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Christian Biography

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, 1834-1892

by Harry C. Howard

"A Root Out of a Dry Ground"

Charles SpurgeonHuman conditions, whether of heredity or environment, can scarcely prognosticate such a man as Charles H. Spurgeon. Digging in the ancestral soil hardly discovers even the roots of the greatness to which he grew. That ancestry was not without real and considerable worth. But it gave no intimation of the greatness that was to come in this particular piece of its progeny...

He was born at Kelvedon, in Essex, June 19, 1834. But neither the soil nor the skies of Essex are sufficient to account for the man. His father was employed as a business man on week days, and ministered on Sundays for sixteen years to a congregation of Independents not far away. When about eighteen months old, baby Spurgeon was transferred, for reasons which have never yet become clearly known, to his grandfather's manse at Stambourne. There in a minister's home and with a devoted unmarried aunt to mother him he spent several years. He turned even thus early to serious things, and afterwards said of those days that to be alone was "his boyish heaven."

His grandmother employed him on the hymns of Isaac Watts, offering him a penny for every one he committed to memory. But he so depleted her purse that she reduced his wages to a halfpenny a hymn. The grandfather interfered with the arrangement by offering the boy a shilling a dozen for all the rats he would kill, since the place was grievously infested with them. For the time the rat-catching was the better paying business, but he said that in the long run hymn-learning paid better, particularly if a boy were going to be a preacher.

An observation of these days he afterwards used with telling effect. He saw an apple inside a narrow-necked bottle, and greatly wondered why the bottle was not broken when the apple was inserted, until in the orchard one day he saw a bottle attached to the limb of an apple tree and a young apple growing on the inside.

He returned to the house of his father, who was now living in Colchester, and had rather irregular schooling, though it was the best the circumstances permitted, until he was about fourteen years of age, when he was sent to an Anglican school at Maidstone. He quickly mastered his studies, showing a particular proficiency in mathematics. And he had begun already to think independently, for when he had had a debate with a clerical examiner on baptism he determined that if ever he was converted he would become a Baptist, notwithstanding his family were Congregationalists.

Early Religious Quest

Through his later childhood and early teens he struggled against God, and resisted the call of conscience to a religious life. That one so circumstanced and so trained and still so young should have had such bitter exercises of soul is inexplicable. Who can say but that it was God's way of training him that he might be a guide to others? For in after years he was a master physician in the troubles of the soul. "I must confess," he says, speaking of these experiences, "that I never would have been saved if I could have helped it. As long as ever I could I revolted, and rebelled, and struggled against God." But the Lord and his mother's prayers never left him alone. "Long before I began with Christ, he began with me," said he. To his mother he owed his first religious awakening. Her very prayers stirred his soul to self-concern. Once his father, on the way to a preaching engagement, had his heart smite him with the thought that he was caring for others and neglecting his own family. He was so impressed that he turned and retraced his steps to his home, and finding all quiet in the lower rooms he ascended the stairs, and heard a voice in prayer. Listening outside the door he heard his wife pleading for the children, with an especial earnestness in the plea for Charles, her firstborn and strong-willed son. "My father," said Charles, who tells the story, "felt that he might safely go about his Master's business while the dear wife was caring so well for the spiritual interests of the boys and girls at home, so he did not disturb her, but proceeded at once to fulfill his preaching engagement."

When his struggle for peace had become so intense as to be all but unbearable, the memorable day of his conversion came. The very date was ever after written down in his calendar, January 6, 1850, when he was not yet sixteen. A storm prevented his reaching his intended place of worship for the day, and he turned aside into the Primitive Methodist Chapel, in Artillery Street, Colchester. The appointed preacher did not arrive, and a humble and still unknown man took his place. From the pulpit he announced the text, "Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth." "My dear friends," said he, "this is a simple text. It says, Look. Now lookin' don't take a deal of pains. 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. You needn't be worth a thousand a year to be able to look. Anyone can look: even a child can look. But then the text says, 'Look unto me.' Ay!" said he in broad Essex, "many on ye are lookin' to yourselves, but it's no use lookin' there. You'll never find any comfort in yourselves. Some look to God the Father. No, look to him by-and-by. Jesus Christ says, 'Look unto me.' Some on ye say, 'We must wait for the Spirit's workin.' You have no business with that just now. Look to Christ. The text says, 'Look unto me."' Then he turned to the young stranger, who was easily distinguishable among his small group of twelve or fifteen auditors, and addressing him directly, he said: "Young man, you look very miserable. 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." Young Spurgeon looked and was saved. "I thought," said he, "I could dance all the way home. I could understand what John Bunyan meant when he declared that he wanted to tell the crows on the ploughed land all about his conversion."

