Volume 47 - Issue 3

New Insights into the Formative Influence of Spurgeon’s Early Years

By Geoffrey Chang


This article draws on lesser-known primary sources to argue for the formative influence of C. H. Spurgeon’s early years on his future ministry. First, it examines John Spurgeon’s time in Raleigh, which explains why Spurgeon spent the first five years of his life with his grandfather, a relationship that shaped his view of ministry and the church. Second, it reflects on the ministry of T. W. Davids, pastor of the Congregational church in Colchester, and his influence on young Spurgeon. Third, it summarizes new insights from Spurgeon’s earliest preaching notebooks.

Due to his rapid ascent as one of the most popular preachers of the 19th century, Charles Haddon Spurgeon’s (1834–1892) background has become a subject of great interest to his biographers. Writing in 1856,1 E. L. Magoon provides this basic outline of his background: he was born in Kelvedon, his father and grandfather were Independent ministers, he was educated at Colchester, Maidstone, and Newmarket, worked as a tutor in Cambridge, preached at Waterbeach and other surrounding villages, and then was called to New Park Street in 1854.2 Subsequent biographers would pull together stories from Spurgeon’s early years, drawing from his sermons, writings, anecdotes, and interviews with his family. These beloved stories would all become a part of the Spurgeon lore. As G. Holden Pike notes, they have become so familiar that they are “of everybody’s property.”3 The definitive collection of these stories can be found in his four-volume Autobiography, published in 1897. The entire first volume is dedicated to Spurgeon’s life up to his arrival in London in 1854. Modern Spurgeon scholarship has also recognized the importance of Spurgeon’s early life. Beyond exploring the reasons for his popularity, scholars have studied these early stories, tracing theological and pastoral themes from his childhood to his adult life and ministry.4

This study, then, will continue in the vein of exploring Spurgeon’s early life and looking for connections into his future ministry. But rather than re-telling familiar stories, it will uncover new ones by focusing on two previously unexplored collection of primary sources. The first is a collection newspaper articles, magazines, minute books, and other primary and secondary sources from Essex that shed new light on Spurgeon’s early years.5 The second is The Lost Sermons of C. H. Spurgeon. These nine notebooks contain the sermon outlines that Spurgeon preached first as an itinerant preacher, then as the pastor of Waterbeach chapel. By examining these sources, previously unanswered questions about Spurgeon’s background will be answered, shedding new light on how the boy preacher became the Prince of Preachers.

1. John Spurgeon’s Journey from Kelvedon to Colchester

We begin by examining Charles’s family, particularly his father, John. When he was fourteen months old, Charles was sent to live with his grandparents. What led John and Eliza Spurgeon to make this decision? This question has not been fully answered in the existing Spurgeon literature. When Charles was born, the family was living in Kelvedon, Essex. John Spurgeon worked as a grocer like his father, who was a grocer before he became a pastor.6 This was the family business as John’s brothers, Samuel and James Jr., were also grocers in Maldon and Stambourne, respectively.7

When Spurgeon was ten months old, most biographers report that the family left Kelvedon and moved to Colchester, where John got a job as a clerk for a coal merchant.8 They believe that it is at this point that Charles was sent to live with his grandfather. Biographers tend to assume that the transition to Colchester proved difficult, which is why they needed help. The problem, however, is that Charles was gone for almost five years!9 What was going on in the Spurgeon family that required help for so long? A closer look indicates that these years were more tumultuous than previously thought.

Among Spurgeon biographers, there is some indication that the Spurgeon family did not move to Colchester right away. For example, James Ellis notes that after Kelvedon, John “removed to Raleigh, in Essex” and “at a later period” became a clerk at Colchester.10 But he provides no details about the intervening time. W. Miller Higgs provides more definitive proof of the time in Raleigh in his work, The Spurgeon Family. He reproduces a handwritten list from John Spurgeon containing the date and location of the birth for each of his surviving children.11

In this list, John lists Charles’s birth first, “Kelvedon Essex June 19th 1834.” Next is Eliza Rebecca, “born at Raleigh Essex, January 19, 1836.” Then, we have James Archer, “born at Braintree Essex, June 8th, 1837.” Finally, we come to Emily Jarvis, born in “Colchester, Essex April 28 1839.” According to this list, the family did not immediately move to Colchester after leaving Kelvedon but first went south to Raleigh (also spelled Rayleigh) around May 1835. It would have been around August or September 1835 that Charles was sent to live with his grandparents. Shortly after, on January 1836, Eliza Rebecca was born.

The local Essex newspapers seem to confirm that the Spurgeons lived in Raleigh. The Chelmsford Chronicle contains a record from February 1837 about “John Spurgeon, formerly of Kelvedon, in the county of Essex, Grocer and Linen-draper, and late of Rayleigh, in the said county, Baker and General Shopkeeper.”12 Can we be sure that this John Spurgeon is Charles’s father? Part of the challenge is evidence of at least one other John Spurgeon in Essex around that time.

