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Charles Spurgeon and the Pulpit.
it is singularly natural. There is not a trace of pulpitism in it. The speaker might be a chartist leader, addressing a multitude on Kennington Common, so complete is the absence of everything from his tone and manner that might have reminded you of church or chapel. The style of the preacher is for the most part purely colloquial. It is one man talking to another. Even when his enunciations become the most impassioned they are still natural. Rare-very rare—is such an elocution among preachers. Once upon a time, an elderly Scotchwoman gave her grandson the newspaper to read, telling him to read it aloud. The only reading aloud the boy had been much in the way of hearing was at the parish kirk, and he began to read in the exact tone in which he had so often heard the minister read. The good lady was shocked at the boy's profanity, and giving him a box in the ear, exclaimed—'What! dost thou read the newspaper with the Bible twang?' Oh that Bible twang; surely the arch-enemy must have invented it as the thing wherewith to thin off the number of church-goers, or to send those to sleep who go. Would, however, that this mistake between saying a thing and singing it were unknown south of the Tweed. Nonconformists and Episcopalians among us are largely infected by it. The extemporaneous mode of preaching so general among Nonconformists, is much more favourable to a natural manner than the reading of sermons, so common among churchmen. Many Nonconformists, however, have much to unlearn in this respect, before they can hope to become agreeable public instructors; and with regard to many of our clergy, from the ever-recurring notes with which they begin and close their sentences, one is tempted to think they must have been influenced in this respect by their long familiarity with Latin hexameters. Certainly, we get the same key-note at the beginning of the sentence, the same monotonous level through the middle, be the middle long or short, and the never-failing dactyl and spondee at the end. Is it any marvel if what is so perfunctory and artificial in its tone, should be deemed perfunctory and artificial altogether? Mr. Spurgeon's complete exemption from mannerism of this sort has more to do than many people suspect with the success which has marked his career.
The style of the preacher is another element bearing a conspicuous relation to his success. His language is for the most part good idiomatic Saxon. He speaks to the people, not in the language of books, but in their own language. He gives them many a short treatise on divinity, but it is not a treatise for the press, it is simply so much talk about the matter. His diction, and his whole manner of setting forth thought, are more
from the market-place than from the cloister. No man or woman can fail to understand him. It is one of themselves gifted enough to teach them. In this there is so much of nature, especially when compared with the dull platitudes and elaborate obscurities with which these good people have been long familiar elsewhere, that the pleasure they feel under this new dispensation of things is surely not difficult to comprehend.
Another, and a no less obvious source of the preacher's success lies in his pictorialness. Nearly all his lessons become pictures. Calvinist as he is, he is not much disposed to look on religion in its abstractions. He must see it as it is in the living men and women about him. As so seen, his descriptions of it become, in the manner of Hogarth, and often perhaps unconsciously to himself, a series of dramas. The pious mother and her sinning child; the distressed believer, and his great enemy laying snares for his soul, come before you as living realities. Or, it may be, that a principle is taken up, and then, to give it vividness, and to insure that it shall be remembered, some historical analogy is introduced. "Some of you,' says the preacher, 'would like to have grace in reserve, to lay up, as people place money in the bank or the funds, to call out
upon occasion. But God does not deal with you that way. 'He knows you too well to do that. He knows how ready you
are to forget him now, how much worse it would be then. He 'promises grace as you want it-according to your need. Be thankful for that. Seek grace as you want it, and use it as you have it, that is all God expects of you. Be like that patriotic Greek, who with his little band of followers had to 'check the great army of the Persians. He knew that to go 'down into the plain and to expose himself there to all his 'enemies at once would be speedy destruction. He therefore 'took his stand in the narrow mountain pass, and encountered his foes as they came up one by one.
So be it with you. • Keep to the narrow pass of to-day. Face your troubles one by
one as they arise. Don't commit yourself to the open plain of 'to-morrow. You are not equal to that. God does not require 'you to do that. We felt as we listened to this language that the man who could paint like that might well be popular.
We must not forget to state that much should be attributed to the freshness and earnestness of feeling with which the preacher commends his message to the reception of his hearers. Mr. Spurgeon is a believer. His mind is fully made up as to what it is to believe like a Christian, and to feel and act like a Christian. In his language the case is so and so. It is no otherwise, it can be no otherwise. God is God, let the atheist say what he
Charles Spurgeon and the Pulpit.
215 will. God is never away from his own world-he is always in it, and ruling it. Some men may teach otherwise, but such teachings are a lie—a monstrous lie. Those who do battle for God's truth in God's world are never alone. They are always surrounded by chariots of fire, and horsemen of fire. The age of miracles has passed, but the age of the supernatural has not passed. The Gospel comes from the supernatural. It is supernatural. It does its appointed work only by the presence of the supernatural. The world is not fatherless, the church is not deserted-never has been, never shall be.
The directness, emphasis, and heartiness with which Mr. Spurgeon gives utterance to his belief in such truths stands in edifying contrast with the dull, conventional, make-believe droning to which we have often to listen on such topics. Conviction is parent to conviction-feeling is parent to feeling. As it is with a speaker in these respects, so will it be to a large extent with his auditory.
