IN the morning there was a large attendance of students connected with the Baptist College and the Congregational Institute at the College in Stokes Croft, to hear an address from Mr. Spurgeon, who offered a brief prayer, after which he said he did not think he could spare the time to make anything like a lecture; but was asked to say a few words to them. They ought to be eight, as the Scriptural “few” was eight, but he would throw out, one after another, a few observations on the one subject, “Securities of success.”
They all went in to succeed as Christian ministers, and in what way could they hope to secure success? He would begin by saying, let them be sure they were called to the ministry, because if not they would not have success in it. If any brother found he was more fit to be the editor of a newspaper, to keep a grocer’s shop, or be, a farmer, or a swell, let him retire and take his proper position. No one ought to take the office of a minister upon him unless he felt a call which he could not resist that he ought to give himself up for the spread of the Redeemer’s kingdom, and watch over the souls of men. When any one asked him, “Shall I be a minister?” he always replied, “Don’t, if you can help it.” No one should undertake the office unless, impelled by an irresistible impulse; it would he infinitely better even for a man who had spent a year or two at study to go back than to try to work himself up to what he could never reach, because he was never meant for it. If one wanted to succeed he would say, go in for a high ideal, have a high notion of what a minister ought to be. He questioned if, with the highest ideal before them, they would come up to the notion of what a minister ought to be. The Savior himself, and nothing less than he, must serve as a true model among the sons of men. If they choose a model of inferior powers or second rate success, they would be but second class; but the largest knowledge, the most fully developed intellect, the best powers of utterance, let them go in and get these.
He knew there were certain young men well versed in The Baptist Handbook and The Congregational Year Book, and they had a knowledge of all the places vacant, and felt they only wanted to be introduced, and people would be impressed with their superior abilities, and they would at once vault into the saddle. The Baptist Handbook was no doubt an interesting and accurate volume, but if gentlemen would only study the Scriptures in the time devoted to these books it would be better. The best thing was to prepare oneself for the position instead of looking out for one.
If they prepared for the position, the position would come to them; whereas if a man sought for the position first, he would have to subside into the lowest seats of the synagogue, if he got a seat at all. Let them qualify themselves for the best positions in the body to which they belonged. At present if a small church was vacant, they could get twenty ministers for it; but he knew of large churches who had been waiting for men year after year. Dr. Gotch might have a few wonderful jewels hid away in that college, but they did not find them lying about like nuggets were once said to be found in some parts of Australia. They wanted far superior brethren than they had now; men who would say they would try to be more learned even than Dr. Gotch. That was a little job for them to begin with; but at all events they should make their standard high. The brother who went in to be successful must try for something above what he hoped to attain; he must not go in for a little thing. Let them seek above all high spiritual attainments, lie had watched a large number of men, and he thought he found men with great spiritual force succeeded better than any others. He had seen brethren with large ministerial capacity that dazzled for a time, but their ministry was not really edifying, and they did not build up churches that lasted, and after a while they saw them somewhere else displaying their fireworks. He found men with very small mental capacity indeed, so fond of the Word of God, so conversant with it, so loving in the midst of the people, and above all so devout and Christlike, that they remained for years in the same place, and really built up churches at last.
They must have recollections of such, old Father So-and-so, of whom everyone spoke with reverence. They had heard it said of him, “Well, he won’t set the Thames on fire.” But, happily, the Thames did not require setting on fire. They heard that this man had been forty years in the same place, and when they came to inquire why he was held in such reverent affection, they found it was through what he did years ago. Few men could be great oratorically; but all God’s people could be great in grace. Let them go to the rear rank if they had little grace; but if they must be in the front rank they must have more grace, or else it would be a cruel shame that the church should allow them to expose themselves to such dangers as those in front were exposed to. If they were not strong in the Lord and in the power of his might, their ministry would be a failure, let them do what they might.
At the same time let them not despise the lower qualification; and every brother at college should try to overcome his moral and mental defects.