Begins to Preach

His first impulse toward the ministry came from Richard Knill, who came to his grandfather's house on a missionary deputation when Spurgeon himself, then only ten years old, was on a visit there. For the three days of his stay he devoted himself with all the ardor of his soul to the winning of this child to the love of Christ, and predicted that he would one day preach the gospel.

In pursuance of his promptly formed purpose to devote all his powers to Christian service, Spurgeon began to teach in a Sunday school. There was committed to his tutelage a class of very restless boys. When he had lost control of them he would regain it by telling a story. Here he learned one of his first lessons in homiletics, for a boy would say very frankly, "This is very dull, teacher. Can't you pitch us a yarn?"

He preached his first sermon unexpectedly and all but unawares, for he had gone out with another expecting him to preach while from the first this other had intended to inveigle Spurgeon into doing the preaching. The sermon was delivered on a Lord's day evening, in a thatched cottage, from the text, "Unto you that believe he is precious."

In the meantime he had been employed as a teacher, and was preaching on the side. He did more preaching on the side, however, than most men do by main intention. For besides the Sunday services he had now begun to preach on the weekdays. After a few months of irregular preaching he was engaged to supply the pulpit in the village of Waterbeach. The original agreement upon the length of the term of his service was for but a few Sundays, but he continued for more than two years. The little chapel was soon filled. Among the rest the vagabonds of the village came to his services and were transformed into moral assets of the community. Already his form of utterance is original and daring. There must be an utter change of the moral nature, he said, for if a thief went unchanged to heaven he would be only a thief still and would go around the place picking the angels' pockets. He was criticized for this, and was reminded that the angels had no pockets. He said he had not known this and would set the matter right. So on the next Sunday he told his people he was sorry he had made this mistake, that the mayor of Cambridge, which was only six miles away, had told him that the angels had no pockets, so he would now say that if a thief got among the angels he would go around stealing the feathers out of their wings. It is presumable that the mayor of Cambridge gave up trying to bring him around to proper and precise form.

An idea of the extent of his labors at this time is afforded in the fact that he had preached six hundred and seventy sermons before his call to London came. He had not yet found the threshold of his great career, and while he labored and waited the question of entering a theological college for more thorough preparation had several times presented itself to his mind. He had at length definite thoughts of going to Stepney College, now Regent's Park, and had an engagement to meet Dr. Angus, who at the time was its principal. Through a stupid misadventure on the part of a servant girl they failed to meet, though for a considerable time they sat in separate rooms in the same house. Spurgeon was much disappointed, but as he was walking the same afternoon to an appointment a loud voice seemed to say to him: "Seekest thou great things for thyself? Seek them not." He took this as a veritable word of the Lord, and then and there renounced all thought of college and college studies. He did not by any means, however, renounce personal habits of study, for in these he was very diligent and accomplished almost prodigious results. But he had really never cared very much about the college and what he thought it could do for him.

The Long Leap to London

From the fens of Essex to a metropolitan pulpit which he created by his own might and ability, and where he became one of the most potent pulpit influences of nineteen Christian centuries, was indeed a long leap. He came to London in rather a roundabout way. A deacon of the New Park Street Church was told by an out-of-town deacon, who had heard Spurgeon at a Sunday school meeting in Cambridge, that he ought to be invited to preach at New Park Street. When the invitation came, Spurgeon was disposed to doubt the genuineness of it. But a second letter came, he accepted, was asked to come again, and was then asked to take the pulpit for six months. But he was still diffident about the matter and would venture to agree to a term of only three months.

