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Spurgeon the Minimalist

I came across this quote HERE.

“Long visits, long stories, long essays, long exhortations, and long prayers, seldom profit those who have to do with them. Life is short. Time is short.…Moments are precious. Learn to condense, abridge, and intensify…In making a statement, lop off branches; stick to the main facts in your case. If you pray, ask for what you believe you will receive, and get through; if you speak, tell your message and hold your peace; if you write, boil down two sentences into one, and three words into two. Always when practicable avoid lengthiness — learn to be short” (Sword & Trowel, September 1871).

Using All Means and Helps Towards the Understanding of the Scriptures

If we thus ask the guidance and teaching of the Holy Spirit, it will follow, dear friends, that we shall be ready to use all means and helps towards the understanding of the Scriptures. When Philip asked the Ethiopian eunuch whether he understood the prophecy of Isaiah he replied, “How can I, unless some man should guide me?” Then Philip went up and opened to him the word of the Lord. Some, under the pretense of being taught of the Spirit of God refuse to be instructed by books or by living men. This is no honouring of the Spirit of God; it is a disrespect to him, for if he gives to some of his servants more light than to others—and it is clear he does—then they are bound to give that light to others, and to use it for the good of the church. But if the other part of the church refuse to receive that light, to what end did the Spirit of God give it? This would imply that there is a mistake somewhere in the economy of gifts and graces, which is managed by the Holy Spirit. It cannot be so. The Lord Jesus Christ pleases to give more knowledge of his word and more insight into it to some of his servants than to others, and it is ours joyfully to accept the knowledge which he gives in such ways as he chooses to give it. It would be most wicked of us to say, “We will not have the heavenly treasure which exists in earthen vessels. If God will give us the heavenly treasure out of his own hand, but not through the earthen vessel, we will have it; but we think we are too wise, too heavenly minded, too spiritual altogether to care for jewels when they are placed in earthen pots. We will not hear anybody, and we will not read anything except the book itself, neither will we accept any light, except that which comes in through a crack in our own roof. We will not see by another man’s candle, we would sooner remain in the dark.” Brethren, do not let us fall into such folly. Let the light come from God, and though a child shall bring it, we will joyfully accept it.

-Charles Spurgeon, from his sermon, How to Read the Bible

He Smoked Cigars and Drank Alcoholic Beverages

I was browsing through the church library Sunday morning and my daughter wandered in wanting to know what I was looking for. I was looking for biographies. I started pointing out some of the books I had already read, when I came across Arnold Dallimore’s biography of Charles Spurgeon. I remembered only one particular thing about that biography and I opened it up to the appropriate section and read it to my daughter. I got a few chuckles out of it, as I had when I originally read it.

Dallimore wrote approximately 178 pages of hagiography before coming to the point of levying some criticisms against Spurgeon. It’s spectacular:

This picture of Spurgeon as a man of unusual holiness is entirely true. Accordingly the statement we must now make will to many seem inconsistent. Nevertheless, it also is true, and we must make it. It is that Spurgeon both smoked cigars and drank alcoholic beverages.

When his smoking began is not known, but in Spurgeon’s time the practice was believed to be beneficial to one’s health. Robert Hall, the famous preacher of the St. Andrew’s Street Baptist Church, Cambridge, had been ordered by his physician to become a smoker, and since Spurgeon lived at Cambridge and attended that church in his teens, he was undoubtedly familiar with this event. Moreover, there were no qualms whatsoever about the practice in the minds of many ministers in the Church of England and the Church of Scotland and in the churches of France and Holland.

Of course, Spurgeon made not the slightest attempt to hide his practice. One press reporter described him as he drove to the Tabernacle each morning, and his account closed with the words ‘enjoying his morning cigar.’ While out on a jaunt with his students one morning, when several of them had lighted pipes or cigars Spurgeon said, ‘Aren’t you ashamed to be smoking so early!’ And they immediately put out their fire. Then he produced a cigar and lit it, and both he and they laughed at his little joke, but his point was that he was in no way ashamed of the practice. It must be emphasized he saw nothing wrong in his smoking and that he did it openly.

But he received a sudden shock.

In 1874, Dr. George F. Pentecost, a Baptist pastor from America, visited the Tabernacle, and Spurgeon had him sit on the platform for the evening service. Spurgeon preached strongly and plainly upon the necessity of giving up sin, in order to success in prayer, and he spoke against the seemingly unimportant little habits many Christians practice that keep them from true fellowship with God.

After concluding his sermon he asked Dr. Pentecost to speak, suggesting especially that he apply the principle he himself had declared.

It is probable Dr. Pentecost did not know that Spurgeon smoked. At any rate, he applied Spurgeon’s principle by telling of his own experience in giving up cigars. He said, ‘One thing I liked exceedingly – the best cigar that could be bought,’ yet he felt the habit was wrong in the life of a Christian and he strove to overcome it. The habit, however, proved so strong that he found himself enslaved, till after much struggling he took his cigar box before the Lord, cried desperately for help, and was given a complete victory. He told, with much praise to God, how he had been enabled to defeat the habit. Throughout his words ran the idea that smoking was not only an enslaving habit, but that the Christian must look on it as sin.

