27 May 2007

In Memoriam

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
posted by Phil Johnson

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive.

The following excerpt is taken from the fast-day service held at the Crystal Palace on October 7, 1857, after the
"Indian Mutiny," (or "First War of Independence,"
depending on one's perspective). The rebellion resulted in large-scale losses for the British army and began the process that ended the Raj.

England's official response to the catastrophe was to declare "a Solemn Fast, Humiliation, and Prayer before Almighty God: in order to obtain Pardon of our Sins, and for imploring His Blessing and Assistance on our Arms for the Restoration of Tranquillity in India."

Spurgeon was asked to preach at a public commemoration, held at the massive Crystal Palace. That solemn occasion drew more than 20,000 Victorians. It was the largest single audience Spurgeon ever addressed. The excerpt below is his prayer just before the sermon. It contrasts starkly with the tone and flavor of most of today's Memorial Day celebrations, and contains some lessons for us.

On the one hand, Britain's response to a national disaster like this—with public expressions of repentance, a plea for forgiveness, and a call for a national fast—is the kind of thing that was fairly common in the Puritan era, less common in Victorian times, but almost totally unheard of today. That is to our shame.

On the other hand, Spurgeon's belief that God Himself was on Britain's side was certainly not a safe assumption. Spurgeon probably underestimated the speed with which modernism, rationalism, and secularism were beginning to dominate Victorian society.

And yet that society, spiritually disintegrating though it was, was not yet so degenerate as to flinch from a call to public repentance. The remorseless and stiff-necked attitude of our culture makes a frightening contrast.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of Spurgeon's Crystal Palace message, and this seemed a fitting entry for Memorial Day weekend. Selah.

UR Father, which art in heaven," we will be brief, but we will be earnest if Thou wilt help us. We have a case to spread before Thee this day. We will tell out our story, and we will pray that Thou wouldst forgive the weakness of the words in which it shall be delivered, and hear us, for Jesus' sake.

O Father, Thou hast smitten this our land, not in itself, but in one of its dependencies. Thou hast allowed a mutinous spirit to break out in our armies, and Thou hast suffered men who know not Thee, who fear neither God nor man, to do deeds for which earth may well blush, and for which we, as men, desire to cover our faces before Thee. O Lord God, Thou couldst not bear the sin of Sodom; we are sure Thou canst not endure the sin which has been committed in India. Thou didst rain hell out of heaven upon the cities of the plain. The cities of Inde are not less vile than they, for they have committed lust and cruelty, and have much sinned against the Lord. Remember this, O God of Heaven.

But, O Lord our God, we are not here to be the accusers of our fellow-man; we are here to pray that Thou wouldst remove the scourge which this great wickedness has brought upon us. Look down from heaven, O God, and behold this day the slaughtered thousands of our countrymen. Behold the wives, the daughters of Britain, violated, defiled! Behold her sons, cut in pieces and tormented in a manner which earth hath not beheld before. O God, free us, we beseech Thee, from this awful scourge! Give strength to our soldiers to execute upon the criminals the sentence which justice dictates; and then, by Thy strong arm, and by Thy terrible might, do Thou prevent a repetition of so fearful an outrage.

We pray Thee, remember this day the widow and the fatherless children; think Thou of those who are this day distressed even to the uttermost. Guide the hearts of this great multitude, that they may liberally give and this day bestow of their substance to their poor destitute brethren. Remember especially our soldiers, now fighting in that land. God shield them! Be Thou a covert from the heat! Wilt Thou be pleased to mitigate all the rigours of the climate for them! Lead them on to battle; cheer their hearts; bid them remember that they are not warriors merely, but executioners; and may they go with steady tramp to the battle, believing that God wills it that they should utterly destroy the enemy, who have not only defied Britain, but thus defiled themselves amongst men.

But, O Lord, it is ours this day to humble ourselves before Thee. We are a sinful nation; we confess the sins of our governors and our own particular iniquities. For all our rebellions and transgressions, O God have mercy upon us! We plead the blood of Jesus. Help every one of us to repent of sin, to fly to Christ for refuge and grant that each one of us may thus hide ourselves in the rock, till the calamity be overpass, knowing that God will not desert them that put their trust in Jesus. Thy servant is overwhelmed this day; his heart is melted like wax in the midst of him; he knoweth not how to pray.

Yet Lord, if Thou canst hear a groaning heart which cannot utter itself in words, thou hearest his strong impassioned cry, in which the people join. Lord save us! Lord arise and bless us; and let the might of Thine arm and the majesty of Thy strength be now revealed in the midst of this land, and throughout those countries which are in our dominion God save the Queen! A thousand blessings on her much-loved head! God preserve our country! May every movement that promotes liberty and progress be accelerated, and may everything be done in our midst, which can shield us from the discontent of the masses, and can protect the masses from the oppression of the few.

