The Prince of Preachers

Tomb of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Norwood Cemetery, London

Tomb of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Norwood Cemetery, London

Rev Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892) was one of the brightest stars of Nonconformist preaching in Victorian times, the “prince of preachers” and the kingpin of London Baptist ministry.

I was once told that Spurgeon said “Love God and do as you please”, and though I now know this was St Augustine of Hippo (AD354-430), the remark resonates with the impact of Spurgeon’s gigantic personality.

He began preaching at the age of twenty, four years after his conversion and baptism:  at that early age he became pastor of the largest Baptist congregation in London, New Park Street Chapel in Southwark.

His reputation, bolstered by regular publications, meant that the congregation had to move first to the 4,000-seater Exeter Hall, on the site that is now the Strand Palace Hotel, and then to the 12,000-seat cast-iron Surrey Music Hall in Kennington.

Spurgeon fell out with the proprietors of the Surrey Music Hall over the issue of Sunday concerts, and in 1861 opened the Metropolitan Tabernacle, where he based his ministry until shortly before his death.

He must have been an immensely powerful figure, capable of changing thousands of lives through evangelism long before the age of broadcasting and electronic media.

Once, when asked to test the acoustics before a meeting at the Crystal Palace, he “cried in a loud voice, ‘Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world’” – and a workman up in the gallery immediately put down his tools, went home and underwent a spiritual conversion, which years later he related on his death-bed.

Spurgeon came to mind as I sat on the top of a 68 bus ploughing its way round the Elephant & Castle gyratory, past the Metropolitan Tabernacle, which has been twice rebuilt after a fire in 1898 and the Blitz in 1941.  This thriving place of worship is still known as “Spurgeon’s Tabernacle”:

Oddly, my 68 bus took me to West Norwood Cemetery, which I explored for some time before finding myself standing unexpectedly before the tomb of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, embellished with a portrait relief and a Bible open at the words of 2 Timothy 4, vv 7-8:

I have fought a good fight.  I have finished my course.  I have kept the faith.

Hencefore there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day, and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.

Some voices resonate long after they’ve fallen silent.

For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture Victorian Cemeteries, please click here.

The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2015 Cemeteries and Sewerage:  the Victorian pursuit of cleanliness tour, with text, photographs, maps, a chronology and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £10.00 including postage and packing.  To order a copy, please click here or, if you prefer, send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

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