Chapter 11: Spurgeon’s College
MR. SPURGEON spoke of his college as his “first-born and best beloved.” “This is my life’s work, to which I believe God has called me,” he said at another time, “and therefore I must do it. To preach the Gospel myself, and to train others to do it, is my life’s object and aim.” It has often been debated whether in the name he gave his college the apostrophe should come before the final “s” or after it; whether he intended it to be “The Pastor’s College” or “The Pastors’ College”; the college appertaining to the pastor, or the college for the training of pastors. Doubtless it was the first; the personal tie was its chief distinction. The college centred in Spurgeon; his helpers did well in the training of the men, but he was the life and inspiration of it all. It was not the Tabernacle College, much less the Metropolitan College, as it is now named in The Baptist Handbook. It was Spurgeon’s own, and is now known as Spurgeon’s College. It is doing excellent work along Spurgeon’s lines.
Spurgeon introduced a new directness in preaching, and he communicated it to his students. He taught them to speak plainly and to articulate clearly. Dr. Binney had prepared the way; Spurgeon followed, and attracted many others to his standard. Dr. Vaughan tells us that before Spurgeon’s day “the great object of educated preachers” had been “to acquit themselves learnedly, or to acquit themselves elegantly.” Carlyle said that “the most enthusiastic evangelists did not preach a gospel, but keep describing how it should and might be preached.”
“Suddenly a change sprang up,” said a great London paper. “Numbers of young men, inspired by the teaching of Mr. Spurgeon, went out into the villages and hamlets, preaching a crusade against indifference. Eyed contemptuously by the dignitaries of the Church, and coldly by the leaders of Dissent, they were yet warmly received by the people to whom they appealed. The preachers were ‘hot gospelers,’ it is true, but they spoke the language of the heart. The pathos of the unlettered sermons, the wild melody of the tunes they taught the people, their palpable sincerity, their undying zeal, soon attracted the villagers in throngs, and excited everywhere curiosity on the part of those—Churchmen and Dissenters alike—who considered themselves as the regular depositories of the Gospel. The movement spread; young men, hearing of the success which had already attended those who had first taken the field, went out in shoals; and there was very soon not a village but had its local preacher, or a hamlet that could not boast its tiny meetinghouse.
“Fired by the example of the peripatetic preachers and of the young disciples of Mr. Spurgeon, who, proceeding from his college, have baptised right and left the converts to their views, the old-fashioned Nonconformist minister has roused himself to greater activity, and bestirred himself to maintain the position that was, for the moment, imperiled.”
It all began quite naturally. A young man—Thomas William Medhurst—was converted by Spurgeon’s ministry, and at once began to preach. Through his preaching two members were added to New Park Street Chapel, and this led Mr. Spurgeon to suggest that he should prepare himself for pastoral work. Accordingly, in July, 1855, he was sent to a collegiate school at Bexley Heath. Once a week he spent several hours with Spurgeon, and on March 21, 1857, he took up residence with the Rev. George Rogers of Albany Road, Camberwell, a Congregational minister, who afterwards became the Principal of The Pastor’s College.
On September 22, 1855, Mr. Spurgeon wrote a letter to him in which occurs the following prophetic sentence: “I have been thinking that when you are gone out into the vineyard, I must find another to be my dearly loved Timothy, just as you are.”
Soon after his studies started, the first student became temporary pastor of a church at Kingston-on-Thames, Mr. Spurgeon arranging that, in addition to the amount Medhurst was receiving for his services, he should be paid what was being expended on his tuition at Bexley Heath. At the end of the first quarter this money was offered by Mr. Spurgeon to the student, with the remark that the deacons would not have given that extra if it had not been put in that way to them. Medhurst would not take the money, so the second student was installed.
“The work did not begin out of any scheme,” Mr. Spurgeon said. “It grew out of necessity.” The importance he attached to adequate training for the ministry may be judged by the sacrifices he made to secure it.
G. Holden Pike said, “When we think of a young man who had recently married, who was still under twenty-three years of age, devoting a main part of his means to such service, his wife in the meantime practising the most rigorous economy in the household in order to enable him to do it, we shall not doubt his enthusiasm.”
It was said of him at the time, “He is not by any means the foe of learning, but he is more the friend of souls,” and it was this love for the souls of men that he sought by word and example to instill into his disciples. He said to his own students often what he once said to those at Cheshunt College: “You are preparing for the ministry, but do not wait till you have entered it—you may never live to do that. Win your highest honour, secure your best diploma now. Begin with speed, with fire, with learning and live to save men now.” I sought to follow his advice and preached with some frequency while I was in college. When objection was taken to this course, Spurgeon one day said to me that that was just what he himself had done; what he learned during the day he preached in the evening, and those who poured cold water on my efforts were little aware that he was pouring on oil.
