EARLY CRITICISMS AND SLANDERS.
In these days, there is a growing hatred of the pulpit. The pulpit has maintained its ground full many a year, but partially by its becoming inefficient, it is losing its high position. Through a timid abuse of it, instead of a strong stiff use of the pulpit, the world has come to despise it; and now most certainly we are not a priest-ridden people one-half so much as we are a press-ridden people. By the press we are ridden indeed. Mercuries, Despatches, Journals, Gazettes, and Magazines are now the judges of pulpit eloquence and style. They thrust themselves into the censor’s seat, and censure those whose office it should rather be to censure them. For my own part, I cheerfully accord to all men the liberty of abusing me; but I must protest against the conduct of at least one Editor, who has misquoted in order to pervert my meaning, and who has done even more than that; he has manufactured a “quotation” from his own head, which never did occur in my works or words, — C. H. S., & sermon preached at the Music Hall, Royal Surrey Gardens, January 25, 1857. WHILE reading again the letters referred to in the preceding chapters, Mrs. Spurgeon has been reminded that, before her marriage, she made a collection of newspaper cuttings relating to her beloved. As the different articles appeared, Mr. Spurgeon sent them on to her, usually saying with regard to each one, “Here’s another contribution for your museum.” It would not be difficult to fill a volume with reprints of the notices — favorable and otherwise, — of the young preacher’s first years in London; but it is not likely that any useful purpose would be thereby served. It will probably suffice if a selection is given from the contents of this first scrapbook, especially as the papers it contains were published in various parts of the kingdom at considerable intervals during the years 1855 and 1856.
They are therefore fairly representative of the press notices of the period, and they will be of greater interest to many readers because they were gathered by the dear preacher himself. The book in which the extracts are preserved bears upon its title-page, in his handwriting, the following inscription: — FACTS, FICTION, AND FACETIAE.
The last word might have been Falsehood, for there is much that is untrue, and very little that can be regarded as facetious in the whole series. Some of the paragraphs are too abusive or too blasphemous to be inserted in this work; and one cannot read them without wondering how any man could have written in such a cruel fashion concerning so young and so earliest a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ, who was laboring with all his might to bring sinners to the Saviour. At that early stage of his ministry, he had not become so accustomed as he was in later years to attacks from all quarters, and his letters show that he felt very keenly the aspersions and slanders to which he was subjected. Occasionally, also, he alluded from the pulpit to this form of fiery trial. In a sermon, preached March 15, 1857, he said: — ”I shall never forget the circumstance, when, after I thought I had made a full consecration to Christ, a slanderous report against my character came to my ears, and my heart was broken in agony because I should have to lose that, in preaching Christ’s gospel. I fell on my knees, and said, ‘Master, I will not keep back even my character for Thee. If I must lose that, too, then let it go; it is the dearest thing I have; but it shall go, if, like my Master, they shall say I have a devil, and am mad; or, like Him, I am a drunken man and a wine-bibber.” In after years, he was less affected by the notices which appeared. Perhaps this was all the easier as the tone adopted by most of the writers very greatly improved, while the friendly articles and paragraphs were so much more numerous than the unfavorable ones that they obliterated the memory of any that might have caused sorrow and pain. The habit of preserving newspaper and ,other records of his career was continued by Mr. Spurgeon to the last; and as each caricature, criticism, or commendation came to hand, he would say, “That is one more for my collection,” while the praise or blame it contained would be of less importance in his esteem than his concern to have a conscience void of offence toward God and men. Preaching in the Tabernacle, in 1884, he thus referred to his early experience, and to the change the intervening period had witnessed:— “‘They compassed me about like bees,’ says David; that is to say, they were very many, and very furious. When bees are excited, they are among the most terrible of assailants; sharp are their stings, and they inject a venom which sets the blood on fire. I read, the other (lay, of a traveller in Africa, who learned this by experience. Certain negroes were pulling his boat up the river, and as the rope trailed along it disturbed a bees’ nest, and in a moment the bees were upon him in his cabin. He said that he was stung in the face, the hands, and the eyes. He was all over a mass of fire, and to escape from his assailants he plunged into the river, but they persecuted him still, attacking his head whenever it emerged from the water. After what he suffered from them, he said he would sooner meet two lions at once, or a whole herd of buffaloes, than ever be attacked by bees again; so that the simile which I)avid gives is a very striking one. A company of mean-spirited, wicked men, who are no bigger than bees, mentally or spiritually, can get: together, and sting a good man ill a thousand places, till he is well-nigh maddened by their scorn, their ridicule, their slander, and their misrepresentation. Their very littleness gives them the power to wound with impunity. Such has been the experience of some of us, especially in days now happily past. For one, I can say, I grew inured to falsehood and spite. The stings at last caused me no more pain than if I had been made of iron; but at first they were galling enough. Do not be surprised, dear friends, if you have the same experience; and if it comes, count it no strange thing, for in this way the saints have been treated in all time. Thank God, the wounds are not fatal, nor of long continuance! Time brings ease, and use creates hardihood. No real harm has come to any of us who have run the gauntlet of abuse; not, even a bruise remains.”
