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Meet: Charles H. Spurgeon

“Look unto me and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth, for I am God, and there is none else.” (Isa. 45:22)

CHS 1C.H. Spurgeon (1843-1892)

— by Anthony Whitlatch

Few throughout the history of Christianity in London, England have had as profound an impact on the Protestant church as Charles Haddon Spurgeon.

Born June 19th 1834, in Kelvendon, England (in the county of Essex), to John and Eliza Spurgeon, Charles was the first of seventeen children (nine of whom died at birth). At eighteen months old, Charles was sent to live with his grandparents in Stambourne, England. C.H. Spurgeon’s grandfather, James Spurgeon, was the minister at the non-conformist meetinghouse in Stambourne (a congregational community no aligning with the Anglican Church). Charles obviously received much influence from his grandfather in these early years and in subsequent years as he returned to spend holidays in Stambourne. One story C.H. Spurgeon recounts later in life is his first encounter with the “bottomless pit” (Revelation 9). As he read this story aloud, he recalls asking his grandfather about the bottomless pit, but receiving no answer. After multiple nights reading the same passage and asking the same question about the “bottomless pit,” his grandfather finally inquired the reasoning for Charles’ questioning. In response young Spurgeon asked, “If the pit has no bottom, where would all those people fall who dropped out at the lower end?“ From a young age, Spurgeon wrestled with the depravity of the human soul believing there was no depth which a man could sink which he could not sink deeper yet into depravity. This haunted Spurgeon. As an adult, he recounts having nightmares about the “bottomless pit.”

When Charles returned home (age six), his parents were living in Cholchester, England, and he had two sisters and one brother. His father was a normal English businessman by week and the minister of the congregational church in Cholchester by weekend. Although obviously influenced by his father’s ministering in the church, Charles’ mother also had a large influence in Charles’ as she pleaded to God on his behalf. Once his father told Charles a story of returning home to a praying wife who was pleading for her children, and specially interceding for Charles, her firstborn and strong-willed son. On another occasion, Charles recalls his mother praying this prayer with her young children, “Now, Lord, if my children go on in their sins, it will not be from ignorance they perish, and my soul must bear swift witness against them at the day of judgement if they lay not hold of Christ.” As Spurgeon recounts this story he says, “The thought of a mother bearing swift witness against me pierced my conscience and stirred my heart.” No doubt, the faithful intercession of Charles’ mother played a large roll in the salvation and ministry of C.H. Spurgeon.

CHSat23On January 6th 1850 (age fifteen), Spurgeon was pushed into Primitive Methodist Chapel by a snow storm. This small congregation (fifteen members) and this unknown (except to God) preacher would provide for young Mr. Spurgeon his grasping of “salvation by faith.” As the preacher read from the Scriptures, “Look unto me and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth, for I am God, and there is none else,” (Isa. 45:22) he then looked at Spurgeon in the crowd and said, “Young man, you look very miserable…. 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… Young man, look to Jesus Christ! Look! Look! Look! You have nothin’ to do but to look and live.” It was on this day that the ruler of this world (Satan) lost the battle for one man’s soul and this one man would go on build the Kingdom of God in London and throughout England.

After his conversion he was convicted, through reading the Scriptures, of his need to be baptized, so he requested permission from his parents. On May 3rd 1850, he walked eight miles to be baptized by Mr. W.W. Cantlow, the closest baptist minister.

In August 1850 (same year as his conversion and baptism), he headed for Cambridge to attend school. At Cambridge, Spurgeon began teaching Bible in outlying towns. After Bible study in the morning and school work the rest of the day, he woNew_Park_Street_1889uld travel in the evening preaching what he learned in the morning. Recognition from this activity earned him the Pastorate at Waterbeach Church in October 1851 (age sixteen). In December 1853 (age 18), He was invited to guest teach at New Park Street Church in London. He was so enjoyed by the congregation and the leaders were so impressed by his teaching ability, they offered (and he accepted) the pastorate of the largest baptist church in London, at the time, in 1854 (age nineteen).

Within one year, Spurgeon packed New Park Street Church and they began construction to expand. Meanwhile, the congregation moved to Exeter Hall where Spurgeon was packing the 4000-5000 seat hall (this was the newspaper report from their second meeting at Exeter Hall).

