"In these days, there is a growing hatred of the pulpit. The pulpit has maintained its ground full many a year, but partially by its becoming inefficient, it is losing its high position. Through a timid abuse of it, instead of a strong stiff use of the pulpit, the world has come to despise it; and now most certainly we are not a priest-ridden people one-half so much as we are a press-ridden people. By the press we are ridden indeed. Mercuries, Despatches, Journals, Gazettes, and Magazines are now the judges of pulpit eloquence and style. They thrust themselves into the censor's seat, and censure those whose office it should rather be to censure them. For my own part, I cheerfully accord to all men the liberty of abusing me; but I must protest against the conduct of at least one Editor, who has misquoted in order to pervert my meaning, and who has done even more than that; he has manufactured a "quotation" from his own head, which never did occur in my works or words."--C. H. S., in sermon preached at the Music Hall, Royal Surrey Gardens, January 25 ,1857.
Early Criticisms and Slanders
WHILE reading again the letters referred to in the preceding chapter, Mrs. Spurgeon has been reminded that before her marriage she made a collection of newspaper cuttings relating to her beloved. As the different articles appeared, Mr. Spurgeon sent them on to her, usually saying with regard to each one, "Here's another contribution for your museum." It would not be difficult to fill a volume with reprints of the notices--favourable and otherwise--of the young preacher's first years in London, but it is not likely that any useful purpose would be thereby served. It will probably suffice if a selection is given from the contents of this first scrap-book, especially as the papers it contains were published in various parts of the kingdom at considerable intervals during the years 1855 and 1856. They are therefore fairly representative of the press notices of the period, and they will be of greater interest to many readers because they were gathered by the dear preacher himself. The book in which the extracts are preserved bears upon its title-page, in his handwriting, the following inscription:
Facts, Fiction, and Facetiae.
The last word might have been Falsehood, for there is much that is untrue, and very little that can be regarded as facetious in the whole series. Some of the paragraphs are too abusive or too blasphemous to be inserted in this work, and one cannot read them without wondering how any man could have written in such a cruel fashion concerning so young and so earnest a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ, who was labouring with all his might to bring sinners to the Saviour. At that early stage of his ministry, he had not become so accustomed as he was in later years to attacks from all quarters, and his letters show that he felt very keenly the aspersions and slanders to which he was subjected. Occasionally, also, he alluded from the pulpit to this form of fiery trial. In a sermon, preached March 15, 1857, he said: "I shall never forget the circumstance, when, after I thought I had made a full consecration to Christ, a slanderous report against my character came to my ears, and my heart was broken in agony because I should have to lose that, in preaching Christ's gospel. I fell on my knees, and said, 'Master, I will not keep back even my character for Thee. If I must lose that, too, then let it go; it is the dearest thing I have, but it shall go, if, like my Master, they shall say I have a devil, and am mad, or, like Him, I am a drunken man and a wine-bibber.' In after years, he was less affected by the notices which appeared. Perhaps this was all the easier as the tone adopted by most of the writers very greatly improved, while the friendly articles and paragraphs were so much more numerous than the unfavourable ones that they obliterated the memory of any that might have caused sorrow and pain. The habit of preserving newspaper and other records of his career was continued by Spurgeon to the last; and as each caricature, criticism, or commendation came to hand, he would say, "That is one more for my collection," while the praise or blame it contained would be of less importance in his esteem than his concern to have a conscience void of offence toward God and men. Preaching in the Tabernacle, in 1884, he thus referred to his early experience, and to the change the intervening period had witnessed:
"'They compassed me about like bees,' says David; that is to say, they were very many, and very furious. When bees are excited, they are amongst the most terrible of assailants; sharp are their stings, and they inject a venom which sets the blood on fire. I read, the other day, of a traveller in Africa, who learned this by experience. Certain negroes were pulling his boat up the river, and as the rope trailed along it disturbed a bees' nest, and in a moment the bees were upon him in his cabin. He said that he was stung in the face, the hands, and the eyes. He was all over a mass of fire, and to escape from his assailants he plunged into the river, but they persecuted him still, attacking his head whenever it emerged from the water. After what he suffered from them, he said he would sooner meet two lions at once, or a whole herd of buffaloes, than ever be attacked by bees again; so that the simile which David gives is a very striking one. A company of mean-spirited, wicked men, who are no bigger than bees, mentally or spiritually, can get together, and sting a good man in a thousand places, till he is well-nigh maddened by their scorn, their ridicule, their slander, and their misrepresentation. Their very littleness gives them the power to wound with impunity. Such has been the experience of some of us, especially in days now happily past. For one, I can say, I grew inured to falsehood and spite. The stings at last caused me no more pain than if I had been made of iron, but at first they were galling enough. Do not be surprised, dear friends, if you have the same experience, and if it comes, count it no strange thing, for in this way the saints have been treated in all time. Thank God, the wounds are not fatal, nor of long continuance! Time brings ease, and use creates hardihood. No real harm has come to any of us who have run the gauntlet of abuse; not even a bruise remains.
According to chronological order, the first serious attack resulted from the publication, by Rev. Charles Waters Banks, in The Earthen Vessel, December 1854, of an article, from which we give the following paragraph.
"Mr. C. H. Spurgeon is the present Pastor of New Park Street Chapel, in the Borough of Southwark. He is a young man of very considerable ministerial talent, and his labours have been amazingly successful in raising up the before drooping cause at Park Street to a state of prosperity almost unequalled. We know of no Baptist minister in all the metropolis--with the exception of our highly-favoured and long-tried brother, James Wells, of the Surrey Tabernacle--who has such crowded auditories, and continued overflowing congregations, as Mr.. Spurgeon has. But, then, very solemn questions arise. 'WHAT IS HE DOING?' 'WHOSE SERVANT IS HE?' 'What proof does he give that, instrumentally, his is a heart-searching, a Christ-exalting, a truth-unfolding, a sinner-converting, a church-feeding, a soul-saving ministry?' This is the point at issue with many whom we know--a point which we should rejoice to see clearly settled--in the best sense--and demonstrated beyond a doubt in the confidence of all the true churches of Christ in Christendom. In introducing this subject to the notice of our readers, we have no object in view further than a desire to furnish all the material which has been thrown into our hands--a careful and discriminating examination of which may, to some extent, be edifying and profitable. We wish our present remarks to be considered merely introductory, not conclusive; but seeing that the minds of so many are aroused to enquiry as to what may be considered the real position of this young Samuel in the professing church, we are disposed to search the records now before us, and from thence fetch out all the evidence we can find expressive of a real work of grace in the soul, and a Divine call to publish the tidings of salvation, the mysteries of the cross, and the work of the Holy Spirit, in the hearts of the living in Jerusalem,"
The article contained a kindly reference to Spurgeon's spiritual experience, and included the friendly testimony of a recent hearer, whose judgment carried weight with Mr. Banks, though his name was not given; but most of the space was devoted to extracts from the young preacher's published discourses. In The Earthen Vessel for the following month (January, 1855), a long communication was inserted, bearing the signature, "Job". Spurgeon believed that the writer was the redoubtable James Wells.