He was not yet wholly wise, nor very cultured, but he fell into wise and good hands, for the most part. He had appeared on the occasion of his first visit displaying in the pulpit a blue handkerchief with large white dots. Consequently the first gift of his deacons to him was a dozen white handkerchiefs. The hint was too obvious for so shrewd a man as Spurgeon to miss. There have been deacons and other boards of Church officials who have been far less wise and courteous and tactful in dealing with unsophisticated young preachers than this, and thereby much harm has been done. There were those in the London churches when Spurgeon came there who were not without the power to discern large possibilities of development in him, and they were disposed to help and not to hinder. He had not been long installed in his new pastorate when a devastating scourge of Asiatic cholera swept the city, taking its merciless toll of his own people. He did not falter in the least in his task. But when nature was exhausted and he had grown inexpressibly weary in body and sick at heart with the persistent horror of it all, he saw on returning from a funeral a sign in a tradesman's shop which read: "Because thou hast made the Lord, which is my refuge, even the Most High, thy habitation; there shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling." He felt immediate comfort and relief, and went on unharmed to the end.

Success waited instantly on his labors in London. His church was crowded and in every way inadequate to his uses. The ventilation was very poor, and he applied to the deacons to let him have more air. They dallied and delayed until they were surprised one morning to find that some one had gone about the building in the night and broken out many of the window lights. When they proposed in their official meeting to offer a reward for the detection of the culprit, Spurgeon dissuaded them. He did not care under the circumstances to win the reward.

Finally his desire for a larger building was to be gratified through the alteration of the old one. While this work was in progress the congregation repaired for the preaching services to Exeter Hall, which, though it was of unusual size, was crowded from the beginning. The extension of his fame, however, brought also its disadvantages. He began to be severely criticized and was coarsely caricatured. The Saturday Review, which had been called by John Bright the Saturday Reviler, was foremost in these attacks. "A true Christian," Spurgeon was driven under the excess of its abuse to say, "is one who fears God, and is hated by the Saturday Review." Superficially he was no doubt more or less open to these attacks, though the event proved that down at the heart of the matter he was too big for them. And they really helped him more than they hindered him. They were not only the occasion of the increase of his influence and his fame, but they caused him deep searchings of heart, which are good for any man, and more especially for a man leaping and bounding into prominence as Spurgeon was. He was sane enough to know that these things could not hurt him if he faced them out in the right way. One so much praised as he was could but be well served by some blame. "This I hope I can say from my heart," he said, "if to be made as the mire of the street again, if to be the laughingstock of fools and the song of the drunkard once more, will make me more serviceable to my Master and more useful to his cause, I will prefer it to all this multitude, or to all the applause man can give."

By his very temperament he provoked two attitudes toward himself, with a tendency to excess in each: he was likely to be rather too highly praised or to be too severely blamed. He encountered the danger which, according to a later suggestion of Dr. C. E. Jefferson in his "Building of the Church," is one of the disadvantages of the very position of the preacher—namely, that if he is too much praised he is likely to develop "self-consciousness in the major key," whereas if if he is too much blamed he is likely to develop "selfconsciousness in the minor key." And neither is a happy condition, either for the preacher or for his people.

Not even Bishop Wilberforce was free from the disposition to pour a little vitriol on Spurgeon's growing fame, for when he was asked whether he did not envy the Nonconformists their possession of him, he replied: "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's ass." Nevertheless this young stripling of a Nonconformist, when but twenty-one years of age, was the talk of the town and a surpassingly popular preacher. He sometimes took from ten to twelve services a week, and everywhere there were crowded congregations. The enlarged church at New Park Street proved to be too small, and there was a return to Exeter Hall. But this now was found also to be too small, so some steps must be taken to secure a building adequate to the demands. Surrey Music Hall, where he remained for three years, and the Crystal Palace, which he used for a very brief time, were the scenes of his preaching in the interval. Concerning his first service in the former, attended by ten thousand people, while as many more had gathered in the gardens on the outside unable to gain admittance, the following lines were written: "Ecclesiastically viewed, Sunday last was one of the most eventful nights that have descended on the metropolis for generations. On that occasion the largest, most commodious, and most beautiful building erected for public amusement in this mighty city was taken possession of for the purpose of proclaiming the gospel of salvation. There, where for a long period wild beasts had been exhibited, and wilder men had been accustomed to congregate, in countless multitudes, for idle pastime, was gathered together the largest audience that ever met in any edifice in these British Isles to listen to the voice of a Nonconformist minister." In the Crystal Palace he preached by actual count at the turnstiles to more than twenty-three thousand people.

