" I do not expect to see so many conversions in this place as I had a year ago, when I had far fewer hearers. Do you ask why? Why, a year ago, I was abused by everybody; to mention my name, was to mention the name of the most abominable buffoon that ever lived. The mere utterance of it brought forth oaths and curses; with many men it was the name of contempt, kicked about the street as a football; but then God gave me souls by hundreds, who were added to my church, and in one year it was my happiness personally to see not less than a thousand who had then been converted. I do not expect that now. My name is somewhat esteemed, and the great ones of the earth think it no dishonour to sit at my feet; but this makes me fear lest my God should forsake me while the world esteems me. I would rather be despised and slandered than aught else. This assembly, that you think so grand and fine, I would readily part with, if by such a loss I could gain a greater blessing. It is for us to recollect, in all times of popularity, that 'Crucify Him! Crucify Him!' follows fast upon the heels of 'Hosanna !' and that the crowd of to-day, if dealt with faithfully, may turn into the handful of to-morrow; for men love not plain speaking. We should learn to be despised, learn to be condemned, learn to be slandered, and then we shall learn to be made useful by God. Down on my knees have I often fallen, with the hot sweat rising from my brow, under some fresh slander poured upon me; in an agony of grief, my heart has been well-nigh broken; till at last I learned the act of bearing all, and caring for none. And now my grief runneth in another line, it is just the opposite; I fear lest God should forsake me, to prove that He is the Author of salvation, that it is not in the preacher, that it is not in the crowd, that it is not in the attention I can attract, but in God, and in God alone. This I hope I can say from my heart--if to be made as the mire of the streets again, if to be the laughing-stock 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 that man could give.--C. H. S.
Varying Voices--Pro and Con
IN Chapter 30, mention was made of the cruel and libellous articles which appeared in various newspapers after the great catastrophe at the Music Hall, and extracts from two of them were given as specimens of the rest. There were other secular papers which published more favourable comments, one of the first being The Evening Star, November 5, 1856, which said:
"Other questions than that of the structure of the building, or the self-protection of the startled assemblage, are raised by the Surrey Gardens calamity. The vocation of the preacher, and the secret of his power are brought by it within the range of every man's thoughts, and, therefore, of newspaper discussion. The worldly-minded are forced to reflect on the nature of an institution which survives the most sweeping changes, defies alike persecution and rivalry, and is no less conspicuous in this nineteenth century, to which the press and platform are almost peculiar, than in the twelfth or sixteenth, when the altar and the pulpit had no competitors but in the throne. The devout, moreover, who prefer to think of all religious exercises as more or less supernatural, and the result of direct or indirect inspiration from on high, are compelled to observe the very different operations of the same Divine Spirit working through different human instrumentalities; so that, while a host of good, and perhaps able men, are discoursing from Scripture texts to their few hundreds of hearers each, one--and he a comparatively untrained youth--draws the multitude by ten and fifteen thousand at a time, and is even besought to continue his preaching while the dead and wounded are being carried from the doors of the meeting-house.
No one can go into a well-filled church, or into the majority of chapels, without being tempted to ask--'Where are the poor?' Preacher and hearers are alike emphatically of the middle class. The grey-headed, white-neckclothed, and otherwise respectable-looking men, in conspicuous seats, are prosperous traders, lawyers or doctors. The younger fathers of families are clerks or shopkeepers. A few Sunday-school teachers, unmarried shopmen and clerks, make up the males of the congregation. The female portion greatly preponderate in number, are almost exclusively connections of the before-mentioned; though, here and there, is some solitary wife or widowed mother, who has slipped away from a penurious home to snatch consolation from the lips that speak of Heaven. But where are the artisan classes--that keen-eyed strong-minded race, who crowd the floor at political meetings or cheap concerts, fill the minor theatres, and struggle into the shilling gallery of the Lyceum or Princesss? So very scanty is their attendance upon the most noted preachers, that it is their adhesion to Mr. Spurgeon which has made that gentleman a prodigy and a phenomenon. The first that we heard of him, two or three years since, was that the Bankside labourers went to hear him on Sundays and week-nights. The summer before last, we found the artisans of Bethnal Green--a much more fastidious race--flocking round him in a field at Hackney. And in the list of the killed and wounded at the Music Hall, are journeymen painters, tanners, and milliners' girls. It is worth while to ask the reason why.
