FIRST LITERARY FRIENDS.
I was reading, some time ago, an article in a newspaper, very much in my praise. It always makes me sad, — so sad that I could cry,- if ever I see anything praising me; it breaks my heart, I feel I do not deserve it; and then I say, “Now I must try and be better, so that I may deserve it.” It the world abuses me, I am a match for that; I begin to like it. It may fire all its big guns at me, I will not return a solitary shot, but just store them up, and grow rich upon the old iron. All the abuse it likes to heap upon me, I can stand; but when a man praises me, I feel it is a poor thing I have done, and that he commends what does not deserve commendation. This crushes me down, and I say to myself, ,’I must set to work and deserve this; I must preach better, I must be more earnest, and more diligent in my Master’s service.” — C. H. S. ALTHOUGH many assailed Mr. Spurgeon through the press in the first years of his ministry in London, there were always loyal and true hearts ready to come to his help, and write in his defence. This chapter and the next contain the principal favorable articles published during 1855 and 1856; they furnish a marked contrast to the slanders and calumnies which the young preacher had to endure at that time.
One of the earliest encouraging notices appeared appropriately in The Friend, and was supplied by a member of the Society of Friends. The writer said:- “An extraordinary sensation has recently been produced in London by the preaching of a young Baptist minister named C. H. Spurgeon. The crowds which have been drawn to hear him, the interest excited by his ministry, and the conflicting opinions expressed in reference to his qualifications and usefulness, have been altogether without parallel in modern times. What renders the present case remarkable is, the juvenility of the preacher, — his hold on the public being established before he had attained his twentieth year; and his first appearance in London being that of a country youth, without any of the supposed advantages of a College education or ordinary ministerial training. Early in 1854, he undertook the charge of the congregation assembling in New Park Street Chapel, Southwark. It was a remarkable sight to see this round-faced country youth thus placed in a position of such solemn and arduous responsibility, yet addressing himself to the fulfilment of its onerous duties with a gravity, self-possession, and vigor, that proved him well fitted to the task he had assumed. In a few weeks, the pews, which had been so long tenantless, were crowded, every sitting in the chapel was let, and ere many months had elapsed, the eagerness to hear him had become so great, that every standing-place within the Chapel walls was occupied on each succeeding Sabbath, and it became evident that increased accommodation must be provided for the wants of the congregation. It was about this period, in the autumn of 1854, that we first heard C. H. Spurgeon, on the occasion of his preaching to the Young Men’s Christian Association. The preliminary portions of the service were conducted in a manner at once to impress the hearer with a sense of the earnest reverence which the young Pastor felt in his work. He read a portion of Scripture, accompanying it with a few forcible and pointed remarks, — these expository efforts being of peculiar value to the class of hearers of which his congregations are mostly composed. His sermon was a deeply-impressive one. He spoke as a young man to young men, — sympathizing in their tastes, their trials, their temptations, and their wants. He unfolded the plan of salvation, and urged the importance of a manly and decided profession of Christianity.”
