David once said, “There is only a step between me and death” (1 Samuel 20:3). Charles Spurgeon almost took that step many times.
His mother, Eliza, gave birth to sixteen children after Spurgeon was born. Half of them died.
Diseases like the plague that shut down Spurgeon’s school in Newmarket could have easily killed the preacher before his ministry even began. A massive cholera pandemic killed ten thousand Londoners during Spurgeon’s first year in the city. Many of those who died were members of his church.
All day, and sometimes all night long, I went about from house to house, and saw men and women dying, and, oh, how glad they were to see my face. When many were afraid to enter their houses lest they should catch the deadly disease, we who had no fear about such things found ourselves most gladly listened to when we spoke of Christ and of things Divine (Autobiography 1:371).
Spurgeon was once walking beneath a construction site and a large boulder fell from the scaffold above, missing the preacher’s head by a distance of only a few feet. Three years before his death, Spurgeon tumbled down a flight of stairs and, according to one witness, did a “double somersault” in the air before smacking his head against the marble floor. With his failing health and fragile joints, the landing could have easily broken ribs, bones, or worse. Instead, he only lost a few front teeth.
As bizarre and seemingly coincidental as these incidents were, there were also assassination attempts made on Spurgeon’s life. It should not surprise us that the massive impact of his mission of gospel proclamation made him a target. Here are four times someone tried to kill the Prince of Preachers:
1. “If you are not out of this house this very moment, I’ll break every bone in your body.”
One night, Spurgeon was walking near the entrance of his “Helensburgh House” when he heard a loud banging on the front door. As soon as he opened the door, “a wild-looking man, armed with a huge stick, sprang in, slammed the door, stood with his back against it, and in the most menacing manner, announced that he had come to kill Mr. Spurgeon!”
“You must mean my brother,” the preacher said. “His name is Spurgeon.”
“Ah!” said the madman, “it is the man that makes jokes that I mean to kill.”
“Oh, then you must go to my brother,” said Spurgeon, “for he makes jokes!”
“No,” he said, “I believe you are the man.” Then the madman exclaimed, “Do you know the asylum at —-? That’s where I live, and it takes ten men to hold me.”
“Ten men!” Spurgeon said. “That is nothing; you don’t know how strong I am. Give me that stick.”
Seizing the “formidable weapon,” Spurgeon opened the door and with “most impressive tones” screamed, “If you are not out of this house this very moment, I’ll break every bone in your body.”
“The stranger left the house, and after a few days he was taken back to his asylum” (Autobiography 3:196-97).
2. Almost stabbed by a knife-wielding French madman.
During Spurgeon’s vacation in Mentone, France, a madman wielding a knife barged into his room at the Hotel des Anglais. Spurgeon, who was suffering physically that day, was resting on the bed when the madman entered.
“I want you to save my soul,” the stranger exclaimed.
Spurgeon tried to calm him by instructing him to kneel by the bed. The preacher prayed and then told him to go away and return in thirty minutes.
The authorities tried to subdue the man when he left the hotel, but he managed to stab someone in the street before meeting “a terribly tragic end” (Autobiography 4:209).
Every time Spurgeon visited Mentone, “he never passed that spot without looking at a certain room, and thanking God for the merciful deliverance which he there experienced” (Autobiography 4:209).
3. “We trust that a stout cord may speedily find its way around his eloquent throat.”
In the years leading to the Civil War in the United States, Spurgeon’s stance against slavery ruined his reputation in the Southern states. His sermons, books, and tracts were censored and burned. Character assassinations were published. Many wished his demise.
If Spurgeon had toured the Southern states as he planned on doing in 1859-1860, he would have likely been assassinated. Death threats like this one were common:
“If the Pharisaical author should ever show himself in these parts, we trust that a stout cord may speedily find its way around his eloquent throat” (“Mr. Spurgeon’s Sermons Burned by American Slaveowners,” The Southern Reporter and Daily Commercial Courier [April 10, 1860]).
4. An Irish bomb at the Metropolitan Tabernacle.
For Spurgeon’s 50th birthday, a Jubilee service was held at the Metropolitan Tabernacle on Wednesday, June 18, 1884. Thousands of people attended the event, including D. L. Moody and Archibald G. Brown.
Such vast numbers of people were anxious to be present, that two evenings had to be set apart for the meetings; and, even then, hundreds of applicants for tickets had to be refused, for so many applied that, if the building had been twice as large, there would have been no difficulty in filling it on both nights (Autobiography 4:241-42).
Little did Spurgeon know the Irish Republican Brotherhood planned to bomb the event.
During the Great Famine in Ireland between 1845-1852, thousands of Irish poured into England. Anti-British sentiment led to the formation of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, or “Fenians” (Fianna Eireann was the name of a legendary Irish warrior tribe).
“I suppose a Fenian never feels right except when he feels his wrongs, and is never at peace except when he is at war” (ST September 1870:432).
The police were notified of the Irish bomb threat and attended the event to make sure the “awful reality” did not go according to plan.
“There probably had never been so many detectives and policemen in the building before.”
Only a small handful of officials knew the “terrible secret.” At the time, not even Spurgeon was informed of the impending disaster.
With thoughtful and tender solicitude, all knowledge of the threatened explosion was kept from the Pastor; and it was only when he was in the carriage, on his way home, that Mrs. Spurgeon told him the alarming news which had occupied her thoughts; during the evening, and together they gave thanks that the evil had been averted (Autobiography 4:242).
Spurgeon’s Tabernacle would later be bombed, first by suffragettes in 1914 and later by the Germans in 1941. Yet during Spurgeon’s Jubilee ceremony, the plot was foiled and the pastor lived to preach another day.
Spurgeon was almost stabbed with a knife, killed by cholera, bludgeoned with a stick, crushed by a boulder, hung from the neck, and blown up by a bomb.
It is a remarkable testament to the providence of God that Spurgeon outlived his life expectancy by seventeen years (he was only promised forty years of life when he was born on June 19, 1834).
In his sermon “My Times Are in Thy Hand,” Spurgeon reflected on David’s statement in Psalm 31:15:
The close of life is not decided by the sharp knife of the fates; but by the hand of love. We shall not die before our time, neither shall we be forgotten and left upon the stage too long. . . . [M]y times are in those hands which were nailed to the cross for my redemption (MTP 37:278, 280).
At Midwestern Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri, we are committed to preserving the legacy of the Prince of Preachers long after his eventual death (1892). Our campus is home to the beautiful C.H. Spurgeon Library, which showcases 6000+ books from Spurgeon’s personal library and remarkable artifacts from his life and ministry, including his traveling desk, preaching rail, pipe, and even the pews from the Primitive Methodist church where he was converted. Our aim in housing this collection is not simply to showcase the impressive ministry of this great man of God, but to showcase his dogged commitment to that great God and—through this legacy—glorify Jesus Christ along with him.