"The Church today needs praying people to meet the fearful crisis that is facing her. The crying need of the times is for...God-fearing people, praying people, Holy Ghost people, people who can endure hardship...who have learned the business of praying-learned it on their knees, learned it in the need and agony of their own hearts." E. M. Bounds
"I used to think that prayer should have the first place and teaching the second. I now feel it would be truer to give prayer the first, second, and third places and teaching fourth." James O. Fraser
"The saddest thing one meets is a nominal Christian...the Church here is a ‘field full of wheat and tares.'" Amy Carmichael
"I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had absolutely no other place to go." Abraham Lincoln
"The true church lives and moves and has its being in prayer." Leonard Ravenhill
It was a pleasant Sunday and five college students were sightseeing in London when they decided to hear the famed C. H. Spurgeon preach. Arriving at the huge church they sat on the steps and waited for the doors to open. While chatting among themselves a man from the congregation came by and greeted them and engaged them in pleasant conversation. After a while he asked, "Gentlemen, let me show you around. Would you like to see the heating plant of this church?" The young men were not particularly interested, as a heating plant was not on the top of their list of things they wanted to visit. Besides it was fast becoming an extremely hot day in July. But they didn't want to offend the stranger, so they consented. The young men were taken down a stairway, a door was quietly opened, and their guide whispered, "This is our heating plant." Surprised, the students saw 700 people quietly bowed in prayer, seeking a blessing on the service that was soon to begin in the auditorium above. Softly closing the door, the gentleman then introduced himself. It was none other than Charles Haddon Spurgeon.
Charles Spurgeon is called the "Prince of Preachers." He was a mega-church preacher long before today's mega-churches and preached without a microphone or any other means of amplification. At one service, at London's Chrystal Palace, he preached to a congregation of 23,654 souls listening intently on the edge of their seats. His sermons, totaling 20-25 million words fill 63 volumes and stands as the largest set of books by a single author in the history of Christianity. That's not including his hundreds of publications and books. The greatest of these are the seven volumes of "The Treasury of David", an exposition of the Psalms. These volumes were published weekly over a 20 year time period in the "Sword and the trowel", with the final volume being released in 1885. When he became pastor of the New Park Street Church it had 232 members. By the end of his pastorate, 38 years later, the number had increased to 5,311 and became the largest independent church in the world. In 1865, his sermons sold 25,000 copies every week and translated into 20 languages. People from all over the world attended his services including Prime Minister W. E. Gladstone, members of the royal family, members of Parliament, John Ruskin, Florence Nightingale, and General James Garfield, later President of the United States. During his lifetime it is estimated that Spurgeon preached to ten million people (Christian History, issue 29, Volume X, No. 1). It is documented that one woman was converted through reading a single page of one of Spurgeon's sermons wrapped around some butter she had bought.
Considered by many to be the greatest preacher England ever produced is it any wonder why he is called the "Prince of Preachers." That is what others called him, Spurgeon considered himself a "man of prayer among a people of prayer." He gave all his success to the intercession and prayers of his congregation. His success was a direct result of his congregation's prayers and he knew it. It was said that the whole church helped produce Spurgeon. He would often tell people:
"I always give all the glory to God, but I do not forget that he gave me the privilege of ministering from the first to a praying people. We had prayer meetings that moved our very souls, each one appeared determined to storm the Celestial City by the might of intercession.
This church knew the call of God upon them just as it is upon every church, "to uphold the anointed of the Lord." In today's church too much emphasis is given to what the Pastor can do and has to do for each of us. In God's church the congregation is ordered to uphold, strengthen , gird up and protect the pastor. The godly Scottish revivalist Robert Murray McCheyne once charged the people:
"Pray for your pastor. Pray for his body, that he may be kept strong and spared many years. Pray for his soul, that he may be kept humble and holy, a burning and shining light. Pray for his ministry, that it may be abundantly blessed, that he may be anointed to preach good tidings. Let there be no secret prayer without naming him before your God, no family prayer without carrying your pastor in your hearts to God."
Spurgeon knew he received his strength from the intercessors of his church. His great concern was that the people learn to truly pray. In his eyes the prayer meeting was the most important meeting of the week. His Monday night prayer meeting became known world-wide. Every Monday night Spurgeon's sanctuary was filled with earnest and fervent intercessors. Spurgeon led by example. When he prayed many became ashamed of their own mere repetition of words. D. L. Moody, when he returned to America after a trip to London, was asked if he heard Spurgeon preach. He replied, "Yes, but better still I heard him pray."