The following extracts will show how the veteran wrote concerning the stripling who was destined far to surpass his critic in fame and usefulness:
"I have no personal antipathy to Mr. Spurgeon; nor should I have written concerning him, but for your review of his ministry. His ministry is a public matter, and therefore open to public opinion, and as you assure us that the sermon on I Cor. i.6, 'The Testimony of Christ Confirmed in You,' by Mr. Spurgeon, is by far the best, I will, by your permission, lay before you my opinion of the same. But I will first make a few remarks concerning Mr. Spurgeon, to which remarks I think he is entitled.
It is, then, in the first place, clear that he has been, from his childhood, a very industrious and ardent reader of books, especially those of a theological kind, and that he has united with his theological researches books of classic and of scientific caste, and has thus possessed himself of every kind of information which, by the law of association, he can deal out at pleasure; and these acquirements, by reading, are united, in Mr. Spurgeon, with good speaking gifts. The laws of oratory have been well studied, and he suits the action to his words. This mode of public speaking was, in the theatres of ancient Greece, carried to such an extent that one person had to speak the words, and another had to perform the gestures, and suit, with every variety of face and form, the movement to the subject in hand. Mr. Spurgeon has caught the idea, only with this difference, that he performs both parts himself. Mr. Spurgeon is too well acquainted with Elisha Coles not to see in the Bible the sovereignty of God; and too well acquainted with the writings of Toplady and Tucker not to see in the Bible the doctrine of predestination, and an overruling providence; and too well versed in the subtleties of the late Dr. Chalmers not to philosophize upon rolling planets, and methodically-moving particles of earth and water, each particle having its ordained sphere.
But, in addition to this, he appears to be a well-disposed person--kind, benevolent, courteous, full of goodwill to his fellow-creatures--endearing in his manners, social--a kind of person whom it would seem almost a cruelty to dislike. The same may be, with equal truth, said both of Dr. Pusey and of Cardinal Wiseman. But, then, it becomes us to be aware, not only of the rough garment of a mock and 'arrogant humility', but also of Amalekite-measured and delicate steps; and also of the soft raiment of refined and studied courtesy (Matt. xi. 8 ) and fascinating smile with, 'Surely the bitterness of death is past' (I Sam. xv. 32). But Samuel had too much honesty about him to be thus deceived. We must, then, beware of words that are smoother than butter, and softer than oil (Psalm lv. 21) Not one of the Reformers appears to have been of this amiable caste, but these creature-refinements pass with thousands for religion, and tens of thousands are deluded thereby. It was by great, very great politeness that the serpent beguiled Eve; and, unhappily, her posterity love to have it so--so true is it that Satan is not only a prince of darkness, but transformed also as 'an angel of light', to deceive, if it were possible, even the very elect.
And yet further than all this, Mr. Spurgeon was, so says the Vessel, brought to know the Lord when he was only fifteen years old. Heaven grant it may prove to be so--for the young man's sake, and for that of others also! But I have --most solemnly have--my doubts as to the Divine reality of his conversion. I do not say--it is not for me to say--that he is not a regenerated man, but this I do know, that there are conversions which are not of God, and whatever convictions a man may have, whatever may be the agonies of his mind as to the possibility of his salvation, whatever terror anyone may experience, and however sincere they may be, and whatever deliverance they may have by dreams or visions, or by natural conscience, or the letter or even apparent power of the Word, yet, if they cannot stand, in their spirit and ministry, the test of the law of truth, and the testimony of God, there is no true light in them; for a person may be intellectually enlightened, he may taste of the Heavenly gift, and be made partaker of the Holy Ghost, professionally, and taste of the good Word of God (Hebrews vi.), and yet not be regenerated, and therefore not beyond the danger of falling away, even from that portion of truth which such do hold. Such are never thoroughly convinced of what they are by nature Psalm xxxviii. and Romans vii. show a path to which they make some approaches, and of which they may eloquently talk, but at the same time give certain proofs that they are not truly walking therein. Mr. Spurgeon tells us, in his sermon on the Ministry of Angels, that he has more angelology about him than most people. Well, perhaps he has but then, if a real angel from Heaven were to preach another gospel, he is not to be received. . . .
Concerning Mr. Spurgeon's ministry, I believe the following things:
1st. That it is most awfully deceptive; that it passes by the essentials of the work of the Holy Ghost, and sets people by shoals down for Christians who are not Christians by the quickening and indwelling power of the Holy Ghost. Hence, freewillers, intellectual Calvinists, high and low, are delighted with him, together with the philosophic and classic-taste Christian! This is simply deceiving others with the deception wherewith he himself is deceived.
2nd. That, as he speaks some truth, convictions will in some cases take place under his ministry; such will go into real concern for their salvation, and will, after a time, leave his ministry, for a ministry that can accompany them in their rugged paths of wilderness experience.
3rd. Though I do not attach the moral worth to such a ministry as I should to the true ministry of the Spirit, yet it may be morally and socially beneficial to some people, who perhaps would care to hear only such an intellectually, or rather rhetorically-gifted man as is Mr. Spurgeon, but then they have this advantage at the cost of being fatally deluded.
4th. My opinion is, and my argument is, and my conclusion is, that no man who knows his own heart, who knows what the daily cross means, and who knows the difference between the form and the power, the name and the life itself, the semblance and the substance, the difference between the sounding brass or the tinkling cymbal and the voice of the turtle, pouring the plaintive, but healing notes of Calvary into the solitary and weary soul--he who walks in this path, could not hear with profit the ministry of Mr. Spurgeon.