One of the first and one of the ablest of Mr. Spurgeon’s champions among literary men was Mr. James Grant, the Editor of The Morning Advertiser, which, under his management, a contemporary writer testifies, was raised “to the position of a first-class morning paper, second only to The Times, either in circulation or influence.” In its columns, on February 19, 1855, he published an article, the tenor of which may be judged by the following extracts:— “THE REV.MR.SPURGEON. “A young man, in the twenty-first year of his age, has just appeared, under this name, among our metropolitan preachers, and is creating a great sensation in the religious world. He had only been a few weeks settled as minister of Park Street Chapel, Southwark, before that commodious place was filled to overflowing, while hundreds at each service went away who were unable to effect an entrance. The result was, that it was agreed to enlarge’ the chapel, and that the youthful minister should preach in the large room of Exeter Hall for eight Sundays, until the re-opening of his own place of worship. It will easily be believed how great must be The popularity of this almost boyish preacher, when we mention that, yesterday, both morning and evening, the large hall, capable of containing from 4,000 to 5,000 persons, was filled in every part. Mr. Spurgeon belongs to the Baptist denomination… He is short in stature, and somewhat thickly built, which, with an exceedingly broad, massive face, gives him the appearance of a man twenty-six or twenty-seven years of age instead of twenty-one. His doctrines are of the Hyper-Calvinist school. He is a young man, we are told, of extensive information, especially on theological subjects, and of a highly cultivated mind. There can be no doubt that he possesses superior talents, while, in some of his happier flights, he rises to a high order of pulpit oratory. It is in pathos that he excels, though he does not himself seem to be aware of the fact. But for some sad drawbacks in the young divine, we should anticipate great usefulness from him, because he not only possesses qualities peculiarly adapted to attract and rivet the attention of the masses, but he makes faithful and powerful appeals to the consciences of the unconverted. In the spirit of sincere friendship, we would advise him to study to exhibit an aspect of greater gravity and seriousness. Let us also impress upon him the indispensable necessity of relinquishing those theatrical — we had almost said melo-dramatic — attitudes into which he is in the habit of throwing himself. In Exeter Hall, yesterday, instead of confining himself to the little spot converted into a sort of pulpit for him, he walked about on the platform just as if he had been treading the boards of Drury Lane: Theatre, while performing some exciting tragedy. Altogether, he seems to want the reverence of manner which is essential to the’. success of a minister of the gospel. F2 We hope, however, that in these respects he will improve. It is with that view we give him our friendly counsels. He is quite an original preacher, and therefore will always draw large congregations, and, consequently, may be eminently made. the means of doing great good to classes of persons who might never otherwise be brought within the sound of a faithfully-preached gospel. He has evidently made George Whitefield his model; and, like that unparalleled preacher, that prince of pulpit orators, is very fond of striking apostrophes. Like him, too, he has a powerful voice, which would, at times, be more pleasing, and not less impressive, were it not raised to so high a pitch.”
Mr. Spurgeon’s own testimony confirms Mr. Grant’s assertion that he had “evidently made George Whitefield his model.” He wrote, in 1879: — ”There is no end to the interest which attaches to such a man as George Whitefield. Often as I have read his life, I am conscious of distinct quickening whenever I turn to it. lie lived. other men seem to be only halfalive; but Whitefield was all life, fire, wing, force. My own model, if I may have such a thing in due subordination to my Lord, is George Whitefield; but with unequal footsteps must I follow in his glorious track.”
Mr. Grant’s article was reprinted in the March number of The Baptist Messenger, which was originated, and, until his death, edited, by Rev.
Jonathan Whittemore, of Eynsford, who had, in the autumn of 1854, availed himself of Mr. Spurgeon’s literary assistance, and so commenced a connection with the Magazine which has continued to the present day. In the meantime, the correspondence referred to in the previous chapter was being published, and consequently the April issue of the Messenger, as it was usually termed, contained several of the most friendly letters, together with the following article on “Mr. Spurgeon and his Detractors”: — “It is not at all a matter of surprise that the extraordinary popularity of this estimable young minister should have evoked censure and commendation of all kinds and degrees. The pulpit and the forum alike invite attention, and challenge critic”ism; and so long as this test is legitimately and truthfully applied, no public character, if right-hearted, will shrink from its decisions. But if the criticism be made the vehicle of calumny, and if the censors of the press — instead of employing their pens in commending excellences, or in censuring and correcting faults, however severely’, if fairly done, — seek by detraction and falsehood to damage the reputation and lessen the usefulness of those whose efforts they decry, then do they degrade an otherwise honorable occupation into that of a dirty and despicable slanderer. Several of Mr. Spurgeon’s critics, we regret to say, have thus disgraced themselves. If they have not originated, they have given a wide circulation to fabrications as grossly absurd as they are totally false. By Mr. S., however, these falsehoods are treated with no other feelings than those of pity for the individuals from whom they emanated. It was thus, a century ago, with the seraph-tongued Whitefield, to whom, by some of his more friendly critics, Mr. Spurgeon has been compared. “We have been induced to make this reference to those attacks upon Mr. Spurgeon, not more from the circumstance that we are favored monthly with his valuable contributions to our pages, than from the high and honorable position in which.it has pleased the great Head of the Church to place him, in which it should be the aim of all who love Zion to uphold and encourage this youthful and gifted brother; and also because we have had put into our hands, by a party altogether disinterested, the following correspondence, a portion of which is addressed to a provincial paper, which had been made the medium of circulating slanderous reports concerning Mr. S., to whom it is but fair to state, the Editor of the paper referred to has made most ample and satisfactory apology.”
