With a stunning gift for short, punchy illustrations, there are few preachers as quotable as Spurgeon. And, although I’ve tried to tear myself away from him and move on to other leaders and church movements in the 19th Century, I just can’t leave without a post of quotes. In fact, as I paged through the sermons I’ve read, as well as several of his books, I realised this cannot be a single post, but several, and broken into different themes.
So I hope this won’t feel like I’m throwing a whole box of chocolates at you at once, and I hope you will be able to savour each quote and let it’s particular sweetness give you pleasure. The next few posts will be my own selection box of delicacies from the Prince of Preachers. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.
Thoroughness of Conversion
Spurgeon, like the vast majority of Victorian leaders, definitely had an eye on numbers (the Sword and the Trowel is full of numbers and the results of evangelistic missions), but he disliked the ease with which some counted converts without checking for genuine repentance. In planting and leading a local church he was to a great degree spared the temptation of the itinerant preacher, and also shared the joy of seeing those converted (at one time he mentions over one thousand in a year) growing in their faith. Below are some gems reflecting his desire for thoroughness when it comes to the nature and power of conversion.
‘God the Holy Spirit, in a supernatural manner – mark, by the word supernatural I mean just what it strictly means; supernatural, more than natural – works upon the hearts of men, and they by the operations of the divine Spirit become regenerate men; but without the Spirit they never can be regenerated … “What!” says one, “do you mean to say that God absolutely interposes in the salvation of every man to make him regenerate?” I do indeed. In the salvation of every person there is an actual putting forth of the divine power.’ 
‘I want to make a man feel his sins before I dare tell him anything about Christ. I want to probe into his soul and make him feel that he is lost before I tell him anything about the purchased blessing. It is the ruin of many to tell them, “Now just believe on Christ, and that is all you have to do.”’
‘Repentance, to be true, to be evangelical, must be a repentance which really affects our outward conduct.’
‘The way Christians get their peace is not by seeing their sins shrivelled and shrinking until they seem small to them. But on the contrary, they first of all see their sins expanding, and then after that, they obtain their peace by seeing those sins entirely swept away – as far as the east is from the west.’
‘Christ requires of every man who would be saved, that he shall yield to his government and his rule…If your sins are pardoned they must be abhorred.’
‘We do continually affirm that an error, with regard to the divinity of Christ, is absolutely fatal, and that a man cannot be right in his judgement upon any part of the gospel unless he think rightly of him who is personally the very centre of all the purposes of heaven, and the foundation of all the hopes of earth.’
‘But let me now describe a Christian as he is after his conversion. Trouble comes, storms of trouble, and he looks the tempest in the face and says, “I know that all things work together for my good…It is good for me that I have been afflicted, for before I was afflicted I went astray, but now have I kept thy Word.”’
‘It is a shameful thing for a man to profess discipleship and yet refuse to learn his Lord’s will upon certain points, or even dare to decline obedience when that will is known. How can a man be a disciple of Christ when he openly lives in disobedience to Him?’
For the first post in this exciting series on Spurgeon click here
[In this post I am quoting extensively from an article by Christian George which you can read in full here.]
Breakfast in America? In 1859 an American pastor visited Spurgeon in London. Spurgeon was busy working on the building of the impressive London Metropolitan Tabernacle at the Elephant and Castle and was open to lucrative invitations that would help complete the work. A trip to America? Possibly, but what about his anti-slavery stance. Don’t bother coming, advised the American. Another offer (of some $10,000) was made and was already known in the US.
The Notorious English Abolitionist ‘News of Spurgeon’s visit,’ writes Christian George, ‘was met with anticipation in the North and hostility in the South. According to an Alabama newspaper, Spurgeon would receive a beating “so bad as to make him ashamed.” On February 17, 1860, citizens of Montgomery, Alabama, publicly protested the “notorious English abolitionist” by gathering in the jail yard to burn his “dangerous books”:
“Last Saturday, we devoted to the flames a large number of copies of Spurgeon’s sermons. . . . We trust that the works of the greasy cockney vociferator may receive the same treatment throughout the South. And if the pharisaical author should ever show himself in these parts, we trust that a stout cord may speedily find its way around his eloquent throat.”