On March 21, 1861, the Metropolitan Tabernacle, built for Spurgeon's own congregation, and destined to be the scene of his further triumphant ministry, was opened for the first preaching service. It was said that more than a million people had contributed to the cost of its erection. Here for more than thirty years, and until he was able no longer to preach at all, he swayed such an audience as hardly ever sat so long and so continuously under the ministry of a single man in all the history of Christian preaching. "My congregation got my congregation," he said. And they were gotten from all over the English-speaking world. "Here," said a man found at the service who was known not to attend elsewhere, "every man has his own tale told." Here Spurgeon said he could whisper and be heard in every part of the building, while he could shout and be heard nowhere. And one wonders why preachers still will not take this simple lesson in acoustics to heart.

During the thirty-eight years of his London pastorate there were baptized and added to his Church 14,460 persons. It was estimated that by all methods there came into the Church under his ministry nearly twenty thousand persons. He thought there was not a seat in the Tabernacle in which some one had not been converted. The total membership there shortly before his death was 5,311.

It was no wonder that at the head of this vast Christian enterprise he could found and maintain a successful Pastor's College, and establish an orphanage, which, considered in themselves, constituted an immense achievement. In London alone there were opened thirty-six chapels the pastors of which were trained at the college founded and directed by him. His orphanage received applicants for admission without reference to denominational affiliations and sheltered as many as five hundred children at a time.

His Unaccustomed and Unaccountable Achievement

Great achievement excites human inquisitiveness. Valor and ability on the battle field, great exploits in exploration and discovery, mastery in fields of science and philosophy, and in the spheres of business and government, great intellect, great character, a great poet, a great preacher—great achievement, in whatever sphere displayed or won, not only incites to admiration, but arouses inquiry as to the source and secret of it all. The world is forever measuring and remeasuring its great men to know on what meat they have fed that they have grown so great. This laudable inquisitiveness the life, character, and career of Spurgeon incite to an unusual degree. How is he to be accounted for? Well, no process of the sort, as a matter of course, can ever be final or complete. Life is a force too significant and too elusive ever to be subjected to exact and final analysis. Much more is this true as life expresses itself in great Christian character and achievement. We only judge what we can judge and leave the rest to God who is Judge of all.

The more distinctly defined gifts and qualities of Mr. Spurgeon, however, it will not be difficult to judge.

1. We may well begin with his convinced religious and theological belief. Christianity was to him a supernatural creation and Christian character a process in which the action of the grace of God is just as supernatural as is the being of God himself. He preached the gospel of the grace of God. Indeed, he conceived the gospel he preached to be the grace of God itself in action for the redemption of man. He preached it with power because he preached it with this conviction. It convinced others because it had first convinced him. Others were made certain of it because he had first been made certain of it himself. Religion was to him more than a belief; it was a conviction. It was more than a habit; it was an experience. It was more than a code of conduct; it was a character. When Dr. Joseph Parker had gone once and preached there he came back and spoke warmly of the climate of the Tabernacle. "I do not know that I was ever in such a climate," said he, "during the whole course of my ministry; every one seemed to be aflame with sacred zeal and love."

(a) He was a pronounced Calvinist. "He apparently had not the slightest doubt," as Dr. Brastow has said, "that Calvinism was identical with Christianity." But his Calvinism was not of the reserved or esoteric sort that is kept in books and laid away on shelves. His was a very practical sort, and from it he extracted first of all a strong sense of vocation. "What was the power which launched this grim projectile through his times?" asks Principal George Adam Smith in his recent volume on "Jeremiah," as he writes the story of the soul of that most valiant of all the prophets. "Part at least," he continues, "was his faith in his predestination, the bare sense that God Almighty meant him from before his beginning for the work, and was gripping him to it till the close. This alone prevailed over his reluctant nature, his protesting affections, and his adverse circumstance.

"'Before in the body I built thee, I knew thee,
Before thou wast from the womb, I had put thee apart,
I have set thee a prophet to the nations.'

From the first and all through it was God's choice of him, the knowledge of himself as a thought of the Deity and a consecrated instrument of the Divine Will, which grasped this unbraced and sensitive creature, this alternately discouraged and impulsive man, and turned him, as we have seen, into the opposite of himself." This was not precisely what Spurgeon got from his Calvinism. But he did get the sense of vocation as leading him in his own peculiar direction, along with his acceptance of the Calvinistic idea of election, not to mission and service merely, but to salvation. This total conviction was wrought in him to an unusual degree. "I am as much called," he says, "to preach the gospel as Paul was." None need doubt it; but what concerns us here is the strength of his conviction of the fact.

