-David Saxon, Ph.D.
One of my favorite people in Church History is Charles Spurgeon. He’s a well-known figure, but I believe reviewing his life is profitable because he was a very godly man, and one of the greatest Baptists in the history of the denomination.
Spurgeon was born in 1834. America is about 60 years old at the time. He is born just at the advent of the Victorian era, in in Britain. Queen Victoria will reign for half a century.
Spurgeon is born in Kelvedon, which is Essex, eastern England, in 1834, to a godly family. He’s the second of ten children, and his father and grandfather are both pastors in the Congregational Church, which means that Spurgeon was sprinkled as baby, because Congregationalists believed in infant baptism, but they also preached the gospel. They loved Jesus Christ, and they loved the Word of God.
Spurgeon’s mom was a tremendous influence on his life. He said that virtually everything in his spiritual life as a child, he would attribute to the influence of his mom, because she invested so much in him and prayed for him and his siblings, kind of like the Wesleys. They weren’t well off though.
Let me quote Spurgeon, because Spurgeon is one of the most quotable people in the history of the church. He says, “I was cradled in the home of piety, nurtured with the tenderest care, taught the gospel from my youth up with the holiest example of my parents, the best possible checks all around to prevent me running into sin.”
And the reason he says that is because as a young boy, he had all that, and yet was not a believer. When he was quite small, about 18 months of age, his parents sent him to live with his grandparents, just a few miles from where they lived. And we believe it’s because of financial reasons. They were living in a small home and very tight finances. And he lived there for four and a half years or so. He loved his grandparents, he was exposed to their wonderful library, he was exposed to a very loving aunt, who developed a very dear relationship with him.
He became one of those precocious little boys who just seems to always be kind of grown up. That is, at five years of age, he’s reading Pilgrims Progress and Foxes Book of Martyrs. He’s reading the King James Bible and memorizing large portions of it as a small child. By the time he’s 10 he’s reading the Greek New Testament. He’s reading people that I struggled to read now. And he’s reading them as a child. And yet during all of that, he’s not a believer. He understands theology deeply. He sits in when his father and grandfather are discussing theologians, discussing theology with their pastoral friends, but he’s never committed his life to Christ.
About age 10, he began to go through a crisis, where he became conscious of the fact that I know enough to be a believer, I have all the head knowledge, but I have not bowed my will to be a believer. Why not?
He began to wrestle with several possibilities. “I’m a rebel,” which was true. “Maybe I’m a reprobate. Maybe I’ve not been elected, predestined to be saved. Maybe I can’t believe.” For five years, he went through terrible torments. The good news is, he kept studying his Bible. He kept studying his Greek New Testament. He kept reading Puritan authors. He was he was the best educated little pagan there was in the whole area. But he wasn’t a believer.
As a student, he was a bookworm. That is, he was not one of those kids who was an athlete. And he was an independent thinker, even as a child. In fact, on one occasion, he went to his, he went to his grandfather, and said, I found in Revelation, a reference to the bottomless pit. That would seem to mean that unbelievers will spend the rest of the eternity becoming further and further from God. Now, that’s quite an observation by a six- or seven-year-old. And that’s the kind of independent thinking he’s going to bring to the Scriptures.
He’s conscious of his sinfulness, but he’s a well behaved child, his teachers love him. He always gets highest grades in class. In fact, the story is that on one occasion, his grades were going down, and the teacher couldn’t understand why his marks were failing. And then she realized that she had arranged the seating so that the poorest students were the closest to the heater in the room. And so his grade started going down because he was cold. So she rearranged the seating and he shot to the head of the class again.
He was a very precocious child, very bright. And no one would have thought that little Charles was an unbeliever, because he seemed to have everything going for him. He’s going to say in one of his sermons, that our imaginary goodness is more hard to conquer than our actual sense, because we believe that we’ve got what it takes. But he needs to be saved.
As a teenage boy, living in Colchester in Essex, he begins to travel around to the different churches in the community, sampling them, and sort of testing them against his theological knowledge, presumably with the approval of his parents. And on one Sunday in 1850, as a 15 year old, it was January, he travelled around looking for such a church. In fact, he had one in mind that he was going to go to, but there was a snowstorm.
He was serious enough to go through the snowstorm. And most Christians were not out on that particular Sunday. And in fact, he couldn’t make it to the church he intended to go to. But as he made his way to Artillery street, he saw lights on and a little church that was holding a service, and he decided that he would duck in there, even though it was a Primitive Methodist Church.
Now, Spurgeon, as we’ll see, is going to be pretty Calvinistic in his lifetime. The primitive Methodists were anything but they were a Schouten bunch of people. They love holiness. They love the Word of God, but they were very emotional. It’s strange that Spurgeon would find himself among the primitive Methodists. But there he is.
And he heard the gospel. In fact, I’ll let him tell you the story, because he’s going to repeat this story over 280 times over the course of his ministry. The text was Isaiah 45:22. And the normal preacher was not able to be there because of the storm. So a layman had stepped up there, probably unprepared and simply turned to this text, and repeated for about 30 minutes, “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else.” But I’ll let Spurgeon pick up the story.
“He had not much to say, thank God, for that compelled him to keep on repeating his text. And there was nothing needed by me at any rate, except his text, then stopping he pointed to where I was sitting under the gallery. This is a very primitive Methodist thing to do. And he said, ‘That young man there looks very miserable.’ And he shouted, as I think only a Primitive Methodist can ‘Look, look, young man. Look now.’ Then I had this vision, not a vision to my eyes, but to my heart. I saw what a Savior Christ was. Now I can never tell you how it was. But I no sooner saw whom I was to believe that I also understood what it was to believe. And I did believe in one moment. And as the snow fell on my road home from the little house of prayer, I thought every snowflake talked with me and told me the pardon I had found, for I was white as the driven snow through the grace of God.”
This theologian, who knew 10 times more than the guy up in the pulpit, needed to have his heart opened by the Holy Spirit. And the Spirit opened his heart to look and live. And that’s going to be Spurgeon’s message now for the rest of his life. He’s going to call on sinners to look and live. So he’s a believer now.
What kind of believer he is going to be, he had already determined through his study of the Scriptures, that baptism ought to be of believers by immersion. In fact, he had essentially said, “If I ever get saved, I’m going to be a Baptist,” and he got saved. So he sought out Baptists, about eight miles away. And they baptized him in the river Lark by immersion as a believer, something totally opposed to what his family taught. In fact, his mom was disheartened by this. And she wrote to Spurgeon and said, “Ah, Charles, I often pray the Lord to make you a Christian, but I never asked that you might become a Baptist.”
Spurgeon wrote back, “Mother, the Lord has answered your prayer with his usual bounty, and has given you exceeding abundantly above what you asked!”