"I have striven, with all my might, to attain the position of complete independence of all men. I have found, at times, if I have been much praised, and if my heart has given way a little, and I have taken notice of it, and felt pleased, that the next time I was censured and abused I felt the censure and abuse very keenly, for the very fact that I accepted the commendation, rendered me more sensitive to the censure. So that I have tried, especially of late, to take no more notice of man's praise than of his blame, but to rest simply upon this truth--I know that I have a pure motive in what I attempt to do, I am conscious that I endeavour to serve God with a single eye to His glory, and therefore it is not for me to take either praise or censure from man, but to stand independently upon the solid rock of right doing."--C. H. S.
First Literary Friends
Although many assailed Spurgeon through the press in the first years of his ministry in London, there were always loyal and true hearts ready to come to his help, and write in his defence. The following pages contain some of the principal favourable articles published during 1855 and 1856; they furnish a marked contrast to the slanders and calumnies which the young preacher had to endure at that time.
One of the first and one of the ablest of Spurgeon's champions among literary men was James Grant, the Editor of The Morning Advertiser, which, under his management, a contemporary writer testifies, was raised "to the position of a first-class morning paper, second only to The Times, either in circulation or influence." In its columns, on February 19, 1855, he published an article, the tenor of which may be judged by the following extracts:
"The Rev. Mr. Spurgeon
A young man, in the twenty-first year of his age, has just appeared, under this name, among our metropolitan preachers, and is creating a great sensation in the religious world. He had only been a few weeks settled as minister of Park Street Chapel, Southwark, before that commodious place was filled to overflowing, while hundreds at each service went away who were unable to effect an entrance. The result was, that it was agreed to enlarge the chapel, and that the youthful minister should preach in the large room of Exeter Hall for eight Sundays, until the re-opening of his own place of worship. It will easily be believed how great must be the popularity of this almost boyish preacher, When we mention that, yesterday, both morning and evening, the large hall, capable of containing from 4,000 to 5,000 persons, was filled in every part. Mr. Spurgeon belongs to the Baptist denomination. . . . He is short in stature, and somewhat thickly built, which, with an exceedingly broad, massive face, gives him the appearance of a man twenty-six or twenty-seven years of age instead of twenty-one. His doctrines are of the Hyper-Calvinist school. He is a young man, we are told, of extensive information, especially on theological subjects, and of a highly cultivated mind. There can be no doubt that he possesses superior talents, while, in some of his happier flights, he rises to a high order of pulpit oratory. It is in pathos that he excels, though he does not himself seem to be aware of the fact. But for some sad drawbacks in the young divine, we should anticipate great usefulness from him, because he not only possesses qualities peculiarly adapted to attract and rivet the attention of the masses, but he makes faithful and powerful appeals to the consciences of the unconverted. In the spirit of sincere friendship, we would advise him to study to exhibit an aspect of greater gravity and seriousness. Let us also impress upon him the indispensable necessity of relinquishing those theatrical--we had almost said melo-dramatic--attitudes into which he is in the habit of throwing himself. In Exeter Hall, yesterday, instead of confining himself to the little spot converted into a sort of pulpit for him, he walked about on the platform just as if he had been treading the boards of Drury Lane Theatre, while performing some exciting tragedy. Altogether, he seems to want the reverence of manner which is essential to the success of a minister of the gospel. We hope, however, that in these respects he will improve. It is with that view we give him our friendly counsels. He is quite an original preacher, and therefore will always draw large congregations, and, consequently, may be eminently made the means of doing great good to classes of persons who might never otherwise be brought within the sound of a faithfully-preached gospel. He has evidently made George Whitefield his model; and, like that unparalleled preacher, that prince of pulpit orators, is very fond of striking apostrophes. Like him, too, he has a powerful voice, which would, at times, be more pleasing, and not less impressive, were it not raised to so high a pitch."
