In the Ministries of Charles Haddon Spurgeon and Dr. Lee Roberson
by Bill Compton
The ministry of Dr. Lee Roberson (1909-2007) has often been compared to that of Charles H. Spurgeon (1834-1892) of England. Some have said, "What Charles Spurgeon was to the 19th century, Lee Roberson is to the 20th century."
"...I have found David, the son of Jesse, a man after mine own heart, which shall fulfill all my will." ( Acts 13:22 )
"For David , after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fellon sleep..." (Acts 13:36)
Dr. Roberson , as Charles Spurgeon before him, influenced many Christian leaders to press on and do a greater job for God. One such leader is Dr. Warren Wiersbe who said, “Along with being an effective soul-winner, Dr. Lee Roberson is a faithful preacher of the Word, an inspiring leader, a godly example, a dependable friend and a gifted recruiter of men and women for the Gospel ministry. I don’t know how many times I have quoted his statement, ‘Everything rises and falls on leadership.’ His humility and faith exalt Jesus Christ. He has made a lasting impression on my life and ministry and I am grateful.”
The movement of God in history is the search of God for men, and history is but the record of God seeking, finding, calling, equipping, and then using men for his honor and glory. In every era and generation it has pleased God to search out men peculiarly fitted for His purpose and plan and for that particular day and hour. Amos, the gatherer of sycamore fruit could not have served in the work of an Elijah. Elijah, the rugged mountain man, would never have been able to do the work of the "meekest man in the world," Moses.
In the Hebrews 11, often called the Westminster Abbey of Faith, we have a perfect example of this principle of God selecting men and women, for particular tasks, on the basis of their temperament, adaptability, social position, gifts, talents, and other criteria. He begins with Abel, and there follows a long list of the notables, written up in the history of the children of Israel, relating their exploits and their testimony, recorded for our benefit. They are the "great cloud of witnesses" mentioned in a later place.
In this chapter of faith we need to remember that the Holy Spirit, in giving us these names and their histories, desires us to look beyond the names and the people and discover the one thing they all have in common, the thing that makes them what they are and enables them to have their names recorded here---their FAITH!
In the Nineteenth and Twentieth centuries God brought onto the world scene two men who would shake their respective continents with the powerful preaching of the Word of God, the forceful energy of their Holy Spirit empowered personalities, and their tremendous and DARING FAITH. This is, I believe, the secret, the key, and the explanation for the ministries of Charles Haddon Spurgeon and Dr. Lee Roberson.
In studying their lives, one of the most intriguing things that surfaces is the striking similarities in their experiences and ministries--beginning with their DARING FAITH. Though separated in time by nearly a century, with great changes in communications, transportation and technologies, each of these men served his generation by the will of God with dedication and loyal devotion. We are the beneficiaries of their labors and service. These are great examples of men of faith.
My interest in this fascinating comparison was ignited by a request from Dr. Lindsay Terry to write an endorsement for a new book he was compiling, an anthology of quotations from the writings of Dr. Lee Roberson, entitled A Daring Faith In a Hazardous World.
As I wrote my endorsement, I included this statement, "What Spurgeon was to the nineteenth century Dr. Lee Roberson is to the twentieth century." Later, as I reflected on this observation, (which no doubt many others have made), I decided to do some research. From the earliest days of my ministry I have been a student of Spurgeon, his life, messages, and methods. The following material is the result of my research. I have entitled it: The Striking Similarities In the Ministries of Charles Haddon Spurgeon and Dr. Lee Roberson
Spurgeon became a Christian at age 15. He declared that he was saved on a Sunday morning in January, 1856, after hearing a lay preacher at the Primitive Methodist Chapel, during a snow storm, speak on the text from Isaiah 45:22, "Look unto me, and be ye saved...”Roberson, saved at age 14, was led to Christ by his Sunday school teacher, Mrs. Daisy Hawes. He was baptized by Pastor J. N. Binford and joined the Cedar Creek Baptist Church near Louisville, Kentucky.
Both taught Sunday School, and were pastors by age 20. Spurgeon came to the London pastorate in 1854 and remained there, with a phenomenal ministry of thirty eight years, until his death in 1892. Dr. Lee Roberson came to the Highland Park pulpit in Chattanooga in 1942 to begin a ministry which would last for forty years and six months, before his retirement in 1985.
FOUNDING OF COLLEGE
Early in Spurgeon’s ministry he saw the need to train young preachers and thus founded his pastors college for that purpose. Dr. Lee Roberson, in his early ministry at HPBC, saw the need to train young preachers and founded Tennessee Temple College as a junior college, with no thought of the tremendous expansion and development that would follow.
FOUNDING OF CHAPELS
In both ministries a “chapel ministry” was a logical outcome of the young men being trained and having a place for them to serve. The result was that a large number of chapels were started in and around the cities of London and Chattanooga.
Both men extended their ministries by the printed page. Spurgeon began the practice of publishing his Sunday morning sermon every week. It became unbelievably popular. In 1865 he also started a monthly paper, The Sword and the Trowel. The paper gave a running account of all of the ministries. Lee Roberson, early in his ministry at HPBC, started The Evangelist for the purpose of reporting on the work and also to feature one of his sermons. Both men periodically published volumes of their sermons.
Both Spurgeon and Roberson showed an unusual interest in children. Spurgeon started Stockwell Orphanage to minister to orphaned children. He also employed the ministry of E. Payson Hammond, a man who was used of God in an extraordinary way as a children’s evangelist in the last half of the 19th century. For one notable service with Hammond, the Tabernacle was filled to overflowing with children -- 6,000 inside and 3,000 outside who could not get in the building. Three thousand children were saved.
