FIRST LITERARY FRIENDS I have striven, with all my might, to attain the position of complete independence of all men. 1 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 anti abused I felt the censure anti 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 endeavor 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. ON February 18, 1856, just a year after his first article, Mr. James Grant wrote as follows in The Morning Advertiser: — ”When Mr, Spurgeon was preaching in Exeter Hall to the most densely-crowded audiences that ever assembled within the walls of that spacious place, we called especial attention to his qualities as a preacher and as a theologian. We pointed out freely, but in the spirit of sincere friendship, what we conceived to be his faults both in matter and manner, and expressed not only a hope but a belief that, as he was so young a man, — not having then reached his majority, — he would, with the lapse of time, which generally matures the judgment, as well as mellows the mind, get rid, in a great measure, if not wholly, of what we then specified as defects. It gives us great gratification to say that, having heard him recently in his own chapel, in New Park Street, Southwark, we discern a decided improvement both as regards his matter and manner. “Not that there is any change in Mr. Spurgeon’s doctrinal views, or in his mode of illustrating, enforcing, and applying them, but that there is less of the pugnacious quality about him when grappling with the views of those from whom he differs. He does not speak so often with asperity of other preachers of the gospel, whom he conceives — and we must say, in the main, rightly, — to be unfaithful to their high calling. There is, too, a marked and gratifying improvement in Mr. Spurgeon as regards the manner of his pulpit appearances. He was always profoundly earnest in his appeals to the consciences of the unconverted; and spoke with an emphasis which showed how deeply he felt, when dwelling on the joys and sorrows, the hopes and the fears of believers. And yet, strange to say, there was at times associated with this a seeming irreverence which, we know, frequently caused much pain to some of his greatest friends and admirers. In this respect also, we are happy to say, we can discern a decided amendment.... “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 learning, 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 laborers into His vineyard from the working-men of polished society.”
It was not easy to decide whether the following paragraphs, from The Freeman, February 27, 1856, should be inserted here or be included in Chapter 38.; readers may be able to settle that point to their own satisfaction: — “Mr. Spurgeon is unquestionably a phenomenon; a star, a meteor, or at all events something strange and dazzling in the horizon of the ‘religious world.’ The old lights have gone down, and since Irving, and Hall, and Chalmers ‘fell asleep,’ there has been no preacher who has created a ‘ sensation’ at all to be compared with the young minister of New Park Street Chapel. But do not let our readers imagine that they have found here a luminary of the same class with those we have just named. Whatever Mr. Spurgeon’s merits may be, — and he has some rare ones,-they are of a very different order from those which distinguished the mighty preachers of the last generation. They were all men of gigantic reasoning powers, of refined taste, of profound scholarship, and of vast theological learning. Of all these qualities, Mr. Spurgeon has little enough; nor, to do him justice, does he pretend to any of them, except perhaps in some unlucky moments to the last. But it will:probably be agreed, by all competent judges, that neither Irving, nor Hall, nor eve. n Chalmers, was so well fitted to carry the gospel to the poor and ignorant, as is this modern orator of the pulpit.
Their writings will last for many generations, and will be as fresh to the latest as they are to-day; Mr. Spurgeon’s sermons will perhaps soon be forgotten for ever, but they go to the hearts of the multitude; and as he has the good sense to know the direction in which his talent lies, he promises to be incomparably useful in a class of society which preachers too often complain is utterly beyond their reach. “A lively imagination, sometimes rising to the region of poetry, but more frequently delighting in homely and familiar figures of speech; a free, colloquial manner of address, that goes directly to the understanding of the simplest; and an enthusiastic ardour, that must prove catching to all his hearers, unless they are more than usually insensible, are the chief legitimate attractions of Mr. Spurgeon’s style; and they are qualities so rare in their combination, and are in him so strongly developed, as to stamp him, in our judgment, with the decided impress of genius. We should suppose that it must be impossible to hear him without acquiring for him a sentiment of respect; for if offended by his extravagances, as the thoughtful certainly will he, the offence is so immediately atoned for by some genuine outburst of feeling, that you remember that his extravagances are but the errors of a youth, and that the material on which these excrescences appear is that out of which apostles and martyrs have in every age been fashioned.
