Monday, September 26, 2016

Spurgeon's Autobiography: The Early Years

Over the summer I have had the pleasure of reading the first volume of Charles Haddon Spurgeon's Autobiography: The Early Years. What an encouragement that has been! Spurgeon (1834-92) is one of the most remarkable men of whom I have ever read. By the age of 19 he was preaching weekly to a congregation of thousands in London.

He was clearly a very intelligent individual - he excelled in maths at school among other subjects and on leaving school was hired by a former teacher to help him set up a new one in Cambridge. But it is not his intelligence that strikes me so much as his godliness. He was brought up in nonconformist village chapels that were pastored by his father and grandfather but came to faith at the age of 15 when he turned in to a different chapel on a snowy evening and heard the words of Isaiah 45:22: "Look under me and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth." Spurgeon writes, "Oh! I looked until I could almost have look my eyes away".

It is striking that, having been instructed so carefully growing up, he had nearly all his doctrinal convictions sorted out before he was converted. It is no surprise, then, that he was soon involved in teaching Sunday school.

But it was at Cambridge that a deacon saw the potential in the young man and tricked him into going along to an outlying village chapel, where, he was told "a young man was to preach there who was not much used to services, and very likely would be glad of company". Walking to the village, Spurgeon found out that he was the young man and "lifting up my soul to seemed to me that I could surely tell a few poor cottagers of the sweetness and love of Jesus, for I felt them in my own soul". He was soon called to be the pastor of one of these chapels and over the following two years pastored that congregation faithfully as well as preaching frequently around the Fens. During that time he preached over 600 times! What a tremendous training he received through that experience.

The call to London gave him a wonderful arena for his ministry and he was soon the talk of the town, with newspapers carrying articles about the boy preacher and scathing letters from older men who, sadly, were probably consumed with envy. He was supremely gifted as an orator, had a great memory for facts and stories, and could communicate with educated and uneducated alike. Indeed, he took great delight that the poor came in such numbers to hear him. But it is his closeness to the Lord that strikes me as the reason for his fruitfulness. He was a man of prayer and a man of the Word. His ministry was a demonstration of the words of the Lord Jesus: 'out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks' (Matt 12:34). No amount of theological education can substitute for that. It is what every preacher needs; and what every congregation needs to look out for when seeking to call a minister.