Power From on High: The Amazing Success of Charles Spurgeon

Introduction

  • Listen to the lecture.
  • The statements of the Book of Acts startle the imagination.
  • 3,000 saved in one day (2:41); a few days later, 5,000 more (4:4).
  • New spiritual births were taking place each day (2:41).
  • Solid, enduring churches were planted in a month (17:2).
  • It was the revelation of a spiritual power that the world had never seen.
  • And the rain fell for 30 years.
  • When Charles Haddon Spurgeon died 31 January 1892, his brother James led the church to write, “we have been linked to apostolic times in fullness of blessing…” Drummond, 763.
  • Is that too much? Can we compare any man now living with the apostles who walked with Christ and wrote the Scripture?

Thesis

  • There is no greater example of the power of God extended over the whole of a man’s life than the life of Charles Spurgeon.

Early childhood

  1. 10 days after William Carey died on 19 June 1834, Charles Spurgeon is born as the first of 17.
  2. Spurgeon’s father and grandfather were both baby-baptizing, independent ministers.
  3. Though his mother bore him at 19, she devoutly prayed with him daily and read the Bible to him.
  4. Apparently around 5 years old, he began reading and chose Pilgrim’s Progress for one of his first books.
  5. Then Foxe’s Book of Martyrs and many other Puritan works.
  6. Spurgeon had a few years of elementary schooling for which his father sacrificed to bring to his many little ones.

Conversion

  1. At 15 years old, Spurgeon writes 290 pages on Popery Unmasked.
  2. His mother read Baxter’s Call to the Unconverted and other Puritan works to the children at night.
  3. She prayed constantly for him including one of the most famous prayers in church history:
    “Now, Lord, if my children go on in their sins, it will not be from ignorance that they perish, and my soul must bear witness against them at the day of judgment if they lay not hold of Christ.”
  4. As a young teenager, Spurgeon became terrified by the law of God.
  5. “I was condemned, undone, destroyed,–lost, helpless, hopeless—I thought hell was before me.”
  6. “I seemed to be all rottenness, a dunghill of corruption, nothing better, but something a great deal worse.”
  7. There are 24 pages in his autobiography simply about the conviction of sin before he found rest in Christ.
  8. “If the Lord means to build high, He always digs deep; and if He means to give great grace, He gives deep consciousness of need of it.”
  9. Never has there been “one who received a new heart, and was reclaimed from sin without a wound from Jesus.”
  10. 6 January 1850, at 15 years old, he was supposed to walk to church where his father was preaching 15 k’s away.
  11. The weather was very snowy, so Spurgeon walked to a little Methodist church.
  12. Is. 45:22, an uneducated preacher, “Look, look to Christ!”
  13. Spurgeon did look and “Scarcely ever since then have I known joys which surpassed the rapture of that hour.”
  14. Every volume of his sermons includes at least one account of his conversion. (Drummond, 110)
  15. Four months later, he was baptized by immersion, though his parents sprinkled infants.
  16. 8 months after his conversion at 16 years old, Spurgeon preached his first sermon.
  17. During all this time, he was tirelessly reading the best Puritans, and with the prize money from a contest, purchased the Septuagint.

Service in Waterbeach

  1. When only 17, Spurgeon preached for two Sundays at Waterbeach Baptist Church and was asked to be their full time pastor.
  2. By 19 years old, he wrote his father in a letter that he had “preached more than 600 times.”
  3. Within less than two years, the building burst with more than 400 consistent listeners to the boy preacher.
  4. Throughout the village he constantly spoke to sinners in their homes and on the streets.
  5. “Unless I am baptized anew with the Spirit of God, and constantly stand at the foot of the cross, reading the curse of sin in the crimson hieroglyphics of my Savior’s dying agonies, I shall become as steeled and insensible as many professors already are.” Vol. 1, p. 60
  6. He never received formal ministry training saying he would rather have the degree SST (Sunday School Teacher) than BA or MA.
  7. When his father tried to arrange him to meet with the president o a college, the maid put Charles in one room and the president in another so that they never saw each other.

Call to London

  1. At 19, he received an invitation to preach at the New Park Street Chapel in London.
  2. Though the building could seat 1,200 only a handful—possibly 50-100—were present.
  3. In the evening, a much larger crowd was present after having heard of the remarkable Sunday morning sermon.
  4. Within 4 months, Spurgeon accepted the call to be the pastor of the largest Baptist church in London, 2 months before his 20th birthday.
  5. The deacons said, “[No college training] is to us a special recommendation, for you would not have much savour or unction if you came from college.” Vol. 1, p. 249
  6. Thus Spurgeon became the pastor of a church that began in 1652.
  7. Keach had served there for 36 years, Gill for 51, and Rippon for 63 years before Spurgeon would serve for 37.