Spurgeon's own testimony confirms James Grant's assertion that he had "evidently made George Whitefield his model". He wrote, in 1879: "There is no end to the interest which attaches to such a man as George Whitefield. Often as I have read his life, I am conscious of distinct quickening whenever I turn to it. He lived. Other men seem to be only half-alive, but Whitefield was all life, fire, wing, force. My own model, if I may have such a thing in due subordination to my Lord, is George Whitefield; but with unequal footsteps must I follow in his glorious track."
An account of Spurgeon's life and work was published in The Patriot, on September 21, 1855 . The following are some of the writer's kind expressions concerning the young preacher:
"Although the name of the Rev. C. H. Spurgeon has been frequently mentioned in the columns of this Journal, we have not introduced him to our readers by any formal description of his preaching. Such, however, is its effect, that curiosity cannot but have been awakened by intelligence of the immense crowds collected to hear him while occupying Exeter Hall from Sunday to Sunday, and also when he returned to his own enlarged chapel in New Park Street, over Southwark Bridge. There must surely be something extraordinary in a mere youth who could command an attendance of from ten to twelve thousand persons in the open field, and who, on visiting the North, though received with cold suspicion at first, soon compelled the fixed and admiring attention of the reluctant Scotch; though, he says, 'they seemed to be all made of lumps of ice fetched from Wenham Lake.' Those who go to hear Mr. Spurgeon, enquiring, 'What will this babbler say?' are not long left in doubt as to either the manner or the matter of his discourses. . . . We have ourselves heard Mr. Spurgeon but once, and, on that occasion, not having succeeded in gaining an entrance to the chapel, we squeezed ourselves into a side vestry, from which the speaker could be heard, but not seen. We found him neither extravagant nor extraordinary. His voice is clear and musical; his language is plain; his style flowing, yet terse; his method lucid and orderly; his matter sound and suitable; his tone and spirit cordial his remarks always pithy and pungent, sometimes familiar and colloquial, yet never light or coarse, much less profane. Judging from this single sermon, we supposed that he would become a plain, faithful, forcible, and affectionate preacher of the gospel in the form called Calvinistic; and our judgment was the more favourable because, while there was a solidity beyond his years, we detected little of the wild luxuriance naturally characteristic of very young preachers.
Our opinion of Mr. Spurgeon as a preacher has been somewhat modified by a perusal of his published discourses, which, issued in a cheap form, appear to be bought up with great eagerness. These show him to be a more extraordinary person than we supposed, and not to be quite so far from extravagance as at first we thought him. But it is more for the sake of information than with a view to criticism that we refer to the subject. From whatsoever cause it springs, whether from force of native character, or from a vigour superinduced upon that basis by the grace of God, there is that in Mr. Spurgeon's reported sermons which marks him a superior man.
Models of different styles of preaching are so numerous, that originality must be of rare occurrence; but he appears to be an original genius. To the pith of Jay, and the plainness of Rowland Hill, he adds much of the familiarity, not to say the coarseness, of the Huntingtonian order of ultra-Calvinistic preachers. 'It has been my privilege,' he says, to give more prominence in the religious world to those old doctrines of the gospel.' But the traits referred to present themselves in shapes and with accompaniments which forbid the notion of imitation, and favour the opinion of a peculiar bent. Neither in the style and structure, nor in handling, is there appearance of art, study, or elaboration. Yet, each discourse has a beginning, a middle, and an end, and the subject is duly introduced and stated, divided and discussed, enforced and applied. But all is done without effort, with the ease and freedom of common conversation, and with the artlessness, but also with the force, of spontaneous expression.
Mr. Spurgeon waits for nothing which requires what we understand by composition, and he rejects nothing by which attention may be arrested, interest sustained, and impression made permanent. The vehicle of his thoughts is constructed of well-seasoned Saxon speech, and they are conveyed to the hearer's mind in terms highly pictorial and often vividly dramatic. Great governing principles are freely personified, and religious experience, past, present, and future, appears in life-like action upon the scene. Tried by such tests as the unities, Mr. Spurgeon might sometimes be found wanting, but it is enough for him that, as face answers to face in the glass, so do his words elicit a response in the hearts of those who hear him. This end secured, what cares he for a mixed metaphor or a rhetorical anachronism? Were it his aim to rival the Melvilles and Harrises of the day, he lacks neither the talent nor the taste; and, with these, he has the faculty of gathering what is to be learned from men or from books, and of turning all to account. But his single aim is to preach the gospel, and he depends for success, not upon the enticing words of man's wisdom, but upon the influence of the Spirit of God, and, with a view to that, the prayers of his people.
