The Life and Legacy of Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892)

By Michael Haykin


In October 1889 a young man by the name of D. C. Davidson left his home in Michigan to go abroad to do post-graduate work in theology. His mother had wanted him to study at Yale, but he was determined to come into vital contact with what he called “the leading minds of Europe.” After a stay of four months in Edinburgh, he crossed over from Great Britain to Germany in 1890 and eventually made his way to Berlin. Yet, instead of being a place where his faith was deepened and established, the German capital proved to be a veritable furnace in which his faith in God was tried to the very depths. Of his time in Berlin he said that a “horror of great darkness” came over his soul there as he was exposed to liberal German theology. “I have encountered many a fiery temptation,” he later wrote, “but I have never had a temptation cross my pathway so subtle and dangerous as that of German destructive criticism.”

With his faith well nigh shattered he returned to England, where for three months he regularly went to hear Charles Haddon Spurgeon preach what must have been some of his final sermons. The American student’s description of the services he attended at the Metropolitan Tabernacle provide an excellent introduction to an appreciation of the life and ministry of Spurgeon.

When Spurgeon preached the simple old doctrines of the Cross, the pentecostal fire fell from heaven upon the people. I have seen the multitudes in that tabernacle moved by the breath of God, when that man spoke, as the trees of the forest are moved by the wind. It seemed to me that I was in the third heaven, compared to the cess-pool of German criticism in which I had been wallowing. What could I do but bow down before my Maker and worship, crying, ‘The Lord, He is God! The Lord, He is God!’…The glory of God seemed to fill Mr Spurgeon’s tabernacle. …The poisonous effects of the destructive criticism which had permeated my heart, were consumed like stubble, by the holy fire of God. I saw the Scriptures with new eyes. They became inexpressibly precious to me and the Christ whom they reveal.

While Spurgeon was involved in a wide variety of ministries, he is “properly best known as a preacher,” as this text well illustrates. Indeed, Davidson’s description of his preaching highlights what were the four leading characteristics of the Victorian Baptist’s sermons: Christ-exalting and centred on the propitiatory death of Christ, designed to draw sinful men and women to worship the one true God, rooted in and circumscribed by the Scriptures, and resplendent with what Davidson calls the “pentecostal fire…from heaven.” Some details of the course of Spurgeon’s early life, though, are appropriate before looking at these four characteristics of his pulpit ministry.

Early years

Charles Haddon Spurgeon was born into a godly home in the heart of rural Essex on June 19, 1834, only ten days after the death of the pioneer Baptist missionary, William Carey (1761-1834). Spurgeon’s forebears originally came from the Netherlands, which they had left in the 1500s due to religious persecution. Both Spurgeon’s father, John Spurgeon (1811-1902), and his grandfather, James Spurgeon (1776-1864), were Congregationalist preachers, and it was during an extended stay over a number of years in the home of his grandfather that Spurgeon was first exposed to the writings of the Puritans. James Spurgeon was the pastor of the Congregational church in the village of Stambourne in the heart of rural Essex. Here the young Spurgeon discovered a library of Puritan folios, which had been collected by Henry Havers (1620-c.1712), who had pastored the Stambourne church after his ejection from the Church of England in 1662 when he refused to comply with the Act of Uniformity. Despite Spurgeon’s tender years and the fact that as a young child he found it very difficult to lift these large and weighty Puritan volumes, he would later write that as a boy he was never happier than when in the company of these Puritan authors. In time Spurgeon would be rightly convinced that commitment to the Calvinism and the spirituality of the Puritans was vital for the well-being of Baptist churches and associations.

It was at the home of his grandparents that a remarkable incident took place during the summer of 1844. A visiting preacher by the name of Richard Knill (d.1857) preached for Spurgeon’s grandfather, and afterwards spent some time with the young Spurgeon, endeavouring in Spurgeon’s later words, “to lead me to the Saviour.” As Knill was leaving the home of Spurgeon’s grandparents he took the young boy upon his knee and said in the hearing of a number of people, “I think this little man will one day be a preacher of the gospel, and I hope a successful one. I think you will preach in Rowland Hill’s Chapel; and when you do, tell the people this verse, ‘God moves in a mysterious way, etc.’ ” According to a letter which Spurgeon later wrote to Knill in 1853, these words were regarded by Spurgeon’s friends with “half the reverence of prophecy.” Knill’s predictions about the young Spurgeon were indeed fulfilled and Spurgeon never forgot the incident.