The Chelmsford Chronicle reports in January 1834, “John Spurgeon convicted of stealing a coat belonging to Wm Cook a wagoner at Halsted was sentenced to be transported for fourteen years.”13 Six years later, we see another report that “John Spurgeon, 66, labourer, was indicted for stealing a quantity of brass, copper and pewter [from] the property of Messrs. Day of Halsted.”14 The dates, age, and transportation to Australia rule these John Spurgeons out as being Charles’s father. But the description of the other John Spurgeon, being a grocer “formerly of Kelvedon,” but now a shopkeeper in Rayleigh, combined with the birth of Eliza Rebecca in Raleigh, make it almost sure that this is Charles’s father.

So, John Spurgeon moved to Raleigh in summer 1835, and by September, he opened a grocery store there. Local advertisements show that John Spurgeon sold his business in Kelvedon and purchased one in Raleigh that summer.15 To finalize the deal, it appears that James Spurgeon came to Raleigh and backed him in that purchase. Eliza Spurgeon was expecting another child, and John needed to devote himself to starting this new business. So, the decision to send Charles with James was likely made during that first visit to Raleigh.

Like any business owner, John Spurgeon faced challenges. In January of 1837, one of his employees was convicted of theft and sentenced to “five months of hard labour and 1 solitary.”16 More seriously, however, in February 1837 that John Spurgeon “formerly of Kelvedon” was “sued with James Spurgeon.”17 John’s business had turned out to be unsuccessful. Within two years, he found himself in debt to his suppliers and unable to pay them back. Debt in the 19th century could be disastrous. Those who were unable to pay back their debts could choose to make themselves insolvent, or they could wait to be made bankrupt by their creditors. Either way, debtors were subject to debtors’ prison.

For his debts, John Spurgeon was sent to the gaol at Chelmsford from January 30, 1837.18 The February 1837 article stated that creditors intending “to oppose a prisoner’s discharge” must submit a notice in writing.19 As John was sent to debtors’ prison and creditors seized his home, Eliza (who was pregnant) took her one-year-old daughter to Braintree, where perhaps she had friends or relatives to help her.

Rather than be subject to the public humiliation of bankruptcy, John chose to make himself insolvent, selling his business and all his household possessions.20 The auction began on January 25, 1837. The sale catalog included the inventory from the store and household furniture like a “child’s wicker chair” and a “mahogany framed child’s cot,” pieces that once likely held his son Charles. The sale took two days and included over 400 auction lots. John Spurgeon’s case was heard on March 10, 1837. The auctioneer reported a sales total of £120, 14s, 9d, minus expenses, plus an additional £80 worth of fixtures in Spurgeon’s house. This sum was turned over to the court “for the purpose of their being given up to the creditors” and “the Insolvent was discharged.”21 John was released from Chelmsford gaol on March 14, 1837.22

John Spurgeon was once again a free man, but this freedom had cost him nearly everything. All that remained were the clothes on his back and a few personal belongings amounting to £3, 11s. John Spurgeon likely joined his wife in Braintree after his release, and they welcomed the arrival of James Archer three months later. The final notice related to this case is found in September 1837, where a meeting for creditors of John Spurgeon was called “to declare and pay a Dividend on his Estate.”23

From Braintree, the family moved to Colchester, likely by late 1837. The first reference of the family’s move to Colchester comes from the birth of Emily Jarvis Spurgeon in April 1839. Her middle name was likely a tribute to Eliza’s older brother, Charles Parker Jarvis, a coal merchant and prominent leader in Colchester. After the disaster in Raleigh, Charles Jarvis hired John to work for him in the respectable job of a merchant clerk, a position that John would hold for 26 years. He also provided a home for the Spurgeon family on Hythe Street in Colchester. Charles Jarvis would prove to be a benefactor to the family, providing generously for Eliza in his will, following his death in November 1839. Charles rejoined the family in Colchester sometime around early 1840.

With so much going on in the Spurgeon family, it is no wonder that Charles lived with his grandparents for five years. There is no indication that John and Eliza Spurgeon ever intended their first-born son to be gone for so long. Perhaps they imagined that the grocery business would be up and going in a few months, and then Charles would return to live with them. As it turned out, this would not be the case.

Given the painful memory of these events, it makes sense why this is a story that has not been told. Early biographers tend to conflate Kelvedon and Colchester, leaving out the years at Raleigh. When interviewed, John Spurgeon was never asked explicitly about Raleigh, and so he never talked about it. As Tervet says, “If any early biographers were aware they sensitively chose not to mention … as a result many details of Charles Spurgeon’s early life in Colchester are obscured.”24

This turn of events proved significant in Spurgeon’s life. His experience of growing up in his grandfather’s home shaped his outlook and his theological development. When Charles rejoined his siblings in Colchester, he would lead them in playing “church,” rather than “grocery.” Of course, Charles, like his grandfather, was the pastor. As a result of these first five years, Charles and his grandfather grew very close. Charles spent subsequent school holidays in Stambourne, learning from his grandfather, sitting under his preaching, and exploring his Puritan library.

