Rudyard Kipling on deck, notices a large crowd on the quay About to sail from New Zealand to Australia, at the port of Invercargill, Rudyard Kipling, the famous author of The Jungle Book, Just So Stories etc, was surprised to see a large crowd bidding farewell to what must have been a VIP or celebrity.
He writes, ‘General Booth of the Salvation Army came on board. I saw him walking backwards in the dusk over the uneven wharf, his cloak blown upwards, tulip-fashion, over his grey head, while he beat a tambourine in the face of the singing, weeping, praying crowd who had come to see him off.’
Rough seas and a sick General ‘We stood out, and at once took the South Pacific. For the better part of a week we were swept from end to end, our poop was split, and a foot of two of water smashed through the tiny saloon. I remember no set meals. The General’s cabin was near mine, and in the intervals between crashes overhead and cataracts down below he sounded like a wounded elephant; for he was in every way a big man.’
How do you tell a woman you can see up her skirt while you’re preaching? ‘I saw no more of him till I had picked up my P&O [ship] which also happened to be his, for Colombo at Adelaide. Here all the world came out in paddle-boats and small craft to speed him on his road to India.
He spoke to them from our upper deck, and one of his gestures – an imperative, repeated, downward sweep of the arm – puzzled me, till I saw that a woman crouching on the paddle-box of a crowded boat had rucked her petticoats well up to her knees. In those days righteous woman ended at the neck and instep. Presently, she saw what was troubling the General. Her skirts were adjusted and all was peace and piety.’
Kipling tries to correct Booth on a number of issues ‘I talked much with General Booth during that voyage. Like the young ass I was, I expressed my distaste at his appearance on the Invercargill wharf. ‘Young feller,’ he replied, bending great brows at me, ‘if I thought I could win one more soul to the Lord by walking on my head and playing the tambourine with my toes, I’d – I’d learn how.’
He had the right of it (‘if by any means I can save some’) and I had decency enough to apologize. He told me about the beginnings of his mission, and how…his work must be a one-man despotism with only the Lord for supervisor.
‘Then why,’ I asked, ‘can’t you stop your Salvation lasses from going out to India and living alone native-fashion among natives?’ I told him something of village conditions in India. The despot’s defence was very human. ‘But what am I to do?’ he demanded. ‘The girls will go, and one can’t stop ‘em.’
‘Young feller! How’s your soul?’
‘I conceived great respect and admiration for this man with the head of Isaiah … but rather at sea among women. The next time I met him was at Oxford when Degrees were being conferred. He strode across to me in his Doctor’s robes, which magnificently became him, and, ‘Young feller,’ said he, ‘how’s your soul?’ I have always liked the Salvation Army…’ 
For more on Booth and the Salvation Army click here
 Rudyard Kipling, Something of Myself p.78f (first published 1937 by Macmillan. Quotes from Penguin Classics edition 1977)
Following the bold examples of Andrew Wilson and John Hosier (reposted by Nigel Ring), here’s my crazy ‘COVID year’s reading list’. When I saw Andrew’s list at the end of 2019 I realised I’d never kept track of my own reading year by year. I knew I read a fair deal but I was surprised. But then, this was 2020.
The Apology I’m not a fast reader. I can’t skim read. But without exception I read every night (in bed) and usually for an extended period of time. I hadn’t realised I was covering so much ground. My work also involves reading (or should do), so I also read during the day, though not usually as much as this year. It was thirty-five years ago the great Welsh pastor and Newfrontiers veteran Ben Davies strongly exhorted me as a young minister (‘strong exhortation’ was his forte) to ‘use your half-hours wisely’. I’ve tried to do that this year too.
The Further Apology Another thing: a couple of years ago I signed up to Audible and have thoroughly enjoyed listening as well as reading. It is a different kind of discipline and requires concentration but you’d be surprised how much you can listen to while doing mundane things. I used to be legalistic about finishing every book I started but I have finally begun to abandon books I don’t connect with (although I definitely read some not-very-good books this year, as you’ll see).
The Final Apology You have more time than you realise. Disengaging from TV/phone/computer and getting into the delight of reading good books is good for you. And fun. Good reading will help you connect with more people and at a greater depth than you perhaps thought you could. CS Lewis, one of the most well-read people in history, compared reading well to a person who has travelled widely, and can then spot the weaknesses or peculiarities of his own village. We benefit by reading more. The books I’ve marked as ‘Excellent’ are warmly recommended. And I’ve suggested categories.
Old Christian books, or books about old Christian books. An introduction to the Greek New Testament – Dirk Jongkind (Excellent) Can We Trust the Gospels? – Peter J Williams (Excellent)
The Early Christians – Ed. Eberhard Arnold (more boring than I expected)
How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind – Thomas C Oden (Excellent)
On the Incarnation – Athanasius (Excellent)
Confessions – Augustine (the description of his conversion was superb)
Know the Creeds and Councils – Justin S Holcomb (felt like homework)
The Book of Common Prayer (basically a how-to for vicars, but with beautiful prose, and curious-sounding reinforcements of the English social hierarchy of former centuries)
Biography/Autobiography 65 Years of Friendship – George Bizos (about his friendship with Mandela) (Excellent)
Anthony Blunt. His Lives – Miranda Carter (I have found books about Philby, Blunt, and the others absolutely fascinating) Albert Luthuli – Robert Trent Vinson
Plato – Julia Annas
Jony Ive – Leander Kahney (about the great Apple designer)
Socrates – Paul Johnson
John Piper – Contending for Our All (Athanasius, John Owen, J Greshem Machen)
Experience – Martin Amis (Excellent)
A Severe Mercy – Sheldon Vanauken (Awful!)
World Within World – Stephen Spender (very good)
A Sort of Life – Graham Greene
Spike Milligan – Adolf Hitler, My Part in His Downfall (re-read – oh, so that’s where I first read swear words, but gave them different meanings)
Spike Milligan – Rommel, Gunner Who? (re-read)
Spike Milligan – Monty, His Part in My Victory
My Early Life – Winston Churchill (both interesting and surprisingly funny)
Humble Pie – Gordon Ramsay (fascinating)
CS Lewis – James Como (warm intro to CSL)
Living a Life of Fire – Reinhard Bonnke (Audible, and read by Bonnke) (Excellent) The Road to Wigan Pier – George Orwell (Excellent)
Govan Mbeki – Colin Bundy
A Card from Angela Carter – Susannah Clapp
John Piper – Tested By Fire (John Bunyan, William Cowper, David Brainerd)
Down and Out in Paris and London – George Orwell (Excellent)
George Orwell: A Sage for All Time – Michael Sheldon (Audible) (Excellent)
Catch Me if you Can – Frank Abagnale (Excellent)
Rudyard Kipling – Something of Myself. (A fascinating memoir incl. when he bumped into William Booth)
History The Other Side of History – Robert Garland (Audible) (Excellent)
Landscapes in the Metropolis of Death – Otto Dov Kulka (Excellent)
Famous Greeks – J Rufus Fears (Audible)
Tacitus – On Britain and Germany
Literature/Studies/Words etc The Hebrew Bible as Literature – Tod Linafelt Aspects of the Novel – EM Forster
The Literature Book (Audible)
The Making of a Poem – Stephen Spender (Excellent)
Writing Creative Nonfiction – Tilar JJ Mazzeo (Audible)
The Art of Creative Thinking – Rod Junkins
The History of English poetry – Peter Whitfield (Audible)
Rhetoric – Richard Toye
Winning Minds – Simon Lancaster
12 Books that Changed the World – Melvyn Bragg (Excellent)
Have you Eaten Grandma? – Gyles Brandreth (His and Susie Dent’s podcast is the only one I regularly listen to)
Casanova was a Book Lover – John Maxwell Hamilton (very good, on all things bookish)
Steal Like an Artist – Austin Kleon (boring)
CS Lewis – Studies in Words (Excellent)
Ex Libris – Anne Fadiman (Light and thoroughly enjoyable about all things bookish. Not a single chapter that I didn’t enjoy.)* (Excellent)
Christian Teaching CS Lewis – Present Concerns (disappointing)
CS Lewis – Letters to an American Lady (Excellent)
CS Lewis – Broadcast Talks (Excellent)
CS Lewis – Christian Behaviour (Excellent)
CS Lewis – Beyond Personality
How to Reach the West Again – Tim Keller
Dealing with Difficult People – Max Lucado
Water in the Wilderness – TD Jakes (I was hoping for more, but need to find another of his books)
Who Does He Think He is? – John Marsh (re-read)
Mark Comer – The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry – John Mark Comer (Excellent, on the need to slow down and reconnect with Christ)
Novels A Wild Sheep Chase – Haruki Murakami (surreal, but a bit slow)
Live and Let Die – Ian Fleming (Awful! I mean, really, really awful.)