"Shall I give you yet another reason why you should pray?" Spurgeon tells his congregation. "I have preached my very heart out. I could not say any more that I have said. Will not your prayers accomplish that which my preaching fails to do? Is it not likely that the Church has been putting forth its preaching hand but not its praying hand? Oh dear friends! Let us agonize in prayer..."
E. M. Bounds writes:
"It was said of Charles Spurgeon that he glided from laughter to prayer with the naturalness of one who lived in both elements. With him the habit of prayer was free and unfettered. His life was not divided into compartments, the one shut off from the other...He lived in constant fellowship with the Father in heaven. He was ever in touch with God, and thus it was natural for him to pray as it was for him to breathe...Prayer sprang as spontaneously to his lips as ordinary speech did, and there was never the slightest incongruity in his approach to the divine throne after any of his activities."
Spurgeon reminds us:
"We must remember that the goal of prayer is the ear of God. Unless that is gained, the prayer has utterly failed. The uttering of it may have kindled devotional feeling in our minds, the hearing of it may have comforted and strengthened the hearts of those with whom we have prayed, but if the prayer has not gained the heart of God, it has failed in its essential purpose."
Vince Lombardi, head football coach of the Green Bay Packers through the sixties, once said, "Winning isn't everything-it's the only thing." In that quote I would like to substitute "prayer" in the place of "winning." Everything we do, in the natural or spiritual, is an off-shoot of prayer. Spurgeon under-standing that divine principle tells us:
"A certain preacher, whose sermons converted many souls, received a revelation from God. It said it was not his sermons or works, but the prayers of an illiterate lay brother who sat on the pulpit steps pleading for the success of the sermon. It was this brother's prayers that brought men to the Lord. This could be the case with us as well. It may be that after laboring long and wearily, without good prayer, all honor belongs to another builder whose prayers were gold, silver, and precious stones; while our sermonizing, being apart from prayer, are but hay and stubble."
Spurgeon once attended a huge revival rally that pulled great men of God from around the world. Thousands of people were going to attend and a great harvest of souls was expected. All those preachers who were scheduled to be a part of the meeting gathered in a room to be presented with the schedule of the program. The report went something like this, "Mr. so and so would start off the meeting; Brother so and so would pray; Mr. so and so would then read a Scripture; another brother would appeal for the offering; another would sing a few hymns; and Mr. Spurgeon would have the honor of doing the preaching. Each participant, it was explained, would only take one part. If they had any objections to the positioning now was the time to speak up. Spurgeon then stepped forward and said, "If there is only one thing that I may do tonight, I would rather offer the prayer."
A friend of Spurgeon's once commented on his prayer life:
"His public prayers were an inspiration, but his prayers with the family were to me more wonderful still. Mr. Spurgeon, when bowed before God in family prayer, appeared a grander man even than when holding thousands spellbound by his oratory."
Charles Haddon Spurgeon was born in Kelvedon, Essex (England) on June 19, 1834. His father and grandfather were independent nonconformist ministers meaning they were not Anglicans. Spurgeon's earliest memories were of looking at the pictures in "Pilgrims Progress" which he went on to read over 100 times, and Foxe's Book of Martyrs. He disdained formal education but valued learning and books. He attended a few local schools but never earned a university degree. At the age of fifteen, in 1850, he was converted by a sermon he heard by "chance" when a snowstorm blew him away from his appointed rounds. The text that moved him was Isaiah 45:22-"Look to Me, and be saved, all you ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. In his own words Spurgeon says, "God opened my heart to the salvation message." Here is his own description, from his auto-biography, about what happened. (an autobiography was compiled by his wife and the Rev W. J. Harrald, his private secretary, from his diary letters, and records. It appeared in four volumes in 1897-98.):
"I sometimes think I might have been in darkness and despair now, had it not been for the goodness of God in sending a snowstorm one Sunday morning, when I was going to a place of worship. When I could go no further, I turned down a court and came to a little Primitive Methodist Chapel. In that chapel there might be a dozen or fifteen people. The minister did not come that morning: snowed up I suppose. A poor man, a shoemaker, a tailor, or something of the sort, went up into the pulpit to preach. The text was, ‘Look to Me and be saved, all you ends of the earth.' He did not even pronounce the words rightly, but that did not matter...he managed to spin out about ten minutes and then was at the end of his tether. Then he looked at me and said...'Young man, you look very miserable.' Well, I did; but I had not been accustomed to have remarks made on my personal appearance from the pulpit before. However, it was a good blow struck. He continued: ‘And you will always be miserable-miserable in life and miserable in death-if you do not obey my text. But if you obey now, this moment, you will be saved.' Then he shouted, as only a Primitive Methodist can, ‘Young man, look to Jesus Christ.' 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 moment and sung with the most enthusiastic of them of the Precious Blood of Christ."
