28 February 2012

Spurgeon and the tantalizing hope of Biblical blogging

by Dan Phillips

I am almost done re-listening to the audio-book of Spurgeon's autobiography (see here and here). Here is a bit that just leapt out at me as worth sharing with you, with reflection:
In one case, a portion of one of the Australian papers was blessed to the salvation of a reader under the singular circumstances thus related:—

“I was preaching,” says the writer of the narrative, “in the Baptist Chapel, Aberdeen Street, Geelong, a few years ago, when, at the close of an evening service, an elderly man came to the platform to bid me ‘good-night.’ As he was a stranger, I asked him where he came from, and how long he had known the Lord; he then told me the story of his conversion, and the strange way by which he was led to the Saviour. About five years before, while keeping sheep some miles beyond Ballarat, he picked up a sheet of a weekly newspaper, which the wind had blown over the plains. He glanced at a few sentences, and these drew him on to read more, and then he found he was eagerly perusing a sermon by Mr. C. H. Spurgeon. ‘If I had known it was a sermon,’ he said, ‘before I had begun to read it, I should have tossed it away;’ but having commenced the discourse, he wanted to see how it finished. It set him thinking; he carefully preserved it, reading it over and over again in deep concern, until finally it became the means of leading him to the cross. For many years he had not entered a place of worship, and he was utterly careless about his soul till this paper was blown to his feet. Now, when he has the opportunity, he always attends some Baptist service; but this is a rare pleasure, owing to his lonely life and employment in the bush. He does, however, get the weekly sermons, which cheer and comfort him with spiritual nourishment.”

[Spurgeon, C. H. (2009). C. H. Spurgeon's Autobiography, Compiled from his diary, letters, and records, by his wife and his private secretary: Volume 3, 1856-1878 (327). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.]
This is the tantalizing promise of blogging. I have often reflected that only eternity will tell what comes of these posts. These posts go places I will never visit. My blog gets maybe 1000 visits a day, up and down; this blog gets 3000-5000, up or (seldom) down. I look on a map of visitors to my blog, and they are from all over the globe, including countries effectively closed to evangelism.

Who are those people? What brought them? What did they read? What effect did it have?

Emails and metas give only some little glimpse. Here's one who wrote me on the verge of suicide; here's one who's an unbeliever, but listening; here's one in marital straits, in a troubled church, in no church at all...

This is why it's worth it. I thought it was worth it some seven years ago, when I had a bare trickle to my blog. I still think it. I am certain that Paul would use it, or would assign someone to it. Spurgeon likely would have as well, judging by his profligate use of every means at his disposal.

So take heart, be sobered and encouraged. You only have 100 a day? 50? 10?

Those are 10, 50, 100 people you (nor anyone else) might never have talked to by any other means.

Sow profligately and well, that we might reap profligately and well; and sow in hope (Eccl. 11:1, 6; Matt. 13:1-9, 18-23)

Dan Phillips's signature


Unknown said...

I think your assessment of blogging is highly optimistic. Don't get me wrong -- I appreciate what you're doing -- but just think about how many Christian books are published. Lots of people read the "book du jour" being touted by the ministerial talking heads, but how many of those go on to be considered classic texts? I'm reading books now that were all the buzz several years ago, but nowadays if I mention them people frequently act as though they never heard of it. They've come and gone.

I think blogs are the same way, only on a faster time scale: Interesting to read, but most of them are kitsch that gets forgotten in a few days (at best, a few months). Some posts can be extremely helpful, which is why most people blog, but those posts are very rare.

I don't know that this is necessarily a bad thing -- I know I follow several blogs and I can be encouraged by them, even if I don't return to them like I do other classics. But even after all these years I'm at best ambivalent about whether the Internet is helpful for spiritual growth. There's good, but there's also bad -- even on this blog some of the posts can be unhelpful, particularly when the tone toward unbelievers or "non-reformed types" becomes mocking or derogatory.

DJP said...

