Beginning of Miracles
These are miraculous things, who can hear them? Strong meat is here given which only the believer or the most careful student can digest. Please keep out of these sacred precincts every one who will not enter them with reverence, or with a conscientious determination to weigh carefully the facts and deduce reasonably the simple truth. It is a garden of roses to affectionate friends and a field ripe for the harvest to the trusting believer, but a dangerous bog to the skeptic. Yet a skeptical spirit is by no means a crime, provided it be attended by an investigating disposition. It is a curious thing that we often find men of great genius spending years of time investigating the origin of the universe and the first causes of "modes of motion" in the development of animal life, who would regard it as foolishness to spend even a day in looking for the first causes of great moral and religious reforms.
Yet the origin of important social and religious changes and wonderful advances in civilization, are often traceable to a point as infinitely small and inscrutable as that which the mind ever reaches, which seeks for the origin of life.
It requires just as scientific and careful methods to trace the genesis of impulses or ideas as it does to find the first living celule in protoplasmic existence.
The mysterious influences which were brought to bear in such unusual ways upon the character and work of Charles H. Spurgeon, deserve the closest scrutiny of the deepest thinkers of the age. If they could be better understood than they are, they would make great changes in our systems of education, in our researches for the philosophy of history, and in nearly every relation of social and religious life.
We do not expect to explain these things, but we are trying to so present them as to win the attention of greater minds to this important matter. Can the mysteries be cleared. up without attributing the causes directly to miraculously Divine interposition? Let us consider, first, the celebrated "Knill's Prophecy." That is placed here before the other marvelous incidents in Mr. Spurgeon's story simply because it occurred earliest in his history. We will give two accounts of the prophecy, for, like the New Testament records of the Saviour's life, they agree in all essentials, yet present the facts from different points of view. In Mr. C. M. Berrill's life of Rev. Richard Knill, is found the following account, which is copied verbatim "During his residence at Wotton-Under-Edge, he visited the Rev. James Spurgeon, the minister of an ancient chapel at Stambourne, Essex; on walking in the garden with his host's grandson, then about ten years old, he felt, he afterward said, a prayerful concern for the intelligent and inquiring boy, sat with him under a yew tree, put his hands on his head, and prayed for him; telling him at the close that he believed 'he would love Jesus Christ, and preach His gospel in the largest chapel in the world.' When this curious prediction obtained something like fulfillment in the young preacher of the Surrey Music Hall, both parties in a short correspondence, referred to the old garden incident with feelings akin to wonder. Who can trace the subtlety of such suggestions on the tenor of one's life? All will at least be able to appreciate the aspiration prompted by these occurrences-O Lord God omnipotent! Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory. Help me as Thy servant, to go on laboring and rejoicing. These are tokens of Thy favor too great to be justify unrecorded. What would thousands of gold and, silver be, compared to the conversion of souls and the calling out of preachers?"
We will now turn studiously to the other account, given in writing by Mr. Spurgeon himself. He said: "When I was a very small boy, I was staying at my grandfather's, where I had aforetime spent my earliest days; and, as the manner was, I read the Scriptures at family prayer. Once upon a time, when reading the passage in the Book of Revelation which mentions the bottomless pit, I paused and said, 'Grandpa, what can this mean?' The answer was kind, but unsatisfactory: 'Poop, pooh, child, go on.' The child intended, however, to have an explanation, and therefore selected the same chapter morning after morning, Sunday included, and always halted at the same verse to repeat the inquiry. At length the venerable patriarch capitulated at discretion by saying: 'Well, dear, what is it that puzzles you?' Now the child had often seen baskets with very frail bottoms, which in course of wear became bottomless, and allowed the fruit placed therein to fall upon the ground. Here then was the puzzle; if the pit aforesaid had no bottom, where would all the people fall who dropped out at its lower end?-a puzzle which rather startled the propriety of family worship, and had to be laid aside for explanation at a more convenient season. Questions of the like simple and natural character would frequently break up into paragraphs at the family Bible-reading, and had there not been a world of love and license allowed to the inquisitive reader, he would have soon been deposed from his office. As it was, the Scriptures were not very badly rendered, and were probably quite as interesting as if they had not been interspersed with original and curious inquiries.
