Spurgeon’s captivating delivery conveyed the message that burned in his heart—the absolute authority and sufficiency of the Bible, the omnipotence of a loving God, and the life demanded of those who claimed salvation in Jesus Christ. It was a firm foundation of theology, but it didn’t stop Spurgeon from suffering many hardships in his life.
Why are modern Christians fascinated with the 19th-century British preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon? I grew up in the United Kingdom and am a student of church history, so it’s impossible for me to ignore Spurgeon’s impact.
In 1892, Spurgeon died the same month as a Cardinal and a prince. The Cardinal lived a life of privilege, status, and great power. The prince enjoyed all the opportunities and luxuries his bloodline could afford. Spurgeon had none of those benefits. In a world where class and lineage still carried great weight, he was the poorly educated son and grandson of ministers.
Yet when Spurgeon died at the age of 57, all of London mourned. Spurgeon lay in state at the Metropolitan Tabernacle for three days—as 60,000 mourners filed past. On the day of his burial, shops and pubs shuttered their doors. Flags flew at half-mast. As the hearse made its way to the cemetery, 100,000 people lined the way to witness a funeral procession that stretched more than two miles long.
All this for a man who once remarked of his own reputation:
If to be made as the mire of the streets again, if to be the laughingstock of fools and the song of the drunkard once more will make me more serviceable to my Master, and more useful to his cause, I will prefer it to all this multitude, or to all the applause that man could give.
When Spurgeon was only 10 years old, a visiting missionary said he’d one day preach to thousands. This prophecy came true. One Sunday morning, when he was only 15, Spurgeon set out to attend services at a local Congregational church, the denomination in which both his father and grandfather were ministers. On his way, a fierce snowstorm forced him down a side street. He sought refuge from the storm in a Primitive Methodist Church, and he credited the sermon he heard that morning with his conversion.
Despite his limited formal education, Spurgeon possessed an insatiable thirst for learning. He read an average of six books per week. As an adult, his personal library would reach a staggering 12,000 volumes. Spurgeon was just a boy when he began his ministry, but he was a boy with a brilliant mind and a remarkable gift for oration. When he stepped behind the pulpit, his listeners were astonished to find the slight youth delivering messages of power and complexity far beyond his years but always in a manner that was both engaging and accessible. Soon, worshipers from miles around traveled to hear him.
Eighteen months after the teenaged preacher accepted his first pastoral position, he was invited to preach at New Park Street Chapel in London. The congregation was so in awe of his message that they voted to have him continue preaching for the next six months. Nineteen-year-old Spurgeon moved to London. The crowds grew and grew. Within the span of a few years, the boy preacher from the country was known throughout England and around the world.