A single hearing is sufficient to answer the question---supposing the hearer can also see. There never yet was a popular orator who did not talk more and better with his arms than with his tongue. Mr. Spurgeon knows this instinctively. When he has read his text, he does not fasten his eyes on a manuscript, and his hands to a cushion. As soon as he begins to speak, he begins to act--and that not as if declaiming on the stage, but as if conversing with you in the street. He seems to shake hands with all around, and put everyone at his ease. There is no laboured exordium, making you wonder by what ingenious winding he will get back to his subject, but a trite saying, an apt quotation, a simple allegory, one or two familiar sentences, making all who hear feel interested and at home. Then there is no philosophical pomp of exposition, but just two or three catch-words, rather to guide than to confine attention. Presently comes, by way of illustration, a gleam of humour; perhaps a stroke of downright vulgarity--it may be, a wretched pun. The people are amused, but they are not left at liberty to laugh. The preachers comedy does but light up his solemn earnestness. He is painting some scene of death-bed remorse, or of timely repentance; some Magdalenes forgiveness, or some prodigals return. His colours are taken from the earth and sky of common human experience and aspiration. He dips his pencil, so to speak, in the veins of the nearest spectator, and makes his work a part of every mans nature. His images are drawn from the homes of the common people, the daily toil for daily bread, the nightly rest of tired labour, the mother's love for a wayward boy, the father's tenderness to a sick daughter. His anecdotes are not farfetched, they have a natural pathos. He tells how some despairing unfortunate, hastening with her last penny to the suicide's bridge, was stopped by the sound of psalmody, and turned into his chapel; or how some widow's son, running away from his mother's home, was brought back by the recollection of a prayer, and sits now in that pew. He does not narrate occurrences, but describes them, with a rough, graphic force and faithfulness. He does not reason out his doctrines, but announces, explains, and applies them. He ventures a political allusion, and it goes right to the democratic heart. In the open air, someone may interrupt or interrogate, and the response is a new effect. In short this man preaches Christianity--his Christianity, at any rate--as Ernest Jones preaches Chartism, and as Gough preaches temperance. Is it any wonder that he meets with like success? Or is he either to be blamed or scorned? Let it first be remembered that Latimer was not less homely when he preached before the king--nor South less humorous when he cowed Rochester--nor Whitefield less declamatory when he moved Hume and Franklin--nor Rowland Hill less vulgar, though brother to a baronet. To us, it appears that dullness is the worst fault possible to a man whose first business it is to interest--that the dignity of the pulpit is best consulted by making it attractive--and that the clergy of all denominations might get some frequent hints for the composition of their sermons from the young Baptist preacher who never went to College."
Soon after the services were resumed at the Music Hall, a correspondent of The Sun newspaper wrote:
"If what we heard, last Sunday, be a specimen of Mr. Spurgeons usual preaching, there was certainly nothing at all more extravagant than would be heard from most of the Evangelical clergymen and Dissenting preachers in the country. There were no outrageous descriptions of Divine anger and future punishment, nor any wiredrawn refinements on the theology of repentance. His statements on the latter point were characterized by remarkable common sense; they were forcibly expressed and illustrated, as were his arguments for the necessity of repentance. Indeed, there was little in which preachers of all creeds would not have concurred. His voice is a noble one, filling the whole place with the greatest ease; at the further end of the building, we did not miss a syllable. His manner was perfectly unrestrained, but not irreverent. His command of language is very considerable, but does not lead him, for an extempore speaker, into verbosity. His style is unfettered, homely, forcible, and abounds in pointed remarks. There was a total absence of anything humorous or ludicrous. The secret of his popularity, taking last Sunday as a specimen, appeared to us to be something very different.
It was impossible not to feel that the preacher was absorbed, not in himself, but in his audience. The formal separation of the pulpit did not separate him from his hearers. He conversed with them, he was one of them. He did not lecture them ex cathedrâ, or indulge in disquisitions or topics out of their line of thought, but spoke with them as he would have done on a solemn subject in their own houses. Most of our pulpits 'die of dignity'; but, while there was nothing unbecoming on Sunday, the preacher placed himself on a level with all. Of course, a vivid fancy, and considerable powers of expression, aided by a first-rate voice, will account for much, but we think what we have pointed out was the chief reason why, among so many thousands of hearers, we could not--and we looked carefully--detect a single sleeper.