White Man’s Numbers – Sunil Shah (Sunil is a personal friend and has written a novel that really moves forward at a pace)
The Pregnant Widow – Martin Amis (disappointing after reading his excellent memoir)
Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe (more positive about the gospel than I had expected)
Animal Farm – George Orwell (A re-read. Excellent)
Daphnis and Chloe – Longus (Excellent, and, arguably, the very first novel in all history)
Strait is the Gate – Andre Gide
The Uncommon Reader – Arnold Bennett
Coming Up for Air – George Orwell
A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess (horribly violent opening chapters, but brilliantly written)
Poetry The Essential Dylan Thomas (you can’t really go wrong here)
Pablo Neruda – twenty love poems (dare I say boring?)
Billy Collins – Nine Horses
DH Lawrence – Love Poems (a few great poems in this old Penguin collection)
Stephen Spender – Dolphins
Penguin Modern Poets 3
Sylvia Plath – Selected Verse (ed. Ted Hughes)
Penguin Modern Poets 4
Vikram Seth – Three Chinese Poets
Dylan Thomas’ New York – Tryntje van Ness Seymour
Faber English Love Poems (a selection by Betjeman. Some lovely pieces)
Craig Raine – The Electrification of the Soviet Union
Dylan Thomas – The Beach at Falesa (surprisingly good prose, written for a movie that was not made) Roger McGough – Gig
William Shakespeare – Measure for Measure (Excellent, and unnervingly relevant in the Me Too era. Or every era.)
Imagist Poetry (some quirky pieces in this Penguin anthology)
Culture etc Man’s Search for Meaning – Viktor Frankl (Excellent) The Caged Virgin – Ayaan Hirsi Ali The Rules do not apply – Ariel Levy
How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World – Francis Wheen (boring)
Fragments – Binjamin Wilkomirski (a discredited/disputed memoir)
Confabulations – John Berger (I love Berger’s slow contemplative style, but I found this a bit pretentious)
Manning Up – Kay Hymowitz (missing in her treatment is the Christian Man)
Motivating People – Harvard Business Press (very uneven, but with some good chapters)
HG Wells – The Happy Turning (Awful!)
*I’m still currently reading Fadiman, and eagerly looking for more from her.
Can We Trust the Gospels? by Peter J Williams, and How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind (Rediscovering the African seedbed of Western Christianity) by Thomas C Oden. A two-minute review.
In my opinion these two books should be part of every leadership training course our churches run. They are both of significant importance. Firstly, Peter J Williams who, along with Dirk Jongkind, is blazing a trail of relevant and dynamic content from one of Britain’s most important centres for Christian studies, Tyndale House at Cambridge University. Peter’s book is simply the best defence of the reliability of the four gospel accounts of the life of Jesus to appear in recent years – at the level of readability which will benefit most Christians (and I think, would also be of real help to a questioning non-believer). Williams not only gives examples of contemporary non-Christian confirmations of content in the gospels (that’s not unusual), but gives dazzling internal details of the gospel writers’ local knowledge, names, geographical details etc. all of which convincingly demonstrate that rather than being later, foreign productions, the gospels are indeed as they seem: genuine, local, contemporary historical accounts of the life of Jesus. So much more could be said: even his treatment of the manuscripts throws new light on a very familiar subject. Get this book. Like all the very best works of Christian apologetics, the result will be joy, a hunger to plunge back in to the New Testament text, and adoration of the One who called to us, ‘Follow Me.’
How Africa Shaped Christianity
Secondly, Thomas C Oden’s masterpiece, How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind. Where to begin? Essentially Oden is re-stating or re-asserting that the intellectual and theological core of early Christianity was not a European project, even though it’s language was primarily Greek (and Latin). In fact, as he says, ‘Africa played a decisive role in the formation of Christian culture,’ not a marginal, or minimal one. It’s not only that Augustine is sometimes assumed to be European, but Origen, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, Cyprian, Athanasius as well as many other less well-known African intellectuals. And it’s not just the names but the schools, the theological clarity, the culture that affected the whole of Christendom. ‘Some scholars of African culture have regrettably acquired a persistent habit of assuming that Christianity began in Africa only a couple of centuries ago, strictly imported from ‘the West’ or ‘the North’…This is a narrow, modern view of history, ignoring Christianity’s first millennium, when African thought shaped and conditioned virtually every diocese in Christianity worldwide.’ Indeed, the movement was South to North and not the other way round. The importance of this historical rediscovery is obvious to anyone living in Africa and who has been trying to untangle the mash-up of colonialism and missions v. ancient African faith, or those who presume that it is European intellectuals who framed orthodoxy. Oden captures the historical landscape beautifully, restoring the central role played by African Christian intellectuals during at least the first thousand years of the church’s history.
Both of these books are outstanding (two of the very best books I’ve read this year) and, if you need a prod about required reading, this is your prod: these are required reading! Enjoy.
‘Peripheral’ CS Lewis
One of the unexpected blessings of this year has been the extra time to read. And I’ve thoroughly enjoyed dipping into some more ‘peripheral’ CS Lewis. An easy, and pleasant starter, is the Letters to an American Lady (published by Eerdmans, or Hodder) a compilation of letters to Mary Willis Shelburne, a widow who wrote to Lewis about a variety of troubles in her own life. As part of his own commitment to Christian humility Lewis decided he would not only use his writing skill to publish, but to privately respond to every letter he received from readers. This became an almost impossible workload as his popularity increased, but Lewis felt that a hidden ministry of service like this was valuable both to those writing to him and as an act of ministry before God. The letters to Mary Shelburne are full of Lewis’s characteristic wit, humour, and, as ever, his ability to illustrate. He talks of how he was bullied at school, of his resistance to reading newspapers, on the fact that if you can’t change a circumstance you can at least change your own response to it, of his inability with maths, taxes, and ‘business’ in general, of how black American soldiers were more popular in England after the war than their white comrades, and his praise of the National Health Service in Britain. The letters span thirteen years and also include the loss of his wife, Joy, to cancer.
Studies in Words
Much more difficult, but highly recommended if you feel you need some mental exercise over the Christmas break, is his wonderful Studies in Words (Cambridge). In one sense this is a book that didn’t need to be written apart from the sheer joy of tracing word origins and their changing meanings, and branches of meaning, over time. There are also some very funny moments. Some of the words CSL examines (and with breathtaking ease, cites references to across the centuries – reminiscent of Samuel Johnson’s dictionary) are: WIT, FREE, SENSE, CONSCIENCE and CONSCIOUS, WORLD, and LIFE. And he masterfully weaves in scriptural usage too. It’s not an easy read, and requires concentration but is probably closest to what it must have been like to sit in his study and enjoy the sheer breadth of his literary knowledge.
