What does it take to be a real-life hero? When we are younger we envisioned a man with superhuman strength who can leap tall buildings in a single bound. Maybe we envisioned an athlete sinking the game-winning shot or hitting the big home run. Whatever it was, it inspired us to that same type of heroism. We envisioned ourselves saving the day and receiving the glory for it. If we were really honest with ourselves we probably didn’t realize the type of self-sacrifice that it takes to be a hero.
Charles Spurgeon didn’t look like a superhero, and he definitely could not leap tall buildings in a single bound. Yet his great faith in Christ made him a giant hero in the Kingdom of Heaven. He took a stand for Christ in spite of the personal, physical, and spiritual trials that he faced. His life was marked by constant opposition on all sides. Yet in spite of all of that, Spurgeon was known as one of the greatest preachers of all time whose ministry has impacted millions for the gospel.
Spurgeon learned the gospel at a very early age. He was only six years old when he picked up a copy of Pilgrim’s Progress and read it for the first time.* Spurgeon would go on to read that book over 100 times.* Although he had heard about the Gospel it wasn’t until he was 16 years of age that he was converted. He was in a Primitive Methodist Church where a pastor told him that he looked miserable and that he would remain miserable unless he looked to the Lord Jesus Christ.** Spurgeon left the church service as a new man. He would go onto to preach at 17 years of age by becoming John Gill’s replacement. He had a flare for words, and his sharp and witty personality made him relatable with the common folks. There was one occasion where he was challenged about his love for cigars. Spurgeon replied by saying, “If I ever find myself smoking to excess, I promise I shall quit entirely.” When he was asked to define excess, the preacher answered by saying: “Why, not smoking two cigars at the same time.***”
His down-to-earth demeanor was often looked down upon by the higher society. There were many negative and slanderous remarks written about him in the paper. One critic was quoted as saying: “He is a nine days wonder–a comet that has suddenly shot across the religious atmosphere. He has gone up like a rocket, and ere long will come down like a stick.****” Comments like these never hindered Spurgeon from doing the Lord’s work. He stayed focused, and he preached over six hundred times before he reached the age of 20.*
Critics were not the only opposition that Spurgeon faced. He struggled greatly with depression throughout his life, and his wife was bed-ridden with illness for over 25 years. He often squared off against the Church of England and Catholicism. Spurgeon spoke out strongly against American slavery. His language was so strong that American publishers often deleted his comments on the subject.* Sadly, one of the greatest conflicts came from within his own denomination. There were those moving away from the infallibility of Scripture, and it was reported that the stress from the battle made him ill at times.
In spite of all his hardships Spurgeon knew where his strength lay. When asked by someone about the secret to his success, he brought them to the church cellar where there were people in constant prayer for his ministry. His complete reliance on God and his conviction of His sovereignty fueled the ministry. He was well travelled as he preached in the pulpit where John Calvin once preached. Other heroes of the faith like Hudson Taylor, David Livingstone, D.L. Moody, and George Muller were close acquaintances.
When it was all said and done, Spurgeon’s impact for the Kingdom was felt. It was estimated that he preached to over 10 million people and had seen over fourteen- thousand new converts added to his church in total.* His sermons were translated into more than twenty different languages.* He had at least three of his works sell over a million copies.* Spurgeon’s sermons have become classics, and he was rightly nicknamed the “Prince of Preachers.”
It’s easy to look at Spurgeon as a super-Christian that was effective for Christ, but the truth of the matter is that he was a human with weaknesses. He endured a lot of hardship and sacrifice, but he did it for the cause of the gospel. Throughout his trials it was his faithfulness to God that made him a real-life hero. He was not looking for recognition; he just answered God’s call. There is a quote from a movie where the actor says: “No one ever asks to be a hero. Sometimes it just works out that way.” This was definitely the case for Charles Spurgeon.