Friday, June 20, 2008

Spurgeon's "reforming" work


While we have read much the past few years from the Flounders and others about "reforming" in the direction of a Hybrid version of "Calvinism," C. H. Spurgeon faced a need for "reform" of sorts when he became Pastor of New Park Street Chapel in London in 1854.

His early ministry at New Park Street Chapel did not exactly meet with a "welcome" by the "rigid Calvinists." In fact, a few years later, on the occasion of the opening of the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Spurgeon remarked --

"I have been treated somewhat severely by that class of brethren who are exceedingly strong in their Calvinism. Many suspect me of being a great heretic. . . . The Calvinism of some men is not the Calvinism of John Calvin, nor the Calvinism of the Puritans, much less the Christianity of God." (New Park Street Pulpit, Volume 5, page 368).

Spurgeon seemed to have met with a similar type of "Calvinism" which is on the scene today, a version we have identified as "Hybrid Calvinism," for it differs with Calvin, the Puritans, and Creedal Christianity.

Baptist churches in the London of the early 1850s were what some might regard as relatively "dead" or "dying." When Spurgeon came to London to the spiritually and architecturally "gloomy" New Park Street Chapel from distant Waterbeach, near Cambridge in the Fen country where he had just about single-handedly been used of the Lord in converting the entire village, it was like the crashing of a red-hot meteor into a stagnant pond of water — things began to "snap, crackle, and pop."

Spurgeon says, "In a very short time after I began to preach in London, the congregation so multiplied as to make the chapel, in the evening, when the gas was burning, like the Black Hole of Calcutta"
(Autobiography, Vol. 1, page 369).

Spurgeon felt so stifled that when the deacons ignored his request to do something about the upper windows, he took matters into his own hands. Later, in regard to the mysteriously missing windowpanes, he said, "I shall have to confess that I have walked with the stick which let the oxygen into that stifling structure" (ibid).

He not only knocked the windows out, his soul-winning preaching virtually knocked down the old edifice itself. The sparsely attended church began to grow in attendance at such a pace that the building could not contain the crowds. Even an enlargement would not hold them, so they had to build the new Metropolitan Tabernacle, and at times even it was inadequate.

Appropriately, the 673rd sermon of his ministry — but the very first he delivered at Park Street Chapel on December 18, 1853, to a congregation he described as "a mere handful" (Metropolitan Tabernacle: Its History and Work, page 71) — was rather prophetic of his own entrance upon the London Baptist scene:

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” — James 1:17.

Spurgeon himself proved to be a "good gift" — even if not perfect — to the Christianity of his age, and especially at the New Park Street Chapel where they were in such desperate need of spiritual blessings.
The Baptist preachers and churches of New Park Street Chapel variety were mostly either hyper-Calvinists or ultra-Calvinists, and did not have anyone to lead them in any other direction. The killing effects of "mere doctrine" and too great an emphasis upon "the Calvinist system" had virtually choked out any aggressive evangelistic efforts such as the "going into the highways and hedges and compel them to come in" approach.

Spurgeon's success in preaching what he called the "simple Gospel" made him the object of resentment, jealousy, criticism, and even cynical ridicule by some of the Baptists, especially some of the "scribes and Pharisees" among the "high Calvinists."

At least one of the notable Baptist leaders of the time even questioned Spurgeon's conversion! Spurgeon said in one of his New Park Street sermons, "I do not hesitate to say, that Phariseeism is mixed with Hyper-Calvinism more than with any other sect in the world" (New Park Street Pulpit, Year 1860, #336STRUGGLES OF CONSCIENCE, page 403).

In a letter to his family, Spurgeon wrote of the "high" Calvinism which prevailed at the church at that time. "It is the Calvinism they want," he said:

“December __, 1853.

“My Dear Father, ...

“Should I be settled in London, I will come and see you often. I do not anticipate going there with much pleasure. I am contented where I am; but if God has more for me to do, then let me go and trust in Him. The London people are rather higher in Calvinism than I am; but I have succeeded in bringing one church [Waterbeach] to my own views, and will trust, with Divine assistance, to do the same with another. I am a Calvinist; I love what someone called ‘glorious Calvinism,’ but ‘Hyperism’ is too hot-spiced for my palate. . . .

“My people [at Waterbeach] are very sad; some wept bitterly at the sight of me, although I made no allusion to the subject in the pulpit, as it is too uncertain to speak of publicly. It is Calvinism they want in London, and any Arminian preaching will not be endured. Several in the church are far before me in theological acumen; they would not admit that it is so, but they all expressed their belief that my originality, or even eccentricity, was the very thing to draw a London audience. The chapel is one of the finest in the denomination; somewhat in the style of our Cambridge Museum. A Merry Christmas to you all; a Happy New Year; and the blessing of the God of Jacob! — Yours affectionately, C. H. SPURGEON.”

Spurgeon not only knocked out the windows of the chapel, and knocked down the building in consequence of the need for greater seating capacity for the crowds, he would soon strike blow-after-blow at what he often called the "false Calvinism" of his "ultraists" brethren.

One of the innovations which Spurgeon put to good use, out of the practical necessity for the hearing of confessions of Christ by those responding to his evangelistic preaching, was the use of inquiry-rooms. Spurgeon's doctrine and practices would have a great effect upon the American evangelist, D. L. Moody (1837-1899), who purposely made his way to London in 1867 to observe Spurgeon's work and methods.

Moody was gifted with the love of evangelism, not with a deep theological inclination or with a seminary education, yet one finds a great deal of the theology advocated by Spurgeon in the small books by Moody, manifesting at whose feet Moody learned. In this regard, Moody was indeed a sort of "Timothy" in relation to C. H. Spurgeon.

Moody — after he started his own preaching ministry — began to adopt many of Spurgeon's means of implementing the work of the Gospel, including starting a Bible Institute similar to Spurgeon's Pastor's College, a colportage or publishing work similar to Spurgeon's, preaching to the masses in large halls as did Spurgeon, and using the inquiry-room to deal with converts, as did Spurgeon.

The inquiry-room method, in its essential elements, became the forerunner of what we today call the "public invitation." It evidently derives from C. H. Spurgeon.

This method did not derive from Charles G. Finney's "anxious seat," as some allege, for the inquiry-room was not on that order at all. Moody never even heard Finney preach, nor saw the "anxious seat" used in a Finney revival meeting. By 1860, Finney could not even travel, much less hold revival meetings, and that was long before Moody even started preaching.

But Moody did hear Spurgeon, followed Spurgeon, reading everything of Spurgeon's, and he saw how Spurgeon dealt with souls. He adopted Spurgeon's methods.

If the only "C. H. Spurgeon" you know about is the disfiguration presented in several contexts in Iain Murray's "The Forgotten Spurgeon," you are still very much "in the dark." Mr. Murray's purpose, seemingly, is often to take snippets from Spurgeon which he can utilize in the promotion of what Spurgeon might regard as a form of the "rigid system of Calvinism." The greatest barriers to evangelism Spurgeon ever encountered in London were the "rigid" Calvinists, embellishing soundness in doctrine as of more importance than evangelism.

In fact, if certain laborious features in Mr. Murray's version of Spurgeon is all you know of him, it might be more healthy for your knowledge of Spurgeon if the "Spurgeon" of Mr. Murray's writings were indeed simply "forgotten." If the only "D. L. Moody" you know about is the one presented by Mr. Murray, you can also most likely improve your mind's concept of Moody by simply "forgetting" that image of Moody. That also applies to Mr. Murray's image of John Gill in his "Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism." Pedobaptist Murray seems to have a peculiar distaste for some of our Baptistic heroes!


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