C. H. SPURGEON *
A Great Preacher
It is not because we wish to be “in fashion” that we make reference in these pages to Charles Haddon Spurgeon, whose Centenary is being celebrated this year. It would certainly be a great omission, however, were we to allow the year to pass without publicly acknowledging our indebtedness to a truly great man.
Popularity, of course, is no test of greatness, but the plain truth is that Mr. Spurgeon’s fame was due to the fact that a great and glorious gospel was proclaimed by an original preacher. He was not an imitator; he was no plagiarist; he was himself. His gifts of eloquence and persuasion, combined with insight and earnestness, were employed by the Holy Spirit as channels through which the message of life should reach thousands who would otherwise never hear it. His was sanctified genius indeed, and his fame never turned his head. He never aired his knowledge of the original scriptures, although his proficiency in these languages was evident. To use a homely illustration, he never put the saucepan on the table, but the fare that was provided by him was well prepared and good to the taste.
It would be out of place in these pages to discuss Mr. Spurgeon’s theological views, nor is it at all necessary to argue any of the points of controversy between him and his critics. It is well, however, to take note of the strange fact that his Calvinism did not hinder his popularity. We say “strange,” because one thing is quite certain, the doctrines of Free and Sovereign Grace which Spurgeon and the Puritan divines preached will never be popular. The apostolic gospel, which roots up human pride, and exalts Christ crucified, is never likely to please the multitude. Yet here was a preacher who could command large congregations, without pandering to itching ears or current thought. No doubt many religionists winced when he denounced arminianism, but if they sniffed when he preached election or particular redemption, they still flocked to hear a man who never apologised for the old gospel, but who preached it because he loved it and had received it into his heart by the teaching of the Spirit of God. Hence, we renew our thanks to God, and our acknowledgment of the gifts of His servant C. H. Spurgeon, giving all the glory to that mighty Spirit who used the preacher’s words to the salvation of thousands of precious souls.
Present day preaching has very little to say about conversion. But Jesus Christ and His apostles not only taught it, but emphasised the necessity of it. And both the Lord and His servants made it clear that such turning about was not the effort of one who wished to .mend his ways, but the manifest effect of a radical change wrought in the heart by divine power. In other words, “Ye must be born again!” No new birth, no spiritual life, no spiritual conversion. Such was the doctrine that C. H. Spurgeon preached, not only because he found it in the Bible, but because he had learned it for himself by the teaching of the Holy Spirit. Thus, he could follow .the Lord and His apostles in preaching the need of conversion.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon was born at Kelvedon in Essex on June 19th, 1834, and was one of a large family of children who were brought up in “the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” But Christian parents, having done all that they could do, must leave it to God to “begin the work of grace divine.” And this is just what did take place in his heart, in answer to the prayers of others. To cut a long but familiar story short, the lad of fifteen, after a period of darkness, distress and uncertainty, during which he read the Bible eamestly, and prayed for light and hope, was led to Christ. On January 6th, 1850, he found his way to a small chapel in Colchester where a handful of worshippers were gathered. The preacher was illiterate, and knew little of exposition, but being himself a truly converted man, he had a fellow-feeling for lost sinners. The text was “Look unto me, and be ye saved.” Seeing the sad-eyed lad, and guessing the cause of his dejection, he loudly exclaimed, “Young man, look to Jesus Christ!” Such an interlude would probably scandalize the perfectly proper people of today, but the incident was the dawn of a new day for young Spurgeon; and following the New Testament command, he confessed his new-found joy by being baptized in the River Lark at Isleham Ferry, a few weeks before his sixteenth birthday. Thus did Spurgeon, in the days of his “first love,” declare publicly that he had been converted, no longer walking in the broad road which leads to destruction, but in that narrow, but happy way, which leads to eternal life. And it was not many months before the youthful disciple found an outlet for his love of souls by telling them that what Christ had done for him, He could do for them. Thus began a ministry which never ceased for 42 years.
Leaving out the Catacombs and the other uncomfortable spots, the usual meeting place of the early Christians was the kitchen. It was in some such “tabernacle” that the young Spurgeon preached his first sermon, which was quite extempore. This was in a cottage at Teversham. Now began his fame as a vigorous and original speaker, and it was not long before he became pastor of the Baptist Church at Waterbeach. But the covetous eyes of the Metropolis were upon him, and he soon received an invitation to the pastorate of New Park Street Chapel, Southwark. With characteristic modesty, and unlike many young men who have begun to preach, he did not jump at the prospect of “preferment,” and he was unwilling to leave the people whom he served and loved. Ultimately, however, he did come to London, with the startling result that the chapel in New Park Street had to be enlarged in order to accommodate the huge congregations that assembled. Exeter Hall, Surrey Music Hall, the Agricultural Hall, and many other auditoriums were requisitioned for the gospel message. More than 20,000 people heard Spurgeon preach in the Crystal Palace, and he had no difficulty in filling that vast building with his rich, musical voice.
