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The noted German pastor and theologian Helmut Thielicke once said, "Sell all [the books] that you have … and buy Spurgeon."

Today—nearly a century after Spurgeon's death—there is more material in print by Charles Haddon Spurgeon than by any other Christian author, living or dead.

What was it about the Victorian London orator that enabled him to captivate the minds and hearts of multitudes—then and now?

Speaking to the Masses

Charles Spurgeon came to London as a mere lad, and no preacher received more criticism than the 19-year-old "boy preacher," as he was called. Becoming pastor of the historic New Park Street Baptist Church, he found the press virtually at war with him. The Ipswich Express said his sermons were "Redolent of bad taste, vulgar, and theatrical."

Spurgeon replied, "I am perhaps vulgar, but it is not intentional, save that I must and will make the people listen. My firm conviction is that we have had quite enough polite preachers, and many require a change. God has owned me among the most degraded and off-casts. Let others serve their class; these are mine, and to them I must keep."

Spurgeon saw the value of preaching to the common people in their own language and in a way that captivated their interest. He well understood the sophistication of the Established Church and its irrelevance to his own social setting. One editorial cartoon depicted an Anglican rector driving an old stagecoach with two slow horses—named "Church" and "State." Racing ahead, however, is a young preacher with flowing hair, speeding on a locomotive engine. The title of the second cleric's locomotive? "The Spurgeon," of course.

Even British evangelicalism tended to be an upper-middle-class institution. With his "vulgar" ...

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