CHS 4By 1856, after failing to return to their home church (the congregations meeting at Exeter Hall were too big for their “expanded” building), they began construction on the Metropolitan Tabernacle. For three years (1856-1859), while the Tabernacle was constructed, Spurgeon’s congregation met at Royal Surrey Gardens, a concert hall seating 10,000-12,000. He packed the Gardens twice every Sunday. The Tabernacle, 5,000 square feet larger then the Royal Surrey Gardens, had 3600 seats + 1000 more fold-able seats and an estimated 1000 more found their way into standing room only. From August 1860 to June 1891, Spurgeon ministered to hundreds of thousands the Metropolitan Tabernacle.

Theologically Spurgeon was Calvinist primarily, but when asked, his doctrine was Jesus Christ. Confounded by the vastness of the Bible, he often found too much in his study to teach. He had conviction about believers baptism and therefore criticized the Anglican church for infant baptism. Most of his ministry was with the Baptist denomination, but eventually he resigned from the Baptist Union in 1877 claiming that they were allowing those who downgraded the Bible, miracles, the work of Christ, and creation into their community. He said to be in fellowship with these people was to live in sin. In separating, Spurgeon’s church became the largest independently ran congregation in all of England.

CHS 2For forty years and nine months, Spurgeon rocked Christendom with his teaching. His influence to the London community alone can he seen in that 60,000 people who showed up for his three day viewing upon his death. 100,000 people lined the streets for two miles between the Tabernacle and the cemetery, flags were flown at half staff and shops and pubs were closed on the day when C.H. Spurgeon was returned to the ground with a Bible laid on his casket opened to Isa 45:22:

“Look unto me and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth, for I am God, and there is none else.”

– – – – –

Resources on Spurgeon

  • Tom Nettles – living by revealed Truth (Christian Focus)
  • Spurgeon, Memories of Stambourne
  • Spurgeon, The Saint and His Saviour
  • Spurgeon, “Compel them to come in”
  • Fullerton, W.Y. Charles Haddon Spurgeon: A Biography. http://www.spurgeon.org/misc/biopref.htm
 

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Meet: John Wesley

Wesley- Needs to be Re-Introduced

– by Filomena Saxton

john-wesley-registerIf anyone needs to be reintroduced to the 21st Century’s minds and hearts, it is John Wesley. When my son got interested in Wesleyan faith practices and doctrines, I realized how little I knew of the man or the thinking behind him. I was surprised considering I help run a Christian inter-denominational mission where I come across many students with many faith practices such as Baptist, Presbyterian, Catholic, Pentecostalism, Lutheran and others. Not only that but we witness to atheist, Buddhist, Muslim, and the general seeker. So when I tried to think through the many shades to my son’s new found controversial dogma- – I realized I needed to do my research.

Even though his name is not mention much, at least in my circles, “John Wesley is one of the major figures of Christian history” (Noble, 2010). Today, seventy million people regard themselves as standing in the ‘Wesleyan’ tradition. In his day, John Wesley proved to be an effective evangelists who viewed his movement as not one to usurp the Church of England, a church where he was ordained and served, but wanted it to act as a renewal. His many converts were organized into societies. At John Wesley’s death in 1791 his followers numbered 79,000 in England and 40,000 in America, but by 1957 there were 40 million Methodists world-wide. Wesley wrote numerous theological works and edited 35 volumes of Christian literature for the edification of the societies. Influenced leaders like William Wilberforce and Charles Finney and His revivals was accredited by bringing about transformation not only in the individual but in society at large.

HolyClubOxfordLife Overview and Accomplishments

Born 1703, the 15th child to Samuel and Susanna, Wesley’s parents were devout and taught religion and morals faithfully to her nineteen children. Many believe that John got his faith practices, “methods” form his mother who provided strict discipline to her children. At 16, John attended Oxford and soon was then ordained an Anglican Minister. In 1733, his brother Charles started a group called the Holy Club- a group John and George Whitfield were dedicated members. Members had to take vows and promise to lead holy lives, take communion once a week, pray daily and visit prisons regularly. This newly formed group spent three hours every afternoon studying the Bible and other devotional material. They would hold each other accountable by asking each other questions, 22 in total, to facilitate self-examination and accountability to holy living. Some of the questions …

Am I consciously or unconsciously creating the impression that I am better than I really am?

Am I honest in all my acts or words or do I exaggerate?

Do I confidentially pass on to another what was told in confidence?

