The Raising of Charles Spurgeon in His Early Years
Kathy L. McFarland
March 7, 2013
INTRODUCTION TO CHARLES HADDON SPURGEON
English Baptist Charles Haddon Spurgeon, born on June 19, 1834, became known as a “prince of preachers” and a “prophet of Victorian England” in a magnificent ministry that still commands respect and awe today as seminary students, Bible theologians and church pastors study and embrace his massive collection of fiery sermons and writings. But, it is an examination of his early years, the most critical times of his spiritual development that allows the fuller understanding of the cultivation of his spirit before his manhood and ministry are fully developed. The critical connections that Spurgeon makes in his early years between his young life and God’s presence gives brilliant light to the development of his nature and character, as he is examined through the innocent days of his early childhood and young adulthood before he becomes that bold preacher of world renown.
Charles Spurgeon’s father, John, and mother, Eliza, created a home life that practiced their faith through daily devotions, morning and evening prayers, and reading of literary treasures to feed the spiritual nature of their Puritan ways. Amongst his congregation, Minister John Spurgeon dramatically preached the Gospel with bold voice, and garnered the attention of those within his earshot as an Independent minister and Nonconformist.
Charles was very close to his mother, and was deeply respectful of his father. He inherited the confidence and the vocal cords from his father to pronounce the Word of God with boldness, and knowledge of Scripture from his mother’s daily readings with him.
They were a family of limited means, and were forced to move near family while Charles was young. Soon after, Charles’ grandfather arrived to bring him to his home in Stambourne. The reason for the separation from his parents is not known, though it is commonly thought to be poverty as the reason Charles was unable to stay with them. However, there were children born after Charles left, and they were not sent out with relatives, so some doubt that reason. But, those of faith recognize the Providence of God that brought the young Charles to the perfect place of his beloved grandfather, to be raised to become a bold preacher and leader of Christians.
Spurgeon’s grandfather, Pastor James Spurgeon stirred his flocks in an independent Congregational church with his nonconformist, Protestant sermons that extolled the fundamental beliefs of Puritan origin. The Victorian era environment, coupled with the ideals of the nonconformist movement, gave Charles the teachings that reflected holiness as something identified with specific actions. Because of this influence, young Spurgeon developed the speech and value system exemplified by the Victorian era, with the “flowery language of romanticism” prevalent in his spoken words.
He had a most perfect childhood when he stayed with his grandparents. His grandmother and his Aunt Ann continuously spoiled him with sweets hidden away just for him. And, it was their little touches that added a wonder to Charles life, as they were always gathering odd treasures to put on their mantles. Quite possibly, this extra attention doted upon the boy added the desire to be surrounded by loving people in his adulthood as he ministers God to the congregation of believers that gather.
Once, Charles found a small jar with a cork in the top of the small necked bottle, with a grown apple inside. He just could not figure out how that big apple got inside that small bottle, thinking it must have been magic, because there would be no other way. Then the next summer, he saw someone place a blooming branch of an apple tree in the bottle, and recognized the process of the apple magic and developed this illustration:
“Let us get the apples into the bottle while they are little: which being translated, signifies, let us bring the young ones into the house of God, by means of the Sabbath-school, in the hope that, in after days, they will love the place where His honour dwelleth, and there seek and find eternal life.”
And, his gentle grandfather would use the same type of intrigue to stir young Charles’ mind to inquire, wonder, and contemplate, even in times of discipline. Once, on a particularly naughty day, the grandfather had warned his son John (Charles’ father) that if he did not stop the behavior immediately, that he would receive a punishment that he would never forget in his lifetime. John, probably surmising the great love and gentle nature of his grandfather to be non-threatening, continued the misbehavior. His father took hold of him and marched him into the midst of a cornfield. The young boy was shaken, and braced himself for the punishment that would be so terrible that he would remember it forever. The gentle father bent down, picked up two pieces of wheat and “lightly brushed his cheek.” James Spurgeon was right; his son never forgot the loving discipline he received from his father that day and his son kept that memory alive in his own memoirs.