"On one of these occasions, Mr. Knill, whose name is a household word, whose memory is precious to thousands at home and abroad, stayed at the minister's house on Friday, in readiness to preach at Stambourne for the London Missionary Society on the following Sunday. He never looked in a young face without yearning to impart some spiritual gift. He was all love, kindness, earnestness, and warmth, and coveted the souls of men as misers desire the gold their hearts pine for. He heard the boy read and commended; a little judicious praise is the sure way to a young heart. An agreement was made with the lad that on the next morning, Saturday, he should show Mr. Knill over the garden, and take him for a walk before breakfast; a task so flattering to juvenile self-importance was sure to be readily entered upon. There was a tap at the door, and the child was soon out of bed and in the garden with his new friend, who won his heart in no time by pleasing stories and kind words, and giving him a chance to communicate in return. The talk was all about Jesus, and the pleasantness of loving Him. Nor was it mere talk; there was pleading too. Into the great yew arbor, cut into the shape of a sugar loaf, both went, and the soul-winner knelt down; with his arms around the youthful neck, he poured out vehement intercession for the salvation of the lad. The next morning witnessed the same instruction and supplication, and the next also, while all day long the pair were never far apart, and never out of each other's thoughts. The mission sermons were preached in the old Puritan meeting-house, and the man of God was called to go to the next halting place in his tour as deputation for the Society. But he did not leave until he had uttered a most remarkable prophecy. After even more earnest prayer with his little protege; he appeared to have a burden on his mind, and he could not go till he had eased himself of it. In after years he was heard to say that he felt a singular interest in me, and an earnest expectation for which he could not account. Calling the family together, he took me on his knee, and I distinctly remember his saying, 'I do not know how it is, but I feel solemn presentiment that this child will preach the gospel to thousands, and God will bless him to many souls. So sure am I of this that when my little man preaches in Rowland Hill's chapel, as he will do one day, I should like him to promise me that he will give out the hymn commencing,-
"God moves in a mysterious way,
His wonders to perform."
"This promise was of course made, and was followed by another, namely, that at his express desire I would learn the hymn in question and think of what he had said."
"The prophetic declaration was fulfilled. When I had the pleasure of preaching the Word of Life in Surrey Chapel, and also when I preached in Mr. Hill's first pulpit at Wotten-Under-Edge, the hymn was sung in both places. Did the words of Mr. Knill help to bring about their own fulfillment? I think so. I believed them, and looked forward to the time when I should preach the Word. I felt very powerfully that no unconverted person might dare to enter the ministry. This made me the more intent on seeking salvation, and more hopeful of it; and when by grace I was enabled to cast myself on the Saviour's love, it was not long before my mouth began to speak of His redemption. How came that sober-minded minister to speak thus to and of one into whose future God alone could see? How came it that he lived to rejoice with his younger brother in the truth of all he had spoken? The answer is plain. But mark one particular lesson; would to God that we were all as wise as Richard Knill in habitually sowing beside all waters. Mr. Knill might very naturally have justify the minister's little grandson on the plea that he had other duties of more importance than praying with children ; and yet who shall say that he did not effect as much by that simple act of humble ministry as by dozens of sermons addressed to crowded audiences? To me his tenderness in considering the little one was fraught with everlasting consequences, and I must ever feel that his time was well laid out."
It will be noticed that there is no necessary discrepancy between these two accounts, although Mr Knill remembered having said "that the boy would love Jesus Christ and preach His gospel in the largest chapel in the world," while Mr. Spurgeon's account of the same incident declares: "I distinctly remember his saying, "I do not know how it is, but I feel a solemn presentiment that this child will preach the gospel to thousands, and God will bless him to many souls. So sure am I of this that when my little son preaches in Rowland Hill's chapel, as he will do one day, I should like him to promise me that he will give out the hymn commencing:
"God moves in a mysterious way,
His wonders to perform."