The story of Roberson’s interest in children’s work is traceable to the often told story of the death of his baby daughter, Joy, and the beginning of the phenomenal ministry of Camp Joy. More than 100,000 children have had the opportunity to spend a week there, with thousands being saved. During children’s services, with Bill McGarahan in the tabernacle (later named Chauncey-Goode Auditorium) Dr. Roberson had the building filled with excited kids, who came to hear this nationally known children’s worker.
Both men had extensive travel ministries which took them, almost every week, to a different place. Spurgeon would travel, several times a week, and usually by train, to outlying areas of England to preach. On one occasion a country preacher, getting on the train, passed through the first class section and saw Spurgeon. He said, “Mr. Spurgeon I go second class and save the Lord’s money.” Mr. Spurgeon said, “Yes, brother, and I go first class and save the Lord’s servant.” Modern transportation allowed Roberson to have a broader travel ministry. Even after his resignation as Pastor of HPBC Roberson spoke in approximately 125 churches each year for a number of years. Of late, as he nears age 97, he still preaches in churches in and around the Chattanooga area.
Both men are noted for their interest in missions. Spurgeon considered going to the mission field himself. He often had men such as famed missionary Hudson Taylor, and others, speaking at the Tabernacle. He published letters and other articles of information about mission work they supported. Roberson is well known for World-Wide Faith Missions, started at HPBC, which supported hundreds of missionaries around the world. Missionaries trained at TTU encircle the globe. The annual missions conferences at HPBC, during Roberson’s ministry there, allowed veteran missionaries from around the world to report on their work.
INTEREST IN JEWISH MISSIONS
Spurgeon had a great interest in Jewish evangelism and it was evidenced by the notes and references in his The Sword and the Trowel magazine. In 1879 he preached a sermon to the British Society for The Propagation Of The Gospel Among The Jews. The title of his message was, "The Vine Of Israel." Dr. Roberson is a great supporter of Jewish evangelism. Through the years, he was a staunch friend of Dr. Jacob Gartenhaus, Founder of International Board Of Jewish Missions. No doubt it was through his friendship and support that Dr.Gartenhaus moved the offices of the Mission to Chattanooga, and next to the campus of TTU.
HELPING YOUNG PEOPLE
Spurgeon had an interest in training young people for the trades and developed a program which would be like a “Tech” school of our day. For many years Roberson said, “If you are willing to work you can get a college education.” He established a work scholarship program for students, and never turned away a young person who was willing to be a part of that program.
Following is Dr. Joseph Parker’s description of Spurgeon’s preaching. He could also have been speaking of the pulpit ministry of Roberson.“ To Spurgeon Christianity was not an argument but a message; not something to be discussed, but something to be delivered by the preacher and instantaneously accepted by the hearer. Other ministers take the Bible to pieces, and put it together again in some other shape; Spurgeon took it in plain English, and accepted every word of it as the very speech of God. This Bible letter came straight from Heaven, and the very postmark on the the face of it was a vital part of the contents. The envelope also was fashioned in Heaven. This was his faith, and it made him strong.”
Both men, in a day when many ministers read their sermons from manuscripts, were iconoclasts in the realm of preaching. Spurgeon studied for days and then preached from an outline. Roberson, a voracious reader, speaks from an outline,after which he gives a strong invitation. In preaching style, both have been described as speaking to the common man -- with “unadorned English,” and dramatic force. One business man said of Roberson, “I go to his church because he doesn’t speak to the giraffes.” The speech of both could be described as gentle, loving, and kind, except in the light of some“modern thought.” Then peals of thunder may be heard. Both men proved that evangelistic preaching can draw together great congregations and “hold them” for a lifetime.
PERSONA AND HUMOR
The faces of both may be described as having strong, social features, bright eyes and a most gracious and sympathetic smile. In personal situations, both of these men could be characterized as having a keen sense of humor. Once a dear lady was rebuking Spurgeon for his humor. He said, “Madam, you would really be upset if you knew what I was holding back." Going into the Tabernacle one Sunday morning, a man met him at the door and said,“Mr. Spurgeon, the Lord told me He wanted me to preach in your pulpit this morning.” Spurgeon replied, “Just before you got here, He told me to go ahead.”
Spurgeon’s Metropolitan Tabernacle seated 6,000. The auditorium of the Highland Park Baptist Church, built during the later part of Dr. Roberson’s pastorate, also seated 6,000. We have only touched the surface in looking at the life and ministry of these great servants of God. Their messages and ministry have been global in their impact. Many are the stories that could be related of how people in distant lands and even remote areas have been brought to Christ, believers touched, encouraged and ministered to by these humble servants of God. In that not too distant day, when our Lord comes, may they hear the Master say,“Well done, thou good and faithful servant,” and may their tribe increase! Amen and Amen!
BIO: Dr.Bill Compton, Evangelist, is a graduate of Tennessee Temple University, in Chattanooga, TN. He was a close friend of Dr. Lee Roberson and was often asked to speak at the University, and on occasions in Bible Conferences and revivals at Highland Park Baptist Church. He has spoken in 1,100 revivals and conferences in most of the states and several other countries. His thirst for knowledge and his voracious reading habits go back to his years in Junior High School when he began to read through a book each day.In his varied ministry he has shared the platform with some of our nation's leading preachers: J. Vernon McGee, Warren Wiersbe, Lehman Strauss, and Jack Hyles, to name a few. After pastoring the Albany Baptist Church in Decatur, Alabama for the past nineteen years, he is again available for revivals and conferences. He may be reached at 2904 Carrington Drive, Decatur, AL 35603. His email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org (BIO by Dr. Lindsay Terry)