5th. I believe that Mr. Spurgeon could not have fallen into a line of things more adapted to popularity: his ministry pays its address courteously to all; hence, in this sermon, he graciously receives us all--such a reception as it is--he who preaches all doctrine, and he who preaches no doctrine; he who preaches all experience, and he who preaches no experience; and, hence, intellectually High Calvinists of easy virtue receive such a ministry into their pulpits, at once showing that the man of sin, the spirit of apostacy, is lurking in their midst. Low Calvinists also receive him, showing that there is enough of their spirit about him to make him their dear brother; only his Hyperism does sometimes get a little in their way, but they hope experience will soon take away this Calvinistic taint, and so make things more agreeable. But in this I believe they will be disappointed; he has chosen his sphere, his orbit may seem to be eccentric, but he will go intellectually shining on, throwing out his commentary attractions, crossing the orbits of all the others, seeming friendly with all, yet belonging to none.
His originality lies not in the materials he uses, but in ranging them into an order that suits his own turn of mind; at this he industriously labours. (In this he is a reproof to some ministers of our own denomination who are not industrious, nor studious, nor diligent, but sluggish, slothful, negligent, empty-headed, and in the pulpit as well as in the parlour, empty-handed. Preaching then is like sowing the wind, and reaping the whirlwind, and many on this account leave our ministers, and prefer a half-way gospel, ingenuously and enthusiastically preached, to a whole gospel, not half preached, or preached without variety, life, or power. May the Lord stir up His own servants, that they may work while it is day!)
But, in conclusion, I say--I would make every allowance for his youth, but while I make this allowance, I am, nevertheless, thoroughly disposed to believe that we have a fair sample of what he will be even unto the end."
This letter was followed by editorial comments, and a long correspondence, pro and con. "Job" wrote again, explaining one expression he had previously used, but making even more definite his assertion concerning what he supposed to be Spurgeon's lack of true spiritual life:
"Dear Mr. Editor,--In one part of my review of Mr. Spurgeon's sermon, I have said of him, as a minister, 'I am thoroughly (it should have been strongly) disposed to believe that we have a fair sample of what he will be to the end.' It is to be regretted that some persons have tried to make the above mean that, as Mr. Spurgeon is in a state of nature now, he will so continue even unto the end; whereas, I neither did, nor do I mean, any such thing: all I mean is, that his ministry, as it now is, is I am strongly disposed to believe a fair sample of what it will be even unto the end. I do not here refer to his personal destiny at all though no doubt many would have been glad to have seen me commit myself, by rushing in 'where angels fear to tread'. . . .
I am, Mr. Editor, credibly informed that Mr. Spurgeon himself intends taking no notice of what I have written, and if I am to be counted an enemy because I have spoken what I believe to be the truth (Gal. iv. 16), I am perfectly willing to bear the reproach thereof, and most happy should I be to have just cause to think differently of his ministry; but I am at present (instead of being shaken) more than ever confirmed in what I have written. I beg therefore to say that anything said upon the subject by Mr. Spurgeon's friends will be to me as straws thrown against a stone wall (Jeremiah i. 18), and of which I shall take no notice. Only let them beware lest a voice from Him, by whom actions are weighed, say unto them, 'Ye have not spoken of Me the thing that is right, as My servant Job hath' (Job xlii. 7)."
Wells long continued his spirit of opposition to Spurgeon, even refusing to fulfil an engagement to preach because his brother-minister was to take one of the services on the same; day; but many of his strict Baptist brethren did not sympathize with him in his action, and cordially welcomed the young preacher who held so many truths that were dear also to them.
The Editor of The Earthen Vessel (Mr. Banks) published, in, later numbers of his Magazine for 1855, three articles from his own pen, in the course of which, reviewing Spurgeon's life and ministry up to that time, he wrote:
"It was a nice word of Richard Sibbes when he said, 'The office of a minister is to be a wooer, to make up the marriage between Christ and Christian souls:' and we will plainly speak our minds--we have hoped that C. H. Spurgeon's work, in the hands of the Holy Ghost, is to woo and to win souls over unto Jesus Christ, and we have an impression, should his life be spared, that, through his instrumentality, all our churches will, by-and-by, be increased. God Almighty grant that we may be true prophets, and then, to all our cruel correspondents we will say, 'Fire away; cut up, cast out, and condemn The Earthen Vessel as much as ye may, ye will do us no harm.' . . . We have no ground for suspecting the genuineness of Mr. Spurgeon's motives, nor the honesty of his heart. We are bound to believe that his statements respecting his own experience are just and true. We are bound to believe that, in prosecuting his ministry, he is sincerely aiming at three things--the glory of christ, the good of immortal souls, and the well-being of Zion--and that, in all this, the love of Christ constrains him. If, in thoroughly weighing the sermons before us, proof to the contrary appeared, we would not hide it up; but we sincerely trust no evidence of that kind can be produced. . . . In the course of Mr. Spurgeon's ministry, there are frequently to be found such gushings forth of love to God, of ravishing delights in Christ, of the powerful anointings of the Holy Ghost, as compel us to believe that God is in him of a truth. We must confess that is the deep-wrought conviction of our spirit; and we dare not conceal it. Why should we? We may be condemned by many; but, whatever it may cast upon us--whoever may discard us--we must acknowledge that, while in these sermons we have met with sentences that perplex us, and with what some might consider contradiction, still, we have found those things which have been powerful demonstrations of the indwelling of the life and the love of the triune god in the preacher's heart.
In thus giving, without reserve, an unbiased verdict respecting the main drift of the sermons contained in The New Park Street Pulpit, we do not endorse every sentence, nor justify every mode of expression; our first work has been to search for that which, in every new work that comes to hand, we always search for--that which we search for in every candidate for church-membership--that is, life, and if we have not found evidences of a Divine life in the ministry at New Park Street Chapel, we are deceived; yea, we are blind, and the powers of spiritual discernment are not with us. . . . We beseech all Christian people, who long for a revival in the midst of our churches, to pray for this young man, whom we do earnestly hope the lord has sent amongst us. Let us not be found fighting against him, lest unhappily we be found fighting against God. Let us remember, he has not made himself, he has not qualified himself, he has not sent himself; all that he has, which is good, Godlike, and gracious, the Lord has given him all that he is doing, that is of real benefit to immortal souls, the Lord is doing by him."
