Although October 19, 1880 was a typically hot spring Sunday in Sydney yet, at 3.p.m. despite the heat, the Theater Royal crowded out with hundreds of Australians rushing in to the young preacher who bore the illustrious name of Spurgeon. The purpose of the meeting was to gather funds for the orphanage directed by Thomas Spurgeon’s father in London. Thomas, little more then than a slightly-built, fair-haired youth, being the evangelist that he was, also seized the opportunity to publish the Gospel message.
His text was “In Thee the fatherless find mercy.” He used it to draw a parallel between “the orphanage of my heavenly Father and that of my earthly parent,” showing that “the qualification for admission to each is destitution, and the reception is gracious.” He found a receptive audience so moved by his sermon, mellowed by its appeal, and motivated by the memories of good received from his father’s preached and published words that the amazing sum of fifty pounds was gleaned from the interdenominational gathering for the London need. In sending the bank draft to his father Tom also testified, “Thousands here are deeply interested in you and in your glorious work … They have eagerly seized this opportunity of manifesting their esteem and love.”1
History’s Greatest Preacher
All authorities acknowledge Charles Haddon Spurgeon as one of history’s greatest evangelical preachers. His thousands of sermons consistently outsell others still today. A century ago he piped a Gospel tune so popular and powerful that an entire world listened. He preached to tens of thousands face to face for 37 years, and spoke through sermons published in over 40 languages — 25,000 copies of each which were distributed weekly. U.S. demand for them was so great that the New York newspapers paid for them to be cabled to New York every Monday to be reprinted for American readers.
C. H. Spurgeon had been invited to the Australian state of Victoria in 1877, but was unable to leave his extensive English responsibilities. There he pastored a congregation of 6,000, super-intended an orphanage caring for 500 children, led a colporteur band of 90 selling Bibles and religious books, directed a theological school for pastoral students and operated homes for the elderly and indigent citizens of London. The 35 philanthropic organizations he fostered included the founding, staffing, and supporting of 23 mission halls in the London slums which ministered to the enormous social and economic ills of the city.
Spurgeon senior’s widest work was literary. His publishers always kept two million copies of the weekly sermons in stock, continuing their release until World War I post-war conditions of 1917 forced their suspension. He authored 135 books and edited another 28. The sheer bulk of his written production is the equal of the 27 volumes of the ninth edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica! Estimators affirm that an individual who set out to read only his published sermons, at the rate of one a day, would take at least ten years to complete the task.2
C. H. Spurgeon’s sermons were biblical and evangelical, large in imaginative exposition, and enormous in variety. D.L. Moody read everything he ever wrote and said he found source there for all his ministry, as did most other leading clergy of that day. But it was among the common people that Tom’s father’s blessings came the most.
The Australian Connection
In the British colonies his sermons often appeared as paid advertisements in local newspapers. One donor, who placed them thus for an initial period in The Australian then approached its editor for a rate reduction. When this was denied he invited readers to write in supporting their maintenance. 400 favorable letters streamed in from far-off dwellers in the outback areas affirming their total dependence on those weekly sermons for their lonely Sunday worship hours. Many declared they only subscribed to that sporting paper for the encouragements to faith which these “advertisements” provided. An itinerant hobo, who had only entered church three times in sixteen years, wrote of the day he found a sermon in a discarded newspaper outside a Victorian hotel. He told of his conversion, changed life, zeal for Bible study, and new employment, all of which resulted from this chance discovery.
Yet the Spurgeon influence in Australia was far greater than mere sermons. In the first 90 years of the London Pastors’ College, 87 graduates located for permanent ministry in South Africa and 78 in the U.S. But 106 came to the small and newly settled nations of Australia and New Zealand during that same period.