The breadth of his sympathy may be inferred from the fact that he had a paedobaptist as principal—and many a friendly tirade those two have had on the subject of baptism. His adherence to principle may be gauged by the crest he chose for the college, a hand grasping a cross, with the motto “Et teneo, et teneor.”
The number of students grew apace. In 1861 he had twenty, the next year thirty-nine, the year following sixty-six, and in some subsequent years there were more than a hundred. In addition, evening classes were initiated for those in business, and these were attended by numbers varying from a hundred to two hundred. In 1863 the income of the college rose to £4,400. Sometimes funds were low, and on one occasion Mr. Spurgeon offered to sell his carriage and horses to sustain the effort. But the college commanded increasing confidence, so that in 1866 it had a third of the students in the nine Baptist colleges in the kingdom and a third of the income.
It was, of course, objected that too many men were being turned out and that many of them were of inferior quality, to which the president responded that “the muffs are the men who will preach; if you do not educate them they will be worse than ever.” He was quite content if he could get one first-class man out of every eight. The result has been that many of the most useful and distinguished men of his denomination have been Spurgeon’s men. There have only been two students received into the college who were not Baptists. At his death in 1892, nearly nine hundred men had been trained for the ministry.
They came to him from all parts of the kingdom—one walked all the way from the Highlands of Scotland—and gradually they arrived from all parts of the world. On one occasion there were two young men applicants for the college, and he put the same questions to both as to the other man’s qualifications and merits, on the supposition that he had but one place to offer. In each case the man was so disinterested that he praised the other, and said that he ought to have the preference, and Spurgeon was so pleased with their conduct in recognising the merits of the other that he decided to take both.
But wherever the men came from, it was clearly understood that the college did not exist to make ministers but to train them. Unless a man could show some evidence that he was called to preach, and had already proved that he was able to fulfil the calling, there was no welcome for him, however great his gifts in other directions. But if he commended himself as a preacher, there was no barrier, however deficient he was in learning or in station. This meant, of course, a graduation in the college classes, or some students needed to acquire the rudiments of English, and it implied also a lowering of the average of scholarship. But it raised up a race of pulpit men, and not a few of Spurgeon’s students gathered crowds round them, filled empty places of worship, built new ones, and found their way into the leading churches of their own denomination. Some of them occupy prominent places among the Baptists today.
When the tabernacle was built, the college classes were held in rooms underneath it, but as the numbers increased a separate building became necessary, and the college block was erected at the rear of the tabernacle on freehold land purchased from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. It had once been the rectory garden, and Spurgeon declared that he intended to grow dissenters in it instead of cabbages. The foundation stone was laid by Mr. Spurgeon himself on October 14, 1873, and the college was opened by a series of special invitation meetings during September, 1874. The building and furnishing cost over £15,000, and in course of time funds were accumulated which might, if occasion required, be used to wind up the institution, and meanwhile could be lent out to help in the building of chapels. The premises also served admirably for part of the Sunday school.
From the beginning the ultimate object of the college was the conversion of people. The first student, Mr. Medhurst, once came complaining that he had been preaching for three months without knowing of a single soul having been converted.
“Why,” said Spurgeon, “you don’t expect conversions every time you open your mouth, do you?”
“Of course not,” was the answer.
“Then that is just the reason you haven’t had them,” he replied. But Spurgeon himself was once caught out in the same way. He preached in a large shed in connection with Mr. Howard’s works at Bedford. Tea followed, and after tea an old gentleman said to him, “There was one thing I did not like this afternoon. You prayed that the Lord might be pleased to bring, here and there, one or two men out of the throng. I could not pray that. I wanted all of them.”
“You are quite right, sir,” replied Spurgeon in all humility.
In the college the great event of the week was the Friday afternoon lecture by the president. Not that it was always a lecture. There would be readings from the poets on occasion. Young’s “Night Thoughts” was a favourite, as were Milton, Cowper, Wordsworth and Coleridge, and Dr. Hamilton’s “Christian Classics.” Mr. Spurgeon often quoted from Puritan writers. Always the reading or the lecture was in itself a lesson in elocution. Two volumes of Lectures to My Students have been published, and they are as valuable today as when they were issued. They have had a great circulation and deserve it. In the second volume there are two lectures on “Posture, Action and Gesture,” with illustrative pictures which may make preachers wish that they could see themselves as others see them. A critic of wide experience and sound judgement has told me that he considers the lecture on “The Holy Spirit in Connection with Our Ministry,” in the second volume, the finest thing he has ever read on the Spirit’s work.