First, I have to note the humor of having a commenter named "Unknown" disagreeing with my proposal that posts have an impact on unknown readers.

Second, you could say the same for conversations, couldn't you? Is that a reason to give up on conversations? Because maybe 1 in 100, or 1 in 1000, or 1 in 10000 conversations is actually completely transformative. So it's been in my life, anyway.

I see blogging as one way to start a potential conversation with untold masses. For a shy guy, that's something, anyway.

Anonymous said...


Your posts (and books) have been a great encouragement to me, and, although you've no doubt forgotten them, the one or two e-mails we've exchanged have helped as well.

Thank you for blogging in hope!

I spoke with a young JW at my door yesterday, about his lack of assurance for salvation. About how attempting to live as he ought and hoping he would repent often enough, was not cutting it.

I spoke to him in hope, hoping that some day he would consider what I said and begin to search for the assurance I have and the he needs.

Not blogging, but still, speaking in hope, knowing that, should it bear fruit, I'm unlikely to see it.

Keep on. There's a lot of fruit out there that you'll never see.

Not until glory at least.

Kerry James Allen said...

"You shall have a harvest, whatever you are doing. I trust you are all doing something. If I cannot mention what your peculiar engagement is, I trust you are all serving God in some way; and you shall assuredly have a harvest wherever you are scattering your seed. But suppose the worst,--if you should never live to see the harvest in this world, you shall have a harvest when you get to heaven. If you live and die a disappointed man in this world, you shall not be disappointed in the next." Charles H. Spurgeon

Larry said...

If salvation belongs to God and it does, if Christ died for those the Father has given Him and He does, if salvation is by the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit and it is, if God uses someone's words and He does, amen to your blog and praise God that you continue. Larry (not unknown by God)

Cathy said...

Dan- your post reminds me of the story of the man throwing seashells back into the ocean after thousands of them had washed up on shore. Then someone comes up to him and says, "Why bother. You can't possibly make a significant difference." In response, the man picks up a seashell, throws it in the ocean and says, "I just made a difference to that one."
Won't it be glorious in heaven one day to hear about the ways God used a word here, a blog there to accomplish His purposes. And to see how He uses what we might consider insignificant things to make significant differences.

On a personal note- your blogs helped me face the mysticism lite that was holding me captive- and helped me experience true freedom as a Christian. God could have used other means- but He didn't- He used your writing. So thank you for loving the Body of Christ
enough to write to us nameless faceless people out here.

DJP said...

That's precious, Cathy. Thanks, and praise God.

Cathy said...

It's starfish, not seashells- that definitely makes a difference in the story :-)
Need more caffeine...

Kerry James Allen said...

"Highly optimistic?" Isn't that what hope is? Do we do anything for the glory of God that isn't motivated by hope? "For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope..." Romans 8:24. What will anybody do who is living in doubt? It paralyzes action and was condemned by Christ. Keep on keeping on, Dan, and the rest of us are hoping our labors will see souls saved, believers edified, and God glorified along with you. "Hope as much as ever a man can hope; for when your hope is in God you cannot hope too much." CHS

Gabby said...

I read once of a Chinese man who was imprisoned in China during the revolution. He had come to the end, but before killing himself, in great distress and peril, he called out to God and asked Him to make himself known. That same day, as he was scrubbing the grimy prison toilets, he came upon a piece of paper that was literally covered in things best not spoken of. As he picked it up, to dispose of it, he saw it was the page out of a Bible, and he was compelled to rinse it, wash it off. Lo and behold, it was the first chapter of Romans and that soiled and torn page directed him to a saving knowledge of our Lord and Savior. His despair was turned inside out to hope, and light filled the darkness of his soul as the Lord God made Himself known to that insignificant Chinese prisoner.

This Australian sheep herder's story is the same story, the story of a God Who will indeed send His Son to save those which are lost and Who will not forget that poor lost sheep until he is safely home with His Master.