The next attack was of a very different character. It was contained in the following paragraph published by The Ipswich Express, February 27, 1855, in a letter from its London correspondent:
"A Clerical Poltroon.--There is some little excitement in the religious world, created by a young man, a Baptist minister, and whose father, I am told, is an Independent minister of the name of Spurgeon, in Colchester. This youth is fluent, and the consequences are most distressing. As his own chapel is under repair, he preaches in Exeter Hall every Sunday, and the place is crammed to suffocation. All his discourses are redolent of bad taste, are vulgar and theatrical, and yet he is so run after that, unless you go half-an-hour before the time, you will not be able to get in at all. I am told, one leading minister of the Independent denomination, after hearing this precocious youth, said that the exhibition was 'an insult to God and man.' Actually, I hear, the other Sunday, the gifted divine had the impudence, before preaching, to say, as there were many young ladies present, that he was engaged--that his heart it was another's, he wished them clearly to understand that--that he might have no presents sent him, no attentions paid him, no worsted slippers worked for him by the young ladies present. I suppose the dear divine has been rendered uncomfortable by the fondness of his female auditors; at any rate, such is the impression he wishes to leave. The only impression, however, he seems to have produced upon the judicious few is one of intense sorrow and regret that such things should be, and that such a man should draw."
Spurgeon's feeling about the matter can be judged by the following letter to his father:
Do not be grieved at the slanderous libel in this week's Express. . . .
Of course, it is all a lie, without an, atom of foundation; and while the whole of London is talking of me, and thousands are unable to get near the door, the opinion of a penny-a-liner is of little consequence.
I beseech you not to write; but if you can see Mr. Harvey, or some official, it might do good. A full reply on all points will appear next week.
I only fear for you; I do not like you to be grieved. For myself, I will rejoice; the devil is roused, the Church is awakening, and I am now counted worthy to-suffer for Christ's sake. . . . Good ballast, father, good ballast; but, oh! remember what I have said before, and do not check me.
Last night, I could not sleep till morning light, but now my Master has cheered me, and I 'hail reproach, and welcome shame'.
Love to you all, especially to my dearest mother. I mean to come home April 16th. So, amen.
On March 6, The Ipswich Express contained the following paragraphs:
"The Rev. C.H. Spurgeon
A gentleman of good position in London complains, as 'a friend of the Rev. C. H. Spurgeon', of the statements respecting that gentleman, last week, in the letter of our London correspondent, which are, he assures us, 'a tissue of falsehoods'. That being the case, we lose no time in contradicting them, and at the same time expressing our regret that they should have appeared in our columns. Of Mr. Spurgeon we know nothing personally, and, of course, can have no desire to say anything which should cause pain to him or his friends. It has been, and will still be, our constant desire in criticising public men to avoid anything like personalities. We much regret that our London correspondent should have reported mere hearsay (which we are now informed was incorrect) respecting Mr. Spurgeon, and also that we did not give his letter that revision before its appearance in print which all letters for the press should receive, but which Editors, in the hurry of the day of publication, are too apt to neglect.
A London publisher also sends us a sermon delivered by Mr. Spurgeon on the 11th ult., at Exeter Hall, stating that we ought to read and review it, in justice to the rev. gentleman. We have received, from an anonymous correspondent in London, another sermon delivered by Mr. Spurgeon last November, accompanied by a like request. It is not our habit to review sermons, but, under the circumstances, we admit the justice of these demands, and shall comply with them. Our correspondent having criticised Mr. Spurgeon's preaching (harshly, as the friends of the preacher think), we shall consider ourselves bound to take an opportunity of reviewing these discourses. In so doing, the friends of Mr. Spurgeon may be assured we shall bring to the task the best of our ability, and a perfectly unbiased judgment; we shall 'nothing extenuate, nor set down aught in malice'."
The Editor published several letters from those who wrote in Spurgeon's defence, as well as from others who attacked him, and on April 24 he commenced his promised review of the sermons, as follows:
"Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them. We, have had, in a measure, the reviewal of Mr. Spurgeon's sermons thrust upon us, and in the fulfillment of our task we may, perhaps, assist our readers to judge whether that gentleman has achieved any real, permanent greatness or whether he has had a factitious, fleeting greatness thrust upon him by his ignorant admirers.
The Express of February 27th contained, as usual, a letter from our London correspondent, a gentleman favourably known as a writer on politics and general literature. This letter contained some rather severe criticism on Mr. Spurgeon's style of preaching, and a line or two respecting a rumour, heard by our correspondent, of some absurd remarks said to have been made on a certain occasion by Mr. Spurgeon previous to preaching. We did not read the letter until it appeared in print. . . . As soon as we saw the paragraph, we blamed ourselves for publishing, as well as our correspondent for forwarding, anything of mere hearsay which could possibly give annoyance to the preacher in question or his friends. And we have since learned, on the undoubted authority of his own published effusions, that Mr. Spurgeon really does run into so many extravagancies that to attribute to him any which he has never perpetrated would not only be a wrong, but a 'wasteful and ridiculous excess'.
However, in a day or two, we received from several of Mr. Spurgeon's acquaintances (some of them his intimate friends) a flat contradiction of the absurd story of 'the slippers'. For the credit of the ministry we were glad to have it thus authoritatively denied, and lost no time in stating our sincere regret that we had, through an inadvertence, given publicity to an incorrect report. More than this, we published several of the longest letters out of the many we received from Mr. Spurgeon's friends--stuffed full of the most glowing eulogiums of that gentleman as a minister and a man--and in compliance with the wishes of some very ardent in his cause, we promised to review Mr. Spurgeon's sermons. We printed about twenty times as much in his praise as had appeared in his dispraise--we courteously carried on for some time a considerable correspondence with the London Spurgeonites--and although we think theology is out of place in a newspaper, we agreed, for once, rather than the least injustice should be committed, to step out of our usual course, and criticise sermons. Could we do more? Indeed, the line we took showed so clearly the absence of any ill-feeling on our part to Mr. Spurgeon, that the gentleman who first (rather angrily) called our attention to the obnoxious paragraph, finished a lengthy correspondence with us by saying, 'I am perfectly satisfied with your explanation, and think it does you honour.