Mr. Knill’s Prophecy
It was Grandfather Spurgeon who formed the strongest role model in Charles’ earliest years. He would spend his days in the garden that seemed the “perfect paradise,” watching his grandfather pace back-and-forth, practicing his Sunday sermons. It was that same garden when missionary Mr. Knill arrived to preach in his Grandfather’s church while he was away. For the next three days, Mr. Knill would take Charles into the garden, and tell him wondrous simple stories about the love of Christ for him. Then he would embrace the boy tightly and pray with him. On the day his Grandfather returned, Mr. Knill spoke prophecy concerning Charles in the midst of those gathered for Morning Prayer:
“This child will one day preach the gospel, and he will preach it to great multitudes. I am persuaded that he will preach in the chapel of Rowland Hill, where (I think he said) I am now the minister.”
Then Mr. Knill gave the young boy six-pence to learn a hymn, “God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform.” Years later, Charles found himself standing in the midst of Rowland Hill’s Church, leading the congregation in singing that hymn. It was an emotional connection for Charles, and caused him to feel a great blessing from the Lord in leading him through the prophetic Mr. Knill. It was this prophecy that began the young boy’s focus upon preaching the word of God:
“Did the words of Mr. Knill help to bring about their own fulfillment? I think so. I believed them, and looked forward to the time when I should preach the Word: I felt very powerfully that no unconverted person might dare to enter the ministry; this made me, I doubt not, all the more intent upon seeking salvation, and more hopeful of it, and when by grace enabled to cast myself upon the Saviour’s love, it was not long before my mouth began to speak of redemption.”
His Grandfather’s home in Stambourne gave young Charles confidence in himself, stories of the Lord, example of his preacher grandfather preparing weekly sermons, a peaceful raising in the midst of a beautiful garden, loving care from a grandmother and aunt, prophetic pronouncement of his future ministry, and an uncommon affection shared between the two that was fondly remembered by Charles in his adult years:
“I recollect, when first I left my grandfather, how grieved I was to part from him; it was the great sorrow of my little life. Grandfather seemed very sorry, too, and we had a cry together; he did not quite know what to say to me, but he said, “Now child, to-night, when the moon shines at Colchester, and you look at it, don’t forget that it is the same moon your grandfather will be looking at from Stambourne;” and for years, as a child, I used to love the moon because I thought that my grandfather’s eyes and my own somehow met there on the moon.”
When Charles was returned to his family home, a place that was not as hospitable to the young man as Stambourne had been, the teachings his grandfather created some need for punishment to be leveled by his parents in order to gain their upper hand. His Grandfather had always taught him the rule to “never be afraid to do what I believed to be right.” So Spurgeon, confident that his grandfather’s church sang the words of a hymn perfectly, refused to cooperate with his parent’s chapel during worship services. He boldly sung past the congregation, confident in his surety; it required a great amount of punishment to rein young Charles in and recognize that he must be obedient to his parents as well as his grandfather.
SPURGEON’S TEENAGE YEARS
Charles had reached adolescence without the surety of faith in Christ, though he desperately longed for guaranteed salvation and real fellowship with God as portrayed in his beloved primer, Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress and reflected by his beloved Grandpa’s love for him. Then at age fifteen, a blinding snowstorm on a Sunday morning pushed him down a side street and into the Primitive Methodist Chapel that brought shelter to his body from the cold and salvation to his soul unexpectedly on 6th day of January, 1850.
At a small Primitive Methodist Chapel that day, a plain, scraggly, thin, tradesman that was sorely lacking in intelligence figured it best to take the pulpit since his preacher had failed to find his flock in the snowstorm. The substitute lay pastor was fully dependent upon his text since his lack of intelligence prevented any extraneous conjectures not written down. So he read it, word for word, “Look unto me and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth.” He mispronounced the simple words horribly, and his “broad Essex” slang was apparent and off-putting. But, his words stirred the soul of young Charles in a way that he had not heard from his family members. The scrawny shoemaker/tailor introduced Christ to the boy with words of his day:
“Look unto Me; I am sweatin’ great drops of blood. Look unto Me; I am hangin’ on the cross. Look unto Me; I am dead and buried. Look unto Me; I rise again. Look unto Me; I ascend to Heaven. Look unto Me; I am sittin’ at the Father’s right hand. O poor sinner, look unto Me! Look unto Me! Young man, look to Jesus Christ. Look! Look! Look!”