Marriage

  1. One of the young ladies who had heard him on his first Sunday in London was Susannah Thompson.
  2. Though she was two years older than him, he began to pursue her when he was 19—only 4 months after meeting her.
  3. After leading her to place her full confidence in Christ, he asked her to marry him.
  4. They had known each other for 2 years and 1 month before they were married: Charles 12, Susie 23.
  5. The Lord blessed their marriage with twin boys—their only children—10 months after their wedding day.
  6. Their love bloomed and inspired many years of devoted service, happiness, and letters when they were separated.
  7. Sadly, Susie had been given a particularly weak constitution so that she commonly was unable to attend her husband’s preaching.

Building the Metropolitan Tabernacle

  1. Within two years, Charles had so many listeners that they decided to build a larger building.
  2. “Many stand through the whole service, wedged in by their fellows, and prevented from escaping by the crowd outside, who seal up the doors and fill the yard in front, and stand in throngs as far as the sound can reach.”
  3. Some said they would not hear of building a larger facility for such a young man, but Charles replied, “You will hear no more about it when it is done, and therefore the sooner you set about doing it the better.”
  4. The building project took 5 years and nearly triple the estimated cost.
  5. “The Bible never tells us to get out of debt; it tells us we are not to have any.” Drummond, 335
  6. During the construction, the church began renting other facilities in which to hold services.
  7. He preached in massive halls with balconies and a sea of listeners without a microphone.
  8. Once at the Crystal Palace when he was only 23, he preached to over 23,000 people.
  9. Finally, the Metropolitan Tabernacle was opened on March 1861 with a week of meetings on the Doctrines of Grace.
  10. The building held 3,600 seats with 2,000 more temporary seats folding down or added after the rows were filled.
  11. As they entered this new building the membership had grown from 313 when Spurgeon arrived to over 2,000.
  12. Later, when renovations of this building were needed, they moved to the Agricultural Hall where 18,000 consistently gathered to hear Spurgeon.

The Pastor’s College and other ministries

  1. In 1855, a 21-year-old Spurgeon begins training T. W. Medhurst to be a pastor.
  2. In 1857, the second student joined them both and the college was founded.
  3. Ever since his youth, Spurgeon had been concerned about colleges that turned out lifeless, cold ministers.
  4. He offered no degrees—to this day, even saying that those who wanted degrees probably had worldly motives.
  5. If he offered no qualifications, he also charged no fees.
  6. The course of the college was 2 years long until they added a third year in 1879.
  7. The courses required included: Math, logic, natural philosophy, moral philosophy, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Biblical literature, Systematic Theology, and Homiletics.
  8. While Spurgeon was alive, the graduates began 88 new churches.
  9. As long as he lived, Spurgeon called this ministry his beloved son.
  10. But this was only one of 64 ministries Spurgeon began!
  11. The Stockwell orphanage for boys in 1867 was probably more famous and then came the orphanage for girls in 1879.
  12. The orphanages were both started because large donations were given—he did not force these ministries, but followed the providence of God.
  13. Many of the ministries began that way. A member or friend brought a great idea to him and offered to finance it.
  14. He also began a book-selling ministry, a book giving ministry for pastors, a clothes ministry for pastors, a job training ministry for men, and a poor mothers assistance ministry along with many others.
  15. His wife served in the pastors’ book fund for many years.
  16. One of the most influential ministries was the monthly magazine The Sword and the Trowel which Spurgeon began.

Preaching

  1. Though he was busy with many ministries, Spurgeon was first of all a preacher.
  2. From the time he was only 20, his sermons were printed each week in the newspapers as well as for private sale.
  3. Before television or radio moved words around the world and into homes, “more than 300 million [copies] of Spurgeon’s individual sermons had gone out.” Murray, Heroes, 264.
  4. He aimed at the poorest people, but his sermons were so filled with wisdom, power, pictures, Bible, and humor, that the rich came as well.
  5. His attackers would say that his church was full of “rabble.”
  6. “In the great day, when the muster-roll shall be read, of all those who are converted through fine music, and church decoration, and religious exhibitions and entertainments, they will amount to the tenth part of nothing; but it will always please God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.” The Soulwinner
  7. 3,563 sermons have been preserved—at 2 sermons per Sunday and 104 per year, it would take nearly 34 years to complete that.
  8. The sermon index to all his sermons shows that he preached as often from the OT as from the NT.
  9. Spurgeon would explain a passage verse by verse each Sunday as an exposition before another song and the sermon itself.
  10. He recommended about 45 minutes per sermon.
  11. In Chicago, USA, a plea was made for a missionary to head to the Western USA in order to pastor 200 people who had been led to Christ by reading Spurgeon’s sermons.
  12. A woman in England was converted when she received a package from Australia wrapped in a newspaper from the USA. One of Spurgeon’s sermons was written in that newspaper and it led her to Christ. The sermon was wired to America, printed in a newspaper, sent to Australia, used as packing back to England, and then saved its target audience.
  13. The sales of his writings supplied an immense income for Spurgeon, but he gave nearly all of it away to the ministries of the Tabernacle.

