What if I told you Spurgeon’s beard (or lack thereof) launched his ministry?
Here’s what happened.
Before Spurgeon moved to London in 1854, he pastored a cottage chapel in the quaint village of Waterbeach. One day, Spurgeon and two other ministers were invited to address a large audience at the Sunday School Union in Cambridge.
Spurgeon was the youngest, so he spoke first. When the other ministers addressed the audience, they “savagely” turned against the teenage pastor.
“One of them, in particular, was very personal and also most insulting in his observations, specially referring to my youth, and then, in what he seemed to regard as a climax, saying that it was a pity that boys did not adopt the Scriptural practice of tarrying at Jericho till their beards were grown before they tried to instruct their seniors.”
With the permission of the moderator, Spurgeon returned to the podium and corrected their misinterpretation of 2 Samuel 10:5.
“I reminded the audience that those who were bidden to tarry at Jericho were not boys, but full-grown men, whose beards had been shaved off by their enemies as the greatest indignity they could be made to suffer, and who were, therefore, ashamed to return home until their beards had grown again.” Little did Spurgeon know that one of the ministers on stage had, in fact, recently “disgraced his sacred calling, and so needed to go into seclusion for a while until his character had been to some extent restored” (Autobiography 1:298).
“The beard of reputation once shorn is hard to grow again.” (Lectures to My Students 1:9)
As providence would have it, a man named George Gould was in the audience that day. He gave Spurgeon’s name to Thomas Olney, a deacon at New Park Street Chapel in London. Olney invited Spurgeon to preach in view of a call. Spurgeon accepted in 1854, and the rest is history.
That event, Spurgeon later reflected, “became, in the hand of God, the means of my transference from Cambridgeshire to the metropolis.”
“I believe that some of God’s men who are to be leaders are born with beards, and very early exhibit a knowledge far beyond their years.” (MTP 27:279)
In the early nineteenth century, beards were worn those on the fringes of society – the political radicals and cultural revolutionaries. However, by the time Spurgeon moved to London in the 1850s, the English decided to “abolish the civilized barbarism of the razor” (“The Beard and Moustache Movement,” The Illustrated London News, February 4, 1854).
One decade later, beards had become ubiquitous throughout Victorian society:
“By the 1860s, many distinguished Victorian men – not just poets and artists, but scientists, politicians, royalty, landowners, and merchants – sprouted luxuriant chin-whiskers. . . . Beard-growing was perceived by many to be an outward representation of masculine courage” (Susan Walton, “From Squalid Impropriety to Manly Respectability: The Revival of Beards, Moustaches and Martial Values in the 1850s in England” [Nineteenth-Century Contexts, Vol. 30, No. 3, September 2008]).
“If you feel that you want something else, why, then grow your beard! A habit most natural, scriptural, manly, and beneficial.” (Lectures to My Students 1:134)
In Spurgeon’s first year in London, Britain had grown so many beards that the razor industry fell into recession. Blades, once used for shaving, acquired new responsibilities:
“Oyster Knives are much cheaper this year. This cheapness, we understand, is principally owing to the large number of razors that have been thrown out of employ by the Beard and Moustache movement” (“Selections from Punch,” Western Times, November 11, 1854).
By 1879, facial hair had been fully accepted into British society:
“During the past fifty years, beards have been first tolerated as eccentric, then accepted as optional, and at last have been restored to fashion and honour” (“The History of the Beard,” Aberdeen Evening Express, August 22, 1879).
“Falsehood has no beard, but truth is hoary with an age immeasurable.” (Sword and Trowel, 1884:21)
That same year, Spurgeon received a stern letter from a man in Holland who claimed “he had now lost the power to read his sermons with pleasure any more.” The reason? Unlike the typical clean-shaven Dutch minister who had “a woman’s chin,” as Spurgeon said,
“I wore a beard, which was bad enough, but worse than this, he observed upon my lip a moustache! . . . I allowed my hair to grow as nature meant it should” (Sword and Trowel, 1879:256).
From Charles Dickens to Charles Darwin, many of the movers and shakers of society had their beards to prove it. One author even claimed that “the absence of [a] beard is usually a sign of physical and moral weakness” (T. S. Gowing, quoted in Allen Peterkin, One Thousand Beards: A Cultural History of Facial Hair [Arsenal Pulp Press, 2001], pp. 77-78).
“The most becoming way for a man to wear his beard is that in which it grows, for both in color and form it will suit his face.” (Lectures to My Students 1:131)
It took a long time for Spurgeon’s beard to grow in. In his twenties, Spurgeon’s chestnut “mutton-chop” sideburns worked overtime to cover his boyish face. But then, unlike his grandfather, father, and brother, Spurgeon broke from the sideburns trend of the 1830s and 40s.
Somewhere around Spurgeon’s thirtieth birthday, his two sideburns finally descended down his face to greet one another at the base of his verbose “sauce box,” as the Victorians called it.
By thirty-four, Spurgeon had finally sprouted the boast-worthy beard we all know and love.
“Christian . . . thy beard should be longer.” (Notebook 2, Lost Sermon #119)
And so it shall be.