Bless England, O our God. "Shine, mighty God, on Britain shine;" and make her still glorious Britain, "beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth." Lord accept our confessions; hear our prayers, and answer us by Thy Holy Spirit! Help Thy servant to preach to us; and all the glory shall be unto Thee, O Father, to Thee, O Son, and Thee, O Holy Spirit; world without end. Amen and Amen.

C. H. Spurgeon


Doug McMasters said...

Quite a sermon. (Phil, as a sidenote. I recently won on ebay the original page from the London Illustrated News that carried the drawing of Spurgeon preaching that sermon.)

Andrew Jones said...

i wonder if that was the inspiration for the song "Shine Jesus Shine"?

the postmortem said...

While I still have an immense amount of respect for Spurgeon, it bothers me that he spoke on behalf of England in this matter. The core assumption of this fast/repentance was that God was generally on England's side in their imperialism. I believe pastors such as Spurgeon ought to have a certain Biblical objectivity in matters of nationalism such as this. England had just as much "right" to conquer other countries as any other nation did...none. In essence: good soteriology + bad eschatology = marginalized ecclesiology.


Strong Tower said...

How myopic and ego-attached we can get. Recently Floridians passed a resolution calling on God to spare them of hurricanes. And this at a time when Georgia and Northern Florida are being devastated by extreme draught and fires. Now a good soaking would be fine, but what if God wishing to show his mercy on Georgia and NF sends a devastating hurricane to central Florida. The point being, that the righteous man perishes and no one takes it to heart. Sometimes good people have to suffer. For what ever reason God has seen that that is the best good thing that can happen.

"he knoweth not how to pray."

This then is the right answer that Spurgeon gave. Embedded in this sermon, perhaps, the voice of God. Spurgeon did not know, nor could forsee, unless God told him, what the 2oth century would hold for Brittain and the rest of the world.

I was reminded as I read the post of a line from A Knights Tale. It went something like this. One at a table of French men said something about the Pope and the response was, "Well the Pope might be French, but Jesus Christ is English."

How do we get this way? The sense of "manifest destiny?" When God addressed the Israelites he said it was not because they were great, they were infact the least, and it was not because they were anyless sinful, for he said that they were just as obstinate and stiffnecked as all the nations all around. He said it was for his glory.

Abraham, Hebrews says and the household of faith were commended because they lived as strangers here looking, not for an earthly kingdom, but "confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth...And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better, that is a heavely country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them."

Jesus said the same thing, "My kingdom is not of this world..."

How easy it is to forget, that if we cling to the things of this world our hearts will be divided. I love the United States, but I must admit that I would rather see it destroyed than have the love for it comsume my love of my Lord.

Whether it is a great preacher like Spurgeon, or power politicos like Falwell, Christians are subject to the cares of this world that can choke the Word and make it unfruitful. The great works that so many have done disappear behind the great waves of history. So we better have our eye fixed on that distant shore, if we ever hope to get home safely.

Jay said...

Frankly this is the worst piece of Spurgeon that I've ever read. He was, in this matter, totally off course.

Matthew Celestine said...

David, you should bear in mind that India was not a country before British rule, but a mass of territories that had been acquired by the British by various means. While there were many injustices perpetrated and an ideology of racism was frequently applied, British rule brought many benefits to India.

God Bless


the postmortem said...

I still think large people groups would more often do without technological innovation or large-scale development of infrastructure if either came with an asterisk linking to some fine print explaining "These benefits come at the cost of being colonized by England".

Perhaps that's the reason these people tried to take back their land. In fact, the main two differences between those "rebels" and our founding fathers are 1) We were originally bound to England and broke that tie whereas India wasn't and 2) We won.

Makes me wonder what a conversation between Spurgeon and Ghandi would've been like.


Matthew Celestine said...

David, what do you think was so bad about British rule in India?

the postmortem said...

I can only imagine what it was that made these people revolt...subjugation of their people? The stigma of being conquered? The desire for self-rule? Possibly the repudiation of Western ideals?

At any rate...they were willing to lose their lives to drive England out. I'm sure they had plenty of compaints.


Anonymous said...

"David, what do you think was so bad about British rule in India?"

To be fair, I'd expect you to hold the same view of the British rule of America. Seems kind of difficult to expect others to behave differently than us. After all, we're celebrating our revolution in a month or so.