The “College Series” also included a volume on The Art of Illustration, with examples; the famous book on Commenting and Commentaries, which is a monument of research, full of practical sagacity (Mr. Spurgeon said that he had read tons of books in its preparation), and a volume containing eighteen “Speeches.” Many a man would be content with these nine volumes as a lifework.
But the things that abide in the memory of his students are not those than can be printed in lectures. His students remember more intimate words, words that might have been spoken by a father to his sons, words uttered when reserve was cast aside, and the mind and heart freely opened to those whom he loved in the Gospel.
“Now you will have a brief holiday,” he said with a smile on one occasion before the summer vacation. “If you talk at meetings, talk sense. If you preside, preside as well as you can. Your chief business, however, will be to take things remarkably easy. And don’t get courting—that is not good for students. Keep yourselves to yourselves. Come back, as some one puts it, with your hearts and manners uncracked. Walk in the fields, like Isaac, by all means, and meditate, but don’t lift up your eyes for Rebecca, she will come soon enough.”
“Run a steamroller of tremendous faith over the holes made in the roadway of Christianity by the sceptic,” he advised. “It will then be a better road, and you may expect happier and increased traffic.”
As to the attitude of the pastor to the deacons he said, “A minister is to take the oversight of the flock. Deacons are not shepherds but part of the flock; therefore a minister must take the oversight of the deacons.”
On one occasion he said, “It is a great mercy to be a minister; preaching has often driven me to my knees, and chained me to my Bible.” But at another time his word was “I like to go into the pulpit saying ‘God be merciful to me a sinner.’ Luther trembled before he went into the pulpit, so did John Welsh and John Newton.”
“Christ’s presence with you in the service will fill it with more than the fragrance of a thousand flowers.”
“The grace of God will teach you to be exact and circumspect in little things. I believe it will teach a boy to play marbles without cheating.”
“Matthew Henry says that if religion has done nothing for your tempers, it has done nothing for your souls.”
“Many sinners seem bullet-proof, but we must get at them somehow. Go to their houses and dine with them and get familiar with their joints.”
“Thomas Adams was a divine moralist rather than a theologian: Be sure you get his exposition of II Peter. He was the Shakespeare of the pulpit, and he says some wonderful things.”
“Read Bunyan much; his Holy War for religious experience. Have The Pilgrim’s Progress at your finger-ends.”
“Richard Baxter is the most forceful of writers. If you want to know the art of pleading, read him, especially his sermon on ‘Making Light of It,’ and his Reformed Pastor.”
“Study successful models. I made Whitefield my model years ago. Buy his sermons, published by Milner and Sowerby: there are other editions which do not faithfully represent him.”
“The Epistle to the Romans is the loftiest piece of writing in the human tongue.”
“Whenever I meet a young Spurgeonite—and I do not know where it is possible to go without meeting one—I find him bouncing about like an india-rubber ball, as irrepressible as John Brown; whatever he may have in his knapsack, he goes marching on.”
“A large church is to be preferred to a small one. The latter has many attractions, but it is not unlike a rowboat which a man is in danger of upsetting if he moves about, whereas the former is like an ocean steamer, on which he can parade without the possibility of upsetting the whole concern.”
Having read in a London newspaper that his sermons of the previous Sunday were not at all striking, he remarked: “I have read the account with great amusement. It is not the work of a shepherd to strike his sheep, but to feed them.”
“The best preacher is the man who charges his gun with all he knows, and then, before he fires, puts himself in.”
“There is raw material in a publican which you seldom find in a Pharisee. A Pharisee may polish up into an ordinary Christian; but somehow there is a charming touch about the pardoned sinner which is lacking in the other.”
“I would like to see churches erected as the booksellers’ shops are in Paternoster Row. If anybody wants to build a chapel next door to me let him come forward. I am not afraid of any of them. I am getting old and grey-headed, but if someone starts a coach and horse near me, I will start another horse to my coach.”
“Be ‘High Calvary’ preachers, as one in mistake described ‘High-Calvinistic’ preachers. A minister should be able to say the word ‘grace’ in his sleep.”
“I believe they have abandoned me as an old hulk. I have been told that it would require a surgical operation to get a new idea into my head. Anyhow, I know that it would require a good many surgical operations to get the old ideas out.”
“The greatest difficulty I have ever had to accommodate myself to the requirements of the Church of England was on one occasion when I tried to get into a handsome cab with my neighbour, Mr. Burman Cassin, the Rector of Old St. George’s, Southwark. He was several inches stouter than I am.”
“Follow the example of the cook, who, when she sends up a well-cooked dinner, does not send up the cooking utensils with it. You do the same, leave your cooking utensils in the study, and give the people the result of their use, and see that you prepare something worthy to set before them.”