Our more dignified preachers might study with advantage the phenomenon of this youth's popularity. We can only say that, for our part, his manner disarmed criticism, and we could think only of his probable usefulness to the thousands present who, we are confident, by their appearance, are not listeners to our customary pulpit prosaics. Lord Chief Justice Campbell, with his son, was present on the platform, and seemed to take the same view with ourselves; he remarked several times to one of the managers, after the service, in our hearing, and also to Sir Richard Mayne (Commissioner of Police), who was likewise present, 'He is doing great good, sir--great good.' London could find room for twenty such preachers; they are just what the populace needs."
Dr. John Campbell reprinted the foregoing letter in The British Banner, and added the following remarks:
"Such a testimony, from such a quarter, possesses a special value, and the deliberate language of the Lord Chief Justice of England will be duly estimated wherever it shall be read. There is no living man from whom a ranting, raving enthusiast would have so much to fear. A better judge of teaching or preaching, or eloquence, than Lord Campbell is nowhere to be found. The friends of Mr. Spurgeon, therefore, may congratulate themselves on having anticipated the decision of this great legal luminary."
The famous Greville Memoirs contain the following record relating to the period now under consideration: "8th February, 1857.--I have just come from hearing the celebrated Mr. Spurgeon preach in the Music Hall of the Surrey Gardens. It was quite full. He told us from the pulpit that there were 9,000 persons present. The service was like the Presbyterian--psalms, prayer, expounding a Psalm, and a sermon. He is certainly very remarkable, and, undeniably, a fine character; not remarkable in person; in face, rather resembling a smaller Macaulay; a very clear and powerful voice, which was heard through the hall; a manner natural, impassioned, and without affectation or extravagance, wonderful fluency and command of language, abounding in illustration, and very often of a very familiar kind, but without anything either ridiculous or irreverent. He gave me an impression of his earnestness and sincerity; speaking without book or notes, yet his discourse was evidently very carefully prepared. The text was, 'Cleanse Thou me from secret faults,' and he divided it into heads--the misery, the folly, the danger (and a fourth, which I have forgotten,) of secret sins, in all of which he was very eloquent and impressive. He preached for about three-quarters of an hour, and, to judge by the use of the handkerchiefs and the audible sobs, with great effect."
In the Life of Principal Tullloch, by Mrs. Oliphant, there is a description by the Scottish preacher, of a visit he made with his friend, Professor Ferrier, to the Music Hall in May, 1858:
"We have just been to hear Spurgeon," Tulloch wrote, "and have both been so much impressed that I wish to give you my impressions while they are fresh. As we came out we both confessed, 'There is no doubt about that, and I was struck with Ferrier's remarkable expression, 'I feel it would do me good to hear the like of that, it sat so close to reality.'
The sermon is about the most real thing I have come in contact with for a long while. Guthrie is as sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal to it; and although there is not the elevated thought and descriptive felicity of Caird (the latter especially, however, not wanting), there is more power. Power, in fact, and life are its characteristics.
The place is fully adapted for preaching, being the largest, lightest, and airiest building I ever saw. It was crammed, of course, but not in the least uncomfortable, as round all the thickly-studded benches there was a wide and open corridor, with window-doors open, out and in of which you could walk into the gardens (Surrey Gardens) as you liked; and Ferrier kept taking a turn now and then during the sermon. He began the service with a short prayer, then sang the twenty-third Psalm, but instead of our fine old version, some vile version, in which the simple beauty of the hymn is entirely lost. Then he read and expounded the thirty-second chapter (I think) of Numbers. His remarks were very good and to the point, with no display or misplaced emotion. He then prayed more at length, and this was the part of the service I least liked.