Within four months he was baptized and breaking family tradition he joined a Baptist church. Though he liked to think of himself as "a mere Christian" his theology remained, more or less, Calvinist:
"I am never ashamed to avow myself a Calvinist and I do not hesitate to take the name of Baptist, but if I am asked what is my creed, I reply, It is Jesus Christ."
At the age of sixteen, Spurgeon, put on a jacket and turned down collar and preached his first sermon in a small cottage at Teversham, near Cambridge. Even though he was still considered a boy his sermons had a maturity far above many preachers of that time. By seventeen he was offered the pastorate of a Baptist Church in Waterbeach, Cambridgeshire and his oratorical gifts were at once recognized. He quickly filled the pews and within a year and a half, he was invited to preach in London, at the historic New Park Street Chapel. The congregation of 232 was so impressed, it voted for him to preach an additional six months. He moved to London and never left. The crowds became enormous with many salvations at every service. At the age of twenty he was moving that congregation to larger accommodations. They rented Exeter Hall while they began to enlarge the church building. Overflow crowds soon began to line up outside the Hall before every service. When a minister is that young and that popular, controversy is not far behind. The first attack in the press was against his preaching style. His preaching, although not revolutionary in substance, was a plain spoken and direct appeal to the people to provoke them to Jesus Christ. Using the everyday language of the masses who were sitting in the seats he was considered "Vulgar" and horrors above horrors he added "humor" in the pulpit, which was to many a sacrilege. The meaning of "Vulgar" in Spurgeon's era is not the same as today. Where we would think of it a rude and crude words or foul language, in those days it was more like using the "street talk" type of language that the people could easily understand. Although these attacks would follow him the rest of his life he addressed them with no regrets:
"I am perhaps vulgar, but it is not intentional, save that I must and will make people listen. My firm conviction is that we have enough polite preachers.
On the question of "humor" in the pulpit, he relates:
"If only you knew how much I hold back, you would commend me. There are things in these sermons that may produce smiles, but what of them? I am not quite sure about a smile being a sin, and at any rate I think it less a crime to cause a momentary laughter than a half-hour of profound slumber."
The great German preacher, Helmit Thieleke remarks:
"Should we not see that lines of laughter about the eyes are just as much marks of faith as are the lines of care and seriousness? Is laughter pagan? We have already allowed too much that is good to be lost to the church...A church is in a bad way when it banishes laughter from the pulpit and leaves it to the cabaret, the night-club and the toastmasters."
Even though his sermons were published every Monday in the New York Times and the London Times most of the criticisms came from his peers, " religious" church leadership. They would condemn his dramatic flair-He would pace the platform, acting out biblical stories, and fill his sermons with sentimental tales of dying children, grieving parents, and repentant harlots intermingled with some silliness and humor. They called him the "Exeter Hall demagogue" and the "pulpit buffoon."
Another attack against him was what his distracters called a "lack of tolerance" or what they called his "unlove" for those who would not accept or follow all the truths in the Scriptures but just those that would fit or be beneficial in their lives. To these accusations he gave a hearty "AMEN." J. Oswald Sanders in his book, "Spiritual Leadership" writes of Spurgeon:
"Few have exercised in their own generation the leadership in spiritual things wielded by Charles Haddon Spurgeon. It was his biographer's conviction that he exercised ‘an absolute authority, not because of sheer willfulness, though he was a willful man, but because of his acknowledged worth. Men bowed to his authority because it was authority backed by united Godly wisdom and affection."
His strong convictions created controversy as well. He never flinched from "in your face" strong preaching. In a sermon on Acts 26:28, that filled the altar for hours with seekers of salvation, he said:
"Almost persuaded to be a Christian is like the man who was almost pardoned, but was still hanged; like the man who was almost rescued, but was still burned in the house. A man that is almost saved-is damned!"
