Charles Spurgeon could have been one of the richest millionaires in London.
Instead, he died poor.
Unlike his contemporary pastors in London, Spurgeon did not leave millions of pounds to his family after his death. Susannah told a Baptist newspaper her husband only left £2,000 (Nottingham Evening Post, March 31, 1892).
This number is staggering compared to how much money Spurgeon actually earned. In fact, one of the most overlooked aspects of Spurgeon’s ministry is his personal finances.
Let’s see where Spurgeon’s wallet takes us.
The numbers below have been converted from Great Britain Pound (GBP) in Spurgeon’s day to U.S. Dollar (USD) today. Inflation has been accounted for using a standardized consumer price index. As a general reference, one British pound (£) was worth the equivalent of $117.78 today.
25,000 sermons per week = $13,767,693.33
A small sampling of books sold up to 1885:
The Treasury of David = $5,225,472
Morning by Morning = $2,116,800
Evening by Evening = $1,481,760
Lectures to My Students, Vol. 1 = $453,600
Lectures to My Students, Vol. 2 = $226,800
Commenting on Commentaries = $151,200
John Ploughman’s Talk = $2,056,320
John Ploughman’s Pictures = $665,280
Total sales of books and sermons = $26,144,925.33
Remember, this is only a small slice of Spurgeon’s lifetime earnings. He wrote nearly 150 books, published a monthly magazine, and earned significant revenue from speaking engagements in the earlier, more mobile part of his ministry.
Have you ever wondered how much Spurgeon earned for his annual salary?
As a teenage pastor of Waterbeach Chapel, Spurgeon was paid meagerly, the equivalent of $5,443 per year, though $3,773 went to rent (69.3% of his salary):
“They gave me a salary of £45 a year, but as I had to pay 12 [shillings] a week for my two rooms which I occupied, my income was not sufficient to support me; but the people, though they had not money, had produce, and I do not think there was a pig being killed by any one of the congregation without my having some portion of it” (Autobiography 1:253).
After Spurgeon accepted the pastorate of New Park Street Chapel in 1854, his salary increased dramatically due to the money earned from seat rentals (a practice long since abandoned in evangelical churches).
Three months after moving to London, Spurgeon earned enough money to personally pay for his chapel’s maintenance and lighting (Autobiography 2:123). Shortly thereafter, he never again took a salary.
So where did all of Spurgeon’s money go? What were his attitudes towards finances?
1. Spurgeon funneled money back into his church.
When New Park Street Chapel could no longer contain the crowds, Spurgeon personally contributed £5,000 ($579,421) towards the construction of a new building – the Metropolitan Tabernacle. To supplement this, in 1859, he even considered an invitation to preach at the Academy of Music opera house in New York for $10,000 (The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, February 5, 1859).
To save money, Spurgeon scrapped the idea of building four large towers above his church, originally included in the blueprints:
“When Mr. Spurgeon found that they would probably cost £1,000 each, he thought that amount of money could be more profitably expended, and therefore had them omitted” (Autobiography 2:320-21).
Spurgeon not only contributed money to his new building, he also restored his first chapel. After Waterbeach Chapel burned down in 1863, he sent his own architect and personally covered the expenses of its new building, which is still standing today.
2. Spurgeon donated money to social ministries.
Spurgeon founded sixty-six ministries with the money generated from his book and sermon sales. Some of these ministries included two orphanages, a book fund, a clothing drive, numerous almshouses, nursing homes, Sunday schools for the blind and for children, ministries to policemen and fallen women, among dozens more.
But these were not cheap startups.
The Pastors’ College cost £15,000 ($1,814,400) to construct, “much of which was either given by Spurgeon or was brought in by him from his preaching at other churches” (Dallimore, Spurgeon: A Biography, p. 143). The College also required about £100 ($11,778) per week to sustain, a sum Spurgeon often personally absorbed.