However, despite such godly surroundings it was not until January, 1850 that Spurgeon was soundly converted. By this time he was quite conscious of his lost estate, and secretly wished that he was a frog or a toad—anything but a human being with a conscience and an awareness of the existence of a holy God. “I reckoned that the most defiled creature…was a better thing than myself, for I had sinned against Almighty God.”

Now, Charles worshipped at his father’s church in Tollesbury, nine miles to the south of Colchester, where his parents lived. On the morning of Sunday, January 13, 1850, John Spurgeon recommended that his son stay and worship at a Nonconformist church in Colchester—very possibly Colchester Baptist Church—due to a fierce snowstorm that was raging outside. However, the snow was falling so heavily that Spurgeon was unable to reach the Nonconformist church recommended by his father and he was compelled to turn aside into what was then a small Primitive Methodist chapel called Artillery Street Chapel (now Spurgeon Memorial Evangelical Church). Here there were gathered a dozen or so people.

“I had heard of the Primitive Methodists,” Spurgeon wrote a number of years later in his own inimitable account of his conversion, “how they sang so loudly that they made people’s heads ache; but that did not matter to me. I wanted to know how I might be saved, and if they could tell me that, I did not care how much they made my head ache.” When it was evident that the minister of the congregation was snowed in by the storm, “a very thin-looking man, a shoemaker, or tailor”—a man who spoke in the broad dialect common to rural Essex—went into the pulpit to preach. His text was Isaiah 45:22: “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth.” He began thus: “My dear friends, 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 a year to be able 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 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’.”

After the preacher had elaborated what looking to Christ meant for about ten minutes or so, Spurgeon said the poor man “was at the end of his tether.” It was at this point in the service that the preacher noticed Spurgeon under the gallery, and with so few present, knew him to be a stranger. Fixing his eyes on Spurgeon, he said to him, “Young man, you look very miserable.” It was as if the man had read Spurgeon’s heart, for this was his very state indeed when it came to spiritual matters. The preacher continued: “And you always will be miserable—miserable in life, and miserable in death—if you don’t obey my text; but if you obey my text, this moment, you will be saved.” Then, lifting up his hands, he shouted, as only a Primitive Methodist could do, “Young man, look to Jesus Christ. Look! Look! Look! You have nothin’ to do but look and live.”

As soon as the preacher had uttered these words, Spurgeon said that he saw at once the way of salvation. “When I heard that word, ‘Look!’ what a charming word it seemed to me! Oh! I looked until I could almost have looked my eyes away. 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.”

Four months later, on May 3, Spurgeon, with the agreement of his Congregationalist parents, was baptized in the River Lark not far from Isleham in Cambridgeshire. His later description of his baptism is particularly noteworthy as it reflects to a great degree the biblical meaning of this ordinance. Spurgeon said that after he had taken a few steps into the river and “noted the people on the ferry-boat, and in boats, and on either shore, I felt as if Heaven, and earth, and hell, might all gaze upon me, for I was not ashamed, there and then, to own myself a follower of the Lamb.” Later his mother remarked to him that she had often prayed to God for his conversion, but she had never asked him to make her son a Baptist. Charles could not resist the temptation to reply that God had not only answered her prayers, but, with his usual generosity, had given her more than she had asked for!

After his baptism Spurgeon found an unquenchable desire to serve Christ. “I could scarcely content myself even for five minutes without trying to do something for Christ,” he later wrote with regard to this period of his life. Every Saturday he would regularly visit some seventy people, spend time with each of them, and “endeavour to draw their attention to spiritual realities.”11 He also began to speak in more public settings, and his “compelling and captivating preaching”12 soon led to an invitation to pastor the Baptist church in Waterbeach, a small hamlet a few miles northeast of Cambridge.

