In April 1854, after preaching three months on probation and just four years after his conversion, Spurgeon, then only 19, was called to the pastorate of London's famed New Park Street Chapel, Southwark (formerly pastored by the Particular Baptists Benjamin Keach, theologian John Gill, and John Rippon). This was the largest Baptist congregation in London at the time, although it had dwindled in numbers for several years. Spurgeon found friends in London among his fellow pastors, such as William Garrett Lewis of Westbourne Grove Church, an older man who along with Spurgeon went on to found the London Baptist Association. Within a few months of Spurgeon's arrival at Park Street, his ability as a preacher made him famous. The following year the first of his sermons in the "New Park Street Pulpit" was published. Spurgeon's sermons were published in printed form every week and had a high circulation. By the time of his death in 1892, he had preached nearly 3,600 sermons and published forty-nine volumes of commentaries, sayings, anecdotes, illustrations, and devotions.
Immediately following his fame was controversy. The first attack in the Press appeared in the Earthen Vessel in January 1855. His preaching, although not revolutionary in substance, was a plain-spoken and direct appeal to the people, using the Bible to provoke them to consider the claims of Jesus Christ. Critical attacks from the media persisted throughout his life.
The congregation quickly outgrew their building; it moved to Exeter Hall, then to Surrey Music Hall. In these venues Spurgeon frequently preached to audiences numbering more than 10,000. At twenty-two, Spurgeon was the most popular preacher of the day.
On January 8, 1856, Spurgeon married Susannah, daughter of Robert Thompson of Falcon Square, London, by whom he had twin sons, Charles and Thomas born on September 20, 1856. At the end of that year, tragedy struck on October 19, 1856, as Spurgeon was preaching at the Surrey Gardens Music Hall for the first time. 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. He struggled against depression for many years and spoke of being moved to tears for no reason known to himself.
Walter Thornbury later wrote in "Old and New London" (1897) describing a subsequent meeting at Surrey:
Still the work went on. A Pastors' College was founded in 1857 by Spurgeon and was renamed Spurgeon's College in 1923 when it moved to its present building in South Norwood Hill, London;. At the Fast Day, October 7, 1857, he preached to the largest crowd ever – 23,654 people – at The Crystal Palace in London. Spurgeon noted:
On March 18, 1861, the congregation moved permanently to the newly constructed purpose-built Metropolitan Tabernacle at Elephant and Castle, Southwark, seating five thousand people with standing room for another one thousand. The Metropolitan Tabernacle was the largest church edifice of its day and can be considered a precursor to the modern "megachurch". 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. He wrote his sermons out fully before he preached, but what he carried up to the pulpit was a note card with an outline sketch. Stenographers would take down the sermon as it was delivered; Spurgeon would then have opportunity to make revisions to the transcripts the following day for immediate publication. His weekly sermons, which sold for a penny each, were widely circulated and still remain one of the all-time best selling series of writings published in history.
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