Sermons blowing in the wind over a vast prairie, a dung-covered page of a Bible in a prison latreen, or a blog that providentially comes the way of some lost soul in desperate need of the gospel - They all come by God's hands at just the right moment in someone's life. All proof that the Word will run swiftly and be glorified in various and sundry ways - all moved along by God's sovereign hand.

Unknown said...

"First, I have to note the humor of having a commenter named "Unknown" disagreeing with my proposal that posts have an impact on unknown readers."

See, Dan, that's exactly what I mean. Is it okay to laugh at a commenter because he or she chooses to remain anonymous? To be honest, I'm not sure why my blogger account lists unknown; I use it very infrequently, but it currently lists Nick F. as my identity. But, lest there be any doubt about my identity, my name's Nick Fitzkee, and you can easily look me up online if you so choose.

More to the point, I agree with your statement about conversations, and after all, I read the posts here. And I'm not saying that anyone should give up blogging any more than they should give up conversations. But just as I don't want to have an overinflated view of my conversations, I don't want to think too highly of the things I write, online or anywhere else. I think it would be easy to misread that in your original post, and I'm very skeptical of any parallel that is drawn between blogging and preaching.

Allison Gray said...

I too, have the same hope Dan. I have a blog of my own, but have only made few posts on it. (I have struggled with having truth not balanced with enough grace, so I am hoping to rectify this before I begin blogging on a regular basis). There has only ever been one comment left on my blog - to my incredible surprise it came from a Mormon friend who was greatly encouraged by the posts I was making. Has she accepted Christ yet? No. But am I hopeful that God may use what I've written to draw her heart to His one day? Absolutley!
On another note, you have also been used by God to save me from blackaby-type teachings from my former charismatic days, and for this I am forever grateful. I was terrified when every nudge, whim, and thought was possibly God talking to me, and trying to figure where each hunch was coming left me paralyzed with fear. The truth is I can simply rest in the knowledge that God is in total control and is leading me right where He wants me. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Gabby said...

For the record, Cathy's post is the proof of Dan's point. What is it you guys say? NEXT!

DJP said...

Nick, I'm sorry it came across as cutting. I didn't mean it that way. I just thought it's funny: I say "Who knows what unknown people we reach," and here comes Unknown to say "Maybe not!"

Thanks, Allison; praise God.

Darlene said...

That wind carrying the newspaper and its subsequent events reminds me of that time long ago in which I stumbled upon a copy of The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis, at a yard sale. I hadn't planned on going there, yet Someone Else had.

Having been raised in an atheistic/agnostic home, religious books and Bibles were forbidden to be read and/or discussed. Oddly, there was a Bible hidden away in a closet deep within the bottom of a box that I had discovered at one point. I read a few portions of it in secret, but my attempts were feeble. Even more feeble was my understanding. Whatever the Bible was, I surmised, it wasn't something that could be easily understood.

However, stumbling across that copy of Kempis' writing, I just couldn't resist purchasing it. Having recently moved away from home, I had the liberty to read this book without the threat of my mother's rebukes. I couldn't put it down. I longed for the same attitude and life of which Kempis spoke. A deep desire for God was planted within me while reading The Imitation of Christ. Yet, the prescriptions therein I could not keep. I was unenlightened in regards to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

It was Kempis' writing that spurred me on a quest toward God - to inquire of Him if He existed, and if so, to reveal Himself to me. God uses various means to draw humanity to Himself, and we will never know all those means and ways until it is revealed in His Kingdom - in the age to come.

Mike Westfall said...

Dan's (and the other Pyromaniac's) posts are much, much more impactful than the typical "book du jour" being sold at the local "christian" book store.

(An unrelated complaint: The CAPTCHA verification has become extremely difficult to please. I wonder how manty posts don't show up here because of potential commenters giving up trying to get past it....?)

Spike said...

The general conversation across the web- blogs, twitter, youtube, network sites, has become an indispensable tool in helping groups of Christians, be it Reformed or others, stay connected, and leadership stay accountable to each other, the church at large, the bible, and the gospel.

