Charles Spurgeon preaching as a young man

Charles Spurgeon preaching as a young man

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.”

St. Andrews's Street Baptist Church, Cambridge, England

St. Andrews’s Street Baptist Church, Cambridge, England

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.

Waterbeach Baptist Church building today

Waterbeach Baptist Church building today

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?

Charles Spurgeon as a young man

Charles Spurgeon as a young man

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.

Timeless Stories by Vance Christie#          #          #

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.

Charles Spurgeon as a young man

Charles Spurgeon as a young man

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.’ ”

Charles Spurgeon preaching as a young man

Charles Spurgeon preaching as a young man

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

Timeless Stories by Vance Christie

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.

Young Charles Spurgeon

Young Charles Spurgeon

When Charles Spurgeon skyrocketed to prominence in London as a young preacher in his early twenties, he had many critics. Not a few of his detractors were Christians.  One of those was the Rev. James Wells of Surrey Tabernacle, an eminent minister who was then at the apex of his career.  Wells wrote an editorial in a Christian publication, expressing doubts about Spurgeon’s conversion.  He warned that, though Spurgeon spoke some truth and had a partial moral influence, his hearers were likely to be fatally deluded.

After Spurgeon’s mighty Metropolitan Tabernacle was built several years later, he and Wells were church neighbors.  One day they chanced to meet on the street, and Wells asked Spurgeon if he had ever seen the inside of Surrey Tabernacle.  The younger minister responded that he had not, but would very much like to someday.

Wells, with seeming goodwill, said that if Spurgeon would come some Monday morning he would show him round his church.  But he added insultingly that there would then be time enough to thoroughly ventilate the church premises before the following Lord’s Day!

Charles Spurgeon

Charles Spurgeon

Spurgeon in turn asked Wells if he had ever been inside the Metropolitan Tabernacle.  Wells admitted that he had looked in one Saturday and gave the specific date.  “Ah,” replied Spurgeon, “that accounts for the delightful fragrance of the services the following Sabbath!”

On a later occasion Dr. Newman Hall, another prominent pastor in Spurgeon’s day and author of the immensely popular book Come to Jesus, was sharply ridiculed in a volume that was published anonymously.  Though he knew who the author was, Hall patiently bore the ridicule for a time.  But as the caustic volume began to circulate more widely, Hall wrote a letter of protest which was even more insulting than the book that had attacked him.

Newman Hall

Newman Hall

Hall took the letter to Spurgeon and asked his opinion of it.  Having carefully read the correspondence, Spurgeon handed it back, declared it was excellent, agreed that the book’s author deserved it all, but then added that the letter lacked one thing.  Hall, being quite gratified with Spurgeon’s response, was all ears to his further suggestion.

“Underneath the signature, ‘Newman Hall’,” coached Spurgeon, “you ought to put the words, ‘Author of Come to Jesus’.”

The two godly men gazed in silence at each other for a moment.  Then Hall tore his critical letter in pieces.

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My book Timeless Stories, God’s Incredible Work in the Lives of Inspiring Christians contains an entire chapter of incidents like these, showing how outstanding servants of Christ responded to the trials and even persecution they faced as they sought to live for the Lord. Their examples have much to teach us about handling hardship and opposition in ways that honor Christ and serve as a powerful testimony to others. I’d love to hear from you if you would care to share a valuable lesson the Lord has taught you about properly processing adversity.

Copyright 2014 by Vance E. Christie