Small Beginnings: C.H. Spurgeon at Waterbeach

Far from an idyllic country setting, Waterbeach placed Spurgeon in the trenches of pastoral ministry where he saw the reality of suffering and sin.

From the very beginning, Spurgeon sought to make the gospel the central theme of his preaching ministry. His very first sermon as pastor at Waterbeach was from Matthew 1:21, “Thou shalt call His name JESUS: for He shall save His people from their sins.”[2] Every sermon, no matter what text he was preaching, Spurgeon sought to make saving work of Christ clear to his people, calling them to repentance and faith. Even though many in his congregation would have considered themselves Christians, Spurgeon was not content with a nominal faith, but desired to see genuine conversion in the hearts of his people.

 

Before he was the pastor of the largest of church in London, president of the Pastors’ College, founder of an orphanage and dozens of other charitable institutions, and read by people from all over the world, C. H. Spurgeon pastored a small Baptist church in the village of Waterbeach, about five miles outside of Cambridge. At that time, few could have predicted what was to come. And yet, God used his faithful ministry to bring about a transformation to that village during his short time there.

When Spurgeon arrived, Waterbeach was notorious for its connection with an illicit still, which resulted in rampant drunkenness.

Did you ever walk through a village notorious for its drunkenness and profanity? Did you ever see poor wretched beings, that once were men, standing, or rather 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?[1]

Far from an idyllic country setting, Waterbeach placed Spurgeon in the trenches of pastoral ministry where he saw the reality of suffering and sin. What was Spurgeon’s approach to his early ministry?

Preaching the Gospel

From the very beginning, Spurgeon sought to make the gospel the central theme of his preaching ministry. His very first sermon as pastor at Waterbeach was from Matthew 1:21, “Thou shalt call His name JESUS: for He shall save His people from their sins.”[2] Every sermon, no matter what text he was preaching, Spurgeon sought to make saving work of Christ clear to his people, calling them to repentance and faith. Even though many in his congregation would have considered themselves Christians, Spurgeon was not content with a nominal faith, but desired to see genuine conversion in the hearts of his people. Nor was Spurgeon content simply to preach sermons which gratified his people. He wanted to be used by God supernaturally in the salvation of sinners.

When I began to preach in the little thatched chapel at Waterbeach, my first concern was, Would God save any souls through me? … After I had preached for some little time, I thought, “This gospel has saved me, but then somebody else preached it; will it save anybody else now that I preach it?” Some Sundays went over, and I used to say to the deacons, “Have you heard of anybody finding the Lord under my ministry? Do you know of anyone brought to Christ through my preaching?” My good old friend and deacon said, “I am sure somebody must have received the Savior; I am quite certain it is so.” “Oh!” I answered, “but I want to know it, I want to prove that if is so.”[3]

It would not be until his 100th sermon that Spurgeon recorded his first convert.[4] Reflecting on this event, Spurgeon compared his joy to a boy “who has earned his first guinea” or a diver “who has been down to the depths of the sea, and brought up a rare pearl.”[5] Spurgeon went on see many more converted under his preaching in Waterbeach. One early biographer writes, “The Pastor was not satisfied to draw a crowd. He wanted conversions and within the year of his labors, the church grew from forty to a hundred.”[6] But he never forgot about the joy of that first convert: “I remember well her being received into the church, and dying, and going to Heaven. She was the first seal to my ministry, and a very precious one.”

Pastoral Care

Spurgeon’s ministry was not limited to preaching. As the pastor, he sought to know his people and to counsel them privately regarding their struggles. Because the church was not able to pay him a full salary, Spurgeon continued living in Cambridge as a tutor, and he would make the 5-mile walk to Waterbeach on the weekends. However, Spurgeon took advantage of this situation, and would make it a point to travel on Saturday and stay in a different home each weekend. “The people were hospitable and generous beyond their means. For the fifty-two Sundays, I had fifty-six homes.”[7]

During these stays, Spurgeon had many opportunities to visit with his people: young mothers, gossips, deacons, farmers, and many others. In these conversations, Spurgeon gave his people pastoral advice about their temptations, parenting, theological questions, work, and most importantly, about their faith in Christ.

But this was not generic counsel. Spurgeon sought to know his people and their particular struggles. His pastoral care can be seen in his description of one church member, whom he calls “Mrs. Much-afraid”:

She was very regular in her attendance at the house of God, and was a wonderfully good listener. She used to drink in the gospel; but, nevertheless, she was always doubting, and fearing, and trembling about her own spiritual condition. She had been a believer in Christ, I should think, for fifty years, yet she had always remained in that timid, fearful, anxious state. She was a kind old soul, ever ready to help her neighbors, or to speak a word to the unconverted; she seemed to me to have enough grace for two people, yet, in her own opinion, she had not half enough grace for one. [8]

Far from being an isolated preacher, Spurgeon envisioned himself as Mr. Great-heart in Pilgrim’s Progress, gently leading his people in “personally conducted tours of heaven.” [9]

Read More