These events also shed new light on one of Spurgeon’s clearest memories from his childhood in Colchester. On one occasion, he wanted “a stick of slate pencil” but had no money. So, he went into the shop and purchased one on credit. He was in debt, and somehow his father found out about it. Spurgeon recalls,

He was very soon down upon me in right earnest. God bless him for it; he was a sensible man, and none of your children-spoilers; he did not intend to bring his children to speculate, and play at what big rogues call financing, and therefore he knocked my getting into debt on the head at once, and no mistake. He gave me a very powerful lecture upon getting into debt, and how like it was to stealing, and upon the way in which people were ruined by it; and how a boy who would owe a farthing, might one day owe a hundred pounds, and get into prison, and bring his family into disgrace. It was a lecture, indeed; I think I can hear it now, and can feel my ears tingling at the recollection of it…. How did my little heart vow and declare that nothing should ever tempt me into debt again! It was a fine lesson, and I have never forgotten it…. Ever since that early sickening, I have hated debt as Luther hated the Pope.25

Fathers lecture their sons all the time, but not all lectures make an impression.26 But for young Spurgeon, this lecture changed his life. Something about his father’s tone convinced the young boy of the deadliness of debt. Perhaps John Spurgeon’s earnestness was compounded by the fact that this incident involved his oldest son, from whom he was separated for five years because of his debts.

Spurgeon would repudiate debt for the rest of his life. Though he would attempt enormous financial projects like the Metropolitan Tabernacle, the Stockwell Orphanages, the Pastors’ College, numerous church plants, the support of missionaries all over the world, and much more, Spurgeon never went into debt for any of those ventures. He believed debt to be a sin and an act of faithlessness. Spurgeon traces these convictions back to his experience as a young boy, which can be traced back to his father’s ordeal.

2. The Ministry of T. W. Davids at Lion Walk Congregational Church, Colchester

After arriving in Colchester in 1837, the Spurgeon family, being Congregationalists, attended an Independent chapel. There were two Congregational chapels in Colchester: Lion Walk Chapel and Stockwell Street Chapel.27 Eventually, John and Eliza would join Lion Walk, but they did not join right away. The church was undergoing transition, and a young new pastor, T. W. Davids, arrived at Lion Walk in 1841. Perhaps the Spurgeons wanted to evaluate the new pastor before joining the church.

Davids was not the only new pastor in town. Eld Lane Baptist Church called Robert Langford the following year. James Spurgeon participated in Langford’s ordination service by giving the closing prayer.28 Given that connection, it is likely that the Spurgeons, including young Charles, were in attendance for at least one of the ordination services, if not both. The record of these lengthy ordination services and dinners remain.29 It is possible that Spurgeon’s own aversion to ordination began during this time.30

Davids early years at Lion Walk proved tumultuous, and a group from the church left to start their own congregation in 1844. But by summer 1843, the church minute books show that John and Eliza had decided to stay at Lion Walk and join the church.31 Young Spurgeon, however, was not impressed with Davids’s preaching. It appears that at one point, Spurgeon admired Davids’s preaching from a rhetorical standpoint.32 But this would change as he began to experience the conviction of sin. Some of this conviction was due to Davids’s preaching.33 But Spurgeon claims he never experienced any relief from his guilt. Instead, his conversion would take place at a Primitive Methodist chapel in January 1850. After his conversion, Spurgeon wondered how it was that nobody had preached the gospel to him.34

In 1857, Spurgeon would publish these biting words:

A ministry devoid of gospel grace is a frequent cause of long delay in finding the Saviour. Some of us in the days of our sorrow for sin were compelled by circumstances to sit under a legal preacher who did but increase our pain, and aggravate our woe. Destitute of all savour and unction, but most of all wanting in a clear view of Jesus the Mediator, the sermons we heard were wells without water, and clouds without rain. Elegant in diction, admirable style, and faultless in composition, they fell on our ears even as the beautiful crystals of snow fall upon the surface of a brook, and only tend to swell its floods.35

Spurgeon never mentions Davids by name, but it appears some people connected these words to his time at Lion Walk. This, perhaps, explains why in 1858, a committee at Lion Walk refused John Spurgeon’s request to have Charles preach at the church for a fundraiser for the Independent chapel at Tollesbury.36 It would take the more mature reflection of later years for Spurgeon to admit that he likely did hear the gospel before 1850, but the Spirit had not yet granted illumination.37

Though Spurgeon criticized Davids’s preaching, a closer look at the ministry at Lion Walk shows that Davids was a gifted administrator with a pastoral heart. The church thrived under Davids. One evidence of Davids’s pastoral gifts is that John and Eliza did not leave Lion Walk, despite their son’s critiques. Accounts of Lion Walk during Davids’s tenure highlight his concern to know and shepherd his people.

