousand pounds a year to look. Anyone can look; even a child can look.
“But then the text says, ‘Look unto Me.’ Ay! many on ye are lookin’ to yourselves, but it’s no use lookin’ there. You’ll never find any comfort in yourselves. Some say look to God the Father. No, look to Him by-and-by. Jesus Christ says, “Look unto Me.” Some on ye say, “We must wait for the Spirit’s workin.” You have no business with that just now. Look to Christ. The text says, ‘Look unto Me.’ ”
Assuming the perspective of Jesus, the preacher continued: “Look unto Me; I am sweatin’ great drops of blood. Look unto Me; I am hangin’ on the cross. Look unto Me, I am dead and buried. Look unto Me; I rise again. Look unto Me; I ascend to Heaven. Look unto Me; I am sitting at the Father’s right hand. O poor sinner, look unto Me! Look unto Me!”
After he had spoken for about ten minutes, the layman apparently reached the end of his tether. Then, fixing his eyes on Spurgeon, he startled him by saying, “Young man, you look very miserable. And you will always be miserable—miserable in life and miserable in death—if you don’t obey my text. But if you obey now, this moment, you will be saved.” Then raising his hands, he literally shouted: “Young man, look to Jesus Christ. Look! Look! Look! You have nothing to do but look and live!”
Far from taking offense at being singled out, Spurgeon at once saw the way of salvation. He hardly noticed anything the lay exhorter said after that, so taken was he with that one thought: “I had been waiting to do fifty things, but when I heard that word—‘Look!’—what a charming word it seemed to me. … There and then the cloud was gone, the darkness had rolled away, and that moment I saw the sun. And I could have risen that instant, and sung with the most enthusiastic of them, of the precious blood of Christ, and the simple faith which looks alone to Him. Oh, that somebody had told me this before, ‘Trust Christ, and you shall be saved.’ ”
When Spurgeon arrived back home early that afternoon, his family immediately noticed the dramatic change that had come over him. His despair was gone, and he was overflowing with joy. “Something wonderful has happened to you!” they exclaimed. And he was only too eager to tell them all about it. “Oh! there was joy in the household that day,” he afterward reported, “when all heard that the eldest son had found the Savior and knew himself to be forgiven.”
If any readers of this simple blog post have not yet looked to Jesus for salvation from sin and God’s gift of spiritual and eternal life, my sincere hope is that they soon will. If I may be of further assistance to anyone in this vital matter, please do not hesitate to contact me.
For those of us who have already looked to Jesus for salvation, may the example of the humble lay preacher remind us that we do not need to be highly educated or skilled in order to point people to Christ. We only need to clearly share what we already know about salvation through faith in Jesus. God can use our sincere (though perhaps imperfect) witness to play a part in drawing
people to the Savior.
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You’ll find many other enjoyable and beneficial incidents from the life and ministry of Charles Spurgeon in my book Timeless Stories, God’s Incredible Work in the Lives of Inspiring Christians. Two quality readable Spurgeon biographies are: Arnold Dallimore’s Spurgeon, A New Biography (Banner of Truth, 1987); W. Y. Fullerton’s Charles H. Spurgeon, London’s Most Popular Preacher (Moody, 1980). The latter work is currently out of print but is well-worth purchasing through used book sources at a reasonable rate.