According to chronological order, the first serious attack resulted from the publication, by Rev. Charles Waters Banks, in The Earthen Vessel, December, 1854, of an article, the opening. “THE PASTORS OF OUR CHURCHES;THE PREACHERS OF OUR DAY. “ABRIEF AND IMPARTIAL REVIEW OF MR.SPURGEON’ S MINISTRY. [“As we have nearly come to the close of another year, we are striking out a new line of mental labor, — it is a glance at ministers as they are. It is not an easy task; but, then, we go to this work with a two-fold determination, — first, knowing that there is some good thing in all good men, we will try to find out, and to show, how that good thing is developed in different ways in different men. Secondly, knowing that there are imperfections in all men, we are determined, by help Divine, to have no hand in exhibiting them: ‘We can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth.’] “Mr. C. H. Spurgeon is the present Pastor of New Park Street Chapel, in the Borough of Southwark. He is a young man of very considerable ministerial talent, and his labors have been amazingly successful in raising up the before drooping cause at Park Street to a state of prosperity almost unequalled. We know of no Baptist minister in all the metropolis — with the exception of our highly-favored and long-tried brother, James Wells, of the Surrey Tabernacle, — who has such crowded auditories, and continued overflowing congregations, as Mr. Spurgeon has. But, then, very solemn questions arise. ‘WHAT IS HE DOING?’ ‘WHOSE SERVANT IS HE?’ ‘What proof does he give that, instrumentally, his is a heart-searching, a Christexalting, a truth-unfolding, a sinner-converting, a church-feeding, a soulsaving ministry?’ This is the point at issue with many whom we know, — a point which we should rejoice to see clearly settled — in the best sense — and demonstrated beyond a doubt in the confidence of all the true churches of Christ in Christendom. In introducing this subject to the notice of our readers, we have no object in view further than a desire to furnish all the material which has been thrown into our hands, — a careful and discriminating examination of which may, to some extent, be edifying and profitable. We wish our present remarks to be considered merely introductory, not conclusive; but seeing that the minds of so many are aroused to enquiry as to what may be considered the real position of this young Samuel in the professing church, we are disposed to search the records now before us, and from thence fetch out all the evidence we can find expressive of a real work of grace in the soul, and a Divine call to publish the tidings of salvation, the mysteries of the cross, and the work of the Holy Spirit, in the hearts of the living in Jerusalem.”
The article contained a kindly reference to Mr. Spurgeon’s spiritual experience, and included the friendly testimony of a recent hearer, whose judgment carried weight with Mr. Banks, though his name was not given; but most of the space was devoted to extracts from the young preacher’s published discourses. In The Earthen Vessel for the following month (January, 1855), a long communication was inserted, bearing the signature, “JOB.” Mr. Spurgeon believed that the writer was the redoubtable James Wells (“ King James,”).
