Who will remember you when forget-me-knots have withered?

A black-and-white photo of Spurgeons founder Charles Haddon Spurgeon

In the second of our blog series on the importance of dads to children’s development, Spurgeons Chief Executive Ross Hendry presents our founder, renowned Victorian Baptist preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon, as a timeless role model, ‘Father to the Fatherless’

Last week would have seen Charles Haddon Spurgeons’ 180th birthday. While that may not constitute current affairs, his life and example does speak to the big national debates we are having at the moment.

We would all wish it were true that people heed the words of Professor Dumbledore to Harry Potter, that, “it matters not what someone is born, but what they grow up to be!”

Charles Spurgeon certainly deserves our respect by this measure.

Raised by his grandparents in a loving but far from privileged home Spurgeon was leading Waterbeach Chapel by the age of 17 and the prominent New Park Street Church in London by 19. His London congregation grew from 200 to become the largest church in the Western world by the 1860s.

A productive life

He wrote 140 Books; his sermons were published weekly with a circulation of up to 350,000; he answered around 500 letters a week; he worked 18 hour days and read six books of substantial theology a week. He had preached over 600 times by the time he was 20 and often preached 10 times in a week. He established or played a key role in setting up 66 different organisations in his lifetime, including the Bible College and Stockwell Orphanage (now Spurgeons children’s charity).

By any standards – modern or historical – his was a productive life. But I know this is not how Spurgeon would have measured his own life.

And there lays a lesson for us today.

Whether it’s how we judge our leaders, how we raise our own children or what we look for and value in others, we place too much value on outputs and not enough on the character that produces the fruit.

Spurgeon once wrote that, “a good character is the best tombstone. Those who loved you and were helped by you will remember you when forget-me-knots have withered. Carve your name on hearts, not on marble.”

Outputs or character?

It has struck me that in the race to become the next Prime Minister candidates have been vying for votes largely based on promises of output, not of the character of the one who determines those outputs. The many scandals of how people in public, private and charitable organisations have behaved is testament to how great harm can be done under the cover of good deeds.   

The same principle is also at work much closer to home. For example, as young people up and down the country finish their exams, more and more seem to be suffering from the stress and anxiety of the pressures placed on them to perform and deliver.

Our obligation as parents and those who are for children and young people is not to simply impart knowledge but cultivate character and wisdom. Looking at the challenges the younger generation will face now and in the future, we need them to be people of character. This generation of young people are amazing. They are talented and passionate, angered at injustice and hungry for inspiration.

Feeding the good

But who will inspire them? There is a famous quote by Sitting Bull, who, speaking to a child, said, “inside of me there are two dogs. One is mean and evil and the other is good and they fight each other all the time.” When asked which one will win he answered, ”the one I feed the most.” We need to face the reality that unless we feed the good, evil will prosper.

More than 150 years ago, Charles Haddon Spurgeon wrote about the importance of providing a good education for his generation of children. Out of that article rose the Stockwell Orphanage, a place where vulnerable children found refuge, care and an education that taught not just reading and writing and maths, but of the one whose sacrifice forgives sins, whose gift of the Holy Spirit brings forth fruit that outlasts tombstones. It was a place where ‘good’ was fed. We need to support and encourage those who do this today.

Looking at our public square and marketplace today we – churches, charities, schools, parents and adult role models – need more than ever to be those who teach character, who foster wisdom, and embody the joy that comes from a redeemed life. We need to celebrate Spurgeon for all that he achieved. Not his outputs but his faithfulness and obedience to Christ – even in suffering and persecution. That allowed God to use him in amazing ways, as I am certain he will use this and future generations.

This blog first appeared as Ross Hendry’s regular column in The Church of England Newspaper

Related articles from Spurgeons

View all
Happy 189th Birthday Charles Spurgeon
Photograph of Charles Spurgeons, alongside text wishing him a Happy Birthday
Happy 189th Birthday Charles Spurgeon
Children’s Homes today and a reflection on our heritage
Old photo of the entrance to Spurgeons Homes for Children
Children’s Homes today and a reflection on our heritage
Memories from Old Scholar John Christopher Jones
Aerial photograph of Birchington Hall in Stamford, around the time that Christopher Jones was there
Memories from Old Scholar John Christopher Jones