16 March 2012

Thomas Spurgeon (Part 1)

Thomas Spurgeon is not given nearly as much credit as he deserves. Apart from being know as the son and successor of his father Charles Haddon Spurgeon, he remains unknown and yet he achieved great things for God and was a great man, preacher and pastor.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, his father, is known as the prince of preachers, ranked second only to Jesus. If you do not know who CHS is, you are missing out on an entire chunk of Christian non-biblical history and a wealth of Christian knowledge.

Thomas and his older twin brother Charles were born on September 20th, 1856. His father, who died two years shy of his own 60th birthday, was aged 22 at the time. Thomas' biographer after taking an entire two chapters just describing who his father, Charles Haddon Spurgeon was, says:
...This is the name that Thomas Spurgeon and his brother Charles bore. It was an inestimable privilege, but it was even more a severe handicap. With such a heritage life was almost certain to assume a bias. He was almost certainly destined to be a preacher, and when he became a preacher was sure to be compared, and compared unfavourably, with his father. It was as difficult for him to grow up naturally as for an heiress to discover whether she is loved for herself or only sought for her money.

When asked who was the better behaved of the two, Spurgeon replied, "Charlie is the best boy when Tom is not with him, and Tom is best when Charlie is away." That's CHS for you!

The Spurgeon Sons: Twenty-One Yearly Pictures (Click Image to Expand)

Thomas remembered in one of his sermons how he earned sixpence for sitting still for 15 minutes from his father. He says, he had never worked so hard for so little before or after. He was clearly a handful to have to be enticed to sit still using money!

The biographer mentions of Thomas' childhood that on Sunday evenings, the boys would gather around their mother, Susannah Thompson Spurgeon, and she'd speak to them about life and they'd sing hymns with her while she played the piano. Every Sunday evening they'd sing "There is a fountain filled with blood". Thomas recalls:
...When she came to the chorus she used to say, 'Dear boys of mine, I have no reason to suppose that you are yet trusting Christ; you will, I hope, in answer to our constant prayers, but till you definitely do you must not say or sing, "I do believe, I will believe, that Jesus died for me." It is just as wrong to sing a lie as to tell one.' Then she used to sing it by herself.

He goes onto say:

...I remember well the bright morning when as we came to the breakfast table, I climbed upon her seat and put my arms round dear mother's neck—I like to have them there still—and I said to her, 'Dear mother, I really think I do love Jesus.' Thank God, she took me at my word, and said to me, ' I am so glad to hear it, I believe you do.' Then I wanted Sunday night to come that I might be able to sing my loudest in the chorus.

His brother and he were mostly educated by particular individuals while they were children, later they went off to school where Thomas excelled in art particularly. When the time came to go to college both boys were strangely kept from further studies there which was surprising in view of the emphasis the Spurgeons put on education. However, the biographer speculates that this was cause of the desire both parents had for the boys to become pastors. Charles pursued a career as a merchant and Thomas as an artist.

At 18, they were both baptized and joined the church. Their first preaching efforts appear to be near their home when a neighbour began a small gathering where the gospel was preached in his home. Both boys began preaching there and before long the home was too small no doubt because of the name 'Spurgeon'. That work led to Northcote Road Baptist Church.

Thomas struggled with his health, his frailty most likely attributed to his mother, which led him to resign from two pastorates he took later in life.

The next significant spell of his life was his time in Australia. Poor health led the parents to send him off for a spell to Australia where it was hoped a change of air would do him good. Little did they know that their boy would go on to pastor and grow arguably the largest church in that part of the world although not on that voyage. On the extended voyage Thomas' love for the gospel and for Jesus cannot be missed in his letters to his parents. Every Sunday on the voyage he preached to those on board much to his own delight that the souls there would get to hear the gospel of Christ. He earnestly wished that some would be saved.

His father's reputation preceded him and he spent a lot of his time preaching though he continued his pursuit of a career in art. The tabloids were mostly critical of him saying he was not as good as his father. However, the people flocked to hear him, all wanting to hear something of the greater Spurgeon from the lesser.

After about a year, he sailed back on news that his mother was gravely ill. He arrived in October and in November when his father suddenly fell ill on a Sunday morning, he was asked to preach for him. He ended up preaching five times, two Sundays both services and one service on the third. His brother Charles took the other service.

In December, he joined his father on his trip to France where his father's favourite resting place was, namely, Mentone. They returned home in April the next year where Thomas joined his brother at the theological college of the church where their father lectured. He showed much aptitude for his studies and excelled.

A year later, however, due to ill health he sailed off, again, for Australia. I will end my first of three parts here. His departure hit his father quite hard. He looked forward to having his beloved Tom by his side in the ministry and his hopes were shattered. But this was all for the best as Thomas entered the most fruitful period of his life and ministry yet much to the benefit of the body of Christ in new Zealand. He went on to pastor Auckland Baptist Church (now Auckland Tabernacle) and it became the largest church in New Zealand and this was achieved so early that he still had enough years to return home and succeed his father for 14 years!

Spurgeon spent only two entire nights in prayer in his life, the second being when his son Thomas left. Yet the attitude of his heart was revealed in the message he preached that Sunday, based on Hannah who had given up her own boy, Samuel. "Brethren and sisters," he said, "This is one of the hardest lessons: to learn to give up what we prize most at the command of God and to do so cheerfully."