In the June number of The Baptist Messenger, the Editor wrote: — ”Several articles and extracts from provincial papers, condemnatory of the Rev. C. H. Spurgeon, have been forwarded for insertion in the Messenger, This, however, we must decline doing. It is, indeed, most pitiful that this excellent and useful servant of Christ cannot go about his Master’s business quietly and unobtrusively — for his popularity is altogether unsought by him, — without exciting unkind and envious remarks.”
In the quotation from Mr. Spurgeon’s letter, given in chapter 36, there is an allusion to a glowing account of his life and work which had been published in 7he Patriot, on September 21, 1855. The following are some of the writer’s kind expressions concerning the young preacher:— “Although the name of the Rev. C. H. Spurgeon has been frequently mentioned in the columns of this Journal, we have not introduced him to our readers by any formal description of his preaching. Such, however, is its effect, that curiosity cannot but have been awakened by intelligence of the immense crowds collected to hear him while occupying Exeter Hall from Sunday to Sunday, and also when he returned to his own enlarged chapel in New Park Street, over Southwark Bridge. There must surely be something extraordinary in a mere youth who could command an attendance of from ten to twelve thousand persons in the open field, and who, on visiting the North, though received with cold suspicion at first, soon compelled the fixed and admiring attention of the reluctant Scotch; though, he says, ‘they seemed to be all made of lumps of ice fetched from Wenham Lake.’ Those who go to hear Mr. Spurgeon, enquiring, ‘ What will this babbler say?’ are not long left, in doubt as to either the manner or the matter of his discourses .... We have ourselves heard Mr. Spurgeon but once; and, on that occasion, not having succeeded in gaining an entrance to the chapel, we squeezed ourselves into a side vestry, from which the speaker could be heard, but not seen. We found him,neither extravagant nor extraordinary. His voice is clear and musical; his language is plain; his style flowing, yet terse; his method lucid and orderly; his matter sound and suitable; his tone and spirit cordial; his remarks always pithy and pungent, sometimes familiar and colloquial, yet never light or coarse, much less profane. Judging from this single sermon, we supposed that he would become a plain, faithful, forcible, and affectionate preacher of the gospel in the form called Calvinistic; and our-judgment was the more favorable because, while there was a solidity beyond his years, we detected little of the wild luxuriance naturally characteristic of very young preachers. “Our opinion of Mr. Spurgeon as a preacher has been somewhat modified by a perusal of his published discourses, which, issued in a cheap form, appear to be bought up with great eagerness. These show him to be a more extraordinary person than we supposed, and not to be quite so far from extravagance as at first we thought him. But it is more for the sake of information than with a view to criticism that we refer to the subject. From whatsoever cause it springs, whether from force of native character, or from a vigor superinduced upon that basis by the grace of God, there is that in Mr. Spurgeon’s reported sermons which marks him a superior man. “Models of different styles of preaching are so numerous, that originality must be of rare occurrence; but he appears to be an original genius. To the pith of Jay, and the plainness of Rowland Hill, he adds much of the familiarity, not to say the coarseness, of the Huntingtonian order of ultra- Calvinistic preachers. ‘ It has been my privilege,’ he says, ‘to give more prominence in the religious world to those old doctrines of the gospel.’ But the traits referred to present themselves in shapes and with accompaniments which forbid the notion of imitation, and favor the opinion of a peculiar bent. Neither in the style and structure, nor in handling, is there appearance of art, study, or elaboration. Yet, each discourse has a beginning, a middle, and an end; and the subject is duly introduced and stated, divided and discussed, enforced and applied. But all is done without effort, with the ease and freedom of common conversation, and with the artlessness, but also with the force, of spontaneous expression. “Mr. Spurgeon waits for nothing which requires what we understand by composition, and he rejects nothing by which attention may be arrested, interest sustained, and impression made permanent. The vehicle of his thoughts is constructed of well-seasoned Saxon speech; and they are conveyed to the hearer’s mind in term,; highly pictorial and often vividly dramatic. Great governing principles are freely personified; and religious experience, past, present, and future, appears in life-like action upon the scene. Tried by such tests as the unities, Mr. Spurgeon might sometimes be found wanting; but it is enough for him that, as face answers to face in the glass, so do his words elicit a response in the hearts of those who hear him.