He preached from the same chapter he read, about the spies from the land of Canaan--the good and bad spies. It was a parable, he said, of religion. Canaan is not rightly taken as a type of heaven, but of the religious life. Then, after speaking of men of the world judging religion (which, however, they had no right to do) from those who professed it rather than from the Bible--which in thought and grasp was the fullest part of the sermon--he said he would speak of two classes of people, the bad spies first, those who made a great ado about religion and did not show its power, and then the good spies. His description here was graphic beyond what I can give you an idea of, the most telling satire, cutting home, yet not overdone, as he spoke of the gloomy religionist who brought up a bad report of the land of religion, making himself and his wife and children miserable, drawing down the blinds on a Sunday, 'almost most religious when most miserable, and most miserable when most religious'; then the meek-faced fellow, who can pray all Sunday and preach by the hour, and cheat all Monday, always ready with his prayer-book, but keeping a singular cash-book, wouldn't swear, but would cheat and lie. Then, again, he showed still higher powers of pathos in describing the good spies-the old blind saint who had served God for fifty years and never found Him fail; the consumptive girl testifying of the goodness of her Saviour as the dews of death gathered on her brow. And then of all who only lived as Christians--the good wife who converted her husband by her untiring gentleness, and having supper ready even at twelve oclock at night; the servant who, because she was religious, cleaned knives better without losing their edge; the Christian merchant; the wife who, unknown to fame, and having no time for teaching or district visiting, achieved her household work day by day.
In fact, the whole was a wonderful display of mental vigour and Christian sense, and gave me a great idea of what good such a man may do. The impression made upon Ferrier, which he has just read over to me as he has written it to his wife, 'is driving downright.' He improves in look, too, a little, as he warms in preaching. At first he certainly is not interesting in face or figure--very fat and podgy; but there is no doubt of the fellow, look as he may. His voice is of rare felicity, as clear as a bell--not a syllable lost."
The letter which follows was published in The Times, April 13, 1857. Spurgeon thought It was worthy of preservation, for it came from the pen of a learned professor, and did much to turn the tide of public opinion in his favour.
"PREACHING and PREACHING.
To the Editor of The Times,
Sir,--One Sunday morning, about a month ago, my wife said, 'Let us send the children to St. Margaret's, to hear the Archbishop of ------ preach on behalf of the Society of Aged Ecclesiastical Cripples, which is to celebrate today its three hundredth anniversary.' So the children went, though the parents, for reasons immaterial to mention, could not go with them. 'Well, children, how did you like the Archbishop of ------, and what did he say about "the Aged Ecclesiastical Cripples"?' Here the children--for it was during their dinner--attacked their food with great voracity; but never a word could we get out of their mouths about the Spiritual feast of which they had just partaken. No! not even the text could they bring out. The more they were pressed, the more they blushed, and hung their heads over their plates, until, at last, in a rage, I accused them of having fallen asleep during the service. This charge threw my first-born on his defence, and he sobbed out the truth, for, by this time, their eyes were full of tears. 'Why, papa! we can't say what the Archbishop of ------ said, because we could not hear a word. He is very old, and has got no teeth; and do you know, I don't think he has got any tongue either, for, though we saw his lips moving, we could not hear a single word.' On this I said no more, but I thought a good deal of 'the Aged Ecclesiastical Cripples,' and their venerable advocate, and, being something of a philologist, I indulged in dreamy speculations on the possibility of an alphabet composed entirely of labials; and if my wife had not roused me from my dream by some mere matter-of-fact question, I almost think I should have given my reflections to the world in the shape of a small pamphlet entitled, The Language of Labials; or, how to preach Sermons without the aid of either tongue or teeth; published for the benefit of the Society of Aged Ecclesiastical Cripples, and dedicated, of course by permission, to the Archbishop of ------.
Now listen to another story. A friend of mine, a Scotch Presbyterian, comes up to town, and says, 'I want to hear Spurgeon; let us go.' Now, I am supposed to be a High Churchman, so I answered, 'What! go and hear a Calvinist--a Baptist--a man who ought to be ashamed of himself for being so near the Church, and yet not within its pale?' 'Never mind, come and hear him.' Well, we went yesterday morning to the Music Hall in the Surrey Gardens. At first, I felt a strange sensation of wrong-doing. It was something like going to a morning theatrical performance on Sunday; nor did a terrific gust of wind (which sent the Arctic Regions, erected out of laths and pasteboard in a style regardless of expense, flying across the water of the lake) tend to cheer a mind depressed by the novelty of the scene. Fancy a congregation, consisting of ten thousand souls, streaming into the hall, mounting the galleries, humming, buzzing, and swarming--a mighty hive of bees--eager to secure at first the best places, and at last, any place at all. After waiting more than half-an-hour--for if you wish to have a seat, you must be there at least that space of time in advance--Mr. Spurgeon ascended the tribune. To the hum, and rush, and trampling of men, succeeded a low, concentrated thrill and murmur of devotion, which seemed to run at once, like an electric current, through the breast of everyone present; and by this magnetic chain, the preacher held us fast bound for about two hours. It is not my purpose to give a summary of his discourse. It is enough to say of his voice, that its power and volume are sufficient to reach everyone in that vast assembly; of his language, that it is neither high-flown nor homely; of his style, that it is at times familiar, at times declamatory, but always happy, and often eloquent; of his doctrine, that neither the Calvinist nor the Baptist appears in the forefront of the battle which is waged by Mr. Spurgeon with relentless animosity, and with gospel weapons, against irreligion, cant, hypocrisy, pride, and those secret bosom sins which so easily beset a man in daily life; and to sum up all in a word, it is enough to say of the man himself that he impresses you with a perfect conviction of his sincerity.
