Much has been written by those who are wise and much has been said by those who are foolish with reference to the power of Christian faith in the healing of the sick. Silliness weakened and diluted has grappled with this important subject as a jellyfish might grapple with a shark. It is a topic which seems to furnish to the foolish and erratic a most attractive fund of speculation and misrepresentation. Extremists and charlatans have monopolized this subject until the world refuses to believe even that which they themselves see. Men, women, and children are cured by the exercise of Christian faith. But whether it be directly miraculous or the result of natural law is a question not yet decided. In fact, it has not been completely settled whether or not natural law is entirely a series of miracles or every miracle is itself in accordance with natural law. This subject is deserving of respectful attention, and of very close investigation, and the investigator must travel along the tributary line of the wonderful and the natural in such a way as not to lose his footing; keeping ever consistent with nature. Prayers for the sick are answered, and many persons do recover directly in consequence of such petitions. That is made clear by unquestioned evidence. But it is still a debatable matter as to the means which Divine power uses in the accomplishment of such desired ends. With reference to the healing of the sick by prayer or by the laying on of hands, Mr. Spurgeon ever maintained a very careful reserve.
It was difficult to secure from him a direct expression of his convictions in this matter.
The writer once, when a correspondent for a prominent American newspaper, asked him the direct question, whether he believed all persons could be healed by the use of sincere prayer by persons who believed in Christ and whose lives were righteous. He announced that his experience in the matter had been quite extended, but that he needed to look very much further before he would be able to answer such a question without reservation. Yet, no man probably, in England or in America, in this century, has ever healed so many people as did Mr. Spurgeon, although he was not himself a physician and never wrote prescriptions. He felt that there was unexplainable mystery about the whole matter. Yet, he asserted that there was some power connected with prayer which ought to be used when persons were in pain and could be relieved by it.
He once gathered a number of volumes on the subject of healing the sick in answer to prayer, and studied the matter with must persistent carefulness with the hope that the mystery might be discovered. But no research into the matter cleared the question from many complications and doubts, He often prayed for the recovery of the sick, who, instead of becoming at once convalescent, became immediately worse and soon died. Such experiences would have discouraged him entirely in the theory that there was any use in prayer, had it not been for the wonderfully direct recovery of other people, under circumstances which showed that there was no other possible solution to the mystery but in saying that the prayer had a definite and miraculous influence.
That the mind has a strong and powerful influence over the body is confirmed by the most ordinary experiences, and all persons recognize that fact intuitively, if they do not reason about it. That the body also exercises great influence over the mind is just as apparent to any everyday observer. Ordinary common sense teaches these fundamental truths. But to state how far this influence extends in all directions, or to draw up a law distinctly saying, Thus far does it go and no further, requires an almost Divine insight such as science has not yet reached.
The physician who can fully understand the use and influence of the mind to assist him in the administration of medicine has not yet been in practice. He may take advantage of it in a small way, but to reduce it to a science is something no person has yet accomplished. Consequently this vast unexplained field in the experiences and needs of men is often entered by the untrustworthy, who see only phantoms, weird ghosts, and who go out with the most extravagant stories of the most inconsistent things. As a matter of fact no man can assert with a positive assurance of truth in any case of recovery what was certainly the most influential agency in the matter. The whole testimony is indirect and circumstantial. If the person recovers without the use of the physician's prescription he immediately asserts that the remedy was entirely in his mind or spirit; when it may possibly have been connected with something that he ate, breathed, or drank, which was in the nature of a prescription, although not ordered by a physician. If a person returns speedily to health while taking certain doses ordered by the doctor, he gives the credit for his recovery entirely to the skill of the doctor and the power of the drugs, and yet he could not assert beyond the possibility of contradiction but that he would have recovered as soon and perhaps sooner if he had not taken any medicine at all.
