Spurgeon: Lifelong Passion for Books

Charles Haddon Spurgeon: How a Life-long Passion for Books Molded the Prince of Preachers.
by Austin B. Tucker

When Charles Spurgeon was a teenager, he was a promising preacher but untrained. A friend arranged for him to meet with Dr. Angus, principal of a theological school, now Regents Park College, Oxford. The meeting was to be in the home of Mr. Macmillan, the publisher. Spurgeon arrived on time. A maid ushered him into the drawing room. After a two-hour wait, he rang the bell for the maid. Then he learned to his dismay that Dr. Angus had waited long in another parlor but left to catch his train back to the city.

Spurgeon was terribly disappointed, but soon accepted the providence as divinely ordered. He never earned a theological degree. But those who would use Spurgeon as an argument against educated clergy have picked the wrong model. Spurgeon may have been largely self-taught, but he was anything but unlearned.

He was born June 19, 1834 to a businessman who was also a lay preacher. He spent his early years in the home of his grandfather, a Puritan pastor. When other children his age were struggling with one-syllable words, young Charles was reading serious works from his grandfatherís theological library. He read the Puritans. He read Foxeís Book of Martyrs. And especially did he read John Bunyanís Pilgrimís Progress. This classic he first discovered before he was six years old. And he began a life-long practice of reading that allegory twice each year. He also devoured Defoeís Robinson Crusoe and other English classics– Doddridge, Baxter, Allain and James.

Throughout childhood and youth he read and read and read. Most were theological works, but he also rapidly assimilated books on subjects as diverse as botany and history. In a recent history of Preaching, David L.Larson, calls Spurgeon a ìcompulsive reader.î Once young Spurgeonís parents found him reading Spanish Bullfights and punished him for it. ìBad books are a terrible thing,î he would later confess and wish that he could forget the half of that one he read! But Spurgeon had a photographic memory. Growing up in the nonconformist tradition of 19th century England, he attended several schools starting with ‘old Mrs. Burleigh’ who held classes in her home. When he was aged 10 and 11 he studied Latin and Greek among other courses in the Stockwell House School. He was attending Mr. Leeding’s school when as a 16-year-old lad he preached his first sermon.

A part of Spurgeon’s self education was making sure he heard the outstanding preachers of his day such as John Jay and John Angel James. ‘The preaching of Christ,’ wrote Spurgeon as a boy preacher, ‘is the thunderbolt, the sound of which makes all hell shake. I must and I will make men listen.’

And they did listen by the thousands and tens of thousands. He was 19 when he moved to London to start as pastor of an old church called the New Park Street Baptist Church. Only about 80 souls heard that first sermon, and these were scattered in a decaying auditorium with 1200 seats. But soon the crowds came. He was forced to move to a rented auditorium of 5,000 seats while the new 6,000 seat Metropolitan Tabernacle went up. He had preached 1,000 sermons by age 21. By age 22, he was the most popular preacher of his day. His printed sermons sold 25,000 copies a week! Vincent Van Gogh, the Dutch artist, began preaching in the London slums using Spurgeonís sermons.

The preacher who never attended seminary started a Pastorís College while still a young man of 24 years. And he lectured to the students every Friday evening. He encouraged them to study hard and to learn all they could about as many subjects as possible. ‘Make the pulpit your first business,’ he exhorted them. And it was his first business.

Still he found time to administer a rapidly growing church with many social ministries such as the Stockwell Orphanage he established in 1867. He personally ministered to hundreds of orphans. While the seven-year old Metropolitan Tabernacle underwent renovation and enlargement, he moved his Sunday services to Agriculture Hall where he preached to 20,000 each service. He was known as one who ìpreached without paper.î

If he was without notes in the pulpit, he was certainly not without time in the study. Throughout his lifetime he was a man of many books. He accumulated a personal library of 30,000 volumes. Most were heavy theological works. Lewis Drummond, his most recent and most extensive biographer noted: ìA cursory survey of his library shows how diligently he read and carefully studied virtually every single one.î

Not only was he a well-read pulpiteer, he also wrote with a powerful pen. Sixty-three volumes of his published sermons are still in print and much in demand. Thirty million copies of his printed sermons and other works are in circulation including a half million of Lectures to My Students.That volume is still recommended reading in theological seminaries. A monthly church magazine, The Sword and the Trowel, reached enormous circulation around the English-speaking world. Also still regarded as a classic commentary on the Psalms is his multi-volume ìA Treasury of Davidî. Over 150,000 copies of this set are in print. In addition to writing his own exposition of each of the 150 Psalms, he gleaned other commentaries for jewels worth quoting. He wrote in the preface: ‘I have ransacked books by the hundred, often without finding a memorable line as a reward, but at other times with the most satisfactory result.’ And he added: ‘Readers little know how great labour the finding of but one pertinent extract may involve.’

Would Spurgeon have been a better preacher had providence turned him toward formal schooling instead of to his own course of study? That will ever be a question for debate. But without a doubt, anyone who thinks Spurgeon was uneducated is himself uninformed about ìThe Prince of All the Preachers.



About The Author

Most of my life has been as a pastor of Southern Baptist churches. Preaching, teaching and writing have been the major emphases of my ministry. It has long been my prayer that my mature years might be given more to teaching and writing. Especially do I want to help young pastors in sharpening their preaching and other ministry skills.