The Dancing Puritan

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Charles Spurgeon: A Life of Reading and Writing Pt. 1

I have often asked leaders how they spend their time. Realizing that their success is inseparably connected to their daily disciplines, I am interested in their schedule. It is always the case that excellent leaders are diligent readers.

The work ethic of the British Baptist pastor Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892) is well known. Spurgeon would often work eighteen hours a day. Yet it was not his work ethic alone that created the man that is still so honored. His reading fueled his work.

Malcolm Gladwell, in his fascinating book Outliers, writes about the importance (in various fields of work) of time, place, and family regarding a person's success. Gladwell's argument could be made in the case of Charles Spurgeon. When Spurgeon was only 18 months old he was sent to live with his grandparents. He would live with them for five years. His grandfather James Spurgeon served as pastor of Stambourne for 54 years. While living with his grandparents, Charles was exposed to the life and practices of a faithful evangelical minister. As he grew older he often heard his grandfather and other preachers engage in deep theological discussion around the dinner table. He was also exposed to his grandfather's library. That library fascinated Spurgeon and very early in his life he learned to read.
Charles was still a child when he first became aware of books. One of the bedrooms in the manse led off into a small dark chamber . . . . this chamber held an old Puritan library, and Charles was probably no more than three when he began pulling volumes out into the light and looking at the illustrations. Arnold Dallimore, C. H. Spurgeon: The New Biography, Moody Press 1984.
When Spurgeon was five or six years old he moved back into his parent's home. His father was also a pastor who had a solid library. He said of young Charles:
Charles was a healthy child and boy, having a good constitution and was of an affectionate disposition, and very studious. He was always reading books--never digging in the garden or keeping pigeons, like other boys. It was always books, and books. If his mother wanted to take him for a ride, she would be sure to find him in my study pouring over a book. He was clever, of course, and clever in most directions of study. . . . G. Holden Pike, The Life and Work of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, 6 vols. (London: Cassel, 1898), 1:17.
When Spurgeon was six years old he read John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. It is estimated that he would read that one book 100 times before he died. Bunyan's classic gave Spurgeon a vast storehouse of vivid imagery through both its illustrations and its numerous word pictures. Those pictures would saturate Spurgeon's daily conversation and his preaching for all of his life. The appeal of Spurgeon, to the millions of people who would hear him preach in his lifetime, was not his physical appearance or charisma but it was, among other things, his ability to communicate beautifully.

The story of Spurgeon's success is built on a foundation of good books. His grandfather and father invested a portion of their resources in building libraries that would serve them and that would serve Charles well. Charles Spurgeon built his own library that, by the time he died, contained over 12,000 volumes. He would also become one of the most prolific authors in English history. It cannot be denied that Spurgeon's life of reading was instrumental to his life of writing. To be continued.

Ray Rhodes is President of Nourished in the Word Ministries. Ray is well known for his teaching and writing about marriage and family. He leads marriage retreats and Bible conferences. He is engaged in an ongoing research project on the marriage of Charles and Susannah Spurgeon. If you would like to schedule Ray to speak for your next event, send him a message at