Ep. 094: Powerful Young Adults in History Pt. 1 (Charles Spurgeon)
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If you cut Spurgeon, he’d bleed the Bible. More and more people are hearing about Charles Spurgeon – the 19th Century preacher from London. And it’s for good reasons that people are hearing about him, for his life of faith is extremely encouraging. That’s why we’re specifically looking at Spurgeon’s life this week – and even his young adulthood. We want to know what he did and thought. We also want to hear what he’d say to us if he were to peer into our culture today. We’re graciously joined by Dr. Christian George to help us with this.
*Below is an edited transcription of the audio conversation.
With me today is Dr. Christian George. Christian is an author and a professor. He actually serves as assistant professor of historical theology, and he’s curator of the Spurgeon Library at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Thanks so much for being here today, Christian.
Before we kind of look into the life of Charles Spurgeon, why don’t you first just tell us a bit about who you are. Just a little bit personal, maybe something interesting about you. Then also, what you do day by day.
Absolutely. I’m 35 years old. I was born in 1981 in Louisville, Kentucky. My dad was a professor at Southern Seminary, way back in the day. I grew up in a Christian home, Christian family. When I was eight years old, Isaac, I really felt God pulling me to Himself. I still remember what that feels like, just this burning and yearning for Christ.
Over the course of high school and college I just fell in love with the Saviour in a million ways. I went to Stanford University. I was an art major there, so drawing portraits all day. Then God pulled me into the ministry, just full force. I started preaching, and eventually that led into a passion for Charles Spurgeon, this great prince of preachers as they call him.
I did my MDiv at Beeson Divinity School, and then I went over to Scotland. My wife and I basically sold everything we’ve ever owned. We sold our car and we went to north Scotland for three very cold but blessed years. Then after that I was hired at OBU, Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee, Oklahoma. Then three years later I was asked to come curate the Spurgeon library in Kansas City where I’m currently going on my fourth year.
That’s awesome. That’s so good. You say that you started to get interested in who Spurgeon was. Was there something, an event or something you read, that really just captured your mind at first when it came to Spurgeon?
Well, you know, he has this little devotional called “Morning and Evening”. It’s just a very simple devotional, a morning message and an evening message.
I went to England with my father. He took me to all the great places where Spurgeon lived. The combination of those two things, traveling to see where Spurgeon preached and then reading. It just was amazing.
I fell in love with Spurgeon.
That’s awesome. That’s so good. The majority of this conversation is really maybe not a conversation, because I just want to hear from you. I really just want to give the next little good chunk of time in our short conversation, I guess, just to hear a basic life story of Charles Spurgeon.
If someone’s never heard of this prince of preachers, as you say, who was he and what did he do?
A lot of people have never heard the name Charles Spurgeon. We’re trying to change that at the library, for sure.
He was born in 1834. In fact, if you’ve ever watched “Downtown Abbey”, I don’t know if you watch that show, but Maggie, the older duchess, she would have been a little girl. She could have heard Spurgeon preach. That’s kind of the time frame we’re working in.
He was a mega church pastor before mega churches were ever popular. He was converted as a teenager at the age of 16. He fell in love with Christ. He starts preaching the gospel in the middle of nowhere. He’s a teenager preaching in this little country church. It swells from about 30 people to almost 450 people in three years.
Then of course London gets word that there’s this young preacher and he’s energetic and he’s on fire for Christ. They invite him to London. Really, at the age of 19 and 20, he goes viral.
He was the most popular person of his day by 22, 23.
Eventually he published more sermons in English, more words in English, than any Christian in history. He founded 66 ministries, like an orphanage. He just loved people.
I was going to say, when you say he went viral, for a lot of us, when we think viral, we think a 20 second clip on YouTube or Facebook. What does viral look like back then?
There was no Facebook in the Victorian era, for sure. There was the printing press. All these sermons circulated around the world. People in San Francisco and Colorado were reading Spurgeon’s sermons. Everybody wanted to hear him preach. Mark Twain, he goes to the Tabernacle and hears Spurgeon preach. The 20th president of the United States goes to London, John D. Rockefeller.
Really, anyone who is anyone in Spurgeon’s day would have wanted to go hear the gospel preached from the lips of this kid.
That’s amazing. Yeah. His whole life then was just devoted to being a pastor and preacher, correct?
You know, he burned all of his calories preaching, pastoring, but you know what? A lot of people don’t know this. He was worth somewhere around 100 million pounds, like $100 million. Yet, he died poor because he personally funneled most of his money into starting 66 ministries.