Spurgeon covered the total education expenses of his students at the Pastors’ College, many of whom were underprivileged. He frequently bought his students suits to preach in (Dallimore, Spurgeon: A Biography, p. 104).
The almshouses also ate deeply into Spurgeon’s wallet. On May 20, 1879, his deacons gave Spurgeon and Susannah a love offering totaling £6,233 ($753,943.68) for his 25th anniversary. Spurgeon donated most of it (£5,000 / $579,421) to the almshouses alone.
Spurgeon raised £40 per year ($4,838.40) for the colporteur ministry, which sold Christian literature to ministers throughout England.
Spurgeon also gave spontaneously to friends and family. Whenever he discovered one of his relatives struggling financially, he sent money. His later letters also reveal he sent money, food, and gifts to his parents over the course of his lifetime.
3. Spurgeon detested debt.
Spurgeon’s later financial stewardship owes much to an event that occurred early in his life. As a child, he once went into a shop and indebted himself for a pencil. When his father found out, young Charles received a lesson he would not forget:
“How my father came to hear of this little stroke of business, I never knew, but some little bird or other whistled it to him, and he was very soon down upon me in right earnest. God bless him for it; he was a sensible man . . . . He gave me a very powerful lecture upon getting into debt, and how like it was to stealing, and upon the way in which people were ruined by it; and how a boy who would owe a farthing, might one day owe a hundred pounds, and get into prison, and bring his family into disgrace. It was a lecture, indeed; I think I can hear it now, and can feel my ears tingling at the recollection of it. Then I was marched off to the shop, like a deserter marched into barracks, crying bitterly all down the street” (Autobiography 1:40).
Spurgeon was proud to open the Metropolitan Tabernacle debt free in 1861. Yet interestingly enough, he decided against raising a large endowment for it. Nor did he heavily endow his Pastors’ College, or any other ministry. Why?
Because he didn’t trust the future. After many of Spurgeon’s own deacons, students, and even his brother betrayed him in the Downgrade Controversy, he hesitated to raise money for future leaders. If his closest friends turned their backs on him, how could he be sure his successor wouldn’t also depart from theological orthodoxy?
4. Spurgeon possessed an attitude of stewardship, not ownership.
Spurgeon believed the God who called him would equip him. His finances reflect an attitude of stewardship, not ownership.
“Our confidence is that God will supply all our means, and he has always done so hitherto” (Lectures to My Students 1:vii).
Make no mistake about it. Spurgeon took full advantage of the comforts afforded by technology. A carriage pulled by four horses transported the preacher to his pulpit. Spurgeon ate like a king, received excellent healthcare, vacationed in southern France, and usually traveled first–class.
A preacher once saw Spurgeon stepping onto the first-class carriage of a train and bragged, “I’m traveling third class, saving the Lord’s money.”
Spurgeon replied, “I’m traveling first class, saving the Lord’s servant” (Bob Ross, A Pictorial Biography of C. H. Spurgeon, 70-71).
By Victorian standards Spurgeon lived comfortably. But the aim of his lifestyle was to preserve his failing health for ministry.
As Spurgeon’s body deteriorated, his doctor advised him to move to higher ground above the smog that settled over the city. Yet at the first sight of the South London house, he exclaimed, “Oh, that place is far too grand for me!” Then he “left without having any anticipation of becoming its owner” (Autobiography 4:51).
To say Spurgeon died poor is not to diminish the actual poverty of London’s lower classes. Yet compared to the millions upon millions of pounds Spurgeon earned, the preacher died relatively impoverished. To make ends meet, Susannah was forced to sell the estate, the furniture, and also her husband’s personal library (now the Spurgeon Library).
A final word about wealth
Jesus once said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:1).
Spurgeon also warns us of the dangers of money. Two years before his death, he offered a challenge that is as true today as when he uttered it in 1890:
“Gold is nothing but dust to a dying man” (MTP 36:524).