“The Lord walked in the garden in the cool of the day. Walked, lest it should be thought He was in haste to punish. Not in the early morning, lest He seem to be fresh with anger. Not at midday, as though burning with wrath. But in the cool of the day, when the earth was silent, that man might meditate, and the dews began to weep for man’s misery; and evening began to light her lamps, that man might have hope in darkness. Then, and not till then, came forth the offended Father.”
“God seems to talk to me in every primrose and daisy and smile at me from every star, and whisper to me in every breath of morning air, and to call aloud to me in every storm.”
Occasionally the Friday afternoon was given up to extempore preaching, and Mr. Spurgeon has quoted as the best thing of its kind the response of a student to whom fell the word “Zacchaeus.” He rose immediately and said, “Mr. President and brethren, my subject is Zacchaeus, and it is therefore most appropriate to me. First, Zacchaeus was little of stature, as am I. Second, Zacchaeus was up a tree; so am I. Third, Zacchaeus made haste to come down; and so will I.” Thereupon the speaker resumed his seat. The students called to him to go on, but the president said, “No, he could not add anything to such a perfect little speech without spoiling it.”
Of course all sorts of cranks applied for admission to the college, and they were dealt with very abruptly. “I have more than once felt myself in the position of the Delphic oracle,” Mr. Spurgeon recorded, “not wishing to give wrong advice, and therefore not able to give any. I had an inquiry from a brother whose minister told him he ought not to preach, and yet he felt that he must do so. I thought I would be safe in the reply I gave him, so I simply said, ‘My brother, if God has opened your mouth, the devil cannot shut it; but if the devil has opened your mouth, I pray the Lord to shut it directly.’ Some time afterward, I was preaching in the country, and after the sermon a young man came up to me and thanked me for encouraging him in preaching. For the moment I did not recall the circumstances, so he reminded me of the first part of my reply to his inquiry. ‘But,’ I said, ‘I also told you. that if the devil had opened your mouth I prayed the Lord to shut it.’ ‘Ah,’ he exclaimed, ‘but that part of the message did not apply to me.'”
Deacons seeking ministers for their churches often applied to Mr. Spurgeon. One asked him to send a student who could “fill the chapel,” and got an answer saying that Mr. Spurgeon had not a student big enough to fill the chapel, but he thought he could send one who might fill the pulpit. A reply came saying that that was really what they wanted, and a minister was accordingly sent. Times innumerable the choice of a minister was left to Mr. Spurgeon’s discretion, and he took the responsibility of sending men to Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Haiti, the Falkland Islands, South America, South Africa, and Amsterdam.
The Tabernacle Church was for many years the largest supporter of the college; it became a point of honour to contribute as many pounds as were represented by the year, £1870 in 1870, and £1890 in 1890. The church also entertained the men who yearly met for conference. These conferences, usually held the week before the Baptist Union week in the spring, began in 1865, and have been continued ever since, frequently attended by some five hundred ministers. The president’s address, which Mr. Spurgeon gave twenty-seven years in succession, was the great event of the gathering. The last of these, entitled “The Greatest Fight in the World,” was separately published, and had an immense circulation. One gentleman posted a copy to every minister and clergyman in Great Britain, and it was translated into several other languages.
The closing day of the conferences called forth a sermon by the president, and this was followed by memorable communion services, which always ended by the brotherhood singing with linked hands some verses from the metrical version of Psalm 123, “Pray that Jerusalem may have peace and felicity.” This is now known as the College Psalm, and “Hallelujah for the Cross” is known as the College Anthem.
Two organisations have for many years supplemented the work of preparation for the ministry. The Pastor’s College Society of Evangelists, now extinct, furthered mission work in our own country, and sent forth six or eight men in the service, among them my colleague of fifteen years, Manton Smith, whose Gospel witness, singing, and cornet-playing were renowned all over the kingdom and beyond. The Pastor’s College Missionary Association helped to support missionaries in North Africa, France and South America, but never attained wide dimensions, men generally preferring to go forth in connection with recognised missionary societies.
The college itself is still being maintained with vigour. There is room for such a school of the prophets, and it is to be earnestly hoped that means for its support may be forthcoming for many years.
Subscribe to My Blog!
- The Modern Pulpit Viewed in Relation to the State of Society.
- Daily Telegraph, May 9, 1879.
- G. Holden Pike in Life and Work of C. H. Spurgeon, Vol. II, p. 232.
- Dr. Reynolds to Holden Pike, Ibid., Vol. V, p. 99.
Source: Charles Haddon Spurgeon: A Biography by W.Y. Fullerton. This book was transcribed for The Spurgeon Archive by Dan Carlson. Collection administered by Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.