Mr. Spurgeon seems to have given the general import of a lengthy conversation, while Mr. Knill presents the exact words of a part of his prophecy. There is no question probably in any candid mind but that this scene at the arbor and this wonderful prophecy are matters of fact. Assuming then that no discussion can arise concerning the general accuracy of these reports, we have presented to us the question: How did Mr. Knill then know that Charles would preach in "the largest chapel in the world?"
It might be said by those who believe only in the consecutive course of nature's cause and effect that Mr. Knill may have been unusually wise, and that he judged the future by the past or that he only surmised what would be probable from what he had known in his own experience of the history of other boys. Or it may be assumed by the more skeptical that it was altogether a wild guess, such as any person might make and would forget if it was justify unfulfilled. If this had been the only strange incident of the kind in the life of Mr. Spurgeon, or even had it been the most mysterious incident connected with his strange history, it might more readily be passed by as a mere coincidence-where a shrewd guess was accidentally as true as prophecy.
But other incidents to which reference is yet to be made, present such cumulative evidence that there was working at this very time a mysterious spirit beyond human scrutiny, that very few people who believe in a spiritual agency, doubt but that Mr. Knill was in this a veritable prophet. The religious world will believe that he was given a supernatural foresight, and that a gleam of divine light opened to him the future of this servant of the living God.
Neither the prophecies of the Old or the New Testament, nor the strange foretelling of subsequent events on the part of great and saintly Christian men since that day, can be reduced to any system or adjusted to any known law of the natural or spiritual world.
That under a certain inspiration and condition human beings do in a measure foresee coming events is well established, and needs no confirmation in this place. In fact, a close consideration of the subject leads one to the conclusion that, in a greater or less degree, every person has a certain amount of fore-sight and that such a foresight is not altogether the result of previous experience.
Premonitions are among the most common things in daily life, and their fulfillment does not especially surprise any one. To be a divine prophet after the manner of Isaiah or Agabus appears to be only this that they were given a higher degree of foresight or what is called " exalted spiritual vision." But after all discussion is passed, the whole matter assumes again the form of a belief, and persons will accept or reject it as a matter of faith, and be influenced but little by the argument.
So many persons who have not the gift of prophecy judge other people by themselves, and deny that power to every other person; yet it is easily seen by the candid mind that it is not positive proof that the gift of prophecy is not held by any. person, because another lacks the same gift.
The days of prophecy are not passed, neither is the period of miracles closed; yet, because the subject is not understood and is necessarily in the domain of the mysterious, many deceivers have waxed bold and surrounded the thought with so many shams and falsehoods as to cause good people to greatly mistrust even the most clearly established facts. But it is the part of men of sense to allow no prejudice to sweep them to absurd extremes, or compel them to take the foolish position that because so many men falsify no man tells the truth.
There under those closely trimmed yews, in the shady arbor of Stambourne, God revealed Himself, and, for a purpose higher than that which man can fully comprehend, impressed his servant's mind with the events which must necessarily come to pass. It was irrevocably fixed that the boy would grow to become a man and preach in the largest chapel in the world. Listeners to such incidents from the mouth of men whose life, and whose words have ever been noted for truth and calm good sense should attend reverently when the same persons relate even miraculous things. But we are all of us far too much inclined to regard such statements as wholly or partially illusionary, and so dismiss them with but slight thought, and make no account of them whatever in summing up the causes or results of a human life. Science digs deep, but it has not yet thrust its shovel low enough to unsettle the foundation of things, nor has any philosopher been able to present by the law of material things a comprehensive, conclusive reason for the most ordinary events.
