On August 2, 1905, Thomas Spurgeon, the son of the late Prince of Preachers, spoke into an Edison-Bell phonograph. His father had died nearly 15 years earlier in January of 1892 barely into the final decade of the 19th century. A new century had dawned since the death of Charles Spurgeon. Times were progressing, fashion styles altering, and inventions galore were coming to fruition. His father preached with no amplification or means for recording to 6,000 people every Sunday for 30 years. But there sat Thomas Spurgeon, the new pastor of Metropolitan Tabernacle, in front of a device that would record his own preaching voice for those of us to hear even today, granting him an opportunity his father never had.
Charles wore a thick beard; Thomas a bushy mustache. Father Spurgeon possessed a dynamic personality; son Spurgeon more mellow. Nevertheless, the pastoral mantle had been passed to Thomas Spurgeon through the eminent Arthur Tappan Pierson. History knows him as A.T. Pierson. During his days of intense sickness in 1891, Charles Spurgeon asked Pierson to preach in his stead. After Spurgeon’s death at the beginning of 1892 the people of Metropolitan Tabernacle asked Pierson to stay on, which he did for two years. Following this, Thomas Spurgeon tried to fill the shoes of his father, returning to his native England to stand behind the same sacred desk he heard countless sermons from throughout his life.
Thomas sat up straight in his chair anxiously awaiting his introduction as the son of Charles Spurgeon. He studied the manner and technique by which the man before him spoke into the Edison-Bell phonograph. He swallowed hard and took a deep breath, his spreading mustache, already beginning to gray, drooped over the sides of his bottom lip. He would only live to be four years older than his father when he died (61)–both Spurgeons given over to poor health. Such poor health forced Thomas, under doctor’s orders, to live abroad in warmer climates for many years before beginning his pastorate at the historic Metropolitan Tabernacle.
While his father had worn the common western tie of the Victorian era, Thomas was a man of his own times preferring to wear the more modern necktie, yet he still dawned a frock coat similar to his father’s. Somewhat slight compared to the heavier Charles, resemblances were not scant. The hair loosely combed back (Thomas with a little less wave than his father), one eyebrow raising to a point in the middle, and the puffy circles under the eyes- the swolleness of the right more pronounced on both Spurgeons- giving the appearance of their right eyes being smaller than their left eyes. The only noticeable difference in the two was Thomas’ distinctive cleft chin.
Thomas’ turn to speak finally came. As he opened his mouth to speak into the phonograph he read from the final printed version of the final paragraph of his father’s final sermon. For all the physical similarities between the older and younger Spurgeon, those who sat under both Charles’ and Thomas’ preaching said you could close your eyes and think it was Charles Spurgeon speaking, their voices being almost indistinguishable. Not possessing the theatrical oratory flair of his father, Thomas still articulated his thoughts smoothly and convincingly.
With slow and deliberate enunciation, Thomas began:
“Depend upon it, you will either serve Satan or Christ, either self or the Saviour. You will find sin, self, Satan, and the world to be hard masters; but if you wear the livery of Christ, you will find him so meek and lowly of heart that you will find rest unto your souls. He is the most magnanimous of captains. There never was his like among the choicest of princes. He is always to be found in the thickest part of the battle. When the wind blows cold he always takes the bleak side of the hill. The heaviest end of the cross lies ever on his shoulders. If he bids us carry a burden, he carries it also. If there is anything that is gracious, generous, kind, and tender, yea lavish and superabundant in love, you always find it in him. These forty years and more have I served him, blessed be his name! and I have had nothing but love from him. I would be glad to continue yet another forty years in the same dear service here below if so it pleased him. His service is life, peace, joy. Oh, that you would enter on it at once! God help you to enlist under the banner of Jesus even this day! Amen.”
Charles Spurgeon had no way of knowing that he’d be preaching his last sermon on June 7, 1891, nor did those in his beloved congregation. Not a novice to bad health, Spurgeon’s last year was particularly difficult. The last two decades of health issues, which had kept him confined to his bed for days on end, finally took their toll on this old warrior of the Lord. Shortly after preaching his last sermon he traveled to the French Riviera in southeast France to rest, but died the following January in 1892. He was only 57. But Spurgeon labored long days full of God’s grace and power. He redeemed the time God gave him on this earth.
