09 February 2009

An Interesting Morsel from an Old Magazine

by Phil Johnson

Harpers Magazine have put a massive archive of back issues on line, going back to 1850. I subscribed to the magazine just to have access to the archive. Here's an item from one of their editors, describing Charles Spurgeon just three years after he began his ministry at the Metropolitan Tabernacle:

n person, Mr. Spurgeon is short and stout; his face is large and soft, well-developed in the lower part, and with an overhanging forehead. His countenance is devoid of color, and he has a quantity of neatly-arranged black hair. His voice is penetrating and powerful, but strongly accented with an English provincial twang, and he uses a profusion of gesture and dramatic action. Lately, Mr. Spurgeon preached without any gown, and was not assisted by notes or manuscript.

Mr. Spurgeon's pulpit style is eminently theatrical. He uses his hands and arms forcibly, frequently alters his position, addressing himself now to the right hand, now to the left, and occasionally turning almost entirely round in the pulpit. In the colloquial and conversational parts of his sermon—which are of constant recurrence—he changes his voice, and gives the dialogue in varying tone and accent, to suit the circumstances of his dramatis personae. The discourse, consequently, becomes more of an oration, or of a lecture illustrated with action, than a sermon. The words arc embellished with a profusion of gestures, starts, sudden uprisings, and downward movements, which seem very remarkable to those accustomed to the gravity of demeanor which is generally presented in a Presbyterian pulpit. The introduction of two stanzas of poetry into the prayer was generally remarked as a very singular feature.

In the course of his sermon Mr. Spurgeon presented the following picture of the Day of Judgment: "I think I see the judgment seat and the resurrection-day, A mother with her children are standing there. Three or four of her little babes are saved for endless glory. Their little bodies have put on immortality and life; and where are you who have been permitted to live longer? The stars fire falling from heaven, the sun is changed to darkness, and the moon into blood. But, lo! there is silence in heaven, and a voice is heard, 'Gather my elect from the four winds of heaven! Your mother is about to be taken into the company of the blessed forever. 'Mother!' shrieks the son, 'lean not be separated from you forever, Save me! Oh, save me! make intercession to the judge for me. He will hear thy cry, though he will not hear mine!' 'My son,' she will reply, 'I directed thy feet to God when thou wast young. On my breast you lay when my prayers went up to God for your soul. I taught you to lisp the name of Jesus, and your lips to utter his precious name. Do you not remember how, when you grew older, I taught you the way to heaven? But the time came when you scorned a father's prayers and mocked a mother's tears. But now your mother says, now, my son, it is changed. I can weep no more now, for I am glorified. I can pray no more for you now, for prayers are useless here. You are justly lost. You are damned, and I must say Amen to your condemnation.'"

"Editor's Easy Chair" Harpers (December 1858, page 134).

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Rhology said...


James Scott Bell said...

Hadn't known about his "theatricality," but what a contrast it must have been, as noted, to the "gravity of demeanor" so prevalent. Must have seemed refreshing and utterly sincere (theatricality without sincerity becomes the worst sort of pose; such can be seen on numerous cable outlets).

Anonymous said...

How can we preach about the Passion of Christ [not the movie] with out passion?

Becky Schell said...

Thanks for posting this, Phil. How delightful to have an eyewitness account of what Spurgeon's preaching was like; it will bring a more animated image to my mind as I read him.

Concerning the mother's response to her son, it reminds me of a saying I have heard often, God doesn't have grandchildren.

Johnny T. Helms said...

Whoa! What a powerful sermon.That would shake up any complacent parent as well some wayward children. It certainly shook me as I read it and my children are saved.

How many of us have known parents and children like those in the sermon? It is totally relevant for the 21st century. As a pastor I have seen this scenario too many times.

Barbara said...


Stefan Ewing said...

Please correct me if I'm wrong, but in this sermon, Spurgeon doesn't appear to be implicating the mother, who along with her husband, did all she could to raise her son right. The passage appears to have been intended to convict wayward (and/or complacent, unregenerate) children.

Unknown said...

John Piper describes Harry Stout of Yale as similarly blasphemous in his description of the great George Whitefield:
I was aghast to hear him say that for all his thousands of hours preaching a mere less than 100 sermons remain extant. What a catastrophic loss to the Church, probably divine prevention of idolatry as with the loss of the Scripture's autographs and Noah's Ark and Cross and other things we's have also idolalized.

"I Will Not Be a Velvet-Mouthed Preacher!”
The Life and Ministry of George Whitefield: Living and Preaching as Though God Were Real (Because He Is)
February 3, 2009
John Piper

Anonymous said...

Meh, I've always been kind of wary of these kind of speculative stories of heaven. Seems like a bit of a contradiction between the mother and Abraham and Dives. But maybe that's just me. :)

On the other hand, it is interesting to note how much Spurgeon performed. Even imitating accents and such...cool.

Solameanie said...

The part of this that really grabbed me was indeed the response of the mother in Heaven. I have a hunch many people might have the idea of loved ones in Heaven grieving over their eternal state and getting some satisfaction out of it. But in that day, there won't be any disagreement by the redeemed with God and His judgment.

That ought to be a sobering thought to the wayward.

OAG said...

wow, that was powerful

Stephen Newell said...

Wow. Wow. WOW. Wow. Wow.

This is gold.

Dr. Paul W. Foltz said...

AMEN..... When Sinners are saved, it glorifies God's Love, Mercy and Grace; When they are damned, It glorifies God's Justice and Holiness, and Wrath.

Marie said...

I just (last night) read a Paul Washer sermon - he said essentially the same thing - why no parents will weep for their children on Judgment Day when common grace is removed. Not a pleasant thought, nor something you hear preached very often!

Anonymous said...

Sorrt Russ, I read no blasphemy there. But I did read a description of a preacher I would have loved to have heard.

He sounds as though his preaching fit his message to a 'T'.

Anonymous said...

Although, I just realized two things:

1. While parents won't weep for their children, neither will they rejoice at their damnation. As far as I know(and correct me if I'm wrong, as I'm not an expert Bible scholar) not even God delights in condemning the wicked.

2. I find it slightly disturbing that the assumption is that Parents will be there and Children will stray. I've known far more examples of the opposite.

I dunno, maybe I'm reading too much into this.

Marie said...

Joshua, I don't think it's a matter of rejoicing. In the example Washer gave, the son who had thumbed his nose at God stands before Him on Judgment Day, is stripped of the common grace God afforded him, and is seen for the vile, hideous and evil being that he is (that we all are, apart from God's grace). Heaven is rejoicing not at the damnation of the wicked, but at the justice and rightness of God's judgment - that was what I got out of it. I think Spurgeon was along the same lines here. It's on his HeartCry.com site, and is called "The Cross of Christ" (under articles). I had always wondered about that - how the saved will be able to rejoice in heaven, knowing that their loved ones are in hell. I still don't get it, but Spurgeon seems to grasp it better.

Dr. Paul W. Foltz said...

In Heaven When a sinner gets saved, it is to the glory of God's grace; when a sinner goes to hell it's to the glory of God's Justice.

Rejoicing in either case is because God is glorified.

Dr. Paul Foltz

John said...


What a vivid picture. And one that shows that Spurgeon didn't view the Proverb as a "promise," but as a premiss. ("When he is old he will not depart from it...)