The medical profession have made most surprising and gratifying advances in these recent years in everything pertaining to surgery, and in the preparation of medicines; but they are all still very far from the explanation for which the word is calling, which shall give the reasons for prevailing disease and show clearly to the common mind the processes required for recovery. "Heal the mind and heal the body" is the cry of some very enthusiastic scientists. "Heal the body and heal the mind" is the answering cry of a still larger class of practitioners. A still smaller class say, "Appeal unto the great Spirit, which is over all, and can see and understand all, and if we win its favorable attention and assistance, recovery is absolutely certain." Yet in this latter case, as in the others, the processes by which a disease is defeated are almost entirely out of sight, and surmisings seem to be fruitless. The astronomer can arrange a hypothesis to which he will adjust many of the facts connected with the heavenly bodies, and will assert with some degree of probability that this hypothesis furnishes the only reasonable explanation for many of the discoveries made by the telescope and by the hammer of the geologist.
But no hypothesis seems yet to be stated which will make consistent the thousands of gathered facts connected with the healing of disease. The school of medicine which is to triumph in the art of healing has not yet been established. May the Lord hasten its coming, and send His disciples about with the power of Jesus Christ to heal all manner of diseases; that the lame may walk and the blind recover their sight.
"According to your faith shall it be unto you" has often been exemplified in the matter of sickness. That a person who is thoroughly convinced he is going to die is difficult to heal all physicians assert. That a patient who fully believes he is going to recover is a much easier subject in medical practice is also a universal testimony of medical men, and this latter proposition may serve to account some-what naturally for many of the incidents connected with Mr. Spurgeon's visitations among the sick.
Thousands did believe that his prayer would heal them. He prayed with them, they recovered. Such an experience to the ordinary mind would be convincing beyond any possible doubt that Mr. Spurgeon's prayers had behind them a Divinely healing power. Some have said that his prayers were of such a nature, and that he himself had such complete faith in them being answered, that they thoroughly convinced the pain-stricken listener that an answer was certain, and they would surely recover. Fully assured of their recovery, their way to perfect health would seem to be naturally opened.
Yet that transfers the question but a little to one side, and. credits supernatural power with having changed their minds. If a skilled physician, with all his training, talent, and means could not change the mind of the patient, it is at least a wonderful thing that any other person without that skill or the use of any means should give such remarkable faith. Anyhow the whole matter is open to investigation. and any keen student with a thoroughly disciplined, analytical mind will not find it an easy field of study.
We will give some of the incidents which have been related to us, and others which we have seen in print, all of which we believe to be literally true; and leave them to the meditation or examination of such persons as desire to study deeper into the philosophy of faith, or the molecular origin of disease. Perhaps back of the physical bacteria there may yet be found a spiritual bacteria requiring an Omnipotent mind to give explanation of the infinite in the origin of Life or Death.
As the trembling of a leaf affects the motion of the earth, and through that disturbs the sun and the most distant stars of the universe, so any expression of life must affect all other life; and reach away and away beyond the highest imagination into the realms to the Divine, and perhaps to the throne of God itself. All telephones lead to the central office. All life reaches back to God.
There are now living and worshipping in the Metropolitan Tabernacle hundreds of people who ascribe the extension of their life to the effect of Mr. Spurgeon's personal prayers. They have been sick with disease and nigh unto death, he has appeared, kneeled by their beds, and prayed for their recovery. Immediately the tide of health returned, the fevered pulse became calm, the temperature was reduced, and all the activities of nature resumed their normal functions within a short and unexpected period. If a meeting were to be called of all those who attribute their recovery to the prayer of Mr. Spurgeon, it would furnish one of the most deserved tributes to his memory that could be possibly made.