The following extracts will show how the veteran wrote concerning the stripling who was destined far to surpass his critic in fame and usefulness: — “I have no personal antipathy to Mr. Spurgeon; nor should I have written concerning him, but for your review of his ministry. His ministry is a public matter, and therefore open to public opinion; and as you assure us that the sermon on 1 Corinthians 1:6, — ’The Testimony of Christ Confirmed in You,’ — by Mr. Spurgeon, is by far the best, I will, by your permission, lay before you my opinion of the same. But I will first make a few remarks concerning Mr. Spurgeon, to which remarks I think he is entitled. “It is, then, in the first place, clear that he has been, from his childhood, a very industrious and ardent reader of books, especially those of a theological kind; and that he has united with his theological researches books of classic and of scientific caste, and has thus possessed himself of every kind of information which, by the law of association, he can deal out at pleasure; and these acquirements, by reading, are united, in Mr. Spurgeon, with good speaking gifts· The laws of oratory have been well studied, and he suits the action to his words. This mode of public speaking was, in the theatres of ancient Greece, carried to such an extent that one person had to speak the words, and another had to perform the gestures, and suit, with every variety of face and form, the movement to the subject in hand. Mr. Spurgeon has caught the idea, only with this difference, that he performs both parts himself. Mr. Spurgeon is too well acquainted with Elisha Coles not to see in the Bible the sovereignty of God; and too well acquainted with the writings of Toplady and Tucker not to see in the Bible the doctrine of predestination, and an overruling providence; and too well versed in the subtleties of the late Dr. Chalmers not to philosophize upon rolling planets, and methodically-moving particles of earth and water, each particle having its ordained sphere. “But, in addition to this, he appears to be a well-disposed person, — kind, benevolent, courteous, full of goodwill to his fellow-creatures, — endearing in his manners, social, — a kind of person whom it would seem almost a cruelty to dislike. The same may be, with equal truth, said both of Dr. Pusey and of Cardinal Wiseman. But, then, it becomes us to be aware, not only of the rough garment of a mock and ‘ arrogant humility’, but also of Amalekite-measured and delicate steps; and also of the soft raiment of refined and studied courtesy (Matthew 11:8), and fascinating smile with, ‘Surely the bitterness of death is past’ (1 Samuel 15:32). But Samuel had too much honesty about him to be thus deceived. We must, then, beware of words that are smoother than butter, and softer than oil (Psalm 55:21). not one of the Reformers appears to have been of this amiable caste; but these creature-refinements pass with thousands for religion; and tens of thousands are deluded thereby. It was by great, very great politeness that the serpent beguiled Eve; and, unhappily, her posterity love ‘to have it so; — so true is it that Satan is not only a prince of darkness, but transformed also as ‘an angel of light,’ to deceive, if it were possible, even the very elect. “And yet further than all this, Mr. Spurgeon was, so says the Vessel, brought to know the Lord when he was only fifteen years old. Heaven grant it may prove to be so, — for the young man’s sake, and for that of others also! But I have — most solemnly have — my doubts as to the Divine reality of his conversion. I do not say — it is not tof me to say — that he is not a regenerated man; but this I do know, that there are conversions which are not of God; and whatever convictions a man may have, whatever may be the agonies of his mind as to the possibility 6f his salvation, whatever terror anyone may experience, and however sincere they may be, and whatever deliverance they may have by dreams or visions, or by natural conscience, or the letter or even apparent power of the Word, yet, if they cannot stand, in their spirit and ministry, the test of the law of truth, and the testimony of God, there is no true light in them; for a person may be intellectually enlightened, he may taste of the Heavenly gift, and be made partaker of the Holy Ghost, professionally, and taste of the good Word of God (Hebrews vi.), and yet not be regenerated, and therefore not beyond the danger of falling away, even from that portion of truth which such do hold. Such are never thoroughly convinced of what they are by nature; Psalm xxxviii. and Romans vii. ‘show a path to which they make some approaches, and of which they may eloquently talk, but at the same time give certain proofs that they are not truly walking therein. Mr. Spurgeon tells us, in his sermon on the Ministry of Angels, that he has more angelology about him than most people. Well, perhaps he has;,but then, if a real angel from Heaven were to preach another gospel, he is not to be received... “Concerning Mr. Spurgeon’s ministry, I believe the following things: — “1st. That it is most awfully deceptive; that