Mr. Spurgeon evinces much aptitude in borrowing illustrations, not only from the pages of antiquity, and from modern life and literature, but also from the most familiar incidents, as well as from public events. Thus, the war suggests to him the idea that even the believer 'carries within him a bomb-shell, ready to burst at the slightest spark of temptation.' In like manner, the fatal exposure of the officers to the sharp-shooting of the enemy, furnishes him with a comparison by which to illustrate the peculiar liability of Christian ministers to hostile attack, though with a great difference in the result. 'Some of us,' he says, 'are the officers of God's regiments, and we are the mark of all the riflemen of the enemy. Standing forward, we have to bear all the shots. What a mercy it is, that not one of God's officers ever falls in battle! God always keeps them.'
His sermons abound with aphoristic and pointed sayings, which often afford a striking proof of his genius. . . . Many instances might easily be given of a force and beauty of language indicative of a high degree of eloquence. 'Bright-eyed cheerfulness and airy-footed love,' are fine phrases. Winter is described as not killing the flowers, but as 'coating them with the ermine of its snows'. Again, the sun is not quenched, but is behind the clouds, brewing up summer; and, when he cometh forth again, he will have made those clouds fit to drop in April showers, all of them mothers of the sweet May flowers.' God 'puts our prayers, like rose-leaves, between the pages of His book of remembrance, and when the volume is opened at last, there shall be a precious fragrance springing up therefrom'. 'There is one thing,' the sinner is told, that doth outstrip the telegraph: "Before they call, I will answer, and while they are yet speaking, I will hear."' The memory, infected by the Fall, is described as 'suffering the glorious timbers from the forest of Lebanon to swim down the stream of oblivion; but she stoppeth all the draff that floateth from the foul city of Sodom'. With quaintness, yet with force and truth, the caste feeling of society is hit off: 'In England, a sovereign will not speak to a shilling, a shilling will not notice a sixpence, and a sixpence will sneer at a penny.' A singular quaintness and vigour may be remarked in Mr. Spurgeon's diction; as when he speaks of the lightning 'splitting the clouds, and rending the heavens'; of 'the mighty hand wherein the callow comets are brooded by the sun'; and of 'the very spheres stopping their music while God speaks with His wondrous bass voice.'
The manly tone of Mr. Spurgeon's mind might be illustrated from the admirable thoughts which he expresses on the connection between the diffusion of the gospel and the increase of civil liberty. His graphic skill in delineating character might be demonstrated from his lifelike pictures of the prejudiced Jew and the scoffing Greek of modern times; his unsparing fidelity, from the sarcastic severity with which he rebukes the neglect of the Bible by modern professors; his powers of personification and dramatic presentation, from the scene which he paints between the dying Christian and Death, or between Jesus and Justice and the justified sinner; his refined skill in the treatment of a delicate subject, in the veiled yet impressive description of the trial of Joseph; the use that he can make of a single metaphor by his powerful comparison of the sinner to 'Mazeppa bound on the wild horse of his lust, galloping on with hell's wolves behind him,' till stopped and liberated by a mighty hand. The sermon entitled, The People's Christ', contains a very striking description of the resurrection of our Lord. In that on 'The Eternal Home'; the contrast between the dying thief before and after his conversion, is powerfully drawn. The rage of Satan, on the rescue of a sinner from his grasp, forms a picture of terrific grandeur. In the sermon on 'The Bible', the respective characteristics of the holy penmen are sketched with a masterly comprehension of their peculiarities and command of words. . . . The beautiful sermon on the words, 'So He giveth His beloved sleep,' exhibits a variety and force which stamp the master."
