Perhaps my favorite dead mentor is the great English Reformed Baptist Bible preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834–1892). His biographies have provided some of my most enjoyable and formative reading.
Spurgeon was the oldest of 17 children, though nine died in infancy. Due to financial hardship, at the age of 18 months, he was sent to live with his grandfather, who was a strong Calvinistic preacher. At a young age, he began reading his father and grandfather’s theological books and listening in on their theological conversations with other men. On one occasion, the visiting preacher Richard Knill prophesied over Charles, “This child will one day preach the gospel, and he will preach it to great multitudes.”
Free public education was not available in his day and so his father paid for a private education for Charles. By the age of 10, Charles was reading the Puritans with great delight. He likely would have attended Cambridge University, but because he was a nonconformist who believed the church should not be governed by the state and did not support the Church of England, the school was not open to him and so he never received a formal theological education. Some of his most formative theological training came not from his pastor, but rather from an elderly school cook named Mary King, who spent considerable time teaching the young Charles reformed theology. Spurgeon began preaching shortly after his conversion to Jesus Christ at the age of 16.
The Best Bible Preacher in the World
He soon became the best-known Bible preacher in the world in his day, and perhaps the best preacher in the history of the church outside of Scripture besides John Chrysostom (347–407). Spurgeon preached up to 10 times a week and was heard by 20 million people from his pulpit over the course of his lifetime. Four years after his conversion, at the age of 20, he was appointed the pastor of London’s famous New Park Street Church, which was previously led by the distinguished Reformed Baptist theologian John Gill. Spurgeon was such a magnetic draw that the then-struggling church, which had dwindled to a few hundred people, soon outgrew their building and had to move to Exeter Hall, and then to Surrey Music Hall. Spurgeon often preached to crowds of more than 10 thousand without any amplification, and his church became the world’s largest by the time of his death.
He trained hundreds of pastors and church planters in his college which continues to this day, published over 100 books, aided the planting of a few hundred churches, and started over 60 various ministry organizations for everything from orphans to pastors. To this day, his book Lectures to My Students helps shape pastors across the world. And, he was likely the most controversial pastor on the earth in his day. Americans hated him because he drank, smoke, and opposed slavery. And his own denomination kicked him out because he was committed to such things as the inerrancy of Scripture.