posted by Phil Johnson
The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. The following excerpt is from "What is Eccentricity?"—an article published in the June 1879 issue of The Sword and the Trowel, later used as the opening chapter in a book by Spurgeon entitled Eccentric Preachers.
Dutchman, who from the very orderly style of his handwriting, and the precision of his phrases, should be a very exemplary individual, once wrote me a sternly admonitory letter. From having read my printed discourses with much pleasure he had come to consider me as a godly minister; and, therefore, being in London, he had availed himself of the opportunity to hear me. This, however, he deeply regretted, as he had now lost the power to read my sermons with pleasure any more.
What, think you, had I said or done to deprive me of the good opinion of so excellent a Hollander? I will relieve your mind by saying that he considered that I preached exceedingly well, and he did not charge me with any extravagances of action, but it was my personal appearance which shocked him.
I wore a beard, which was bad enough, but worse than this, he observed upon my lip a moustache! Now this guilty thing is really so insignificant an affair that he might have overlooked such an unobtrusive offender. But no, he said that I wore a moustache like a carnal, worldly-minded man!
Think of that. Instead of being all shaven and shorn like the holy man whom he was accustomed to hear, and wearing a starched ruffed collar all round my neck, about a quarter of a yard deep, I was so depraved as to wear no ruff, and abjure the razor. His great guy of a minister, with ruff and bands and gown, and a woman's chin was not eccentric, but because I allowed my hair to grow as nature meant it should, I was eccentric and frivolous and carnal and worldly-minded, and all sorts of bad things.
You see, what is eccentric in Holland is not eccentric in England, and vice versa. Much of the eccentric business is a matter of longitude and latitude, and to be quite correct one would need to take his bearings, and carry with him a book of costumes and customs, graduated according to the distance from the first meridian.
Moreover, we may not forget that as in religion there have been times of persecution, and times of toleration, so has it been with the pulpit. At one date propriety ruled supreme, and men were doomed to instant ostracism if they passed beyond the settled line; while at another date a sort of Eccentric Emancipation Act is passed, and every man does what is right in his own eyes. At the present moment great latitude is allowed, and several persons are now saying and doing very remarkable things, and yet are escaping the charge of eccentricity.
It is well for them that some of us lived before them, and for far smaller liberties were set in the pillory. For myself, I venture to say that I have been severely criticized for anecdotes and illustrations of the very same kind which I meet with in the very excellent discourses of my friend, Mr. Moody, whom I appreciate probably more than anybody else. Many dear, good souls who have heard him with pleasure would not have done so twenty years ago, but would have regarded him as very eccentric.
As to Mr. Sankey's singing, of which I equally approve, would not that have been unpardonable even ten years ago?
Would Ned Wright and Joshua Poole, and brethren of that order, have been tolerated in 1858? According to the rules which judged Rowland Hill to be eccentric, I should say that these brethren are quite as far gone, if not further, and yet one does not hear an outcry against them for eccentricity. No, the bonds are relaxed, and it is just possible that they are now rather too slack than too tight.
It is, however, very curious to watch the moods of the religious public and see how what is condemned to-day is admired to-morrow. Such an observation has a great tendency to make a man rise superior to the verdict of the period, and choose his own path. To promote a manly, courageous course of action in such matters is our main object in delivering this lecture.
Let us, if we are ministers, do that which we believe to be most likely to be useful, and pay little heed to the judgment of our contemporaries. If we act wisely we can afford to wait; our reward is in a higher approbation than that of men; but even if it were not, we can afford to wait. The sweeping censures of hurried critics will one day be blown away like the chaff of the threshing-floor, and the great heart of the church of God will beat true to her real champions, and clear their reputations from the tarnish of prejudice and slander.
The eccentricty of one century is the heroism of another; and what is in one age cast out as folly may be in the next revered as a wisdom which lived before its time. Well said the apostle, "With me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man's judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self."