Sermons of the Rev. C. H. Spurgeon, of London. Third Series

Third Series. New York: Sheldon, Blakeman & Co.

THERE can be no doubt of the merit of these sermons, considered as examples of method and embodiments of character. Whatever elements of Christianity may be left unexpressed in them, it is certain that Mr. Spurgeon has succeeded in expressing himself. His discourses at least give us Christianity as he understands, feels, and lives it. They should be studied by all clergymen who desire to master the secret of influencing masses of men. They will afford valuable hints in respect to method, even when their spirit, tone, and teaching present no proper model for imitation. Mr. Spurgeon, we suppose, would be classed among Calvinists, but he is not merely that. Without any force, depth, amplitude, or originality of thought, he has considerable force and originality of nature. He detaches from their relations certain doctrines of Calvinism which especially interest him, and so emphasizes and intensifies them, so blends them with his personal being and experience, that the impression he stamps upon the mind is rather of Spurgeonism than Calvinism. He gives vivid reality to his doctrines, because they are incorporated with his nature,—and not merely with his spiritual, but with his animal nature. He is thoroughly in earnest from the fact that he preaches himself. His converts, therefore, are likely to mistake being Spurgeonized for being Christianized; for the Christianity he preaches is not so much vital Christianity as it is Christianity passed through the vitalities of his own nature, and essentially modified and lowered in the process. To understand, then, the kind of influence he exerts, we have simply to inquire, What kind of man is Mr. Spurgeon?

The answer to this question is given on every page of his sermons. He has no reserves, hut lets his character transpire in every sentence. He is a bold, eager, earnest, devout, passionate, well-intentioned man, with considerable experience in the sphere of the religious emotions, full of sympathy with rough natures, full of mother wit and practical sagacity, but, as a theologian, coarse, ignorant, narrow-minded, and strikingly deficient in fine spiritual perceptions. These qualities inhere in a nature of singular vigor, intensity, and directness, that sends out words like bullets. Warmth of feeling combined with narrowness of mind makes him a bigot; but his bigotry is not the sour assertion of an opinion, but the racy utterance of a nature. He believes in Spurgeonism so thoroughly and so simply that toleration is out of the question, and doctrines opposed to his own he refers, with instantaneous and ingenuous dogmatism, to folly or wickedness. “I think,” he says, in one of his sermons, “I have none here so profoundly stupid as to be Puseyites. I can scarcely believe that I have been the means of attracting one person here so utterly devoid of one remnant of brain as to believe the doctrine of baptismal regeneration.” The doctrine, indeed, is so nonsensical to him, that, after some caricatures of it, he asserts that it would discredit Scripture with all sensible men, if it were taught in Scripture. God himself could not make Mr. Spurgeon believe it; and doubtless there are many High Churchmen who would retort, that nothing short of a miracle could make them assent to some of the dogmas of their assailant. Indeed, the incapacity of our preacher to discern, or mentally to reproduce, a religious character differing in creed from his own, makes him the most amusingly intolerant of Popes, not because he is malignant, but because he is Spurgeon. If he had learning or largeness of mind, he would probably lose the greater portion of his power. He gets his hearers into a corner, limits the range of their vision to the doctrine he is expounding, refuses to listen to any excuses or palliations, and then screams out to them, “Believe or be damned!” In his own mind he is sure they will be damned, if they do not believe. So far as regards his influence over those minds whose religious emotions are strong, but whose religious principles are weak, every limitation of his mind is an increase of his force.

This theological narrowness is unaccompanied with theological rancor. A rough but genuine benevolence is at the heart of Mr. Spurgeon’s system. He wishes his opponents to be converted, not condemned. He very properly feels, that, with his ideas of the Divine Government, he would be the basest of criminals, if he spared himself, or spared either entreaty or denunciation, in the great work of saving souls. He throws himself with such passionate earnestness into his business, that his sermons boil over with the excitement of his feelings. Indeed, it is difficult to say whether our impressions of him, derived from the written page, come to us more from the eye than the ear. His very style foams, rages, prays, entreats, adjures, weeps, screams, warns, and execrates. His words are words that everybody understands,—hold, blunt, homely, quaint, level to his nature, all alive with passion, and directed with the single purpose of carrying the fortresses of sin by assault. The reader who contrives to preserve his calmness amid this storm of words cannot but be vexed that rhetoric so efficient should frequently be combined with notions so narrow, with bigotry so besotted, with religious principles so materialized; that the man who is loudly proclaimed as the greatest living orator of the pulpit should have so little of that Christian spirit which refines when it inflames, which exalts, enlarges, and purifies the natures it moves. For Mr. Spurgeon is, after all, little more than a theological stump-orator, a Protestant Dominican, easy of comprehension because he leaves out the higher elements of his themes, and not hesitating to vulgarize Christianity, if he may thereby extend it among the vulgar. It has been attempted to justify him by the examples of Luther and Bunyan, to neither of whom does he bear more than the most superficial resemblance. He is, to be sure, as natural as Luther, but then his nature happens to be a puny nature as compared with that of the great Reformer; and, not to insist on specific differences, it is certain that Luther, it alive, would have the same objection to Mr. Spurgeon's bringing down the doctrines of Christianity to the supposed mental condition of his hearers, as he had to the Romanists of his day, who corrupted religion in order that the public “might be more generally accommodated.” Bunyan’s phraseology is homely, but Bunyan’s celestializing imagination kept his “familiar grasp of things divine” from being an irreverent pawing of things divine. Mr. Spurgeon’s nature works on a low level of influence. Deficient in imagination, and with a mind coarse and unspiritualized, though religiously impressed, he annualizes his creed in attempting to give it sensuous reality and impressiveness. If it be said that by this process he feels his way into hearts which could not be affected by more spiritual means, the answer is, that the multitude who listened to the Sermon on the Mount were not of a more elevated cast of mind than the multitude who listened to Mr. Spurgeon’s sermon on “Regeneration.” But the truth is, that Mr. Spurgeon’s preaching is liked, not simply because it rouses sinners to repentance, but because it gives sinners a certain enjoyment. It is racy, original, exciting, and comes directly from the character of the preacher. It is relished, as Mr. Spurgeon tells us in his Pre-

face, by “princes of every nation and nobles of every rank,” as well as by humbler people. But we doubt whether Christianity should be vulgarized to give jaded nobles a new “sensation,” or in order to be made a fit “gospel for the poor.”