On February 18, 1856, just a year after his first article, Mr. James Grant wrote as follows in The Morning Advertiser:
"Never, since the days of George Whitefield, has any minister of religion acquired so great a reputation as this Baptist preacher, in so short a time. Here is a mere youth--a perfect stripling, only twenty-one years of age--incomparably the most popular preacher of the day. There is no man within her Majesty's dominions who could draw such immense audiences; and none who, in his happier efforts, can so completely enthrall the attention, and delight the minds of his hearers. Some of his appeals to the conscience, some of his remonstrances with the careless, constitute specimens of a very high order of oratorical power. . . . When this able and eloquent preacher first made his appearance in the horizon of the religious world, and dazzled the masses in the metropolis by his brilliancy, we were afraid that he might either get intoxicated by the large draughts of popularity which he had daily to drink, or that he would not be able, owing to a want of variety, to sustain the reputation he had so suddenly acquired. Neither result has happened. Whatever may be his defects, either as a man or as a preacher of the gospel, it is due to him to state that he has not been spoiled by popular applause. Constitutionally he has in him no small amount of self-esteem, but so far from its growing with his daily-extending fame, he appears to be more humble and more subdued than when he first burst on our astonished gaze. With regard again to our other fear, that his excellence as a preacher would not be sustained, the event has, we rejoice to say, no less agreeably proved the groundlessness of our apprehensions. There is no falling off whatever. On the contrary, he is, in some respects, improving with the lapse of time. We fancy we can see his striking originality to greater advantage than at first."
As a specimen of the early friendly notices in the provincial press, the following may be given from The Western Times, February 23, 1856:
"Another Extraordinary Preacher
It is a remarkable fact that, in the Baptist denomination of Christians in this country, there have sprung up, from time to time, ministers of extraordinary Biblical and other leaming, and of great talent and pulpit eloquence. We may refer to Dr. Carey, Dr. Gill, Dr. Rippon, the distinguished Robert Hall of Bristol (whose discourses Brougham and Canning were glad to listen to), and many others, in proof of this peculiarity. It seems that another light has now sprung up among the Baptists, which bids fair to rival, if not to eclipse, the departed luminaries: we mean, the Rev. C. H. Spurgeon, who, although but just arrived at twenty-one years of age, seems in the pulpit and the press to have astonished the religious world, This young Baptist minister's preaching created a great sensation in Bristol a short time since, and his visits to other places have excited intense interest, In Glasgow and other parts of Scotland, this gifted young minister has also, with marvellous effect, carried home to the hearts of crowded audiences the saving truths of 'the everlasting gospel'. There is a singularity also about Mr. Spurgeon, for he is emphatically 'one of the people'; and, by the gifts and graces with which he is endowed, he shows to the world that the great Head of the Church of Christ, as He called His apostles from the class of humble fishermen, when He 'tabernacled on earth in the flesh', so now that He is in Heaven, He continues to call labourers into His vineyard from the working-men of polished society."