The "review" was continued on May 1, and concluded on May 29. The tone of it may be judged from the closing paragraphs: "There is enough foolishness in London to keep up, in flourishing style, Tom Thumb, Charles Kean, the Living Skeleton, C. H. Spurgeon, and many other delusions all at once, and yet to allow a vast mass of sober-minded citizens to go 'the even tenor of their way', quite unaffected by such transient turmoils. Our decided opinion is, that in no other place but London could Mr. Spurgeon have caused the furor that he has excited. It must not be forgotten that in London, or anywhere else, a religious delusion is, of all others, the most easy to inaugurate and carry on. When a man obtains possession of a pulpit, he has credit for meaning well, at any rate, and expressions are thence-forward often listened to from him, without hostile criticism, which would not be tolerated, if enunciated from any other position.
Mr. Spurgeon's career is suggestive of various interesting questions. If such a man can obtain, in a short time, the position he now certainly occupies, does that fact say much for the condition of a great portion of the religious world? If Mr. S. be, as is stated, the very best among a large section of preachers, what sort of a man is the very worst of that section? Does the pulpit, upon the whole, keep pace with the age, or does it lag behind? Will not the immense success of such as Spurgeon go far to account for that aversion of men of taste to the public profession of Evangelical Religion complained of long ago by John Foster?"
Although the falsehood published in The Ipswich Express was promptly contradicted, it was widely copied into other papers. The Empire (London) and The Christian News (Glasgow) published the paragraph in full, while portions of it were incorporated into articles that appeared in various parts of the kingdom, and the story of "the slippers" was repeated so often that probably many people were foolish enough to believe it, and others were wicked enough to say that they heard Spurgeon make the statement!
The Essex Standard, April 18, 1855, contained a long letter, signed "Iconoclast", describing a Sunday evening service at Exeter Hall. The writer said: "The mighty gathering and the 'religious furor' made me think of Demosthenes haranguing the Athenians, Cicero before the Roman senate, Peter the Hermit preaching the Crusade, Wesley on his father's tomb at Epworth, and Whitefield stirring the breasts of the thousands in Hyde Park, and therefore I scanned somewhat curiously both 'orator' and auditors. A young man, in his 21st year, but looking much older, short in stature and thick set, with a broad massive face, a low forehead, an expressionless eye, a wide and sensual mouth, a voice strong but not musical--suggestive of Stentor rather than Nestor--the very reverse of a beau ideal of an orator: without the eye of fire, where was the heart of flame? Orpheus without his lyre (flute, Spurgeon says), what was the potent charm that was to change the 'swine of the metropolis' into men, and convert sinners into saints? We must wait for the thoughts that breathe, and the words that burn. The hymn was sung right lustily, and the preacher proceeded to read and expound the 3rd of Philippians. . . . It was evident that exposition was not his forte. Then followed what his audience called prayer. It was an apostrophe to the Invisible, containing certain petitions first for himself, then for the elect saints, and then for the outer-court worshippers. It was such an utterance as indicated low views of Deity, and exalted views of self. Indeed, self is never out of sight, and is presented to the listener as a 'little child', a 'babbler', a 'baby', a 'battering ram', 'little David', 'this despised young man', 'this ranting fellow', and 'an empty ram's horn'. If reverence is the greatest mark of respect to an earthly parent, how much more is it due to the Supreme Father of all! . . . When the painful effect of this most arrogant dictation to Deity allowed me to think, I could not but rejoice in that 'form of sound words' by which the devotions of the Church are sustained from Sabbath to Sabbath, and by which, also, such outrageous violations of decorum are rendered impossible. The discourse was from Philippians iii. 10: 'That I may know Him.' The various objects of human pursuit being designated and discussed, we had put before us the object, nature, and effects of Paul's knowledge. . . . Speaking of his study, Mr. Spurgeon said it was his 'dukedom', where he could talk to Milton and Locke as slaves, and say, 'Come down here.' Mr. Spurgeon loves controversy, but with the modesty peculiar to himself told us that, nowadays, 'he found no foeman worthy of his steel.' His favourite action is that of washing his hands, and then rubbing them dry. He belongs to the peripatetic, or Walker school, perpetually walking up and down as an actor treading the boards of a theatre. His style is that of the vulgar colloquial varied by rant. . . . All the most solemn mysteries of our holy religion are by him rudely, roughly, and impiously handled. Mystery is vulgarised, sanctity profaned, common sense outraged; and decency disgusted. . . . His rantings are interspersed with coarse anecdotes that split the ears of the groundlings; and this is popularity! and this is the 'religious furor' of London! and this young divine it is that throws Wesley and Whitefield in the shade! and this is the preaching, and this the theology, that five thousand persons from Sabbath to Sabbath hear, receive, and approve, and--profit by it!"
The next issue of The Essex Standard contained another communication in a similar strain:
"Mr. Editor,--The letter of 'Iconoclast' in your Wednesday's impression is a faithful delineation of the young preacher who is making so great a stir just now. Had we seen it previously, we should have been kept from taking the trouble to go to Earl's Colne yesterday, to hear what extremely disgusted us--a young man of 21 years assuming airs, and adopting a language, which would be scarcely tolerated in the man of grey hairs. In common with many others, though obliged to smile during his performances, we felt more inclined to weep over such a prostitution of the pulpit and hours devoted to professedly religious worship. His prayer, to us, appeared most profanely familiar, and never were we impressed more with the contrast between this effusion and the beautifully-simple, reverential, and devout language of the Church of England Liturgy, and said, within our hearts, 'Would that Dissenters would bind down their ministers to use those forms of sound words, rather than allow of these rhapsodies, which, to all persons of taste and true devotion, must have been very offensive!' It is a matter of deep regret to many that one of the best Dissenting chapels in London should be occupied by a youth of Mr. Spurgeon's caste and doctrinal sentiments; and they very properly shrink from recognizing him among the regular ministers of the Baptist denomination; and we heard it regretted more than once yesterday that he should have been chosen to represent a Society so respectable as the Baptist Home Missionary Society. If gain were their object, they certainly obtained it, as we understand the collections were large, but we submit no such motive can be tolerated at the cost of so much propriety. I exceedingly regret to write thus of one who, until I heard him yesterday, I thought probably was raised up for usefulness; but a sense of duty to the public leads me to express my opinions and sentiments in this plain, unflinching manner.
The following week, a letter of quite another kind was published in the same paper:
"Sir,--Your readers have had the opinions of two supporters of the Established Church on the preaching of the Rev. C. H. Spurgeon, and I trust to your well-known fairness to allow a Dissenter an opportunity of expressing the sentiments held by many who have enjoyed the pleasure of listening to the fervid words of that distinguished minister of the gospel.
