A week in the life of Charles Spurgeon
Pastor Minnick’s introductory paragraphs, repeated from part One:
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.
Thursday morning was principally devoted to letterwriting and literary work in general. Mr. Spurgeon’s position naturally brought him into correspondence with vast numbers of people all over the world; and he willingly wrote those thousands of letters which are now of almost priceless value to their possessors. Yet he often felt that he could have employed his time to far better purpose. Again and again, he sorrowfully said, “I am only a poor clerk, driving the pen hour after hour; here is another whole morning gone, and nothing done but letters, letters, letters!”
If Mr. Spurgeon’s correspondence was not quite as burdensome as usual, or if he had literary work that had to be done—when the weather permitted he liked to retire to his favourite retreat [a little booth in the garden], where the hours fled all too swiftly as he wrote his comments on the Psalms, or some of the other books that now remain permanent memorials of his studious and industrious life.
After dinner, the Pastor’s definite preparation for the evening service began, though the subject had probably been, as he often said, “simmering” in his mind all the morning. His private study, commonly called “the den,” became, on such occasions, his placed for secret retirement and prayer; and very joyously he came forth, carrying in his hand his brief pulpit-notes.
For many years, Mr. Spurgeon had, on Thursday evening, in the Tabernacle lecture-hall, from six o’clock till nearly seven, what he termed “The Pastor’s prayermeeting.” This was an extra gathering, specially convened for the purpose of pleading for a blessing upon the Word he was about to preach; and most refreshing and helpful it always proved both to himself and the people. At the close, several of these hearers desired a few minutes’ conversation with the preacher, so that it was late before he could get away; and then, though not weary of his work, he was certainly weary in it.
On Friday morning, the usual routine of answering correspondence had, to some extent, to give way to the President’s more urgent work of preparation for his talk to the students of the College. Hundreds of “our own men” have testified that, greatly as they profited by the rest of their College curriculum, Mr. Spurgeon’s Friday afternoon class was far beyond everything else in its abiding influence upon their life and ministry. From three till about five o’clock, there was a continuous stream of wit and wisdom, counsel and warning, exhortation and doctrine, all converging to the one end of helping the men before him to become good ministers of Jesus Christ. Then, when the class was dismissed, another hour, or more, was ungrudgingly devoted to interviews with any of the brethren who desired personally to consult the President.
Perhaps, between six and seven o’clock, Mr. Spurgeon was free to start for home; but, more likely, there was another anniversary meeting—possibly, of the Evening Classes connected with the College—at which he had promised to preside; or there was some mission-hall, at which he had engaged to preach or speak; or there was a sick or dying member of the church to whom he had sent word that he would call on his way back from the College.
Saturday morning was the time for the Pastor and his private secretary to clear off, as far as possible, any arrears of work that had been accumulating during the week. The huge pile of letters was again attacked; various financial matters were settled, and cheques dispatched to chapel-building ministers or those engaged in pioneer or mission work, or needing some special assistance in their labour for the Lord. It was usual, often, on that morning, for the President to see some of the applicants for admission to the College, or to examine the papers of others. Brethren just leaving for the foreign mission field were glad of the opportunity of a personal farewell, and of the tender, touching prayer, and tokens of practical sympathy with which they were speeded on their way. Then there were magazine articles to be read and reviewed, or sent to some of the brethren who helped in that department of The Sword and the Trowel; and, by the time the gong sounded for dinner, the Pastor was often heard to say, “Well, we have got through a good morning’s work, even if there is not much to show for it.”
The greater part of the afternoon was spent in the garden, if the weather was favourable; and one of the few luxuries the dear master of “Westwood” enjoyed was to stroll down to the most secluded portion of the grounds, and to rest awhile in the summerhouse, to which he gave the singularly appropriate title, “Out of the world.” Here, with his wife, or some choice friend, the precious moments quickly passed.
Surely there never was a busier life than his; not an atom more of sacred service could have been crowded into it.
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.)