it passes by the essentials of the work of the Holy Ghost, and sets people by shoals down for Christians who are not Christians by the quickening and indwelling power of the Holy Ghost. Hence, free-willers, intellectual Calvinists, high and low, are delighted with him, together with the philosophic and classic-taste Christian! This is simply deceiving others with the deception wherewith he himself is deceived. “2nd. That, as he speaks some truth, convictions will in some cases take place under his ministry; such will go into real concern for their salvation; and will, after a time, leave his ministry, for a ministry that can accompany them in their rugged paths of wilderness experience. “3rd. Though I do not attach the moral worth to such a ministry as I should to the true. ministry of the Spirit, yet it may be morally and socially beneficial to some people, who perhaps would care to hear only such an intellectually, or rather rhetori-cally-gifted man as is Mr. Spurgeon; but then they have this advantage at the cost of being fatally deluded. “4th. My opinion is, and my argument is, and my conclusion is, that no man who knows his own heart, who knows what the daily cross means, and who knows the difference between the form and the power, the name and the life itself, the semblance and the substance, the difference between the sounding brass or the tinkling cymbal and the voice of the turtle, pouring the plaintive, but healing notes of Calvary into the solitary and weary soul; — he who walks in this path, could not hear with profit the ministry of Mr. Spurgeon. “5th. I believe that Mr. Spurgeon could not have fallen into a line of things more adapted to popularity: his ministry pays its address courteously to all; hence, in this sermon, he graciously receives us all, — such a reception as it is, — he who preaches all doctrine, and he who preaches no doctrine; he who preaches all experience, and ‘he who preaches no experience; and, hence, intellectually, High Calvinists of easy virtue receive such a ministry into their pulpits, at once showing that the man of sin, the spirit of apostacy, is lurking in their midst. Low Calvinists also receive him, showing that there is enough of their spirit about him to make him their dear brother; only his Hyperism does sometimes get a little in their way, but they ]hope experience will soon take away this Calvinistic taint, and so make things more agreeable. But in this I believe they will be disappointed; he has chosen his sphere, his orbit may seem to be eccentric, but he will go intellectually shining on, throwing out his cometary attractions, crossing the orbits of all the others, seeming friendly with all, yet belonging to none. “His originality lies not in the materials he uses, but in ranging them into an order that suits his own turn of mind; at this he industriously labors. (In this he is a reproof to some ministers of our own denomination who are not industrious, nor studious, nor diligent, but sluggish, slothful, negligent, empty-headed, and in the pulpit: as well as in the parlor, empty-handed.
Preaching then is like sowing the wind, and reaping the whirlwind; and many on this account leave our ministers, and prefer a half-way gospel, ingenuously and enthusiastically preached, to a whole gospel, not half preached, or preached without variety, life, or power. May the Lord stir up His own servants, that they may work while it is day!) “But, in conclusion, I say, — I would make every allowance for his youth; but while I make this allowance, I am, nevertheless, thoroughly disposed to believe that we have a fair sample of what he will be even unto the end.”
This letter was followed by Editorial comments, and a long correspondence, pro and con. “JOB” wrote again, explaining one expression he had previously used, but making even more definite his assertion concerning what he supposed to be Mr. Spurgeon’s lack of true spiritual life: — “Dear Mr. Editor, — In one part of my review of Mr. Spurgeon’s sermon, I have said of him, as a minister, ‘I am thoroughly (it should have been strongly) disposed to believe that we have a fair sample of what he will be to/he end.’ It is to be regretted that some persons have tried to make the above mean that, as Mr. Spurgeon is in a state of nature now, he will so continue even unto the end; whereas, I neither did, nor do I mean, any such thing: all I mean is, that his ministry, as it now is, is I am strongly disposed to believe a fair sample of what it will be even unto the end. I do not here refer to his personal destiny at all, — though no doubt many would have been glad to have seen me commit myself, by rushing in ‘where angels fear to tread.’… “I am, Mr. Editor, credibly informed that Mr. Spurgeon himself intends taking no notice of what I have written; and if I am to be counted an enemy because I have spoken what I believe to be the truth (Galatians 4:16), I am perfectly willing to bear the reproach thereof; and most happy should I be to have just cause to think differently of his ministry; but I am at present (instead of being shaken,) more than ever confirmed in what I have written.