Davids had a rigorous membership process. One historian observes that “church membership was looked upon as a serious matter in those days.”38 In addition to an interview with the pastor, the congregation voted to send a disputation of members “to interview personally each candidate for church fellowship and report on their suitability and their experience in the faith.”39 The minute books show that John and Eliza went through this process of joining the church. Davids was also concerned with keeping membership meaningful. Davids tracked his members’ attendance at communion services. If a member were absent for more than three communion services in a row, they would be visited by two brothers in the church and encouraged to return. Those who refused would eventually be erased from the membership rolls.40 Finally, Davids divided the church into twelve districts “with arrangement that those in each district should meet periodically in one another’s houses, for tea if possible, to be followed by a meeting for prayer and fellowship.” Additionally, the pastor committed to visiting a different district every two weeks, so that he would have personal contact with every member of the church every six months.41

It appears that Spurgeon learned something about pastoral ministry from Davids. After his conversion, Spurgeon expressed his disappointment over how anemic the membership process was at the Congregational chapel in Newmarket.42 At St. Andrew’s Baptist Church, he challenged a fellow communicant on the Table being a sign of true fellowship.43 Even as a new Christian, Spurgeon had a high view of church membership and the sacraments. Lion Walk likely contributed to that. As the pastor of New Park Street Chapel, Spurgeon would implement many of the same tools as Davids: a rigorous membership process involving messengers, tracking members through their participation at the Lord’s Supper, and dividing the church into districts to aid with pastoral care.44 These tools would be crucial for Spurgeon’s ministry, making it possible for him to pastor thousands meaningfully.

Beyond pastoral care, Davids organized numerous evangelistic and benevolent ministries. Congregationalists in the early 19th century were marked by a growing activism, and this was no different in Colchester.45 In September 1844, Davids established a Lay Preachers’ Association, with John Spurgeon as a founding member. Their object was “to provide supplies for evenings of the Lord’s Day” at four preaching stations: Shrub End, Greenstead, the Hythe, and West Bergholt.46 Itinerant lay preaching was a growing feature of Dissenting churches from the late eighteenth to early nineteenth century, especially in rural locations.47 However, being in a larger town like Colchester meant that a lay preacher’s association was more controversial, becoming “an object of derision to some and censure to others.”48 Davids experienced opposition not only from the Established Church, but even from “Nonconformists of various denominations.”49

Despite opposition, this association proved to be the starting point for John Spurgeon’s preaching ministry. During the week, he would work as a merchant clerk, and on Sunday evenings, he would travel to a preaching station and lead services. When he began, Charles was ten years old. John regretted not being home to lead in family worship on Sunday evenings, but he was reassured to find his wife faithfully praying for their young children.50 Charles had the opportunity to watch his father grow as a preacher and accompanied him on some occasions.51 In March 1850, after a few months as pulpit supply, the congregation at Tollesbury Independent chapel called John to serve as their bi-vocational pastor.52 For the next fourteen years, John would continue living and working in Colchester while driving over on Sunday mornings to Tollesbury to lead the services as their pastor. Eliza would be responsible for bringing the children to the services at Lion Walk.

Besides the Lay Preachers’ Association, Davids established numerous other institutions at Lion Walk. There were Sunday Schools, a Sunday School Library, Clothing Club, Sick and Destitute Scholars’ Benefit Society, Old Scholars’ Tea Meeting, Benevolent Society, Congregational Library, Circulating Book Society, and various Bible, Greek, and Psalmody classes.53 Members of the church participated in these institutions. In addition to John’s lay preaching, Charles and his siblings were all involved in the Sunday Schools. In 1852, Eliza Rebecca, Charles’s sister, would become a Sunday School teacher at Lion Walk.54

Being part of an active church like Lion Walk left an impression on young Spurgeon. In addition to all the above societies, Lion Walk had one more: the “Home Juvenile Society,” founded by Spurgeon when he was 11. This society had a handwritten magazine, the “Juvenile Magazine,” and held business meetings.55 Spurgeon also organized a home library (making one of his sisters the librarian) and edited another magazine entitled, “Scraps of Missionary News.”56 Playing “church” for young Spurgeon involved much more than just a worship service. It involved publications and community involvement. But this activism continued beyond Colchester. After his conversion in January 1850, Spurgeon joined the Congregational chapel in Newmarket and immediately began to look for ways to serve. He distributed tracts and visited sick members. He became a Sunday School teacher. And by January 1851, Spurgeon preached his first sermon in a cottage at Teversham, as part of the Lay Preachers’ Association at St. Andrew’s in Cambridge.57 The sight of such a 16-year-old preacher was unusual in those days. As one aged voice cried out after the sermon, “Bless your dear heart, how old are you?”58 Unusual as it was, John Spurgeon’s lay-preaching ministry at Lion Walk likely prepared the way for Charles to begin his preaching career.

In 1854, Spurgeon would be called to pastor in London. His activism as the pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle is well-known.59 It would be saying too much to imply that Spurgeon was imply imitating what he saw at Lion Walk. Still, Spurgeon’s natural activism and vision for a working church can be traced back to his family’s involvement in the ministries at Lion Walk. Spurgeon built on (and surpassed) what he had seen at Lion Walk in his later ministry.

3. Gleanings from the Lost Sermons

Charles’s first sermon in January 1851 was delivered extemporaneously without any notes. It seems that he preached at least two more sermons in the same way.60 But by February 1851, he felt the need to prepare his sermons ahead of time. He purchased a writing notebook and began to write down sermon outlines.61 Their simplicity shows that he was still committed to a largely extemporaneous delivery. But now, with his preaching notebook, Spurgeon could bring more of his study with him into the pulpit. Not only that but he could reuse his sermon notes, and so be called upon to preach at a moment’s notice.

