What is the highest joy? We heard that question asked once in a travelers' camp on the Tigris River, and the whole evening was most excitedly devoted to the question. No two persons agreed upon that situation or that experience which would bring to a person in this life the highest joy.
Some said it was at the marriage altar; some said it was in the accomplishment of a life-long ambition; others said it was in the peace of a contented life; a few said it was to be found in traveling; while others mentioned books, good company, wealth, fame, and intoxication. But the conditions of life which seemed to receive the most unanimous assent of the company as containing in them attributes of the supremest joy were those of the Greek racer, who at the moment of victory reaches forth and touches the goal, or he, who amidst the awful excitement of heated battle, unconscious of danger and forgetful of self, succeeds in seizing the flag of the enemy, and waves his own in triumph over the captured battlements.
On such a question men might well disagree, for it is with men's pleasures as with their judgments and watches,
"None go just alike,
Yet each believes his own."
The lawyer finds untold satisfaction in a successful verdict, the sailor in a safe harbor, the mechanic in the triumph of a useful invention, the author in the praise of his books, the musician in the plaudits of his listeners, statesmen in a majority of votes, and the warrior in the hour of victory. But none of these appear to touch the heights of bliss or the depths of happiness which come to the orator speaking for God, when thousands hang upon. his words, and characters are changed under his influence. Can there be on this wide earth any other inspiration like it? It combines all the gratification's of achievement, all the bliss of satisfied affection, all the triumph of a soldier, all the exaltation of spirit of the religious devotee. In speaking for God, with the angels of heaven listening, when one finds that the Spirit inspires and hearts are changed, he is at the very point of the noblest victory, as life is better than meat, as purity of heart is more lovable than wickedness, as happiness is more beautiful than misery, as love is more exalted than hate, and as forgetfulness of self in the welfare of others is a sublimer feeling than is personal gratification, so is the delivery of the good tidings of peace, the deeds which save life are grander, nobler and more inspiring than those which destroy.
The disciple of Christ whose soul is filled with spiritual enthusiasm, and who sees that the multitude accepts his message as the truth, really occupies a position of the highest joy. He rises above himself, seems to become ethereal, heavenly, eternal. He feels as though he held converse with the angels, and as though the powers of God were his own. If he is ill, he forgets it; if in pain, he becomes unconscious of it; if awkward, he cares not for it; lost in his theme, conscious only of the battle and the nearness of triumph, bone, muscle, and nerves become only myriad centers of exquisite sensations, sublime and thrilling, until language is entirely inadequate to express the feelings. Men struggle to describe such sensations in their cooler moments but utterly fail to convey an idea to one who has never experienced that highest joy.
Mr. Spurgeon's life must have been a very happy life when we remember how many thousand sermons he delivered to large audiences who hung spell-bound upon his words, as upon the oracle of a god. Who turned away from his declarations new men and women to lead a life of holiness, purity, and truth, instead of one of vice and crime.
He who writes sermons in the coolness and quietness of his study, and then presents the clean and perfect manuscript at the Church service, or who reads with manufactured emotion the sentences he has written by the calm of his fireside, is never so effective nor so happy in his delivery of the gospel to the people as he who sweeps spontaneously into the highest happiness that men ever reach. The sunset hues were never painted, nor were the Christian orator's joys ever described. Mr. Spurgeon was a true Christian orator, and often fought his battles on a different plan of campaign from those which other leaders adopted, but he won the victory.
Oratory should always be decided by its effects, and the supreme pleasure of public speaking can only be truly enjoyed by him who succeeds.
Mr. Spurgeon, as we have said, was often rude, and affected none of the ways of the schools of oratory extant in his day, but he could so speak as to cause the hearts of those who heard him to rise or sink, to fill many eyes with tears, to pull down the stubborn sinners' heads, and to send forth to the noblest deeds of self-sacrifice a host of effective workers, who when they first came under the spell of his speech were cruel to man, and rebellious against God. He was a well-directed thunder-bolt, whose course to the spectator seemed zig-zag and erratic, yet who always cjustify the rock at the selected mark. Judging by the results, he was one of the greatest orators that ever lived, not exceeded by Luther, Wesley, or Webster.