Strange to say, his Calvinism, rigid as it was, constituted a sort of democracy which was better for practical religious uses than a weak and undefined universalism. For one thing, it left him entirely without respect of persons. This was a thing which God did, and not man, and whoever came to his Tabernacle heard the one gospel he had to preach. Whether, as Mr. P. W. Wilson has said, it were " Ruskin, or Gladstone, or an Archbishop of Canterbury, Spurgeon did not swerve one hair's breadth from his ultimatum. However illustrious the worshiper, the choice, even for him, still lay between heaven and hell." Sir William Robertson Nicoll thought it could not be doubted that his theology was a main element in his lasting attraction. He has admirably stated the point as follows: "Mr. Spurgeon always made salvation a wonderful, a supernatural thing won through battle and agony and garments rolled in blood.

That the blood of God should be one of the ordinary forces of the universe was to him a thing incredible. This great and hard-won salvation was sure—that is, 'it did not stand in the creature'; it rested absolutely with God. It was not of man, nor of the will of the flesh. Mr. Spurgeon's hearers had many of them missed all the prizes of life; but God did not choose for reasons that move man's preference, else their case were hopeless. Their election was of grace. And as he chose them, he would keep them. The perseverance of the saints is a doctrine without meaning to the majority of Christians. But many a poor girl with the love of Christ and goodness in her heart, working her fingers to the bone for a pittance that just keeps her alive, with the temptations of the streets around her, and the river beside her, listened with all her soul when she heard that Christ's sheep could never perish. Many a struggling tradesman tempted to dishonesty, many a widow with penury and loneliness before her, were lifted above all, taught to look through and over the years coming thick with sorrow and conflict, and anticipate a place in the Church Triumphant." Surely there is a lesson here for Arminians. It is not this or that aspect or interpretation of the gospel which saves, whether it be Arminianism or Calvinism, but the gospel down at the heart of it as it centers in Christ and his will to redeem, preached in the power and demonstration of the Holy Spirit, that saves. How else will you account for the equal success in evangelism of Wesley and Whitefield, the one a convinced Calvinist and the other a steadfast Arminian, as they go out side by side in all England and into the world?

Spurgeon steadfastly believed that Christian preaching could only be done in the power of the Holy Spirit. And he made good that belief by doing his own preaching in conscious and constant reliance upon that power. It was as much his experience to preach in the power of the Spirit as it was his experience to live in obedience to the principles of the Christian life in the power of the Spirit. He used to say that as he stood preaching in the great Tabernacle he would be saying to himself even as he preached: "I wonder who is being converted now." Conversions were expected as an instant and a continual transaction of his preaching. When a great Nonconformist Christian leader was once asked what he considered to be the secret of Spurgeon's success he answered instantly, as if his mind had already matured the matter: "The Holy Ghost."

(b) He had very definite beliefs about man's sin and the process of his salvation. There was perfect agreement between his understanding of the Scriptures in their bearing upon the moral state of man and his own knowledge of human nature. He accepted quite literally and faithfully that saying of Jesus that "they that are whole have no need of a physician, but they that are sick"; and he conceived that he himself had come to call not the righteous, but sinners to repentance. There could scarcely be found in the English language a more effective statement of the simple gospel than in his sermon on "Lifting up the Brazen Serpent." In that sermon he has this passage: "We are not in doubt as to what sin will do, for we are told by the infallible Word that 'the wages of sin is death,' and, yet again, 'Sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.' We know also that this death is endless misery, for the Scripture describes the lost as being cast into outer darkness, 'where their worm dieth not, and their fire is not quenched.' Our Lord speaks of the condemned going away into everlasting punishment, where there shall be weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth. We ought to have no doubt about this, and the most of those who profess to doubt it are those who fear that it will be their own portion, who know that they are going down to eternal woe themselves, and therefore they try to shut their eyes to their inevitable doom. Alas, that there should be flatterers in the pulpit who pander to their love of sin by piping to the same tune. We are not of their order. We believe in what the Lord has said in all its solemnity of dread, and, knowing the terrors of the Lord, we persuade men to escape there from."