I beg therefore to say that anything said upon the subject by Mr. Spurgeon’s friends will be to me as straws thrown against a stone wall (Jeremiah 1:18), and of which I shall take no notice. Only let them beware lest a voice from Him, by whom actions are weighed, say unto them, ‘Ye have not spoken of Me the thing that is right, as My servant Job hath’ (Job 42:7.)” Mr. Wells long continued his spirit of opposition to Mr. Spurgeon, even refusing to fulfil an engagement to preach because his brother-minister was to take one of the services on the same day; but many of his strict Baptist brethren did not sympathize with him in his action, and cordially welcomed the young preacher who held so many truths that were dear also to them.
The Editor of The Earthen Vessel (Mr. Banks) published, in later numbers of his Magazine for 1855, three articles from his own pen, in the course of which, reviewing Mr. Spurgeon’s life and ministry up to that time, he wrote: — “It was a nice word of Richard Sibbes when he said, ‘The office of a minister is to be a wooer, to make up the marriage between Christ and Christian souls:’ and we will plainly speak our minds; — we have hoped that C. H. Spurgeon’s work, in the hands of the Holy Ghost, is to woo and to win souls over unto Jesus Christ; and we have an impression, should his life be spared, that, through his instrumentality, all our churches will, byand- by, be increased. God Almighty grant that we may be true prophets; and then, to all our cruel correspondents we will say,’ Fire away; cut up, cast out, and condemn The Earthen Vessel as much as ye may, ye will do us no harm.’... We have no ground for suspecting the genuineness of Mr. Spurgeon’s motives, nor the honesty of his heart. We are bound to believe that his statements respecting his own experience are just and true. We are bound to believe that, in prosecuting his ministry, he is sincerely aiming at three things, — the glory OF ChriST, — the good of immortal souls, — and the well-being of Zion, — and that, in all this, the love of Christ constrains him. If, in thoroughly weighing the sermons before us, proof to the contrary appeared, we would not hide it up; but we sincerely trust no evidence of that kind can be produced .... In the course Of Mr. Spurgeon’s ministry, there are frequently to be found such gushings forth of love to God, of ravishing delights in Christ, of the powerful anointings of the Holy Ghost, as compel us to believe that God is in him of a truth. We must confess that is the deep-wrought conviction of our spirit; and we dare not conceal it. Why should we? We may be condemned by many; but, whatever it may cast upon us, — whoever may discard us, — we must acknowledge that, while in these sermons we have met with sentences that perplex us, and with what some might consider contradiction, still, we have found those things which have been powerful demonstrations of the indwelling of\parTHE LIFE AND THE LOVE OF THE TRIUNE GOD in the preacher’s heart. “In thus giving, without reserve, an unbiased verdict respecting the main drift of the sermons contained in The New Park street Pulpit, we do not endorse every sentence, nor justify every mode of expression; our first work has been to search for that which, in every new work that comes to hand, we always search for,-that which we search for in every candidate for church-membership, — that is,LIFE and if we have not found evidences of a Divine life in the ministry at New Park Street Chapel, we are deceived; yea, we are blind; and the powers of spiritual discernment are not with us .... We beseech all Christian people, who long for a revival in the midst of our churches, to pray for this young man, whom we do earnestly hope THE LORD HAS SENT AMONGST US. Let us not be found fighting against him, lest unhappily we be found fighting against God. Let us remember, he has not made himself, he has not qualified himself, he: has not sent himself; all that he has, which is good, Godlike, and gracious, the Lord has given him; — all that he: is doing, that is of real benefit to immortal souls, the Lord is doing by him.”