committed to historic Baptist & Reformed beliefs

 

EXETER HALL, STRAND SERMONS


THE EXETER HALL MINISTRY

A period of delay occurred before the actual work on the New Park Street Chapel could begin. A Trust, different from the group in charge of the rest of the building, controlled the Vestry and the schoolrooms. It thus became necessary to apply to the Charity Commission for permission to remodel. After proper investigation, the Commission granted permission, and the work proceeded. The work now begun, for two months, February 11 to May 27, of 1885, the walls went up. But what about a place for worship during the construction period? Where would the church meet? The church could meet for the mid-week service at the Maze Pond Chapel. The weekday services presented no problem, the Maze Pond people had met in the New Park Street Chapel when their chapel underwent enlargement. But what about the huge Sunday services? In the famous Strand Street stood Exeter Hall, a large public auditorium seating some five thousand people. Public halls were quite common in Victorian London, the largest being the fabulous Crystal Palace opened by Queen Victoria a short time earlier. Exeter Hall looked very inviting to Spurgeon. It had been built primarily to hold special evangelical meetings. Several friends suggested it could possibly be used for regular church services. The proprietors rented the Hall for specific religious conferences, but to hire it out for a regular series of religious worship services by a specific denominational church was unheard of. Yet, argued Spurgeon, that is the very place. The traditional Victorians were somewhat shocked at the idea.

Such a venture struck Londoners as very innovative if not revolutionary, at least for 1855. Spurgeon always proved to be an innovator of the first order. That was part of his genius, and the basis for considerable criticism. Conventionalities, if they stood in the way of Kingdom progress, Spurgeon saw as a sin. It is often asked would he have reached the masses today as he did in the nineteenth century? The answer is unquestionably yes. He would assuredly not do today what he did in the Victorian era, but like all true innovators, his genius would have found what would reach the multitudes in any century or culture. An Anglican journal recognized that quality in Spurgeon. The writer stated, “Every now and then someone takes the world by storm.. . . If we mistake not, Mr. Spurgeon belongs to this small class of persons whose career seems independent of circumstances just as their genius is independent of training.”

When Spurgeon and the deacons put the proposal to the owners of Exeter Hall, they were rather reticent in renting the premises on a regular basis to one church. But they finally consented, charged the congregation £15 a service, and the venture began. The question became, however, would people come? It was no foregone conclusion they would. First, Exeter Hall being a public hall and not a church building, raised a psychological barrier. Would even the average Londoner, let alone the upper stratum of society, worship in that setting? Secondly, the Hall was situated north of the Thames River, and Spurgeon and his church were south Londoners. People would have to go “over the water to Charlie’s,” but now most of the regular congregation would have to go north. 

But go they did. Exeter Hall filled from the very first service. Nor did traditional church attenders alone crowd into Exeter Hall. In those exciting days a vast number of young people of every stripe and hue came to hear the young preacher. As one put it, “If Exeter Hall had been twice its size, it would have been inadequate still.” The Strand, like New Park Street, became clogged with people and carriages. The Exeter Hall ministry caused Spurgeon’s fame to infect even more London circles. He became virtually the talk of the town. Spurgeon was once asked why so many came to hear him preach and why his ministry had been so successful. He simply replied, “My people pray for me.” But he also proved to be a wise communicator. On one occasion he said in his sermon, “And now for the second head of my discourse—but I fear I tire, as I already see some of my friends asleep.” That probably woke them up. The reason for his preaching success will be taken up in the next chapter. Suffice it to say here, in scriptural language, “the common people heard him gladly,” and heard him in unprecedented numbers.

Exeter Hall maiked a new era in the Spurgeon saga. In those early days, Spurgeon generally received positive press. For example, The Times wrote: “We are delighted to hear that there is one man in the metropolis who can get people to hear his sermons from any other motive than the fulfillment of " religious obligation."  Spurgeon wrote his father in those days:  

"On Sabbath last more than 1000 persons were put (kept) out of die Hall from wont of room—while within it was crammed to suffocation... Have had Sir de Lacy Evans and it is reported Lord John Russell at the Hall. But I am sure the Lord Jehovah was there. “

Such was the common reaction in Spurgeon’s first year and a half at New Park Street Baptist Chapel. Then the dam that held back the waters of belittlement broke, and for the next few years a flood-tide of caustic, cruel criticism all but drowned the twenty-one-year-old New Park Street Chapel pastor.

As implied earlier, some stones had already been slung at Spurgeon before the spring of 1855. And, shortly after, he moved with his working class people across the river and invaded London’s blasť “West End,” as that part of London is called. The move proved too much for the sophisticat ed, rather snobbish press. Spurgeon did come over as a “reformer,” and that probably was unacceptable to the bourgeoisie members of the press.   For the newspapers, the time had come for the “stripling from Waterbeach” to be called to account. To the field against Spurgeon the journalists marched; and they knew how to battle. The “censure developed into mere vulgar abuse.” 

