Rev. John Farmer’s ‘Reflections’ column

by John Howard Farmer

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Noted Preachers of Old

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, a noted British Baptist minister (1834-1892), once preached to thousands of souls at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London, England, without any electronic equipment.

Crowds gathered as men and women—touched by God though Spurgeon’s sermons—told others, who told others. 

Spurgeon preached thoroughly Biblical expository messages. His writings and sermons are still widely published today. He is still highly regarded and often read, especially among evangelical pastors and historians. Today’s congregations most likely won’t sit for a sermon that occupies over an hour of a corporate worship service.

Spurgeon was born at Kelvedon, Essex, England on June 19, 1834, and had his life-altering experience with Christ at Colchester, on January 6, 1850. He was baptized in the River Lark, at Isleham on May 3, 1850. He preached his first sermon at a Cottage in Teversham, 1850. As his standing grew, he preached at Waterbeach Baptist Chapel, October 12, 1851. Still later, he preached at New Park Street Chapel, London, December 18, 1853.

The 232 members of New Park Street Chapel called him as pastor on April 28, 1854. Few, if any, in attendance at that particular worship event had any idea that God was launching a waterfall of sermons. 

On January 8, 1856, he married Susannah Thompson (1832-1903). They honeymooned for 10 days in Paris, France. Then back to church. 

Park Street grew by leaps and bounds, and by June 1856, Spurgeon recognized the need for more space, which six years later evolved into the Metropolitan Tabernacle, near the River Thames in South London. 

Spurgeon lacked the flowery, elaborate sentences of most preachers. His simple directness spoke to the hearts of his audience. His passion for truth was as strong as the older Puritans he loved and studied, yet there was nothing stale and musty about his preaching. Almost as soon as the 19 year old began his ministry at New Park Street Chapel on London’s south side, the chapel became too small for the congregation. Although the chapel could seat 1200, seats, aisles and even window-sills were overflowing whenever Spurgeon preached.

A year after he arrived at New Park Street, the chapel was expanded, but the larger 1500-capacity building was not sufficient for the thousands thronging to hear Spurgeon. For a time, the congregation rented Exeter Hall, which seated 4500 people, but it soon proved too small as well. He leased the Music Hall, where Queen Victoria placed the foundation stone in 1867, renaming it the Royal Albert Hall, in memory of her late husband.

Spurgeon also rented Royal Surrey Gardens, London’s “largest, most commodious and most beautiful building.” The hall held upwards of 10,000 people which packed the building for the first service, October 19, 1856. It is recorded that at least as many people were outside the building as were inside.

Early in the service, there was a frightening cry of “Fire! The galleries are giving away, the place is falling!” In the ensuing panic to flee the building, many people were trampled. Alas, it was a hoax: seven died and others were seriously injured.

The event tremendously depressed Spurgeon. It was two weeks later before he recovered sufficiently to preach again. The crowds were even bigger than before. He was called as their pastor at the youthful age of 20. A building committee began on June 1856 and the Metropolitan Tabernacle opened with a great prayer meeting on March 18, 1861. Spurgeon was never ordained to the gospel ministry. The tabernacle had a capacity of 6,000 people, with 5,500 seated and 500 standing. The tabernacle was constructed mostly of glass and had the dimensions of: 146 feet long, 81 feet wide and 68 feet high. 

During the construction of the new facility, Spurgeon’s ministry became so popular that he established a Pastor’s College in 1856. It too grew exponentially and had to be expanded in 1857.

At the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Spurgeon founded the Colportage Association which sold Bibles and tracts door to door in England (1866). That organization had a tremendous influence on an American shoe sales-clerk in Boston, none other than Dwight L. Moody (1837-1899). 

Spurgeon’s last sermon was delivered at Metropolitan Tabernacle, June 7, 1891. While visiting France, in fall 1891, he took seriously ill. By 1892, he was an invalid and died January 31, 1892, thus ending a most dramatic and incredible season of evangelical history. He was buried at West Norwood Cemetery in London, where the tomb is still visited by Christian tourists.

Back to Moody. He was raised in Northfield Unitarian Church, Mass., as a son of an alcoholic brick-layer dad who died while Dwight was a youngster. Many consider Moody the force behind America’s Christian revivalism and Sunday School movements. His uncle and employer helped Moody to find a personal faith with Christ. 

Moody founded the Moody Church and Bible Institute (Chicago) and is credited with beginning experiential, even at times overtly emotional services, buoyed on the heartstrings of new and inspirational gospel music.

Years ago now, when Hazel was on a banking trip, I was left to wander the streets of northside Chicago. Wouldn’t dare that these days. However, it was so amazing to stand in the lobby of Moody Bible Institute and gaze upon the thousands of names sent into mission service from there. God has breathed upon that sacred spot.