Not particularly worth bothering with is Present Concerns which is a collection of columns for the papers that Lewis didn’t like to read (OK, I’m pushing it a bit), but not up to his usual standard, although there is the occasional flash of brilliance.
The war-time talks of CS Lewis
And then I also enjoyed the three books which later were re-worked into Mere Christianity, but which are fun to read in their more original form of short BBC war-time talks, and which don’t appear to have been edited much before publication. They are stunning, and certainly more mainstream Lewis. Broadcast Talks (1942), Christian Behaviour (1943), and Beyond Personality (1944). So, for the easy-read go for the Letters, and for solid, decent, brain-exercise go for Studies.
‘Young man! Those gloves were stolen from your employer!’ During a prayer meeting in the mid-1800’s the popular Baptist preacher CH Spurgeon mentioned an astonishing word of knowledge that came to him as he preached. After his death, his wife Susannah completed his autobiography which is still in print today by the Banner of Truth Trust. She mentions the extraordinary moment during the sermon, preached in Exeter Hall (in Feb or March 1855), where ‘he suddenly broke off from his subject, and, pointing in a certain direction, said, “Young man, those gloves you are wearing have not been paid for; you have stolen them from your employer.”’
Understandably, this phrase does not appear in the published version of the Exeter Hall sermons. Although Spurgeon’s sermons read much better than George Whitefield’s, he might have been tempted to ‘include the thunder and lightning’ in the record of the sermon. Whitefield was referring to real thunder and lightning at an open-air meeting which had a powerful effect on his hearers. Spurgeon, however, carefully edited each of his sermons for publication so he chose to omit the phrase.
‘He placed a pair of gloves on the table.’ Susannah continues, ‘At the close of the service, a young man, looking very pale and greatly agitated, came to the room which was used as a vestry, and begged for a private interview with Mr Spurgeon. On being admitted, he placed a pair of gloves upon the table, and tearfully said, “It’s the first time I have robbed my master, and I will never do it again. You won’t expose me, sir, will you? It would kill my mother if she heard that I had become a thief.” The preacher had drawn the bow at a venture, but the arrow struck the target for which God intended it, and the startled hearer was, in that singular way, probably saved from committing a greater crime.’
The Romance of Preaching Those who preach can know the vague sense of doubt as to whether we have hit the mark, and the curious power of revealing something that someone in the congregation feels was exclusively for them. The key is always that God is at work in preaching, and that He knows how to speak today, in life-changing ways. As our congregations regather after the pandemic let’s seek His presence both in worship and word.
1. If you can find a reference, let me know.
2. The Autobiography of Charles H Spurgeon, Vol 3. (1899) London: Passmore and Alabaster, p.88-89. Also found in CHS, The Full Harvest (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth) p.60
To read other articles about Spurgeon’s charismatic tendencies click here
To read the first article in this series on CH Spurgeon click here
The superiority of live preaching, as opposed to watching a video, is illustrated powerfully when it comes to charismatic gifts. CH Spurgeon, although he declared himself to be a cessationist, powerfully exercised what many pastors believe Paul describes as a ‘word of knowledge’ (see 1 Cor 12). In Spurgeon’s experience these seemed to happen without any forethought, but were sudden declarations of knowledge during his preaching. Most preachers will know something of this though not usually to the degree of accuracy we’re about to consider. Frankly, you’d expect this story to appear in a history of early Pentecostalism. Spurgeon writes,
‘There were many instances of remarkable conversions at the Music Hall. One especially was so singular that I have often related it as a proof that God sometimes guides His servants to say what they would themselves never have thought of uttering, in order that He may bless the hearer for whom the message is personally intended.
‘You have sold your soul to Satan for fourpence!’ ‘While preaching in the hall, on one occasion, I deliberately pointed to a man in the midst of the crowd, and said, “There is a man sitting there, who is a shoemaker ; he keeps his shop open on Sundays, it was open last Sabbath morning, he took ninepence, and there was fourpence profit out of it; his soul is sold to Satan for fourpence!”’
The shoe seller tells the story from his side Spurgeon continues, ‘A city missionary, when going his rounds, met with this man, and seeing that he was reading one of my sermons, he asked the question, “Do you know Mr. Spurgeon?” “Yes,” replied the man, “I have every reason to know him, I have been to hear him; and, under his preaching, by God’s grace I have become a new creature in Christ Jesus. Shall I tell you how it happened? I went to the Music Hall, and took my seat in the middle of the place. Mr. Spurgeon looked at me as if he knew me, and in his sermon he pointed to me, and told the congregation that I was a shoemaker, and that I kept my shop open on Sundays. And I did, sir.”
Stunning accuracy “I should not have minded that, but he also said that I took ninepence the Sunday before, and that there was fourpence profit out of it. I did take ninepence that day, and fourpence was just the profit. But how he should know that, I could not tell. Then it struck me that it was God who had spoken to my soul through him, so I shut up my shop the next Sunday. At first, I was afraid to go again to hear him, lest he should tell the people more about me, but afterwards I went, and the Lord met with me, and saved my soul.”’ [i]
As we gradually return to live preaching after the COVID lockdown, may we aspire to the heights of Spurgeon’s charismatic cessationism!
More next time… [i] CHS, The Early Years (1985 edition Edinburgh:Banner), p531-2 To read other articles about Spurgeon’s charismatic tendencies click here To read the first article in this series on CH Spurgeon click here
George Orwell – The Road to Wigan Pier (Book Review) I should have read this book years ago but, in the current climate where clear thinking is so needed, this 1937 semi-autobiographical, semi-sociological work seems uncannily relevant. Spoiler Alert: Orwell very strongly criticises (and mocks) the language and the alienating aspects of strident left-wing activism while supporting the values of justice and liberty.
He opens with superb but harrowing descriptions of life as a lodger in shared housing in the depressed North of England between the wars, and then of several trips into the coal mines to get a sense of working conditions. These high definition descriptions are utterly compelling and shocking. Our empathy and humanity is aroused and fortified. It’s impossible not to think of so many of our current workers who work and live in such similar conditions, nearly one hundred years after Orwell wrote.
There are some excellent insights into class identity, because Orwell, a plummy-accented Etonian, finds it difficult to remove himself from the target of socialist critique of ‘bourgeois ideology, manners etc’. This even though he (as a ‘sinking lower middle-class man who has never worked with his hands’) supports the cause of the working man. He continually finds his humane impulse towards the poor, and his desire to help a coherent movement emerge to address their needs, frustrated by the hackneyed slogans of Marxist propaganda.