You pardon his follies, for they are nothing else, for the sake of his unquestionable sincerity and impassioned zeal. You wish it had been possible that a mind so gifted might have received more culture before it was called into its present dangerous position; but finding it as it is, you accept it with gratitude, and pray God, the All-wise, to be its Guide and Protector…. We see in Mr. Spurgeon a soul-loving preacher of Christ’s gospel. Few have his peculiar gifts for arresting the attention of the thoughtless, or inspiring the cold with fervour. These are high endowments; high, but awfully responsible· Of that:responsibility we believe, too, that Mr. Spurgeon has no mean sense. And therefore, we hope, not without confidence, that his usefulness will continually augment, and that whatever detracts from it will gradually disappear.”
A more favorable 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 labors 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 favored 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 scepter 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 Mr. 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 twentyone 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 .... “A characteristic mark of the fulness of Mr. Spurgeon’s mind, and his entire abandonment to his subject, is his plunging at once into it from the first paragraph of his sermon. He does not often beat about with prepared exordiums, and yet his exordium is frequently not only very beautiful, but perhaps the most beautiful portion of his discourse. ‘Is it not a rule with the rhetoricians, with Dr. Whately and others, that the exordium should be prepared nearly at the close of the oration, when all the powers of the mind and heart are alive with the subject, so that the auditors may have their attention arrested by those passages which will represent the orator’s most inflamed and pathetic state of feeling? We can very well acquit our speaker of any slavish following of this rule; possibly, probably, he may be ignorant Of it, but he is the subject of it. Wrapt and possessed by his topics of thought and feeling, he frequently seems to cast over the people the state of mind induced in him by the last impressions of his text. His words often are more calm, beautiful, suggestive, and subduing in his opening than in any of his following remarks .... 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 fulness 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 will still 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;rebut 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 extracts 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 Mr’. Spurgeon, says: — ‘“Your ministry has attained the dignity of a moral phenomenon; you stand on art eminence which, since the days of Whitefield, no minister — with a single exception, if indeed, there be one, — of any church in this realm has attained. You have access to a larger audience than the magic of any other name can gather; you have raised a church from obscurity to eminence, — perhaps I might add (rumor is my authority) from spiritual indigence to affluence. You entered on a sphere, where — to use the mildest word, — langor ‘held unbroken Sabbath;’ and in less than three short years you have, instrumentally, gathered a large, united, zealous, energetic church, second, in numbers, in burning zeal, and in active effort, to no other church in the metropolis .... “Nor has God given you favor with your own people alone. Blessed with a vigorous mind, and with great physical energy, — mens sana in corpore sano, — you have consecrated all to your Master’s service, and hence you have become an untiring evangelist. East, West, North, South, — in England, Wales, and Scotland, your preaching is appreciated by the people, and has been blessed of God. No place has been large enough to receive the crowds who flocked to hear ‘ the young Whitefield’; and, on many occasions, you have preached the glorious gospel, the sward of the green earth being the floor on which, and the vault of the blue heaven the canopy under which, you announced, to uncounted thousands, ‘ all the words of this life.’ Your name has thus become ‘ familiar as a household word’ in most of the churches and many of the families of our land; and the young Pastor of Southwark has taken his place among the celebrities of our land, — and, among the ecclesiastical portion of these, he is ‘higher than the highest.’ “On another, and much higher ground, I would offer my congratulations.
Usefulness is the law of the moral universe. This, in relation to the Christian ministry, means the moral renovation, the saving conversion of human souls. nothing short of this can satisfy the desires of any ‘godly minister of Christ’s gospel,’ and, therefore, all such will estimate the amount of their success by the number of well-sustained instances of conversion, which are the fruit, under God’s blessing, of their ministerial labors. Subjected to this test, the ministry of him to whom my congratulations are now presented, is placed above all the ministries with which I have any acquaintance, or of which I possess any authentic information. He states — so I am informed, — that more than one thousand souls have been hopefully converted to God, during the past year, by the instrumentality of his ministry; and that, as the result of his metropolitan and provincial labors, during the period of his short but successful Pastorate, several thousands, who had erred from the truth, or never known it, have been raised or restored to holiness, happiness, and God. ‘This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvellous in our eyes.’ I know something of the state of religion in our British churches, and I do not hesitate to avow my belief that, among the thousands — and, happily, their name is legion — who now proclaim the fundamental verities of the Christian revelation, there is not one who can truthfully say, as you can, that, during three short years, thousands — as the fruit of his ministry — have been added to the fellowship of his own church, and of other churches .... “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 Ills 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 labored 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, — judging even by your own antecedents, — what a glorious prospect of honor, 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 honored 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, — “‘Which falls not down behind the darkened West, Nor hides obscured amid the tempests of the sky, But melts away into the light of Heaven!’” (N.B. — Mr. Spurgeon’s autobiographical narrative is resumed in the following chapter.)