The Lesson of the River: Spurgeon’s Baptism

Geoff Chang March 13, 2024

Born into a Congregationalist family, Spurgeon was baptized as an infant. But as a child in grade school, he was challenged by a Church of England clergy on his view of baptism. Anglicans held a different view of infant baptism from Congregationalists because they required sponsors to be appointed for each infant. This is how they connected faith with baptism. But when Spurgeon studied his New Testament, he was surprised to discover that both Anglicans and Congregationalists were wrong. He became convinced of the Baptist position (also known as Believer’s Baptism), which holds that baptism should take place after conversion, upon a credible profession of faith. In those days, Spurgeon did not know much about Baptists.

Up to the age of fourteen, I had not even heard of people called Baptists; and when I did hear of them, it was not at all a favorable report that was given to me concerning them… I cannot help feeling that, somewhere or other, I must have heard some slanders against them, or else how should I have had that opinion?

Despite the cost, he was convinced Believer’s Baptism was the biblical position and was committed to being baptized after his conversion.

So, after his conversion, in the spring of 1850, Spurgeon began to look for a Baptist minister to baptize him, and eventually he found the Reverend W. Cantlow, a former missionary to Jamaica and Baptist pastor in a nearby village. In the weeks and months leading up to his baptism, Spurgeon wrote to his grandfather and parents seeking their approval for his baptism. This led to difficult conversations, but in the end, they gave their approval.

His mother wrote to him, “Ah, Charles! I often prayed the Lord to make you a Christian, but I never asked that you might become a Baptist.” Spurgeon responded with his usual wit, “Ah, mother! the Lord has answered your prayer with His usual bounty, and given you exceeding abundantly above what you asked or thought.”

On May 3, 1850, Spurgeon was baptized at the River Lark, a ferry crossing outside of Newmarket (Baptists in those days still had public outdoor baptisms). You can even hear in his mother’s words, her sense of disappointment. But for Spurgeon, he was concerned primarily about obedience to Christ’s commands. He wrote this about the experience:

I felt as if Heaven, and earth, and hell, might all gaze upon me; for I was not ashamed, there and then, to own myself a follower of the Lamb. My timidity was washed away; it floated down the river into the sea, and must have been devoured by the fishes, for I have never felt anything of the kind since. Baptism also loosed my tongue, and from that day it has never been quiet. I lost a thousand fears in that River Lark, and found that “in keeping His commandments there is great reward.”

This, then, is the lesson of the river: Obedience to Christ brings great reward, no matter the cost. On the final Day, and in this life, we will not regret having walked in obedience.

Things to look for:

  • A bottle of water from the River Lark (front lobby)
  • Books on believer’s baptism
  • John Foxe’s Acts and Monuments

Next – The Lesson of the Cottage: Spurgeon’s First Sermon