On the other hand, he diagnosed the human conscience and found there disease and all the dread damage from which there was no escape except by way of the cross. "He handled the casualties." Other men might find lighter work to do, but he preferred this. He did not believe in "paring down depravity." And he recorded his objection to this procedure in the following graphic language: "When a man gets to cutting down sin, paring down depravity, and making little of future punishment, let him no longer preach to you. Some modern divines whittle away the gospel to the small edge of nothing. They make Our divine Lord to be a sort of blessed nobody; they bring down salvation to mere salvability, making certainties into probabilities, and treat verities as mere opinions. When you see a preacher making the gospel small by degrees and miserably less, until there is not enough of it left to make soup for a sick grasshopper, get you gone... As for me, I believe in the colossal; a need deep as hell and grace as high as heaven. I believe in a pit that is bottomless and a heaven that is topless. I believe in an infinite God and infinite atonement, infinite love and mercy, an everlasting covenant ordered in all things and sure, of which the substance and the reality is an infinite Christ."

There was never any mistaking what the man meant. Dr. John Brown, in his "Puritan Preaching in England," quotes what an early reviewer had to say of Spurgeon and adds that the same thing might still be said of him at a date forty years later. And this is what the reviewer had said: "The philosophical precision, the literary refinements, the nice discriminations between what we may know of a doctrine and what we may not, leaving us, in the end, perhaps scarcely anything to know about—all this, which, according to some, is so much needed by the age, is Mr. Spurgeon's utter scorn. He is the direct dogmatic enunciator of the old Pauline truth, without the slightest attempt to soften its outline, its substance, or its results—and what has followed? Truly, Providence would seem to have made foolish once more the wisdom of this world. While the gentlemen who know so well how people ought to preach are left to exemplify their profound lessons before empty benches and in obscure corners, this young man can point to six thousand hearers every Sunday and ask: 'Who, with such a sight before him, dares despair of making the gospel—the good old gospel—a power in the great heart of humanity?"'

2. There was never a ministry more marked by insistence on conversion. This was a necessity of his theology and of his total religious conviction. But it was also a necessity of the ardor of his soul. Over his first convert—a laborer's wife at Waterbeach—he rejoiced as over the first sheaf of a great harvest. "If anybody had said to me," he said, 'Somebody has left you twenty thousand pounds,' I should not have given a snap of my fingers for it compared with the joy which I felt when I was told that God had saved a soul through my ministry." It was incomparably more to him than his first sermon, for his sermons were made for souls, and not souls for his sermons. He rejoiced more than any doctor who had brought his first patient back from the gates of death, more than any lawyer who had saved his first client from the condemnation of the law.

Dr. Theodore Cuyler said of him that "he sowed the gospel with one hand and reaped conversions with the other. His Church was like the orange trees I saw in California; there were white blossoms on some limbs and ripe golden fruit on some other limbs." He preached, he prayed, he toiled, he administered affairs for the conversion of men. Here is the record of a single day in his early ministry: "Leaving home early in the morning, I went to the chapel, and sat there all day long, seeing those who had been brought to Christ by the preaching of the Word. Their stories were so interesting to me that the hours flew by without my noticing how fast they were going. I may have seen some thirty or more persons during the day, one after the other, and I was so delighted with the tales of mercy they had to tell me, and the wonders of grace God had wrought in them, that I did not know anything about how the time passed. At seven o'clock we had our prayer meeting. I went in and prayed with the brethren. After that came the Church meeting. A little before ten I felt faint, and I began to think at what hour I had my dinner, and then for the first time remembered that I had not had any! I never thought of it. I never even felt hungry, because God had made me so glad."

Certain sermons were notable for their converting power. The sermon to which the greatest testimony has been borne for this effect was that on the text, "Compel them to come in." It was said that some hundreds came into the Church as a result of this sermon when it was preached, and that many others came in through its effect when it had gone out in printed form. For his printed sermons also had a remarkable converting power. In this form they had a vast circulation and exercised an incalculable influence. In this Spurgeon has reached a farther goal than any other. Here he holds the world's record. Dr. A. E. Garvie, in "The Christian Preacher, " makes the statement that "about two thousand five hundred of his sermons have been published, and the average sale of each was 25,000 copies." They have been distributed, too, in other languages besides the English. Thus his power has been diffused to an unexampled degree and exercised upon a very wide diversity of persons. A gentleman heard himself accosted by a stranger on the streets of San Francisco as a preacher. "I am not a preacher, my friend," he replied. The explanation of the false identification was that on board a steamer coasting to Oregon some one had produced a volume of Spurgeon's sermons, and this gentleman had been induced to read one of them aloud to as many of the ship's company and crew as would gather for a religious service, and the stranger speaking to him had been one of his hearers. And so in unprecedented ways like this his voice went out to the ends of the earth.

