23 February 2008
Spurgeon and Church Planting (part one)
Anyone who attends TRC for any length of time will soon become familiar with the name of C. H. Spurgeon, pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle in Southwark during the latter part of the 19th century. An earlier post to this blog outlined Spurgeon’s significant role in the establishment of TRC as a gospel witness in Upper Tooting, London.
Lest one think that TRC was some prized jewel to Spurgeon, it must be said that several other churches share a similar story to TRC’s. These excerpts from various documents provide a snapshot of the breadth of Spurgeon’s church-planting efforts:
“Enfield Baptist church was founded with help from C. H. Spurgeon in 1867, when services were held in a room over the Rising Sun, Church Street.” “Totteridge Road church was opened with help from Spurgeon in 1868.” “Hornchurch Baptist church: In 1877 the members of the mission formed a church…they sought the help of Spurgeon, who sent students from his Baptist college at the Metropolitan Tabernacle.” “Westminster Baptist Church: Spurgeon preached at the stone-laying and gave £100 to the building fund.” And another church had this record: “Closed 1865, but reopened same year by C.H. Spurgeon.”
Estimates of upwards of two hundred churches were started by Spurgeon, the people of the Metropolitan Tabernacle and the men of the Pastor’s college. In London alone, Spurgeon claimed that over forty churches were started.
A Burdened Pastor
In an address in 1882, Spurgeon revealed his passion for planting churches began early in his London ministry,
Years ago, when I had newly commenced my ministry, I felt a burden from the Lord laid upon me; and this was the nature of it, — I was bound over not only to preach the gospel myself, but to see that others were helped to do the same. In Paul’s word to Timothy I found my own pastoral charge: “Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.” (See 2 Timothy 2. 1, 2.)
A Challenged Church
After eighteen months of being with his new congregation at New Park Street Baptist in London, Spurgeon challenged his church
Now, my dear hearers, one word with you. There are some persons in this audience who are verily guilty in the sight of God because they do not preach the gospel. I cannot think out of the fifteen hundred or two thousand persons now present, within the reach of my voice, there are none who are qualified to preach the gospel besides myself....This is a very serious question. If there be any talent in the Church at Park Street, let it be developed. If there be any preachers in my congregation let them preach.... I have preached this sermon especially, because I want to commence a movement from this place which shall reach others. I want to find some in my church, if it be possible, who will preach the gospel. And mark you; if you have talent and power, woe is unto you if you preach not the gospel.
A Remarkable Start
Spurgeon’s first church plant occurred in East Hill, Wandsworth in 1859, when he was just twenty-five. In an appeal for funds to assist in erecting its building, Spurgeon told how the church plant began,
When I was sore sick some three years or more ago, I walked about to recover strength, and walking through the town of Wandsworth, I thought “How few attend a place of worship here. Here are various Churches, but there is ample room for one of our own faith and order, something must be done.” I thought “If I could start a man here preaching the Word, what good might be done.” The next day, some four friends from the town called to see me, one a Baptist, and the three others were desirous of baptism, “Would I come there and form a Church?” We took the large rooms at a tavern, and preaching has been carried on there ever since. Beginning with four, the Church has increased to one hundred and fifty.
In May 1863 Spurgeon joyfully opened their new chapel, capable of accommodating nearly 700 persons, and costing £3,000, towards which he contributed a considerable amount.
A Shared Passion
At the ceremony of laying the first stone at the Metropolitan Tabernacle on August 16, 1859, Spurgeon opened his heart before the many gathered and made a startling revelation of his earnestness in seeing churches started. After mentioning that the Park Street chapel would remain under the direction of the church and two elders would conduct regular services there, Spurgeon pronounced,
God sparing my life, if I have my people at my back I will not rest until the dark county of Surrey be covered with places of worship. I look on this as the beginning of the end. I announce my own schemes: visionary they may appear, but carried out they will be. It is only within the last six months that we have started two churches — one in Wandsworth and the other in Greenwich, and the Lord has prospered them. The pool of baptism has been stirred with converts. And what we have done in two places I am about to do in a third, and we will do it not for the third or the fourth, but for the hundredth time, God being our helper. I am sure I may make my strongest appeal to my brethren because we do not mean to build this as our nest, and then to be lazy. We must go from strength to strength, and be a missionary church, and never rest until not only this neighbourhood, but our country, of which it is said that some parts are as dark as India, shall have been enlightened with the gospel.
A Wider Appeal
In his eighth year of ministry in London, Spurgeon spoke these words:
I have constantly letters like this, “Sir, I live in a village where the gospel is not preached ....cannot you do something for us? You have many young men training for the ministry, could you not send a friend to preach in my drawing room?” Then comes another — “Sir, the chapel has been shut up in our village a long time, could you not come and help us?” This happens every week, and your minister feels that as long as ever he has a man, he will say, “I will do it for you;” and as long as he has any money of his own he will say, “Oh, yes, I will do it for you;” but every now and then he wishes that he had some who would stand by him in larger attempts.
Sharing the Work
It goes without saying that Spurgeon was but one man and that he wasn’t the sole labourer behind the planting of upwards of two hundred churches in his lifetime. There were four key places Spurgeon found assistance—his own church, other ministries, the Pastor’s College and the London Baptist Association. More will be said about this, Lord willing, in another post.