Some of them had a very quick temper; little pots soon hot, boiling over.
Some of them could not stand a little criticism in class from their fellows, and when they were criticized they were unable to endure it without wincing. They said they would pay it off at the first opportunity, which was honest, perhaps, as they ought to owe no man anything; but sometimes in paying back they might be malicious. Petulance and levity were sins with some of them; some of them could not prevent levity, they could not help looking at the comic side of things, but they should not let that run into frivolity. Under the influence of college associations they ought to get patience to overcome the petulance which had ruined many men. Moral defects all had, except a “perfect” brother. One he knew who was absolutely perfect; but he was also hump-backed, and he used to wonder how it was God put such a perfect soul into such an imperfect body. Then there were mental defects. During the late high wind there were few houses that did not lose a slate. They were also exposed to adverse winds, and when there was a large piece off one of their roofs they put the man into a lunatic asylum, but there was not one who had not a slate off, except Dr.
Gotch. He honored and reverenced all presidents of every kind, whether belonging to his college or not. One advantage of the college training was to get the stripped part of their roof repaired. They might have a peculiar utterance from the country, they might have a beautiful bucolic pronunciation. Their brethren would indicate to them where their mistakes lay, but they must never feel aggrieved and vexed when laughed at; as it was much better to be laughed at there than to be ridiculed afterwards outside; and much more would be got from anything said by students, if they honestly criticized, than from tutors — unless it were Dr. Gotch. One of his tutors said that students knew more about each other than the professor knew, and at his college it was generally found that they adopted some very accurate sobriquet, which was descriptive to the last degree, so that they did not require to hang the students’ portraits on the college walls to remember them in after years. He believed it was a good thing to pass through the sieve of college training, to find what their moral and mental defects might be, as they desired to succeed, and were willing to pass through the painful process of criticism.
In after life let them try every proper method to endeavor and succeed. He meant by succeeding, winning men to the love of Christ, bringing souls to Jesus that they might be converted, built up in the Christian churches, and that these Christian churches might carry on operations to the same end, widening the Redeemer’s kingdom. They were not going to be held in by any of the ordinary routine rules that had so often strangled the energies and efforts of young brethren. The first rule at college fifty years ago was, “Be proper”; a very excellent rule, which he never practiced himself, but he commended it to young men. It used not to matter whether anything came of their propriety. There was the minister who had to be carried to church in a bandbox with a sprig of lavender, and behaved in the most proper way in the house of God. He did not recommend that; if he could save a soul by impropriety he would go in for it; if they could save the soul with black kid gloves, let them put their gloves on: but it was not likely they would by such fopperies and niceties get at the bulk of the working and upper classes; and it was better to go in for something which was likely to strike them, and reach their hearts, rather than suffer the generation to pass away godless and careless in sin. A man who was eccentric for the sake of eccentricity, and adopted fresh methods because they were fresh, was a fool; but a man who, because he could not get people down to his little chapel in a court, would hire a hall or a theater, or have a service at an outrageous time of the night or day, saying he would do something to wake up the inert mass; they should hear the gospel — was a man likely to succeed. If he wanted to slay a lion and a bear, if there was a legitimate way of doing it, he would go in for it; but if there were illegitimate means he would adopt them, so that he had the lion and the bear.