Mr. Spurgeon institutes a new era, or more correctly, revives the good old style of Bunyan, Wesley, and Whitefield--men whose burning eloquence carried conviction to the hearts of their hearers--men who cared nought for the applause of their fellow-mortals, but did all for God's glory. In the steps of these apostles does Mr. S. follow, and who could desire more noble leaders?
The pulpit is now too much abused by the mere display of intellect; instead of the indignant burst of a Luther against the iniquities of mankind, we have only the passive disapprobation of the silvery-tongued man of letters. The preachers address their cold, 'packed-in-ice' discourses to the educated portion of their audience; and the majority, the uneducated poor, are unable, in these 'scientific' sermons, to learn the way of holiness, from the simple fact that they are above their comprehension. How unlike these ministers who appear to consider the gospel so frail that it would lose its power if delivered with unflinching candour--are to the holy Saviour! His words were always characterized by the greatest simplicity, and by a thorough detestation of those 'blind guides who strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.'
Mr. Spurgeon goes to the root of the evil; his discourses are such as a child can understand, and yet filled with the most elevating philosophy and sound religious instruction. Taking the Word as his only guide, and casting aside the writings--however antiquated--of fallible men, he appeals to the heart, not to the head; puts the living truth forcibly before the mind, gains the attention, and then, as he himself says, fastens in the bow the messenger shaft, which, by the blessing and direction of the Almighty, strikes home to the heart of the sinner.
He holds that irreligion is to be fought against, not to be handled with 'fingers of down', and hence Exeter Hall is crammed. It is objected that these are the lowest of the London poor. What of that? They, above all, need religious training. I suppose there are few advocates in this country for the opinion that the aristocracy of the land alone have souls; Jehovah has breathed His spirit into the democracy, and Mr. S. is the man for them. In my humble opinion, if there were more C. H. Spurgeons, there would be fewer Sabbath desecrationists, fewer tendencies to the idol-worship of Rome, and fewer disciples of Holyoake and Paine.
In conclusion, let me suggest that, even if Mr. Spurgeon were guilty of all laid to his charge, would it not be better for Christians to gloss over the failings of a brother-worker (for no one doubts the sincerity of the young man's efforts), than to seek here and there for the dross amongst the pure metal--making mountains out of molehills, and wantonly refusing the golden ears because mixed with the necessary chaff?
To the Editor of The Chelmsford Chronicle, who had published an article of a more friendly character than those in other East Anglian papers, Spurgeon wrote:
My Dear Sir,
I am usually careless of the notices of papers concerning myself--referring all honour to my Master, and believing that dishonourable articles are but advertisements for me, and bring more under the sound of the gospel. But you, my dear sir (I know not why), have been pleased to speak so favourably of my labours that I think it only right that I should thank you. If I could have done so personally, I would have availed myself of the pleasure, but the best substitute is by letter. Amid a constant din of abuse, it is pleasant to poor flesh and blood to hear one favourable voice. I am far from deserving much that you have said in my praise, but as I am equally undeserving of the coarse censure poured on me by The Essex Standard, &c., &c., I will set the one against the other. I am neither eloquent nor learned, but the Head of the Church has given me sympathy with the masses, love to the poor, and the means of winning the attention of the ignorant and unenlightened. I never sought popularity, and I cannot tell how it is so many come to hear me; but shall I now change? To please the polite critic, shall I leave 'the people', who so much require a simple and stirring style? I am, perhaps, 'vulgar', and so on, but it is not intentional, save that I must and will make the people listen. My firm conviction is, that, we have quite enough polite preachers, and that 'the many' require a change. God has owned me to the most degraded and off-cast; let others serve their class: these are mine, and to them I must keep. My sole reason for thus troubling you is one of gratitude to a disinterested friend. You may another time have good cause to censure me--do so, as I am sure you will, with all heartiness, but my young heart shall not soon forget 'a friend'.
The Bucks Chronicle, April 28, 1855, published an article signed, "A Briton", Of which the following portion sufficiently indicates the character of the whole:
Scarcity produces dearness; rarity, curiosity. Great preachers are as scarce as Queen Anne's farthings. The market is glutted with mediocrity--a star is looked upon, in the theological world, as a prize equally with green peas in Covent Garden Market at Christmas. We have been inundated with the slang phrases of the profession until they have acquired the sameness of our milkman's cry, when he places his pails upon the ground, and, as he gives the bell-handle a spasmodic twitch, utters his well-known 'M-i-l-k'.
We had thought the day for dogmatic, theologic dramatising, was past--that we should never more see the massive congregation listening to outrageous manifestations of insanity--no more hear the fanatical effervescence of ginger-pop sermonising, or be called upon to wipe away the froth, that the people might see the colour of the stuff. In this we were mistaken. A star has appeared in the misty plain of orthodoxy, and such a star that, were it not for the badge which encircles that part of it called neck, we should, for the more distinguishing characteristic, write comet. It has made its appearance in Exeter Hall, and is to be seen on the first day of the week, by putting a few 'browns' into a basket. The star is a Spurgeon--not a carp, but much resembling a pike. Thousands flock weekly to see it; and it shines grandiloquently. It is a parson--a young parson. Merciful goodness! such a parson seldom talks. It is a railway speed of joining sentences, conflabergasticated into a discourse. It is now near eleven o'clock a.m. He rises to read; and, as if the Book of Inspiration was not fine enough in its composition, enters 'into explanations of his own as apt as a coal-heaver would give of Thucidydes (sic).· Never mind! the great gun of starology in theology has a mission. Not to convert the doggerelisms of Timbuctoo into rationalisms--not to demonstrate the loving-kindness of the great Fatherhood--not to teach the forgiveness of Jehovah Jirah (sic) in His great heart of mercy--not to proclaim the extension of the kingdom of the Master of assemblies. No! but to teach that, if Jack Scroggins was put down in the black book, before the great curtain of events was unfolded, that the said Jack Scroggins, in spite of all he may do or say, will and must tumble into the limbo of a brimstone hell, to be punished and roasted, without any prospect of cessation, or shrinking into a dried cinder; because Jack Scroggins had done what Jack Scroggins could not help doing. . . . It is not pleasant to be frightened into the portal of bliss by the hissing bubbles of the seething cauldron. It is not Christian-like to say, 'God must wash brains in the Hyper-Calvinism a Spurgeon teaches before man can enter Heaven.' It does not harmonize with the quiet majesty of the Nazarene. It does not fall like manna for hungry souls, but is like the gush of the pouring rain in a thunderstorm, which makes the flowers to hang their heads, looking up afterwards as if nothing had happened. When the Exeter Hall stripling talks of Deity, let him remember that He is superior to profanity, and that blasphemy from a parson is as great a crime as when the lowest grade of humanity utters the brutal oath at which the virtuous stand aghast."