His ministry in London began with some of these most remarkable incidents, which so confirmed the truths he uttered from the pulpit as to make persons believe in him because of his very works' sake. Stories were very current during the first year of his ministry at New Park Street Chapel of the marvelous results which had attended his pastoral visitations upon the sick. One man in 1855 arose from his bed of fever the same day in which the physician had declared his case to be very critical, and appeared at the meeting in the evening, to the astonishment of all his acquaintances, saying: "Mr. Spurgeon prayed with me this morning, I have been divinely healed." Another, in the same season, appeared one Sunday, walking decidedly and firmly down the aisle to a front seat, who for years before had always limped into the service. He was often heard to murmur and once to shout, "Glory to God!" as he was giving praise to his Divine Master for having used Mr. Spurgeon for his miraculous recovery. It was a case of partial paralysis, which physicians now say is due largely to a failure of some portion of the brain to perform its natural duties. In any case, it is a nervous disease, and can only be healed by the restoration of the nervous forces or in those avenues connected with the brain or in the brain itself. One gentleman connected with an institution of learning in London explained this matter satisfactorily to himself by saying that some unusual mental excitement had aroused the dormant brain into normal action, and had restored the nerves; and consequently had given the man renewed power to use his right side, which had been stricken in the paralytic stroke of five years before. That he was healed no one questioned; the. crutch he gave away, thoroughly believing he would never have occasion again to use it, and declaring confidently that he was to live to be seventy-eight years of age. Whether he did live out the days as he so confidently expected is not known to the writer.
One man who had been unable to leave the house for many years, afflicted with a form of rheumatism somewhat akin to that common disease, the gout, insisted that Mr. Spurgeon should come and pray for his recovery, but Mr. Spurgeon, while accepting the invitation to attend and pray, said that for himself he could not have a complete faith in the power of his prayer to restore such a case. Notwithstanding Mr. Spurgeon's own unbelief in the effects of his petitions, the man asserted his perfect confidence. Mr. Spurgeon knelt with him and prayed. At the close of his prayer the man asserted very strongly that he felt very different and very much better. He urged Mr. Spurgeon to return and pray with him the next morning, which the preacher very cheerfully did. The old gentleman met him at the door and welcomed him with a hearty laugh, saying "The Lord is performing His promises and has answered your prayer." He was not entirely well, but he had so far recovered as to be able to walk about the house, and a few weeks thereafter did resume the care of a business which required no great amount of physical exercise. He was for several years afterward a regular attendant at the chapel, and neither storm nor cold hindered him from reaching his accustomed place.
Another person, who was a visitor in London from Wales, who had been sadly afflicted mentally in consequence of some physical defect or disease, pleaded most piteously with his family to send for Mr. Spurgeon, that he might pray at his bedside. They considered it the foolish raving of an insane mind. But at last they consented to ask Mr. Spurgeon to visit him. Mr. Spurgeon's prayer that day had a most soothing effect upon the poor lunatic and appeared partially to restore his mental balance. The family were so surprised and delighted at the effect of the petition that, while they accredited it entirely to natural causes, they interceded most earnestly for Mr. Spurgeon's return. He came to the house the same night, after the evening service, and remained for some time, praying with all his heart for the recovery of the patient, in which the poor invalid most piteously joined. Mr. Spurgeon, himself stated afterward that while he prayed with all his heart and tried to believe that the patient would recover, yet he could not convince himself that his visit had been of any other use but simply to appease the feelings of the nurses, who were disturbed by the poor man's cries. Yet in the night after the prayers were offered, the sick man awoke with a start and a cry which frightened his nurses. But he was found to be entirely in his right mind. He declared he had dreamed of meeting the Saviour, and that the Saviour had assured him that the devils were cast out. A few days after he was able to go out of the house, and shortly afterward removed to Canada, where he has been a successful business man, having been carried to his grave in 1882.
An incident is recalled of a child who was very sick with a contagious disease which was declared fatal by the doctor. Mr. Spurgeon visited the home at the request of the family, knelt with them in a circle around the bed, and offered up a prayer for the child's salvation and added a petition for her recovery, if it should be in accordance with the will of God. The father and mother both followed in prayer, and when they arose from their knees the child, just then becoming conscious, asked for water and said: "I feel very much better." From that point in the child's sickness there was no break in her continual recovery. She afterward stated to her mother that during the prayer she felt a "strange sensation running all over her, as though the fever began to decline at her head and gradually passed off at her feet."