But I have not written so much about my children's want of spiritual food when they listened to the mumbling of the Archbishop of ------, and my own banquet at the Surrey Gardens, without a desire to draw a practical conclusion from these two stories, and to point them by a moral. Here is a man not more Calvinistic than many an incumbent of the Established Church, who 'humbles and mumbles', as Old Latimer says, over his liturgy and text. Here is a man who says the complete immersion, or something of the kind, of adults is necessary to baptism. These are his faults of doctrine; but, if I were the examining chaplain of the Archbishop of -----, I would say, 'May it please your Grace, here is a man able to preach eloquently, able to fill the largest church in England with his voice, and, what is more to the purpose, with people. And may it please your Grace, here are two churches in the metropolis, St. Paul's and Westminster Abbey. What does your Grace think of inviting Mr. Spurgeon, this heretical Calvinist and Baptist, who is able to draw ten thousand souls after him, just to try his voice, some Sunday morning, in the nave of either of those churches? At any rate, I will answer for one thing that, if he preaches in Westminster Abbey, we shall not have a repetition of the disgraceful practice, now common in that church, of having the sermon before the anthem, in order that those who would quit the church when the arid sermon begins, may be forced to stay it out for the sake of the music which follows it.' But I am not, I am sorry to say, examining chaplain to the Archbishop of ------, so I can only send you this letter from the devotional desert in which I reside, and sign myself--
Habitans in Sicco.
Broad Phylactery, Westminster."
The Times, of the same date, had the following leading article upon the letter: "Society, like the private individual, has its grievances--certain old-established sores, any allusion to which is sure to excite general sympathy in all companies. The extortions of cabmen, inn charges, rates and taxes--any reference to these veteran impositions kindles a spark of genial hostility in every circle. Everyone has had his particular collision with these offensive claims, and has his story to tell. Those compositions called sermons belong to this class of veteran grievances. An allusion to them will revive a drooping conversation, and awaken a spirit of rebellion in every breast. . . . Certainly, to hear the remarks that are generally made, a good preacher does seem to be a very rare production, and to require the lantern of Diogenes to discover him. The fact of the excessive dullness of sermons being indeed taken for granted, people are lost in perplexity how to account for it. Do the Canons require it? Do the Bishops enjoin it? The evil is altogether mysterious, and broods over the public like a nightmare. Its origin, like that of the source of the Nile, is unknown. Is it the result of volcanic influences? Will the same discovery explain it that will, some day, explain the phenomenon of the tides? Or does the enigma await a meteorological solution? There appears also to be something mysterious in the sensations of the sufferers. Language can give the superficial characteristics of what is experienced, but there seems to be something at the bottom which is indescribable. In fact, the whole thing is very mysterious, and we feel out of our depth when we attempt to penetrate it analytically. But, as metaphysicians say, the facts of consciousness in this department are plain; and, so long as we keep quite close to them, we feel ourselves tolerably safe.
Now, undoubtedly, preachers have something to say on their side of the question. As a class of public exhibitors, they labour under peculiar difficulties. For example, a good lecture and a good theatrical piece can be repeated, and we have Mr. Albert Smith and The Corsican Brothers night after night. But a good sermon has only one existence. It goes off like a rocket, and disappears forever. The preacher cannot advertise a second delivery. If it takes place, it is by stealth. But success is not so frequent that it can afford this waste and extravagance without serious results. In other departments, the failures escape notice, because they are merely tentative, and are withdrawn as soon as they are discovered not to take, while one good hit is hammered for months running into the public mind. In the case of sermons, good and bad are on the same exhibitory level, and human nature is pinned forcibly to its average mark.
