Soul-winning is the chief business of every Christian minister; indeed it should be the main pursuit of every true believer. Charles Spurgeon
A Biographical Sketch1
Charles Haddon Spurgeon stands today as one of the greatest preachers and evangelists this world has seen. His gospel-influence in the 19th century still thunders today. He preached the central truth of God’s free grace for sinners in Jesus Christ for decades and did so with a burden and fire in his soul, not for intellectual pursuit, but for the salvation of the lost. Hughes Oliphant Old famously stated “There was no voice in the Victorian pulpit as resonant, no preacher as beloved by the people, no orator as prodigious as Charles Haddon Spurgeon.”2 He is perhaps known most famously by the title Prince of Preachers.3 He found himself bitten by the gracious and unwarranted love of God and did all in his power to make it known by his life. We would do well to remember and imitate this leader in the Christian faith.
Spurgeon was born on June 19, 1834 in Essex, England. He grew up in a devout Christian home with his father as a minister. He was the oldest of seventeen children. However he found himself growing up as one unconverted, even as he was exposed his entire childhood to the truths of the Christian faith growing up with his father as a minister. He stated later in life, “The light was there, but I was blind.”4
However God has a way of giving sight to the blind. At fifteen years of Age, on January 6, 1850, Spurgeon found his life utterly transformed. It was a Sunday morning and Spurgeon found himself walking in the midst of a raging snowstorm. To get out of the driving cold, Spurgeon took shelter in a local church in Colchester which was currently holding their worship service. He sat in the pew and listened to the lay-preacher expound on Isaiah 45:22, “Look unto Me, and be saved, all the ends of the earth.”
“Fixing his eyes on young Spurgeon, he urged: ‘Young man, look to Jesus Christ. Look! Look! Look! You have nothing to do but to look and live.’ Like an arrow from heaven’s bow, the gospel hit its intended target. Spurgeon wrote: ‘I saw at once the way of salvation. Like as a brazen serpent was lifted up, the people only looked and were healed, so it was with me.’ Gazing by faith on Christ, he was dramatically converted.”5
A year later, age sixteen, Spurgeon preached his first sermon and at age seventeen he was called as minister to a Baptist church in Waterbeach. It was here in Spurgeon’s early life that his tremendous gift of preaching was recognized. At age nineteen Spurgeon was called again, this time to pastor New Park Street Chapel in London, a historic church, once of profound prominence. He would shepherd these individuals for the remainder of his life.
Spurgeon’s preaching here transformed the lives of thousands. The attendance went from 200 to 1,500 just after a year which in turn forced the sanctuary to be enlarged. The continued increase of those coming to hear the master preacher forced them to leave the restricted space of New Park Street Chapel and worship in Exeter Hall which would hold near 5,000. However even this new space could not keep up with the growing crowd. They were forced to build a new sanctuary for worship that would accommodate the growing crowds, the Metropolitan Tabernacle, which was “the largest Protestant house of worship in the world.”6 In 1861 the Metropolitan Tabernacle was opened and could sit more than 6,000.
Spurgeon’s preaching was so popular that his sermons were printed each week and sold for just a penny giving them the affectionate name “Penny Pulpit.” The average weekly run by the publisher was over twenty-five thousand copies to distribute the sermon of the week. The power in his sermons enabled their continual publication long beyond his passing, up until World War I.7 Over 3,500 sermons were printed in the Penny Pulpit over the years and “it seems safe to say that no other preacher’s sermons in history have been ready by so many people. And they are still in print.”8
Throughout Spurgeon’s adult life he was vehemently zealous for the truth of the Gospel and the preservation of its essential doctrines. This embattled him in many controversies, similar to those Luther faced in his zeal for the Gospel. One such controversy near the end of his life forced his resignation as pastor. Fed up with the growing devaluation of the Scriptures in his time, particularly in the Baptist Union, Spurgeon passionately pled for a return to a posture of reverence toward the Scriptures as God’s word. However others did not share his opinion and he resigned and in the ensuing turmoil passed away prematurely, on January 31, 1892, at fifty-seven years old.
“During his thirty-eight year London ministry, Spurgeon witnessed his congregation grow from two hundred to almost six thousand members. Over this time, he took 14,692 new members into the church…it has been estimated that Spurgeon personally addressed nearly ten million people.”9
Spurgeon was a faithful evangelist, preacher, theologian, and leader of the church in England. His wake can be felt today. Here are three examples of his faith for us to take to heart and incorporate into our lives:
The Primacy of the Scriptures
It was the end of Spurgeon’s vocation as Pastor that was defined by his defense of the primacy of the Scriptures as the authoritative revealed will of God for the life of the believer, though surely he never failed to preach this point in his years as a minister. Upon the Scriptures rested all of Spurgeon’s efforts:
“For Spurgeon, the Bible was just that, the very Word of God to break the heart and bring the soul before the throne of God, thus bringing them to a redemptive knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. Upon this foundation Spurgeon built his entire theology and ministry.”10
The Gospel was central to Spurgeon’s ministry; he was a herald of the good news, and central to the Gospel is its revelation in the Scriptures. They were to Spurgeon an invaluable gift.
And so Spurgeon’s call on his audience was to truly trust and believe in the word of God. As a preacher, he knew that “No man [would] preach the gospel aright who does not wholly believe it.”11 His aim therefore was to so order the minds of his listeners to see and believe in the capital “A” Authorship of the Scriptures.