The most amazing thing about these sermons, in whatever form you take them, is the volume of their evangelistic content. Everywhere he explains the way of salvation in simple terms. He would have nothing else. A man came to the Tabernacle and offered him seven thousand pounds for any use to which he might be disposed to put it on condition that as a consideration the offerer of the sum might be received as a member. He pressed his claim when Spurgeon refused, but received the firm reply: "No; nor if you offered me seventy times seven thousand pounds." According to his own word he was "always in training for text-getting and sermon-making." But neither was an end in itself. He was always for getting men. He had a great array of Bible commentaries around the shelves of his study and consulted all of them to see what each had to say on his text when he was preparing a sermon; but he used the commentaries and did not permit them to use him. Preachers may dispute about some of his homiletical methods, but all of them may follow his homiletical aim. For his desire to win men shaped his ministry and gave law to his homiletics.

3. He possessed remarkable powers of delivery, in combination with other gifts the power of which is greatly enhanced through effective delivery. He combined in an eminent degree powers of observation, insight, and utterance. He saw, he understood, he spoke.

(a) He possessed a voice of unparalleled strength and penetration, and he had unusual command of it. Dr. J. M. Buckley, who heard him frequently and studied him critically, speaks of his voice as being unparalleled in both its strength and its melody. "Two orators of the first rank," says Dr. Nicoll, "have appeared in our time—Mr. Bright and Mr. Spurgeon." He is writing specially of Spurgeon and continues: "Spurgeon's marvelous voice, clear as a silver bell's and winning as a woman's, rose up against the surging multitude and without effort entered every ear." He spoke in that natural tone of voice which at its base is conversational. He had no thought of playing the orator, and that was one of the reasons why he was so good an orator. It was said that the auditor was prepossessed in his favor because he "had no Sunday voice." He used only his natural voice whether he appeared in the pulpit, on the platform, or anywhere else. And the main secret of this for any man is sincerity. Dr. Brown says he was "as natural in the pulpit as John Bright was on the platform, and often more racy." Once when a series of meetings was being held in London in a large and difficult hall several speakers had appeared in their turn who had met insurmountable obstacles to being heard. Then Spurgeon came and mounted the platform and opened his lips and without the least difficulty sent the sound of his voice distinctly through every part of the building.

(b) The force and directness of his Anglo-Saxon speech was one of his most notable, possessions. He was "a speaker of superb English, a master of that Saxon speech which somehow goes warm to the hearts of men." This speech was native to him; and it was also cultivated. He formed his speech on the model of the English Bible, over which he pored as a bride over her jewels; and on John Bunyan, whose "Pilgrim's Progress" he read a hundred times; and on the Puritan and other masters of English prose and poetry. His style may be seen even in a brief extract, which will at the same time exhibit his effectiveness in the use of illustration. "Have you ever read Coleridge's 'Ancient Mariner'?" he asks. "I dare say you have thought it one of the strangest imaginations ever put together, especially that part of it where the old mariner represents the corpses of all the dead men rising up—all of them dead, yet rising up to manage the ship; dead men pulling the ropes, dead men steering, dead men spreading the sails. I thought what a strange idea that was. But do you know I have lived to see that true: I have seen it done. I have gone into churches, and I have seen a dead man in the pulpit, and a dead man as a deacon, and a dead man holding the plate at the door, and dead men sitting to hear. 'No!' says one, 'you cannot mean it.' Yes, I do; the men were spiritually dead. I have seen the minister preaching, without a particle of life, a sermon which is fresh only in the sense in which a fish is fresh when it has been packed in ice. I have seen the people sit, and they listened as if they had been a group of statues—the chiseled marble would have been as much affected by the sermon as they. I have seen the deacons go about their business just as orderly, and with as much precision as if they had been mere automatons, and not men with hearts and souls at all. Do you think God will ever bless a Church like that? Are we ever to take the kingdom of heaven with a troop of dead men? Never! We want living ministers, living hearers, living deacons, living elders; and until we have such men who have got the very fire of life burning in their souls, who have got tongues of life and souls of life, we shall never see the kingdom of heaven taken by storm. 'For the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force."'

