27 March 2011

Spurgeon Lectures on "The Gorilla and the Land he Inhabits"

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 from volume 3 of Spurgeon's Autobiography. It is the account of how Spurgeon responded to some critics who had charged him with hypocrisy. Spurgeon was fairly young at this point in his ministry but was already well known for opposing the growing tendency for preachers to stupefy their congregations with a show of erudition or entertain them with pageantry, a performance, or a parade. Secular critics (and some fellow churchmen) attacked Spurgeon for lecturing on a topic deemed "secular."
    Actually, Spurgeon used the opportunity to draw spiritual lessons from the naturalist's work, and he spoke passionately of the need for missionaries in unreached parts of Africa. But critics were relentless. The caricatures below are samples of how he was lampooned in the secular press.
    The episode nevertheless shows Spurgeon's thoughtfulness, tenderness, and good humor in the face of criticism.

We are now to be entertained by Mr. Spurgeon's lecture on the gorilla, but, in after ages,—according to the development theory,—we shall doubtless have a gorilla lecturing on Mr. Spurgeon."—Extract from the speech of the Rt. Hon. A. H. Layard, M.P., at Mr. Spurgeon's lecture on "The Gorilla and the Land he Inhabits"

N October 1, 1861, Mr. Spurgeon gave, in the Tabernacle, a lecture which was destined to attract more public attention than any which he had previously delivered. It was entitled, "The Gorilla and the Land he Inhabits," and was largely concerned with the volume, then recently published, and severely criticised,—Explorations and Adventures in Equatorial Africa, by Paul B. Du Chaillu (John Murray). A. H. Layard, Esq., M.P., presided, and by his side sat M. Du Chaillu. . . .

Coming to the gorilla,—a stuffed specimen of which was on the platform,—the lecturer said:—"He is an enormous ape, which claims to approach the nearest to man of any other creature. How nearly he approaches, I leave you to judge.

True, his claim to be our first cousin is disputed, on behalf of the koolo-kamba, by several very learned men. If we should, therefore, admit you (addressing the gorilla) to be man's first cousin, we fear that the koolo-kamba might institute a suit at law to claim equal rights, and so many cousins would be far from convenient.

Besides, I have heard that, if we should admit this gentleman to be our cousin, there is Mr. Darwin, who at once is prepared to prove that our great-grandfather's grandfather's father—keep on for about a millennium or two,—was a guinea-pig, and that we were ourselves originally descended from oysters, or seaweeds, or starfishes. Now, I demur to that on my own account.

Any bearded gentleman here, who chooses to do so, may claim relationship with the oyster; and others may imagine that they are only developed gorillas; but I, for my own part, believe there is a great gulf fixed between us, so that they who would pass from us to you (again turning to the gorilla) cannot; neither can they come to us who would pass from thence. At the same time, I do not wish to hold an argument with the philosopher who thinks himself related to a gorilla; I do not care to claim the honour for myself, but anyone else is perfectly welcome to it.

"Seriously, let us see to what depths men will descend in order to cast a slur upon the Book of God. It is too hard a thing to believe that God made man in His own image; but, forsooth, it is philosophical to hold that man is made in the image of a brute, and is the offspring of 'laws of development.' O infidelity! thou art a hard master, and thy taxes on our faith are far more burdensome than those which Revelation has ever made. When we have more incredulity than superstition can employ, we may leap into infidel speculation, and find a fitting sphere for the largest powers of belief.

But who can deny that there is a likeness between this animal and our own race? . . . There is, we must confess, a wonderful resemblance,—so near that it is humiliating to us, and therefore, I hope, beneficial. But while there is such a humiliating likeness, what a difference there is! If there should ever be discovered an animal even more like man than this gorilla is; in fact, if there should be found the exact facsimile of man, but destitute of the living soul, the immortal spirit, we must still say that the distance between them is immeasurable. . . ."

At the time of the delivery of the "gorilla" lecture, M. Blondin was performing at the Crystal Palace, and some wag wrote to him a letter purporting to come from Mr. Spurgeon. He sent it on to the Pastor, who endorsed it thus,—"This was received by M. Blondin, and is a specimen of the genus "hoax',"—and then put it away for future reference. The envelope contained the following epistle:—

"Metropolitan Tabernacle,
"Oct. 5, 1861.

"M. Blondin,

"In consequence of the overflowing attendance at my Tabernacle, on Tuesday evening last, when I gave a lecture on the gorilla, it has occurred to myself, and to my brethren the Managers of the Tabernacle, that to engage your services for an evening (say, next Wednesday) for the following programme, would result in mutual benefit. You must meet me at the Tabernacle, on Tuesday next, at 12 o'clock, to confirm or to alter the proposed order of entertainment, which I flatter myself will be highly gratifying to all concerned.