On March 22, a “Vigilance Committee” in Montgomery followed suit and burned Spurgeon’s sermons in the public square. A week later Mr. B. B. Davis, a bookstore owner, prepared “a good ore of pine sticks” before reducing about 60 volumes of Spurgeon’s sermons “to smoke and ashes.”'
George’s article continues: ‘Anti-Spurgeon bonfires illuminated jail yards, plantations, bookstores, and courthouses throughout the Southern states. In Virginia, Mr. Humphrey H. Kuber, a Baptist preacher…burned seven calf-skinned volumes of Spurgeon’s sermons “on the head of a flour barrel.” …’
A puffed-up, fat, hell-deserving, overgrown boy ‘His life was threatened, his books burned, his sermons censured, and below the Mason-Dixon Line, the media catalyzed character assassinations. In Florida, Spurgeon was a “beef-eating, puffed-up, vain, over-righteous pharisaical, English blab-mouth.” In Virginia, he was a “fat, overgrown boy”; in Louisiana, a “hell-deserving Englishman”; and in South Carolina, a “vulgar young man” with “(soiled) sleek hair, prominent teeth, and a self-satisfied air.” Georgians were encouraged to “pay no attention to him.” North Carolinians “would like a good opportunity at this hypocritical preacher” and resented his “endish sentiments, against our Constitution and citizens.”’ 
Thankfully, that’s not how history has remembered good Mr Spurgeon, nor how he is considered by Christians in the USA today. But the strength of feeling is a sobering illustration of how racist hatred can suddenly erupt if not restrained, rebuked, and repented of because of the gospel of Christ. Spurgeon faced unreasonable vindictiveness but only his books were burned. How much more ought we to tame the fire of unreasonable hatred when there are those who are still wounded by it today.
In 1856 Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the radical young preacher who was taking London by storm, married Susannah Thompson. Theirs was a loving and mutually supportive partnership in which they both endured their share of physical and mental struggles. They had twin sons in 1857, Charles and Thomas. Following a difficult delivery Susannah was left house-bound for much of her life despite seeing the best consultants and surgeons. She remained active in ministry, publishing several of her own books and overseeing a vast book distribution ministry that was a huge blessing to many pastors.
In his early thirties Charles began to suffer from gout, and depression, which was initially triggered by the death of audience members at one of his overcrowded early meetings, began to regularly afflict him. In the midst of many successes and much suffering both Charles and Susannah expressed their affection for each other throughout their 36 years of marriage. They were a source of great happiness for each other. Here are a couple of examples:
Charles on Susannah
When she bought him a set of Calvin’s commentaries Charles wrote in the first volume: ‘The volumes making up a complete set of Calvin were a gift to me from my own most dear and tender wife. Blessed may she be among women. How much of comfort and strength she has ministered unto me it is not in my power to estimate. She has been to me God’s best earthly gift, and not a little even of heavenly treasure has come to me by her means. She has often been as an angel of God unto me.’
Susannah on Charles As she continued the work of compiling his autobiography she recalls her feelings after he had proposed to her, all those years before: ‘I left my beloved, and hastening to the house, and to an upper room, I knelt before God, and paused and thanked Him, with happy tears, for His great mercy in giving me the love of so good a man. If I had known then, how good he was, and how great he was to become, I should have been overwhelmed, not so much with the happiness of being his, as with the responsibility which such a position would entail.But, thank God, throughout all my blessed married life, the perfect love which drew us together never slackened or faltered, and though I can now see how undeserving I was to be the life companion of so eminent a servant of God, I know he did not think this, but looked upon his wife as God’s best earthly gift to him.’