The directness of his speech was greatly assisted by his keenness of observation and his almost uncanny knowledge of human nature. At one time he could sit on the Tabernacle platform and name every one of his five thousand members. Even those with whom he had but a chance acquaintance were recognized as they sat in his congregation. He had shrewd ways of letting them know that they were recognized; and the uncanniness of his art was displayed in surprising designations of unknown individuals in the audience. Instances of this have been preserved. He once said that there was a man in the gallery listening to him with a bottle of gin in his pocket. There was actually such a man, and he was so startled by the remark that it led to his conversion. "Young man," said he, pointing one Sunday evening toward the gallery, "the gloves you have in your pocket are not paid for." After the service a young man came and begged him not to say anything more about it. The incident led to his conversion. Pointing in a given direction at another time, he said: "There is a man sitting there who is a shoemaker; he keeps his shop open on Sundays; it was open last Sabbath morning. He took in nine pence, and there was fourpence profit on it; his soul is sold to Satan for fourpence." There sat such a man sure enough. He was afraid to go to hear Spurgeon any more lest he should tell the people more about him; but after a time he did go again, and he, too, was converted. A woman intent upon suicide came into his service, as if somehow that would ease her conscience of the dread issue of the transaction. The text, "Seest thou this woman?" seemed strangely directed to her, and the sermon saved both her life and her soul. All this sounds like Sherlock Holmes; only it is fact, not fiction.

(c) Pathos and humor moved as two willing handmaidens duteously attendant upon his speech. He could be as pungent as when he said: "The way to defend a lion is to let him out of his cage." He possessed the key to the human heart and could be as tender and delicate in his approach to it as if he had been an angel revealing to the Virgin the coming of her Holy Child. When he would say that grace is sufficient for all our need, this is how he puts it: "The other evening I was riding home after a day's work; I felt very wearied and sore depressed, when swiftly, and suddenly as a lightning flash, that text came to me, 'My grace is sufficient for thee.' I reached home and looked it up in the original, and at last it came to me in this way, 'My grace is sufficient for thee,' and I said, 'I should think it is, Lord,' and burst out laughing. I never fully understood what the holy laughter of Abraham was until then. It seemed to make unbelief so absurd. It was as though some little fish, being very thirsty, was troubled about drinking the river dry, and Father Thames said: 'Drink away, little fish; my stream is sufficient for thee.' Or it seemed like a little mouse in the granaries of Egypt, after the seven years of plenty, fearing it might die of famine. Joseph might say: 'Cheer up, little mouse; my granaries are sufficient for thee.' Again I imagined a man away up yonder in a lofty mountain, saying to himself: 'I breathe so many cubic feet of air every year I fear I shall exhaust the oxygen in the atmosphere.' But the earth might say: 'Breathe away, O man, and fill thy lungs ever; my atmosphere is sufficient for thee.' O brethren, be great believers! Such faith will bring your souls to heaven and heaven to your souls."

Early in the year 1891 he began to be ill, and it soon appeared that he could never be well again. He died at Mentone, in France, whither he had gone for his health, on January 31, 1892. Mrs. Spurgeon and two sons were left in the inner circle of the bereaved. Countless thousands mourned besides. Some sixty thousand passed along the aisles of the Tabernacle to view his remains lying in state there. He was buried in Norwood Cemetery, London.

"England's greatest contribution to the spread of the gospel in the nineteenth century was Charles Haddon Spurgeon," said Dr. J. C. Carlile at the Berlin Congress of Baptist Churches. The great American Methodist, Dr. James M. Buckley, said of him: "From the point of view of a man whose work was done in one city and with the exception of a few years in one Church and one congregation we consider him the greatest and most effective preacher that has arisen in the history of Christianity."

Neither his exegesis nor his homiletics was faultless; there were some faults of character, as well as of manner and method, no doubt—as the not too much restrained conceit which he had of himself; but his noble simplicity of style and of speech, his fine scorn of pretense and of sham, his high and unfaltering courage in the pulpit, his abounding humor and deep and pathetic sense of human frailty and man's need of God, his unaffected and unfailing interest in men and sympathy for them in all their sorrow and sin, his love of the Bible and fidelity to his understanding of it, his zeal for souls, his power of the compulsion of the human will, his total devotion to the cause of Christ—in all these English-speaking preachers may follow him, as God may give them grace and ability, until the gospel they preach is uttered in another tongue.


Copied for WholesomeWords.org from Princes of the Christian Pulpit and Pastorate by Harry C. Howard. Nashville, Tenn.: Cokesbury Press, ©1927.

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