Spurgeon laboured here from the autumn of 1851 to April, 1854. In those two and a half years the membership of the small Baptist chapel more than doubled, going from 40 to 100. Moreover, it was here that Spurgeon came to the conviction that God had placed his seal upon his ministry, for it was in this hamlet that the first individual—the wife of a poor labourer—was converted under his preaching. As a community Waterbeach was well known for drunkenness and profanity, riot and iniquity. Spurgeon’s preaching ministry, though, altered the entire complexion of the town. In his words: “it pleased the Lord to work signs and wonders in our midst. He showed the power of Jesus’s name, and made us witnesses of that Gospel which can win souls, draw reluctant hearts, and mould the life and conduct of men afresh.”13

Ministry in London

In November, 1853 Spurgeon was one of three speakers at an anniversary meeting of the Cambridge Sunday School Union. A certain George Gould, a deacon at Loughton Baptist Church, Essex, was present at this meeting in Cambridge and was quite impressed with Spurgeon’s evident gift for public speaking. A short while later Gould met a friend by the name of Thomas Olney, one of the deacons of Park Street Chapel, an historic London Baptist congregation. When the latter mentioned the fact that their church was pastorless and in quite a depressed state, Gould urged his friend to invite Spurgeon to preach for a Sunday. Spurgeon was duly invited and preached on December 11, 1853. The congregation who heard Spurgeon that Sunday were thrilled with his preaching and the deacons quickly arranged for Spurgeon to return three Sundays in January, 1854. He was subsequently invited to supply the pulpit for several months, and in April of that year, at the age of nineteen, he accepted a call to be the pastor of the church.

In his letter of acceptance, written on April 28, he emphasized that he had not sought the pastorate of the London congregation; in fact, he said, he “trembled at the idea of preaching in London.” Yet, he wrote, he was convinced that God was directing him to the London church, a high honour indeed when he thought of the “glorious names” of his predecessors. He did not explicitly mention the names of any of his predecessors, but undoubtedly he had in mind the three outstanding men which the church had had as pastors during the previous couple of centuries: Benjamin Keach (1640-1704), a prolific author, who had pastored the congregation from 1668 to 1704; John Gill (1697-1771), the doyen of eighteenth-century Baptist theologians, who had been the minister of the church from 1720 till his death; and John Rippon (1751-1836), an influential preacher, hymnwriter and historian, who was pastor for no less than 63 years, from 1773 to 1836. “Blessed be the name of the Most High,” he continued, “if he has called me to this office, He will support me in it,—otherwise, how should a child, a youth, have the presumption thus to attempt the work which filled the heart and hands of Jesus?”14

Within a few months it was quite evident that God had indeed called the “Cambridgeshire lad” to the pulpit of this historic congregation. The church was built to seat 1,200, but it soon proved far too small for the crowds that sought to sit under Spurgeon’s preaching. In 1855 the chapel was consequently expanded to seat 1,500. A year later, however, this renovated chapel had also been outgrown, and the decision was made to build what would become known as the Metropolitan Tabernacle. Completed in 1861, the Tabernacle could seat 5,000 and accommodate another 1,000 standing. For the rest of Spurgeon’s pastorate the Tabernacle saw an average of 5,000 at each Sunday morning and evening service. And while Spurgeon and his fellow elders were careful not to make a huge membership their goal—indeed Spurgeon had a healthy distrust of all such statistics—14,691 were added to the church during Spurgeon’s time there, of which roughly 10,800 were by conversion and baptism.