The Saturday Review through the many years of Spurgeon’s London ministry castigated the preacher. The editorial board of the paper ranged from ritualists to agnostics, and they supported the Tory Party and the Anglican Church. Between 1856 and 1868 they devoted almost as much space to Spurgeon as they did to Gladstone and Disraeli. These editors, led by Fitzjames Stephen, lamented that they lived in “the age of spirit-rapping and Mr. Spurgeon,”73 calling him the “Anabaptist Caliban.” When a theo logical controversy erupted, which will be taken up later, the Saturday Review termed him “a course, stupid, irrational bigot,” and “an ignorant, conceited fanatic.” Spurgeon’s reaction to that periodical brought him to the conclusion that a true Christian is “one who fears God and is hated by the Saturday Review.”74 Spurgeon’s associates called the periodical the “Satan ic Review,” or the “Saturday Reviler.” But the Saturday Review did not stand alone in attacking Spurgeon. Other critics said his preaching reminded one of “a Punch and Judy Show.” The Illustrated Times, October ii, 1856 asked: “Will his popularity last? We more than doubt it.” Even a fellow preacher in The Sheffield and Rotherham Independent, April 28, 1855, said of Spurgeon, ‘the Exeter Hall religious demagogue” was no more than a “nine day’s wonder” and has “gone up like a rocket and ere long will come down like a stick.” Paradoxically. that same journal in 1898 (six years after Spurgeon’s death) called him, “this noble Puritan preacher and saintly Chris tian.” The Ipswich Express, February 27, 1855, called him “a clerical pol troon”;  The Daily News, September 9, 1856, accused him of “pulpit buffoonery” and “utter ignorance of theology.” In Belfast’s Northern Whig (the Times) August 28, 1859, he was known as “a rank mountebank,” and the Essex Standard, April 18, 1855, termed him “this ranting fellow.” In Scotland The secular press were reasonably positive, but the religious press said Spurgeon disgusted a respectable audience and gave the people “buf foonery.” A Glasgow writer predicted he “like an early gooseberry or over grown cucumber will go back to the nihility from whence he sprang.”  The Christian News of Scotland said, “Mr. Spurgeon, in our estimation, is just a spoiled boy, with abilities not more than mediocre.” At times Spurgeon seemed to lose some of his control—he got angry, saying on one occasion after a bitter attack, “Who cares what a harlot says?” At other times it put him as a pilgrim in the “Dungeon of Despair.” But Spurgeon kept it all reasonably well in perspective. He wrote his mother:

I have had some more serious smashings in the papers but by God’s grace I am not scarred by all their arrows. The Lord is on my side, whom shall I fear.

Moreover, he saw the censures as a means of growing in Christian grace. In writing to an aunt he said, “I am content to be evil spoken of, if I can but grow in grace and serve God."   In the heat of the media battles, Charles wrote his father:

Dear Father,
4 March '55

Do not be grieved at the slanderous libel in this week’s . . .(papers). My friends have informed the publisher that he must either apologize or send the name of his solicitor that the usual course may be pursued.

Of course, it is all a lie.

Spurgeon felt these barbs, however. He said, concerning such reports:

A company of mean-spirited, wicked men, who are no bigger than bees, mentally and spiritually can get together, and sting a good man in a thousand places, till he is well-nigh maddened by their scorn, their ridicule, their slan der, and their misrepresentaLions. Their very littleness gives them the power to wound with jmnunitv. Such has been the experience of some of us...

Still, the crowds kept coming.  On some Sundays, thousands would be turned away from Exeter Hall, unable to get in. All the publicity, despite its negative castigations, resulted in bringing even more people to hear Spur geon. He wrote his father on September 24, 1855: “What a capital advertise ment! The enemy is more of a fool everyday.”  His popularity grew; on one occasion over thirty members of Parliament came to hear him. The rumor even circulated that Palnterston had planned to attend a service, but could not because of the gout. Moreover, Spurgeon held a great attraction for men. More men came to hear him than women, which was very excep tional in Victorian Britain. At times, in Spurgeon’s own words, “nine-tenths of my hearers are men.”8’ He was a man’s man. Despite his bodily weak ness and lack of physical agility, he came over in the pulpit as very mascu line. But that does not mean he did not appeal to women, as well, for he did.

"Spurgeon, Prince of Preacers", Lewis Drummond

 

1855

A CAUTION TO THE PRESUMPTUOUS
CHRIST CRUCIFIED
CHRIST'S PEOPLE-IMITATORS OF HIM
CONSOLATION PROPORTIONATE TO SPIRITUAL SUFFERINGS
DAVID' DYING SONG
FORGIVENESS
JOSEPH ATTACKED BY THE ARCHERS
SPIRITUAL LIBERTY
THE BIBLE
THE CARNAL MINE-ENMITY AGAINST GOD
THE ETERNAL NAME
THE HOPE OF FUTURE BLISS
THE PECULIAR SLEEP OF THE BELOVED
THE PEOPLE'S CHRIST
THE TOMB OF JESUS
THE TWO EFFECTS OF THE GOSPEL
THE VICTORY OF FAITH
THOUGHTS ON THE LAST BATTLE

1856

THE QUESTION OF FEAR AND THE ANSWER OF FAITH
FALSE PROFESSORS SOLEMNLY WARNED
MAKING LIGHT OF CHRIST
PROFIT AND LOSS
THE CHRISTIAN-A DEBTOR
SALVATION TO THE UTTERMOST
OMNISCIENCE
THE PLEA OF FAITH
MEN CHOSEN-FALLEN ANGEL REJECTED
CHRIST EXALTED
PROFIT AND LOSS
AN APPEAL TO SINNERS
COMFORT PROCLAIMED
PASTORAL LETTER

1860

THE TREASURE OF GRACE
A REVIVAL SERMON
FULL REDEMPTION
THE BEGINNING, INCREASE AND END OF THE DIVINE LIFE
HIGH DOCTRINE
TRUE POWER
CHRIST'S FIRST AND LAST SUBJECT
STRUGGLES OF CONSCIENCE
SONS OF GOD
THE WAILING OF RISCA
CONSOLATION IN CHRIST
A BLOW AT SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS

1861

NONE BUT JESUS, PART 1
NONE BUT JESUS, PART 2

 
 
 
The Reformed Reader Home Page 


Copyright 1999, The Reformed Reader, All Rights Reserved