The Sheffield and Rotherham Independent, April 28, 1855, to which Spurgeon alludes in chapter 21, had an article somewhat similar to the one in the Buckinghamshire paper of the same date:
"Just now, the great lion, star, meteor, or whatever else he may be called, of the Baptists, is the Rev. M. (sic) Spurgeon, minister of Park Street Chapel, Southwark. He has created a perfect furor in the religious world. Every Sunday, crowds throng to Exeter Hall where for some weeks past he has been preaching during the enlargement of his own chapel--as to some great dramatic entertainment. The huge hall is crowded to overflowing, morning and evening, with an excited auditory, whose good fortune in obtaining admission is often envied by the hundreds outside who throng the closed doors. For a parallel to such popularity, we must go back to Dr. Chalmers, Edward Irving, or the earlier days of James Parsons. But I will not dishonour such men by comparison with the Exeter Hall religious demagogue. They preached the gospel with all the fervour of earnest natures. Mr. Spurgeon preaches himself. He is nothing unless he is an actor unless exhibiting that matchless impudence which is his great characteristic, indulging in coarse familiarity with holy things, declaiming in a ranting and colloquial style, strutting up and down the platform as though he were at the Surrey Theatre, and boasting of his own intimacy with Heaven with nauseating frequency. His fluency, self-possession, oratorical tricks, and daring utterances, seem to fascinate his less thoughtful hearers, who love excitement more than devotion. . . . I have glanced at one or two of Mr. Spurgeon's published sermons, and turned away in disgust from the coarse sentiments, the scholastical expressions, and clap-trap style I have discovered. It would seem that the poor young man's brain is turned by the notoriety he has acquired and the incense offered at his shrine. From the very pulpit he boasts of the crowds that flock to listen to his rodomontade. Only lately, he told his fair friends to send him no more slippers, as he was already engaged; and on another occasion gloried in the belief that, by the end of the year, not less than 200,000 of his published trashy sermons would be scattered over the length and breadth of the land. This is but a mild picture of the great religious lion of the metropolis. To their credit be it spoken, Mr. Spurgeon receives no countenance or encouragement from the ornaments of his denomination. I don't think he has been invited to take part in any of their meetings. Nor, indeed, does he seek such fellowship. He glories in his position of lofty isolation, and is intoxicated by the draughts of popularity that have fired his feverish brain. He is a nine days' wonder--a comet that has suddenly shot across the religious atmosphere. He has gone up like a rocket, and ere long will come down like a stick. The most melancholy consideration in the case is the diseased craving for excitement which this running after Mr. Spurgeon by the 'religious world' indicates. I would charitably conclude that the greater part of the multitude that weekly crowd to his theatrical exhibitions consists of people who are not in the habit of frequenting a place of worship."
What higher compliment than this could the slanderer have paid the dear young preacher! Spurgeon's own testimony, concerning many of his first London hearers, was that they had not been accustomed to attend any house of prayer until they came to New Park Street Chapel, Exeter Hall, or the Surrey Gardens Music-Hall. Best of all, many of them became truly converted, and so helped to build up the great church which afterwards worshipped in the Metropolitan Tabernacle.
The Lambeth Gazette was a paper published so near to the scene of Spurgeon's ministry that it would have been easy for the Editor to ascertain facts concerning his life and work, yet its issue for September 1, 1855, contained an article from which the following is an extract:
"The fact cannot be concealed, mountebankism is, to a certain class of minds, quite as attractive in the pulpit as in the fields of a country town. The Rev. C. H. Spurgeon is now the star of Southwark. Mr. Wells (commonly known by the curious sobriquet of 'Wheelbarrow Wells'), of the Borough Road, has, for some years past, had the run in this line, but he has, at last, got a rival well up in his 'tip', and likely to prove the favourite for a long time. He is a very young man, too, and the young 'sisters' are dancing mad after him. He has received slippers enough from these lowly-minded damsels to open a shoe shop, and were it not that he recently advertised them that he was 'engaged', he would very soon have been able to open a fancy bazaar with the nicknacks that were pouring in upon him. No doubt he is a very good young man, with the best of intentions, but will not this man-worship spoil him? Between the parts of the service, his mannerism in the pulpit is suggestive of affectation and vanity; it might be only an overpowering sense of responsibility, yet it would do for either state of feeling. Who can wonder at it? . . ."
The Bristol Advertiser, April 12, 1856, speaks thus in its report of a sermon by Spurgeon in that city:
"Now what is there in Mr. Spurgeon to account for the extraordinary sensation he makes everywhere? It is not the doctrine he preaches, for that is 'orthodox'; that is, it is preached by a thousand other clergymen. It is not his personal appearance, for that is but ordinary: his forehead is low, his eye is small, and though capable of vivid flashes of self-appreciation, not radiant with those 'heavenly' rays by which sentimental ladies are usually fascinated; his figure is broad and stumpy; his manners are rude and awkward. In short, we can find no genuine qualities in this gentleman sufficient to explain the unrivalled notoriety he has acquired. If he were simple in his pretensions, and had the serene and sacred dignity of religious earnestness to support him, his destitution of refinement, his evident ignorance, his positive vulgarities of expression and of manner might be forgiven. We should feel that he was doing good in an important direction, and that to follow him with criticism or contempt would be, in a sort, profane. Or if he possessed unusual powers of mind, imagination, or speech, we could understand how many would seek to hear him. But his intellect not only lacks culture, it is evidently of meagre grasp. He has fancy, but all his larger illustrations failed, either in fitness or in development. He is fluent; he talks on without stopping; he has certain theatrical attitudes of which he knows how to make the most; his voice is powerful, and his enunciation clear; and thus many of the mechanical effects of oratory are under his sway. But his thoughts are commonplace, and his figures false, though striking. He says good things smartly, but his best things are his tritest, and his most striking are his most audacious sentences. . . . Solemnly do we express our regret that insolence so unblushing, intellect so feeble, flippancy so ostentatious, and manners so rude should, in the name of religion, and in connection with the church, receive the acknowledgment of even a momentary popularity. To our minds, it speaks sad things as to the state of intelligence, and calm, respectful, and dignified piety among a mass of people who call themselves the disciples of Jesus. Where curiosity is stronger than faith, and astonishment easier to excite than reverence to edify, religious life must either be at a very low ebb, or associated with some other deleterious elements."