Spurgeon’s success as a preacher certainly owed little to his physical appearance, for he was of average height, fairly stout as he grew older, and had two unduly prominent front teeth. In the words of a certain Monckton Milnes: “When he went into the pulpit, he might be taken for a hairdresser’s assistant; when he left it he was an inspired apostle.”15 Augustine Birrell records that when he went to hear Spurgeon preach the only seat he could find was in the topmost gallery, between a woman eating an orange and a man sucking peppermints. Finding this combination of odours unendurable, he was about to leave, when, he said, “I heard a voice and forgot all else.”16 In his recent biography of Spurgeon, Mike Nicholls emphasizes the importance of Spurgeon’s voice to his success as a preacher. He possessed, Nicholls writes, “one of the great speaking voices of his age, musical and combining compass, flexibility and power.”17 Spurgeon, though, looked to quite a different source for the blessings which attended his ministry. In a speech which he gave at a celebration held in honour of his fiftieth birthday in 1884, the Baptist preacher forthrightly declared that the blessing which he had enjoyed in his pastorate “must be entirely attributed to the grace of God, and to the working of God’s Holy Spirit…Let that stand as a matter, not only taken for granted, but as a fact distinctly recognized…”18

Not only was Spurgeon the pastor of what was then the largest Protestant congregation in the world, but he also had a variety of other irons in the fire. During the week he was frequently called upon to speak at English Nonconformist church functions apart from those of the Tabernacle. In 1856 he founded a Pastors’ College, which twenty years later had 110 men training for vocational ministry as well as a considerable number of men studying in its evening classes.19 Spurgeon also took seriously the church’s responsibility to care for the poor and needy. For instance, in 1869 he established an orphanage, which eventually housed 500 children, and which he regularly visited. His manifest fatherly concern for the physical and spiritual well-being of the children endeared him to many of them. Writing in December 1887 from Menton, France, for example, he wished them a merry Christmas and expressed his sorrow at having to be away from them at such a time. “I hope,” he continued, “you will all enjoy yourselves none the less, and be as happy as kittens.”20 Further evidence of Spurgeon’s deep commitment to these children is the fact that he wanted to be buried on the grounds of the orphanage—a wish that was not to be fulfilled.

Spurgeon also gave his support to a number of other philanthropic ventures and social activities. He spoke against the blatant immorality of prostitution, rampant in Victorian London, and urged that “the men who frequent brothels should be punished as well as the women who traffic their bodies.”21 Nor was he slow to condemn the institution of slavery in the United States. In no uncertain terms he publicly declared that he considered “slavery to be a crime of crimes, a soul-destroying sin, and an iniquity which cries aloud for vengeance.” When pressed to write a letter on the subject, he wrote a “red-hot letter” to the Watchman and Reflector in which he stated:22

I do from my inmost soul detest slavery anywhere and everywhere, and although I commune at the Lord’s table with men of all creeds, yet with a slave-holder I have no fellowship of any kind or sort.

It is not surprising that such sentiments were bitterly attacked in the Southern United States, where there was a outpouring of anger, even hatred, against Spurgeon, and where his books were boycotted and burnt in Southern bonfires.

Other Spurgeonic enterprises included a Book Fund—a charitable agency for Christian workers which was run by his wife, Susannah—a colportage society, and the publication of a monthly magazine, The Sword and the Trowel, which was begun in 1865 and which enjoyed a wide circulation. Like many other evangelicals of his day and true to his earliest longings after conversion to serve the Lord Christ, Spurgeon was an “energetic activist.” But, first and foremost, Spurgeon was a preacher, and a preacher without peer in the Victorian era.

Spurgeon as a preacher

The characteristics of Spurgeon’s preaching which the young American student, D.C. Davidson, noticed in the early 1890s had been present throughout his ministry in London. First, Davidson noted that Spurgeon’s sermons were Christ-centred and Christ-exalting. Spurgeon had thus been faithful to the intentions which he declared when the Tabernacle first opened in 1861.

I would propose that the subject of the ministry in this house, as long as this platform shall stand, & as long as this house shall be frequented by worshippers, shall be the person of Jesus Christ. I am never ashamed to avow myself a Calvinist; I do not hesitate to take the name of Baptist; but if I am asked what is my creed, I reply, “It is Jesus Christ.” My venerated predecessor, Dr. Gill, has left a body of divinity, admirable & excellent in its way; but the body of divinity to which I would pin & bind myself for ever, God helping me, is not his system, or any other human treatise; but Jesus Christ, who is the sum & substance of the gospel, who is in himself all theology, the incarnation of every precious truth, the all-glorious personal embodiment of the way, the truth, & the life.23

We find the same emphases in a sermon which he preached on April 24, 1891 to graduates of his College who had gathered for the annual conference which took place under the auspices of the Tabernacle.