Throughout spring 1851, Spurgeon worked as a tutor and preached two or three times a month. By summer 1851, Spurgeon’s ministry picked up, preaching twenty-one sermons between June and August. On October 3, 1851, Spurgeon preached his first sermon at Waterbeach chapel, “Salvation from Sin,” his fifty-first preaching occasion.62 Before the month was up, the congregation called seventeen-year-old Spurgeon to be their pastor. Naturally, he was thrilled. He had to continue working as a tutor in Cambridge to make ends meet, but he was eager to begin pastoring.

Amid all this, John Spurgeon was concerned for his son. It was one thing to be an itinerant preacher at the age of sixteen. But now, he was pastoring a church! Perhaps Charles saw himself following in his father’s footsteps, first as a lay preacher and then a bi-vocational pastor. But in fact, John knew his situation was quite different. He had preached for six years before being called as a bi-vocational pastor. He also had an established career as a merchant clerk to provide for his family. But in the case of Charles, John did not want him to neglect his education and end up pastoring a church that could not afford to support him. So, he urged his son to apply for college and sought to make the proper arrangements.63

Charles, however, saw his situation quite differently. He did not feel the need to go to college right away because his ministry at Waterbeach was his education. In response to his father’s pleas for him to go to college, Spurgeon responded, “I have many opportunities of improvement now; all I want is more time…. I have plenty of practice; and do we not learn to preach by preaching?… I hope you will excuse my scrawl, for, believe me, I am fully employed. Last night, I thought of writing; but was called out to see a dying man, and I thought I dare not refuse.”64

With the publication of The Lost Sermons of C. H. Spurgeon, historians now have a glimpse into the three years of Spurgeon’s pastoral training, which, in his mind, took the place of a college education. These sermons should not be viewed as the finished product of an experienced preacher.65 Instead, they reveal Spurgeon to be a work-in-progress. Though he has natural giftings, these sermons also reveal a human Spurgeon, making mistakes, borrowing from others, and learning to preach.

A complete analysis of the Lost Sermons is beyond the scope of this paper. With 399 sermons written across 1,127 pages of sermon text, this will be a significant undertaking for future Spurgeon scholars. In summary, however, what can we glean about Spurgeon’s pastoral training from the Lost Sermons?

3.1. The Practice of Preaching

Perhaps what stands out most about these three years is the sheer volume of sermons that Spurgeon preached. In later years, he would criticize college graduates who preached their very first sermon when applying for a ministerial position.66 Rather, he encouraged his students to take or create preaching opportunities for themselves whenever they could. This was Spurgeon’s approach during these years. From February 9, 1851, the first recorded sermon in the Lost Sermons, to December 18, 1853, his first time preaching at New Park Street, Spurgeon preached 670 sermons, an average of nearly twenty a month. More than half of those sermons were original compositions.

To put this into perspective, if a pastor were to preach fifty sermons a year (one sermon per week with two weeks off), he would need more than thirteen years to match the number of sermons Spurgeon had preached by age 19. The “boy preacher” may have been young, but by the time he arrived in London, he had the experience of a pastor who had been preaching for over a decade.

3.2. Biblical and Theological Training

A survey of these early sermons reveals Spurgeon’s biblical and theological training within the Protestant and Reformed tradition. In the first three volumes of the Lost Sermons, Christian George has detected the influence of figures like John Gill, Richard Baxter, Matthew Henry, Stephen Charnock, John Bunyan, Thomas Manton, Philip Doddridge, Augustine, Athanasius, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, John Newton, John Ryland, Charles Simeon, George Whitfield, John Wesley, Isaac Watts, and many others.67 These outlines show that Spurgeon was not only preaching during these years, but he was also studying deeply and widely.

In later years, reporters would commend Spurgeon as “quite an original preacher.”68 At this stage, however, he is still clearly relying on others for help. His earliest sermon outlines draw heavily from his sources, using outlines found in commentaries, volumes of sermons, preaching guides, and more. At times, Spurgeon wrote to his father asking him for some of his sermon “skeletons” to help him in his preaching.69 Some have wondered if young Spurgeon is guilty of plagiarism in these early years. Considering his high view of preaching, his sensitive conscience, and his future denunciation of “borrowed sermons,”70 it is unlikely that he preached these outlines without properly attributing any borrowed material and first making them his own.71 Still, there is no question that Spurgeon was learning how to put sermons together by depending on others in these early years.

These earliest sermons also reveal Spurgeon’s willingness to engage in theological controversy. Waterbeach was located in East Anglia, where “the most successful Strict and Particular Baptist Association was established in this period.”72 Despite the influence of Hyper-Calvinism among the Baptists, Spurgeon did not hesitate to confront antinomianism in his sermons while still upholding God’s sovereignty in salvation. These sermons reveal Spurgeon’s evangelical Calvinism in the tradition of Andrew Fuller, stressing God’s election and the duty of faith in the Christian life. Beyond soteriology, his sermons also work through theological topics like the incarnation, eternal judgment, the sovereignty of God over suffering, eschatology, and more. And yet, these sermons were never abstracted from everyday life but were applied to the concerns and challenges of his rural congregation. These early years were a training ground for Spurgeon in applied theology.

