"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 fell on my road home from the little house of prayer, I thought every snowflake talked with me and told of the pardon I had found, for I was white as the driven snow through the grace of God."
Upon his return home, his appearance caused his mother to exclaim, "Something wonderful has happened to you."
For the next months young Spurgeon searched the Scriptures "to know more fully the value of the jewel which God had given me. … I found that believers ought to be baptized." And so he was baptized, by immersion, four months later in the River Lark, after which he joined a Baptist Church.
Mary Ann Jeffreys was the editorial coordinator at Christian History from 1990 to 1999.
Copyright © 2001 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
More Christian history, including a list of events that occurred this week in the church's past, is available at ChristianHistory.net. Subscriptions to the quarterly print magazine are also available.
Jeffreys wrote this piece for Christian History's issue 29: Charles Haddon Spurgeon, which is available online at Christian History.
Christian History Corner appears every Friday at ChristianityToday.com. Previous editions include:
Christmas Kettles | The history behind a Yuletide institution. (Dec. 21, 2001)
O Christmas Tree | A truly "traditional" tree would be unrecognizable—and flammable. (Dec. 14, 2001)
Christmas Countdown | When does the holiday season really start? (Dec. 7, 2001)
Serving God with Mammon | John Wesley's wisdom for hard economic times: earn all you can, save all you can, and give all you can. (Nov. 30, 2001)
Eat, Drink, and Relax | Think the Pilgrims would frown on today's football-tossing, turkey-gobbling Thanksgiving festivities? Maybe not. (Nov. 21, 2001)
Where Are the Women? | The Christian tradition includes few female history-writers but plenty of female history-makers. (Nov. 20, 2001)
God Bless, More or Less | Irving Berlin's anthem captures America. (Nov. 2, 2001)
Festival of Fears | What's scarier than Halloween? The anxieties that drive it. (Oct. 26, 2001)
Forget 'Normal' | C.S. Lewis's warning against panic during World War II resonates in our new crisis. (Oct. 19, 2001)
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