When so much has been removed, what remains? I’ve just logged out of Zoom after an early morning prayer meeting. As pastors we were praying that people would watch the video prepared for Sunday, that they’d not drift; that rather than becoming dull, God would sharpen them and help them communicate their faith to others: that they would be bearers of good news, bearers of light.
The Spirit-Filled Spurgeon Our desire is not only that Christians are doctrinally correct in their view of God, but that they are in relationship with Him, and are then able to be a blessing to others. In a lecture to pastoral candidates called ‘The Holy Spirit in Connection with our Ministry’, CH Spurgeon strongly advocated that the young people who felt a call to ministry actively seek to be filled with the Holy Spirit.
He said, ’If we have not the Spirit which Jesus promised, we cannot perform the commission which Jesus gave.’.
Direct Experience It was vital to Spurgeon that church leaders, pastors, preachers, have direct and regular experiences of the Holy Spirit, and are not merely doctrinally correct. Just as feeling the the influence of the companionship of our friends moves us beyond ‘believing’ we have friends but ‘knowing’ we do, ‘Even so,’ he says, ‘we have felt the Spirit of God operating upon our human spirits, and we know Him by frequent, conscious, personal contact.’ And he’s not even nervous of the fact that sometimes people are physically affected by the presence of the Spirit, in a way that would seem contentious to a run-of-the-mill anti-charismatic: ‘Did you notice in the prayer-meeting just now, in two of our suppliant brethren, how their tones were tremulous, and their bodily frames were quivering?’
Like so many influential Christian leaders of the 19th century, the power of the Spirit was to be desired rather than cynically assessed. On the contrary, Spurgeon was nervous of grieving the Spirit and eager to be led by Him. In this regard he counselled, ‘We should be delicately sensitive to His faintest movement, and then we may expect His abiding presence.’
Spurgeon and Edward Irving
The much neglected Scottish church-planter Edward Irving, a contemporary of Spurgeon’s, gathered a congregation of thousands in London. After Spurgeon’s, Irving’s church was the most famous among evangelicals at the time, and certainly the most famous ‘charismatic’ church. Irving encouraged believers to be filled with the Holy Spirit and to exercise spiritual gifts. While modern sceptics have dismissed him as an entirely unhinged charismatic. Spurgeon had a more mature approach, even though there were differences of opinion. Far from warning his students about Irving he commended him as a preacher who had successfully adapted his style from a strict Scottish Presbyterian to his more progressive London audience. ‘Edward Irving was a striking instance of a man’s power to improve himself in this respect. At first his manner was awkward, constrained, and unnatural; but by diligent culture his attitude and action were made to be striking aids to his eloquence.’
Filling and Flexibility As we enter Year Two of the pandemic let’s pray that both we and our people will be gloriously and repeatedly filled with Spirit. Rather than settle and submit to the restrictions imposed on us, let’s resolve to find every means possible to share the good news of Christ with those who don’t know Him, and to make every effort to personally connect with those believers we no longer see on Sundays.
 Here’s an online version (which I trust hasn’t been edited)
 All these quotes taken from CH Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students, (1986 edition, Basingstoke: Marshall Morgan and Scott)
 eg, Arnold Dallimore’s one-sided biography. It’s true, though, that Irving became embroiled in end-times predictions and, by various calculations, predicted the return of Christ in 1864.
 We are currently not gathering on Sundays, and even when we were running smaller meetings many, understandably, stayed away for health reasons.
To read other articles about Spurgeon’s charismatic tendencies click here
To read the first article in this series on CH Spurgeon click here
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 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
 If you’re unfamiliar with Kipling, he was probably the most famous of the now nostalgic ‘Empire’ authors. George Orwell writes of him, ‘Kipling is a jingo imperialist, he is morally insensitive…He was the prophet of British imperialism in its expansionist phase.’ etc (Orwell, Essay: Rudyard Kipling)
 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)