The reputation, however, of this class of compositions being thus low, it is not surprising if the sudden phenomenon of a monster preacher excites some astonishment; and if our correspondent, 'Habitans in Sicco', regrets that the Church has not the benefit of similar services, it is quite natural to ask why should such demonstrations be confined to Dissent? Why cannot the Church have a monster preacher drawing his crowds?
Physically speaking, there can be no reason why the Church should not have, at any rate once or twice in a generation, a natural orator in its clerical ranks endowed with a voice as loud as Mr. Spurgeon's; and, if she has, there can be no cogent reason why she should not use him. A loud voice is a decided gift, an endowment; it may be thrown away in the prodigality of nature upon a man who has no purpose to turn it to, no thought to utter from that splendid organ, upon a man, in fact, who is a mere pompous Stentor in a pulpit; but give it to one who has thought and a purpose, and see the effect. It collects a crowd to listen, but that is only the first step. Another crowd comes because there is a crowd to begin with, and a third follows the second. But this is not all. A multitude listens with a different feeling to a speaker from that with which a roomful of people or a churchful of people listen, for the multitude feels itself a multitude; it is conscious of its numbers, and every individual partakes in some degree the gigantic vibrations of the mass. The addition of power which is thus gained is immense; and, therefore, how is it that the Church never has a monster preacher?
The reason is, that a loud voice requires its proper material to exert itself upon. The voice is notoriously the most sympathetic thing in nature. It cannot be loud and soft indiscriminately. Some things are made to be shouted, and others to be whispered. Nobody shouts out an axiom in mathematics; nobody balances probabilities in thunder--Nemo consilium cum clamore dat. There must be a strong sentiment, some bold truth, to make a man shout. In religion, there must be something rather extravagant in the shape of doctrine. The doctrine of sudden conversion or of irresistible grace can be shouted, but if a man tried ever so hard to shout in delivering a moderate and sensible discourse on free-will, he would find himself talking quietly in spite of himself. A loud voice, then, must have 'loud' doctrine to develop it. But the Church of England has rather a distaste for 'loud' doctrine; her general standard is opposed to it, her basis is a balanced one, mixing opposite truths, and qualifying what she teaches with judicious protests and disclaimers. She preaches Catholicity with a protest against Rome, and Protestantism with a protest against Geneva. This is very sensible, and very true, but it is not favourable to popular preaching. Of the two parties into which she is divided, one thinks it wrong to shout, as being against the principle of reverence. This school specially contrasts itself in this respect with 'the rude world', which is supposed to be always shouting, and doing everything that is noisy and vulgar, and with heretics who are audacious and immodest; and it plumes itself on its refinement and good taste in the delivery of religious truth, which it thinks ought to be done in a sort of veiled and fragmentary way, so as to reach the sensitive ears of the good, and pass over those of the profane. All this is very excellent and refined, but it is against popular preaching. So much for one party. The other party might speak loud if it liked; it has no theory against it, and its doctrines admit of it, but it does not like the trouble. And, besides, this party, though it professedly holds strong doctrine, practically tempers it considerably, and bends to the moderate standard of the Church. Thus, what with the fear of criticism, the deference to a recognized standard, idleness, reverence, and a great many other things--what with some thinking it heretical to shout, and others thinking it unpolite to be popular--there is no monster preaching in the English Church. It does certainly admit of a question whether, in our general policy, we are not over-cautious, and gain greater theoretical correctness at the cost of much practical efficiency. It admits of a question whether a little extravagance and a little one-sidedness might not be tolerated for the sake of a good, substantial, natural, telling appeal to the human heart. We should have no objection, for our part, to an Evangelical clergyman, with a strong voice, doing what Mr. Spurgeon does. The doctrines of the two are in reality much the same; and, that being the case, why should fear of criticism prevent the Evangelical school from making themselves as effective as they can? But such is the influence of a conventional standard, which, like conscience, 'makes cowards of us all.'"