Further, if a man wanted to succeed he must take care he always felt what he preached. He thought a brother could not help speaking well who felt intensely the fire within; it was pretty sure to display itself in the sparks of utterance that fell without. It must be an awful tiling for a brother to preach what he did not believe: but the number of ministers who did not believe anything in particular seemed to be on the increase. They were like the showman. — “ Which is Wellington, and which is Blucher?” “Whichever you please, my little dears; you pays your money and you takes your choice.” “We can serve you with anything from modern Calvinism to Socinianism, and if you want it we can serve you with a little Deism, or even Atheism, which we keep in the back of our store.” And so they proceeded from light into the darkness. Years ago the philosophical principle had spread among the General Baptists till the churches could not bear it any longer, and they had the New Connection. The gentlemen retained the chapels, like the cuckoo kept the hedge-sparrow’s nest, and many of those chapels might now be seen deserted, with the grass growing in front. The New Connection rallied and revived, and had become a respectable body. Now, the philosophers were trying to repeat in the Congregational body that experiment, and it would go on till there was a row; and if there was to be a row, the sooner the better, as they were not going again to lose all the property belonging to men who had convictions, for the sake of men who had not convictions enough to make a mousetrap, much less to build a chapel, but who stood in pulpits which they knew had been constructed for the defense of truths which they often held up to ridicule. Although they heard of the wonderful power of those advanced thinkers he did not know any one of them he would care to controvert.
They thought they were clever, but if they hobnobbed with them they would find they were nobodies. Some of them tried, intellectually, to stand on their heads. Let them show him a man, and they would contend with him; they could show on their side champions of deep, profound learning, and never cried them up as great men. But these philosophers had half a man, who, perhaps, because he happened to be a professor, they put forward like Goliath of Gath, whereas one stone thrown by a little David would bring down the lot of these big, bombast swells. One would think from a distance they were great lions, but if you got to know them they were ridiculous mice; yet they made more fuss over their heretical inventions than they themselves did over orthodoxy. He would like them to try negative theology in the Sunday-school, and in the back slums, to see how many converts they would make. There was nothing in what they taught, it was bosh. Those on the other side, however, must preach their doctrines because they could not help it. A man might say after preaching some time, “ Really, my heart is not in it, I do not really subscribe to this need.” Then let him honestly get away from it, go back to his tallowchandling, or other respectable position; but to continue preaching that which they do not believe was to be a rogue, so it seemed to him, and they could not succeed. A man must also, if he preached, feel the power of the doctrines he proclaimed.
The next rule of success was to aim directly at the heart; to try to put their preaching into such a shape that it should affect the soul. Again, let their sermons be full of sound matter; they did not need to give a corn-field every time, but they could give a loaf of bread. So many preachers put anecdotes into their sermons, and very proper they were as illustrations, and, like the windows in a house, should give light; but then a house; should not be like a conservatory, all windows, and a sermon should not be anecdotes and nothing more; there should be more stable parts, for what was the good of mere illustration without doctrine? People wanted plenty of teaching; if they listened to five lectures on geology they ought, if the lectures were what they should be, to get a pretty good idea of the science; and they ought in twelve, sermons to get a good body of divinity. The Religious Tract Society required that there should be in each tract enough truth to save a sinner, and surely there ought to be as much in a sermon.
When they first began to preach they mainly thought of how they were going to say it; but, if they must ask only one question let it be, “What am I going to say?” Their fine gentlemen who learned pretty pieces out of the poets, and inserted in their sermons passages — well, from other divines — looked very fascinating before the glass before going into the pulpit, and caused the admiration of Miss Jemima, and nobody else. He gave them up, the dogs of criticism might do what they pleased with them. A minister might not be so precise in language; he did not, perhaps, cut up a joint artistically, and did not help them to such thin slices as their late minister; still, what he gave was excellent food. He might stand at the block and chop it off in large pieces, but it was good meat. and worth coming for.
There was nothing like plenty of gospel in their sermons. There was nothing to beat their spiritual rivals out of the market like giving plenty of the best stuff possible. Let them be prepared for anything between earth and heaven.
A student who means to be a gentleman minister might find a difficulty, lie did not know whether that was likely to be managed nowadays. Salaries were small, prices high, and children always multiplied with Baptist ministers and with Independent ministers. The ministerial text was, “Let Asher be blessed with children; let him be acceptable to his brethren, and let him dip his foot in oil.” Then they should endeavor to have influence over their people. He believed he had as great a power over his people as any man, and whenever a man had anything nasty to say to him, he said it, and he (Mr. Spurgeon) was able to take an awful revenge. He bided his time, and did the man some kindness that made him his friend his life long.