"At 6 o'clock on Wednesday evening, Oct. 9th, M. Blondin to ascend from the platform in the Tabernacle, by an easy spiral ascent, five times round the interior, to one of the upper windows, opposite to 'The Elephant and Castle,' thence by an easy incline in at the first-floor window of that inn, and return the same way to the platform. The admission to be, as at the 'gorilla' lecture, 6d., 1s., and 2s. 6d.

"Yours sincerely,

"C. H. Spurgeon."

The lecturer could well afford to laugh at this clumsy attempt to hoax M. Blondin; but some of the newspaper attacks upon him, with reference to the "gorilla" and other lectures, were of such a character that they could not be reproduced here. One friend was sufficiently influenced by them to write an expostulatory letter to Mr. Spurgeon, and thus evoked the following reply:—
"October 22nd, 1861.

"My Dear Sir,

"I have been dumb under the cruel rebukes of my enemies, and the ungenerous reproofs of pretended friends. I have proved hitherto the power of silence, and although most bitterly tempted, I shall not change my custom, or venture a syllable in order to stay these mad ravings. But your brotherly note deserves one or two words of answer.
    "(1.) Have I well weighed what I have done in the matter of these lectures? Aye,—and so weighed it that neither earth nor hell can now move me from my course. I have a life-work to perform, and towards its completion, through evil report and good report, I speed my way.
    "(2.) You imagine that my aim is merely to amuse, and you then speak very properly of "stooping'. Indeed, if it were so, if I had no higher or nobler aim in view, it would be stooping with sorrowful emphasis; but, then, think you that the devil would care to roar at me? Why, surely, it would be his best policy to encourage me in forsaking my calling, and degrading my ministry!
    "(3.) 'Is the Master's eye regarding His servant with pleasure?' Yes, I solemnly feel that it is; nor am I conscious of any act, or motive,—the common infirmity of man excepted,—which could cause me to incur Divine displeasure in connection with that which is, to me, the work of my life.
    "(4.) With regard to laughter,—you and I may differ upon this matter, and neither of us be quite infallible in our judgment. To me, a smile is no sin, and a laugh no crime. The Saviour, the Man of sorrows, is our example of morality, but not of misery, for He bore our griefs that we might not bear them; and I am not John the Baptist, nor a monk, nor hermit, nor an ascetic, either in theory or practice. Unhallowed mirth I hate, but I can and do enjoy my Father's works, and the wonders of Creation, none the less, but all the more, because I am a Christian. At any rate, I hold my own views upon this point; and, during eleven years of ministry, have seen no ill effect, but very much good from my preaching, although the charge has always been laid at my door that I sometimes provoke the risible faculties.
    "(5.) Concerning 'sowing to the flesh,' I have not done so in these lectures, but have rendered honest and hearty service to my Lord, and believe that spiritual fruit has already been reaped.
    "(6.) As to the grief of friends, let them, as well as myself, be ready to bear the cross; and let them not attempt to evade reproach by weeping where no tears are needed. I have given no cause to the enemy to blaspheme, or only such blessed cause as shall be renewed with greater vigour than ever.
    "And now for my explanation;—I have, in connection with my Church, a College for young ministers, which is a work of faith as to temporals, and a labour of love on my part in the highest sense of the term. There are about 150 young men, who are getting an education with a view, in most cases, to preaching the Word in the streets, villages, and towns of this land. Their studies are such as their capacities can receive, and the ministering brethren are mainly given to the searching of the Word; while reading it in the original is the ambition of each. In the course of instruction there are lectures, delivered by myself, a regular lecturer, and other gentlemen. We have had about twenty lectures on English History. I have given lectures on Sabbath-school teaching, Preaching, Church Discipline, Ethnology, &c., &c. The Rev. George Rogers has lectured on Books and Reading, Habit and Instinct, on Ministerial Prerequisites, and on other matters. Various brethren have taken up other topics; and, having attended all the lectures, I can testify that the best spirit has pervaded all, and each lecturer has laboured, not merely to instruct, but to do spiritual good.
    "My present course is upon Natural History. For the lectures already delivered, especially the abused ones, I have had the thanks of the members passed spontaneously and unanimously; and I believe the lectures have been as acceptable to the audience as any which were ever delivered. We who have seen the wonders of wisdom in anatomy, providential adaptation, and creating perfection, have gone home praising and blessing God. We have laughed, doubtless; and we have wept, too; but, with an audience of 150 young men, and a considerable company of men and women of the working-class, what would be the use of dull, drowsy formality? Last Friday week, the 'shrews' lecture came in due course, and I thought it might be useful to give a few words as to the value of love and kindness in Christian families, for which words I have had grateful acknowledgment. We went home, and I have not heard of one of the audience who did not feel that it was an evening well and profitably spent. Many Christian people gave me a hearty shake of the hand and glowing thanks.
    "But, lo! to our utter amazement, one morning we discovered that the lecture was considered vulgar, coarse, and I know not what. The gentlemen of the press had nothing else just then to do, so they said, 'Let us abuse Spurgeon, no matter whether he deserves it or not.' Since this abuse, I have asked scores who were there if anything had been said for which one might be sorry, and all have answered. 'No, nothing was said at all deserving censure, or anything but approval.' Think you that my hearers are all so degraded as to tolerate conduct such as a lying press imputes to me? O my brother, you do ill to judge a servant of the Lord from the lips of his foes, and one, too, who has had abuse enough on former occasions without having given cause of offence, which renders it inexcusable that brethren should readily believe reports concerning him!
    "This work of my Institution is of God; lectures are a part of the necessary plan, they do good, I have a call to this work, so all this opposition is a spur to increased zeal. I would the Lord's people cared more than they do for these young preachers, for I feel sure that God the Holy Spirit will raise up from our midst many who shall do exploits in His Name. To this work am I called, and the Lord is with me in it. Void of offence towards God and man, trusting for acceptance to Him who has washed away my sin, shall I flee because my conduct is misunderstood and my words are misconstrued? Nay, verily, Jehovah-nissi! And now let hell roar, and saints themselves forsake. Time and eternity will clear the character of one who has given up even his good name to his Master, without reserve.