Can I be trusted? [i] (See endnote for more)

wesley_preach_470x352This internal piety and outward discipline was starting to have an effect on these band of brothers. Shortly after, Wesley loans Whitfield a book, The Life of God in the Soul of Man by Henry Scougal, which as Whitfield states “showed me that I must be born again, or be damned!” In 1735, George Whitefield started to preach and was having remarkable success, especially in the industrial city of Bristol. In 1737, Whitfield’s preaching electrifies Bristol and London with thousands packing churches to hear him. Publishes six sermons, while opponents publish against him. His preaching was so successful and the need was so great he asked Wesley to help him preach- hesitantly John accepted.   Hundreds of working-class poor, oppressed by industrializing England and neglected by the church, were experiencing emotional conversions under his fiery preaching of John Wesley!

Wesley: A Man for His Time

During the time of Wesley, British society began to decay from the top which reaches full bloom by the end of Wesley’s life. To understand the effect the Great awakening had on British Society and the challenges for its converts a look at Eric Metaxas description of the age is informative.

1997-7059_HOR_F_3120“It was a society of cruelty, vulgarity, and hopelessness, and prostitution. A society where decay came from the top. King George III read the bible to his kids but his sons were a symbol of depravity. As Metaxas states, “There was an almost sublime bestiality to George’s sons, a cadre of pleasure-choked buffoons who set the behavioral bar so low for the rest of society that one suspects they had perhaps thrown it into the basement. His son, the Prince of Wales, bedded seven thousand women, incurred heavy debts from gambling. In parliament alcoholism was epidemic- and fashionable. Leading political statesman were regularly drunk during in the House of Commons. Alcoholism from the elite to the poor was pervasive and abundant.

“Prostitution was rampant, 25% of all unmarried women in London were prostitutes. Brothels that exclusively provided services with girls 14 and under. Public executions were a popular form of entertainment and when no hangings presented themselves…they resorted to animal cruelty.

“The British aristocracy at the end of the eighteenth century was, among other things, exquisitely selfish and gave no more thought to the conditions of those below them It simply wasn’t fashionable to do so. The English nobility took its cues from its Gallic counterparts across the Channel and had been doing so for almost a century. The fabled excesses and decadence of the wealthy and noble classes of prerevolutionary France were mirrored expertly by their English counterparts.” [1]

jwHorsebackIt was this society that Wesley, and his Holy Club’s brothers, tried to reform. The preaching of the gospel led to a revival all over England. It was so controversial to be a Methodist convert, a Wesleyan or Whitefield, follower since it was so against the ethos of the time that it placed oneself in line for public ridicule and scorn. Still people like William Wilberforce in England and Charles Finney in the America’s were not only being saved but using their political power and social influence to bring about transformative social reforms such as the end of slavery and programs for the poor.

Wesley’s Place in History- An Enigma?

True, Wesley was a man for his time and his legacy and impact has lasted generations. There are not many notable theologians in Christian history that can boast of their evangelist work like John Wesley nor many who can unite the “theoria and praxis” as he did for his followers.

chperfectBut the questions many are asking “was he a significant theologian?” [2] As many scholars have pointed out such as Noble, “the eighteenth century is not well-known for front-rank theologians”.[3] When one tries to make sense of his doctrine one sees his Arminianism which one can reject or accept it. But it is his less known doctrine that have us all- dismissing him. Christian Perfectionism is the main one that is the most controversial. Reading and studying his statements and writings on it, as well as writings from his disciple Charles Finney, one is really left with, at least I did, that there are precious nuggets that the Reformed tradition can learn from. Many of Wesley’s, even Arminian thinking, seems to me to be a reaction to Reformed Theology that has lost its salt and has moved to a place where John Calvin himself would reject.

(This summer, The Evangelical Orphan will feature several postings from my students at Phoenix Seminary. They have be encouraged to meet long-lost relatives from our ecclesiastical family, and introduce them to us all – in class, and through this blog. We’re hoping these offerings will serve as a whet for your ongoing appetite to learn more about our history. Enjoy! -bh)

[1] Metaxas, Eric (2009-10-13). Amazing Grace (Kindle Locations 1411-1416). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

[2] Noble, T. A. (2010). John Wesley as a theologian: an introduction. Evangelical Review Of Theology, 34(3), 238-257.