Another favourable notice appeared in The Christian Weekly News March 4, 1856: "Great orators, whether pulpit, platform, or senatorial, make many friends and many foes. This is inevitable, but it is not our purpose, just now, to investigate or set forth the reasons for this result. The fact being granted, we are at no loss to account for the applause and contumely which have been heaped upon the young minister whose sermons are before us. His appearance and labours in this metropolis have excited in all religious circles, and even beyond them, attention and surprise, if not admiration. Scarcely more than a youth in years, comparatively untutored, and without a name, he enters the greatest city in the world, and almost simultaneously commands audiences larger than have usually listened to her most favoured preachers. Almost daily has he occupied pulpits in various parts of town and country, and everywhere been greeted by overflowing congregations. As might be expected, many who have listened to him have gone away to speak ill of his name; while others, and by far the larger number, have been stimulated by his earnestness, instructed by his arguments, and melted by his appeals. We have seen, among his hearers, ministers of mark of nearly every section of the Christian Church, laymen well known in all circles as the supporters of the benevolent and Evangelical institutions of the day, and citizens of renown from the chief magistrate down to the parish beadle. That the man who causes such a furor must possess some power not commonly found in men of his profession, will only be doubted by his detractors. Whether that power be physical, intellectual, or moral, or a happy blending of them all, is, perhaps, a question not yet fully decided even in the minds of many of his warmest admirers. The sermons before us would, we think, if carefully examined, help them to a decision. . . . Among the reasons to which, in our opinion, may be attributed the unbounded popularity of our author, we would name his youth, his devotedness, his earnestness, but especially that thrilling eloquence which can at once open the floodgates of the hearts of the thousands forming a Sabbath morning audience within the walls of Exeter Hall. May the Lord continue to hold him as a star in His right hand, and through his instrumentality bring many souls to bow to the sceptre of His love and mercy!"
The list of "first literary friends" would not be complete unless it included Rev. Edwin Paxton Hood. His volume, The Lamps of the Temple, published in 1856, contained a long and appreciative article on Spurgeon, in the course of which the writer said:
"It is not too much to say that this mere lad--this boy preacher--is the most remarkable pulpit celebrity of his day; it must be admitted that, amidst all the popularities, there is no popularity like his. . . . Among things--remarkable or not remarkable according to the reader's ideas--is the treatment of the young preacher by his brethren--shall we say, brethren?--in the ministry. We understand they have pretty generally agreed to regard him as a black sheep. His character is good--unexceptionable; his doctrines have no dangerous heresy in them; still, he is tabooed, The other day, a very eminent minister, whose portrait we have attempted to sketch in this volume, and whom we certainly regarded as incapable of so much meanness when we were sketching it--perhaps the most eminent of the London Dissenting ministers--was invited to open a chapel in the country--at any rate, to take the evening service, but he found that Spurgeon was to take the morning, and he smartly refused to mix in the affair; it was pitiable, and we discharged ourselves, as in duty bound, of an immense quantity of pity upon the head of the poor jealous man, who dreaded lest the shadow of a rival should fall prematurely over his pulpit. No; usually the ministers have not admired this advent; the tens of thousands of persons, who flock to hear the youth preach his strong nervous gospel, do not at all conciliate them--perhaps rather exasperate them. It would be easy to pick up a thousand criticisms on the preacher; many, not to say most of them, very severe. He is flattered by a hurricane of acrimonious remark and abuse, and perhaps owes his popularity in no small degree to this sweeping condemnation. One thing is certain--Spurgeon's back is broad, and his skin is thick; he can, we fancy, bear a good deal, and bear a good deal without wincing. Little more than twenty-one years of age, he is the topic and theme of remark now in every part of England; and severe as some of his castigators are, he returns their castigation frequently with a careless, downright, hearty goodwill. Beyond a doubt, the lad is impudent, very impudent--were he not, he could not, at such an age, be where he is, or what he is. . . .
We hear that Mr. Spurgeon has models upon which he forms his mind and style. We think it very doubtful, but, at any rate, he does not follow them slavishly; he has in his speech true mental and moral independence. Robert Hall was charged with imitating Robert Robinson, of Cambridge--in fact, there was not the slightest resemblance between those two minds. Spurgeon is said to imitate Robert Hall and William Jay. No doubt he has read them both, but his style is wholly unlike theirs; he, perhaps, has something of William Jay's plan and method, and that is all; but to Robert Hall there is not the most remote resemblance. He has not the purity, power, nor speed of that inimitable master; he is not at all qualified to shine in the brilliant intellectual firmament in which he held his place. We should give to him a very different location. He has the unbridled and undisciplined fancy of Hervey, without his elegance; but, instead of that, the drollery of Berridge and the ubiquitous earnestness of Rowland Hill, in his best days. But it is probable that many of us walk far too gingerly in our estimate of public speech. He who determines never to use a word that shall grate harshly on the ears of a refined taste, may be certain that he will never be very extensively useful; the people love the man who will condescend to their idiom, and the greatest preachers--those who have been the great apostles of a nation--have always condescended to this. Bossuet, Massillon, Hall, Chalmers, McAll, were the doctors of the pulpit; at their feet sat the refinement, the scholarship, the politeness of their times; but such men as Luther and Latimer, St. Clara and Knox, Whitefield and Christmas Evans--such men have always seized on the prevailing dialect, and made it tell with immense power on their auditors.