Yet fascism must be resisted – gaining ground as it was with terrifying ease across Europe in the 1930s – and, he argues, socialism must become less repellant in order to attract people whose sympathies and sense of decency would point in that direction, whatever their background: ‘Throughout left-wing thought and writing…there runs an anti-genteel tradition, a persistent and often very stupid gibing at genteel mannerisms and genteel loyalties (or, in Communist jargon, ‘bourgeois values’). It is largely humbug…but it does major harm, because it allows a minor issue to block a major one. It directs attention away from the central fact that poverty is poverty, whether the tool you work with is a pick-axe or a fountain pen…For what I am worth it would be better to get me in on the Socialist side than to turn me into a Fascist. But if you are constantly bullying me about my ‘bourgeois ideology’…you will only succeed in antagonizing me. For you are telling me either that I am inherently useless or that I ought to alter myself in some way that is beyond my power. 201
On Dignity and Indignity. One miner he go to know suffered a debilitating injury as a result of a mining accident (‘Health and Safety’? What ‘Health and Safety’?). This man received a small allowance from the company but, Orwell notes, the man had to spend half a day each week, waiting at the company office to receive his pittance in cash: ‘This business of petty inconvenience and indignity, of being kept waiting about, of having to do everything at other people’s convenience, is inherent in working-class life. A thousand influences constantly press a working man down into a passive role.’ 43
By contrast: ‘A person of bourgeois origin goes through life with some expectation of getting what he wants, within reasonable limits. Hence the fact that in times of stress ‘educated’ people tend to come to the front; they are no more gifted than the others and their ‘education’ is generally quite useless in itself, but they are accustomed to a certain amount of deference and consequently have the cheek necessary to a commander.’ 44
Good sense in the midst of poverty: In England, at least, there was no political assault on the working-class family: ‘A working man does not disintegrate under the strain of poverty as a middle-class person does. Take, for instance, the fact that the working class think nothing of getting married on the dole [receiving state benefits]. It annoys the old ladies in Brighton, but it is a proof of their essential good sense; they realize that losing your job does not mean that you cease to be a human being…Families are impoverished, but the family-system has not broken up. 78
Humour: ‘In a Lancashire cotton-town you could probably go for months on end without once hearing an ‘educated’ accent, whereas there can hardly be a town in the South of England where you could throw a brick without hitting the niece of a bishop.’ 102
On the instant gentrification of lower middle-class Europeans emigres: ‘It was this that explained the attraction of India (more recently Kenya, Nigeria etc) for the lower-upper-middle class. The people…went there because in India, with cheap horses, free shooting, and hordes of black servants, it was so easy to play at being a gentleman.’ 108
On the servility and intimidation of the poor: ‘During the past dozen years the English working class have grown servile with a rather horrifying rapidity. It was bound to happen, for the frightful weapon of unemployment has cowed them. ‘Before the war [WW1] their economic position was comparatively strong, for though there was no dole [state benefits] to fall back upon, there was not much unemployment…A man did not see ruin staring him in the face every time he cheeked a ‘toff’, and naturally he did cheek a ‘toff’.’ 111
On Empire, Imperialism, and oppression: ‘I was in the Indian [Burmese, now Malaysia] Police five years, and by the end of that time I hated the imperialism I was serving with a bitterness which I probably cannot make clear…It is not possible to be a part of such a system without recognizing it as an unjustifiable tyranny. Even the thickest-skinned Anglo-Indian [by which I think he means a white Brit born there] is aware of this. Every ‘native’ face he sees in the street brings home to him his monstrous intrusion…The truth is that no modern man, in his heart of hearts, believes that it is right to invade a foreign country and hold the population down by force. Foreign oppression is a much more obvious, understandable evil that economic oppression…All over India there are Englishmen who secretly loathe the system of which they are a part; and just occasionally, when they are quite certain of being in the right company, their hidden bitterness overflows. … Not only were we [the Burmese Police, judicial system] hanging people and putting them in jail and so forth; we were doing it in the capacity of unwanted foreign invaders. The Burmese themselves never really recognized our jurisdiction…For five years I had been part of an oppressive system, and it had left me with a bad conscience…I was conscious of an immense weight of guilt that I had got to expiate…I [therefore] had reduced everything to the simple theory that the oppressed are always right and the oppressors are always wrong: a mistaken theory, but the natural result of being one of the oppressors yourself.’ 126-130
On the alarmingly sudden rise of tyrants: ‘Just how soon the pinch will come it is difficult to say; it depends, probably, upon events in Europe; but it may be that within two years, or even a year we shall have reached the decisive moment [He was writing in 1937. WW2 did indeed break in 1939]. That will also be the moment when every person with any brains or any decency will know in his bones that he ought to be on the Socialist side…It is doubtful whether a…heavy dragoon of Mosley’s stamp [Mosley, a British fascist and supporter of Hitler] would ever be much more than a joke to the majority of English people; though even Mosley will bear watching, for experience shows (eg. the careers of Hitler, Napoleon III) that to a political climber it is sometimes an advantage not to be taken too seriously at the beginning of his career…’ 186 Chilling stuff.
On how fascism rose so swiftly in the ‘30s: Fascism draws its strength from the good as well as the bad varieties of conservatism. To anyone with a feeling or tradition and for discipline it comes with its appeal ready-made. Probably it is very easy, when you have had a bellyful of the more tactless kind of Socialist propaganda, to see Fascism as the last line of defence of all that is good in European civilization…[It is] partly due to the mistaken Communist tactic of sabotaging democracy, i.e. sawing off the branch you are sitting on…As a result Fascism…has been able to pose as the upholder of the European tradition, and to appeal to Christian belief, to patriotism, and to the military virtues. It is far worse than useless to write Fascism off as ‘mass sadism’, or some easy phrase of that kind. If you pretend that it is merely an aberration which will presently pass off of its own accord, you are dreaming a dream from which you will awake when somebody coshes you with a rubber truncheon.’ 188
Orwell’s conclusion: ‘Justice and liberty! Those are the words that have got to ring like a bugle across the world.’ 190
You can see, as I did, the relevance of much of this surprising book. Not one chapter is wasted or irrelevant. Not all are equally relevant of course – all chapters are equal, but some chapters are more equal than others – but as a stimulant to clear thinking, it’s well worth reading, even if you land in a different place to Orwell.
After CH Spurgeon’s death his wife Susannah completed his autobiography. Her perspective adds to the already fulsome account Charles had written. In the following passage she relates what can only be described as supernatural phenomena. It’s a one-off to be sure and, according to her, completely authentic.
Text Perplexed She writes: An extraordinary incident occurred in this early period of our history. One Saturday evening, my dear husband was deeply perplexed by the difficulties presented by a text on which he desired to preach the next morning. It was in Psalm cx. 3 ; “Thy people shall be willing in the day of Thy power, in the beauties of holiness from the womb of the morning Thou hast the dew of thy youth” and, with his usual painstaking preparation, he consulted all the commentaries he then possessed, seeking light from the Holy Spirit upon their words and his own thoughts but, as it seemed, in vain.
I was as much distressed as he was, but I could not help him in such an emergency. At least, I thought I could not, but the Lord had a great favour in store for me, and used me to deliver His servant out of his serious embarrassment. He sat up very late, and was utterly worn out and dispirited, for all his efforts to get at the heart of the text were unavailing. I advised him to retire to rest, and soothed him by suggesting that, if he would try to sleep then, he would probably in the morning feel quite refreshed, and able to study to better purpose. “If I go to sleep now, wifey, will you wake me very early, so that I may have plenty of time to prepare?” With my loving assurance that I would watch the time for him, and call him soon enough, he was satisfied and, like a trusting, tired child, he laid his head upon the pillow, and slept soundly and sweetly at once.
Young Men Shall Dream Dreams By-and-by, a wonderful thing happened. During the first dawning hours of the Sabbath, I heard him talking in his sleep, and roused myself to listen attentively. Soon, I realised that he was going over the subject of the verse which had been so obscure to him, and was giving a clear and distinct exposition of its meaning, with much force and freshness. I set myself, with almost trembling joy, to understand and follow all that he was saying, for I knew that, if I could but seize and remember the salient points of the discourse, he would have no difficulty in developing and enlarging upon them. Never preacher had a more eager and anxious hearer! What if I should let the precious words slip? I had no means at hand of “taking notes,” so, like Nehemiah, “I prayed to the God of Heaven,” and asked that I might receive and retain the thoughts which He had given to His servant in his sleep, and which were so singularly entrusted to my keeping.
