Tuesday, January 23, 2018

January 23 - Charles Spurgeon, Preacher, Author, Pastor

It was January in England and Charles was only fifteen when he set out into a storm for some now forgotten appointment. The journey was difficult but manageable for a young man like Charles. Yet, as he drew nearer and nearer to his destination the storm grew more and more insurmountable and inescapable. It was as if the storm was offended by his continued journey and determined to turn him aside. Eventually, Charles did turn aside into a little Methodist church where he might find shelter from the wind and snow. As he waited for the storm to pass, he picked up a Bible and considered it. He had heard some of the stories contained therein but they had not had any significant effect upon his life as of yet. He opened to Isaiah--perhaps a favorite book of his at the time--and was hit by a verse: "Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth, for I am God, and there is none else." At these astounding words, Charles bucked. There is none else? Surely that couldn't be right. Yet, he was caught upon the hook of God's grace and could not escape either the snowstorm or God's furious love. It was alone in that little church that Charles would say "God opened [his] heart to the salvation message." Charles Haddon Spurgeon was converted to a faith worth talking about.

He was later baptized in the Baptist church his family attended. His passion and intensity were plain to see by the leaders and laypeople alike in the small church. He was asked to preach the following winter and he did so gladly to much acclaim and appreciation. It seemed he had a gift. Few expected the boy preacher to have much of a gift--if any at all--and were amazed to hear the way Charles spoke to them as one having authority. His style was not the cultured and educated style of many clergy but, rather, was characterized by an earnest and sincere directness that gripped the heart of the reader and begged it to reconsider what Jesus had to say. Whereas many preachers were waxing theological and earning accolades with sweet words, Charles had one powerful strategy: beg the listener to take Jesus seriously and at his word. It was very effective and he soon found himself a pastor (less than five years after being converted) and preacher at the largest Baptist church in all of London.

In spite of his failure among homiletical critics, soon he was regularly preaching to crowds of more than 10,000 listeners. All of this happened within ten years of finding Jesus in a little Methodist church where he was forced to take shelter from the storm. He was finding that there was "none else" but God that brought salvation and hope for many. He was soon invited to preach at the Crystal Palace and he did so gladly having just founded a preacher's academy that he had been publicizing. He entered the area to test its acoustics and determine where the platform should be placed. He picked a phrase that spoke to him and which he routinely used in sermons: "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!" As he shouted it repeatedly, it fell upon the ears of a man who had been doing some renovations and repairs in the building. As the repetitions hammered upon his brain, he was struck by the incredible desperate sincerity in the voice of the preacher and he left his job to go home and think upon the sentence he had heard several times. That night the man was converted to follow after the one and only Lamb of God.

Charles' sermons became one of the most widely read publications in the history of printing and his sermons became collector's items for those desperate to hear a word from God. Though he never extended an altar call at any point in his career he did invite all who were moved to meet with him in the church building on Monday morning. Routinely, these meetings were full of people moved to tears and conversion by the sincere and hopeful words of a man who had been turned aside by a snowstorm. He died, as the end of the 19th century approached, a noted and lauded preacher not by critics but by the ones whose lives had been changed by his preaching.

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