The enormous moral results of his public teaching lead us to the almost unavoidable conclusion that he had behind his words an inspiration beyond that which is given to the ordinary man. It is true that he began his pastorate in London at a time in life when his boyish appearance would make attendance upon the service a novelty. It is also true that his complete confidence in himself, which was born of a confidence in God, caused him to speak as one having authority, adding greatly to the singularity of his position. Many came to scoff, but remained to pray, many sought entrance for the purpose of criticizing, but went away to praise. Some who were sent into his audience for the purpose of manufacturing especially satirical cartoons, went away to represent truthfully, in picture and writing, the remarkable scenes they witnessed.
Yet persecution helped him greatly. Those who would not hear him, regarded him with great aversion, and thought that his peculiarities were almost sacrilegious. He was for a time most mercilessly assailed by Christians belonging to other Churches, and most grossly laughed at by the lower publications of London. But nothing builds up a Church like persecution. Often in history has some most egregious error and insanely fantastic creed been established by continuous opposition and hate, beyond the power of governments to overthrow it. Some evangelists understand this power, and scruple not to use it, awakening against themselves criticism, persecution, and discussion, that there may be excitement and the consequent crowd of hearers. Some men who have accomplished a great deal of good make it their habit to begin a series of religious meetings by such extreme criticisms of Christians as to attract large crowds of spectators from among those classes who love to hear Church members berated. Then the speakers turn upon these listeners, and with all their forces teach them the way and convict them of transgression.
Mr. Spurgeon adopted none of these mechanical methods, but his very vehemence and startling success awakened most bitter jealousies, and aroused a spirit of persecution which in the Middle Ages would have burned him at the stake. His sermons were often misquoted and his deeds misrepresented, and he himself personally caricatured in most repulsive forms. He appeared in some of the periodicals as a monkey, as a fly-trap, as a serpent, as a pig, and once as Satan himself. But al these advertised him largely, and proved ultimately to be of great good to the cause. His friends loved him more sincerely, and rallied around him with greater determination. The converted scoffers, revilers, and persecutors became naturally most daring workers in defense of the cause they had before despised.
Persons sought Christ at almost every service, and it would have caused great surprise if a week had passed at any one time without a number of conversions.
In the preparation of his sermons, Mr. Spurgeon seems to have practiced most thoroughly the system of reasoning from the known to the unknown. The attractiveness of his sermons and speeches is found very largely in the fact that his illustrations and subjects were intimately connected with every-day events, and were well known in the experience of his hearers. He did not borrow very largely from the ancient classics, or from some scientific theory with which his hearers were unacquainted, but made his meaning clear with illuminating figures from the homely experiences of farmers, mechanics, tradesmen, clerks, and officials. His sermons were talks, not declamations. He spoke to men in masses as he would speak to them in personal conversation. He did not often hitch his wagon to a star, but we do often find the most homely steed of daily experience running between the shafts. His John Ploughman Talks, exhibited the more rude and homely side of his illustrative power, and also serve to account for his genius in describing and holding the attention of the country people. He did not purchase an article in the market without associating the event of his humble experience there with some gospel truth. Every child that hugged his knees and every working man who doffed his hat taught Mr. Spurgeon more than he taught them. Men were books to him, and events were God's volumes of illustrations. While in a street bus or a hansom, he continually read in the shops which he passed, or in the throng through which he drove, the prophecies, needs, and exertions of a new dispensation. The chilly fog, the black smoking chimneys, the slow-rolling Thames, and the winter sleet were volumes to him, closely read and most carefully digested. If a man entered the Church service covered with sleet, or chilled with fog, Mr. Spurgeon would be sure to use that condition as an illustration of the position of the sinner or the backsliding Christian. If the morning sun broke suddenly through the dark clouds, brightening the windows of the chapel, he would instantly turn that good omen into a never-to-be-forgotten illustration of the nearness of God's presence. If he knocked a glass of water off the table, or was obliged to limp into his pulpit, he found in these circumstances the most piercing illustration of truth and used them in his most powerful application of Scripture teaching to the lives of his hearers. Even his finger-nails were found to contain an illuminating power which astonished those who heard him as he made the application to his thoughts.
He was one who not only found books in running brooks, sermons in stones, but one who also found good in everything, when applied to his profession. The daily paper with its regular record of births, deaths, marriages, accidents, crimes, and markets was to him a whole volume from which he could select the most wonderful and helpful illustrative incidents. He lived among men, he sympathized with them. He felt as they feel, and he talked as they talk, thus connecting the most ordinary affairs of every-day work with some gospel truth in a way which made it impossible for them to pursue their usual vocation and forget what he had said.