We are strangers after all, and in a strange world. We surmise but do not know. Simple belief is finally the sum of all the results which the most analytical mind secures. We believe Mr. Knill's prophecy was supernatural; so do the many hundred thousands of living men who knew Mr. Spurgeon. Then it reasonably follows that while many doubters will not accept the conclusions we draw as infallibly proven, yet we do believe Charles was then selected of God as a special apostle to do a definite religious work.
We will look back again to the experience related in the last chapter concerning Mr. Spurgeon's decision to go on with his preaching, without a college education. In that it will be seen that he stated, "That afternoon having to preach at a village station, I walked slowly in a mediating frame of mind, over Midsummer Common, to the little wooden bridge which leads to Chesterton, and in the midst of the Common I was startled by what seemed to me to be a loud voice, but which may have been a singular illusion; whatever it was, the impression it made on my mind was most vivid; I seemed very distinctly to hear the words, 'Seekest thou great things for thyself, seek them not!' This led me to look at my position from a different point of view, and to challenge my motives and intentions."
This experience reminds one very strongly of the "Genius" of Plato. He is said by the classical historian to have heard a voice suggesting to him which way he should go, and the ideas it would be wise to adopt.
Many persons have trusted the record and declared their belief that Plato did actually hear some voice which was superhuman, or which, if not, was an impression beyond the understanding of natural philosophers. But the greater number of classical scholars have assumed at once, without investigation, that Plato's Genius was an imaginary creature, and that the voice was only heard "echoing in his soul." Yet it is clearly impossible to prove the negative in this case and place beyond controversy or doubt the theory that Plato could not have heard any communication save that of the voice of some living man. But many Superstitious people have drawn their own extreme conclusions, and some of them by their very absurdity, have driven minds away from that careful investigation Which it is at least reasonable to give to a matter of this kind.
That the Apostle Paul heard a voice when on his way to Damascus has sometimes been denied by in most profound theologians, and the whole scene explained as being an inner impression, made outwardly from the soul, rather than inwardly from any external shining, light. Such is the interpretation put upon the voice heard at Christ's Baptism, and heard when the Greeks in the Temple said "it thundered."
But that theory explains nothing. It is no less supernatural or wonderful even if that interpretation were correct. But the millions of Christians who take the Bible to be the spiritual word of God and an infallible guide to heaven, believe that Paul heard a real voice, and they believe it was the voice of Jesus the Christ.
Augustine heard strange voices. Luther heard supernatural voices. But their historians and philosophers have never come to any clear decision whether the voices they heard were imaginary or real.
Thousands of other Christians have related how, at their conversion or at other times, messages have come to them which seemed to be spoken in tones of a human voice, and which turned the whole current of their lives into a channel toward which no previous application of the "law of association of ideas" would lead them. We would teach no superstition, nor advocate the trustworthiness of strange impulses nor approve of the hallucinations which come to minds often more or less unbalanced. But with calmness and conservatism, and yet with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us frankly face this question, Did Mr. Spurgeon hear a voice, or did he not?
The great profit to be obtained in the study of such a matter is that it prevents thoughtful minds from sweeping into that materialistic condition which leads them to trust more to the sectarian bigotry of some modern scientists than to the eternal truth of revelation, or the judgment of good common sense.
On the other hand, examination will tend to prevent the acceptance of wild and reckless conclusions concerning such matters, and offset the foolish "inspirations" which have led astray so many weak Christians in these later years.
Mr. Spurgeon was unquestionably a man of strict integrity, he would not intentionally misrepresent the slightest circumstance in connection with any event, and the logical conclusion to which he came concerning the voice he heard at Midsummer Common, is one of great importance to the Christian world.
He said "which may have been a singular illusion." He does not venture to assert the supernatural. He might be mistaken as to the origin of the voice, But the same impression was received by his mind, which human language makes through vibration in the ear. It would require in order to truthfully deny that any real voice was heard, that the person denying it should have infinite knowledge. For he who says that such a thing could not occur, thereby claims to be acquainted with all the laws of nature, and above nature, and that he is so fully able to measure their powers and possible combinations as to mathematically figure out of all the infinite possibilities the impossibility of such an event.
