Christian History Home > 1991 > Issue 29 > Spurgeon's College
His innovative school for training pastors continues nearly 150 years later.
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Charles Haddon Spurgeon has been described in various ways—preacher, pastor, evangelist, philanthropist, man of prayer—but the ascription educator is not a frequent one.
Yet Spurgeon began speaking publicly when teaching a Sunday school class. (He ended up ministering not only to the children, but also to adult teachers eager to hear his exposition of Scripture.) Later, he ran his own children’s school for a while. As the state school system emerged in the nineteenth century, Spurgeon urged his church members to be involved in the emerging school boards.
As an educator, he is best remembered, however, for founding a theological college that trained nearly 900 pastors during his lifetime, and that continues today.
How the School Began
That Spurgeon would found a pastors’ college is somewhat surprising, since he received no formal theological training. Spurgeon received his education through his parents, his grandfather’s library, occasional dame schools (neighborhood schools taught by a woman in her home), and a year at Maidstone Agricultural College. He entered pastoral ministry as a self-made man. Nevertheless, within two years of coming to New Park Street Chapel in London, Spurgeon drew to himself a number of men who were eager and gifted to preach, yet whose abilities and eloquence could be improved by basic education.
The work began when Thomas Medhurst, a rope maker in his early twenties who had come to Christ through hearing Spurgeon, began to preach in the open air. Some church members complained to Spurgeon about Medhurst’s evident lack of education and asked Spurgeon to stop him. “I had a talk with the earnest young brother,” Spurgeon later recalled, “and while he did not deny that his English was imperfect, and that he might have made mistakes in other respects, yet he said, ‘I must preach, sir; and I shall preach unless you cut off my head.’ ” Since Spurgeon and the offended members were unwilling to do that, Spurgeon concluded, “I must do what I can to get him an education that will fit him for the ministry.”
At Spurgeon’s direction, in 1855 Medhurst was given a preliminary education under C. H. Hosken, a Baptist pastor at Crayford in Kent, and then began theological studies with a Congregational minister, George Rogers, in South London. A year later a second student was added, and in the first five years (when the college met in the manse of the Calvinistic Congregationalist church) fifteen students received training. In 1862 the Pastors’ College moved to the halls of the Metropolitan Tabernacle and twelve years later moved into its own facilities at the rear of the church. The number of students rose steadily until 1877, when 110 were in training.
What Set the College Apart
Many aspects of the Pastors’ College were modeled on earlier Dissenting academies. Yet Spurgeon’s new venture was founded upon three clear principles that together distinguished it from other schools.
Educational openness: The College had no entrance examination, and it provided a general education as well as a specialization in theology. For men in their early twenties who had slender academic attainments and educational opportunities, this was an open door. The policy stood in direct contrast to more prestigious London colleges, such as the Baptist College at Regent’s Park. Other Nonconformist colleges took advantage of the proximity of London University, and from the 1840s they entered students there for examinations. Spurgeon never adopted this method.
All examinations in the Pastors’ College were set and marked internally, and each student developed as he was able. Many prospective students received preliminary training through evening classes in English, science, foreign languages, mathematics, and classics. These classes were free and open to all Christian workers, but many then entered the two-year course at the college. Thus, no student was debarred through a lack of academic attainment.
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