I overslept! As I lay, repeating over and over again the chief points I wished to remember, my happiness was very great in anticipation of his surprise and delight on awaking; but I had kept vigil so long, cherishing my joy, that I must have been overcome with slumber just when the usual time for rising came, for he awoke with a frightened start, and seeing the tell-tale clock, said, “Oh, wifey, you said you would wake me very early, and now see the time! Oh, why did you let me sleep? What shall I do? What shall I do?” “Listen, beloved,” I answered; and I told him all I had heard. “Why! that’s just what I wanted,” he exclaimed, “that is the true explanation of the whole verse! And you say I preached it in my sleep!” “It is wonderful,” he repeated again and again, and we both praised the Lord for so remarkable a manifestation of His power and love.
Delivered! Joyfully my dear one went down to his study, and prepared this God-given sermon, and it was delivered that same morning, April 13, 1856, at New Park Street Chapel. It can be found and read in Vol. II. of the sermons (No. 74), and its opening paragraph gives the dear preacher’s own account of the difficulty he experienced in dealing with the text. Naturally, he refrained from telling the congregation thespecial details which I have here recorded.[i]
[You can read that very sermon here]
To read Spurgeon the Charismatic #1 click here
To read the first article in the series on CH Spurgeon click here
As the Church History Review website approaches three quarters of a million views, I think it relevant to introduce someone who may not be known to you. He certainly was unknown to me just a short while ago. His name is Simeon Zahl (anyone with a Z in their surname is of interest). Simeon earned his doctorate in theology at Cambridge, was a research fellow at Oxford, an Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology at the University of Nottingham, and is now back at Cambridge as Senior Lecturer in Christian Theology.
I have not been able to secure a copy of the book but I did listen with great interest to this lecture by him on the role of emotion in Protestant Christianity. He doesn’t appear to be a preacher, as such, but every phrase of this superbly written lecture is worth hearing and enjoying. If you’re a Christian leader and you’ve been tempted to adopt the false dichotomy where the ‘charismatic’ and more emotional aspects of Christianity need to be downplayed so that something more intellectually rigorous can take its place then listen to this message. You need abandon neither. That Zahn brings his quiet intellectual rigour to the defence of a faith that brings joy, comfort, and enthusiasm is deeply refreshing. I hope you enjoy this message, and please feel free to leave a comment below.
Spurgeon the Charismatic Part 3 In 1 Corinthians 12 Paul gives the church an extensive (though not exhaustive) list of spiritual gifts. These gifts are given for the common good of the church, to build her up, and strengthen her. They are given by a God who speaks, in contrast to the ‘mute idols’ the Corinthians used to worship (see verse 2).
And these are gifts we are to eagerly pursue (cf 1 Cor 14.1). One of these gifts is the ‘word of knowledge’. Here’s Paul: ‘For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, and to another the effecting of miracles.’ (1 Cor 12.8-10)
It is my contention, in agreement with a host of biblical teachers and scholars, that the ‘word of knowledge’ is not the accumulation of biblical knowledge (excellent though that is) but a manifestation of the Holy Spirit whereby knowledge or information is supernaturally given that reveals that God knows the secrets of our hearts, and even the details of our lives, by those who would otherwise not know it. For example, when Jesus is speaking with the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4. He asks her to call her husband, and she closes that uncomfortable line of enquiry by stating the fact that she doesn’t have a husband. Jesus then reveals knowledge about her that he has received ‘supernaturally’, as it were. That is generally understood to be an example of a ‘word of knowledge’.
‘You have a bottle of gin in your pocket!’ CH Spurgeon, even though he considered himself to be a ‘cessationist’ was certainly a man full of the Holy Spirit, and who welcomed the activity of the Spirit as we’ve already seen. He also was a man who, from time to time, operated in this particular gift of the Spirit, the word of knowledge. Here is one superb example of this gift being exercised. He writes:
‘Another singular conversion, wrought at New Park Street, was that of a man who had been accustomed to go to a gin-palace to fetch in gin for his Sunday evening’s drinking. He saw a crowd round the door of the chapel, so he looked in, and forced his way to the top of the gallery stairs. Just then, I turned in the direction where he stood. I do not know why I did so, but I remarked that there might be a man in the gallery who had come in with no very good motive, for even then he had a gin-bottle in his pocket. The singularity of the expression struck the man, and being startled because the preacher so exactly described him, he listened attentively to the warnings which followed. The Word reached his heart, the grace of God met with him, he became converted, and soon was walking humbly in the fear of God.’ [ii]
Did these incredible gifts from God suddenly cease? The evidence from Spurgeon’s own ministry suggest not.And, if you’re still uncertain about the theology of it all, does it really matter whether you take a stand for or against those who either use these gifts well or not? Shouldn’t we rather go back to our primary source, the Scriptures, and ‘Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts’? (1 Cor 14.1)
For the amazing story of Spurgeon preaching in his sleep, and then preaching it in the pulpit click here
To read Spurgeon the Charismatic #1 click here
To read the first article in the series on CH Spurgeon click here
[ii] CHS, The Early Years, 1985 edition, Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, p266
The great Christian preacher CH Spurgeon was not afraid of the power of the Holy Spirit. He not only encouraged other believers to privately pursue the Spirit but welcomed His presence in their public gatherings.
He describes moments where, in his words, the Spirit of God was manifest among them as they prayed. They sat dumb-struck with awe at the power of God. And the result? A blessing ‘coming down’ on them, and hundreds, and then thousands, flocking to hear the gospel preached and to experience the love of God in the heart of the city.
Reflecting on some extraordinary gatherings when he first arrived in London Spurgeon wrote,
The Holy Spirit overshadowing church meetings When I came to New Park Street Chapel (1854), it was but a mere handful of people to whom I first preached (about 200) yet I can never forget how earnestly they prayed. Sometimes, they seemed to plead as though they could really see the Angel of the covenant present with them, and as if they must have a blessing from Him. More than once, we were all so awe-struck with the solemnity of the meeting, that we sat silent for some moments while the Lord’s power appeared to overshadow us; and all I could do on such occasions was to pronounce the Benediction, and say, ‘Dear friends, we have had the Spirit of God here very manifestly to-night; let us go home, and take care not to lose His gracious influences.’ Then down came the blessing; the house was filled with hearers, and many souls were saved.[i]
Saved by a butter-smeared sermon!
CH Spurgeon was one of the greatest Christian preachers in history; the ‘prince of preachers’. His weekly sermons were printed in pamphlet form and read by many thousands (25,000 sold each week in 1865). There are many stories of changed lives through these printed sermons, including one woman who was converted through reading the single page of a sermon that had been used to wrap some butter that she had purchased.
Spurgeon joyfully retells these stories, and he was clear as to the source of his evangelistic influence: he was a man filled with the Holy Spirit. Spoiler Alert: CHS considered himself a cessationist. But as with all our great heroes of the Christian faith, the power of the Holy Spirit is deeply embedded in his story and his experience.
Words of Knowledge
His descriptions of his own words of knowledge (cf. 1 Cor 12.8) mid-sermon suggest a happy freeness in his spirit to follow the gift of the Holy Spirit. And with wonderful results. He writes,
‘I could tell as many as a dozen similar cases in which I pointed at somebody in the hall without having the slightest knowledge of the person, or any idea that what I said was right, except that I believed I was moved by the Spirit to say it; and so striking has been my description, that the persons have gone away, and said to their friends, “Come, see a man that told me all things that ever I did. He must have been sent of God to my soul, or else he could not have described me so exactly.”‘ 
In the next few posts we’ll look at these cases and, I hope, be challenged afresh to ‘earnestly desire spiritual gifts’ as the Bible exhorts us.
