I just finished a biography of Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892). He is widely considered the greatest preacher of the past 1,000 years.
Spurgeon became the pastor of a small rural church when only 15 years old. At age 19, he became pastor of New Park Street Chapel in London, which was then the largest Baptist church in England. He later became pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London, where he served for 38 years.
It is estimated that, over the course of his lifetime, Spurgeon preached to over 10 million people (all without the aid of sound equipment). He was also a prolific author (49 books published) and the founder of numerous charities, as well as a college for pastors.
Spurgeon was one of the greatest intellectuals of his day, but his preaching was always accessible to the common person. He was so popular with the masses that a person needed a ticket to get into the church on Sunday morning (the church seated 5,000). A mid-week service was limited to unbelievers-only. Imagine that!
Spurgeon never issued an altar call; instead, he invited any who desired salvation to meet with him privately the following day. He was always skeptical of emotional responses to the gospel. Before a person could become a member of the church, he/she was interviewed as to the reality of their conversion.
Despite his popularity, Spurgeon also faced a great deal of criticism. The newspapers savaged him, as did some of his fellow pastors, who were no doubt jealous of his ministry. In 1887, Spurgeon became concerned about the trend toward liberalism in the churches and he started what is known as “the downgrade controversy.” This culminated in Metropolitan Tabernacle withdrawing from their denomination.
Unlike numerous celebrity pastors today, Spurgeon lived simply and never enriched himself through the ministry. All proceeds from his books or sermons were poured back into the church or one of his charities.
Unfortunately, during the last 20 years of his life, Spurgeon had numerous health problems and was forced to take frequent rest periods of a month or more. It was during these “breaks” that he did much of his writing. His wife was also very sickly and was disabled for much of her adult life.
Finally, Spurgeon was devoted to prayer. He did not greet people before services; instead, he would be in his study praying. Often, the deacons had to come get him because his praying was so intense. Occasionally, they would have to lift him off his knees.
Spurgeon’s life inspires me to be a better pastor and better follower of Christ. I’m also amazed at what God can do through one person who is fully devoted to Him.