Ah, brothers! the Holy Ghost never comes to glorify us, or to glorify a denomination, or, I think, even to glorify a systematic arrangement of doctrines. He comes to glorify Christ. If we want to be in accord with him, we must preach in order to glorify Christ.24

Spurgeon was conscious that devotion to the doctrines of grace and dedication to Baptist principles can well exist without the all-essential heart of Christianity, namely, devotion to the Lord Jesus. He was determined that when he preached it would be the Lord Jesus who was preeminently exalted in his sermons. As Nigel Lacey, an English Baptist pastor, has recently observed, a preaching ministry that did not centre upon his Saviour, Spurgeon detested.25

At the same time it should be understood that he never sought to conceal his doctrinal convictions as a Calvinistic Baptist. In a remarkable address which he gave at the Tabernacle on August 19, 1861 in honour of the centenary of the birth of William Carey, he declared to a packed auditorium of 6,000 that Carey’s theology was profoundly influenced by what he called “the noblest type of divinity that ever blessed the world,” that is, the theological convictions of Jonathan Edwards (1703-17548), the great eighteenth-century American theologian. He then went on to emphasize that:26

Carey was the living model of Edwards’ theology, or rather of pure Christianity. His was not a theology which left out the backbone and strength of religion—not a theology, on the other hand, all bones and skeleton, a lifeless thing without a soul: his theology was full-orbed-Calvinism, high as you please, but practical godliness so low that many called it legal.

Moreover, Spurgeon stated that he admired “Carey all the more for being a Baptist: he had none of that false charity which might prompt some to conceal their belief for fear of offending others; but at the same time he was a man who loved all who loved the Lord Jesus Christ.”27

Second, Davidson observed that Spurgeon’s sermons drew men and women to worship and adore the living God; they had a distinctly evangelistic thrust. In a sermon entitled “Soul Winning,” preached in 1869 on Proverbs 11:30,” He that winneth souls is wise,” Spurgeon bared his heart in this regard.

Even if I were utterly selfish, and had no care for anything but my own happiness, I would choose, if I might, under God, to be a soul-winner, for never did I know perfect, overflowing, unutterable happiness of the purest and most ennobling order, till I first heard of one who had sought and found a Saviour through my means. I recollect the thrill of joy which went through me!…Oh! the joy of knowing that a sinner once at enmity has been reconciled to God, by the Holy Spirit, through the words spoken by our feeble lips. Since then, by grace given to me, the thought of which prostrates me in self-abasement, I have seen and heard of, not hundreds only, but even thousands of sinners turned from the error of their ways by the testimony of God in me. Let afflictions come, let trials be multiplied as God willeth, still this joy preponderates above all others, the joy that we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ in every place, and that as often as we preach the Word, hearts are unlocked, bosoms heave with a new life, eyes weep for sin, and their tears are wiped away as they see the great Substitute for sin, and live.28

Spurgeon’s sermons so resonated with a passion for the salvation of the lost that Hyper-Calvinistic Baptists in London frequently critized him for being an Arminian, despite the fact that Spurgeon was unrelenting in his opposition to Arminianism. William Williams, a close friend of Spurgeon, recalled one occasion when Spurgeon met his leading Hyper-Calvinistic critic, the Strict Baptist preacher James Wells (1803-1872). Spurgeon remarked that he would like to have a tour of Wells’ church some day. Wells responded by saying that he would be happy to show Spurgeon over his church, on the provision that the latter visited on a Monday. Wells would then have time before the following Sunday to have the building fumigated and so purge away any trace of Arminianism!29Although, from one perspective, this snatch of conversation is but kindly banter, from another perspective, it well reveals how Spurgeon’s Hyper-Calvinistic critics regarded him and that chiefly because he insisted on urging all of his hearers to repent and believe the gospel.30