He incarnated the gospel in a way that his world needed.
Right. Yeah. That’s really good. Obviously when someone hears this they think, okay, here he is, in a sense, in this light of perfection, in a sense. Could you shed light on some of his areas of maybe struggle?
Absolutely. It’s very easy to think he’s bulletproof. “There’s nothing that can hurt Spurgeon.”
Listen, man, he could bleed. He could bleed like all of us.
He suffered from depression, maybe bipolarity. He’s always up and down. He almost took his life once, early in his teenage years, just because he was wrestling with guilt and sin. I really like his early teenage years probably the best, because here’s this young man, he’s wrestling with pride – he called it his “darling sin.” He tried to get rid of it. I think that’s true for many of us today.
Yeah. That’s true. That’s good. You kind of mentioned it a little bit there. Do we know anything quite specific about his teenage young adult years? Does he write about that?
Yeah. He has an autobiography. We know a lot about his young teenage years. He was raised by his grandfather because his parents were so poor they couldn’t even take care of him. He’s wrestling, Isaac. He’s wrestling with,
“What do I do with my life? Where am I going to throw my weight?”
Speaking of weight, he was 5’4″, about 300 pounds, so he had some weight, certainly, to throw. The Lord pulled him into the ministry of preaching and pastoring and shepherding people as such a young teenager.
Just imagine, this 17-year-old preaching with fire and oxygen and grace. It really changed early Cambridge and it eventually changed the world.
Yeah. You have written, or you’re in the process of writing a book on the lost sermons of Spurgeon, correct?
Yes. It’s going to be 12 volumes. Volume one came out last year. Volume two’s about to come out, I think next week actually. These are his early teenage sermons. When I was in London, I discovered the stack of notebooks and just felt God calling me to publish these for his glory. We’ve been busy, man, burning our calories, but God’s been faithful and He’s helping us.
That’s so good. It’s interesting. You obviously have been formally in the ministry for a while now and all of that kind of stuff. When you look at these sermons that Spurgeon wrote when he was under 20-years-old compared to the sermons that he wrote when he was older, do you see lots of difference in theology changing? How does that kind of look when you look at his young adult sermons?
His theology basically remains the same from the beginning to the end, but the way he preached – he comes out of the gate swinging.
He said “As preachers, we don’t go snowballing on Sunday. We’re tossing grenades at the enemy.”
So here’s this young grenade-tossing preacher. It’s amazing. One sermon particularly, in Volume one, Sermon 14, changed my life. Several years ago I was very sick. I almost passed away from a ruptured appendix. Twelve months, man, of surgeries and just pain and recovery. There was one line from Sermon 14, “God’s grace given to us”, that I just kept turning over in my mind. It really brought me back from the dead. It says this:
Spurgeon said, “Think much on grace, Christian. Think much on grace.”
That was one line. I think very often God doesn’t use a whole book to change someone’s life, just a single, simple sentence. That one certainly did mine.
That’s awesome. It kind of plays on the double meaning, too, because your name, obviously, and the fact of who you are. That’s actually awesome.
Christian, I wanted to kind of do this for fun, and I wanted to give you some historical liberty here. As a church historian, really, maybe you love to hear that you get to take some historical liberty here. You can have that.
Could you imagine some things that Spurgeon may have been up to at various times in his young adult life? The reason I ask this is just to paint a picture of his devotion, of his activities, things like that. Okay. Let’s try this. What do you think, let’s say, at 7 a.m. on a Tuesday?
7 a.m. on a Tuesday, Spurgeon would have been up already several hours. He once said, “I wish it could be said of us that we wasted neither an hour of our time nor an hour of other people’s time.” The kid got up early. He preached 12 times a week, man.
12 times a week?
A different sermon every time in his early life. He’s burning his calories for Christ. He’s not Netflixing his day away.
Right. No, I understand that. Okay. Christian, help us out here, though. The thought of 12 sermons a week and each one a different sermon. Does he get any sleep? Does he hang out? Does he have friends that he sees?
Yeah, he does have friends, most certainly, but most of the time in his very young life, when everybody else was playing outside, he was reading books. He was reading John Bunyan. I think it’s a reminder for us that
the past has something to tell the present about how to go into the future.
Spurgeon pulled the momentum from the past and the wisdom. He often found himself in the library reading books. Absolutely.
Yeah. No. That’s really cool. Just as a side note, too. When I’ve read Spurgeon or I’ve read about Spurgeon, something, and maybe you can spread light on this, here’s this just mammoth preacher and theologian preaching these incredible truths. At the same time, it’s not like he’s sort of just all “head knowledge,” sort of murmuring intellectual sentences. You can really see this intense fire and passion and almost a charisma that comes out of him.