At the heart of Spurgeon’s study was the Bible. These sermons reveal a remarkable breadth of preaching texts. Out of 395 sermons in the Lost Sermons, 201 are from the New Testament, and 194 are from the Old Testament. He preached from nearly every book of the Bible and covered every genre of Scripture. Spurgeon’s commitment to expositional preaching from the whole counsel of Scripture would continue into his ministry in London.

3.3. The Work of a Pastor

Though he started as an itinerant preacher, these sermons reveal that Spurgeon also learned to be a pastor. In them, we find Spurgeon officiating the Lord’s Table, administering baptism, shepherding his people through painful cases of church discipline, comforting his people after the death of a founding member of the church, inviting visitors to join the church, and much more. In one sermon, Spurgeon compares the local church with the House Beautiful in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, where pilgrims were graciously admitted, cared for, instructed, and equipped for battle.73 So much of his vision for pastoral ministry began in these early years of caring for his village congregation, “leading those poor pilgrims on the road to the Celestial City.”74

Notably missing in Bunyan’s allegory, however, is any symbolism for baptism prior to membership in the church. On this point, Spurgeon disagreed with Bunyan’s open membership.75 His sermons consistently show his conviction that believer’s baptism must precede church membership.76 In later years, Spurgeon saw a diminishing ecclesiology among Baptists evidenced by the push for open membership by leaders like John Clifford,77 and he would advocate for a commitment to Baptistic principles and closed membership. This commitment was put into practice beginning at Waterbeach. What the Lost Sermons reveal is that as a 19-year-old, Spurgeon arrived in London not only as a seasoned preacher but as one who had solid ecclesiological convictions and two years of pastoral ministry under his belt.

4. Conclusion

Through the examination of new primary sources, this paper has highlighted three previously unnoticed aspects of Spurgeon’s development: John Spurgeon’s years in Raleigh, the active ministry of T. W. Davids at Lion Walk, and his pastoral training at Waterbeach from 1851 to 1854. The story of John Spurgeon’s debt and imprisonment was nearly lost. Yet it provides an explanation for why Spurgeon lived with his grandfather for five years, which played a crucial role in him eventually becoming a pastor. His time at Lion Walk in Colchester reveals that despite his criticisms of Davids’s preaching, Spurgeon was discipled in the ministry and activism of the church. And finally, the Lost Sermons highlight Spurgeon’s remarkable theological, ecclesiological, and pastoral training in Waterbeach, preparing him for his ministry in London.

These three aspects of Spurgeon’s early development are a reminder that so many of the beloved stories of Spurgeon lore do not tell the full story. Because the Autobiography and other early biographies are dependent on Spurgeon’s own account, they are inevitably limited. Understandably, sensitive stories like John Spurgeon’s imprisonment were naturally left out. Other events, like his time at Lion Walk, were at times presented in a one-sided fashion to emphasize a pastoral lesson, namely the dramatic nature of his conversion. And, given his tremendous success in London, it was important for Spurgeon to attribute it to a movement of the Holy Spirit, rather than the tireless labors of his preparatory years as a village pastor.

In other words, Spurgeon told his story primarily for the person in the pew, not for the historian. His concern was first and foremost pastoral. And his early biographers reflected their admiration of the pastor in re-telling the familiar stories of his life as he told them. For Spurgeon scholarship to advance, it will require building on the existing stories and uncovering the untold ones.

[1] Spurgeon would have been 21 or 22 years old when the first biographical work about him was published.

[2] E. L. Magoon, “The Modern Whitefield”: Sermons of the Rev. C. H. Spurgeon, of London; with an Introduction and Sketch of His Life (New York: Sheldon, Blakeman and Company, 1856), v-vi.

[3] G. Holden Pike, Charles Haddon Spurgeon: Preacher, Author, Philanthropist (London: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892), 4.

[4] An example of this is Tom Nettles’s latest work, which looks at ten different themes across Spurgeon’s life. Tom Nettles, The Child is Father of the Man (Fearn, Scotland: Christian Focus, 2021).

[5] Many thanks to Peter Tervet, retired executive and an elder at Prettygate Baptist Church in Colchester, for providing this collection and sharing his research with me for my work in the Spurgeon Library (Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Kansas City).

[6] James J. Ellis, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Lives that Speak (London: James Nisbet, 1891), 15. Also, Pike quotes from The Wesleyan Times, 1864, that James Spurgeon Sr. was “recommended to a gentleman at Finchingfield [Essex] to learn the combined business of grocer and linen draper,” G. Holden Pike, The Life and Work of Charles Haddon Spurgeon (London: Cassell & Company, 1894), 3:81.

[7] See Chelmsford Chronicle, 17 March 1843. The newspaper reported on Samuel Spurgeon’s wedding and identified him as “grocer and tea dealer, third son of Rev. Jas. Spurgeon, of Stambourn.” For James Junior, see William White, History, Gazetteer, and Directory of the County of Essex (Sheffield: R. Leader, 1848), which lists him as a “shopkeeper” at Stambourne.

