The Means by which Churches were Planted
Before he died, Charles Spurgeon participated in the establishment of nearly 200 churches in and around London. Of course, he wasn’t alone; with his encouragement, many others acted directly in the effort. In this second instalment, we investigate three places where Spurgeon found help in the work of church planting.
A Sacrificial Church
The folks at the Metropolitan Tabernacle carried their pastor’s burden for church planting and made it a reality through their sacrifice. Before the Tabernacle was even completed, Spurgeon encouraged them to think more broadly,
“We must build this Tabernacle strongly, I am sure, for our friends are always with us….But our desire is, after we have fitted up our vestry, schools and other rooms, that we shall be able to build other chapels.”
One expression of their participation came through their giving. Again, Spurgeon challenged them to stretch forth in faith, while at the same time commending them for their dedication to the work:
“Cheerfully you give week after week for the support of our young ministers, and I think our friends will continue to do this. At any rate the Lord will provide, and friends far away may be moved to assist us. I want still more aid, for the field is ripe and we want more harvest men to reap it. It grows, the thing grows, every day it increases, it started but as a little flake of snow, and now like an avalanche it sweeps the Alps’ sides bare before its tremendous force. I would not now that ye should prove unworthy of the day in which ye live, or the work to which God has called us as a church. Four churches of Christ have sprung of our loins in one year, and the next year shall it not be the same, and the next, and the next, if the Holy Ghost be with us, and He has promised to be with us if we be with Him.”
Perhaps a more significant and sacrificial expression of the church’s commitment to church planting came through sending out the best of the church to establish other churches. A recent biography noted that “Spurgeon encouraged his people to be out carrying the gospel on Sundays. During his career he frequently arranged to have a group of members leave the Tabernacle to start a new church, and often one of the prominent men of the Tabernacle went with them to provide leadership” (Dallimore, Spurgeon: A New Biography, 1984). On one occasion, 250 of the church people went away into a new church start.
How the church delighted Spurgeon by their missionary zeal! One church member described his encouragement thus, “The Pastor was always pleased when such a battalion left the main army to carry on operations elsewhere.” Spurgeon said,
“It is with cheerfulness that we dismiss our twelves, our twenties, our fifties to form other churches. We encourage our members to leave us to found other churches; nay, we seek to persuade them to do it. We ask them to scatter throughout the land, to become the goodly seed which God shall bless. I believe that so long as we do this, we shall prosper. I have marked other churches that have adopted the other way, and they have not succeeded.”
The Pastor’s College
Spurgeon was 22 years old when he founded the Pastor’s College. Out of his desire to see men prepared to preach the everlasting gospel to a lost world, nearly 900 pastors and evangelists during his lifetime owed their training to the college.
Almost 200 new churches were planted in Britain by the graduates. Dallimore remarks that by 1866, “in London alone the Spurgeon men had formed eighteen new churches...Preaching was carried on at another seven stations, and the plans were that in each of those a church would shortly be organized.”
Of that work, Spurgeon was more than just a figurehead. He participated intimately and sacrificially to see these churches started. Dallimore again states, “Mention has been made of the work of the College students in bringing new churches into being. In all those efforts Spurgeon took a vital interest, giving toward them himself, raising money for them at the Tabernacle, and obtaining helpers for the students from among his people.”
The London Baptist Association
When Spurgeon was 31, he and two other ministerial friends, Charles Brock and William Landels, established the London Baptist Association. The primary purpose for launching the association was the sharing and promoting of the gospel of Jesus Christ. They aimed to plant one new Baptist church per year in London or the surrounding towns. During the first eleven years, sixty-two new churches were founded, fifty-three as a direct result of help from Spurgeon’s students at the Pastor’s College.
Certainly, God blessed the church planting efforts of Spurgeon and his colleagues. The evidence is all around, and much fruit remains to this day. Lest we be tempted to make excuses for the thinness of blessing in our day and speak of how things were different in those days, let us hear the passion and love for God and the lost evident in Spurgeon’s own words, and then ask God to give us that burden too:
“If sinners will be damned, at least let them leap to hell over our bodies. And if they will perish, let them perish with our arms about their knees, imploring them to stay. If hell must be filled, at least let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go there unwarned and unprayed for.”
“Every true Christian should be exceedingly earnest in prayer concerning the souls of the ungodly, and when they are so, how abundantly God blesses them, and how much the church prospers. But beloved, souls may be damned, yet how few of you care about them! Sinners may sink into perdition, yet how few tears are shed over them! The whole world may be swept away by a torrent down the precipice of woe, yet how few really cry to God on its behalf. How few men say, ‘Oh that my head were waters and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I may weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!’ We do not lament before God the loss of men’s souls, as it well becomes Christians to do.”
“Oh, minister of the gospel! stand for one moment and bethink thyself of thy poor fellow creatures! See them like a stream, rushing to eternity-ten thousand to their endless home each solemn moment fly! See the termination of that stream, that tremendous cataract which dashes streams of souls into the pit!
Oh, minister, bethink thyself that men are being damned each hour by thousands, and that each time thy pulse beats another soul lifts up its eyes in hell, being in torments; bethink thyself how men are speeding on their way to destruction, how “the love of many waxeth cold” and “iniquity doth abound.” I say, is there not a necessity laid upon thee? Is it not woe unto thee if thou preachest not the gospel?”