The regular worshiper at Spurgeon's Tabernacle, if she were a woman, would be reminded of his exhortations by almost every instrument she afterward used in the kitchen, and by nearly every dish or preparation she set upon the table. One old lady while living in Halifax, Nova Scotia, actually named the dishes used upon the table after some of the sermons; lectures, or talks of Mr. Spurgeon, so that the teapot suggested one phase of election, and the soup-dish brought to mind a sermon on God's sovereignty. He put a halo upon common things, making home life and shop life more interesting and delightful because of the associations into which he drew the tools and articles there in constant use. The farmer puts on his frock and calls to mind Mr. Spurgeon's illustration of Elijah and Elisha, he puts his hand to the plow, and cannot forget Mr. Spurgeon's ringing exhortation not to look back. The sailor reefing the sails in expectation of a coming blow, reads in every knot which he ties, and every fold which he gathers about the beam some section of Mr. Spurgeon's sermons or lectures. The cabman names his horse and vehicle in honor of some illustration associated with them, which he has heard in the metropolitan pulpit. The school-boy takes down his hat from the peg, and smiling, quotes from Mr. Spurgeon, "this hat fits me and I will put it on." The school-girl carefully erases the pencil marks on the margin of the well-thumbed book, saying to her playmate, "Mr. Spurgeon said the other day that 'children are like school-books, what they write in the margin is theirs, what is printed in the text is God's.'" A girl in the Sunday-school tears her dress and is almost superstitiously anxious about it, because of the association with some incident Mr. Spurgeon has given, wherein the rent garment of repentant sinners is mentioned in the Bible.
The rocker squeaks in an old man's chair, and he tells his visitors that it reminds him of what he heard Mr. Spurgeon say the last time he was at Church, as he compared bigotry to a rocking-chair, saying that "the older the chair, the greater the squeak." The banker, counting his money at the close of the day's exchanges, throws out a well-worn sovereign, and says Mr. Spurgeon tells us to beware of light sovereigns. Then he goes home from his bank meditating upon the wonderful aptness of the illustration, applies its teaching to his life. He determines to do his full duty and slight nothing, and anything which he does at all he has resolved to do well. The emigrant in Australia constructs his rude cabin upon his newly-cleared farm, and tells his family at the dinner-table that he is going to do what Mr. Spurgeon advises his theological students to do, namely: to "Go around the stumps and let them rot." The young man far from home in Canada or in the United States, who at home was a frequent listener to Mr. Spurgeon, never forgets the illustration the great preacher used when speaking of the prodigal son, wherein he said: "England's prodigals wander all over the world, but, thank God! many of them are not feeding swine." An old cripple, well-known to the writer, who has for many years regularly read Mr. Spurgeon's sermons, sits month after month by the same window, unable to leave the room, and frequently speaks to the housekeeper, saying: "Please brush the dust from this glass, for Mr. Spurgeon says: 'Specks which seem to be on the soul are often in the glass."'
Mr. Spurgeon had a natural treasure in the most wonderful voice. He could speak so loud and clear that it has been confidently asserted that at least twelve thousand people have heard it at one time in the open air. Although his voice was so loud, it also was very sympathetic, and easily modulated to the expression of all the varied shades of meaning to which he would give utterance. His voice would sometimes rise to a trumpet blast, and in the next few sentences sink to the cooing of a dove, there was something in the very tone, which, like Whitefield's, was "felt to be holy," and conveyed an inspiration or elevation of thought entirely distant from the sense.
He was not a musician, and his ideas of musical culture were considered by many to be very inartistic But his voice itself contained a fund of music, and was capable of many more musical expressions than could be found in the rise and fall or variety of a church organ. His voice was said to be as clear in its head tones as that of a soprano singer, but at will became like that of a lion in the mountain. Yet he seldom combined all its powers in any one address, and it was only to the habitual listeners that these marvelous vocal powers were fully appreciated or even known.
He was not an elocutionist. He accomplished naturally all for which the academician strived to attain by art. Few voices are capable of expressing the great variety of ideas and feelings which characterized Mr. Spurgeon's. The elocutionist is required to cover the hidden defects as much as to develop the many prominent merits of the human voice.