“This volume is the writing of the living God; each letter was penned with an Almighty finger; each word in it dropped from the everlasting lips…Albeit, that Moses was employed to write his histories with fiery pen, God guided that pen…if I turn to the smooth page of John…the fiery chapters of Peter…if I turn to Jude, who launches forth anathemas upon the foes of God, everywhere I find God speaking; it is god’s voice, not man’s.”12
Spurgeon’s resolve for the primacy of the Scriptures in our lives is a call for us to see them as the very word of God and therefore as the greatest instruction, the greatest exhortation, the greatest balm, the greatest knowledge of love we could ever know. It is worthy then of our time and study. Or in the famous words of Spurgeon himself: “It is blessed to eat into the very soul of the Bible until, at last, your blood is bibline and the very essence of the Bible flows from you.”13
The Call to Evangelism
The second thing we ought to have impressed upon us from the life of Spurgeon is his obedience to the Scriptures in his resolve to show lost souls that their only hope was in the free grace of Jesus; Spurgeon was a gifted evangelist. He stated that, “Soul-winning is the chief business of the Christian minister; indeed, it should be the main pursuit of every true believer.”14
Spurgeon therefore included an appeal to the hope of the Gospel in every sermon he preached. The lost soul was his target as he spoke from the pulpit, the Gospel the arrow, and his voice the bow. He longed for those who did not know Christ to know the joy that he experienced in that Methodist church in Colchester, when the darkness dissipated and light of God’s love in Christ was shed in his heart. His appeal sprang both from a passionate desire for the lost to know the peace that comes in Christ and from a desire to be faithful to God’s call on his life—to proclaim the fullness of the Gospel without reservation.
Spurgeon then “felt that preaching that did not lead to conversions was pointless.”15 His resolve as an evangelist should lay heavy on our hearts, in a day where evangelism can be avoided and the lost disregarded. Spurgeon’s own conscience spurs us to value those who do not know Christ, to save them from eternal peril.
“I should be destitute of all humanity if I should see a person about to poison himself, and did not dash away the cup; or if I saw another about to plunge from the London bridge, if I did not assist in preventing him from doing so; and I should be worse than a fiend if I did not now, with all love, and kindness, and earnestness, beseech you to lay hold on eternal life.”16
The Christian’s Witness
Lastly, Spurgeon’s example would impress upon us the importance of our witness to each other and the world as we represent the name of Christ in our life. We are all—whether pastor, accountant, student, athlete, librarian, teacher, chef, mom—ambassadors for the Gospel if we claim the name Christian. We act not on our own behalf, but upon and for Another.
In Spurgeon’s lasting Lectures to My Students, he addresses those who are discerning and being equipped for pastoral ministry. He says at the outgo that this is their beginning, “True and genuine piety is necessary as the first indispensable requisite; whatever ‘call’ a man may pretend to have, if he has not been called to holiness, he certainly has not been called to the ministry.”17 While he is addressing students, this foundational exhortation ought to be given to any who claims the name of Christ for all of the Christian’s life is that of ministry. When a Christian opens a door for someone, they do so in the love of Christ. When a Christian serves the poor and homeless, they do so in the name of Christ. But so too when a Christian exhibits road rage, is caught in a lie, or sleeps around, they do so in the name of Christ.
“Take heed, therefore, to yourselves first, that you be that which you persuade others to be, and believe that which you persuade them daily to believe, and have heartily entertained that Christ and Spirit which you offer unto others.”18
And so from Spurgeon’s own example as one faithful to the word of God, as one faithful to the call to share the good news with the lost, and as one faithful in living a life above reproach, we have much to remember and imitate from this great man of God.
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For further study on Charles Spurgeon:
Lewis Drummond, Spurgeon: Prince of Preachers (Rand Rapids: Kregel, 1992).
Steven J. Lawson, The Gospel Focus of Charles Spurgeon (Sanford, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing, 2012).
Tom Nettles, Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles Haddon Spurgeon (Glasgow: Mentor, 2013).
Charles H. Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2010).
1 The bulk of Spurgeon’s “A Biographical Sketch” has been referenced from Steven J. Lawson, The Gospel Focus of Charles Spurgeon (Sanford, FL.: Reformation Trust Publishing, 2012).
2 Hughes Oliphant Old, The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures in the Worship of the Christian Church, Vol. 6: The Modern Age (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 422.
3 Lewis Drummond, Spurgeon: Prince of Preachers (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1992).
4 Charles H. Spurgeon, C.H. Spurgeon’s Autobiography, Vol. I:1834-1854 (London: Passmore and Alabaster, 1899), 98.
5 Steven J. Lawson, The Gospel Focus of Charles Spurgeon, 5.
6 Ibid., 8.
7 O.C. Edwards Jr., A History of Preaching (Nashville: Abingdon, 2004), 459.
8 Ibid., 460.
9 Ibid., 17.
10 Drummond, Spurgeon: Prince of Preachers, 624.
11 Ian H. Murray, Heroes (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2009), 282.
12 Charles H. Spurgeon, The New Park Street Pulpit, Vol. I (Pasadena, Texas: Pilgrim Publications, 1981), 110.
13 Charles H. Spurgeon, C.H. Spurgeon’s Autobiography, Vol. IV:1878-1892 (London: Passmore and Alabaster, 1900), 268.
14 Charles Spurgeon, The Soul-Winner: How to Lead Sinners to the Savior (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1963), 15.
15 Steven J. Lawson, The Gospel Focus of Charles Spurgeon, 84.
16 Charles H. Spurgeon, The New Park Street Pulpit, Vol. V (Pasadena, Texas: Pilgrim Publications, 1981), 21-22.
17 Charles H. Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2010), 9.
18 Ibid., 13.