We must assume that if ever in his lifetime Spurgeon was embarrassed it was now! He arose and stated:

‘Well, dear friends, you know that some men can do to the glory of God what to other men would be a sin. And, not withstanding what brother Pentecost has said, I intend to smoke a good cigar to the glory of God before I go to bed tonight.

‘If anybody can show me in the Bible the command, “Thou shalt not smoke,” I am ready to keep it, but I haven’t found it yet. I find Ten Commandments, and it is as much as I can do to keep them; and I have no desire to make them eleven or twelve. The fact is, I have been speaking to you about real sin, and not about listening to mere quibbles and scruples…”Whatsoever is not of faith is sin,” and that is the real point of what my brother Pentecost has been saying. Why, a man may think it is a sin to have his boots blacked. Well then, let him give it up and have them whitewashed. I wish to say I am not ashamed of anything whatever that I do, and I don’t feel that smoking makes me ashamed, and therefore I mean to smoke to the glory of God.’

During a considerable portion of his life Spurgeon also used alcoholic drinks as a beverage.

In his day pure drinking water was difficult to obtain, and in order to avoid contamination most people used beer and ale at their meals. This had been human custom since time immemorial, and there can be little doubt that Spurgeon had been introduced to it as a boy in the homes of his grandfather and his father and that he had grown up accustomed to the practice. In turn, he had not long been in London when we find him using such drinks as beer, wine, and brandy, though in very moderate amounts. And this practice, like that of smoking, he did not in any way attempt to deny or hide.

In these two practices we see that Spurgeon was very human – a man of his times. Moreover, he was not alone in the indulgence. For instance, though John Wesley totally opposed the drinking of tea, hence the term ‘tee-totaler,’ he was something of an authority on the taste of ale. Charles Wesley also indulged, and the picture seems rather incongruous when we see the grand old Methodist warrior during the last years of his life listing his expenditures for drinks for the guests attending his son’s musical concerts. Whitefield’s practice was similar; we find him writing, ‘Give my thanks to that friendly brewer for the keg of rum he sent us.’

I reported these matters regarding Spurgeon with much reluctance. They seemed sadly regrettable in the life of so righteous a man, yet in the name of either Christian honesty or scholarly accuracy they could not be omitted.

-Arnold Dallimore, Spurgeon: A New Biography (Banner of Truth, 1985), pp. 179-183

Make Your Soul a Library of Christ

Someone told me an interesting story the other day that goes like this: Someone came into my place of work distressed (I was not present at the time). The man was noticeably crying. He asked a clerk if she had a Bible. He said he was in desperate need of one at the moment. She happened to have a Gideon New Testament, with Psalms and Proverbs (I don’t call them Bibles) tucked away in her desk, and so she gave it to him.

Fast forward a few hours to that evening as I am reading Thomas Watson’s book, The Bible and the Closet. Watson observes that some people only want to read the Bible when they are sad and in need of encouragement. He writes,

…When they are sad, they bring forth the Scripture as their harp to drive away the evil spirit…

The lesson is simple: the music needs to be playing all the time. He mentions the phrase of Jerome concerning Cecilia, that she “had by much reading of the Word, made her heart the Library of Christ…” He continues,

Were the Scriptures confined to the original tongues, many would plead excuse for not reading; but when the sword of the Spirit is unsheathed, and the Word is made plain to us by being translated, what should hinder us from a diligent search into these holy mysteries?

Feast on the Scriptures now before the famine comes. Let your mind be formed through much reading of the Scripture that it may be the Library of Christ. Be determined, as Spurgeon says, to ‘bleed Bibline’:

I would quote John Bunyan as an instance of what I mean. Read anything of his, and you will see that it is almost like the reading the Bible itself. He had read it till his very soul was saturated with Scripture; and, though his writings are charmingly full of poetry, yet he cannot give us his Pilgrim’s Progress—that sweetest of all prose poems — without continually making us feel and say, “Why, this man is a living Bible!” Prick him anywhere—his blood is Bibline, the very essence of the Bible flows from him. He cannot speak without quoting a text, for his very soul is full of the Word of God. I commend his example to you, beloved.

The Viral Truth of God: Omnipotence Has Servants Everywhere

I have been on a Spurgeon kick lately. I’ve read three of his sermons on the ‘wise men’ of Matthew 2 in the past week, and I want to record a few of the memorable quotes. Here is the first. Spurgeon wants us to get ‘light from the star’ over Bethlehem. One ray of light is this:

Only here is a first lesson: if it should ever be that men should fail to preach the gospel, God can conduct souls to his Son by a star. Ah! say not only by a star, but by a stone, a bird, a blade of grass, a drop of dew.

‘Remember that Omnipotence / Has servants everywhere.’

Therefore, despond not when you hear that one minister has ceased to preach the gospel, or that another is fighting against the viral truth of God. Their apostasy shall be to their own loss rather than to the hurt of Jesus and his church; and, sad though it be to see the lamps of the sanctuary put out, yet God is not dependent upon human lights…

-Charles H. Spurgeon, The Star and the Wise Men

Viral truth; what a concept. Many things are going viral today, how about truth? But we take heart in this: when preachers fail, God’s camp remains very great. As Spurgeon says, ‘remember that Omnipotence has servants everywhere.’ He will gather his people with us or without us. It is our privilege, like the star, to serve as light.