SPURGEON IN SCOTLAND*
It is now over a hundred years since Spurgeon died, and yet it would appear, in view of his sermons, there are still people who want to read them and who delight in them. Such readers, one hopes, can still be found in Scotland, but how many of them there are to-day it is impossible to say. In past days they were a great multitude.
Spurgeon began his wonderful preaching ministry in London in 1854, and his fame as an exponent of a robust and uncompromising Calvinism soon reached Scotland and won for him there a multitude of most devoted disciples. In the year 1858, two noted St. Andrews’ men, Principal Tulloch and Professor Ferrier, when on a visit to London, heard him, when he was a young man of 24, preach a sermon which made a tremendous impression on them both. Regarding that sermon, Tulloch wrote this remarkable tribute:
“The sermon is about the most real thing I have come in contact with for a long time. Guthrie is as sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal to it, and although there is not the elevated thought and descriptive felicity of Caird (the latter especially, however, not wanting), there is more power. Power, in fact, and life are its characteristics.”
The remark about “descriptive felicity” is an interesting one. In Spurgeon’s early sermons there is fervour and a passion which are very noticeable; later, there came to be more mellowness and restraint in his preaching, but the “descriptive felicity” became still more evident, and he developed a really wonderful English style. At the time of his death an obituary notice appeared in an unexpected place, in the Church Times, the organ of the High Church party in the Church of England. It contained this remarkable tribute: “He was the master of an English style which many a scholar might envy, and which was admirably fitted for his purposes. This style could only have been acquired by great pains, and by the constant study of the best literary models which it recalls.”
Spurgeon visited Scotland on many occasions. Let us recall some of these visits.
His Visit to Dingwall
In the year 1870, Dr. John Kennedy induced Spurgeon to travel all the way from London to Dingwall, to preach at the opening of the new Free Church there. That was a great event in Free Church circles in the Highlands, and for long afterwards Highland folk used to speak with kindling eye and manifest delight of the glowing words which they heard from the lips of the great London preacher. As Dr. Kennedy and his distinguished guest drove to the manse, the crowds that lined the streets instinctively uncovered their heads, On his return to London, Spurgeon wrote thus of his visit: “It was a sunny spot in a very sunny life. I shall always look back on it with unfeigned joy, and we will even talk of it in heaven, for the Lord was there.”
The Free Church Assembly
Spurgeon visited the Free Church General Assembly in 1866, and gave an address brimming over with humour and abounding in much good sense as well. We give an extract from it. “Tell a man he is saved by grace, and relieved of the work of saving himself, and he will set about trying to bring others to salvation; while, if you give a man muddled views of doctrine, he is always troubling himself about that, and has no time and no heart to go abroad doing good. Not only is fulness of doctrine requisite, but a warm way of putting it. I heard a remark made yesterday about warm dinners on Sabbath, which I daresay are very terrible things. I am well content with cold meat; but cold divinity on Sundays, or any days, is dreadful. Always let us have the doctrines of grace served up thoroughly hot and warm.”
Other Places Visited
Spurgeon preached often in Scotland, at Edinburgh, at Glasgow, at Rothesay, etc. One of his biographers, the Rev. W. Y. Fullerton, tells us how he once visited Colintraive along with Spurgeon. “I recall,” he writes, “the excitement of a good woman as we walked that evening along the beach. She came running up to us, crying out, ‘Spurgeon’s here, Spurgeon’s here!'” Fullerton also tells us that he himself preached one Sabbath morning at Kilmun, and he went upstairs to prepare, while Spurgeon remained among the others downstairs. “As I sat in my room, I heard a gentle knock at the door, and when I opened it, I found him outside. ‘I have come to pray with you before you go,’ he said.” But next day, the human fun-loving side of Spurgeon came out, for he pointed out the house next door to the church, with a notice exhibited, “Mangling done here,” and insisted that that was where Fullerton had preached.
Spurgeon spent some delightful holidays at Benmore, the home of his friend, Mr. James Duncan, situated between the Holy Loch and Loch Eck. He revelled, he tells us himself, in the “noble scenery, well-stocked gardens, rivers, lochs, glens, mountains and woods.” “The sermons on the lawn in front of the house,” he wrote, ‘have proved a pleasant labour of love; it has stirred one’s heart to see the thousands flocking into that out-of-the-way place to hear the gospel, and, better still, to mark the devout attention of the assembled multitudes.”
A friend who sometimes went on holiday with him to Benmore relates how Spurgeon and others went one day to fish on Loch Eck. “Mr. Spurgeon and I,” writes this friend, “stayed on shore to kindle a fire and get the pot boiling, in readiness for the salmon, for we were to have a picnic. As we waited for the fishermen to return, we sat down on a rock and he talked in his fascinating way concerning Lochs and hills, valleys and mountains, of geological formations, and glacial periods when great masses of ice fell in frozen avalanches. Then he said: ‘Give me a text, Williams, and I will preach you a .sermon.’ I was prompted to suggest: ‘One star differeth from another star in glory.’
“At once he began to speak of the glory of the stars, and of the ‘star depths,’ of the special glory of certain single stars, and then to separate constellations, while his congregation, listening with wonder and delight, only wished it were possible to take the sermon down. Then he spoke of stars as symbols of government, as patterns of constancy, as sources of influence. ‘But,’ he concluded, ‘the most glorious of all the stars the heavens ever knew was the Star of Bethlehem. That star led men to Jesus, and anything, any man, doing that shines with a lustre peculiarly divine’.”
The Printed Sermons
Spurgeon’s first printed weekly sermon appeared in 1855, and the last on 10th May 1917, making a total of 3,563. The emphatic claim has been made, a justifiable claim, quite likely, that “there has been nothing in all sermon literature to equal this record, either in numbers or circulation.”
These sermons were read all the world over, but, perhaps, nowhere were they read with such appreciation as in Scotland. Some may remember lan Maclaren’s delightful sketch, “Dinna forget Spurgeon,” with its fine blending of pathos and humour. It gives an authentic impression of the effect produced by the reading of one of Spurgeon’s sermons, his sermon on Manasseh, to a little company of farm workers in a barn in a Perthshire glen. The writer, who was then a schoolboy, had the honour of reading the sermon one autumn evening, and he paints the scene with great skill. “You know, because you have been told, how insensible and careless a schoolboy is, how destitute of all sentiment and emotion . . ., and therefore I do not ask you to believe me. You know how dull and stupid a ploughman is, because you have been told . . . therefore, I do not ask you to believe me.
“It was the light that got in the lad’s eyes, and the dust which choked his voice, and it must have been for the same reasons that a ploughman passed the back of his hand across his eyes.
‘”Ye’11 be tired noo,’ said the good man; ‘let me finish the sermon;’ but the sermon is not finished, and never shall be, for it has been unto life everlasting.”
In another Highland glen, a traveller got lost on one occasion, and he found that the people who knew nothing about either Gladstone or Beaconsfield woke up at the mention of Spurgeon’s name. There was no kirk in the glen, and the people met together on the Sabbath, and somebody read out one of Spurgeon’s sermons. W. T. Stead, who went down with the Titanic, when being conducted round Melrose Abbey, lamented the fact that England never had a John Knox in any of her pulpits. “May be not,” his guide replied, “but you have Mr. Spurgeon.”
All that was long ago, but there must be many still in many parts of Scotland who hold the name of Charles Haddon Spurgeon in reverence. Scotland surely can never forget Spurgeon.
* Reprinted from the “Monthly Record of the Free Church of Scotland.” August 1958.