Then the odd replacement preacher, that could barely read the words upon his paper, who could not write a sermon or chair a meeting or explain the deep meaning of Bible texts did something that no other Christian had done before in young Charles life. He looked at him and he told Charles to “look” at Christ. The awkward preacher’s fixed gaze upon the lost young man challenged him to fix his gaze upon Christ with the same intensity and look at Him. The fifty things that Charles thought was required before faith came to him were suddenly reduced to one thing only:
“Look!” what a charming word it seemed to me! Oh! I looked until I could almost have looked my eyes away. There and then the cloud was gone, the darkness had rolled away, and that moment I saw the sun; and I could have risen that instant, and sung with the most enthusiastic of them, of the precious blood of Christ, and the simple faith which looks alone to Him. Oh, that somebody had told me this before, “Trust Christ, and you shall be saved.”
The peculiar Christian man that preached the simplest of sermons led to the conversion of a boy that would one day become celebrated and world renown with a much bolder voice and influential ministry than the lay minister might have ever witnessed. The testimony of Christ was delivered by the Primitive Methodist believer with broken words made intelligible as the Holy Spirit penetrated the heart of a boy; it would one day lead hundreds of thousands to the Lord in his life with trust in the Lord for the salvation of believers in Him.
It should be noted that after Spurgeon was elevated by fame, three preachers from the Primitive Methodist church came out of the woodwork and claimed to be the one that brought young Charles to God on that snowy day. And, as scholars dig deeper and deeper into the account of salvation testified by Spurgeon, doubts to the veracity are increasingly heightened in the minds of some. These naysayers point to the fact that the Primitive Methodist was not a layman, but an ordained preacher that would not have been of low intelligence as Spurgeon suggested. Further, the date of 13 January 1850 is chosen as the most likely date after consulting historical meteorological evidence that showed snowfall only over the weekend of 12-13 January 1850. That makes an easy jump for critical scholars to suggest that if Spurgeon was mistaken on both the date and the deliverer of Christ’s message of salvation, then it is probable that he was confused on the accounts of it also. That the important event was not recorded within Spurgeon’s notes seems to support the idea that possible embellishment of these facts might have entered Spurgeon’s recollection when he spoke of this conversion five years later. Adjustments that are dependent upon the type of audience Spurgeon delivers his testimony to are evident with slight differences tailored to reflect his theological points on specific days with different messages.
Another interesting connection to Charles’ salvation experience is his request to be baptized. An examination of letters that he wrote to his father concerning his acceptance of Christ show Charles pleading with his Father to make up his mind and allow him to be baptized. On April 6th, 1850, he wrote:
“You will be pleased to hear that, last Thursday night, I was admitted as a member. Oh, that I may henceforth live more for the glory of Him, by whom I feel assured that I shall be everlastingly saved! Owing to my scruples on account of baptism, I did not sit down at the Lord’s table, and cannot in conscience do so until I am baptized. To one who does not see the necessity of baptism, it is perfectly right and proper to partake of this blessed privilege; but were I to do so, I conceive would be to tumble over the wall, since I feel persuaded it is Christ’s appointed way of professing Him. I am sure this is the only view which I have of baptism. I detest the idea that I can do a single thing towards my own salvation.”
It is apparent that his father does not practice the ordinance of Baptism, and Charles is very aware of this difference in belief. That difference put a kink in young Charles future participation in worship with his Church; yet, he would not proceed to receive the Lord’s Baptism until he first received his father’s permission. On April 20th, 1850, Charles wrote his mother in an attempt to persuade his father’s approval:
“I have every morning looked for a letter from Father, I long for an answer; it is now a month since I have had one from him. Do, if you please, send me either permission or refusal to be baptized; I have been kept in painful suspense. This is the 20th, and Mr. Cantlow’s baptizing day is to be the latter end of the month; I think, next week. I should be so sorry to lose another Ordinance Sunday; and with my present convictions, I hope I shall never so violate my conscience as to sit down unbaptized. When requested, I assured the members at the church-meeting that I would never do so.”
