I got started late on Christian biographies, and I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to catch up. I love novels for their artistry, well-told history for its heroism, and Christian devotionals for the insights they give me into my own soul. You’d think I’d have perceived early on that a good biography combines the best elements of all of these. Call me a slow learner.
Though I hadn’t read an official biography of Spurgeon until now, I’ve feasted on his sermons, devotionals, and commentaries for my entire adult life. Still, when I read Anrold Dallimore’s stirring and accessible biography, Spurgeon, I was overwhelmed. I’m still wondering if there were in fact 10 men who pulled off a colossal prank by attributing all of their combined efforts to one man and calling him Charles Haddon Spurgeon. Some books tell of how the Lord uses ordinary men. But Spurgeon was not ordinary. His giftedness was a marvel. He was indeed “The Prince of Preachers.” And a loving pastor. And an exceptional writer (though a good friend told him early on that he’d have to choose between the two; thank the Lord he did not!). And a gifted evangelist. And a remarkable reader. And a careful theologian. And a loving husband. And an effective father. And a tremendous administrator. And a tireless visionary. And a selfless contender for the faith. And an insatiable giver. It’s difficult to list (much less comprehend) all the irons he had in the fire. They included a pastor’s college, orphanages, publishing efforts, Sunday schools, church plants, missionary endeavors, diligent personal correspondence, and almost perpetual preaching appointments. Even a man with as far-reaching a ministry as D. L. Moody marveled at Spurgeon, even declining the initial invitation to preach in his pulpit because he felt so unworthy.
Spurgeon spent and was spent in gospel ministry. He was unfairly maligned, especially during the “Downgrade Controversy.” He felt the barbs acutely—large hearts carry deep wounds. But despite chronic suffering—emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual—he didn’t succumb to bitterness. He died as he lived, with a warm and worn heart. His life was summarized capably by Archibald Brown’s remarks at his graveside service:
“Beloved President, faithful Pastor, Prince of Preachers, brother beloved, dear Spurgeon—we bid thee not “Farewell,” but only for a little while “Goodnight.” Thou shalt rise soon at the first dawn of the Resurrection day of the redeemed. Yet is the goodnight not ours to bid, but thine; it is we who linger in the darkness; thou art in God’s holy light. Our night shall soon be passed, and with it all our weeping. Then, with thine, our songs shall greet the morning of a day that knows no cloud nor close; for there is no night there.
Hard worker in the field, thy toil is ended. Straight has been the furrow thou hast ploughed. No looking back has marred thy course. Harvests have followed thy patient sowing, and heaven is already rich with thine ingathered sheaves, and shall still be enriched through the years yet lying in eternity.
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. Then spirit, soul, and body shall magnify the Lord’s redemption. Until then, beloved, sleep. We praise God for thee, and by the blood of the everlasting covenant, hope and expect to praise God with thee. Amen.”
Dallimore efficiently tells of these efforts, making liberal use of several other biographies. It’s a good story told well. I commend it to you. But I warn you: it will make you feel small and selfish. Which probably isn’t a bad thing.
Aside 1: I was thrilled to hear 10 teens from TCBC give reports to our body on missionary biographies they’re reading as part of their qualifications for an upcoming missions exposure trip. Joe Tyrpak interviewed them for us, “Donahue style.” It was a great blessing. Pastors and parents, get young people talking to great men and women of the past early!
Aside 2: My appetite for biographies has been greatly increased by John Piper’s hour-long biography lectures, which are available here.
Aside 3: For more on Spurgeon, including a vast online library of his writings, check out Phil Johnson’s spurgeon.org.