He might have done that out of policy, as a man was utterly disappointed if he had said a nasty thing, as if they were silent, their silence seemed to say “The fel low has no feeling at all.” He believed in resurrection of character, and they might be content to. let their character be buried; it would rise again at the last day and shine like the righteous. Then the minister must, if he went into a country place, be ready to put up with the talk of the village, and Mrs. Grundy, and the gossip, about the young lady he married, and the ribbon on her bonnet, and that she was not fit to be the wife of a minister.
Let them bear on to the end, and God would give them the best of success.
If they wanted to succeed in the ministry let them subject every other desire to this, endure hardness, as they of the arena did, putting themselves through a course of training which made them martyrs for months before the conflict came on. They would have temptation in the college: scholarship would tempt them; there would be pleasant paths of knowledge, and they would like to turn down this and that vista; but they must not, they must keep straight on. Of course everything improper, the lust of the flesh, must be utterly denied them; but what would be commendable ambitions in some men must be put aside by them. Let them be earnest always. He liked to see a minister going about half-cocked, always ready to take a shot at the devil or anyone else who wanted shooting. Some people were only earnest at particular hours of the day; if they came in on them at a certain hour, say six, souls might be damned; it did not matter to them. But if they came in at seven they began to be wound up, and at eight tears were ready to flow. His father had a model man, who would work when he was turned round until the sand ran out.
That was a horrible style of ministry — simulated zeal; and after sermon they might see in the interiors of houses singular things of men who said they would lay down their lives for the salvation of sinners; it was a wonder they did not share the fate of Ananias and Sapphira. Once again, let them seek guidance; and did they always get the power out of prayer they might: Their extempore prayers were poor sometimes; though, when they were at their worst, they were better than the other sort when at its best. Adam Clarke used to say that every student should study himself to death and then pray himself alive again, and he commended that advice to them. In fine, let them go in for all that it was possible for them to be for the glory of God. Let them go in to be a pastor, and make up their mind to visit. If their ministry was not successful, let their pastorate be; but they should keep their best food for the Sabbath. The pulpit was the Thermopylae of Christendom, and they must guard the narrow pass well.
Let each of them say, even if in a village, “I will be the best preacher in the county; I will cut out all those London and Bristol men, God helping me.”
Let them be not afraid of putting every iron into the fire, and let them be red hot; let every faculty be used. Then they would be successful; but at the same time success was not to be measured by the space they filled. A man might fill a narrow space in human observation, and a blessed space in the presence of God and the angels before his throne. Might they plough in the weeds, sow good seed, reap with a sharp sickle, and at last gather into the right barn.
Mr. Spurgeon, having concluded his address, said that, as there was a deficiency of modern books in the Bristol College, he had set apart 100 to help to supply that deficiency. He thought he would spend it for them, so that it might be spent pretty well, and he had laid out a portion of it on works of his own, forty-four in number; they cost him £31 3s., and were bound strongly, leaving £68 17s. for the treasurer, he requested that £18 17s. of this might be expended in the purchase of any more of his books he might write if he lived and did well; and the other £50 he wanted the treasurer to spend as well as he could in good standard works. He would wish to do the same for other colleges, but he had not the means. He thought the books he gave would be useful to students, as most of them were sermons; “and if any brother would like to preach them (continued Mr. Spurgeon) I hereby decree he shall not be guilty of plagiarism, as I hand them over to be the property of the college.”
Dr. Gotch (Principal of the College) acknowledged the presentation. He said he expressed the mind of the students when he said they were thankful for the advice given to the college and for the permanent gift. He was not expecting so large a gift, or so long an address. He understood they were to have a little talk; it had been very pleasant talk. He thanked Mr.
Spurgeon for the words of exhortation now, and the written words of exhortation he hoped would be of great use for the future.
Mr. Spurgeon briefly responded, and pronounced the benediction.