Then a jubilant Charles wrote his mother on May 1st, 1850, joyfully proclaiming his upcoming baptism on the third of May. He fully gives credit to his “praying, watching Mother” who made it possible for him to profess his faith and preach the Word of God, to follow his “Saviour, not only into the water, but should He call me, even into the fire…”
Theological Developments from Conversion Experience
Regardless of Spurgeon’s exact memory concerning his salvation event, the testimony that he offers has significant theological points that develop from his recollection as a saved teenager. For instance, his recollection of the preacher being less intelligent than most preachers gives a focus on God’s involvement in the salvation process that is not fully dependent upon a human being helping to bestow that grace. In fact, the “sovereignty of God in the conversion process” is reflected in a later sermon in 1855 entitled “Healing for the Wounded” that neatly supports his Calvinistic belief that requires God’s movement of faith toward the sinner in the salvation process that is completely free of man’s efforts, intentions, or works. The atoning redemption through the blood of Christ recalls the powerful confidence that young Charles felt on his conversion day and connected salvation and Christ’s sacrifice as crucial links to that process that is recorded both in Scripture and in his experience.
Young Spurgeon also realized that though he desired to be saved from a young age that was moved by his beloved grandfather and his love of Pilgrim’s Progress, it was not forthcoming until it was personally revealed to him by Holy Spirit regeneration. His salvation opportunity did not originate with his heartfelt and desperate desire; rather, the deep faith in the redeeming blood of Christ was only realized through the moving of the Holy Spirit in the conversion process. It was that foundation that Spurgeon’s ministry was built upon that moved him to present an “invitational, evangelic preaching from the very beginning of his ministry.”
SPURGEON’S EARLY READING AND PREACHING
Charles was called to preach at New Park Street Baptist Chapel in London England at age nineteen, four years into his new birth and life in Christ. His ministry eventually grew to magnificent numbers of congregants and readers as he becomes the “nineteenth-century representative of Protestant orthodoxy” who was fashioned through the writings of Puritan faithful that were contained in his 7,000 books library. A very important part of that ministry, and resulting fame, is directly associated with the reams of his writings that were passed eagerly amongst believers that were unable to attend his services. His weekly sermons cost one cent, and were sold at newsstands; they became a popular reference with over four thousand sermons published.
Reading was important to Spurgeon; it was in his early years that he was stirred to read and digest every book he was able to acquire, before his confidence in salvation was laid within him by the Lord. His future faith was prepared through the numerous books placed in his hands by his uncle. His teenage years introduced him to “Call to the Unconverted by Baxter, Anxious Enquirer by James, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, Scougal’s The Life of God in the Soul of Man, and Doddridge’s Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul,” and of course, his beloved Pilgrim’s Progress. But, Spurgeon was careful to divide the importance of reading to that of preaching:
“The books were good, but the man was better. The revealed Word awakened me, but it was the preached Word that saved me; and I must ever attach peculiar value to the hearing of the truth, for by it I received the joy and peace in which my soul delights.”
It is easy to see the influence of his strong, Puritan upbringing, his repetitive readings of his beloved Pilgrim’s Progress, and his essential beliefs that require authoritative boldness when the underlying foundation of many of his writings are examined. For instance, he wrote:
“Jesus, the Sinner’s Friend, walks in the avenues of Scripture as once He traversed the plains and hills of Palestine; you can see Him still, if you have opened eyes, in the ancient prophecies; you can behold Him more clearly in the four Gospels; He opens and lays bare His inmost soul to you in the Epistles, and makes you hear the footsteps of His approaching advent in the symbols of the Apocalypse. The living Christ is in the Book; you behold His face almost in every page; and, consequently, it is a book that can talk.”
It seems only the heavy burden upon the shoulders of the pilgrims seeking relief is missing in that short call to Christ, heavily influenced by both John Bunyan and his Puritan roots.