Also prominent in Davidson’s description of Spurgeon’s sermons was the fact that they treated the Scriptures with reverence, and produced a like effect in his hearers. “Bible hearers,” Spurgeon noted in 1891, “when they hear indeed, come to be Bible lovers.”31 Now, it comes as a surprise to many admirers of Spurgeon to be told that he never preached a consecutive series of sermons on a book of the Bible. Fearful that such a style of preaching might quench the Spirit, Spurgeon chose the text for his Sunday morning sermon on the previous evening; the Sunday evening sermon was generally outlined on Sunday afternoon. Yet, it must be noted that his week before would be replete with reading in materials relating to scripture and to the various branches of theology. His work day would often extend past midnight, sometimes consuming eighteen hours a day. By the weekend there would be quite a number of texts vying for attention, but Spurgeon had to be certain that the text which he selected to preach on was also Spirit-chosen. Once the text was decided on, he would spend time meditating on it, and then jot down a brief outline, from which he would preach extemporaneously.32 Moreover, as Nigel Lacey has noted, there is little doubt that Spurgeon’s sermons are expository. His sermons reveal that he paid close attention to the text he was expounding.33 What Spurgeon once said of the seventeenth-century Baptist evangelist John Bunyan (1628-1688) is equally true of himself:34

Read anything of his, and you will see that it is almost like reading the Bible itself…Prick him anywhere; and you will find that his blood is Bibline, the very essence of the Bible flows from him. He cannot speak without quoting a text, for his soul is full of the Word of God.

The final characteristic of Spurgeon’s preaching which Davidson noticed in the early 1890s was that it was Spirit-anointed; when he preached, “the pentecostal fire fell from heaven upon the people.” Now, surely one of the major reasons for this anointing on Spurgeon’s preaching was the fact that central to the content of his preaching was the Lord Jesus—the glory of his person and the marvel of his work.35 As Spurgeon warned graduates of the Pastors’ College who had gathered for the annual conference in 1891:36

If we do not make the Lord Jesus glorious; if we do not lift him high in the esteem of men, if we do not labour to make him King of kings, and Lord of lords; we shall not have the Holy Spirit with us. Vain will be rhetoric, music, architecture, energy, and social status: if our one design be not to magnify the Lord Jesus, we shall work alone and work in vain.

Spurgeon made the same point somewhat more quaintly when he stated in his sermon “Receiving the Holy Ghost,” preached in July of 1884: “the Holy Spirit always keeps sweet company with Jesus Christ.”37

Final days and legacy

When Davidson’s faith was rekindled through the sermons of Spurgeon in the early 1890s, the Baptist preacher was a dying man. For a number of years he had suffered from a disease of the kidneys. This physical problem appears to have been acerbated by his involvement as one of the leading protagonists in what is known as the Down-Grade controversy. During the 1880s Spurgeon was concerned by what he saw rightly as the inroads of liberal theology into British Baptist ranks. Sensing that something definite needed to be said to the issue, he published a series of articles in The Sword and the Trowel over the course of 1887, in which he urged his fellow Baptists to deal with the problem head on and proclaim their wholehearted commitment to evangelical orthodoxy.

As Spurgeon had examined the preaching of some of his Baptist contemporaries, he had noticed in their sermons that the “Atonement is scouted, the inspiration of Scripture is derided, the Holy Spirit is degraded into an influence, the punishment of sin is turned into fiction, and the resurrection into a myth.”38 Spurgeon’s protest, however, fell largely on deaf ears, and in October of that year the Baptist preacher felt he had no recourse but to lead the Tabernacle out of the Baptist Union.

Over the winter of 1887-1888 a naïve, though well-intentioned, group of eirenical individuals within the Union made common cause with some of Spurgeon’s opponents to attempt a reconciliation between the pastor of the Tabernacle and the Union. Spurgeon, though, rightly chose commitment to the truths of the Scriptures and the God who gave them over the preservation of denominational unity, and these attempts at reconciliation failed.