To read about Spurgeon’s openness to the Holy Spirit click here
To read the first article in this series on CH Spurgeon click here
A South African Father
Chief Albert Luthuli was one of the guiding lights for the future peace of South Africa. His powerful autobiography Let My People Go tells not only his story, but the story of a people repeatedly subjugated by the callous and determined violence of the white South African regime. He led the banned ANC movement for fifteen years. Despite leading during the horror of state legislated violence and injustice, Luthuli achieved an amazing maturity and grace in his leadership which helped steer a broken country towards peace. He was awarded the Nobel Peace prize in 1960 following which the government continually restricted his movements until his death in 1967 in circumstances which seem suspicious.[i]
As Christians, especially in culturally diverse contexts, it is critical that we to do a bit of ‘cultural archaeology’, a bit of historical digging. We need to find out how we got to where we are, why people feel as they do, and we are also likely to discover wisdom that can point the way forward. Historians delight in all of this, but Christians keen on ‘mission’ ought to be diligent in these things too. Albert Luthuli was radically shaped by his Christianity. He didn’t abandon his people or culture, but carried his Christian faith into the complex arena of withstanding the unrelenting injustice in the South Africa of just a few decades ago. By highlighting his Christian faith I hope to encourage all South African pastors and believers in South Africa, to discover (or rediscover) this incredibly important father-figure in our shared history. We can all sit at the feet of Albert Luthuli and learn a thing or two. The video has numerous quotes and the book has been reissued recently. Get yourself a copy and do some digging.
Let My People Go is available on Kindle, as well as in a new paperback edition.
[i] see Albert Luthuli, Robert Trent Vinson (Ohio Short Histories of Africa)
In Evangelism, just do a little thing I suppose the danger is that if we think we can’t make a significant impact, like bringing someone to the point of conversion, or something that seems powerful or meaningful, we tend to just back off. The small seems trivial, even superficial.
CH Spurgeon didn’t think so. At the age of sixteen, as a new believer in Christ, he wanted to make the most of every opportunity to somehow share his faith.
He writes, ‘The very first service which my youthful heart rendered to Christ was the placing of tracts in envelopes, and then sealing them up, that I might send them with the hope that God would bless them.’ [tract = small leaflet containing brief explanation/story/illustration of the gospel message. Note: this article is not about tracts, but more here.]
If Spurgeon had bumped into one of today’s believer he may well have been advised to stop doing something so superficial and apparently ‘non-relational’. But, as with most compassionate believers, Spurgeon wasn’t only giving information but actually trying to connect with people. He continues, ‘I well remember taking other tracts, and distributing them in certain districts of Newmarket, going from house to house, and telling, in humble language, the things of the kingdom of God. I might have done nothing for Christ if I had not been encouraged by finding myself able to do a little.’
Spurgeon went on to become one of Christianity’s most effective, and celebrated church-based evangelistic preachers.
Do those things you did at the beginning…
Writing of his earlier experiences he says, ‘ I could scarcely content myself even for five minutes without trying to do something for Christ. If I walked along the street, I must have a few tracts with me; if I went into a railway carriage, I must drop a tract out of the window; if I had a moment’s leisure, I must be upon my knees or at my Bible; if I were in company, I must turn the subject of conversation to Christ.’ He was sixteen years old. [i]
Happily for those around him Spurgeon refused to give up his youthful ways. Later in his journals we read that at age thirty-nine, ‘We have been for a drive to Lymington…I had a fine supply of tracts and sowed the region well.’ [ii]
Don’t despise the small opportunities you have to ‘sow’, whether inviting someone to Alpha, or to watch your church’s online service, or help a neighbour, or share an inspiring video on social media. Just do a little thing, and bring a blessing to your not-yet-convinced friends and folk around you.
[i] and prior quotes, CHS, The Early Years, (1973 edition Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, p156)
[ii] CHS, The Full Harvest, (1973, Edinburgh: Banner p228)
More next time…
To read the first article in this series on CH Spurgeon click here
Is the gospel just an offer of forgiveness? Is there not a call to repent, to turn away from what’s wrong? How do we understand our responsibility to get the message out? Are we to be passive or active? And what are the joys of seeing people come to faith in Christ? Hearing several wonderful quotes from the book, I’m sure you’ll be inspired to speak up for the gospel.
When I first became a Christian I was introduced to some wonderful books and some great authors. One of the very best was Martyn Lloyd-Jones, the grumpy-looking Welshman who almost single-handedly revived interest in the English puritans and boosted the fortunes of a little publishing house called ‘The Banner of Truth’. I think Preachers and Preaching was my first Lloyd-Jones and after that I was hooked, reading all the published volumes of his brilliant Romans series, followed by this set on Ephesians. Brilliant stuff this. Good for your soul.
You can listen to some of Lloyd-Jones’ sermons here
For Lloyd-Jones on Revival and on Howell Harris’s massive influence on the Great Awakening click here
For a variety of reasons many Christians are nervous of what Paul refers to as ‘demonstrations of the Spirit’s power’ (1 Cor 2.4). But isn’t it the case that if we want the gospel of Christ to win hearts around the world (and in our own towns and cities) we need the power of God to accompany the word of God? Has there ever been a time when we didn’t need the Spirit to apply the gospel to hearts and minds, or the power of God to set captives free? Check out today’s 4-minute video for more.
Many of us are spending more time on our computers and less time with people. But we still have opportunities to share our faith with respect, wisdom, and confidence.
Puritan Joseph Alleine was keen to share the gospel in his day and can, at the very least, inspire us to be more confident about sharing our faith today. (Recorded before the lockdown)
When I get a good book I try and make it last. When I get a great book it takes over and I don’t regret reading into the early hours of the next day. Like Bizos’ amazing autobiography, this is a great book.
George Bizos is South Africa’s most respected and most influential lawyer. Along with other legal experts like Arthur Chaskalson, and Bram Fischer, Bizos used his fine legal skills from the ‘50s onward not only to repeatedly attempt to restrain and frustrate the wickedness of the Apartheid Government but to actually keep Nelson Mandela and the other Rivonia trialists alive. South African history would have been very different if he had failed. It’s an amazing thing that the thirteen year old boy who came as a refugee fleeing Nazi-occupied Greece, and who for years couldn’t leave the country for fear the authorities would rescind his residence status, ended up defending the fathers of the nation, and became a key author of the South African Constitution.
This is a wonderful book, with the pace of a spy novel and the intricacy of a courtroom blockbuster. It’s a testimony to years of painstaking work that led finally to political freedom for the majority of South Africans. It’s also a testimony to life-long friendship through thick and thin.
If you’re South African you obviously want to learn your history, but if you have any aspirations to be a leader in South Africa whether in business, in church, in government, or in your local community you absolutely must, in my view, read about these heroes who have given so much for the future of the country.
