Shortly after Charles Spurgeon became a Christian as a teen, it started becoming apparent that God had specially gifted him as a preacher and called him to be a minister of the Gospel. It is easy to be impressed with the young man who had such extraordinary abilities. But we do well to remember (as young Spurgeon did) that those abilities were given by the Spirit of Christ to effectively point people to Jesus, not to draw attention to the messenger. We’re also reminded that the Lord sometimes uses wholly-consecrated servants of His to carry out remarkable ministry, even from quite an early age.
Several months after Charles Spurgeon’s Christian conversion (see my July 18, 2018, Perspective for that fascinating account) he moved to Cambridge, England. There, at age sixteen, he was again both a student and a part-time teacher at a school. He also joined the membership of St. Andrew’s Street Baptist Church. Shortly after doing so, he was asked to address the church’s Sunday School, which he did on more than one occasion.
Another of the ministries of the St. Andrew’s Church was sending out lay preachers to speak in villages in the area. James Vinter was the man who superintended that lay preaching ministry. When Vinter heard Spurgeon address the Sunday School, he was highly impressed with the teen’s exceptional speaking ability and earnest Christian spirit. Vinter sought to enlist Spurgeon as a lay preacher but did so in a rather sneaky fashion. He invited Spurgeon to go to Teversham the following Sunday evening, stating that, “A young man is to preach there who is not much used to leading services and very likely would be glad of the company.”
Spurgeon agreed to do so and, with the young man whom he assumed was to do the preaching, set out for Teversham late on the appointed Sunday afternoon. When he remarked to his companion that he hoped his preaching would be blessed by God that evening, the startled man exclaimed, ‘I have never done such a thing in my life! You’re the one who is to preach! I’m here to keep you company.” Spurgeon stated that he was equally surprised, inexperienced and unprepared for such a task. But the other responded that Spurgeon was accustomed to addressing the Sunday School and could simply reuse one of the talks he had given there.
So that evening Spurgeon spoke in a thatched-roof cottage to several simple farm laborers and their wives. He preached on the preciousness of Christ Jesus from 1 Peter 2:7, “Unto you therefore who believe He is precious.” At the close of the service an elderly woman called out, “Bless your heart, how old are you?” “I am under sixty,” Spurgeon responded good-naturedly. “Yes, and under sixteen!” she replied. “Never mind my age,” rejoined Spurgeon, “think of the Lord Jesus Christ and His preciousness.”
The lay preachers’ association regularly ministered at thirteen villages. Following Spurgeon’s first visit to any of those places he was invariably urged to return as often as he could. With the encouragement of Vinter and the other men in the association, Spurgeon accepted those repeat invitations and was out evening after evening preaching God’s Word.
In October, 1851, Spurgeon was invited to preach at the Baptist church in the village of Waterbeach, six miles from Cambridge. After preaching there only twice and though he was but seventeen years of age at the time, he was asked to become the church’s regular pastor. Waterbeach was notorious for its drunkenness and related forms of degradation. But believing that God was calling him into the ministry, and knowing the village had a great need of a strong Gospel witness, Spurgeon accepted the pastoral call.
The church at Waterbeach was a small thatch-roofed chapel. When Spurgeon first went there the church numbered about forty. But as word of the capable, fervent young preacher spread, people were soon flocking to church from the village and surrounding countryside. In a relatively short time attendance at the church was regularly 400 and more. Doors and windows of the little building were left open so that those who could not get in could stand outside and listen to the zealous young minister. In addition to his public preaching ministry, Spurgeon also ministered to people in their homes.
In what can only be described as a Holy Spirit-wrought revival, Waterbeach was dramatically transformed. Spurgeon later wrote of that:
Did you ever walk through a village notorious for its drunkenness and profanity? Did you ever see poor wretched beings … leaning against the posts of the ale-house or staggering along the street? Have you ever looked into the houses of the people and beheld them as dens of iniquity, at which your soul stood aghast? Have you ever seen the poverty and degradation and misery of the inhabitants and sighed over it?
But was it ever your privilege to walk through that village again, in after years, when the Gospel had been preached there? It has been mine. I once knew just such a village as I have pictured … There went into that village a lad who had no great scholarship but was earnest in seeking the souls of men. He began to preach there, and it pleased God to turn the whole place upside down. In a short time the little thatched chapel was crammed, the biggest vagabonds in the village were weeping floods of tears, and those who had been the curse of the parish became its blessing. Where there had been robberies and villainies of every kind, all round the neighborhood, there were none, because the men who used to do the mischief were themselves in the house of God, rejoicing to hear of Jesus crucified.
I am not telling an exaggerated story, nor a thing I do not know, for it was my delight to labor for the Lord in that village. It was a pleasant thing to walk through that place, when drunkenness had almost ceased, when debauchery in the case of many was dead, when men and women went forth to labor with joyful hearts, singing the praises of the ever-living God, and when, at sunset, the humble cottager called his children together, read them some portion of the Book of Truth, and then together they bent their knees in prayer to God. I can say with joy and happiness that almost from one end of the village to the other, at the hour of eventide, one might have heard the voice of song coming from nearly every rooftree
I do testify, to the praise of God’s grace, that it pleased the Lord to work wonders in our midst. He showed the power of Jesu’s name, and made a witness of that Gospel which can win souls, draw reluctant hearts and mold afresh the life and conduct of sinful men and women.
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.