About 5 years ago, I was having a horrible time trying to figure out what was wrong with the church I was attending. Great worship, bible preaching, etc., but no one "new" that came would stay, which was particularly annoying to me, since I actively was inviting people that I knew needed Christ to come, and they would, and after a few weeks would stop coming. It wasn't until I connected on the web with blogs such as yours, and other gospel proclaiming christians, that I realized I was attending the most moralistic, legalistic, works centered church in the solar system. We were literally beating up the unsaved. It's amazing how when caught up in it, you don't see it. (And I've always considered myself gospel centered and reformed. Talk about being in denial...)

So you and others, keep blogging away. Your service to the church is immeasurable.

DJP said...

Just so I could, as the saying goes, "feel your pain," I logged out and tried it. It wasn't as bad as I've run into elsewhere. If I don't get one, I just enter LFKSJD and repeat until there's one I can read.

I think our only options are

1. Turn it off (not gonna happen).
2. Moderated comments.
3. Go to Wordpress or somewhere.

Ken Hughes said...

"The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” John 3:8

threegirldad said...

People can also "complain" to Blogger by clicking the "?" icon to the right of the input box, and then the "Contact us" link in the lower left of the pop-up window. Perhaps if enough do...

threegirldad said...

I'm beginning to wonder if the "Preview" function is broken somehow. I just made ten consecutive attempts to preview my previous comment, and was told each time that what I had typed didn't match the reCAPTCHA phrase. Then I chose "Publish" instead, and it posted without a hitch.

chiefleast said...

A definite post of encouragement to me. I love to share through writing and a consistent trickle of only 10 or so readers can easily be taken for granted. As you said you never know; what we plant today and leave may grow to a mighty tree with fruit everlasting.

I don't think blogging was being equated to sermons by Dan. It is simple enough to know God can use any means written, spoken or otherwise to bless others. What of preachers who practically blog their sermon manuscripts? Thank God for ministries like Johnny Mac and John Piper!

DJP said...

IIRC there's a fun section in Green's Evangelism in the Early Church where he goes over all the verbs associated with communicating the Gospel in Acts - preaching, telling, gossiping, arguing, explaining, debating, etc.

Michael R. Jones said...


Thanks for this post. It's encouraging and insightful.

Also, its become a topic of conversation in some corners of the web that the OpenID feature in Blogger does not work the overwhelming majority of the time, especially if you are logging in with a WordPress account. You should be able to allow posts with a name and URL if you choose. I haven't used Blogger for along time except for making comments so I don't know for sure.

DebbieLynne said...

I'm encouraged as well. My blog has a small regular following, but I get several hits from Slovenia. Why, I don't know--but hey, they're reading about the Lord! So I'm happy.

Tom Chantry said...

Any of you who think that Dan wrote to brag about the usefulness of his blogging, you rather egregiously misread the post.

So take heart, be sobered and encouraged. You only have 100 a day? 50? 10?

Those are 10, 50, 100 people you (nor anyone else) might never have talked to by any other means.

Just for point of reference, as of this comment TeamPyro has had 1,743 visits and 2,581 page reads - today.

Dan's not talking about himself here, he's talking about the rest of us. As I read the post, he's saying, "Don't stop proclaiming the truth because the numbers are low; it is God who makes the plant to grow." And that is as true in the blogosphere as it is in the church.

DJP said...

Exactly right, Tom. Thank you; it didn't even occur to me that someone would read it another way. Sorry if anyone did, thanks for your clarification.

JG said...

I can say without a doubt in the year or so (maybe longer, I can't remember) I've been following (okay, mostly lurking) here, I've been spurred on to new insight and personal Bible study as well as challenged to be salt and light in my own little corner of the blog world. Thanks for yet again another encouragement. It was very timely for me, at least.

Lynda O said...