Pastoring

  1. At 20 years old, the newspapers began attacking him.
  2. Before he turned 25, he was not only attacked in newspapers, but at least five whole books had been written against him.
  3. Spurgeon thanked God for this: “What a fool the devil is! If he had not vilified me, I should not have had so many precious souls as my hearers.”
  4. At 27 years old, he attacked the Anglican Church’s doctrine of Baptismal Regeneration with a sermon that sold 350,000 copies!
  5. They had a careful, four-step process for accepting members.
    A candidate would meet with an elder on Wednesday night between 6 and 9 pm. He had to answer four questions:
    • What evidence is there that you have an interest in Christ?
    • How can you tell that you have felt your sin?
    • How has your life changed sin conversion?
    • Can you explain the doctrines of grace?

      Then he would meet with the assistant pastor.
      Then a church member would visit him.
      Then the pastor would question him in public at a church service.
  6. Even with this process, their church membership constantly increased so that 14,000 people went through that process in Spurgeon’s 37 years’ of ministry at the Tabernacle.
  7. He was the brightest star, but not the only gifted, dedicated, and successful servant of God.
  8. Mrs. Lavinia Bartlett taught a Sunday School class that started with 3 girls and grew to 700 in 7 years; hundreds of these young ladies became church members.
  9. Deacon Thomas Olney started a church while also serving at the Tabernacle.
  10. Charles’ brother James also started a separate church while serving as the assistant pastor of the Tabernacle!
  11. T. W. Medhurst, the first student at the Pastor’s College, revived Biblical Christianity in Ireland.
  12. Joseph Passmore labored sacrificially to print Spurgeon’s sermons and books.
  13. Prayer meetings at this time were commonly held on Mondays and Thursdays with well over 1,000 people attending.
  14. Considering that people had to work to church after working in hard conditions, these numbers are even more amazing.

Books

  1. I counted 144 books that he wrote over the course of 38 years (Drummond says over 150)—an average of one book every 13 weeks.
  2. Several of his books have sold over 1 million copies each.
  3. He wrote All of Grace, Faith’s Checkbook, and Around the Wicket Gate to lead sinners to Christ.
  4. He wrote commentaries on the Psalms as well as Matthew.
  5. He also wrote practical books such as John Ploughman’s Talks.

Sickness and Suffering

  1. While preaching to thousands, writing one book every 3 months, arranging the training of new pastors, caring for nearly 500 orphans, and leading the greatest church ever recorded, he suffered constantly.
  2. From 34 to the end of his life, he suffered constantly from gout, rheumatism, and depression.
  3. His wife estimated that from age 35, he was out of the pulpit 1/3 of the time due to sickness.
  4. He would commonly travel to France in hopes of resting and recovering.
  5. All of these great works were done in the midst of a storm of criticism from the press and returning bodily weakness.

The Downgrade Controversy

  1. In August 1887, Spurgeon wrote against the growing theological liberalism in Britain’s Baptist Union.
  2. Owing to cowardly ministers who had previously confessed to Spurgeon but were not willing to speak publicly, Spurgeon bore intense anger and unjust accusations in public for years.
  3. In a public vote, even his brother James—the assistant pastor of the Tabernacle—chose to stand against Charles.
  4. The stress of standing nearly alone against false doctrine in the face of otherwise good Christian men pressed him so heavily that his wife testified it led to an early grave for him.

Advance to Heaven

  1. Just before his 57th birthday, Spurgeon was taken sick.
  2. He traveled to France to recover, but his body could not recover.
  3. On 31 January 1892, he saw that One whom he had loved and incomparably preached.
  4. Five funeral services were held with one one beginning at 10:30 PM.
  5. Around 50,000 passed his casket.

Ongoing influence

  1. His brother eventually became the pastor, then his son, and then his friend A. T. Pierson.
  2. But each of these men shifted from Spurgeon’s theology of trusting in God’s power to do great works.
  3. Slowly the error of revivalism grew where Spurgeon had only preached the power of God.
  4. Perhaps, these men were trying to keep alive by their own strength what could only been done—and had only been done by God.
  5. The church slumped ever downward until it had lost members, zeal, evangelism, and the fear of God.
  6. In 1969, Peter Masters came to the church bearing the same responsibility and theology as Charles Spurgeon.
  7. Under his leadership the church has been returning to its former heritage of holiness, evangelism, and Biblical theology.

Conclusion

  • Charles Spurgeon saw the largest church in the world.
  • Over thousands of chances to preach, Spurgeon consistently held the attention of maximum capacity crowds.
  • Every worldly motive was deemphasized so that the only gold left over was the pure preaching of the spiritual blessings brought by Jesus Christ to poor sinners.
  • Further, he was surrounded by some of the greatest Christians and his ministries were remarkably blessed.
  • Does this not sound like the book of Acts written again?
  • What can explain his life except a continual outpouring of God’s Spirit?

Bibliography

Nettles, Tom. Living by Revealed Truth, Mentor, 2013, 683 pages.
Dallimore, Arnold. Spurgeon: A New Biography, Banner of Truth, 1985, 252 pages.
Drummond, Lewis. Spurgeon: Prince of Preachers, 1992, 895 pages.
Murray, Iain. Heroes, 2009, pages 259-295.
Murray, Iain. The Forgotten Spurgeon. 1973, 268 pages.

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