Spurgeon was a prolific author who penned 135 massive volumes of sermons and teachings, and those writings are available today. By the age of twenty-four, in the year 1858, the North American Review declared Spurgeon to be equal to the Queen in the desires of American travelers to see with their own eyes. But, the ideas and strong faith stance that reflected powerful sermons, teachings, and resulting fame was first developed in his teenage years as he read the ideas of “post-Calvinistic theology of seventeenth-century Protestant scholasticism.”
He realized at a young age the importance that Scripture be considered fully true, and did not deviate from the critical assumptions that the Bible was “inspired and authoritative.” His love of Scripture bordered upon idolization of the Bible, with the very words of God contained within and the inherent idea that it contained the answers to all difficulties in life. He held strong to the belief that the LORD God was “sovereign in creation, providence, and redemption.” He fully believed that the LORD God delivered His Son to mankind to shed his blood as a substitute sacrifice upon the cross for mankind’s sin, and repenting human beings can receive salvation through the acceptance of Christ as Savior and the redemption of that blood as promised by His Father. This solid Scriptural foundation of Jesus Christ became so strong that it was able to support his voracious reading habits of all kinds of books to inform and develop his ministry skills.
This interrelationship of the things Spurgeon read with his skills as a preacher was so dependent upon one another, that it got him into a bit of trouble early on with the Hyper-Calvinist opposition. Once he attributed that God had answered his prayers through those books he read in his teenage years, before he had ever received salvation. This angered many Hyper-Calvinists and they taunted this attribution with the challenge that a “dead man” is unable to pray for anything from God, speaking of the unsaved condition to death itself from the outset of sin and God’s inability to receive words from the sinful.
Defense from an Old Woman in a Red Dress
This angered a very old woman bystander that overheard the accusations from the people gathered around Spurgeon:
“What are you battling about with this young man? You say that God does not hear the prayers of unconverted people, that He hears no cry but that of His own children. What do you know about the Scriptures: Your precious passage is not in the Bible at all, but the Psalmist did say, “He giveth to the beast his food, and the young ravens which cry.’ Is there any grace in them? If God hears the cry of the ravens, don’t you think He will hear the prayer of those who are made in His image? You don’t know anything at all about the matter, so leave the man alone, and let him go on with his Master’s work.”
The maturity that was formed by his spirited learning from his reading of books that trained his young mind into a mature Christian faith with deep spiritual reflections uncommon for his age seemed always guarded by providential witnesses of faith that could support and defend his growing steps while becoming a great Christian leader.
At key points in Charles Spurgeon’s childhood and teenage years, the sovereignty and providence of God brought him to a place of spiritual development that magnified the works of the Lord through him in his lifetime. The loving, hard-working parents of Charles struggled to keep a Puritan home in possibly impoverished times that prevented full-time parenting of Charles. God in His Providence, placed Charles in the loving home of his grandparents and his aunt when unknown troubles at his parent’s place caused the need. He was nurtured by them to receive their love and understand its content. He was convicted in faith, and spiritually guided by his grandfather with the key life lessons and teachings that would be forefront in his mind for the remainder of his life.
As a young child, God sent a missionary to pronounce prophecy that guided Charles to ministry. Charles received real-life ministry training at an early age as he watched his grandfather prepare for weekly ministry service. Visitors to his grandparents always paid extra attention to the precocious, well-read young man that listened intently to the spiritual conversations taking place around him.
His conversion experience brought the earlier lessons learned through the teachings of his grandfather, and his beloved books with the foundation of his Bible and Pilgrim’s Progress guiding him to present God as Sovereign, the Holy Spirit as necessary for conversion, and the real atonement of the salvation process that is always the work of Christ through His sacrifice of shed blood for the sins of mankind.
As a young adult, Spurgeon boldly proclaimed the Word of God to those brought to him by God to hear. He depended upon the Holy Spirit to move through those chosen to receive faith and stir their hearts as he declared the invitation for all moved sinners to come to the Lord. He went much farther than the prophecy first spoke. While he did indeed fulfill God’s prophecy by preaching in Rowland Hill, his ministry spread throughout Europe and America as believer’s purchased his sermons so they could be taught about God through him. His bold speech, his confident faith, his invitation to sinners, and his focus upon the Lord were all developed in his youth as God molded the lump of clay perfectly formed to carry his grace toward His chosen.
