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Mar 18 Charles Spurgeon 'Prince amongst preachers'

Today in 1861 the famous Baptist preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon moved his growing congregation to the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London. The newly constructed purpose-built church at Elephant and Castle, seated 5,000 people with standing room for another 1,000. It was the largest church of its day and Spurgeon continued to preach there several times per week until his death 31 years later. He never gave altar calls at the conclusion of his sermons, but he always extended the invitation that if anyone was moved to seek an interest in Christ by his preaching on a Sunday, they could meet with him at his vestry on Monday morning. Without fail, there was always someone at his door the next day.

Growing up in the town of Colchester, which is about an hour outside of London, as a teenager, a snowstorm forced Spurgeon to seek shelter in a Methodist chapel. Once inside, protected from the storm, he picked up a bible and read these words in the book of Isaiah – "Look unto me, and be saved, all the ends of the earth, for I am God, and there is none else." He was baptised a year later in the river Lark, at Isleham and moved to Cambridge, where became a Sunday school teacher. At the young age of 16, he was filling in for a friend he preached his first sermon in a cottage at, where his style and ability were considered to be far above average. Three years later at only 19 years old, was called to London's famed New Park Street Chapel the largest Baptist congregation in London at the time, and within a few months of his arrival at Park, he was famous. The following year his sermons were published in printed form every week and had a high circulation. By the time of his death at the age of 57, he had preached over 3,500 sermons and published many books.

With fame came criticism and attacks from the media persisted throughout his life. The congregation quickly outgrew their building, and temporarily they moved to Surrey Gardens Music Hall where he could attract audiences numbering more than 10,000. Before television and radio, these sermons had become events in themselves, Walter Thornbury gave us an insight into what they were like to experience “a congregation consisting of 10,000 souls, streaming into the hall, mounting the galleries, humming, buzzing, and swarming – a mighty hive of bees – eager to secure at first the best places, and, at last, any place at all. After waiting more than half an hour – for if you wish to have a seat you must be there at least that space of time in advance... Mr. Spurgeon ascended his tribune. To the hum, and rush, and trampling of men, succeeded a low, concentrated thrill and murmur of devotion, which seemed to run at once, like an electric current, through the breast of everyone present, and by this magnetic chain the preacher held us fast bound for about two hours. The power and volume of his voice sufficient to reach everyone in that vast assembly; his language that neither high-flown nor homely; his style, at times familiar, at times declamatory, but always happy, and often eloquent; but it is the man himself, that impresses you with a perfect conviction of his sincerity.

At the end of the year, as Spurgeon was preaching at the Music Hall someone in the crowd yelled, "Fire!" The ensuing panic and stampede left several dead. Spurgeon was emotionally devastated by the event and it had a sobering influence on his life. For many years he spoke of being moved to tears for no reason known to himself – we would now recognise it as being a time of post-traumatic stress disorder. This event also catalysed the changes that led to todays move today to the Metropolitan Tabernacle. He wrote his sermons out fully before he preached, but what he carried up to the pulpit was a notecard with an outline sketch. Stenographers would take down the sermon as it was delivered and Spurgeon would then have the opportunity to make revisions to the transcripts the following day for immediate publication. His work expanded and A Pastors' College was founded in 1857 and was renamed Spurgeon's College in 1923. However tensions within the Baptists grew, Spurgeon strongly opposed the owning of slaves and lost the support from the Southern Baptists, sales of his sermons dropped, and he received scores of threatening and insulting letters as a consequence. Dying at the of 58, Spurgeon also suffered ill health toward the end of his life, afflicted by a combination of rheumatism, gout and Bright's disease. He often recuperated near Nice, France, where he died. He was buried at West Norwood Cemetery in London, where the tomb is still visited by admirers.


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