Charles Spurgeon is remembered primarily for his powerful, Spirit-anointed preaching ministry that pointed thousands of individuals to Jesus Christ as their Savior and built up tens of thousands of believers in their Christian faith. For three decades Spurgeon regularly preached to 5,000 or more people at his church, the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London.
But Spurgeon was well aware of other ministry needs in the metropolis as well, and he led his congregation to seek and follow God’s direction in identifying and responding to such needs. Spurgeon serves as a great reminder to us to remain sensitive to needs that go beyond our regular, primary ministries. He shows that as we do, God may lead us into some special new ministries that will prove to be of great benefit.
In the summer of 1866, five years after worship and preaching services commenced at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Spurgeon challenged his congregation at its Monday evening prayer meeting: “Dear friends, we are a huge church, and should be doing more for the Lord in this great city. I want us tonight to ask Him to send us some new work. And if we need money to carry it on, let us pray that the means also be sent.”
A few days later Spurgeon received a letter from Mrs. Anne Hillyard, the widow of a Church of England clergyman. She stated that she had 20,000 pounds (equaling 100,000 American dollars) which she desired to use in establishing an orphanage for the training and educating of orphan boys, and asked for Spurgeon’s assistance.
Earlier Mrs. Hillyard had asked a friend to recommend some totally reliable public figure to whom she could entrust her considerable fortune to be used for orphans. The man, though not a particular admirer of the prominent Baptist preacher, nonetheless immediately replied, “Spurgeon.”
At her request, Spurgeon and one of his deacons, William Higgs, paid the would-be benefactress a visit at her home. The modest home and neighborhood in which she lived hardly indicated an individual who possessed a large sum of money. So Spurgeon opened the discussion by stating, “We have called, Madam, about the 200 pounds that you mentioned in your letter.”
“200?” she responded. “I meant to write 20,000.”
“Oh yes, you did put 20,000,” replied the pastor, “but I was not sure whether a nought [zero] or two may have slipped in by mistake, and I thought I would be on the safe side.”
He then queried whether there was some relative to whom the money should be given, to which she responded there was not. He next suggested the funds might be sent to George Muller to assist him in his orphan work in Bristol. But she insisted she wanted Spurgeon to have it to use in assisting fatherless boys right there in London. She also expressed the certainty that many other Christians would want to help in the establishment and ongoing support of such a ministry, which did indeed turn out to be the case.
As Spurgeon and Higgs left her home they remarked to each other how God was evidently answering the specific requests that had been made at the congregational prayer meeting just days earlier. He was sending them a new work and the means to carry it out.
Within a month arrangements were made to purchase two and a half acres of land situated not far from the Metropolitan Tabernacle. Eventually a row of several individual homes, all connected as one continuous building, were erected. Each two-story home housed fourteen orphans and was sponsored by various donors. A dining hall, infirmary, large gymnasium and even a swimming pool were constructed as part of the expansive complex. Eventually a corresponding row of homes were built for orphan girls. The area between the two sets of orphan houses was a grass-covered playing field, edged with flowers and shrubs. 250 boys and 250 girls at a time were housed and received a well-rounded education at the orphan complex.
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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.