[3] Noble, T. A. (2010). John Wesley as a theologian: an introduction. Evangelical Review Of Theology, 34(3), 238-257

[i] Am I a slave to dress, friends, work or habits? Am I self-conscious, self-pitying, or self-justifying? Did the Bible live in me today? Do I give it time to speak to me everyday? Am I enjoying prayer? When did I last speak to someone else of my faith? Do I pray about the money I spend? Do I get to bed on time and get up on time? Do I disobey God in anything? Do I insist upon doing something about which my conscience is uneasy? Am I defeated in any part of my life? How do I spend my spare time? Am I proud? Am I jealous, impure, critical, irritable, touchy or distrustful? Do I thank God that I am not as other people, especially as the Pharisees who despised the publican? Is there anyone I fear, dislike, disown, criticize, hold a resentment toward or disregard? If so, what am I doing about it? Do I grumble or complain constantly? Is Christ real to me?

 
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Posted by on July 24, 2015 in Church History

 

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Uncle John Wyclif – Dangerous Mind

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An iconoclast. A controversial thinker. Not a good pastor, but a man whose thoughts and leadership did more for the common saints of England than perhaps any church leader in British history.

He’s part of my family, and I like him. He’s John Wyclif. Like most family members, I mostly like him, but am troubled by a few things about his life. Maybe I like him because he reminds me a bit of myself, and my own troubling weaknesses. Sometimes I think I am a direct product of Uncle John’s spiritual gene pool.

First, some of the rough stuff. He was part and parcel of a religious machine that he at once  a) criticized openly, and  b) benefited from handsomely. In those days, you could get assigned the oversight of a church in England, and not even have to be there – you were simply expected to get substitutes to cover your bases. Uncle John was awarded a rectorship when he was 31, and another one at 44…but never lived in the towns of the churches until he had to for political reasons, when he was 52 – 21 years! For all this time, he was paid by the church as an absentee rector, but stayed in Oxford, where he thought, and wrote.

What I love about Uncle John W. is his mind. He addressed many issues that today, with our post-Reformation perspective, seem somewhat obvious. But they weren’t then. They were shocking, “heretical”, and considered dangerous. Some examples:

He believes all political rulers need to be godly, and that leaders who live blatantly sinful lives forfeit their right to govern. Not the “divine right” of kings, but the “divine responsibility” of kings. 

* He believes the Bible is free from error, free from contradiction, and is God’s entire revelation – that there is no need for added teachings by the church, and that all theological thinking needs to be measured against the text of scripture. 

wycliffe* He believes the Bible should be available to all people, not just the teachers. It therefore needs to be translated into common languages. 

* He believes that Jesus is present in the Lord’s Supper, but not in the way Thomas Aquinas described a century ago, saying Jesus is “transubtantiated” into the physical bread and wine. Uncle John W. thinks it is more mysterious than that.

* He believes that the office of the Roman papacy is man-made, not God-ordained. He also believes the pope should have no authority in secular government. Finally, he says an immoral pope – in fact the entire papacy – is “the antichrist” (and the popes were quite immoral those days!).

Interesting…the Roman church usually burned thinkers like Wyclif at the stake, right? How did he survive? The same way another one of our family members did – Martin Luther. Both of these men enjoyed enough political protection in their home countries to continue thinking and publishing. Sure, Uncle John’s ideas were repeatedly condemned by Rome, but no one was able to lay a hand on him…

Well, until after he died,  He passed away on New Years Eve in 1384, after experiencing two strokes. But, just because he’s dead doesn’t mean he can’t be punished. 44 years after he was buried, they exhumed his bones, and burned them. I guess that showed him.

FMB Mural The Trial Of WyclifThere are different kinds of people in our spiritual family. Some are great with people. Others are deep in prayer. There are those who are unusually active in service. And there is the occasional super-evangelist.

And then, there are people like Uncle John W. They see things. They get things. They uncover blind spots for others, which often isn’t received too well. They make logical connections from truth to truth which challenge the status quo. They aren’t particularly skilled at kneading his thoughts into the hearts of individual people – that’s what pastors do. But they get the important, game-changing thoughts out on the table, and those thoughts find their way to the right people who can, in turn, make a difference on the ground.

It seems I spend much of my time these days wrestling with what I think are important thoughts … then sharing them … then apologizing for the hurts they inflict on others. I mean no harm – in fact, I truly want my ideas to be redemptive. When people seem to be after my bones, Uncle John W. reminds me that I’m not alone … and, by the grace of God, it may well be worth it in the long run.

 
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Posted by on August 28, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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