A boy who had worked in a printing-office as an apprentice, met with a sad accident wherein his arm was broken twice; once below the elbow, and another bad fracture in the bone near the shoulder. His father had heard of others who had stated that they had recovered from disease through the power of prayer, and sent for Mr. Spurgeon to come and pray for the healing of his arm. The physician, who had heard of the request; said "the boy will recover the use of his arm without prayer, and if you intend to pray for anything, you had better pray that the upper-arm will not be deformed." The physician declared that he knew nothing in the school of surgery that would prevent the deformation, because the break was of such a singular and complicated nature. When the deacon of the Church who accompanied Mr. Spurgeon asked him if he thought it was possible for prayer to heal a case like that, Mr. Spurgeon answered, with a smile: "All things are possible with God, but," said he, "I cannot feel that it is very probable. Yet it is our duty to pray for the things we desire, even though they seem impossible." Mr. Spurgeon talked with the boy concerning Christ and his soul's salvation, until he was sure that the boy understood what it was to be a Christian, and was satisfied that he intended to accept the great gift, then he asked him to kneel in prayer. Mr. Spurgeon there prayed for exactly the thing that the physician had told them he would need to ask for. He appeared to be very much in earnest, and while in prayer was strongly impressed himself that in some way the prayer was to be literally answered. The next day the boy fell upon the stairs and fractured the bones again, making the wound apparently more dangerous than before. He was then carried to a hospital where a somewhat celebrated French physician was for the time visiting, and under his care the bones were so reset as to assume their natural position.
In 1861 it is said that this belief in Mr. Spurgeon's healing power became among some classes a positive superstition, and he was obliged to overcome the very false and extravagant impressions which were going out concerning it by mentioning the matter from the pulpit, and rebuking the theories of the extremely enthusiastic. He felt that it was becoming too much like the shrines of Catholic Europe, from which came the stories of such marvelous cures, many of which were unquestionably true. The power of faith does not seem to be in fact limited to any sect or Church. That fact adds another element to the mystery of the complicated problem.
For twenty-five years it has been one of the most frequent things at the Tabernacle to hear mentioned in public the request of some person, who was sick, for the prayers of the Church that God might send a speedy recovery. The very fact that the number of such applications increase year by year, is in it self satisfactory evidence that the people who were prayed for at first must have believed that the prayers of the Church were answered, and advertised the fact among their friends.
Thousands of cases like those we have related might be gathered, and a great number of them have been collected, showing the wonderful agency of some Divine power exercised in answer to prayer.
While no other Church, perhaps, in the world had the opportunity to test the matter so thoroughly as the Metropolitan Tabernacle of London, yet it is true of many other Churches in England and America that the prayer of faith does save the sick. We may speculate about it as best we may, and different individuals may view it in different lights, in accordance with the standpoint they take, yet, that it is positively effective, and accomplishes the greatest cures, it is impossible to deny, because this thing is not done in a corner, but is everywhere confirmed in the Churches by the evidence of those who have heard and who have seen. If any matter could ever be established in law or in experience by cumulative testimony, this much is certain, that prayers are answered in the expulsion of disease.
If we talk from Philadelphia to Boston through a telephone and recognize the voice of our acquaintances, we know that we are heard, but we are utterly unable to explain to any inquiring child just what electricity is. To tell a person that it is a mode of motion, akin to light, does not remove the mystery or explain the agency. In the same way we ask of God to be healed of a sad disease, with which human physicians are unable to contend, and after being restored by unaccountable processes, we draw the breath of health, we are sure that we have been healed, although we cannot understand the laws which controlled the means.
Mr. Spurgeon, like the Master whom he so faithfully served, went about teaching and healing the sick. He never took any credit to himself for the healing power which he exercised; and hundreds of persons were physically benefited by his visits, of whom he never afterward directly heard. He regarded himself, as every pastor should, as the mere agent of Divine power, and spoke of himself, in two instances, as unworthy of possessing the gift of healing.
The Christian world will account for these things in one way and the skeptical world in another way, but the facts will ever remain, that for some reason, either supernatural or natural, these people did recover their health, and are indebted to Mr. Spurgeon or to his influence with a higher power, for the comfort of body and peace of mind which they now enjoy.