The British Quarterly Review, June, 1857, contained a long article, of which the following were the opening and closing paragraphs:
"CHARLES SPURGEON AND THE PULPIT
Mr. Spurgeon is a notability. He filled Exeter Hall with eager listeners for months together. He has since done the same in the great Music Hall of the Surrey Gardens, though spacious enough to receive 9,000 persons. Hitherto, the prophets have been in the wrong. The feeling does not subside. The crowds gather even more than before. The 'common people' are there, as at the first; but with them there are now many who are of a much higher grade. Professional men, senatorial men, ministers of state, and peers of the realm, are among Mr. Spurgeon's auditory. These are facts that cannot be questioned. That there is something very extraordinary in them, everyone must feel. How is the matter to be explained? . . .
We believe that, to explain the fact presented in the Sunday meetings at the Surrey Gardens, we must go beyond the personal as found in the preacher, beyond the scheme of truth which he propounds--and we must rest in nothing short of the Divine hand itself. The All-wise has often worked by instruments, and in ways which would seem to have been chosen for the purpose of making a mock of the world's wisdom. He did so when he founded Christianity--He may do much like it again.
Certainly, a choice rebuke has been administered to a course of speculation which has become somewhat rife among us of late, especially among parties who account themselves as belonging to the far-seeing of their generation. It has come to be very much in fashion, with some persons, to speak of all things connected with religion as beset with great difficulty and mystery. On all such questions, we are told, there must be two sides; and the negative side, it is said, is generally much more formidable than is commonly imagined. It is assumed, accordingly, that, to be in a state of some hesitancy and doubt, is the sign of intelligence, while to be positive, very sure about anything, is the sign of a vulgar and shallow mind. Our people are said to be familiar with phrases about the doctrines of the gospel, but with little more. They may become bigots in their conceit on such subjects, and know nothing. Educated men now must not be expected to be content with phrases, or with assertions. The preacher, in consequence, owes it to himself to deal with matters much otherwise than formerly. To insist on the authority of Scripture now, as in past times, it is said, would be in vain. To set forth the doctrines of the gospel now as formerly, would be wasted labour. The preacher must be more considerate, more candid, more forbearing. He must acquit himself with more intelligence, more independence, and in a more philosophical spirit, presenting his topics on broader and more general grounds. In other words, the old mode of presenting what is called 'the old truth' has had its day. Whitefield himself, were he to come back, would produce little impression on our generation.
But here comes a man--no Whitefield in voice, in presence, in dignity, or genius, who, nevertheless, as with one stroke of his hand, sweeps away all this sickly sentimentalism, this craven misbelief. It is all to him as so much of the merest gossamer web that might have crossed his path. He not only gives forth the old doctrine of Paul in all the strength of Paul's language, but with exaggerations of his own, such as Paul would have been forward to disavow. This man knows nothing of doubt as to whence the gospel is, what it is, or wherefore it has its place amongst us. On all such subjects his mind is that of a made-up man. In place of suspecting that the old accredited doctrines of the gospel have pretty well done their work, he expects good from nothing else, and all that he clusters about them is for the sake of them.
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 it--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 once more to have made foolish 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, the young man at the Surrey Gardens can point to his 9,000 auditors, 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?'"
The following extracts from an article written by J. Ewing Ritchie ("Christopher Crayon"), and published in his volume entitled, The London Pulpit, will show that, even in 1857, "all men" did not "speak well" of the young preacher:
"THE REV. C. H. SPURGEON
I fear there is very little difference between the Church and the world. In both, the tide seems strongly set in favour of ignorance, presumption, and charlatanism. In the case of Mr. Spurgeon, they have both agreed to worship the same idol. Nowhere more abound the vulgar, be they great or little, than at the Surrey Music Hall on a Sunday morning. Mr. Spurgeon's service commences at a quarter to eleven, but the doors are opened an hour and a half previously, and all the while there will be a continuous stream of men and women--some on foot, some in cabs, many in carriages--all drawn together by this world's wonder. The motley crowd is worth a study. . . . A very mixed congregation is this one at the Surrey Gardens. The real flock--the aborigines from Park Street Chapel--are a peculiar people--very plain, much given to the wearing of clothes of an ancient cut and easy of recognition. The men are narrow, hard, griping, to look at, the women stern and unlovely; yet they, and such as they alone, if we are to believe them, are to walk the pearly streets of the New Jerusalem, and to sit down with martyrs and prophets and Saints--with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob--at the marriage supper of the Lamb. . . .
