Tag Archives: C.H. Spurgeon

Ordinary Cook, Unlikely Hero

He is history's most widely read preacher outside of Scripture. More written material exists from him than from any other Christian author, living or dead. It's estimated he preached to more than 10 million people during his lifetime. The ripple effect of his life and ministry is immeasurable.

And he got his theology from an old school cook.

Unlikely Mentor

Mary King was the stout and sturdy cook at Newmarket Academy in Cambridge, England, when a young teenager named Charles Haddon Spurgeon enrolled in the fall of 1849. Over the next two years "Cook," as the students affectionately called her, would feed the boy far more than food. In his autobiography Spurgeon recounts:

She was a good old soul [and] liked something very sweet indeed, good strong Calvinistic doctrine. . . . Many a time we have gone over the covenant of grace together, and talked of the personal election of the saints, their union to Christ, their final perseverance, and what vital godliness meant; and I do believe I learnt more from her than I should have learned from any six doctors of divinity of the sort we have nowadays.

mIQJvjKzeppPSClFUM3ynIQ41

While her handle on Scripture was impressive, King didn't live and move and have her being in the realm of ideas alone. She was a woman of vital godliness, one who "lived strongly" as well as "fed strongly." As Spurgeon reflected, "There are some Christian people who taste, and see, and enjoy religion in their own souls, and who get at a deeper knowledge of it than books can ever give them, though they should search all their days." King, he said, was one of those people.

The cook's appetite for spiritual nourishment was voracious. Once when young Charles asked why she kept attending a particular church from which he himself gleaned nothing, King replied there were no other options. He then quipped it'd be better to stay home than to hear such insipid teaching. "Perhaps so," she said, "but I like to go out to worship even if I get nothing by going. You see a hen sometimes scratching all over a heap of rubbish to try to find some corn; she does not get any, but it shows she is looking for it, and using the means to get it, and then, too, the exercise warms her."

Spurgeon's unlikely mentor had a sense of humor, too. On one occasion when he bemoaned not finding so much as "a crumb" in the minister's whole sermon, she said, "Oh! I got on better tonight, for to all the preacher said, I just put in a not, and that turned his talk into real gospel."

Forever Grateful

The Prince of Preachers never forgot King and the formative role she'd played in his life. "A cook taught me theology!" he would often say. In fact, upon learning of her financial straits years later, the world-renowned pastor sent regular checks to support her from a distance.

After Spurgeon himself died in 1892, a professor in Belfast who'd known him wrote to The Christian World: "[Charles told me] it was 'Cook' who had taught him his theology. I hope I am not violating his confidence in mentioning this fact. It is no discredit to the memory of a great man that he was willing to learn from the humblest sources."

Mary Kings Today

We don't know when Mary King died, but her descendants live on among us. We may not notice them, quote them, or follow them on Twitter, but these faithful plodders are seen and honored in the sight of heaven. Indeed, Christians have always served a God who delights to use those whom the world ignores. As the apostle Paul put it to that ragtag band in Corinth:

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. (1 Cor. 1:26-29)

King's influence makes little sense in the world's economy, but Scripture reveals and experience confirms its value in God's kingdom. So who are the unsung heroes in the story of your life? Whose quiet service has the Lord used to touch and shape you? Are you still eager to learn from the humblest sources?

You're a Theologian

Mary King didn't have a theology degree, but she was a theologian. And so are you. In fact, the moment you think or say anything about God, you're doing theology. It may be bad theology, no doubt, but theology it is.

King was a fine theologian because she relished studying her Savior.

We study what we love, don't we? When I was a kid I studied Michael Jordan statistics, not because I loved stats, but because I loved Jordan. Or imagine if today you were to ask about my wife, and I responded, "Oh, she's incredible—the most amazing girl I've ever known! She's from Oregon, has beautiful red hair, and hates chocolate." Would my chocolate-loving brunette who hails from Virginia feel honored and loved by this description? Of course not. I can gush about her all day long, but unless my words reflect who she really is, she'll be insulted. Does it make sense for us to operate with careless indifference when it comes to how we think and talk about God?

Mary King is proof that theology is intensely practical and absolutely crucial—the joy of those who cherish him. As the psalmist put it, "Great are the works of the LORD, studied by all who delight in them" (Ps. 111:2).

You Could Be Next

Countless thousands are spiritually indebted to the Prince of Preachers. He was indebted to a cook. "From her I got all the theology I ever needed," he wrote in his first published book in 1857.

But what if King hadn't known her Bible? What if she'd felt knowing doctrine was irrelevant, impractical, not part of her job description? What if she'd sighed, I'm just an uneducated school cook, not some Bible scholar. What do I have to offer?

Don't begrudge obscurity, don't avoid opportunity, don't underrate faithfulness. And don't overlook Mary King figures—those inconspicuous heroes of whom this world isn't worthy.

Who knows? God might just call you to be one.

Why Did God Use Spurgeon?

There is one thing on which many Christians today agree--we need genuine revival. Faced with rising violence, economic recession, and a growing sense of despair, we recognize that our fundamental challenge is not political or social; it is spiritual. And because such challenges require divine insight and strength, we can benefit from reviewing the landscape of Christian history to learn from previous generations. Of the many persons and movements one might consider, Charles Haddon Spurgeon is especially instructive since his legacy demonstrates precisely what is most needed today.