This end secured, what cares he for a mixed metaphor or a rhetorical anachronism? Were it his aim to rival the Melvilles and Harrises of the day, he lacks neither the talent nor the taste; and, with these, he has the faculty of gathering what is to be learned from men or from books, and of turning all’ to account. But his single aim is to preach the gospel; and he depends for success, not upon the enticing: words of man’s wisdom, but upon the influence of the Spirit of God, and, with a view to that, the prayers of his people. “Mr. Spurgeon evinces much aptitude in borrowing illustrations, not only from the pages of antiquity, and from modern life and literature, but also from the most familiar incidents, as well as from public events. Thus, the war suggests to him the idea that even the believer ‘ carries within him a bomb:shell, ready to burst at the slightest spark of temptation.’ In like manner, the fatal exposure of the officers to the sharp-shooting of the enemy, furnishes him with a comparison by which to illustrate the peculiar liability of Christian ministers to hostile attack, though with a great difference in the result. ‘ Some of us,’ he says, ‘are the officers of God’s regiments; and we are the mark of all the riflemen of the enemy. Standing forward, we have to bear all the shots. What a mercy it is, that not one of God’s officers ever falls in battle! God always keeps them.’ “His sermons abound with aphoristic and pointed sayings, which often afford a striking proof of his genius.... Many instances might easily be given of a force and beauty of language indicative of a high degree of eloquence. ‘Bright-eyed cheerfulness and airy-footed love,’ are fine phrases. Winter is described as not killing the flowers, but as ‘coating them with the ermine of its snows.’ Again, the sun is not quenched, but is behind the clouds, ‘brewing up summer; and, when he cometh forth again, he will have made those clouds fit to drop in April showers, all of them mothers of the sweet May flowers.’ God ‘puts our prayers, like rose-leaves, between the pages of His book of remembrance; and when the volume is opened at last, there shall be a precious fragrance springing up therefrom.’ ‘There is one thing,’ the sinner is told, ‘ that doth outstrip the telegraph: “Before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear.”’ The memory, infected by the Fall, is described as ‘suffering the glorious timbers from the forest of Lebanon to swim down the stream of oblivion; but she stoppeth all the draft that floateth from the foul city of Sodom.’ With quaintness, yet with force and truth, the caste feeling of society is hit off: ‘ In England, a sovereign will not speak to a shilling, a shilling will not notice a sixpence, and a sixpence will sneer at a penny.’ A singular quaintness and vigor may be remarked in Mr. Spurgeon’s diction; as when he speaks of the lightning ‘splitting the clouds, and rending the heavens;’ of ‘the mighty hand wherein the callow comets are brooded by the sun;’ and of ‘ the very spheres stopping their music while God speaks with His wondrous bass voice.’ “The manly tone of Mr. Spurgeon’s mind might be illustrated from the admirable thoughts which he expresses on the connection between the diffusion of the gospel and the increase of civil liberty. His graphic skill in delineating character might be demonstrated from his life-like pictures of the prejudiced Jew and the scoffing Greek of modern times; his unsparing fidelity, from the sarcastic severity with which he rebukes the neglect of the Bible by modern professors; his powers of personification and dramatic presentation, from the scene which he paints between the dying Christian and Death, or between Jesus and Justice and the justified sinner; his refined skill in the treatment of a delicate subject, in the veiled yet impressive description of the trial of Joseph; the use that he can make of a single metaphor by his powerful comparison of the sinner to ‘Mazeppa bound on the wild horse of his lust, galloping on with hell’s wolves behind him,’ till stopped and liberated by a mighty hand. The sermon entitled, ‘The People’s Christ,’ contains a very striking description of the resurrection of our Lord. In that on ‘The Eternal Home,’ the contrast between the dying thief before and after his conversion, is powerfully drawn. The rage of Satan, on the rescue of a sinner from his grasp, forms a picture of terrific grandeur. In the sermon on ‘The Bible,’ the respective characteristics of the holy penmen are sketched with a masterly comprehension o! their peculiarities and command of words .... The beautiful sermon on the words, ‘ So He giveth His beloved sleep,’ exhibits a variety and force which stamp the master.”