[8] For example, Pike writes, “Mr. and Mrs. John Spurgeon did not remain long at Kelvedon. In or about April, 1835, they gave up their village home in order to settle at Colchester as a more convenient centre for their business, and where some of their family connections appear to have resided … soon after he had completed his first year he went to reside with his paternal grandparents at Stambourne.” Pike, The Life and Work of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, 1:7.

[9] Pike records the following recollection from John Spurgeon: “It has been said that Charles was brought up by his grandfather and grandmother. The fact is, that my father and mother came to see us when Charles was a baby of fourteen months old. They took him to stay with them, and he remained with them until he was between four and five years of age. Then he came home to Colchester where I was then residing.” Pike, The Life and Work of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, 1:7. In a letter to the mayor of Colchester, Spurgeon states that he lived with his father in Colchester from 1840 to 1849, which would mean he was living with his grandfather from 1835 to 1840. The Essex Standard, 6 February 1892, 5.

[10] Ellis, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, 15. Ellis was a former student of Spurgeon’s and was personally acquainted with Spurgeon’s son Charles and sister Caroline. Both read his biography and gave their input prior to publication. It is possible that Ellis obtained this information through them.

[11] W. Miller Higgs, The Spurgeon Family: Being an Account of the Descent and Family of Charles Haddon Spurgeon with Notes on the Family in General, Particularly the Essex Branch (London: Elliot Stock, 1906), viii. There is a handwritten note in the margin from C. H. Spurgeon confirming his father’s handwriting.

[12] Chelmsford Chronicle, 17 February 1837.

[13] Chelmsford Chronicle, 3 January 1834.

[14] Chelmsford Chronicle, 22 May 1840.

[15] The Essex Herald contains an advertisement of the sale of a “Grocery, Linen Drapery and General Shopkeeping” business in Kelvedon by a T. Spurgeon (the “T” instead of a “J” is likely a typo). Essex Herald, 18 August 18 1835, 1. One month later, in September of 1835, there is another advertisement for “a stout active LAD, as an APPRENTICE to the Grocery, Linen Drapery, and General Shopkeeping Businesses, in a Dissenting family.” Essex Herald, 8 September 1835, 1.

[16] Chelmsford Chronicle, 6 January 1837.

[17] Chelmsford Chronicle, 17 February 1837, 1. James Spurgeon’s inclusion in the suit indicates that he had likely backed John in this venture.

[18] Indenture Papers, 14 March 1837, Essex Record Office.

[19] Indenture Papers, 14 March 1837, Essex Record Office.

[20] Chelmsford Chronicle, 25–26 January 1837.

[21] Chelmsford Chronicle, 17 March 1837.

[22] Indenture Papers, 14 March 1837, Essex Record Office.

[23] Chelmsford Chronicle, 8 September 1837.

[24] Peter Tervet, “Spurgeon’s Family—A Tale of Ruin and Rescue,” SBHS Newsletter, June 2019, 5–9.

[25] C. H. Spurgeon, C. H. Spurgeon’s Autobiography: Compiled from His Diary, Letters, and Records, by His Wife, and His Private Secretary (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1897), 1:40.

[26] The author can verify this from personal experience.

[27] Janet Cooper, A History of the County of Essex (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), 9:345–46.

[28] Henry Spyvee, Colchester Baptist Church—The First 300 Years, 1689–1989 (Colchester: Technique House, 1989), 53.

[29] For an account of Davids’s ordination service, see James A. Tabor, A Brief History of the Independent Church Assembling in the Lion Walk Colchester from 1641 to 1861 (Colchester, 1861), 55. For an account of Langford’s ordination service, see Spyvee, Colchester Baptist Church—The First 300 Years, 53.

[30] Autobiography, 1:357.

[31] Eliza joined first on June 30, 1843. John joined on September 1, 1843. See Lion Walk Minute Books, 30 June 1843 and 1 September 1843, Essex Record Office.

[32] A professor from Spurgeon’s early years recalls, “He had a wonderful memory for passages of oratory which he admired, and used to pour forth to me with great gusto, in our walks, long screeds from open-air addresses of a very rousing description, which he had heard delivered at Colchester Fair, by the Congregational minister, Mr. Davids.” Autobiography, 1:54.

[33] Spurgeon would later describe the experience of sitting “under a legal preacher who did but increase our pain, and aggravate our woe.” C. H. Spurgeon, The Saint and His Saviour: The Progress of the Soul in the Knowledge of Jesus (Pasadena, TX: Pilgrim Publications, 1970), 100.

[34] “When, for the first time, I received the gospel to my soul’s salvation, I thought that I had never really heard it before, and I began to think that the preachers to whom I had listened had not truly preached it.” Autobiography, 1:102.

[35] Spurgeon, The Saint and His Saviour, 100.

[36] “In September the question was raised in a Church Meeting as to why the use of the pulpit had been denied to Mr. John Spurgeon, a member of the Church, who had asked for it in order that his son, the Rev Charles Spurgeon, might preach on behalf of the Independent Church at Tollesbury. A Committee was appointed and reported that they could not elicit who was responsible for the refusal, but expressed their regret that such a course was adopted.” E. Alec Blaxill, The History of Lion Walk Congregational Church, Colchester (Colchester: Benham & Company, 1938), 42. See also Lion Walk Meeting Minutes, 29 September 1858, Essex Record Office.

