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"I was years and years upon the brink of hell—I mean in my own feeling. I was unhappy, I was desponding, I was despairing. I dreamed of hell. My life was full of sorrow and wretchedness, believing that I was lost."

Charles Spurgeon, the most widely heard preacher of the nineteenth century and one of the most widely read today, used these strong words to describe his adolescent years. Despite his Christian upbringing (he was christened as an infant, and raised in the Congregational church), and his own efforts (he read the Bible and prayed daily), Spurgeon woke one January Sunday in 1850 with a deep sense of his need for deliverance.

Because of a snowstorm, the 15-year-old's path to church was diverted down a side street. For shelter, he ducked into the Primitive Methodist Chapel on Artillery Street. An unknown substitute lay preacher stepped into the pulpit and read his text—Isaiah 45:22—"Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is none else."

Spurgeon's Autobiography records his reaction:

"He had not much to say, thank God, for that compelled him to keep on repeating his text, and there was nothing needed—by me, at any rate—except his text. Then, stopping, he pointed to where I was sitting under the gallery, and he said, 'That young man there looks very miserable' … and he shouted, as I think only a Primitive Methodist can, 'Look! Look, young man! Look now!' … Then I had this vision—not a vision to my eyes, but to my heart. I saw what a Savior Christ was. … Now I can never tell you how it was, but I no sooner saw whom I was to believe than I also understood what it was to believe, and I did believe in one moment.

"And as the snow ...

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December 2001

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