Next to the supreme joy of facing thousands of people, anxious to hear the Gospel, and forgetting one's self in its earnest delivery, comes the pleasure of being an instrument or messenger of the great force lying beyond our ken, to bring breath to the asthmatic, calmness to the palpitating heart, perfect peace to the tingling nerves, strength to the tottering steps, a flush to pallid cheeks, a flash to dull eyes, a smile to trembling lips, hope to discouraged friends, and long years of useful life to the expiring invalid. Oh! what a life was that! What an inestimable privilege to occupy a position like his.
There can be no situation on earth so much to be charitably envied as that which is occupied by such a messenger of God. "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of them that bring good tidings, good tiding of peace."
Some idea of the spirit with which the young preacher entered upon his work may be gained from the following letters, which explain themselves.
No. 60 Park Street, Cambridge, Jan.27, 1854.
To James Low, Esq.,
My dear Sir:
I cannot help feeling intense gratification at the unanimity of the church at New Park street in relation to their invitation to me. Had I been uncomfortable in my present situation, I should have felt unmixed pleasure at the prospect Providence seems to open up before me; but having devoted and loving people, I feel I know not how.
One thing I know, namely, that I must soon be severed from them by necessity, for they do not raise sufficient to maintain me in comfort. Had they done so I should have turned a deaf ear to any request to leave them, at least for the present. But now my Heavenly Father drives me forth from this little Garden of Eden, and while I see that I must go out, I leave it with reluctance, and tremble to tread the unknown land before me.
When I first ventured to preach at Waterbeach, I only accepted an invitation for three months, on the condition that if in that time I should see good reason for leaving, or they on their part should wish for it, I should be at liberty to cease supplying, or they should have the same power to request me to do so before the expiration of the time.
With regard to a six months' invitation from you,I have no objection to the length of time, but rather approve of the prudence of the Church in wishing to have one so young as myself on an extended period of probation, but I write after well weighing the matter, when I say positively that I cannotI dare notaccept an unqualified invitation for so long a time. My objection is not to the length of time of probation, but it ill becomes a youth to promise to preach to a London congregation so long, until he knows them and they know' him. I would engage to supply for three months of that time, and then, should the congregation fail, or the church disagree, I would reserve to myself liberty, without breach of engagement, to retire; and you would on your part have the right to dismiss me without seeming to treat me ill. Should I see no reason for so doing, and the church still retain their wish for me, I can remain the other three months, either with or without the formality of a further invitation; but even during the second three months I should not like to regard myself as a fixture, in case of ill success, but would only be a supply, liable to a fortnight's discharge or resignation.
Perhaps this is not businesslikeI do not know; but this is the course I should prefer, if it should be agreeable to the church. Enthusiasm and popularity are often the crackling of thorns, and expire. I do not wish to be a hindrance, if I cannot be a help.
With regard to coming at once, I think I must not. My own deacons just hinted that I ought to finish the quarter here; though by ought, they mean simplypray to do so if you can. This would be too long a delay. I wish to help them until they can get supplies, which is only to be done with great difficulty; and as I have given you four Sabbaths, I hope you will allow me to give them four in return. I would give them the first and second Sabbaths in February, and two more in a month or six weeks' time. I owe them much for their kindness, although they insist that the debt lies on their side. Some of them hope, and almost pray, that you may be tired in three months, so that I may again be sent back to them.
Thus, my dear sir, I have honestly poured out my heart to you. You are too kind. You will excuse me if I err, for I wish to do right to you, to my people, and to all, as being not my own, but bought with a price.
I respect the honesty and boldness of the small minority, and only wonder that the number was not greater. I pray God that if He does not see fit that I should remain with you, the majority may be quite as much the other way at the end of six months, so that I may never divide you into parties.
Pecuniary matters I am well satisfied with. And now one thing is due to every minister, and I pray you to remind the church of it, namely, that in private, as well as public, they must all wrestle in prayer to God that I may be sustained in the great work.