"Yours wearily,

"C. H. Spurgeon."

"P.S.—Get the 'gorilla' lecture; read it, and see if there be any evil in it; yet it is the least religious of them all.—C. H. S."

The vote of thanks and sympathy referred to in the above letter, together with the Pastor's grateful acknowledgment of it, are thus recorded in the Tabernacle church-book:—

"At the church-meeting, held October 14, 1861, from which the Pastor was absent through illness, the following resolution was proposed, seconded, and carried unanimously:—'That the members of this church, constantly refreshed by the gospel ministry of their beloved Pastor, and deeply obliged to him for the lectures he gives upon secular and social subjects, have noticed, with sincere regret, and heartfelt sympathy with him, the scandals heaped upon his name by the public press, and beg to express to him their most loving confidence, their strong desire to endure with him a full share of his reproach, and their full determination, by God's help, to bear him constantly on their heart in prayer.'

"Church-meeting, October 28, 1861.—Our Pastor expressed his thanks to the church for the vote of sympathy with him passed at the church-meeting on October 14, and rejoiced in the fact that all the members had remained steadfast notwithstanding the virulent attacks made upon him."


Unknown said...

As the saying goes: "you know you're on target when you start getting hit by flak." Or doesn't. Does the modern generation know what flak is?

CAPTCHA: octedehe

dinosaur_walter said...

Oh that God would raise up more Spurgeons and that the current crop of buffoons (and outright evangelical heretics) in the evangelical world be silenced. Brilliant man after God's own heart and a godly congregation to boot who supported their pastor!

ANiMaL (richard) said...

Maybe it was just too late at night when I tried to read this but I really just wanted to respond: TLDR

But that would have been a lie, since I did read it. I guess I should say: TL

Perhaps I've been enjoying the convicting component of the Spurgeon posts and I need to be open to more views of him.

John Dunn said...

Sadly, such whimsical "lectures", with an even sparser fraction of the same theological content, make up the weekly sermon content in the larger percentage of today's evanjellyfish churches.

In Russet Shadows said...

Not even four posts and someone is already commenting upon the use of humor as being a bad thing; there must be some branch of Reformed theology I've not heard of, but a central tenant seems to be the idea that when you are saved, God removes your sense of humor as well as your guilt.

Phil Johnson said...


I guess I wasn't gifted with your keen ability to find things between the lines to criticize. I totally missed where anyone said the use of humor is a bad thing.

Not that we haven't heard that a lot--especially from emerging types and their postmodern friends who can't stand to have stylish points of political correctness lampooned with even a tincture of satire.

Nevertheless, though I missed where anyone set forth or defended that position here, I join you in pouring all the scorn I can muster on whoever the humor-deprived curmudgeons were who made such a claim. We're all very grateful that you noticed when none of us even saw the miscreants come and go.

DJP said...

Were he not the modest man he is, Phil might also have mentioned this.