That's a great story and encouraging. Thanks for sharing, Dan. Spurgeon told some wonderful accounts of how God worked through unusual circumstances and providence to get people's attention. It's also great to know that throughout eternity we'll be sharing and proclaiming the mighty ways God worked in the little details of our lives to bring us to salvation.

Fish For Christ said...

The winds of this blog and researching Spurgeon brought me to Reformed Theology. I can remember the day when I discovered the blog and God began to open my eyes. This site was the front door to my deeper walk with Christ. Hope this encourages you!

Darlene said...

Who are those people?

Sometimes they're folks like me who are not Reformed.

What brought them?

I don't recall how I got connected to this blog, but when I discovered it was from a Reformed perspective, I decided to browse a bit. Then I commented, hoping no one would bite my head off, so to speak. :-)

More precisely I came to become more acquainted with the Reformed mindset, as it relates to an understanding of Christ as well as how one is to live out their faith in this world. I thought perhaps I could then better relate to my Calvinist friends.

What did they read?

I try to keep up regularly with the Pyro blog, so I've read pretty much everything that's been written this year so far.

What effect did it have?

Unlike some others, I haven't been persuaded to the Reformed way of thinking, neither in my soteriology or ecclesiology. However, I think that I'm slowly beginning to understand the Reformed ethos, those beliefs that are shared among you, which should help in relating better to my dear friends.

Sonja said...

Cathy & Gabby FTW. No one living has a clue what God will do with a word that is dropped, spoken or written. All I know is how much the Pyros have opened my eyes even though it took a long time in one case I was struggling with. I chose to be deceived and while others told me just that, I ignored it. Finally, finally the Pyros' archives connected. An Isaiah 53:1 moment. I'm very grateful for bloggers, and not just the Pyros. In a way, blogs are indeed sermons. And many times much more valuable in piercing the heart than a spoken word.

As an aside, I wonder if our beloved dead teachers in heaven know when someone uses their words, stumbled up from the interwebs as the vessel to show them Christ, long after they're gone. I hope so. And not just our beloved dead teachers, some notes from an old family Bible that some kid looks at and reads the notes when no one else in the family cares.

Tim Bushong said...

Dan, your post reminds me of how James White views his ministry in the debate format- it's not necessarily to change the mind of one's debate partner, but to change the minds of those who are listening to the debate.

Dan McGhee said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dan McGhee said...

t is amazing what can be accomplished by people who are angry, sitting in their basements, in their underwear, and eating cheetos... Spurgeon would have never dreamed it could be so:)

DJP said...

Omigosh, it's like you have X-ray vision or something.

Dave Sherrill said...

Thank you for a good word of encouragement. Ministry is ministry in the hands of the Lord. He calls us to glorify Him. That's what you do here and that's what this specific post is encouraging in a broader audience.

A thought for the sceptics of small ministries... the glory of God is infinite, so why do you bother glorifying Him. It's not going to make any real difference, is it? Ah, but worship is the language of your soul when confronted with the infinite glory of God. Likewise, the small ministry blogger speaks from the heart of the glory of God for the benefit of like precious souls.

Thank you for your post, blog, and books.

The Bible Christian said...

I have often wondered if what I post is having any effect on people or are they getting the gospel thats being proclaim or is His word effective, as you know it is, if I believe He is sovereign which I do and His word is living and active, which it is. So I just procliam it and let it accomplish His purpose.

Regarding hits on my blog, I suspect if I commented more I would get more traffic, I just don't have the time, I am amazed how much time commentors spend commenting. I ok with being small and knowing God will accomplish His desire with the truth I put out.

Thanks for this post, I truly hope I'm making a difference.

Beth Ritter-Perry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
DJP said...

For any who wonder, I took the lady in the latter picture to be a farmer's wife; that's how the picture struck me. It was meant to go with the farming imagery in the post.

Jeremiah Greenwell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jeremiah Greenwell said...

As John Piper likes to say:

"Books don't change people. Paragraphs don't change people. Sentences change people."

That is in the power of the Holy Spirit of course. I think that's at least one preacher would definitely agree with this post.