Yes. It’s so intimate. Absolutely, man. You read his works. Even right now, if you picked up “Morning and Evening” this morning, man, you’d read his works, and it’s like he’s sitting right next to you whispering the gospel in your ear.
He loses very little over time. That’s probably one reason he’s the most tweeted dead person on the internet, you know what I mean? At least as far as the Christian world goes.
Don’t forget, he had a photographic memory. He never forgot anything. That probably helped him with those 12 sermons a week, I imagine.
I bet. I bet. You know, it’s interesting, just to kind of continue this thought. When I look around at the sort of general Christian landscape, especially North America, it seems like there’s this attitude, and this is very general. I’m not making any statements.
It seems like there’s this general idea where, in order to be kind of passionate and charismatic and all these things, you sort of have to throw away some of the hard doctrines and all that kind of stuff, because that’s just for the academics. We need to be passionate and go out there. What we see in Spurgeon, which I find so fascinating, is that Spurgeon sort of really helps model the life of both. There’s this intense theology and he was a book worm and everything like that. At the same time, he was able to preach with such charisma.
Yeah. He didn’t cut corners when it comes to his theological convictions. In fact, the gospel has an edge to it, Isaac. You start sandpapering that edge off and buffing it out and waxing it up, you lose the cutting ability of the Word that Christ then comes in and heals. No, Spurgeon never compromised on that. Yet, he preached for souls, man. His best book is called “The Soul Winner”. That’s what he was.
That’s awesome. That’s so good. All right. 8 p.m. on a Friday. What would young adult Spurgeon be doing?
You know, we have a new website called spurgeon.org. Very simply, spurgeon.org. I posted a blog, I guess it was a couple of weeks ago, on how Spurgeon scheduled his week.
At 7 p.m. on a Friday, at least when he’s in London, he’s in a business meeting. He’s just lectured for about two and a half hours to his students. He’s discipling and mentoring his students. Then he goes to a business meeting after the lecture. He stayed up quite late.
That’s awesome. Maybe we’ll be able to find this out on your article, which I can link to this episode page as well.
3 p.m. on a Sunday. I would imagine he would be at church in the morning. What would he be doing then?
3 p.m. on a Sunday he’s preparing for his evening message. He only took about 10 to 15 minutes to prepare his message.
His whole life was sermon prep.
He never forgot anything. He speaks in such a language that common people can understand. That’s why kids can just fall in love with Spurgeon. He’s not so sophisticated. He incarnates the gospel with simple language. That’s one reason I really love him.
That’s awesome. Christian, what’s one thing Spurgeon did or believed, you can choose out of the two, as a young adult, that you just think would really highly benefit young adults today?
Yeah. Just one?
Yeah, or a couple. Share some more. Yeah. Go for it.
Let me just go back.
He read the Bible. You cut Spurgeon, he bleeds the Bible.
I think getting in the Word, putting it into your memory and your mind. Spending less time on social media, more time in God’s holy precious Word. That will change you. He did that a lot. I also think, he kept a diary. He kept a journal of God’s faithfulness in his life.
Those two things, Bible reading and daily journaling, I think they can change the world.
That’s awesome. Okay, again, if I could give you some more liberty here, and this is sort of even mixing in some sci-fi. If Spurgeon had the opportunity just for a moment, maybe just for a day, to kind of come into the future, to our time today, and he had the experience of looking at the North American evangelical church, what do you think he’d say? What things do you think he would look at as negative? What things would he see positively?
Yeah. It’s a great question. I think four very quick things. I think number one is we need to pray more. No great movement of God happens without prayer. I think, two, Spurgeon never sought the stage. He never wanted to be in the spotlight. He believed that faithfulness to God is more important than success. I think that’s a word for all of us. I think number three would be discipleship. He took around him some young students and really poured his life into them. I think the final thing, it might be a bit edgy, but to risk it all, to risk everything.
One of his favourite authors was William Carey, the missionary to India.
William Carey once said, “Expect great things from God. Attempt great things for God.”
If God is with you, if God is in your heart, if He is thriving through His Holy Spirit in your life, take a leap. Risk it all and Christ will catch you. That was Spurgeon’s experience and that’s been mine as well.