Here is a peer, and there his tailor. Here Lady Clara Vere de Vere kills a weary hour and there is the poor girl who sat up all night to stitch her ladyship a costly robe. Here is a blasphemer come to laugh; there, a saint to pray. Can these dry bones live? Can the preacher touch the heart of this listening mass? Breathed on by a spell more potent than his own, will it in its anguish and agony exclaim, 'What must we do to be saved?' You think how this multitude would have melted beneath the consecrated genius of a Chalmers, or a Parsons, or a Melville, or an Irving--and look to see the same torrent of human emotions here. Ah, you are mistaken!--Mr. Spurgeon has not the power to wield 'all thoughts, all passions, all delights'. It is not in him to 'shake the arsenal, and fulmine over Greece'. In the very midst of his fiercest declamation, you will find his audience untouched; so coarse is the colouring, and clumsy the description, you can sit calm and unmoved through it all; and all the while the haughty beauty by your side will fan herself with a languor Charles Mattthews in 'Used Up' might envy. Look at the preacher; the riddle is solved. You see at once that he is not the man to soar; and, soaring, bear his audience, trembling and enraptured, with him in his Heavenward flight. . . .
Of course, at times, there is a rude eloquence on his lips, or, rather, a fluent declamation, which the mob around takes for such. The orator always soars with his audience. With excited thousands waiting his lightest word, he cannot remain passionless and unmoved. Words and thoughts are borne to him from them. There is excitement in the hour; there is excitement in the theme; there is excitement in the living mass; and, it may be, as the preacher speaks of a physical hell and displays a physical heaven, some sensual nature is aroused, and a change may be effected in a man's career.
Little causes may produce great events; one chance word may be the beginning of a new and a better life; but the thoughtful hearer will learn nothing, will be induced to feel nothing, will find that, as regards Christian edification, he had much better have stayed at home. At the best, Mr. Spurgeon will seem to him a preacher of extraordinary volubility. Most probably he will return from one of Mr. Spurgeon's services disgusted with the noisy crowding, reminding him of the Adelphi rather than the house of God; disgusted with the commonplace prayer; disgusted with the questionable style of oratory; disgusted with the narrowness of the preacher's creed, and its pitiful misrepresentations of 'the glorious gospel of the blessed God'; disgusted with the stupidity that can take, for a Divine afflatus, brazen impudence and leathern lungs. Most probably, he will come back confessing that Mr. Spurgeon is the youngest, and the loudest, and the most notorious preacher in London--little more; the idol of people who dare not go to theatres, and yet pant for theatrical excitement. . . .
Will not Mr. Spurgeon's very converts, as they become older--as they understand Christianity better--as the excitement produced by dramatic dialogues in the midst of feverish audiences dies away--feel this themselves? And yet this man actually got nearly 24,000 to hear him on the Day of Humiliation. Such a thing seems marvellous. If popularity means anything, which, however, it does not, Mr. Spurgeon is one of our greatest orators. It is true, it is not difficult to collect a crowd in London. If I simply stand stock still in Cheapside, in the middle of the day, a crowd is immediately collected. The upper class of society requires finer weapons than any Mr. Spurgeon wields; but he preaches to the people in a homely style, and they like it, for he is always plain, and never dull. Then, his voice is wonderful; of itself, a thing worth going to hear; and he has a readiness rare in the pulpit, and which is invaluable to an orator. Then, again, the matter of his discourses commends itself to uneducated hearers. We have done with the old miracle-plays, wherein God the Father appeared upon the stage in a blue coat, and wherein the devil had very visible hoofs and tail; but the principle to which they appealed--the love of man for dramatic representations rather than abstract truths--remains, and Mr. Spurgeon avails himself of it successfully. Another singular fact--Mr. Spurgeon would quote it as a proof of its truth--is that what is called high doctrine--the doctrine Mr. Spurgeon preaches--the doctrine which lays down all human pride--which teaches us we are villains by necessity, and fools by a Divine thrusting on--is always popular, and, singular as it may seem, especially on the Surrey side of the water.
In conclusion, let me not be understood as blaming Mr. Spurgeon. We do not blame Stephano when Caliban falls at his feet, and swears that 'he's a brave god, and bears celestial liquor'. Few ministers get people to hear them. Mr. Spurgeon has succeeded in doing so. It may be a pity that the people will not go and hear better preachers; but, in the meanwhile, no one can blame Mr. Spurgeon that he fearlessly and honestly preaches what he deems the truth."