An Unplanned Ministry
Thomas (the younger of twin sons baptized in London by their father at eighteen years of age in 1874) unexpectedly discovered his pulpit skills to be in great demand while in Australia. The story of this ministry, largely forgotten by Church History, thrust him to intensive itineration all over Australia as an evangelist for sixteen years until he settled into a permanent and very successful New Zealand pastorate. After his father’s death he finally succeeded him in the Metropolitan Tabernacle pulpit in 1894 and then pastored that famous congregation for 14 years, leading them successfully through a fire and other bitter trials. Thomas’ unusual life and ministry was one in which he wrestled against severe ill-nesses which exiled him from his English home, but who also Was able to plant and foster many evangelical churches. He erected his own Tabernacle in Auckland, New Zealand, (a miniature copy of the London building) and there gathered the largest congregation of any denomination in the South Pacific, pastoring there for seven fruitful years.3
In 1887 Tom, a lay preacher in cottage services around London, had been ordered to travel to a sunny climate for his health. His hope was to enter his father’s London Pastors’ College but he now decided to follow his profession of commercial artist and engraver for several years in Melbourne, the capital of the Australian state of Victoria. He carried a letter of introduction seeking help in settlement to one of the Pastors’ college graduates, Rev. Mr. Bunning, the Baptist pastor in Geelong, to which his father had added the sentence “He can preach a bit.” To Tom’s surprise a casual agreement to preach one service for Mr. Bunning catapulted this twenty-year old youth into a totally unexpected full-time ministry thrusting him into evangelism all across the nation and ultimately leading him to succeed his father in London in the world’s prime evangelical pulpit.
A Rush of Interest
Thousands of lonely Australians rushed to hear Thomas Spurgeon. They welcomed him for his father’s sake but loved him for his own. They showed him prized and tattered copies of his father’s printed sermons which they had read, and re-read, in weary travels through the dry deserts and lonely forests of the Australian bush. Many of these British immigrants wept openly as memories of C. H. Spurgeon, and of England were revived. Tears flowed in heartfelt response to the evangelical Gospel proclaimed by another bearing the Spurgeon name and image. His preaching style was described as earnest, original, humorous, and forceful, and his language as animated and expressive as was his father’s.
For Tom, bearing his father’s name was somewhat of a handicap as well as privilege. But the young preacher wrote his father from Australia saying,
I do not think I am being lionized or idolized in the true sense of the term, The attention paid to me and the interest taken by the great majority is out of pure Christian love to the honored name of Spurgeon and the honored man who bears it.
Reaching A Nation
The young evangelist, barely into his twenty-first year, loved preaching to sheep shearers and outback residents of the Australian inland. He wrote home telling of battles with flies and mosquitos, and of the heat, the droughts and the floods. He told of broken wagon wheels and exhausting journeys, and of the joy of meeting many former London residents who were converts from his father’s ministry, such as the engineer who drove the Southern and Western Railway over the ranges to Toowoomba in Queensland. He reported gatherings of great power among the settlers where he “enjoyed the songs of Zion and of Sankey,” and spoke the word of the Gospel with great acceptance. He implored those at home to “pray for these lonely dwellers in the bush.
At a special open air service in South Australia he preached “by moonlight under the gum trees beneath a clear Australian sky” and his many months of itineration included rallies where many were unable to gain admittance.
Under his leadership many chapels and “manses” (pastoral residences) were established in Tasmania influencing one layman, W. Gibson, to give over 70,000 pounds for Baptist work in that island, including funds to bring out and support graduates from the London Pastors’ College to minister there. He was counselor to many congregations and helped effect pastoral settlements right across the nation.
Faith In Providence
The impact of Thomas Spurgeon’s life-long example of persistent faith in Providence far exceeds that of his pulpit ministries significant as those certainly are. Wrestling against illness, bereavement, incredible tensions created in the huge London congregation subsequent to his father’s passing, and the destruction of that great Tabernacle by fire, Tom bore it all with radiant faith in the Sovereignty of God. That any son could succeed so great a father in such a prime pulpit is in itself a wonder. That one such as Tom could do it with such genuine humility and patient faith makes for a story “stranger than fiction” whose detail (now widely available for the first time) offers both challenge and encouragement for those of us who serve in some of the quieter corners of the Lord’s vineyard.
1 C. H. Spurgeon (ed.) The Sword and Trowel (London, UK: Passmore and Alabaster, 1881) p.44.
2Cf. any of the major Spurgeon biographies. The latest (and most complete) is Drummond, Lewis, Spurgeon, Prince of Preachers (Grand Rapids, Mi.: Kregel Publications, 1992).
3His intriguing story also encompasses his sincere affection for a twelve-year old Australian girl, nine years his junior, and his patient wait for her to be his bride eleven years later.

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