There’s an informative three minute video that highlights Bizos here
There’s a review of Bizos’ autobiography, An Odyssey to Freedom here
Speaking of his early meeting with Mandela: ‘He was proud and made no apologies for his blackness. He once described apartheid as a moral genocide – an attempt to exterminate an entire people’s self-respect; he was not prepared to bend his knee.’ 28
Quoting Greek thinker Pericles as an example of how to advance the cause of Africans in South Africa: ‘We decide or debate, carefully and in person, all matters of policy, and we hold, not that words and deeds go ill together, but that acts are foredoomed to failure when undertaken undiscussed. For we are noted for being at once most adventurous in action and most reflective beforehand.’ And after quoting Pericles he adds, ‘When I had finished, Nelson grinned. “That sounds just like what is needed here.”… The debates of the philosophers of Ancient Greece would permeate not only our discussions, but also our decision on legal strategy in the future.’ 74-75
On funding for the Treason Trial: ‘Christian Action in London took responsibility for fundraising and the Treason Trial Defence Fund was set up in South Africa to ensure that a proper trial could be conducted.’ 85
On Walter Sisulu: ‘Walter…grew up in a poor district of the Transkei and left school at sixteen to become a cowherd – but he had a brilliant mind. He was a short, pale man – his father, Victor Dickinson, was a white magistrate who had abandoned his two children and their Xhosa mother to move to Johannesburg. Walter would sometimes attend court to watch him preside, but his father never acknowledged him.’133
On Oliver Tambo: ‘ Oliver Tambo played a key role as the leader of the ANC in exile. On a visit to the United States, he was told that the student leader of a multi-billionaire banker was leading the anti-apartheid campaign at her university. Oliver asked to see her. Within days of meeting her, her father’s bank announced that it would not extend the repayment period of a large loan to South Africa. Other banks followed suit. The rand lost more than half its value against foreign currencies.’ 184
On discussions during negotiations just prior to Mandela’s release, when NM was given a small cottage to live in: ‘His time here was such that when he built his home in Qunu after his release it was designed on the same floor plan. Nelson welcomed his many guests wearing suits and ties, his collared shirts perfectly starched. He would take his daily constitutional along the garden paths and sometimes I would join him for the more confidential of our conversations. We learnt only later that the flowers were bugged.’ 195
NM to Govt representatives during the negotiations: ‘the majority need the minority. We do not want to drive you into the sea.’ 197
On FW de Klerk: ‘In his speech after his release on 11 February 1989, Nelson had told the world that President FW de Klerk was “a man of integrity”. Not long afterwards, he confided in me that he was mistaken…there was no personal warmth between them… “He has sometimes very little idea of what democracy means”. When Nelson was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize jointly with De Klerk in 1993, he was not sure whether he should accept it. He felt that…he should not have to share it with a man who had spent most of his political life upholding apartheid. His hesitation was compounded by his personal difficulty with De Klerk’s lack of humility or self-reflection…’ [At the prize giving event] ‘Nelson expected De Klerk to acknowledge the immorality of apartheid and the suffering it has caused the majority of South Africans in his acceptance speech…Instead, De Klerk said only that ‘both sides had made mistakes’… ‘At a private dinner hosted by the Norwegian prime minister to honour the two laureates, Nelson’s patience finally snapped. Before the one hundred and fifty invited guests, he spoke off the cuff. In horrible detail he described the treatment of political prisoners on Robben Island, recounting an incident in which prison warders buried a man in the sand up to his head and urinated on him. He attacked the apartheid regime for the oppression of black people and for the murders committed by its squads. ‘What mistakes did we make when you were brutalising us and locking us up and banning us and not allowing us to vote?’ he asked angrily of De Klerk.’ 213-214
On the violence before the first election: ‘My message to those of you involved in this battle of brother against brother is this: Take your guns, knives and your pangas and throw them into the sea.’ 215
Nelson Mandela on Greece: ‘Greece is the mother of democracy and South Africa, its youngest daughter.’ 240
George Bizos – 65 Years of Friendship (Umuzi, Penguin Random House South Africa)
What do we mean by ‘Preaching the Gospel’? After an intense period of internal unease which Spurgeon frankly described as ‘conviction of sin’, he at last found peace. Having visited numerous churches where good, solid sermons were preached, but preached only to the Christian, he finally stumbled into a Primitive Methodist meeting and heard the gospel preached to the non-believer. Good Bible teachers may think they have preached the ‘gospel’ when they have merely expounded a passage of the Scriptures for the edification of the believer. That is not quite the same thing as would have been understood by figures like Spurgeon, Whitefield, or Hudson Taylor. Proclaiming the gospel generally meant declaring who Christ is, and what He has done, and would include the need for the ‘sinner’ to respond by repenting of sin and putting their faith in Christ. Preaching the gospel was generally understood as an evangelistic declaration to the non-believer (to that person who has not yet put their trust in Christ). The rest was often referred to merely as ‘preaching the whole counsel of God’.
CH Spurgeon was very clear about this distinction and emphasised the difference constantly. As we’ll see in future posts, one of the reasons the Metropolitan Tabernacle (the congregation Spurgeon led) grew to 5000 was because he was determined not to make the very mistake those wonderful Bible-believing churches had made when he was searching for God. Instead he preached the gospel faithfully week in and week out, sometimes preaching an exclusively evangelistic message, but usually dedicating a large section (often the final third) of his message to the non-Christian. The point is he did both. He addressed everyone in his audience. He always had an eye to connect with those who had not yet come to Christ, simply because he had personally experienced the difficulty of good expositions of biblical passages or themes but which were irrelevant to him prior to conversion.
The Romance of Conversion And he never lost the wonder of the grace of God expressed to him in his conversion. ‘Home, friends, health, wealth, comforts,’ he wrote, ‘all lost their lustre that day when He appeared, just as stars are hidden by the light of the sun. He was the only Lord and Giver of life’s best bliss, the one well of living water springing up unto everlasting life. As I saw Jesus on His cross before me, and as I mused upon His sufferings and death, methought I saw Him cast a look of love upon me; and then I looked at Him, and cried, “Jesu, lover of my soul, Let me to Thy bosom fly.”
He said, “Come,” and I flew to Him, and clasped Him; and when He let me go again, I wondered where my burden was. It was gone! There in the sepulchre it lay, and I felt light as air; like a winged sylph, I could fly over mountains of trouble and despair; and oh! what liberty and joy I had! I could leap with ecstasy, for I had much forgiven, and I was freed from sin. With the spouse in the Canticles [Song of Songs], I could say, “I found Him;” I, a lad, found the Lord of glory; I, a slave to sin, found the great Deliverer; I, the child of darkness, found the Light of life; I, the uttermost of the lost, found my Saviour and my God. 
In Bexhill-on-Sea in Sussex, when the church had completed its construction of a school hall, they laid a stone in memory of Spurgeon with this inscription:
HOW C. H. SPURGEON FOUND CHRIST. “I looked to Him ; He looked on me ;
And we were one for ever.”—C. H. S. ‘Look unto Me, and be ye saved, all the ends 0f the earth; for I am God, and there is none else.’ —Isaiah xlv. 22.
More next time…
To read the first article in this series on CH Spurgeon click here
To read an encouragement from CH Spurgeon to help you begin to tell others about Christ click here
 The Autobiography of Charles H Spurgeon, Vol 1. (1897) London: Passmore and Alabaster, p. 109-110
 ibid p.109
An Introduction to the Greek New Testament by Dirk Jongkind There is a certain delicious joy in discovering that our trust in the New Testament as an historically reliable text is based on scholarship that is obsessively precise, unashamedly pedantic, and ruthlessly honest. The soul sings for joy, and feeds freely and fully on clean healthy food. Such freedom-bestowing scholarship is characteristic of Dirk Jongkind and the team at Tyndale House in Cambridge. In fact, it was Jongkind’s academic rigour, his strictness when it came to the text of the New Testament, that first caused me to write to him, announcing myself as a ‘fan’ and asking if we could meet at the Lausanne Congress in 2010. Although we came from different church traditions (and he very much the scholar, and me very much the dufus) our excited, energetic conversation that day, and the next, and the next, was easily the highlight of the conference for me. Jongkind’s credentials are outstanding (see his Scribal Habits of Codex Sinaiticus) but in this Introduction he has given us a very accessible book on a complex and important subject.