Drummond, Lewis A. Spurgeon: Prince of Preachers. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1992.
Estep, William Roscoe. "The Making of a Prophet : An Introduction to Charles Haddon Spurgeon." Baptist History and Heritage 19, no. 4 (1984): 3-15.
Ferguson, Duncan S. "The Bible and Protestant Orthodoxy : The Hermeneutics of Charles Spurgeon." Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 25, no. 4 (1982): 455-466.
Fullerton, W. Y. C. H. Spurgeon - a Biography. London: Williams and Norgate, 1920.
May, Lynn E. "Charles Haddon Spurgeon 150th Anniversary, Special Issue." Baptist History and Heritage 19, no. 4 (1984): 2-44.
Morden, Peter J. "C.H. Spurgeon and Suffering." Evangelical Review of Theology 35, no. 4 (2011): 306-325.
________. "The Spirituality of C.H. Spurgeon. 1, Establishing Communion: A Convertive Piety." Baptistic Theologies 4, no. 1 (2012).
Skinner, Craig. "The Preaching of Charles Haddon Spurgeon." Baptist History and Heritage 19, no. 4 (1984): 16-26.
Spurgeon, C. H. C. H. Spurgeon's Autobiography, Compiled from His Diary, Letters, and Records, by His Wife and His Private Secretary: Volume 1, 1834-1854. Cincinatti; Chicago; St. Louis: Curts & Jennings, 1898.
________. C. H. Spurgeon, the Early Years, 1834-1859. London: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1962.
Spurgeon, Charles H. Messages to the Multitudes. London: Sampson Low, Martson, 1892.
 William Roscoe Estep, "The Making of a Prophet : An Introduction to Charles Haddon Spurgeon," Baptist History and Heritage 19, no. 4 (1984): 3.
 ibid., 4.
 Lewis A. Drummond, Spurgeon: Prince of Preachers (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1992), 78.
 Ibid., 76-77.
 Ibid., 78.
 Duncan S. Ferguson, "The Bible and Protestant Orthodoxy : The Hermeneutics of Charles Spurgeon," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 25, no. 4 (1982): 459.
 C. H. Spurgeon, C. H. Spurgeon's Autobiography, Compiled from His Diary, Letters, and Records, by His Wife and His Private Secretary: Volume 1, 1834-1854 (Cincinatti; Chicago; St. Louis: Curts & Jennings, 1898), 15.
 Drummond, 81.
 Spurgeon, 33-34.
 ibid., 28.
 ibid., 27.
 Estep: 4.
 Drummond, 116.
 ibid., 117.
 ibid., 22.
 ibid., 23.
 Peter J. Morden, "The Spirituality of C.H. Spurgeon. 1, Establishing Communion: A Convertive Piety," Baptistic Theologies 4, no. 1 (2012): 4.
 ibid., 5.
 ibid., 5-6.
 ibid., 7.
 Spurgeon, 121.
 ibid., 122.
 ibid., 123.
 Morden: 8.
 ibid., 9.
 ibid., 11.
 ibid., 18.
 Drummond, 25.
 Ferguson: 457.
 Craig Skinner, "The Preaching of Charles Haddon Spurgeon," Baptist History and Heritage 19, no. 4 (1984): 18.
 Ferguson: 457.
 C. H. Spurgeon, C. H. Spurgeon, the Early Years, 1834-1859 (London: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1962), 86.
 Charles H. Spurgeon, Messages to the Multitudes (London: Sampson Low, Martson, 1892), 35.
 Lynn E. May, "Charles Haddon Spurgeon 150th Anniversary, Special Issue," Baptist History and Heritage 19, no. 4 (1984): 2.
 Peter J. Morden, "C.H. Spurgeon and Suffering," Evangelical Review of Theology 35, no. 4 (2011): 306.
 Ferguson: 459.
 ibid., 459-460.
 ibid., 459.
 W. Y. Fullerton, C. H. Spurgeon - a Biography (London: Williams and Norgate, 1920), 251.