[37] Autobiography, 1:102–3.

[38] Blaxill, The History of Lion Walk Congregational Church, 33.

[39] Blaxill, The History of Lion Walk Congregational Church, 42.

[40] Blaxill, The History of Lion Walk Congregational Church, 33.

[41] Blaxill, The History of Lion Walk Congregational Church, 33.

[42] Blaxill, The History of Lion Walk Congregational Church, 120.

[43] Blaxill, The History of Lion Walk Congregational Church, 185.

[44] C. H. Spurgeon, The Sword and the Trowel; A Record of Combat with Sin & Labour for the Lord (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1869): 49–57. Hereafter, this work will be referenced to as S&T.

[45] R. Tudur Jones, Congregationalism in England 1662–1962 (London: Independent Press, 1962), 188–94.

[46] Tabor, A Brief History, 60.

[47] Deryck W. Lovegrove, Established Church, Sectarian People: Itinerancy and the Transformation of English Dissent, 1780–1830 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 14.

[48] Tabor, A Brief History, 60.

[49] Tabor, A Brief History, 60.

[50] Autobiography, 1:69.

[51] “I have a distinct remembrance of a mission-room, where my father frequently preached.” Autobiography, 1:43.

[52] Tollesbury Independent Chapel Minute Book, 1 March 1850, Essex Record Office.

[53] Tabor, A Brief History, 60–67.

[54] Minutes from Sunday-School Teachers’ Quarterly Meeting, Lion Walk, 6 April 1852, Essex Record Office.

[55] Peter Morden, Communion with Christ and His People: The Spirituality of C. H. Spurgeon (Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2013), 24.

[56] Charles Ray, The Life of Spurgeon (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1903), 27, 36.

[57] There is no record of the date of Spurgeon’s first sermon. Christian George believes it took place in August 1850. This is unlikely given that he had only arrived in Cambridge in August 1850 (Autobiography, 1:186), and he did not join the St. Andrew’s until October. After joining the church, it would have taken some time for James Vinter to notice young Spurgeon’s teaching abilities and “invite” him to preach. Since the first sermon that we have in the Lost Sermons takes place on February 9, 1851, it seems more likely that Spurgeon began to preach in January 1851. The Lost Sermons of C. H. Spurgeon, ed. Christian George, Jason Duesing, and Geoffrey Chang (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2016–2021), 1:xxxvi. Hereafter this work will be referenced as LS. Also, see Autobiography, 1:38. Spurgeon dates the beginning of his preaching at the age of “sixteen and a half years old.”

[58] Autobiography, 1:201.

[59] During an anniversary celebration, one deacon listed 66 evangelistic and benevolent institutions connected with the ministry of the Metropolitan Tabernacle. See C. H. Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle: Its History and Work (Pasadena, TX: Pilgrim Publications, 1990), 2:7–8.

[60] The first written sermon outline we have from Spurgeon is the fourth sermon he preached. LS 1:77.

[61] LS 1:64–65.

[62] LS 1:231.

[63] As it turned out, those arrangements fell through. Autobiography, 1:241–42.

[64] Autobiography, 1:244–45.

[65] Christian George’s claim that these sermons are, in his opinion, “his best sermons yet” is, in my opinion, a stretch. “The Story Behind the Lost Sermons of C. H. Spurgeon,” Challies, 13 March 2017,

[66] C. H. Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit: Sermons Preached and Revised by C. H. Spurgeon (Pasadena, TX: Pilgrim Publications, 1970–2006), 12:412–13. Hereafter, this will be referenced as MTP.

[67] A survey of the indices of the Lost Sermons shows the many theological influences that Christian George has detected in Spurgeon’s early sermons.

[68] “Pen and Ink Sketches; No. IV.—The Rev. C. H. Spurgeon,” The Baptist Messenger (1855): 53–54.

[69] Autobiography, 1:247.

[70] MTP 45:270–71. See also C. H. Spurgeon, “A Brief Note About Plagiarism,” S&T (1891): 178.

[71] “Borrowed sermons—pages of other people’s experience—fragments pulled from old or new divines—nothing of their own, nothing that God ever said to them, nothing that ever thrilled their hearts or swayed their souls,—God will not own such teaching as this.” MTP 42:180.

[72] Robert W. Oliver, History of the English Calvinistic Baptists, 1771–1892 (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2006), 313.

[73] LS 6:509–13.

[74] Autobiography, 1:240.

[75] The Baptist position of open membership allows those who have a credible profession of faith to join the church even if they have only received an infant baptism. A closed membership position, on the other hand, would require all members to be baptized as believers prior to joining the church.

[76] For two examples, see LS 5:95–99, 377–86.

[77] J. H. Y. Briggs, The English Baptists of the 19th Century (Didcot: The Baptist Historical Society, 1994), 22–30.

Geoffrey Chang

Geoff Chang is assistant professor of historical theology and curator of the Spurgeon Library at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri.

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