The climax came at the annual meeting of the Baptist Union in April 1888. Spurgeon was not present, though his brother, James Archer Spurgeon (1837-1899), the co-pastor of the Tabernacle, was. Spurgeon’s supporters and the eirenicists within the Union had both drawn up doctrinal statements. Prior to the debate about the issue on April 23, however, a mediating statement was drafted and overwhelmingly accepted by the delegates at the meeting. Those of Spurgeon’s supporters who voted in favour of this statement—including Spurgeon’s own brother, James, who seconded the approval of the statement—actually believed that they had won a great victory. Spurgeon was convinced otherwise and the succeeding decades showed that he was right. As Willis B. Glover has written:39

Spurgeon’s insight into the religious life of his own times was proved by subsequent events. He did stand on the eve of a great evangelical depression, and unquestionably the theological confusion of his day and the disturbance to religious traditions wrought by higher criticism had a great deal to do with the decline of evangelicalism.

Spurgeon recognized that without clear and distinct doctrinal parameters evangelicalism was helpless against the onslaught of liberal theology. Many of the eirenicists within the Union felt that acceptance of the new theological perspectives spawned by the rise of higher criticism would not intrinsically affect or harm Christian spirituality. Spurgeon saw the folly of such a position: “the coals of orthodoxy are necessary to the fire of piety.”40

The stress of this controversy took a great toll on Spurgeon and almost certainly contributed to the rapid decline of his death in 1891. He died at Menton, a resort on the French Riviera not far from the Italian border, where he had annually taken vacations since the mid-1870s. Spurgeon had come there with his wife in October of that year in the hope that a change of scenery and weather would facilitate a recovery of health. It was not to be. The Prince of Preachers died in the last hour on the final day of January, 1892. Not long before his death he had whispered to his secretary, Joseph W. Harrald, “Remember, a plain stone, C.H.S. and no more; no fuss.”41 His wishes went unheeded.

After the return of his body to England, it “lay in state” at the Tabernacle, with as many as 50,000 mourners coming to pay their last respects. On the actual day of the funeral, thousands lined the streets along which the funeral procession passed, with shops, and even pubs, closing their doors for the day. His body was laid to rest in an ornate tomb; on top of the coffin in which it was placed was a Bible, open at the very text instrumental in his conversion so many years before: “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else” (Isaiah 45:22).42

His lasting memorial, though, was in the lives of countless men and women who had been touched by the Spirit of God at work in his life and ministry, of whom D.C. Davidson is a good example. When Davidson returned to the United States after sitting under Spurgeon’s preaching he did so with the resolve “that while life lasts, I would `preach the Word,’ and blow the gospel trumpet with no uncertain sound.”43 And although Spurgeon’s voice was stilled in 1892, through the ongoing publication of his sermons the Holy Spirit continues to honour Spurgeon’s ministry and to draw sinners to know and to worship the Triune God. Little wonder that the twentieth-century Lutheran preacher and theologian Helmut Thielicke once suggested with regard to Spurgeon’s sermons: “Sell all you have…and go buy Spurgeon.”44


Probably the best place to begin with reading about Spurgeon is his autobiography. It was originally published in four volumes between the years 1897 to 1900 under the editorial supervision of his wife and secretary. The Banner of Truth Trust has conveniently reprinted these four volumes in an abridged two-volume set: The Early Years (1962) and The Full Harvest (1973). A highly readable biography of Spurgeon has been written by Arnold A. Dallimore: Spurgeon: A new biography (Moody Press, 1984). This has been translated in French: Charles Spurgeon: une biographe (Chalon sur Saône: Europresse, 1988). A more recent biography by Mike Nicholls—C.H. Spurgeon: The Pastor Evangelist (Baptist Historical Society, 1992)—contains a lot of insightful information regarding Spurgeon as a preacher, activist, and educationalist, but fails to fully appreciate the strong doctrinal thrust of his ministry.

Excellent insight into the many dimensions of Spurgeon’s personality and ministry can also be found in a delightful volume which has been recently published: Letters of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, selected by Iain H. Murray (The Banner of Truth Trust, 1992). More than twenty-five years ago, Iain Murray also wrote The Forgotten Spurgeon (The Banner of Truth Trust, 1966), which focuses on the three main controversies of Spurgeon’s ministry: his attack on Arminianism, the famous “Baptismal Regeneration” debate of 1864, and the Down-Grade controversy.