The Daily News, a paper from which something better might have been expected, had, in its issue of September 9, 1856, a long article on "Popular Preachers--The Rev. Mr. Spurgeon," in which it said: "In Protestant countries in general, and in England in particular, we shrink from undue familiarity with holy words and things. We have just as much aversion to see a church turned into a theatre as to see a theatre turned into a church. We hold an opinion, grounded as much on the principles of good taste as of religion, that it is almost as offensive to see a clergyman perform in his pulpit as to hear actors invoke Heaven in a theatre. This opinion, however, is not quite universally entertained. Let any person who wishes to convince himself of the truth of this, take his station opposite to Exeter Hall on Sunday evening at about a few minutes before six o'clock. We say opposite, because, unless he arrives some time before the hour mentioned, there will be no standing-room on the pavement from which the entrance to the hall ascends. At six, the doors open, and a dense mass of human beings pours in. There is no interruption now to the continuous stream until half-past six o'clock, when the whole of the vast hall, with its galleries and platform, will be filled with the closely-packed crowd.
If the spectator has not taken care to enter before this time, he will have but small chance of finding even standing-room. Suppose him to have entered early enough to have found a seat, he will naturally look around him to scan the features of the scene. They are remarkable enough to excite attention in the minds of the most listless. Stretching far away to the back are thousands of persons evidently eager for the appearance of someone. Towering up the platform, the seats are all crowded. Nearly all the eyes in this multitude are directed to the front of the platform. The breathless suspense is only broken occasionally by the struggle, in the body of the hall, of those who are endeavoring to gain or maintain a position. Suddenly, even this noise is stopped. A short, squarely-built man, with piercing eyes, with thick black hair parted down the middle, with a sallow countenance only redeemed from heaviness by the restlessness of the eyes, advances along the platform towards the seat of honour. A cataract of short coughs, indicative of the relief afforded to the ill-repressed impatience of the assembly, announces to the stranger that the business of the evening has commenced. He will be told with a certain degree of awe by those whom he asks for information, that the person just arrived is the Rev. C. H. Spurgeon. He will perhaps hear, in addition to this, that Mr. Spurgeon is beyond all question the most popular preacher in London; that he is obliged to leave off preaching in the evening at his chapel in New Park Street, Southwark, an account of the want of room to accommodate more than a mere fraction of the thousands who flock to hear him; that Exeter Hall has been taken for the purpose of diminishing in a slight degree the disappointment experienced, but that nothing will be done to afford effectual relief until the new chapel which is in contemplation is built, and which is intended to hold 15,000 persons."
The article concluded thus: "We might fill columns with specimens of this pulpit buffoonery, but we have given enough to show the nature of Mr. Spurgeon's preaching. We might have brought forward instances of his utter ignorance of any theology except that current among the sect to which he belongs; and of his ludicrous misinterpretations of Scripture, occasioned by his want of even a moderate acquaintance with Oriental customs and forms of language . . . . A congregation that constantly listens to the spiritual dram-drinking that Mr. Spurgeon encourages, will become not only bigoted, but greedy after stronger doses of excitement. What excited them once, will fall flat upon their palate. The preacher will be obliged to become more and more extravagant as his audience becomes more and more exacting, and the end may be an extensive development of dangerous fanaticism."
The Illustrated Times, October 11, 1856, published a portrait or rather, a caricature--of Spurgeon, with a lengthy article containing one of the many prophecies that subsequent events proved to be false. The writer said:
"Mr. Spurgeon's popularity is, unprecedented; at all events, there has been nothing like it since the days of Wesley and Whitefield. Park Street Chapel cannot hold half the people who want to hear him, and even Exeter Hall is too small. Indeed, it is reported on good authority that his friends mean to hire the Concert Room at the Surrey Gardens, and firmly believe that he will fill that. Nor is his popularity confined to London; in Scotland, he was very much followed, and, lately, we ourselves saw, on a week-day, in a remote agricultural district, long lines of people all converging to one point, and on enquiring of one of the party where they were going, received for answer, 'We're a go'in' to hear Maester Spudgin, sir.'
WILL HIS POPULARITY LAST?
We more than doubt it. It stands on no firm basis. Thousands who go now to hear him only go through curiosity. Men are very much like sheep; one goes through a hedge, then another, and another; at last the stream gathers crescit eundo, and the whole flock rushes madly forward. This has been a good deal, the case with Mr. Spurgeon's congregation, but the current will soon turn and leave him; and as to those who have gone from a slightly different, if not better, motive, it is hardly likely that he will retain them long. He must bid high if he does--offering them every Sunday a stronger dram than they had the last."
POSTSCRIPT BY MRS. C. H. SPURGEON
No defence of my beloved is needed now. God has taken him to Himself, and "there the wicked cease from troubling; and there the weary be at rest", The points of these arrows are all blunted--the stings of these scorpions are all plucked out--the edge of these sharp swords is crusted away, "And where is the fury of the oppressor?"
A strange serenity has brooded over my spirit as these chapters have recalled the heartless attacks made on God's servant; I have even smiled as I read once again the unjust and cruel words written by his enemies; for he is so safe now, "with God eternally shut in"; and I can bless the Lord for the suffering all ended, and the eternity of bliss begun. "For Thou hast made him most blessed for ever: Thou hast made him exceeding glad with Thy countenance."
But, at the time of their publication, what a grievous affliction these slanders were to me! My heart alternately sorrowed over him, and flamed with indignation against his detractors. For a long time, I wondered how I could set continual comfort before his eyes, till, at last, I hit upon the expedient of having the following verses printed in large Old English type, and enclosed in a pretty Oxford frame. (This was before the days of the illuminated mottoes which at present are so conspicuous in our homes, and so often silently speak a message from God to us.)
The text was hung up in our own room, and was read over by the dear preacher every morning--fulfilling its purpose most blessedly, for it strengthened his heart, and enabled him to buckle on the invisible armour, whereby he could calmly walk among men, unruffled by their calumnies, and concerned only for their best and highest interests.