You don’t need to have any Greek at all to be able to enjoy this book. That’s because it’s not only an intro to theTyndale House Edition of the NT (‘the most accurate edition of the Greek New Testament published so far’) but it’s also an outstanding introduction to the process of NT textual criticism itself. There are insights into how decisions are made in manuscript selection so that we get the most accurate text possible, as well as interesting sections on how to deal with variations.
We often hear it boldly stated that the NT has changed over the centuries and people have deliberately messed with the text to change its meaning. Jongkind writes, ’Another way of answering the reliability question is to look for signs of deliberate tampering with the text. People have claimed to have found these, but they have also had to admit that these are few and far between and do not occur on the scale and frequency that one might expect if there were an attempt to systematically change the text. The phenomenon that comes closest to deliberate alteration of the text is the cleaning up of the spelling that we encounter in the older manuscripts, which is at time rather rough.’ (p.22) Apparently Byzantine scribes in particular just couldn’t let bad spelling go uncorrected.
Another statement on reliability gives us the broader context in which variants emerge: ‘For most of the approximately 135,000 words of the New Testament, no decision has to be made – either because there is no variation or because the variation is found in a single manuscript, in a group of relatively unimportant manuscripts, or in a subset of late manuscripts.’ (p.65) Jongkind then outlines the criteria (external evidence, copying, and internal evidence) on which to make reliable decisions where one is necessary.
Much more could be said, but this 120-page gem will put some steel into you, and help you have yet more confidence in the reliability of the New Testament text. Many new translations into many languages will be based on the Tyndale House Edition, but even if you don’t read Greek, it is heartwarming to know that, behind the scenes, scholars like Jongkind are still working hard on every available text, and are still confirming that what we have in our hands when we pick up our Bible is fundamentally what was originally written. Feast on my friends! Feast on!
An Introduction to the Greek New Testament Produced at Tyndale House, Cambridge by Dirk Jongkind is published by Crossway Books.
Among the many great conversions of the 19th Century, CH Spurgeon’s was one of the most famous. He told and retold this story many times throughout his preaching career. And here is the fullest version of it in his own words. It is a feast. Grab a cup of tea, sit down and enjoy!
The general, and the effectual appeal of the Gospel ‘The general call of the gospel is like the sheet lightning we sometimes see on a summer’s evening — beautiful, grand, — but who ever heard of anything being struck by it? But the special call is the forked flash from heaven; it strikes somewhere. It is the arrow shot in between the joints of the harness. The call which saves is like that of Jesus, when He said, “Mary,” and she said unto Him, “Rabboni.” Can I not recollect the hour when He whispered my name, when He said in mine ear,“Come unto Me”! That was an effectual call; there was no resisting it. I know I laughed at religion; I despised, I abhorred it; but oh, that call!’ [i]
A chance meeting ‘I sometimes think I might have been in darkness and despair until now had it not been for the goodness of God in sending a snowstorm, one Sunday morning, while I was going to a certain place of worship. When I could go no further, I turned down a side street, and came to a little Primitive Methodist Chapel. In that chapel there may have been a dozen or fifteen people. I had heard of the Primitive Methodists, how they sang so loudly that they made people’s heads ache; but that did not matter to me. I wanted to know how I might be saved, and if they could tell me that, I did not care how much they made my head ache. The minister did not come that morning; he was snowed up, I suppose. At last, a very thin-looking man, a shoemaker, or tailor, or something of that sort, went up into the pulpit to preach. Now, it is well that preachers should be instructed; but this man was really stupid. He was obliged to stick to his text, for the simple reason that he had little else to say. The text was, “Look unto Me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth.”
The simple gospel, simply applied ‘He did not even pronounce the words rightly, but that did not matter. There was, I thought, a glimpse of hope for me in that text. The preacher began thus: “My dear friends, this is a very simple text indeed. It says, ‘Look.’ Now lookin’ don’t take a deal of pains. It ain’t liftin’ your foot or your finger; it is just, ‘Look.’ Well, a man needn’t go to College to learn to look. You may be the biggest fool, and yet you can look. A man needn’t be worth a thousand a year to be able to look. Anyone can look; even a child can look. But then the text says, ‘ Look unto Me.’ Ay!” said he, inbroad Essex, “many on ye are lookin’ to yourselves, but it’s no use lookin’ there. You’ll never find any comfort in yourselves. Some look to God the Father. No, look to Him by-and-by. Jesus Christ says, ‘Look unto Me.’ Some on ye say, ‘We must wait for the Spirit’s workin’.’ You have no business with that just now. Look to Christ. The text says, ‘ Look unto Me.’”
Then the good man followed up his text in this way: “I am sweatin’ great drops of blood. Look unto Me; I am hangin’ on the cross. Look unto Me; I am dead and buried. Look unto Me; I rise again. Look unto Me; I ascend to Heaven. Look unto Me; I am sittin’ at the Father’s right hand. O poor sinner, look unto Me! Look unto Me.”
A pointed application! ‘When he had gone to about that length, and managed to spin out ten minutes or so, he was at the end of his tether. Then he looked at me under the gallery, and I daresay, with so few present, he knew me to be a stranger. Just fixing his eyes on me, as if he knew all my heart, he said, “Young man, you look very miserable.” Well, I did; but I had not been accustomed to have remarks made from the pulpit on my personal appearance before. However, it was a good blow, struck right home. He continued, “and you always will be miserable — miserable in life, and miserable in death, — if you don’t obey my text; but if you obey now, this moment, you will be saved.” Then, lifting up his hands, he shouted, as only a Primitive Methodist could do, “Young man, look to Jesus Christ. Look! Look! Look! You have nothin’ to do but to look and live.”
I looked until I could almost have looked my eyes away! ‘I saw at once the way of salvation. I know not what else he said, — I did not take much notice of it, — I was so possessed with that one thought. Like as when the brazen serpent was lifted up, the people only looked and were healed, so it was with me. I had been waiting to do fifty things, but when I heard that word, “Look ” what a charming word it seemed to me! Oh! I looked until I could almost have looked my eyes away. There and then the cloud was gone, the darkness had rolled away, and that moment I saw the sun ; and I could have risen that instant, and sung with the most enthusiastic of them, of the precious blood of Christ, and the simple faith which looks alone to Him. Oh, that somebody had told me this before, “Trust Christ, and you shall be saved.”
Joy unspeakable and full of glory! ‘I may be singular in this confession, but I make it, and know it to be the truth. Since that dear hour when my soul cast itself on Jesus, I have found solid joy and peace ; but before that, all those supposed gaieties of early youth, all the imagined ease and joy of boyhood, were but vanity and vexation of spirit to me. That happy day, when I found the Saviour, and learned to cling to His dear feet, was a day never to be forgotten by me. An obscure child, unknown, unheard of, I listened to the Word of God ; and that precious text led me to the cross of Christ. I can testify that the joy of that day was utterly indescribable. I could have leaped, I could have danced; there was no expression, however fanatical, which would have been out of keeping with the joy of my spirit at that hour. Many days of Christian experience have passed since then, but there has never been one which has had the full exhilaration, the sparkling delight which that first day had. I thought I could have sprung from the seat on which I sat, and have called out with the wildest of those Methodist brethren who were present, ‘I am forgiven! I am forgiven!’ … I thought I could dance all the way home.’ [ii]
More next time…
To read the first article in this series on CH Spurgeon click here
To read Spurgeon speak of the wonder and romance of conversion click here
[i] The Autobiography of Charles H Spurgeon, Vol 1. (1897) London: Passmore and Alabaster, p. 92-93
[ii] ibid p.105-108