I am, with the best wishes for your health, and the greatest respect,
C. H. SPURGEON.
75 Dover Road, Borough, April 28th, 1854.
To the Baptist Church of Christ, worshipping in New Park Street Chapel, Southwark.
Dearly beloved in Christ Jesus:
I have received your unanimous invitation as contained in a resolution passed by you on the 19th instant, desiring me to accept the pastorate among you. No lengthened reply is required; there is but one answer to so loving and cordial an invitation. I ACCEPT IT. I have not been perplexed as to what my reply shall be, for many things constrain me thus to answer.
I sought not to come to you, for I was the minister of an obscure but affectionate people; I never solicited advancement. The first note of invitation from your deacons came to me quite unlooked for, and I trembled at the idea of preaching in London. I could not understand how it came about, and even now I am filled with astonishment at the wondrous Providence. I would wish to give myself into the hands of our covenant God, whose wisdom directs all things. He shall choose for me; and so far as I can judge this is His choice.
I felt it to be a high honor to be the pastor of a people who can mention glorious names as my predecessors ; and I entreat of you to remember me in prayer, that I may realize the solemn responsibility of my trust. Remember my youth and my inexperience; pray that these may not hinder my usefulness. I trust also that the remembrance of these may lead you to forgive the mistakes I may make, or unguarded words I may utter.
Blessed be the name of the Most High! He has called me to this office, He will support me in it; otherwise how should a child, a youth, have the presumption thus to attempt a work which filled the heart and hands of Jesus? Your kindness to me has been very great and my heart is knit unto you. I fear not your steadfastness, I fear my own. The gospel, I believe, enables me to venture great things, and by faith I venture this. I ask your cooperation in every good work, in visiting the sick, in bringing in inquirers, and in mutual edification.
Oh! that I may be of no injury to you, but a lasting benefit! I have no more to say, only this: that if I have expressed myself in these few words in a manner unbecoming my youth and inexperience, you will not impute it to arrogance, but forgive my mistake.
And now, commending you to our covenant-keeping God, the triune Jehovah, I am yours to serve in the gospel.
C. H. SPURGEON.
A gentleman belonging to another denomination visited the chapel during Mr. Spurgeon's early ministry, and wrote the following quite interesting description of the appearance of the young preacher:
"His voice is clear and musical; his language plain; his style flowing, but terse; his manner 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 a 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 detect little of the wild luxuriance naturally characteristic of very young preachers."
A correspondent, writing in 1857, shows the preacher from another standpoint. In his letters he said:
He is of medium height, at present quite stout, has a round and beardless face, not a high forehead, dark hair, parted in the center of the head. His appearance in the pulpit may be said to be interesting rather than commanding. He betrays his youth, and still wears a boyish countenance. His figure is awkwardhis manners are plainhis face (except when illumined by a smile) is admitted to be heavy. His voice seems to be the only personal instrument he possesses, by which he is enabled to acquire such a marvelous power over the hearts and minds of his hearers. His voice is powerful, rich melodious, and under perfect control. Twelve thousand have distinctly heard every sentence he uttered in the open air, and this powerful instrument carried his burning words to an audience of twenty thousand gathered in the Crystal Palace.
Still another writer of that year is quoted by Mr. Needham, in his life of Spurgeon, who said:
As soon as he commences to speak, tones of richest melody are heard. A voice, full, sweet, and musical falls on every ear, and awakens agreeable emotions in every soul in which there is a sympathy for sounds. That most excellent of voices is under perfect control, and can whisper or thunder at the wish of its possessor. Then there is poetry in every feature, and every movement, as well as music in the voice. The countenance speaks, the entire form sympathizes. The action is in complete unison with the sentiments, and the eye listens scarcely less than the ear to the sweetly flowing Oratory. To the influence of his powerful voice he adds that of a manner characterized by great freedom and fearlessness, intensely earnest and strikingly natural. When to these we add the influence of thrilling description, touching anecdote, sparkling wit, startling episodes, striking similes, all used to illustrate and enforce the deep, earnest home truths of the Bible, we surely have a combination of elements which must make up a preacher of wonderful attraction and marvelous power.
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