A question repeatedly asked by many persons, when they have either heard, or heard of, this young man is, 'Will he last, will he wear?' To which we have always replied, 'Why not?' There is, apparently, no strain in the production of these discourses; they bear every appearance of being, on the whole, spontaneous talkings, The preacher speaks from the full and overflowing spring within him, and speaks, as we have said, many times during the week. Some of his sermons are characterized by great mental poverty; some, and most, by a great mental wealth; so is it with all preachers, even those who consume the midnight oil, and make it their boast that they can only produce one sermon a week. . . . Our preacher's fullness and readiness is, to our mind, a guarantee that he will wear, and not wear out. His present amazing popularity will of course subside, but he still will be amazingly followed, and what he is now, we prophesy, he will on the whole remain: for polished diction, we shall not look to him; for the long and stately argument, we shall not look to him; for the original and profound thought, we shall not look to him; for the clear and lucid criticism, we shall not look to him--but for bold and convincing statements of Evangelical truth, for a faithful grappling with convictions, for happy and pertinent illustrations, for graphic description, and for searching common sense, we shall look, and we believe we shall seldom look in vain. In a word, he preaches--not to metaphysicians or logicians--neither to poets nor to savants, to masters of erudition or masters of rhetoric; he preaches to men."
This chapter may be fitly closed with an extract from a pamphlet entitled, Why so Popular? An Hour with Rev. C. H. Spurgeon, by a Doctor of Divinity. It caused a great stir in the religious world when it appeared, and there is a special appropriateness in the poetical conclusion now that the beloved preacher, as a star, has melted into the light of Heaven. The writer, addressing his remarks personally to Spurgeon, says:
"I am fully aware that, if I asked yourself the question, 'Why so popular, and why so useful?' you would reply, in a self-humbling, God-exalting spirit, I am nothing: God is all; and to His sovereignty I ascribe all my popularity and all my success.' While admiring the spirit of this declaration, I decline to accept it as an answer to my question. God is a Sovereign, and in His sovereignty--essential to his Godhead--He has a right to give His Spirit when, where, to whom, and in what proportion He pleases, but He has no caprice, no senseless, reasonless arbitrariness in His administration. He never acts without reason, though, in His sovereign right, He often withholds from His creature, man, the reasons which influence the Divine mind. This, and not caprice, is God's sovereignty.
If I cannot discover the secret of your popularity in what you preach, can I find it in any peculiarity in your mode of preaching? Here is, in my judgment, the explanation of the secret. You have strong faith, and, as the result, Intense Earnestness. In this lies, as in the hair of Samson, the secret of your power. Go on, my brother, and may God give you a still larger amount of ministerial success! 'Preach the Word,' the old theology, that 'glorious gospel of the blessed God' for which apostles laboured and martyrs died. In all your teachings, continue to exhibit the cross of Christ as occupying, in the Christian revelation, like the sun in our planetary system, the very centre, and imparting to all their light and heat. Tell the people that every doctrine, duty, or promise of the Scriptures stands intimately connected with the cross, and from that connection derives its meaning and value to us. Thus exhibiting the whole system of Divine Truth in its harmony and symmetry, what a glorious prospect of honour, happiness, and usefulness presents itself to your view! A star in the churches--a star of no mean magnitude, of no ordinary brilliancy--you may be honoured to diffuse, very luminously, the derived glories you possess, and, having run your appointed course, ultimately set--but far distant be the day!--as sets the morning star--