Mr. Spurgeon's voice could not be improved. It is interesting to compare the doctrinal statements of prominent theologians at different periods in their lives and see how in nearly every case they have been gradually but surely molded into widely differing expressions, their essential beliefs under-going a gradual and sometimes a very remarkable change. When their first sermons are placed alongside of the last, they are found to be far from each other in all that makes up a doctrinal creed. But it is a most singular thing in the life of Mr. Spurgeon that the fundamental principles of the doctrines which he espoused in his early boyhood were adhered to with such consistency and persistency through his entire life. The denomination itself passed through many modifications and changes during his ministerial experiences, and often swung like a pendulum from one point to another, leaving him ever standing, at the same middle point of vantage. The comparison of the sermons last published with those which appeared in 1856 and 1858, show no change whatever in the doctrines, and no material change in the form of presentation of the doctrines, save to make them more distinct, and express a firmer adherence to their principles. It is a matter so remarkable that it amounts to a wonder that through a life in which he delivered so many thousand sermons, he should have maintained such consistency with himself, his denomination and doctrines. He was strongly Calvinistic, and believed with positive assurance in the perseverance of the saints and in the eternal punishment of the wicked. His creed carried his whole mind with it. There was no mental reservation about it. He declared what he sincerely believed, and believed to the full all that he declared. The critics are few who have ever had the hardihood to assert that Mr. Spurgeon was inconsistent with himself. He felt sure that all the world was included in the condemnation, and that there was no escape but to believe in Jesus the Christ, and that the Saviour could only be found through that sincere repentance whose fruitage was naturally good works. He believed that the world was lost, and he taught that there was no other Saviour to redeem it but the one who died on Calvary. That thought permeates all that he writes, and is especially prominent in all that he speaks. It is his waking thought, and seems even to fill his dreams. Salvation ! salvation! was his cry under all circumstances, and he would not be silent. He was able to reconcile in his own mind, and teach in the most wonderful way the free will of man and God's sovereignty. That is the most difficult problem with which the theologian has ever had to deal. Most minds simply dismiss the question as beyond the possibility of solution, and content themselves with the thought that in some future time it may be explained by means which are not now at hand. He also stood on that line of the golden mean with reference to his denominational doctrines and was most consistent in the reconciliation of the two somewhat contrary statements of belief contained in the practice and declaration of principles recognized everywhere by the Baptist denomination.
Henry VIII established the principle that the English Church had the right to declare its independence of the Roman Catholic Church. Independent Churches of England went further with the doctrine and declared that they had a right to be independent of every other Church, and of the Church of England itself, It was a principle which had long before been asserted and maintained by the Baptist Churches on the Continent.
The distinguishing feature of the Baptist denomination when placed historically in contrast with others of the independent or Non-conformist Churches, was in their adherence to the principle that Christians in practice should follow the example of Jesus Christ as closely as was practically possible in all the ordinances, and in daily behavior. Hence their insistence upon baptism by immersion, and upon the presence of disciples only at the Lord's table. These doctrines they have ever held up most prominently and have adhered to them in teaching throughout the entire history of the Baptist Church. But these principles have been scarcely more strongly asserted than has the other principle, set up as a counterpart, that every person shall have the right and ought to exercise it, to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience. Thus setting up not only the independence of each individual Church, but the independence, of each individual conscience. In the teaching of these principles, which sometimes seem to be in opposition, Mr. Spurgeon was perfectly consistent. He taught clearly and distinctly what be believed to be the truth as asserted in the Scriptures, and taught by the Baptist denomination, with reference to the necessity of belief in Jesus Christ, and the acceptance of Him as a Saviour and example. But he never crossed the line from teaching to the application of force or the use of persecution to compel other people to believe as he believed, or to practice as he practiced. He placed himself in that consistent position where the extremists on either hand were ever bound to return to his place. He could thus live in the close fellowship with other denominations and unite with them in carrying on Christian work and sincerely maintain a close spiritual communion with them all.
He believed in his Church heartily and advocated it thoroughly. He also believed in the full liberty of the human conscience and could intermingle most freely and lovingly with any other class of Christians, who he was sure were living up to the dictates of their own consciences enlightened by the Word of God. Men were to be persuaded, not driven. All men are fallible; and consequently he himself would not consider himself to be infallible.