Any person could declare that he did not believe it, and might be truthful in his statement. But he who asserts that such a thing is actually impossible assumes a divinity of knowledge which is sublimely absurd. Yet, on the other hand, so many voices are said to have been heard by those who are wholly untrustworthy in other matters and so many of them have been used to prop up so many of the most silly superstitions that it is reasonably difficult for the superficial thinker to decide that any real voice of this kind is ever heard in modern years.
The sanctified common sense of Mr. Spurgeon is beautifully shown in his expression, given in his account, that the loud voice "may have been a singular illusion." Such illusions are not rare and certainly are to be most carefully investigated before being accepted as established truth. But it is certain that Mr. Spurgeon evidently believed that it was the voice of God. At all events, he allowed it to guide him to the most important decision of his life and ever after kept the saying of that voice vividly before his mind to determine his actions in situations of great difficulty.
As Henry Ward Beecher said of Abraham Lincoln's belief in signs, "even if it was an illusion, it was still the voice of God." What difference does it make if the right impression is made upon the mind, whether it be the result of a trumpet blast, or of a still small voice whispering in the soul? God is not confined to any particular agency in making His chosen communications; and however weak may be our speculations concerning the channel through which God conveys His divine will, it is perhaps enough for us to know that He does communicate with His own in some way, and impresses upon them His will in a manner akin to that which He used with the saints of old.
Impressions of great variety are continually being made upon the wicked, going into deeper wrong, which to the Christian are clearly warnings from a great and good spirit, which would turn them back from their evil ways, before their souls are utterly lost. And in the same way, spiritual voices, though perhaps using no mechanical instrument for expression, are continually encouraging the soul which is struggling after the truth, and are helping upward by mysterious suggestions the servant of God who would know more of Christ and be better fitted to perform His will.
If we were to surrender this position, we would suffer complete defeat as defenders of the Christian principles that God still saves and impels by His Holy Spirit.
We declare unhesitatingly our unshaken belief in the fact that the voice which Mr. Spurgeon heard at that time was the voice of the Holy Spirit of God. We also declare, that it must have been the same Divine agency which afterward followed him from that point on, and in the most miraculous ways answered his prayers and furthered his efforts for the salvation of men.
Only a few of the uncounted number of singular events in his history are probably known to any writer. And if they all could be known, it would be impossible to write the books which should contain their narration. We will gather here as many as we feel are perfectly trustworthy, being sadly conscious, however, of the fact that any collection of the Providential visitations of God to Mr. Spurgeon and his work will be a hint to the great aggregation of unwritten events. We believe in the miraculous agency of the Holy Spirit in connection with the conversion of every soul which he saw turn from the world unto God. No known natural law accounts for the revolution in disposition and the change in relation to God and Godly things, which comes to the heart that surrenders itself to a belief in Jesus the Christ.
Accompanying this religious work he found, as many other servants of Christ have found, that there are ever at work mysterious, unaccountable, providential causes leading to the definite result. Our religious libraries are filled with books giving accounts of marvelous answers to prayer, of the most strange turning about in the lives of bad men, of the building of churches, the beginnings of missions, of power in revivals, healing of diseases and the hundred other transformations of human character or human circumstances. All of these help to confirm the idea that Mr. Spurgeon's life was one specially led by a supernatural spirit. Yet so interwoven with this record are the natural results of the well-understood human agencies that no one may hope to draw a clear line of division and say this was supernatural and that was natural.
How difficult then is the task of the historian, working in human limitations, lacking the infallibility of divine inspiration. The writer can at the best, only touch upon the facts here and there, catching but occasional glimpses of the plan which Mr. Spurgeon lived out, the main features of which are hidden with God. Only when the books are opened beyond this present existence, can there be presented a true record of all the supernatural influences which worked with the natural ones in the making up of his romantic career.
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