When the 19-year-old Spurgeon received a call to the New Park Street Church in April 1854, the church was fledgling and less than healthy; but within ten months the congregation grew to such a size that it was forced to move to Exeter Hall. Before long even Exeter Hall was inadequate, which caused another move, this time to Surrey Gardens Music Hall, where Spurgeon preached to more than 9,000 men and women each Sunday. The ministry continued to flourish, so much that on October 7, 1857, the Prince of Preachers addressed a record crowd of 23,654 in the famous Crystal Palace. Something extraordinary was happening.

More than Talent

It was March 1861 when Spurgeon's congregation finally moved to the Metropolitan Tabernacle, where he would preach the next 31 years and personally see more than 14,000 men and women profess faith in Christ. While there, he started an orphanage, the Pastor's College, and eventually produced an avalanche of published sermons that would circle the globe. Such fruitfulness naturally raises the question: "Why did God use C. H. Spurgeon in such a profound way?"

The exceptional nature of Charles Spurgeon's gifts is undeniable (as his sermons demonstrate). However, in response to this question, Spurgeon provides a different answer:

If we had the Spirit sealing our ministry with power, it would signify very little about talent. Men might be poor and uneducated, their words might be broken and ungrammatical; but if the might of the Spirit attended them, the humblest evangelist would be more successful than the most learned divine, or the most eloquent of preachers.

After reading this quote, I imagined Spurgeon mounting the Metropolitan's pulpit, where he customarily repeated to himself, "I believe in the Holy Spirit. I believe in the Holy Spirit. I believe. . . ." Such has been my own practice over the last decade of preaching, following Spurgeon's example (the only part of Spurgeon that I can effectively emulate). Herein is a lesson. Mental strength and eloquence of speech (for those of you who possess them) may gather large crowds and earn you recognition, but only the power of the Spirit can reach into a human soul to bring transformation. And this, my friends, is what our nation and world needs the most: genuine gospel transformation.

The Reality of Revival

Spurgeon's ministry was devoted to revival; he would settle for nothing less. In his own words, "Death and condemnation to a church that is not yearning after the Spirit, and crying and groaning until the Spirit has wrought mightily in their midst." In order for this to happen, however, Spurgeon realized that the Spirit needed to first engage his own soul. Therefore, in his sermon titled "My Prayer," he remarks:

The prayer before us, "Quicken Thou me in Thy way," deals with the believer's frequent need. . . . You yourselves know, in your own souls, that your spirit is most apt to become sluggish and that you have need frequently to put up this prayer, "Quicken Thou me." If there is a prayer in the book which well becomes my lips, it is just this.

After first seeking personal renewal of God's Spirit, Spurgeon then prayed for his church. In a message titled "One Antidote for Many Ills," he says:

This morning's sermon, then, will be especially addressed to my own church, on the absolute necessity of true religion in our midst, and of revival from all apathy and indifference. We may ask God for multitudes of other things, but amongst them all, let this be our chief prayer: "Lord, revive us; Lord, revive us!"

Examples of this sort of prayer are numerous. The point is simple: pursuing revival was a priority for Spurgeon. And what was the outcome of his request? During the years when Spurgeon prayed, Protestant churches in London enjoyed a 60 percent increase in attendance, exceeding the population growth of the city. At the samt time the Spirit moved powerfully in America, especially in the winter of 1857 and 1858 through the noontime prayer meetings of Fulton Street in Brooklyn, New York. As both sides of the Atlantic welcomed waves of revival, Spurgeon noted in 1859, "At this time, the converts are more numerous than heretofore, and the zeal of the church groweth exceedingly."

Revival in Our Day

As our friends, coworkers, neighbors, and loved ones descend into deeper levels of despair, the church is poised to direct the world's attention to the gospel of Christ in whom we find the light of spiritual revival. Here is how Spurgeon articulated the vision:

We must confess that, just now, we have not the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that we could wish. . . . We seek not for extraordinary excitements, those spurious attendants of genuine revivals, but we do seek for the pouring out of the Spirit of God. . . . The Spirit is blowing upon our churches now with his genial breath, but it is a soft evening gale. Oh, that there would come a rushing mighty wind, that should carry everything before it! This is the lack of the times, the great want of our country. May this come as a blessing from the Most High!

The revival that Spurgeon describes may very well be on our horizon, unobservable to the naked eye; but through the eyes of faith, against the backdrop of ages past, we may see enough of its glow to believe that it exists. Whether it remains off in the distance, or if it should come near, time will tell. In the meantime, why would we not give ourselves to prayer and proclamation in the hope of seeing genuine revival in our day?

Christ Himself

Our faith is a person; the gospel that we have to preach is a person; and go wherever we may, we have something solid and tangible to preach, for our gospel is a person. If you had asked the twelve Apostles in their day, 'What do you believe in?' they would not have stopped to go round about with a long sermon, but they would have pointed to their Master and they would have said, 'We believe him.' 'But what are your doctrines?' 'There they stand incarnate.' 'But what is your practice?' 'There stands our practice. He is our example.' 'What then do you believe?' Hear the glorious answer of the Apostle Paul, 'We preach Christ crucified.' Our creed, our body of divinity, our whole theology is summed up in the person of Christ Jesus.

C. H. Spurgeon, "De Propaganda Fide," in Lectures Delivered before the Young Men's Christian Association in Exeter Hall 1858-1859, pages 159-160.