That’s really good. You know, your first point there, talking about prayer. I forget the exact quote. I’m just going to paraphrase it, but I think it was David Platt who said that we will be the generation of Christians who are not known for our prayer, but are known for our gathering in conferences and things like that. We’ll be that generation where they got together a lot, which is great. That’s good, but we won’t be known for our prayer. As you said that, I’m like, “Man, that’s so true.”
I think Spurgeon could help us change that, Isaac. That’s my prayer, brother.
That’s good. That’s so good. You know, for people … We didn’t really go into this. We could spend many conversations talking more about different aspects of his life, but there were a couple of big events that happened in Spurgeon’s life. I think about the time when the crowd at the … I could be wrong, but it was at a big church in Surrey? A big church.
Yeah. The Surrey Garden Music Hall disaster. That’s right.
Yeah. He was quite young at this time, wasn’t he?
He was 22. His wife was still nursing his twin sons. A balcony collapses. He passes out off the stage. Seven people died. He falls into such a depression, that it’s amazing right then his ministry didn’t end. God did restore him. That was a major milestone in his ministry.
Yeah. No. That’s very interesting. It’s important though, because I think a lot of people even nowadays, they go through some tragic event, and sometimes they can make an excuse to go down another road because of this event that’s happened. Obviously we see in Spurgeon’s life that despite the challenges, he still pushed through and the Lord saw him through.
That was one of the secrets, I think, of his ministry.
Spurgeon preached to broken people out of his own brokenness.
I love this quote. He says, “The storm has a bit in its mouth.” It doesn’t take God by surprise, any of this. In fact, God is using it. He’s using it to drive us closer to Him in so many ways. For Spurgeon, that was very much true.
Yeah. No. That’s really good. When someone reads about Spurgeon, they won’t get very far without hearing this thing called the downgrade controversy. When I bring that up, it’s like okay, again, this could be a huge thing. Could you share with us a little bit about what that was?
At the end of his life, Spurgeon really died on two hills. The hill of Jesus Christ and the hill of Scripture. In his day, so many theological tenets of orthodoxy fell out of fashion. People believed Christ didn’t do miracles, that He wasn’t really God. Spurgeon’s context, the Baptist Union he was in, started to kind of go in that direction. Spurgeon put his anchor down and he said no. We believe in the full humanity and divinity of Christ. He pulls his church, which was the largest in the world, out of this union, which massively sparks this controversy, which eventually killed him at the age of 57.
Yeah. That’s amazing. I think what that shows, though, is that because of his faithfulness to the Word, his faithfulness to Jesus, these things that might look externally and from the greater Christian church, might look as, “Whoa. This is going to be bad for your reputation,” he said, “I don’t care. I’m faithful to the Word and to Jesus.”
Absolutely it was.
That’s very good. As we wrap up now, Christian, for a young adult who’s heard this and they’re sort of inspired now to dig a little bit more into who Spurgeon is, is there a … you mentioned “Morning and Evening”. Would you recommend maybe a specific sermon or a book that kind of would be a good introduction?
Yeah. Spurgeon preached a sermon, probably one of his best sermons, on two little words in the Bible: “Jesus wept,” from John 11. That’s one of my favourite sermons. I can’t read it without weeping myself.
You know, one of the things we want to do is not just look to Spurgeon. We want to look through Spurgeon to Jesus Christ.
Sermons like that point us to the Saviour. It shows us, I think when Jesus Christ is in the very centre of our lives, Isaac, it’s only then that our lives can be truly centred.
Right. That’s so good. I love that. You know, you mentioned spurgeon.org. Could you sort of explain a little bit about what the purpose of spurgeon.org is and then what we can find on that site?
Yeah. This is the largest collection of resources of Spurgeon on the internet. The good people at DesiringGod and some other people have helped us get this off the ground. Basically, I blog twice a week on Charles Spurgeon. Also, we’re scanning 6,000 of his own books into the collection. “The Puritans”, all these great dead people we all should be reading. We’ll have all of his sermons there. We’ll have updates. We’re excited about it. Pray for us.
Yeah. No. Definitely. That’s so good, Christian. Thank you so much. This was great.
If you’re listening and Christian has sort of made Spurgeon seem interesting to you, I’d encourage you to check out the Spurgeon Center, and that’s at spurgeon.org. It’s very simple. There you’re going to find, like Christian just said, many resources for you to get started on learning more about Charles Spurgeon.
If people are interested in your volumes of these lost sermons, how can they get access to those?
They’re on Amazon. They’re in bookstores. Just about anywhere. You just Google The Lost Sermons of Charles Spurgeon and you’ll find it.
Awesome. Thank you so much, Christian. I hope to chat with you again.
Thanks, Isaac. God bless.