He had a broad charity for denominational differences, and maintained a most intimate friendship with persons of other creeds, and with high officials in the Church of England itself. "Like priest, like people." The members of his Church were very like him in their strong adherence to their denominational belief, but were also very liberal, fraternal, generous, and kind-hearted toward the members of any other Christian Church.
But articles of faith and matters of creed were always held in strict subordination to the noble theme of salvation through belief in the Lord Jesus Christ. Christ was all and in all. He was a great Spirit and a part of the God-head. It was not external form, but internal faith which settled the question of each believer's salvation. In that he stood on a common platform with nearly every other Christian denomination.
If his position were once granted that every man should have the right to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience, then would all denominations unite in one great Church and move on together against the common enemy of God and men.
Mr. Spurgeon was in no sense a sensational preacher unless it consisted in the sensation which the variety of illustrations and exceeding boldness aroused in his audience. He never condescended to the use of any sensational methods for the purpose of drawing a congregation or in the accomplishment of any other worldly purpose. If he used unusual topics or made strong speeches it was not because of any thought in his mind of personal gain to himself. His whole soul was wrapped up in the delivery of the Gospel message, and wherever he saw an opportunity to advance it he did not hesitate to use any weapon that was reasonably at hand. He once declared that when in the field if he could not get a sword he would take a fence-rail.
The divine word is everything. The means were only secondary. He never hesitated to refer to himself, and thought it as great a sacrilege to be over-modest as it was to be over-bold. Mock modesty had no place in his make-up. He had no fear of criticism when he felt that he was speaking under the inspiration of God, and threw away entirely all hesitancy born. of the fear of people. He spoke what he meant and if he had occasion to use the personal pronoun I, he used it over and over and again. He did not care whether people noticed it and attributed it to egotism or to his carelessness of self. Some people are so modest that they never let their right hand know what their justify hand doeth, and are frequently so modest about it that often even the justify hand never knows of their making an offering. So there are people who, in their giving, desire to trumpet it before them, as they did in the day of Christ's rebuke, and never give unless they can write their name upon the gift in prominent letters of gold. Mr. Spurgeon and his disciples have stood in the middle ground between these two extremes, never boasting of what they gave or did and never ashamed to let any one see either their deeds or their creeds, and he preached as Bayard lived, without fear and without reproach.
Another special feature of his ministry was in the adjustment of himself to the needs of his hearers or to the time at which he addressed them. He was all things unto all men that he might win some.
There was a natural disposition to adaptation which is seldom found in any person occupying so prominent a positions His spirit was so sensitive to the feelings and needs of others that he would, without being. conscious of it, think as they thought and feel as they felt ; discovering by an unerring instinct the right current of thought and the antidote to their pains, as the wild beast when poisoned exercises that marvelous power to find an antidote, and as the chameleon, changes its color without effort when associated with the changing shades of nature. So he, without disturbing his principles or in any way changing his religious nature, assimilated himself to the society in which he was placed in the most remarkable manner. He could talk interestingly to a ploughman and once won the highest favor from a audience composed entirely of hawkers or street peddlers. He seemed; to be able to enter fully into their sympathies, disappointments,. successes, and anxieties, and he found, while speaking, that even their language, which is local and peculiar flowed spontaneously from his lips.
It is indeed a, marvel to the student to observe how in his John Ploughman's Talks, and in his letters to persons of other trades and occupations he was able to speak in their own terms with the very nicest and most accurate appreciation of the meaning of common and sometimes rude localisms. In England there are four or five distinct dialects, and but for a third and more general language the citizens of one locality would be entirely unable to communicate, with those of another. Yet it is said that Mr. Spurgeon, when visiting any one of these localities, where their language so greatly differed from that of London, was able to speak so naturally in their own local tongue as to mislead many of his audience as to the place of his birth or residence. Each locality which he visited claimed him as their own, as almost every auditor in his great congregation felt that each sermon Mr. Spurgeon delivered was intended especially for him. It seemed impossible for any person, even with the closest study and the highest natural genius, to accomplish by any plan such almost miraculous results. In this, as in many other things connected with his history, we come to the deliberate conclusion there was some power or influence above him which moved upon him and enabled him to accomplish these otherwise unaccountable results.
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