A week in the life of Charles Spurgeon
This is Part One ♦ Part Two ♦ Part Three
At his death in 1892 at the age of just fifty-seven, C. H. Spurgeon left behind a church numbering in the thousands, a Sunday school attended by over 8,000 and taught by some 600 instructors, a Pastor’s College, an orphanage housing some 400 children, a magazine (The Sword and Trowel), almshouses, twenty-three missions works, and over thirty other institutions. In addition, his greatest legacy was what grew to be sixty-three volumes of sermons (3,561), the greatest collection of printed sermons in the history of preaching.
In those days before automobiles, telephones, copy machines, office equipment of all kinds, and even ball point pens (!), how did one man accomplish so much in such a short lifetime, months of which were often spent recovering from debilitating illnesses that left him prostrate and unable to preach for weeks at a time?
In one of the most inspirational ministerial biographies ever written, the beloved Pastor’s wife, Susannah, devoted two chapters to his schedule, entitled, “A Typical Week’s Work.” I first read it over twenty years ago and then many more times since. It’s always both a delight and a rebuke. I wish it were possible to include all of the nearly thirty pages here, complete with their interesting pictures of the busy man at work in his study. But perhaps this regretfully much-trimmed version will still provide some encouragement to those who sometimes feel that they simply can’t face another week in the Lord’s work.
Many people have wondered how it was possible for Mr. Spurgeon to do all the work that he was able to perform, for so many years with such happy results. He had efficient helpers in various departments of his service, and he was always ready to render them their full meed [recompense] of praise. Yet, with all the assistance upon which he could rely, there still remained for the chief worker a vast amount of toil which he could not delegate to anyone.
In describing a typical week’s work, a beginning can most appropriately be made with an account of the preparation for the hallowed engagement of the Sabbath. Up to six o’clock, every Saturday evening, visitors were welcomed at “Westwood” [the Spurgeons’ residence], the dear master doing the honours of the garden in such a way that many, with whom he thus walked and talked, treasure the memory of their visit as a very precious thing. At the tea-table, the conversation was bright, witty, and always interesting; and after the meal was over, an adjournment was made to the study for family worship. At six o’clock every visitor left, for Mr. Spurgeon would often playfully say, “Now, dear friends, I must bid you ‘Good-bye,’ and turn you out of this study; you know what a number of chickens I have to scratch for, and I want to give them a good meal tomorrow.” So, with a hearty, “God bless you!” he shook hands with them, and shut himself in to companionship with his God. The inmates of the house went quietly about their several duties, and a holy silence seemed to brood over the place. Sometimes, but not often, he would leave the study for a few moments to seek me, and say, with a troubled tone in his dear voice, “Wifey, what shall I do? God has not given me my text yet.” I would comfort him as well as I could; and after a little talk, he would return to his work, and wait and watch for the Word to be given.
Lord’s-day morning — Mr. Spurgeon always set a good example to his people by being early at the sanctuary. He usually reached the Tabernacle at least half an hour before the time for commencing the service. During that interval, he attended to any matters that were of special urgency, selected the hymns that were to be sung, and arranged with the precentor the tunes best adapted to them; and the remaining minutes were spent in prayer with all the deacons and elders who were not already on duty elsewhere.
Punctually at eleven o’clock, Mr. Spurgeon was seen descending the steps leading to the platform, and after a brief pause for silent supplication, the service began. There is no necessity to describe in detail even one of those memorable assemblies. In the course of his long ministry, many hundreds of thousands of persons, from all parts of the globe, heard him proclaim that gospel which became to multitudes of them the power of God unto salvation.
On every Sabbath morning in the month, except the second, there was usually a long procession of friends from the country, or from foreign lands, waiting for just a shake of the hand and a hearty greeting from the Pastor. All through the summer season, some hundreds of visitors from the United States helped, at each service, to swell the contingents from other parts; and most of them afterwards sought to secure a personal interview with the great preacher to whom they had been listening.
The informal reception being over at last, the Pastor was able to leave—unless, as not seldom happened, some poor trembling soul was waiting in the hope of having a word or two of cheer and direction from him.
While Mr. Spurgeon was residing at “Helensburgh House,” he was able to return home to dinner on the Lord’s day; but after removing to “Westwood,” he soon found that the distance was too great, so he remained for the afternoon within easy reach of the Tabernacle, with friends who were only too glad to minister in any way to the comfort and refreshing of one who had been so greatly blessed to them. Sometimes, there was a sick member whom the Pastor felt that he must visit after dinner; otherwise he had an hour or so of rest and Christian conversation before retiring, at about four o’clock, for the preparation of his evening discourse. Some, who were very little children then, can probably remember the injunction given to them on such occasions, “You must be very quiet, for Mr. Spurgeon is getting his sermon.”
Before the evening worship, on ordinary Sabbaths, the Pastor often saw an enquirer, or a candidate for church-fellowship, who found it difficult to get to the Tabernacle during the week; and after preaching, except on communion nights, however weary he might be, he was never too tired to point a poor sinner to the Saviour, and to act the part of the true shepherd of souls to those who seeking entrance to the fold. Each Sabbath, except the second, the ordinance of the Lord’s supper was observed at the close of the evening service. It was a most impressive scene—sublime in its simplicity—and those who have ever taken part in it can never forget it.
To be continued…
Dr. Mark Minnick is the pastor of Mount Calvary Baptist Church in Greenville, South Carolina, and serves as adjunct professor of preaching and exposition at Bob Jones Seminary.
(Originally published in FrontLine • March/April 2003. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)