The streets were lined the day of his funeral all the way to Norwood Cemetery where he was laid to rest. Crowds stood in front of closed shops and pubs. Time stood still for the man who redeemed every moment God gave him. The children of Spurgeon’s orphanage stood or sat on a raised platform accompanied with uncontrollable crying. A London newspaper said that one could have searched the city high and low and not found one woman not dressed in black. For their part, every man for miles took his hat off in respect with gestures of deep mourning. More than 60,000 people in total attended his funeral in London. At the cemetery Dr. Archibald G. Brown, a close friend of Spurgeon and considered one of his mighty soldiers, delivered a eulogy that began with:
“Champion of God, thy battle, long and nobly fought, is over; thy sword, which clave to thy hand, has dropped at last: a palm branch takes it place. No longer does the helmet press thy brow, oft weary with its surging thoughts of battle; a victor’s wreath from the great Commander’s hand has already proved thy full reward. Here, for a little while, shall rest thy precious dust. Then shall thy Well-beloved come; and at His voice thou shalt spring from thy couch of earth, fashioned like unto His body, into glory.”
We’ve all heard it said of someone with extraordinary character that he doesn’t need a preacher at his funeral because his life spoke for itself. If ever this was true, twas true of Charles Haddon Spurgeon. One eyewitness said, “What a lesson that Bible-decked coffin preached to its tens of thousands as it passed through their midst!” Indeed, the Bible opened on top of Spurgeon’s coffin was opened to Isaiah 45:22, “Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth!” This was the same text that led to Spurgeon’s salvation that snowy Sunday when God sovereignly, and quite literally, redirected his steps as he stumbled into the Primitive Methodist church on Artillery Street in an English village and heard an inferior sermon by an uneducated laymen. Others could preach the gospel better perhaps, but nobody could preach a better gospel. And though his own grandfather, whom he lived with a great part of his childhood was a pastor, as well as his own father, Spurgeon was not saved until that wintery day as a young teenager. The Spirit inspired words of Isaiah 45 that God used to raise Spurgeon to spiritual life were the last words seen from the open Bible by the bystanders as his coffin was lowered in the grave.
The salvation of God permeated Spurgeon’s sermons. He preached Christ unashamedly, purposely, and convincingly. That was his theme no matter the text. He pointed others to the Captain of salvation urging sinners to run to Christ Jesus to be rescued from looming destruction. He stood for the deity of Christ during the Downgrade Controversy (among other things) and paid for it–even receiving opposition from those in his own extended family. He experienced the pain of a cruel provocation during a Sunday sermon that saw many of his own congregation trampled to their deaths when someone falsely yelled “Fire!” when there was none. So startled by the suddenness of the event, this sturdy soldier of body and mind collapsed on the scene in despair for the perishing souls and had to be carried from the pulpit.
Spurgeon indeed was a brave soldier of the Lord. It was fitting therefore that the text of his last sermon from London’s Metropolitan Tabernacle was I Samuel 30, which records the account of David returning with his men to Ziklag to find their city burnt with fire from their enemy, the Amalekites. Though the lives of their wives and children were spared, they had been taken into Amalekite captivity. His men were so enraged that they turned on David himself wanting to stone him to death. But David strengthened himself in the Lord and went on a counteroffensive to recapture the women and children. He took with him 600 men total, but just prior to crossing over a brook for the kill 200 stayed behind too exhausted to carry on into battle. I Samuel 30:19 says, “Nothing was missing, whether small or great, sons or daughters, spoil or anything that had been taken. David brought back all.”
When the victorious soldiers returned to Ziklag, the men who followed David into battle didn’t want those not crossing the brook with them to receive any of the spoil. But David intervened declaring, “For as his share is who goes down into the battle, so shall his share be who stays by the baggage. They shall share alike. And he made it a statute and a rule for Israel from that day forward to this day” (I Samuel 30:24-25).
In this last sermon, Spurgeon pointed to David as a type of Christ and said:
“We are all one in Christ Jesus. Surely this ought to comfort those of you who, by reason of feebleness, are made to feel as if you were inferior members of the body”. Spurgeon showed that David attributed recovery of their families to the Lord and drew this conclusion: “If it is all of free grace, then, my poor struggling brother, who can hardly feel assured that you are saved, yet if you are a believer, you may claim every blessing of the Lord’s gracious covenant…Christ, the Son of David, is the most magnanimous of captains.”
Spurgeon’s concluding words of his final sermon on June 7, 1891, read by his son Thomas, serve as a fitting summary of his consistent message from the pulpit. Calling sinners to his Lord was Spurgeon’s expository genius. Love for his Savior was the heart of Spurgeon’s life. If he could live all over, he would make it all about Christ again both in his sermons and life. Such a Christ-centered vision should be that of every one of God’s children. For we are all united to our Captain and receive the gracious spoils of the war Christ won over sin and Satan on our behalf. Since the day he met the Captain of his salvation–fittingly on Artillery Street–and entered the Christian battle, Spurgeon lived by faith that the battle indeed belonged to the Lord. He fought the good fight and finished his course. He fought with the confidence that Satan is no match against the force of God’s “artillery”. To borrow Spurgeon’s final words from the pulpit, Christ is “the most magnanimous of captains.” Let us all fight the good fight of faith just as Spurgeon did until our Captain returns to take us home.