A VISIT TO ARTILLERY STREET CHAPEL IN COLCHESTER
At first we couldn't find it. We walked a long way down Artillery Street in
a less than thriving area of Colchester, England. I was the guest of Graham
Stevens and Abbeyfield Community Church, where he is the senior pastor. I
had spoken there on Saturday night and Sunday morning (February 23-24,
2008) and we took the opportunity that afternoon to go in search of the
tiny chapel where Charles Spurgeon was converted.
Graham insisted he knew where it was, having been there before. But it had
been a while and there was nothing in the area that alerted us to its
presence. We passed several taverns where local soccer fans were overheard
debating the matches of the previous day.
Finally, Graham remembered! It was easy to miss. Set back from the street
amidst rows of attached homes, there was nothing to alert you to anything
special other than a few small signs announcing that it was here that
Charles Haddon Spurgeon was saved.
In one of the many magazines to which I subscribe there was recently an
article describing, together with colour photos, several of the larger and
more innovative church buildings here in the U.S. Trust me, Artillery
Street Chapel in Colchester would never have qualified, then or now. There
is still a very small congregation meeting there. Before Pastor Derek Hale
arrived in 1991 it had three members. When he died of cancer in October of
1999 the church had grown to eight. By 2006 the membership had grown to
The chapel is quite small, perhaps capable of holding seventy-five people.
There is nothing to distinguish it physically, but spiritually, well,
that's another matter. As I walked in, I immediately noticed a large bronze
plague on the wall which indicated that it was supposedly near that very
spot where young Spurgeon sat on January 6, 1850, although he never planned
on being there.
Spurgeon lived a few miles away in the village of Hythe. On that Sunday
morning he was intent on attending another service, desperate as he was to
be rid of the guilt of sin that burdened his soul. 'I sometimes think', wrote
Spurgeon, 'that I might have been in darkness and despair until now had it
not been for the goodness of God in sending a snowstorm.' The unexpected
shift in weather forced him to seek shelter in what was then a nondescript
Primitive Methodist chapel where no more than a dozen people were in
Said Spurgeon, 'I had heard of the Primitive Methodists, how they sang so
loudly that they made people's heads ache; but that did not matter to me. I
wanted to know how I might be saved, and if they could tell me that, I did
not care how much they made my head ache.'
The minister was not present, evidently snowed in. Finally, a thin-looking
man went up into the pulpit to preach. 'Now, it is well that preachers
should be instructed, but this man was really stupid.' [Spurgeon's words, not
mine!] 'He was obliged to stick to his text, for the simple reason that he
had little else to say.' The text he selected was: 'Look unto Me, and be ye
saved, all the ends of the earth.' 'There was,' Spurgeon thought, 'a glimpse of
hope for me in that text.' The preacher continued: 'Now lookin' don't take a
deal of pain. It ain't liftin' your foot or your finger; it is just, "Look."
Well, a man needn't go to College to learn to look. You may be the biggest
fool, and yet you can look. A man needn't be worth a thousand a year to be
able to look. Anyone can look; even a child can look . . . "Look unto Me; I
am sweatin' great drops of blood. Look unto Me; I am hangin' on the cross.
Look unto Me; I am dead and buried. Look unto Me; I rise again. Look unto
Me; I ascend to Heaven. Look unto Me; I am sittin' at the Father's right
hand. O poor sinner, look unto Me! Look unto Me!"'
After about ten minutes, 'he was at the end of his tether,' noted Spurgeon.
'Then he looked at me under the gallery,' [which by the way, is still there,
but has long since been boarded up] 'and I daresay, with so few present, he
knew me to be a stranger. Just fixing his eyes on me, as if he knew all my
heart, he said, "Young man, you look very miserable." Well, I did, but I
had not been accustomed to have remarks made from the pulpit on my personal
appearance before . . . He continued, "and you always will be miserable -
miserable in life, and miserable in death - if you don't obey my text; but if
you obey now, this moment, you will be saved" . . . I saw at once the way of
salvation . . . Oh! I looked until I could almost have looked my eyes
away. There and then the cloud was gone, the darkness had rolled away, and
that moment I saw the sun; and I could have risen that instant, and sung
with the most enthusiastic of them, of the precious blood of Christ, and
the simple faith which looks alone to Him. Oh, that somebody had told me
this before, "Trust Christ, and you shall be saved." Yet it was, no doubt,
all wisely ordered, and now I can say -
"E'er since by faith I saw the stream
Who would have expected that life-giving, sin-cleansing, soul-redeeming
grace could be found in that little chapel? Who would have expected that
God might use the solemn words of an incredibly simple and stammering man?
Thy flowing wounds supply,
Redeeming love has been my theme,
And shall be till I die."'
Grace cares little of where it is needed. It simply goes and saves and
delivers and sanctifies. God doesn't need a spacious sanctuary or
multi-media technology or cutting-edge sound equipment. His grace is
sovereign and not the least concerned about the surroundings in which it
does its work.
Make no mistake about it. On that day the breath of God blew and a blizzard
turned aside a searching young soul into an out-of-the-way chapel. That
same breath confined a minister to his home and stirred an uneducated
layman to ascend a pulpit. And that same, saving breath brought life to the
dead, dry bones of a fifteen year old boy. And we are all the better for
it. Spurgeon too.
 Spurgeon's story of his conversion can be found in Volume 1 of his autobiography, The Early Years, pages 87-88, published by the Trust.
Dr Sam Storms is the founder of Enjoying God Ministries, based in Kansas City.