He was extremely cognizant of the effect his preaching, his actions or his life-style would have on people. Especially when it came to the publication, throughout the world, of his many sermons:
"Correction for the press is work that has to be done with great care since thousands of copies will be faulty if the proof sheet be not as it should be. So the minister of a congregation should be seriously earnest to be right because his people will imitate him. Like priest, like people. The sheep will follow the shepherd. What need there is that the pastor should order his steps aright lest he lead the whole flock astray! If the town clock be wrong, half the watches in the place will be out of time."
His sermons were printed and published around the world. On the death of the missionary David Livingstone in 1873, a discolored and much used copy of one of Spurgeon's printed sermons, "Accidents, not Punishments" was found among his few possessions, along with handwritten comments across the pages. Livingstone had carried it with him throughout his travels in Africa. It was returned to Spurgeon and was treasured by him.
Following the steps of another Christian of those days whom he admired, George Muller, Spurgeon founded the Stockwell Orpanage, which opened for boys in 1867 and for girls in 1879, and which continued in operation until it was bombed in the Second World War.
When the new church was finished it was already too small to hold the crowds. They could not go back to Exeter Hall because it too was not large enough. So at 22 years old, Spurgeon and his flock moved to the Surrey Music Hall and there he preached to audiences numbering more than 10,000. He was considered the most popular preacher of the day. Walter Thornbury wrote in the "Old and New London" magazine in 1897, about one of the meetings at Surrey:
"...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 for more than half an hour...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 congregation soon began plans for the building of a new church of their own. On March 18, 1861, they moved permanently to the newly constructed Metropolitan Tabernacle which would seat five thousand with standing room for another thousand. It was the largest church of its day and can be considered a precursor to the modern "mega-church" of today.
While the "Tabernacle" was still in the construction stage Spurgeon was asked to preach at the Crystal Palace in London. A crowd of 23,654 people attended the service. It was the largest crowd to ever fill the building. Spurgeon made an interesting notation on an incident that happened at the Palace:
"A day or two before preaching at the Crystal Palace, I went to decide where the platform should be fixed; and, in order to test the acoustic properties of the building (this was before microphones), cried in a loud voice, ‘Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.' In one of the galleries, a workman, who knew nothing of what was being done, heard the words, and they came like a message from heaven to his soul. He was smitten with conviction on account of sin, put down his tools, went home, and there, after a season of spiritual struggling, found peace and life by beholding the Lamb of God. Years after, the man told this story to one who visited him on his death bed."
During this time the mighty Spurgeon was smitten by Susannah Thompson and they were married and had two twin boys, Charles and Thomas.
Spurgeon and his congregation soon split from the Baptist Brethren over what was considered modernism. The "Down-Grade Controversy," as it came to be known, began in 1887 because Spurgeon began claiming that some of his fellow Baptist ministers were "down-grading" the faith. Darwinism was rampant and other worldly theories began to creep into the denomination compelling many of the leaders to re-evaluate their understanding of the Bible. Spurgeon disagreed and he proclaimed in his monthly publication "The Sword and the Trowel":
"Our warfare is with men who are giving up the atoning sacrifice, denying the inspiration of Holy Scripture, and casting slurs upon the justification by faith."
The controversy took its toll on Spurgeon, "If any minister can be satisfied without conversions, he shall have no conversions." He preached his last sermon in June 1891:
"I wonder how long we might beat our brains before we could plainly put into words what it is meant by preaching with unction. Yet, he who preaches knows its presence, and he who hears soon detects its absence...Unction is a thing that you cannot manufacture, and its counterfeits are worse than worthless. Yet it is, in itself, priceless, and beyond measure needful if you wish to edify believers and bring sinners to Christ."
Six months after his last sermon at the age of 57, he died. London erupted in mourning. Nearly 60,000 people came to pay homage during the three days his body lay in state at the Metropolitan Tabernacle. Some 100,000 lined the streets as the funeral parade two miles long followed the hearse to the cemetery. Flags throughout the city flew half-staff and all the shops and pubs were closed.
Spurgeon's writings are so well known today that few people can say they have not read any of his books or pamphlets. Many cannot understand where he found the time to write so many publications but I'll let his own words explain:
"When protracted illness and weakness laid me aside from my daily preaching, I resorted to pen as an available means of doing good. I would have preached had I been able, but as my Master denied me the privilege of thus serving him, I gladly availed myself of the other method of bearing testimony for His name. Oh, that He may give me fruit in this field also, and His shall be all the praise."
The world called him the "Prince of Preachers" but he knew he was a man of prayer.
Matthew 18:19 "Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven.
JJ (Dark) Di Pietro
Cane Creek Church