Preaching has fallen on hard times. At least, that's the impression you would gain by listening to much of what passes for preaching in American pulpits. Something is clearly missing - and that missing element is the deep passion for biblical exposition that always characterizes the great preachers of an era. 

Today, the church is still blessed by outstanding expositors, but they are too few. Many preachers lack adequate models and mentors, and they find themselves hungry for a homiletical model who can both inspire and instruct. In Victorian London, there once was a preacher whose power and conviction shaped an entire culture. It is time for a new look at the ministry of Charles Haddon Spurgeon. 

"In the midst of the theologically discredited nineteenth century there was a preacher who had at least six thousand people in his congregation every Sunday, whose sermons for many years were cabled to New York every Monday and reprinted in the leading newspapers of the country, and who occupied the same pulpit for almost forty years without any diminishment in the flowing abundance of his preaching and without ever repeating himself or preaching himself dry. The fire he thus kindled, and turned into a beacon that shone across the seas and down through generations, was no mere brush fire of sensationalism, but an inexhaustible blaze that glowed and burned on solid hearths and was fed by the wells of the eternal Word. Here was the miracle of a bush that burned with fire and yet was not consumed."

Thus commented Helmut Thielicke on Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the greatest Victorian preacher and one of the greatest princes of the pulpit to serve the church in any age.

Spurgeon was a legend in his own day, and was a household name in London before he reached the age of twenty. Yet his popularity has continued into the twenty-first century, and his voluminous writings are still among the best-selling devotional and homiletical materials currently available.

What can explain this phenomenon?

The Victorian age was noted as an era of princely preachers, and London - with the British empire then at its height - was the setting for many of the greatest pulpit ministries in the history of the church. But Spurgeon stands alone as the most widely appreciated and influential preacher of his century.

The background of Spurgeon's life is unremarkable. Born June 19, 1834 at Kelvedon in Essex, Spurgeon entered life the son and grandson of Congregational ministers. Spurgeon's father, John Spurgeon, was what would now be known as a bi-vocational preacher, serving a largely itinerant ministry. But Charles' grandfather, James Spurgeon, was a well-known Congregational minister. Charles spent most of his childhood in his grandfather's manse at Stambourne. There he was exposed to a warm-hearted devotion and to his grandfather's extensive library of Puritan theology.

The Spurgeon family early noticed a particular sense of spiritual urgency in young Charles, and the parish manse was a healthy place for Spurgeon to indulge in rather precocious theological investigations. The catalyst for his theological development was his grandfather's library of Puritan classics. In an attic loft Spurgeon spent many boyhood days in the company of Richard Sibbes, John Owen, Richard Baxter, and John Bunyan--especially Bunyan.

Spurgeon's disquietude was not eased until January 6, 1850, when he was converted during a meeting at the Primitive Methodist chapel at Colchester. His testimony of that day was of a burden released. As he would write in his Autobiography: "The frown of God no longer resteth upon me; but my Father smiles, I can see His eyes - they are glancing love; I hear His voice - it is full of sweetness. I am forgiven, I am forgiven, I am forgiven!" Spurgeon was soon to join a Baptist Church, driven to the conviction of believer's baptism by his own study of the Bible.