In mentioning the doctrine of Mr. Spurgeon as one source of his popularity, we are aware that we need to speak with some discrimination and caution. His frequent boast is that he is a Calvinist. We doubt much, however, if he really knows what Calvinism is. The antinomians about him, to whom he often applies the lash with no sparing hand, are really better logicians, and more consistent than himself. His doctrine concerning the moral state of man is frightfully bald, and, carried out, would be frightfully mischievous. But the heart of the preacher comes in as a corrective of his head. The practical side of his theology does much towards neutralizing its speculative side. There is profound truth in the great substance of his teaching. All the qualities we have mentioned as tending to account for his popularity, would have failed to realize any such result had not his message, as embracing the great Catholic truths of the Gospelthe Incarnation, the Atonement, and the Influence of the Holy Spirit, been in fact the one message which reaches to the deep spiritual want of man. Man may well sigh for deliverance from his present evils-for the intelligent and spiritual perfection of his nature. In Mr. Spurgeon's preaching there is the ceaseless proclamation of this deliverance--the ceaseless promise of this perfection. We feel bound to think that the elocution, the style, the pictorialness, and the earnestness of Charles Spurgeon, would all have been a comparatively unattractive affair on any other theme than this. And if so—what a significant fact is this? What must that Gospel be, which, after the lapse of eighteen centuries, is found to be thus potent in such hands? What must that human nature be, to which these hopeful and elevating influences are as precious on the banks of the Thames now, as they were to the spirits of multitudes in Jerusalem and Antioch, in Ephesus and Corinth, nearly two thousand years ago ? Wonderful are the questions involved, and the issues presented, in these popular Sunday teachings—yet the people, all grades and complexions of people, seem to feel that with such matters it behoves them to have seriously to do.
We believe ourselves that, to explain the fact presented in the Sunday meetings at the Surrey Gardens, we must go beyond the personal as found in the preacher, beyond the scheme of truth which he propounds, and beyond the nature to which he propounds it,--that we must rest in nothing short of the Divine band itself. The All-wise has often worked by instruments, and in ways, which would seem to have been chosen for the purpose of making a mock of the world's wisdom. He did so when he founded Christianity-he may do much like it again.
Certainly, a choice rebuke has been administered to a course of speculation which has become somewhat rife among us of late, especially among parties who account themselves as belonging to the far-seeing of their generation. It has come to be very much in fashion with some persons to speak of all things connected with religion as beset with great difficulty and mystery. On all such questions, we are told, there must be two sides, and the negative side, it is said, is generally much more formidable than is commonly imagined. It is assumed, accordingly, that to be in a state of some hesitancy and doubt is the sign of intelligence, while to be positive, very sure about anything, is the sign of a vulgar and shallow mind. Our people are said to be familiar with phrases about the doctrines of the Gospel, but with little more. They may become bigots in their conceit on such subjects, and know nothing. Educated men now must not be expected to be content with phrases, or with assertions. The preacher, in consequence, owes it to himself to deal with matters much otherwise than formerly. To insist on the authority of Scripture now as in past times, it is said, would be vain. To set forth the
, doctrines of the Gospel now as formerly would be wasted labour. The preacher must be more considerate, more candid, more forbearing. He must acquit himself with more intelligence, more independence, and in a more philosophical spirit, presenting his topics on broader and more general grounds. In other words, the old mode of presenting what is called the old truth has had its day. Whitfield himself, were he to come back again, would produce little impression on our generation.
But here comes a man-no Whitfield in voice, in presence, in dignity, or genius, who, nevertheless, as with one stroke of his Charles Spurgeon and the Pulpit.
217 hand, sweeps away all this sickly sentimentalism—this craven misbelief. It is all to him as so much of the merest gossamer web that could have crossed his path. He not only gives forth the old doctrine of St. Paul, in all the strength of Paul's language, but with exaggerations of his own, such as Paul would have been forward to disavow. This man knows nothing of doubt as to whence the Gospel is, what it is, or wherefore it has its place among us. On all such subjects his mind is that of a made-up man. In place of suspecting that the old accredited doctrines of the Gospel have pretty well done their work, he expects good from nothing else, and all that he clusters about them is for the sake of them. The philosophical precision, the literary refinements, the nice discriminations between what we may know of a doctrine and what we may not, leaving us in the end perhaps scarcely anything to know about it all this, which according to some is so much needed by the age, is Mr. Spurgeon's utter scorn. He is the direct, dogmatic enunciator of the old Pauline truth, without the slightest attempt to soften its outline, its substance, or its results and what has followed ? Truly Providence would seem once more to have made foolish the wisdom of this world. While the gentlemen who know so well how people ought to preach, are left to exemplify their profound lessons before empty benches and in obscure corners, the young man at the Surrey Gardens can point to his 9000 auditors and ask-Who, with such a sight before him, dares despair of making the Gospel, the good old Gospel, a power in the great heart of humanity?