Then came the Metropolitan Tabernacle, which was opened in 1861, and where for many years a congregation of about 7,000 assembled to hear the man whose fame as a preacher had encircled the globe. Here, until his lamented death in 1892, his mighty but mellow voice heralded forth that wondrous gospel which only a consecrated man can preach with success. Who shall estimate the final result of the thousands of sermons delivered in this historic building? Eternity alone will reveal the number of those who were led to the Cross through the ministry of C. H. Spurgeon.
In this connection, it must be borne in mind that Spurgeon still speaks to us, for his sermons are still being printed. The remarkable thing about them is that they make the most delightful reading. Most printed sermons are cold and lifeless, for the obvious reason that they lack the preacher himself. Personality cannot be put into print. Yet, somehow, Spurgeon’s sermons seem to be almost an exception to this, for there is an undefinable nearness of the preacher as one reads the silent words. One can only account for this fact by believing that it was intended by God to be so.
Practical Christianity was bound up with Mr. Spurgeon’s doctrinal ministry. It was an essential element, without which he would have considered his work futile and fruitless. That practical apostle, of whom Luther was afraid, tells us that “pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this. To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” If you would see how Spurgeon expounded these words, remember Stockwell Orphanage, London, and there you could see a living monument to the memory of a man whose works follow him. You could have seen the happy boys and girls who here found a home and loving care that so nearly compensated them for the loss of one or both parents. But more than human love found its way into this wonderful Institution. “The love of Christ constraineth us.” That was the motto of those who carried on the noble work of the founder of the Orphanage. Bible truth. Gospel truth, with no taint of modernism, in addition to an efficient education by certificated teachers-this was part of the training which was given to the highly favoured people in Spurgeon’s Orphanage. We need not be surprised that many of the children were taught by the Great Teacher Himself, and were led to the Cross to find salvation.
Theological colleges have the warrant and example of Scripture, that is, if they are conducted upon scriptural principles. Unfortunately, many of the modern institutions whose business is to train students for the ministry have exchanged “it is written” for “it is thought.” “Thus saith the Lord” has been bartered for the pronouncements of men. The authority of Holy Scripture has been jettisoned, and “modern thought” takes the helm. God pity the mariners who trust their ship to such a captain!
It is a matter for great thankfulness that the Pastors’ College, colloquially known as “Spurgeon’s,” was one of the few theological colleges which remained true to the doctrine of Christ and the Bible. This does not mean that its students came forth with hermetically sealed minds, as one critic has suggested. But it does mean that they regarded the incarnate and the written Word as the supreme fountain of knowledge and wisdom. Should any of the “assured results” of modern criticism be in conflict with the Word of God, then such “findings” are “science falsely so-called.”
Lest anyone should think that “Spurgeon’s” was a parson factory, hear what its founder had to say:
The institution receives no man in order to make him a preacher, but it is established to help on the further education of brethren who have been preaching with some measure of success for two years at the least. Many men of excellent spirit and established Christian character are hindered in their efforts by the slenderness of their knowledge. These are the men whom the Pastors’ College welcomes. Men in whom piety, zeal, and the indwelling Spirit are to be found need not fear refusal at our doors on account of poverty, if they possess those gifts of utterance which are essential to the preacher.
(Lectures to Students, Vol. i. preface.)
The above shows very clearly that Spurgeon regarded the ordination of the unseen hands of the living Christ as the only valid title to the ministry. And so we believe: for all ordination, by whatever name it may be called, is, or should be, a recognition or acknowledgment of a Divine ordination already conferred by the Holy Spirit.
One of the many-sided activities of Mr. Spurgeon was the founding of an institution for the circulation of gospel literature, known as the Metropolitan Tabernacle Colportage. Many earnest men were engaged in this important work, and their incessant travels with the printed message of the gospel brought them into contact with all sorts and conditions of people, to whom they not only sold their wares, but personally witnessed for their Lord in word and deed. Of course they were tactful as well as tractful, for they knew too well how foolish it is to attempt to thrust religion down people’s throats or into their hands. As to the lasting benefits conferred upon the many persons who have come into contact with Spurgeon’s Colportage, we are left in no manner of doubt. Let your prayers ascend to God on behalf of all who carry the seed-basket of the gospel with them.
* These notes were written on the centenary of the birth of C. H. Spurgeon in 1834, by Clement Wileman, author of Gospel Echoes. They are just as relevant for the centenary of his death which took place on January 31st 1892.